This is our last post about Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion, and we here cover chp. 10: A Much Needed Gap? Here he examines the supposed gap in our hearts/minds that religion contends it fills. He, of course, contends that science fills the gap even better.
Religion, he contends, fills gaps for explanation, exhortation, consolation, and inspiration.
He begins with “Binker,” the imaginary friend of Christopher Robin. God, Dawkins essentially contends, is Binker to a higher degree or the higher degree is now only left in children in their imaginings of imaginary friends. God is a “Binker for life.” He calls this “paedomorphosis” — retention of childhood characteristics in adulthood. (He also explores, with seemingly less conviction, that it is an adulthood phenomenon now only surviving in children.)
On consolation… Dawkins contends that finding consolation in belief in God doesn’t make God real; it makes belief in God real. “It is amazing,” he concludes, “how many people seemingly cannot tell the difference between ‘X is true’ and ‘It is desirable that people should believe that X is true’ ” (353).
From this point on, the last twenty pages or so were uninteresting to me. When I expected him to come clean with a grand finale of how science is better than theism, his study flits around with stuff about how religious people fear death more than atheists (which he knows from a nurse friend; he admits he knows no studies on this) and he wanders in and out about euthanasia and purgatory and then, puff, finally, what I thought he was talking about: “There must be a God, the argument goes, because, if there were not, life would be empty, pointless, futile, a desert of meaninglessness and insignificance.” Well, he concludes: “Maybe life is empty.” The adult view (his terms) is as meaningful as we choose to make it.
Finally, he explores the vastness of the world through the image of the “mother of all burkas.” We can see through a small slit of what the world is; Darwin opened it; he think science is opening the slit even more.
Dawkins sums up his view and “gospel” in the last chapter of this book. I found the last 20 pages somewhat more telling than Scot did. In fact Dawkins reveals his fundamental, outlook, a form of modern gnosticism, in these last few pages. But I must admit, I have found this book disappointing – it does not show Dawkins at his best. He rambles. He argues by anecdote, ad hominem and ridicule. There is nothing new in the book – and the arguments are not even well formed and well presented. I expected much better.
In the last chapter Dawkins rambles – as he does in most of the book. Religion is an “evil” rather than harmless delusion, because it limits horizons, stifles creativity, and prevents enlightenment. By its very nature religious thought subverts the mind, destroys its proponents, and permanently handicaps those brainwashed by it. It prevents mankind from realizing its enlightened potential.
Our brains have evolved to provide a model of objects ca. 1 m in size (plus or minus 3 or 4 orders of magnitude), moving at speeds of ca. 1 m/s (again plus or minus a few orders of magnitude), what Dawkins terms the “Middle World”. It is, he says, “an unexpected bonus, our brains turn out to be powerful enough to accommodate a much richer world model…Let me paint one final picture, to convey the power of science to open the mind and satisfy the psyche.” (362) Science provides a means to raise consciousness beyond the narrow slit of the burka – the range limited by utilitarian necessity. Science provides enlightenment.
As an example he expounds the mind-blowing nature of the quantum world and the utterly paradoxical assumptions of quantum theory, even calling quantum mechanics “that rarified pinnacle of twentieth-century scientific achievement.”(364) Ok, I like this example because this is my field – I teach quantum theory and it is the foundation of my research. He gets a lot of this right – and also shows his ignorance and common misunderstandings. Quantum mechanics is certainly paradoxical (just ask my students) – when viewed in the light of intuition developed in the Middle World. Science can stretch the mind and open new horizons of thought.
He ends the book saying “Could we by training and practice, emancipate ourselves from Middle World, tear off our black burka, and achieve some sort of intuitive – as well as just mathematical – understanding of the very small, the very large, and the very fast? I genuinely don’t know the answer, but I am thrilled to be alive at a time when humanity is pushing against the limits of understanding. Even better, we may eventually discover that there are no limits.” (374)
A beautiful sentiment – I too am thrilled to be alive at a time when humanity is pushing against the limits of understanding and beginning to really understand the unintuitive intricacy and beauty of God’s creation. But what does it have to do with the purpose of the book, why does Dawkins find it necessary to trounce on what he calls “The God Delusion”?
Dawkins believes, with some justification, that religious thinking demands dysfunctional thinking. Faith requires no justification, brooks no argument, and accepts no evidence. At best, it demands a disconnect between the religion we profess and the way we think about the rest of the world. At worst, it demands a denial of the evidence – it demands denial of the senses, denial of fact, denial of truth, denial of science, to retain a unified worldview. Religious thought, in the view of Dawkins and much of the secular academy, is either dualist or absurd. And as Dawkins says “those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” Ultimately I believe that countering this view is one of the great challenges facing us as Christians as we move into the 21st century.
So – is Dawkins right, is Christianity hopelessly irrational? If not what is the correct approach to development of a rational, unified, and Christian worldview?