Haven't read "The Dawkins Delusion?" yet, but am reading McGrath's earlier "Dawkins' God," and suggest that it might be a better place to start for McGrath on Dawkins. I get the impression from reviews that the latest book might have been rushed into print as an antidote to Dawkins' "The God Delusion."
The more I read of Dawkins and about Dawkins, the greater my impression that he is an utterly humorless individual; and the more I wonder what happened to him in early life to make him hate religion, and especially Christianity, so.
Sam Harris, in contrast, comes across as an atheist who seems genuinely concerned about the negative effects of religious faith on believers and non-believers alike.
Religion, with all its failings, has been a great positive force in society. As a "back-slidden" Methodist agnostic, I am deeply concerned that, as traditional religion disappears from many people's lives, nothing good is waiting in the wings to take its place. Radical environmentalism, liberal politics, anti-Americanism and New Age "philosophy" are not going to get the job done.
For the seekers among us, I submit that Harris will be a better guide than Dawkins.
To lighten the mood a bit, I recommend a video interview (available on YouTube and also entitled "The Dawkins Delusion"), in which Dr. Terry Tommyrot deals with the crucial question, "Does Richard Dawkins Exist?"
Dawkins is far from humorless and although he has no use for religion, he has a serious, though subtle, spiritual side. I have most of his books; it is unfair to judge him based only on "The God Delusion." I found that work satisfying in several respects but it does not even begin to comprehend the range of his ideas. If Dawkins detests religion, he is not alone, because people acting from religious motives have done so many cruel things to make religion disgusting. It would be enough just to list all the killings performed in the name of God - though they are too many to enumerate. Religion may comfort some but why must so many use it as a weapon? Why not just accept its consolation and rejoice? That aside, Dawkins is correct: there is no objective evidence for the existence of God. To use a made-up or only subjectively knowable creature, then, as an excuse for cruelty seriously deserves moral condemnation. Better to believe in something good and kind, yet people insist they are the only ones with the Truth - and then they do foul things in its name. Certainly one needs no more basis for detesting religion than that.
Thank you. I agree this book seems to have been rushed into print as an antidote to Dawkins' book. I also agree with you that Sam Harris is more positive than Dawkins - at least in the books concerning religion. Dawkins is very positive in other books, though not with respect to religion. His "Unweaving the Rainbow" is heartfelt and tinctured with a sense of awe and wonder at nature very familiar to many, I'm sure.
You say you acknowledge the downside of religion in your post, but you assert that, with all its faults, religion has been a "great positive force in society." I am not sure what society you are talking about, but for all its contributions, I believe religion has a very bad record overall, for reasons set out in my original post and others besides. I would therefore respectfully disagree with this observation.
I am a back-slidden Lutheran/Congregationalist agnostic and I have not felt a lack of anything in my life since I quit attending church in 1998. I am relieved to focus on life in this world instead of worrying about the melancholy paradoxes of theology concerning the next. I have found joy and solace in the writings of T. H. Huxley, Darwin and American pragmatists like Chauncey Wright and William James, who was never enough of a skeptic for the atheists nor enough of a believer for the pious. If there is another world after this one, I am content to take it on its own terms and not waste precious time in this life dueling with others over what we simply cannot know. Agnosticism has been enormously liberating for me - exhilarating, actually, especially after decades of worrying about all the glaring contradictions of Christian theology. I still love the religious music I have always loved - Bach, Mendelssohn, Christmas carols, Mozart and so on. I admire the wealth of art and architecture that faith has produced. I enjoy poetry in the Bible, or, say, the Book of Jonah as a delightful portrait of the kind of ornery human material God has to work with. I do not find a problem with believing in God, but to me that is an exquisitely sensitive, private concern and no one else's business. American religion has given itself a black eye by insisting everyone own up publicly to being this or that. What monstrous hypocrisy. What happened to entering your closet to pray? What of the secrets of the true and faithful heart, as opposed to the long prayers in the synagogoue and the greetings in the market place?
