If there’s one sure way to provoke an inflammatory response, it’s to challenge someone’s personal belief system. Simply the fact that here we are, existing, has puzzled most of us at some point. God is seen by many as the answer to the problem. For Dawkins – “the Charles Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University and a fellow of the New College” – God is too improbable and too complex an explanation. Indeed, he is no explanation.
The first half of his book is devoted (no pun intended) to an overview of theology, the various arguments for the existence of God and the scientific arguments against them. In God’s corner, to convert you there’s everything from the five proofs of Thomas Aquinas to other people’s personal experiences; even Pascal’s wager, which I remember found its way onto one of Tim Blair’s threads, gets a mention. For science, Dawkins spends much time explaining Darwinism and comparing it to its arch-enemy, Intelligent Design – the theory of evolution versus irreducible complexity. And although Dawkins admits to some obvious gaps in our knowledge, he sees these as no excuse to pack up scientific research, open the sacremental wine and relax on the comfy cushions of ID. His biggest argument against the existence of God is a kind of reversal of one common theist position (no, Tizona, not that position): the creation of life is so improbable and complex it can be equated to a hurricane making a Boeing 747 out of bits of metal in a scrapyard. But, if this were the case (which, thanks to Darwinism and similar ideas, he concludes it isn’t, but just saying it is), then God is the ‘ultimate 747’, by necessity more complex than the universe which he created, and therefore more improbable.
The second half of his book focuses more on the moral aspects of each debate. Of course, religious fundamentalism gets its serve here and I noticed, with amusement, our good friends Pastor Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church getting more than a passing comment. Dawkins rails against the barbarity of Islam, but seems equally leery of the rise of Christian fundamentalism in the United States. Anne Coulter is quoted a couple of times and it must be admitted, she’s said some very stupid things in her time. Dawkins holds particular grudges against the ‘indoctrination’ of children with religious parents, arguing that children are too young to form such opinions, though he is certainly in favour of teaching them comparative religion – teaching them how to think, not what to think, as he puts it.
Predictably, Dawkins claims that he doesn’t expect his book to convert legions of faithful Christians or Muslims to atheism. His hope is that it gives some people, already in doubt but constrained by their upbringing, family and/or society circle, the philosophical tools to break free. To that end, I would imagine his book serves its purpose. His arguments should not be dismissed out of hand by anyone with any claim to having thought about life, the universe and everything. Certainly, he makes many points very persuasively, though even an atheist such as myself can tell he sidesteps (though never ignores) some of the curliest conundrums, and it is valid when he illustrates how many so-called gaps in our previous knowledge have been comprehensively explained by science, what’s to say we’ll never nut out the remainder? Towards the end of the book I found one of the most intriguing ideas: as much as our eyes and brain have evolved to perceive the visible light spectrum, remaining oblivious to the enormous range of electromagnetic radiation to either side, so our minds have evolved to comprehend the solid, physically concrete world with which we interact day-to-day. That’s not to say, however, that just as we invented tools to ‘see’ all the EM radiation beyond our natural senses, might we not one day develop something to understand that which we currently consign to the metaphysical too-hard basket? That basket is already being relabelled by some: scratch out ‘meta’ and write instead ‘quantum’.
(Trivia: Dawkins is married to Lalla Ward, one-time TARDIS resident and companion of Doctor Who. Lalla was briefly married to Tom Baker, who played the Doctor at the time. Maybe she realised he was actually just an actor, so moved on to a real scientist. Even more incidentally, The God Delusion is dedicated to Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams, a friend – and convert – of Dawkins. Adams worked on Doctor Who as script editor at the same time Lalla was involved).
February 10, 2008, 8:06 pm at 8:06 pm
The problem with both idiots like Dawkins and the Christo-tard ID crowd is that they are very shallow, pedantic, two-dimensional thinkers: They always frame the issue as an either/or proposition, which it isn’t. Either you believe in God and reject what we know about physics as an explanation for the universe and all of the evidence for evolution – or you rationalize it away via magical thinking – or you accept those things and are an atheist. This is utter horse shit.
