Sunday, October 22, 2006

"With Friends Like Dawkins,
Atheists Don't Need Enemies"

I hadn't intended to continue with discussion of Richard Dawkins' book, The God Delusion, until I read the lament by Keith Burgess-Jackson in Anal Philosopher, "With friends like Dawkins, atheists don't need enemies." With this comment he linked to JIM HOLT in The New York Times Sunday Book Review

By Richard Dawkins.
406 pp. Houghton Mifflin Company. $27.

Since the Eagleton review appeared to come from a theist's point of view, I expected this one to be much different. However, it is fundamentally quite similar.

"The book fairly crackles with brio. Yet reading it can feel a little like watching a Michael Moore movie. There is lots of good, hard-hitting stuff about the imbecilities of religious fanatics and frauds of all stripes, but the tone is smug and the logic occasionally sloppy. Dawkins fans accustomed to his elegant prose might be surprised to come across such vulgarisms as “sucking up to God” and “Nur Nurny Nur Nur” (here the author, in a dubious polemical ploy, is imagining his theological adversary as a snotty playground brat). It’s all in good fun when Dawkins mocks a buffoon like Pat Robertson and fundamentalist pastors like the one who created “Hell Houses” to frighten sin-prone children at Halloween. But it is less edifying when he questions the sincerity of serious thinkers who disagree with him, like the late Stephen Jay Gould, or insinuates that recipients of the million-dollar-plus Templeton Prize, awarded for work reconciling science and spirituality, are intellectually dishonest (and presumably venal to boot). In a particularly low blow, he accuses Richard Swinburne, a philosopher of religion and science at Oxford, of attempting to “justify the Holocaust,” when Swinburne was struggling to square such monumental evils with the existence of a loving God. Perhaps all is fair in consciousness-raising. But Dawkins’s avowed hostility can make for scattershot reasoning as well as for rhetorical excess. Moreover, in training his Darwinian guns on religion, he risks destroying a larger target than he intends."

"The beauty of Darwinian evolution, as Dawkins never tires of observing, is that it shows how the simple can give rise to the complex. But not all scientific explanation follows this model. In physics, for example, the law of entropy implies that, for the universe as a whole, order always gives way to disorder; thus, if you want to explain the present state of the universe in terms of the past, you are pretty much stuck with explaining the probable (messy) in terms of the improbable (neat)."

"Instead, he attributes religion to a “misfiring” of something else that is adaptively useful; namely, a child’s evolved tendency to believe its parents. Religious ideas, he thinks, are viruslike “memes” that multiply by infecting the gullible brains of children. (Dawkins coined the term “meme” three decades ago to refer to bits of culture that, he holds, reproduce and compete the way genes do.) Each religion, as he sees it, is a complex of mutually compatible memes that has managed to survive a process of natural selection."

Science is an excellent tool, but when scientists assume the role of High Priests, it becomes rather foolish.

1 comment:

Steven Carr said...

Here is what Swinburne saya about Hiroshima 'Suppose that one less person had been burnt by the Hiroshima atomic bomb. Then there would have been less opportunity for courage and sympathy;one less piece of information about the effects of atomic radiation....'

Dead people are justified by the fact that every charred corpse was one 'piece of infomation about the effects of atomic radiation'.

A low blow by Dawkins to quote Swinburne? Or lifting up the stone to see what was crawling underneath?