I know many of the "nice" Christians. They are great people. But why then do they have to develop these exclusive, tribal associations that clamor for money and seem to exist merely as social clubs with an incidental relationship to religion? Why do people waste so much money building churches, with costly organs, stained glass windows, carpeting, kitchens and so on, which exist essentially on a pretext provided by a one-hour-a-week service when the pastor is strictly enjoined to keep the sermon short enough to allow parishioners to get out in time to enjoy brunch or golf? Think of the good that people could do in the world if they eschewed this clannishness and spent that money on helping the poor and the sick, associating with others not like them, for once. But they don't. I was even told people who do not pledge are not necessarily welcome. A member who pays, in other words, is welcome, unlike a member who merely prays. I could fill reams of paper with examples of hypocrisy and cruelty, from those who want to call themselves Christians but who drive SUV's and cause most of the pollution that afflicts 12,000,000 American kids with asthma; those who venerate Christianity, they say, but cannot imagine a single-payer plan that would make healing the sick a reality; the so-called Christians who abuse, threaten or kill people who insist that church and state be kept separate. I realize this is not an "olive branch" but I feel there is a radical side to Jesus that our Christian churches ignore - even betray.
I agree with you: New Age religion is pretty much narcissistic blather, and pretty insipid blather at that. I also agree many people lead empty lives and do not know what to do with themselves. That surprises me. I do not watch TV and I am never bored. I do not have scads of friends and am not naturally gregarious. But there are books, music, painting, gardens, museums, walks - and simply being a good neighbor - that only require us to act, without regard to matters of private conscience. In short, I do not need religion to give me a purpose for my life. People (candidly) seldom agree on God's alleged purpose anyway. They make up their own purposes and ascribe them to God. I do not need religion to teach me morality. I agree with Jefferson that the moral example of Jesus is a great one but it is not entirely consistent. Further it is not(as I argued above) an example most "Christians" will ever follow, or ever have.
As you say (and here I agree emphatically), a lighter view of the case is welcome and I am tickled that anyone has ventured to playfully challenge whether Dawkins exists.
The society I'm talking about is two millenia of Western Culture. There was a time when the only art was church art, the only music was church music, a lot of philosophy was theology, and if people hadn't had the Bible to read they would have had nothing to read at all. I'm not willing to toss out that baby with Dawkin's bathwater.
To the extent that humans want to blame our "religion" for the bad things we do to each other (and to ourselves!) religion is to be despised. However, as a person of religious sensibilities, I have to ultimately consider Dawkins' apparent hatred of all manifestations of the religious impulse as a bit of a puzzle, and an aberration in a body of thought that rises to the profound at times. We still need to laugh at him when he takes himself too seriously.
I found your post a delight to read. It was a real pleasure after the blather we're surrounded with. We're a lot closer together in our perceptions of "the big issues" than I thought at first.
I stayed in the Church for the music long after I had outgrown the theology; also, I wanted my children to grow up exposed to the positive values of the Church community.
For what passes for popular culture (an oxymoron if there ever was one), positive values are thin on the ground.
Thank you, Rick, for your kind words. I cannot disagree that 2,000 years of culture is too much to abandon, and I would not propose it. I also agree that the propensity to blame religion for all our human frailties is not altogether realistic. Again, I don't think Dawkins actually hates "all manifestations of the religious impulse." I suppose that may need some defining but as I said above, he does leave room for awe and wonder about nature here on Earth, and the cosmos. In fact, he barely opens the door to a conception of God that would satisfy many believers in an exchange with Francis Wilson in Time magazine (please see below). I think his real hostility is to the religion(s) human beings have invented, as opposed to the natural yearning for something greater and the sense of awe (reverence) most reflective people experience on considering the universe. In fact, he said:
"DAWKINS: My mind is not closed, as you have occasionally suggested, Francis. My mind is open to the most wonderful range of future possibilities, which I cannot even dream about, nor can you, nor can anybody else. What I am skeptical about is the idea that whatever wonderful revelation does come in the science of the future, it will turn out to be one of the particular historical religions that people happen to have dreamed up. When we started out and we were talking about the origins of the universe and the physical constants, I provided what I thought were cogent arguments against a supernatural intelligent designer. But it does seem to me to be a worthy idea. Refutable-but nevertheless grand and big enough to be worthy of respect. I don't see the Olympian gods or Jesus coming down and dying on the Cross as worthy of that grandeur. They strike me as parochial. If there is a God, it's going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed."
I find nothing wrong with that kind of perspective and I certainly don't see in it anything that suggests Dawkins hates all manifestations of the religious impulse, to once more borrow your phrase. In fact I was surprised Dawkins concluded on that note - and pleasantly surprised at that.