As I’ve mentioned before, the Bible is a, “the truth is in there” proposition, but there’s just tons of allegory and outright nonsense – even intentionally introduced lies – in it, but the inside-the-box-thinking crowds on both sides of the issue don’t want to deal with such a dauntingly complex task as actually sorting through the documents to find the keys to figuring out what is true and what isn’t. On the Christo-tard side, you have the Evangelicals, who say that the Bible is the inerrant word of God. This is just as idiotic as the atheitho-tards saying it’s all fable. Both positions are demonstrably and provably false, so the truth must therefore be a virtually unapproachable position somewhere in between.
And, of course, this is the point! The Bible isn’t the inerrant word of God, and it isn’t a work of fiction: It’s a minefield that takes a lifetime of study to negotiate, because God didn’t intend understanding the truths in it to be easy!
It is also obvious to someone with truly superior abilities in abstract and deductive reasoning that the Bible is also a, “you can have your cake and eat it too” proposition: God – being as He is, omniscient – knew exactly how the document would turn out, and intended it to be off-putting to mediocre intellects as well as those with no faith. IOW: Fuck ’em if they aren’t devoted. Can you think of anything more just than that? mmmmmmNo.
I’ve spent over thirty years studying the Bible – in every English translation – and I’ve read all of the Apocrypha that has been translated, plus The Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture and the Protestant equivalent, The Unfolding Drama of Redemption. I’ve learned the history of how the Bible was put together, and also the linguistic and stylistic differences between the respective books. When I meet or hear of anyone who I think understands the Bible better than I do, I’ll let you know.
When you get far along enough as a Follower of The Way, you see God in every detail of your life, in every detail of the world, and in every detail of the universe. Both Dawkins and his Christo-tard opponents live in different versions of the same darkness. Difference is, most of the Christo-tards will be allowed into The Kingdom of Heaven, and Dawkins won’t.
February 10, 2008, 8:24 pm at 8:24 pm
I knew we’d have one of these discussions one day, Angus. Your rejection of the either/or position intrigues me, although I think you may be talking about the bible either/or being a literal truth or not. Certainly Dawkins doesn’t confine himself to the fundamentalist view. His opening chapter is all about the different forms of theology, including theists with their personal god, and deists with their non-interventional one. He even talks about Einstein’s somewhat secular deity – nature, or the universe, which he and some other prominent scientists have sometimes – euphemistically, it seems- to have labelled god (eg: Stephen Hawkings, at the end of his book A Brief History of Time, stating that through quantum physics we may one day understand ‘the mind of God’.) The question of god and whether or not he exists in some form does strike me as an either/or proposition.
The one part of your comment that jars the most is the assertion that God will allow you into heaven if a)You’re extremely intelligent and have access to all the scriptures/various texts in order to tease out the true meaning buried amongst piles of garbage, or b)A moron who takes a blind leap of faith – thanks largely to being born in the right place and time – but has no logical rationale for said decision. Everyone else goes presumably to hell, to burn forever for the crime of not worshipping a god who deliberately obscured his being and intents.
February 10, 2008, 9:02 pm at 9:02 pm
Angus – It’s true I made things tricky to understand – no point in making sense from the get-go, eh? I’m sure by the time you’ve studied the Good Book for another 30 years you’ll understand it even better than anyone you’ve never met or heard from.
P.S. Keep up the good atheist bashing – I’ve got a place reserved for you at my Heavenly chillout pad when your work is done on Earth (unlike Dawkins, as you correctly point out).
February 10, 2008, 9:39 pm at 9:39 pm
What’s not to like about Theo’s?…Oh wait.
