Tuesday, July 17, 2007

"Science is interesting..."

For those of you unfamiliar with Richard Dawkins… why?
No, but seriously, I am halfway through his latest book, The God Delusion, and I am finding it to be a positively exhilarating read.
And I use that word in its true meaning, not just in the sense of “exciting” but hmmm… animating!
Reading The God Delusion makes me feel happy.
Because it makes so much sense of things that have [traditionally] not made sense.
And things that make sense make me happy.

Many people, many readers, do not like Dawkins.
They feel that he is too scathing and barbed, and it’s true that he criticizes religion with all of the tact and gentleness and indecision of a barracuda.
He has absolutely no time for the hushed tones and unwarranted [← in his opinion] respect that religion, and religious “faith” is granted in our day.
And he pulls no punches. He is not unclear.

Right in the Preface, he sets forth his literary goal → “If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.”
Hmmm… Dawkins is not exactly the kind of guest-speaker you want at your next Women’s Aglow meeting, that’s for sure.
Nor will he be seen spreading butter across muffins at the next Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship Breakfast anytime soon!
Hell, no.
Admittedly, as little as three or four years ago, I myself [a former Christian minister] would have thought of Dawkins as somewhat of a Devil Incarnate. But, since I no longer even believe in a physical “Satan” per se, I have even less reason to believe that Dawkins is him.

Actually, I don’t even see what all of the fuss is about.
Can even one thinking person in the world today refute a page or paragraph of The God Delusion without resorting to the aid of subjectively held beliefs that have not a single shred of objectively-proven and/or scientifically verifiable evidence in their favor?
I think not.
Having said this though, I realize that objectively-proven and/or scientifically verifiable evidence, regarding religion, is not for everyone. For instance, it’s not for my mother, bless her soul. But it has become important for me, as an intellectual.
And apparently, it has become important to many people, as this book is still the #1 bestseller [at least in Canada] among non-fiction books today!

The chapter titles alone make me salivate like a Pavlovian dog:
-- Arguments For God’s Existence.
-- A Deeply Religious Non-Believer.
-- The Roots of Morality: Why Are We Good?
-- Why There Almost Certainly Is No God.
-- What’s Wrong With Religion? Why Be So Hostile?

A friend asked me why I bought Dawkins’s book in the first place.
I said, “Because it’s so shiny!”
Think about it!
Excellent marketing by Houghton Mifflin… they’ve employed all the tactics of the fish lure!
Shiny. Silver. Flashy. Plays tricks with the eye.
All other books look bland, when compared.
I picked the thing up, and at random, [if there is such a thing] turned to this Dawkinsian question → Why are scientists so cravenly respectful towards the ambitions of theologians, over questions that theologians are certainly no more qualified to answer than scientists themselves?
[I have a degree in Theology! It's on my wall, over there!...]
The hook sunk deep into my cheek, I was dragged to the cash register with the shiny book.
Dawkins has been summarily filleting me ever since!

So, to supplement my reading [and by the way, prior to this I read Christopher Hitchens’s new one, god Is Not Great… seems my heresy knows no bounds!]… as I was saying, to supplement my reading, I have looked to that greatest of modern-day resources…. Youtube.
I’ve watched umpteen video-clips of Dawkins in full flight!
But, I want to leave you with a link to one of these clips, one in which Dawkins [uncommonly] says only a few sentences. It is an excerpt from some sort of conference called Beyond Belief 2006.
Watch as the world-renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson politely perambulates around what he really wants to say to Dawkins…. watch as he takes a wildly circuitous route to his real question to Dawkins, which amounts to → “Richard, why do you have to be so nasty?”
When I first watched this clip, and it finally came ‘round to Dawkins offering his very brief rebuttal…. I spewed coffee from all three of my nostrils! [Don’t ask. Birth defect.]
I laughed out loud so vehemently, and so suddenly, that my cat Jack ran and hid under the bed.
I hope that the ever-effervescent Dawkins has a similar effect upon you, dear reader, even if you only have TWO nostrils! [Which deficiency, by the way, proves beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I am higher up on the evolutionary scale than you are, what with my extra one and all]!
Here is…. THE CLIP.


Sam Houston said...

Great review, Cip. I've been meaning to pick this one up either at a bookstore or at the library but always seem to forget about it...spooky, that, now that I think about it. :-)

cipriano said...