Again, I appreciate your thoughtful postings and good-natured approach to this discussion. As a lawyer, it's easy for me to be polemical, but bringing people together in a spirit of good will and reconciliation makes my life much easier, personally and professionally. Thanks again for yor thoughts.
His statement quoted in your last post reveals a much more appealing Richard Dawkins than I have encountered before.
I have been tempted for some time to put down my ideas about why we still need religion, what a proper religion ought to be like, and what it shouldn't be like. (A fairly modest proposition, don't you think?)
I tremendously enjoy these Amazon discussion threads, but find them a potential black hole for my time and energy.
For several months I have been running a weblog (valtec.typepad.com/thinking). A blog has the potential for reaching a wider audience than the discussion threads. (I'm very sanguine about the difficulty of developing a readership, but I like the continuity that blog postings permit, as opposed to a discussion thread; and also a kind of permanence and organization, to the extent that you can archive your blog postings.)
I have been threatening for years to write a book, but being in my 72nd year and still active in my business, I find myself without the time or energy (not to mention the means) to do so. The blog has emerged as a way to begin to organize my thoughts in a piecemeal way, as time permits.
I'm sure this all sounds outrageously presumptuous, but this is where Richard Dawkins comes in. It's highly desirable to channel humanity's positive religious impulses and sensibilities into constructive channels, and away from the destructive channels that religion has flowed through for millenia. We need something like this, if only as an interim thing, to keep the wrong forces, movements and "leaders" from filling the values vacuum that is developing. Call it secular humanism, if you like. Maybe I'm just talking about, to use your wonderful phrase, "a spirit of good will and reconciliation."
To close the loop on Richard Dawkins, where all this started: Maybe we could talk him into applying his marvelous talents into being for something like this, instead of just being against his idea of religion.
In the meantime, I'm going to pursue some of the thoughts I've rattled on about here (including my thoughts about Dawkins) in the blog. I would value your reactions as some of this develops.
There is a lot of interesting stuff in the above discusion. I would like to make a few points.
There is no such thing as religion. There are only the religions, which are quite different from and contradictory to each other. Religions are one kind of worldview, a theistic or supernatural one. Of necessity, every adult has some sort of worldview, if not a theistic one, then an atheistic or naturalistic one.
It is often stated that there is no evidence for God's existence, or the truth of any religion. This is often put forth as if it were an uncontroversial truth, but in fact it is highly controversial. E.g., I believe that God's existence can be proven.
"Religion" has a mixed record of course. However, I believe that many if not most good things in western civilization came from Christianity. In contrast, I think that the record of naturalistic worldviews in history has mainly been one of destruction.
And yes, I think there is a lot of evidence for these points.
You raise some interesting points. I sort of surprised myself with my last post to Jon; I had no idea where it was going when I started.
Not only are you correct that there are ultimately only religions plural , there are are a lot of (movements, causes?) which have become religions for many people, that they don't even admit to being religions-radical environmentalism, liberal politics, New Age-which are catching on because of the relentless drumbeat against traditional religions, particularly Christianity. You rightly identify atheism itself as a religion. Its prophet is Richard Dawkins.
That's the reason that, although I myself am an agnostic, I am horrified to see "religion" disappearing from so many lives, and taking the best values of western culture with it.
Perhaps what I tossed out (I'm not sure yet) is the idea of a synthetic religion. Problem is, I'm too old to be a prophet.
Thanks for you response. I agree with what you say about there being all sorts of things that have become religions today, including the ones you mention. Perhaps it would be better to call them political religions, or ersatz religions, as Eric Voegelin did.
Which is what I think that any synthetic "religion" would become. People have created many of these religions or worldview in the past. Since they are the creation of limited and very imperfect human beings, the worldviews they invent contain the flaws of their creators, which has led to disaster.
Perhaps the biggest flaw in any naturalistic scheme is not the absence of God, but the assumption of natural human goodness. It is presupposed that human beings are naturally good, and need only the right environment to acheive their potential. This leads to utopianism, and then to totalitarianism, as one needs total control of the society to try to create a utopia. Which is why the Christian doctrine of inate sinfulness is a block to this kind of thinking.