February 10, 2008, 9:50 pm at 9:50 pm
Funny how I was just thinking thoughts like these this very day (while trying to gen up a little vitaminD from the sun we haven’t seen in days, except it was colder than a witch’s… well, it was pretty cold). I started off with the sun, reflecting on how and why ancient cultures worshipped it as a god, and why wouldn’t you, if you didn’t know what it was? Then I skipped on to how we’re all made up of cosmic dust from the sun and stars. From there, I got to wondering about the Big Bang and will we ever know what caused it, and what existed before it (something had to, didn’t it, for there to be a Big Bang at all?), and why did it create the universe we live in and not some other, and what is the universe anyway, is it God, and… these thought trains run away from me sometimes. But I got cold and had to go in the house.
As for God, I probably lean toward the Einstein position more than any other. At the end of time, mankind might be evolved enough to understand everything, and if so, then mankind might be God. Those are fun speculations, but I’ll never know, so I just muddle on and hope for the best.
If anything, it seems to me that Dawkins’ contention that life is too improbable and complex to have been deliberately “created” is exactly the argument that it must have been created. For what purpose… like I said, at the end of time.
February 10, 2008, 9:51 pm at 9:51 pm
“become” God, is what I meant.
February 10, 2008, 9:58 pm at 9:58 pm
Dawkins doesn’t say life is too improbable and complex to have been deliberately created, but the mistake is mine, Rebecca. I tried to keep it to a book review rather than a summary. What he said was more along the lines that, because the universe is complex and improbable, it necessarily follows that any Creator would be even more complex and improbable, thereby negating the proposal that God must have created the universe because it’s too complex and improbable to have formed by itself.
February 10, 2008, 10:08 pm at 10:08 pm
Dminor: I didn’t say your “a)” at all. The only justification is by faith, which is what leads to what I call the Christo-tards having a shot. I can’t stand, not them themselves, but their embarrassingly idiotic and illogical pronouncements. Not only do they make me cringe, but they turn a lot of people off to the faith.
Your “b)” is however correct in the first instance, but incorrect in the second. There is a concept called invincible innocence and another called invincible ignorance: The invincibly innocent would be those who die in infancy &c., and the invincibly ignorant are those who never had a chance to be exposed to the truth. I don’t worry about those situations, because God certainly has a perfectly just and righteous plan for dealing with them. Not my job.
There is no escaping the fact that with deeper understanding comes real power in the spiritual dimension. Anyone who has grown in their faith can attest to this, and I have certainly experienced this in my own life – do on a daily basis. Not all or even most of this comes from the Bible: The earliest Followers of the way had no Bible… and, they didn’t need one. Now that the Bible exists – and so many give it way too much significance – the errors in it ought to be exposed. My job.
How anyone who has any understanding of Biblical prophesy and watches world events cannot believe is what mystifies me. Seriously: You’d have to be an idiot. 🙂
February 10, 2008, 10:15 pm at 10:15 pm
How anyone who has any understanding of Biblical prophesy and watches world events cannot believe is what mystifies me.
I’m curious as to what you mean by that, and also – forgive me if it’s too personal – as to what led you to Faith. I once had a friend who, superficially at least, sounds like you – he’d read the bible and was interpreting it in his own fashion, dismissing much of what the Church has had and continues to say. When I asked him why he believes in the first place, he said it was because of two personal experiences which could only be explained through divine intervention. He would never, however, tell me what those experiences were.
February 10, 2008, 11:09 pm at 11:09 pm
because the universe is complex and improbable, it necessarily follows that any Creator would be even more complex and improbable,
I understand his point here.
thereby negating the proposal that God must have created the universe because it’s too complex and improbable to have formed by itself.
But I don’t understand why this part would necessarily follow. Or maybe I just don’t agree with it.
February 10, 2008, 11:22 pm at 11:22 pm
Well – forgive me if I seem to be avoiding the question, but I’m really not – prophesy is not something that could be addressed in a weblog comment. Just too complex, and it would take too much space. My suggestion would be to read the OT book of Daniel, and then the NT Book of Revelation. While doing this, keep in mind that the writings are by agrarian/animal husbandry-level persons who had no adequate way to describe the technological societies they were seeing. Much of the “weirdness factor” in those books is because of that.
