April 25, 2012

The God Delusion

I've read the book "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins.  It's interesting and good. To get this out of the way I feel that I fit in with the theory that God was the prime mover and created the Big Bang.  And that he hasn't been here since.  I'm about 50/50 on the scale of if God ever existed or not.

So, he starts out with the idea that evolution is the prime mover and shaker. That's what's fueled the world's explosion.  He also talks about the God hypothesis.  The reasons why God may exist, or may not exist.  He points out the inconsistencies of the Bible.  The barrenness of some of the stories in it.

Then he goes into the arguments for God's existence. The proofs of existence through beauty, personal relations, and the arguments from religious scriptures.  He breaks down each with a look at how science says it can't be so.

Then we get into "Why there is almost certainly no God" chapter.  He brings up the point of the Ultimate 747.  You can't build a 747 without having all the right parts.  To get those parts all by chance would be an order of magnitude of incredible proportions. Hence God is improbable as that airplane getting built. Then natural selection comes up. Darwin's theory of natural selection is heavily illustrated. Then irreducible complexity. You can't create such complex things is his point. Then he talks of gaps in the history of evolution. How creationists are eager to fill these gaps. Then he gets into the anthropic principle - planetary version. How did Earth end up at the right gap from the sun, with the right conditions for water, life, and everything on it?  He talks about the order of magnitude of the galaxies.  Just how many distant stars may have some conditions necessary for life? Then he talks about the anthropic principle - cosmological version.  The universe is one of millions of universes. Anyhow, a lot of discussion that was boring about physics ensues.

Now the half of the book about religion.  Why do we have it?  Isn't it consoling? Doesn't it motivate people to do good? If it weren't for religion how would we know what was good? Why, in any case, be so hostile? Why, if it is false, does every culture have a religion?

So, why do we have it?  For a sense of order in our lives?  He surmises that religions, like languages, evolved with sufficient randomness, from beginnings that are sufficiently arbitrary, to generate the bewildering, and dangerous, richness of diversity that we observe today.

Isn't it consoling? Don't we find some relief from the world's burdens when we rely on God and/or Jesus or whomever?  Find some comfort in the thought of the afterlife? Or perhaps comfort in the company of others?

Then he talks about the morality issue.  How the common thread throughout history has been that you don't need religion to be moral.  You just need to be decent.  How religion has shown itself to be the opposite of goodness, honesty and niceness.

Then he talks about the "Good Book" and the changing moral Zeitgeist. How, we, as society have moved quite rapidly from slavery is okay to it's not okay. How morals seen in centuries ago seem so crude and inhumane now. How we've evolved from 'blacks aren't the same as whites" to a black man now being President. And so forth.  He points out that Stalin was a likely atheist.  Did he kill because of that? Not likely, but perhaps.  Was Hitler an atheist? Not likely. He had a bizarre sense of xenophobia against Jews.  Brought on by hatred because of religious intolerance?  We'll never know.

Then he gets into "What's Wrong with Religion? Why so hostile?".  This is the section that I take most issue with.  He lists out all the horrible, awful, incredibly bizarre things that people have done in the name of religion.  But not once do he point out the goodness of what religion has done.  Very many great things!  Simply focuses on the negatives of it all.

Then he talks about indoctrinating children. How they should be allowed to make up their own minds.  Not forced into religions like their parents are. Free to explore, to wonder, to judge what's right and what's wrong.

He ends with the chapter "A much needed gap".  Talking about a burqua and how a woman can only see a narrow view out.  How we need to widen that gap, that view.  Show more.  He doesn't bother asking if the woman does or doesn't want to wear her veil.  Quite a few women who do wear one like to wear one, by the way.  Why we love the burqua  So, he gets a big minus from me there, too. But I understand he was simply using the veil as an illustration of the view some take.

So, to sum up.  I'm okay with the idea that God hasn't been around for a very long time.  Okay, disposed of that. I'm okay with the idea of natural selection.  I accept that we don't need religion in order to act well.  What I take great issue with is his summary dismissal of all religion as being bad.  I don't argue the fact that children should have their own path. I do agree that we need to widen the view.

In closing I'd like to post his view of modern ethics.  These are ones he picked off a website apparently, and a few of his own that I've paraphrased.

A modern code of ethics

- do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you.

- In all things, strive to cause no harm.

- Treat your fellow human beings, your fellow living things and the world in general with love, respect, honesty and faithfulness.

- do not overlook evil or shrink from administering justice but always be ready to forgive wrongdoing freely admitted and honestly regretted.

- live life with a sense of joy and wonder.

- always seek to learn something new.

- test all things, always check your ideas against the facts and be ready to discard even a cherished belief if it does not conform to them.

- Never seek to censor or cut yourself off from dissent; always respect the right of others to disagree with you.

- Form independent opinions on the basis of your own reason and experience; do not allow yourself to be led blindly by others.

- Question everything.

- maintain a happy life with regards to sex and let others have their right to their own personal sex life.

- don't distill your ideas into a child, let them question, wonder, and decide for themselves.

- do not discriminate on the basis of sex, religion or ethics.

So, does Dr. Dawkins live up to all of these ideals when he stated at the Reason Rally
Mock them! Ridicule them! — In public!

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