In any event, what is importtant is truth, not whether we can imagine a worldview that pleases us. Does God exist, and if so, has he revealed himself? What worldview accurately describes reality? These are the foundational issues.
I have also enjoyed this correspondence. Like you, I find it time-consuming. I also deplore what you refer to as a values vacuum. That seems to arise from poor parenting and the "me first" ethic which is inherent in capitalism and has made America so inimical to the "after you" of the Gospels.
I do not agree with S. Parrish that there are only religions and no "religion." S/he says "There is no such thing as religion. There are only the religions, which are quite different from and contradictory to each other. Religions are one kind of worldview, a theistic or supernatural one." This set of statements is self-contradictory in more than one respect and proves my point. Religion is what emerges from a theistic or supernatural worldview. Of course it is really just a quibble as to whether there is "religion" or "religions," since there could not be plural religions without there being religion any more than there could be men without there being man. We call all these different sects, denominations, faiths and cults "religions," so we must mean they have something in common, namely they partake of the nature of religion, not to sound too Platonic.
I also respectfully disagree that atheism is a religion. If one were to profess a belief that "There is no God," would that qualify as a religion? Not according to Parrish's own writings. Non-belief is not a "theistic or supernatural worldview"! Besides, atheists come in different kinds: at least those who positively affirm that God does not exist, and those who merely say there is no proof of God's existence and thus no basis for belief. I think it is hard to characterize either of those positions as a religion just because people believe them. What one believes is not a religion merely because one believes it. (See, e.g., C.S. Peirce, "The Fixation of Belief.")
Lastly, I think Dawkins has done a great job of advancing the position that there is no proof God exists by debunking the arguments normally offered for the existence of God. While he was barely willing to concede the possibility, as he said in Time magazine (quoted above), I am not sure how anyone surmounts his objections to the proof issue without resorting to circular reasoning or mere extrapolation from personal and highly subjective experiences.
The word "religion" is used with different contradictory meanings. When I (he) wrote that by religion I meant a theistic or supernatural worldview, I was trying to give the "best" definition I could, one that kept most of the different meanings. It is not contradictory to say that there is no "Religion," only the religions: in saying religion here what I am saying is that there is the universal, but not the concrete. The concrete entities are the religions, which have doctrines and practices that are often wildly contradictory to each other. Obviously, they have to have something in common, otherwise they couldn't be put in one group. But there is no one thing, one concrete entity Religion, of which the different religions are just a part. I agree that calling political movements religions is not the best, though again, the word religion has different meanings. That is why I prefer the word worldview, or if religion is to be used, "political or ersatz religion."
Of course, as you say, this is really just a quibble. But there is an imprtant point here. Secularists sometimes use arguments like, "Religion is terrible. The Aztec religion had human sacrifice, Hinduism had the burning of widows, Islam has Jihad, the Catholic church had the inquisition, etc. "Religion" is responsible foer some really horrible things." They seem to use the argument to say that something bad than one religion does sticks to all of them. Besides the fact that this litany of horrors is one sided, it confuses things. Why should Christianity be be blamed for widow burning when it is opposed to it, and it was mainly Christians who led the fight to outlaw the practice? Hinduism and Christianity are very differnt worldviews.
I have not read Dawkins book, and probably won't. I have read over 40 defenses of atheism, most of them by professional philosophers. The more I read, the less I am impresssed by them. For a case for God's existence see my book, "God and Necessity," 2001 ed. If anyone can give a more specific criticism of theistic arguments here, I will be glad to read them.
I regret I will not be looking up your book. I just re-read Bertrand Russell's decades-old essay on whether the idea of God has contributed to civilization. More and more I agree with him and Dawkins. Since you have not offered any arguments here for the existence of God, you will forgive me for not agreeing or disagreeing with you further.
Your posting is a rather odd one. I didn't know we were posting arguments for the existence of God here, nor did anyone ask me for one. I can give you one if you want, but it would be a lot easier just to read my book. However, if you want an outline, let me know.
I totally disagree with Russell, Dawkins, and you on the effect of God on civilization. Christianity has played a large part, if not the major part, in the rise of modern science; the western sysemt of liberty under law; human rights; the abolition of slavery, widow burning, foot binding and other social evils; and the high status of women in the west, among other things. To be blunt, it seems to me that Russell, Dawkins and so on are so controlled by their biases that they ignore the evidence.