Then, as to your friend and his Bible readings and interpretations, one must go into this realizing that it’s dangerous, and that many before have attempted the same and gone off the deep end. So, I don’t just consult myself and my own God-given abilities to understand, rather I read everything I can find by others who have done the same and contrast and compare. It’s exactly the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that is the ultimate guide in this endeavor – something that Paul recognizes is foolishness to a non-believer – and it is exactly one’s own ego that is the enemy. Personally, I don’t trust anybody who makes a thin dime off of spreading God’s word, and I would certainly never consider such a thing myself.
As for my own coming to faith, in a nutshell, God Fucked Me Up. LOL!
Seriously, though, I have had exactly two gulp-inducing experiences that were way beyond the pale, and both were subsequently verified in real life. No I won’t tell you exactly what they were, and I don’t think anybody would… which is why I think I’d like your friend. God interacts with people on a need-to-know basis: If you ain’t a hearin’ from him, well, you’re either doing exactly what He wants, or you’re not doing anything He wants.
February 11, 2008, 12:22 am at 12:22 am
Dawkins’ rationale is limited in that he wants everything explained scientifically. This is why he finds the ‘complex God’ unlikely, since it would take even more to explain God than it does to explain the universe. Whereas I think most theologians aren’t too fussed about a scientific dissection of God, God being beyond scientific understanding.
I’m fairly much in Dawkins’ camp, though suspect I’m more open to the possibility there’s something out there, the nature of which is beyond anything I’ve ever tried to grasp before. God would have to be since, scientifically speaking, he makes no sense to me at all.
Angus, I appreciate, as always, your candour and agree it would be unfair on anyone to expect them to squeeze something so vast into a blog thread. Still, we talk about other issues almost as complex; no reason this particular subject can’t be discussed in bite-sized pieces (and as I write, I can picture Tizona groaning at the thought someone’s trying to turn his new Blog into a theological chat-room – don’t worry mate, I’ll probably be bored of the issue myself tomorrow).
February 11, 2008, 12:35 am at 12:35 am
Dminor, just a tidbit I find more than just a tad interesting, Roman Numerals less than 1,000:
Locusts with angel’s hair: Probably helicopters, admittedly by my reconning.
Mountain of fire thrown into the sea: Sounds like a meteor or comet.
Wormwood (The most bitter of all herbs): Some sort of poison or other.
I could go on, but I’m headed to bed.
February 11, 2008, 12:42 am at 12:42 am
“I can picture Tizona groaning at the thought someone’s trying to turn his new Blog into a theological chat-room.”
Don’t you worry on that for a second Dminor. I’ve found the discussion interesting, and besides, we can always kick in some music.
February 11, 2008, 3:40 am at 3:40 am
#9 Dminor. “How anyone who has any understanding of Biblical prophesy and watches world events cannot believe is what mystifies me.”
Actually, I have no difficulty with that statement at all – I’m in complete agreement.
Before God got His hands onto me, I would be in the same predicament.
One interesting tidbit, though. Years and years ago, before God fucked me up (lol!) I was reading the Book of Revelation. As I was at chapter 16, there was also on the teev a current affairs type report on what was happening over in Iraq; specifically how the drought over there was drying up the Euphrates.
I know that according to the report on the telly the river was drying up due to the building of hydro-electric stations upriver in Turkey, but for those downstream, that’s irrelevant.
And, of course, there is that point of Angus’ about the bible being written in times of technological ignorance.
Ezekiel’s another good book for prophecy and (possible) technological wizardry.
*I am not a biblical scholar lol.
February 11, 2008, 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm
I, for one, found the discussion extremely interesting (well, because I got my master’s degree in this stuff… yes, I am the ubernerd). But I have to add that of course God makes no sense scientifically, because our minds just aren’t big enough to understand. That’s why God is God, and we’re not. And that’s where the “faith” part comes in. You believe and you accept that you’ll never really, truly understand what God is (at least until you die). Or you don’t believe, and it’s all irrelevant.