Saturday, April 18, 2009

The God Hypothesis?

I have been lent a copy of Richard Dawkins’ book, “The God Delusion?”, and in this last few days I have finally found a few moments to start reading it.

It will be interesting to see how strong his arguments are; Dawkins actually states in his preface to the book that if it works as he intends, “then religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.”  He alludes to the fact that there will be some who warn against reading the book, but I reason that if my faith is true then I should have nothing to be scared of.  For the record, although my bookshelf now contains a copy of “The Dawkins Delusion?” by Alister McGrath I intend to refrain from reading it until after I have finished Dawkins’ book.  That way, I will minimise any accusation that my thoughts and response to Dawkins may have been indoctrinated or contaminated.

Well, so far, I have opened the book and put it down several times, and I am still not an atheist.  On some of those occasions I have actually read some of the text therein, but despite now being some way through the second chapter I haven’t even had so much as a mini crisis of faith.

To be fair, it is obviously still early days, but I may as well pen a few initial observations for those who are interested.

I have to say that I like Dawkins’ style, and have so far found the book to be eminently readable.  He makes some good points, and although he makes no bones about the fact that he is “attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural,” there are some things which I agree with.  The notion that “there is no such thing as a Christian/Muslim child”  because a child is too young to have made a decision about faith for themselves, for example.

However, I have noticed that the first two chapters do contain a lot which seems to be designed to subtly belittle the idea of believing in God or being ‘religious.’  

A lot is made of the fact that Einstein claimed to be “a deeply religious non-believer” and did not believe in a personal God.  It is a fair point, then, to say that Einstein’s famous “science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind” might need quoting in context and religious people should not claim him to have been one of their own.  But does the fact that Einstein may have been an atheist mean that I should reconsider my faith?  Of course not.  The insinuation that lots of prominent scientists used the “religion” and “God” in ways meaning something different from what is conventionally meant may or may not have any truth behind it.  But I already know of several great minds who are or were atheists.  Adding a few more to that list is going to make no difference unless someone offers me proof that atheism is the only conclusion an educated person could ever reach.  We’ve been here before, of course, but the fact is, those famous adverts only say there is  *probably* no God…

Which brings me on to the famous Spagehetti Monster or Celestial Teapot idea.  Dawkins quotes Bertrand Russell’s idea that if he were to say that there was a teapot orbiting the sun, but which was too small to be seen by anyone, then no-one could prove otherwise.   That’s very true – if you were to tell me that you believed in an invisible Spaghetti Monster then I couldn’t 100% prove you wrong.

It means, of course, that I can’t tell you that there must be a God purely because you can’t prove otherwise.  The subtlety here is that Dawkins has lumped believers in God in with those who believe in celestial teapots and invisible spaghetti monsters.  The implication is that as a Christian I am on a par with someone we might generally think to be a lunatic. 

You might think that my faith in God is madness, but the difference between that and the celestial teapot claim is that I didn’t just pluck the idea of God out of thin air for no reason.  There may or may not be a teapot in orbit around the sun, but either way it has little bearing on anything.  On the other hand, the idea of God can be used to answer some questions (e.g. why are we here?) and there is a lot about my life and the world around me which fits in with the notion that there is a God.

Dawkins asks why such questions as “why are we here?” can’t be tackled by science.  Personally, I don’t think that science can’t attempt to tackle such questions; it’s just that I’ve yet to see any meaningful scientific answers.

Incidentally, I’ve noticed that Dawkins has little time for theologians.  There are frequent quips, such as “I’ve yet to see any good reason that theology (as opposed to biblical history etc.) is a subject at all.”  However, he seems to be embroiled in something of a circular argument.  It seems as though he belittles them because they believe in God, and then belittles the idea that they might have anything useful to say about God because he’s already discredited them.  So the wheel goes around…

Right.  That’s enough for one day.  I have lots to do, including some more reading, some sleeping and a bit of catching up with last week’s Apprentice.  So, without further ado, in the words of Bugs Bunny, “That’s all folks!”

 

3 comments:

KDG said...

Interesting reading P. It's good to see Christians actually reading this sort of stuff rather than just ignoring it.
I must say that Dawkins is on my personal prat list, and wish he'd just get in one of his buses and drive away, then perhaps we might actually be able to "enjoy our lives" as his slogan suggests, but people ought to read his book and address the points made rather than simply writing it off as rubbish straight away.

I too agree with Dawkins' point that a child cannot really be considered a Christian, Muslim, etc until they are old enough to decide for themselves. However, I don't doubt for a second that Dawkins would bring up his own children as "atheist children". I'm sure if they ever ended up a Christian he'd devote his time to trying to "deprogram" them.

Personally I can't imagine the book being enough to convince religious leaders to become atheists, as Dawkins seems to think will happen. His website is, unsurprisingly, full of testimonies from people he's helped "escape religion", though it seems to me that most of Dawkins' converts are confused, scared, directionless people looking for a charasmatic leader to tell them what the answers are and what to do. Sounds rather like a religion to me...

dave said...

"The subtlety here is that Dawkins has lumped believers in God in with those who believe in celestial teapots and invisible spaghetti monsters. The implication is that as a Christian I am on a par with someone we might generally think to be a lunatic."

Dawkins would say you are a lunatic, or at best an intelligent person that lies to themselves and those around you (Dawkins famously holds the opinion that Robert Winston is a liar (they are friends though) for claiming to be a Jewish Scientist).

I disagree with him. I don't think you're a lunatic or a liar. I just think you honestly believe what you've been taught.

The God Delusion won't make you an atheist. You can't teach an old dog new tricks (you're an old dog).

dave said...

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/richard_dawkins_on_militant_atheism.html

Dawkins is in fairly good form in this video.

"We are all atheists to a certain extent, some of us just go that one God further."