Sorry you don't want to continue the conversation.
The question does Bertrand Russell still exist is more interesting. Did he find out he was wrong one-minute after he died. That after all is the place of truth not these meandering Amazon forums.
I tell you this my friend when Bertrand was dying (friend of a friend so to speak) he did not convert to Christianity or anything but I swear to you he was a confused man at the end. Only 5 years ago I spoke with a very intelligent Catholic priest, a man who really was with him near his end, a true academic who himself is on the other side now.
The certainty of their writings betray the true complexities of their inner thoughts. The philosophers argue a position, no more. What they write and what they really are, are different stories.
"Religion, with all its failings, has been a great positive force in society. As a "back-slidden" Methodist agnostic, I am deeply concerned that, as traditional religion disappears from many people's lives, nothing good is waiting in the wings to take its place. Radical environmentalism, liberal politics, anti-Americanism and New Age "philosophy" are not going to get the job done."
Very impressive and mature comment. True, religion isn't perfect. Nor are its members. However, in the case of the Catholic Church, religion's contributions for the good of humanity have been enormous.
True, if religion should simply disappear, I fear for what will replace it.
I see a pattern here of general ignorance of the effects of Christianity in society for the past 2000 years, not to mention Judism and Islam. Religion has had almost an exclusively negative effect including witch burnings, the execution of 'heretics', religious wars, sectarian genocides, imprisioning scientists who actually had it right, etc. They burned countless helpful books and set medical science as well as the rest of the sciences back at least a 1000 plus years. Religion is a lame reason to be kind to others. Let's see....God will torture you forever of you are not nice to others. Wow, what kind of sick being is this? If you are a kid you enjoy playing with others. There is nothing mystical about this. And your moma will point out that if you are mean to the other kids they won't want to play with you. This same basic principle applies to adults as well. Is this something that we can only know from on high or is it natural in human relations all over the world, despite the fact that many are still violent (often due inspiration from religious dogma). And, why can't atheists be Nationalistic? Atheism doesn't have anything to say about politics, philosophy, etc, except that we don't have to be informed by an angry god as to how to behave with others.
Have you read the God Delusion? There were quite a number of passages made me laugh...I got the feeling that I and Dawkins would get along very well. I became a Deist alone after much private thinking, and then afterwards I started reading the current popular literature on the subject. I was stunned at how similar my views were to that of Richard Dawkins... But he did help me make the jump from rationalistic deism to atheism/skepticism in The God Delusion. I don't think its an age gap thing, I'm 22, and I still found him humorous.
I wanted to respond to Richard Wrights's first post , I quote : " I am deeply concerned that, as traditional religion disappears from many people's lives, nothing good is waiting in the wings to take its place. Radical environmentalism, liberal politics, anti-Americanism and New Age philosophy are not going to get the job done." I just wanted to suggest Krishnamurti. As an atheist, this is a spirituality that appeals to me, and I was happy to discover that Sam Harris also had Krishnamurti on his reading list.
JMB1014, you can detest religion, but that doesn't mean it's false. People truly thought they were performing in wars because that's what their deity wanted. Now..it's a different story, right? Well...maybe? 9/11 was a religious attack, right? Or..was it that the terrorists jsut hated America?
But if God doesn't exist, then where did life come from? Is Biogeneisis or whatever it is actually a true method that can really occur? Is that the first cause that atheists are going with? It seems that requires some "faith" as well. Don't you agree?
<<<Card Recipient says: JMB1014, you can detest religion, but that doesn't mean it's false. People truly thought they were performing in wars because that's what their deity wanted. Now..it's a different story, right? Well...maybe? 9/11 was a religious attack, right? Or..was it that the terrorists jsut hated America? >>>
Quite likely they did believe their deity wanted them to do that. That doesn't mean their deity exists.
<<<But if God doesn't exist, then where did life come from? Is Biogeneisis or whatever it is actually a true method that can really occur? Is that the first cause that atheists are going with? It seems that requires some "faith" as well. Don't you agree? >>>
They only "Faith" required is the knowledge that every single discovery made in human history has had a natural basis. We have hypothesis as to how this could have worked, and since every single thing we've ever discovered has a natural mechanism, it's likely the beginning of life did too.
Claiming "GOD DID IT!" because we don't yet know the mechanism for something is not rational.