Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion has provided many of us with plenty to talk about and I want to say thanks for the conversation. Some have written to me to point to reviews at other sites, and I’ll begin this post with those links.
Here’s one by Sam Schulman (HT: Fr. Rob) and here’s another by H. Allen Orr (HT: Bill Yaccino) and one by Terry Eagleton in LRB (HT: sorry, I forgot to write this down).
Dawkins’ thesis for this chp, on “What’s Wrong with Religion?,” is found on p. 306: “As long as we accept the principle that religious faith must be respected simply because it is religious faith, it is hard to withhold respect from the faith of Osama bin Laden and the suicide bombers. The alternative, one so transparent that it should need not urging, is to abandon the principle of automatic respect for religious faith.” Why? Because religious faith is “an especially potent silencer of rational calculation.” And here’s the aim: “Faith is an evil precisely because it requires no justification and brooks no argument” (308). Now let me back up.
The chp begins with examining fundamentalism and how it subverts science — but first he distinguishes passion (which he has) and fundamentalism (which denies science and reason). He tells the story of one Kurt Wise who abandoned scientific knowledge because it conflicted with what he found in the Bible (an Earth younger than 10,000 years). Dawkins finds such a faith a “form of mental torture” (286).
A big question for this chp is found right here: What does one do when one finds that science conflicts with the Bible? Is the Bible a book — and we know the main issue is Genesis 1–11 — that informs us of science or do we let scientific methods inform us of science?
Next he turns to the dark side of absolutism and he contends that abolutism is an evil force in the world. For most of the chp he trots out anecdotal evidence — not sorted methodically or scientifically at all — for how “absolute” religions subvert free thinking and dissent. Then he deals a bit with homosexuality with this conclusion: “Attitudes to homosexuality reveal much about the sort of morality that is inspired by religious faith” (291). Next, abortion: he inveighs against fundamentalists (which seems to be the only way he can describe a believer) for fighting for fetuses but not adults (in war). He is particularly concerned about the “American Taliban” — the extremists who claim they will take over the State. And the Beethoven Fallacy: we should protect fetuses because of their potentiality, and he uses the story of how fundamentalists claim Beethoven would have been aborted … and shows the story used is not true.
Perhaps this puts his thesis all into one balled wad: “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities” (306).
I have very little to add to this summary.Â Dawkins is hostile toward all religion because religion teaches faith as a virtue – and unquestioning faith at best subverts the mind and at worst leads some to atrocities.Â â??Moderateâ? religion is at fault for creating a climate where fundamentalism is tolerated and faith is treated as a virtue.Â â??But my point in this section is that even mild and moderate religion helps to provide the climate of faith in which extremism naturally flourishes.â? (303)
The book thus far can be summarized as:
(1) All religions are wrong.
(a) God does not exist.
(b) There is no supernatural – the natural world is all that there is, and it is beautiful.
(2) Religion does no good – it has no benefit.
(3) Religion actively or passively promotes â??evilâ?.
(4) By its very nature religious thought subverts the mind and destroys its proponents.
Dawkins has said that faith is â??blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidenceâ? (The Selfish Gene).Â His examples, while extreme, are chosen to support his hypothesis.Â My questions – to which Scotâ??s is in oh so many ways corollary – are: What is faith? Does faith require mindless, unreasoned assent? Does God call us to this kind of faith?