philosophy { Vernon vs Dawkins

I'm still only halfway through the book. From what I've read I agree with some of it, and in other parts think Dawkins is missing something. I'm not the only one, Mark Vernon also feels the same, and goes on to explain in an interesting piece. Philosophers have the best arguments (and criticisms of each other). Grab some popcorn and read.

There is, I think, one good thing about The God Delusion. Read as a catalogue of religious excess and abuse and pulling no punches, it serves a purpose. Too often today, religionists of various persuasions get away with advocating everything from a literal six days of creation to violence against gay women and men. However, any good Dawkins’ reportage might have done is massively eclipsed by a book that is ultimately as blinkered, biased and, yes, deluded as the targets of his ire.

It can be said that he commits all seven of the deadly sins – and it is right to call them deadly. Originally these sins were to be feared because perpetrators risked being separated eternally from the source of all truth. In the same way, this book appears to separate Dawkins from the scientific approach he has at other times so brilliantly espoused.

Various members of the nerdpod (myself, Mr. Patient, Knight of Nothing, and JGW) once took part in what I feel was an epic discussion of the topic of religion and its place, what sparked this was a clip of the movie 'Jesus Camp'. Sadly they all finished the book before I did (I'm a slow reader) but our discussion wasn't on the book, it was on the topic. I'm not a christian, if pressed I would say I'm agnostic. I started reading the book mainly because many of my friends had read Dawkins and I saw them consumed with the same kind of zeal before I had only seen in those ultra-evangelical. Which is one of my main beefs with Dawkins. He instills a furor and following as fanatical as those he seeks to counter. How can this be productive? How can this polarization make us better? How can this open the door to discussion and help us seek the truth? On a side topic I think this is a failure of our modern society, we no longer (or never had?) have the ability to engage in debate, smack down, hardcore debate, where at the end people can agree to disagree and still live with each other respecting, not hating, their differences. In this arguement I see two sides who tolerate no one in the middle. On one side you have the evangelicals who feel the need to save you and convert you. On the other you have the atheists who condemn anyone with any amount of faith or even spirituality of any kind. In the middle exists an infinite degree of in between.

Intellectual humility matters in our society because we’re at risk of suffering much from those who adopt extremes. The debate about science and religion is a particularly important focus for this since it commands popular attention and is fired by effective polemicists, of whom Dawkins is only one. However, if we let the polemicists set the turns of the debate for too long, our intellectual and political well-being is threatened. As Daniel J. Boorstin, another agnostic, put it: “It is not skeptics or explorers but fanatics and ideologues who menace decency and progress.” The revival of a committed, passionate, but balanced and reasonable agnosticism is crucial in our day: without it religion will become more extreme and science more frighteningly utopian.


J G-W said...

Dang, GeistX, I was wondering when you were going to get around to finishing this book!

Well, I honestly didn't think Dawkins was all that extreme. In fact, as I've posted on Knight of Nothing's blog, I've actually found certain aspects of his argument strangely affirming of my own particular set of Latter-day Saint beliefs. And truth be told, Dawkins strikes me as a very kind, compassionate human being (even though his straw men arguments in the first half of the book annoyed the hell out me).

On that sureness scale he describes with those who are 100% sure that God exists on one end, and those who are 100% sure that God does not exist on the other end, I'm on the "100% sure God exists end." I say this without the least bit of hesitation. And I say this after having been through a time in my life where I would have put myself in the 99% sure God doesn't exist, with the 1 remaining percent standing for my belief that if God does exist, we should try to eradicate the bastard if we could. But now I know God exists because I'm one of those crazy people he talks to on a regular basis. And because the Holy Spirit's presence in my life has completely transformed me and has made me able to do things I never, ever in a million years would have dreamed possible: begin to make peace with the people I feared and hated the most.

I don't expect another single solitary soul to take my word for it. In fact, even if someone wanted to take my word for it, I would say, Don't Believe Me! I'd rather have someone be an honest atheist on the power of their own knowledge and experience and conscience, than have them set aside their reason for the sake of anybody else, no matter how trustworthy. I figure if God needs you to know what he's told me, he'll tell you himself. End of story.

There is a huge, vast middle ground between the warring extremes. Any Christian who isn't first and foremost concerned with making peace, who doesn't abhor violence in all its forms, including economic violence, spiritual violence, and rhetorical violence, has no idea who Jesus was, and does not know the first thing about the God referred to in the Gospel of John as "Love." That's my two cents worth.

Also, I'll take Dawkins' love-based atheism any day over any Christian hate-monger. At the final judgment, God won't ask Dawkins, "Did you believe in me?" He'll ask, "How much did you love?" That's also my two cents.

(I guess that makes four cents.)

J G-W said...

Also, in case you're interested, I actually mentioned Dawkins in a sermon I preached in August at All God's Children - Metropolitan Community Church.

GeistX said...

J-G-W thanks for the posts. I know I've been lax, my reading habits and style is slow because I read more than one book at a time and I'm easily distracted in a literary sense. Also, I've been reading his booker slower than I normally do because I've been making notes in the margin.

I think the main point I was trying to awkwardly make is that those who zealously don't believe in god, and confront those who do, or those who don't or those who don't care with the same level of passion as an evangelical trying to 'save' they are really not that much different.

I think I'll continue this topic again once I finish the book.

J-G-W I would recommend giving Zophorian's blog (link on my sidebar) a read. He is a philospher who is also spiritual and tackles the questions of faith and spirituality. He comes for a political side of the spectrum different than us, but I have had many good discussions with him.

J G-W said...

Hey, I wasn't trying to criticize your reading style.

I agree with your point about fanaticism of any stripe.

Knight of Nothing said...

Read on, amigo. Take it at your own pace. My comment echoes John's: as you delve further into his book, I think Dawkins reveals himself to be a gentle, self-effacing soul.

He has an impatience for laziness and lack of intellectual rigor, to be sure, and he angrily laments the distorted role that religion plays in civil society. But this is rhetoric, and a call to arms, not fanaticism.

Several people commented to me privately about my post on his book. They had an eagerness to read Dawkins after reading it, and suggested that their secular yearnings had no voice or means of expression.

That is what Dawkins is ultimately trying to do: to free us from the shackles of dogmatic religious thought, and show a way to a meaningful life without religion.