Thank you for your comment, Sam.
I can almost guarantee you that Dawkins will be a good, worthwhile read for you.
I recommend him, Devil-Likeness and all!
Intellectual honesty.
There has never existed a civilization that has had a more urgent need to apply a measure of intellectual honesty to their religious beliefs, in order to survive, moreso than this one [ours] the one that is currently alive and blog-reading,
And by survive, I don't mean spiritually survive.... I mean, physically, and spiritually, survive.
In this sense, authors like Dawkins, Hitchens, Sam Harris, John Shelby Spong, these are our modern-day prophets.

Merisi said...

Atheists are no prophets, they are no better than the Believers who insist there is a God, both have no proof. Have you ever found a scientist that showed scientific proof that there is no God? Why do they themselves call "Atheists" then, when all they have on their hands is only their belief that there is no God?
I am with the doubters, the questioners, the humble ones, like Kant, that simply say "We don't know". Agnostics, in short.

Ranting against "God Believers" lets those "No God Believers" shovel money. Humbles does not bear fruit, so to speak.

Merisi said...

"Humbleness" was the word I wanted to use. Sorry. ;-)

Read Ian McEwan's latest novel.
A very good argument for at least "trying", failure being better than a life not lived.

Beth said...

No coffee spewing out of my two nostrils but what a great retort.

Matt said...

Sounds like a modern, living Grand Inquisitor to me.

Atheists are no more than the "other side" of God, if God exists, light. The older I get, the more I look for God in the context of religious belief that is not Christianity.

God could be a phenomenon, a mindset, a landscape...I'm not sure. But I think I'll be interested in reading this one.

Anonymous said...

I don't know, Merisi. A prophet is simply one who tells of things to come, isn't he? Perhaps in our present world situation, where religion seems to cause more suffering than compassion, we would like to believe in such a prophecy.

And though belief and science may be different lenses through which we see a life that we choose to live, still the claims of many "Believers" that have CAUSED all these problems might benefit by being held to a little more intellectual honesty testing.

Yes, it is fine to believe. But how do you refrain from hoisting YOUR belief on others who do not see it the same? To paraphrase an old songwriter...You see it your way and I see it mine and we both see it slipping away.

Prophets are also known for their ability to rile folks up. Spong, Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris have all done this. Often the retorts to them are not based on anything much beyond the respondents' gut feelings.

Do we really think that that is enough evidence?

As for them having "only their belief" that there is no God, from what I have read of these people (Harris has pursued brain research and Easter beliefs rather rigorously...Spong is/was a bishop, Hitchens has had an Ivy League education, yadda yadda) you insult them by assuming that they have pursued the topic with something less than an open mind.

Who would really WANT to be an atheist? We have a lot to lose by adopting this stance. Don't we?
I respect their views. Just as I expect them to respect mine.

Ranting? I agree. Nothing is accomplished in a rant. But from what I have read - and I do not feel threatened, simply curious about what another person may have discovered - or think that they ahve discovered - on their journey. A personal journey for each of us.

What I like is that they are at least opening dialogue that may lead us to learn something of others' views, consider the platform that they bring to the debate.
Then we are free to ultimately decide - hopefully in a way that will not infringe upon the rights of others' rights.

I agree with cipriano - this is a frightening time - because of our inability to open the discussion without an unbending belief hampering it.

stefanie said...

Nice post Cip. I'm sneaking a read at work so can't dare look at the clip right now. I've had the Dawkins book on my reading list for awhile. I hope to get to it soon. Anything that opens up discussion as Anonymous stated is a good thing. In this case I don't think it matters who is right and who is wrong, only that we talk. I think it's pretty funny though that Dawkins is aiming for nothing less than "conversion" so to speak.

cipriano said...

Excellent excellent responses and stuff. I am thinking of posting a blog soon about my own "personal" take on these books, and these authors. [I myself am not an atheist, per se].
I want to comment on these comments, but time has eluded me lately.
All the best to ye all.
-- Cip

Cold Molasses said...

Cip, I look forward to such a posting of your own "personal" take on these topics...if you only had a blog that was suitable for such a theological posting...oh wait, you do...


(you now owe me for the free plug)

P.S. I just finished Hitchens book...I enjoyed the first half but the latter chapters started to bore me a little...nonetheless an interesting read. Interestingly enough, I can't bring myself yet to buy Dawkins works just because he is so "barbed" about it (I like that word!)...he is too certain for me.