Monday, September 14

"The God Delusion “by Richard Dawkins

Review of the book “The God Delusion “by Richard Dawkins

In his book “The God Delusion” Dawkins distances himself from pantheism (the idea God is in everything) and Buddhism but singles out for criticism the traditional fundamentalist interpretation of a theistic GOD representative of the Abrahamic based faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. His approach is to first define the GOD hypothesis from which to argue against GOD’s existence, the religious philosophy of omnipotence outlined by Aquinas, the non relevance for a vengeful God and how morality is unconnected with religion.

I found his book lacking in philosophical challenge.

Here is my review:

The problem for me with Dawkin’s reasoning is that many of his concerns about fundamentalism in religion are equally shared by non fundamentalists who have no problem in retaining a belief in GOD. All of his philosophical rebuttals are also reliant on the philosophical materialism that undewrites all of modern science. Aquinas put the idea of God succinctly as “BEING” – unrelated to any form of materialism.

Dawkins takes issue with Aquinas on the omnipotence of GOD, but Astrophysicist Jesuit George Coyne explores the ideas of continued creation in a different way - “A theologian already poses the concept of God’s continuous creation with which to explore the implications of modern science for religious belief. GOD is working with the universe, the universe has a certain vitality of its own like a child does, and it has the ability to respond to words of endearment and encouragement. Coyne rejects the idea of the omnipotent and omniscient GOD of old – “The universe is not GOD and it cannot exist independently of GOD. Neither pantheism nor naturalism is true. But, if we confront what we know of our origins scientifically with religious faith in GOD the Creator –if, that is , we take the results of modern science seriously –it is difficult to believe that GOD is omnipotent and omniscient in the sense of many of the scholastic philosophers. For the believer, science tells us of a GOD who must be very much different from a GOD as seen by them.”

Dawkin’s has no doubt forgotten more of evolutionary biology than I can remember-what one would expect from the culmination of a life’s study and efforts in one’s chosen endeavors. It is not this scholastic record that I question since I accept and trust what he has to say about biology is true. He is also at odds with dozens of eminent evolutionary biologists that do believe in GOD- but that is not my point, rather my issue is his emphatic assertion any debate in relation to the existence of GOD must remain within the province of science and evidentiary material proof.

The problem with this assertion is apparent as modern science refuses to talk about value, purpose or consciousness- under which such a belief would be debated. Dawkins does make some references but never really strays too far from his original premise to demand scientific evidence to argue against his atheistic views.

Science only talks about the theories in relation to physical objects supported by observation and mathematics. It cannot purport to understand ultimate reality since there is no evidence to support or calculate its definitive nature or existence. Likwise we cannot say what it is any more than we say what it is not - but Dawkins insists we can say what it is not- it cannot be spiritual - it can only be physical, since it is only the physical things that we can study.

Dawkins refuses to step outside his narrow reference, yet warns sternly against ’absolutism’ which I endorse – but it seems to me his ideas that nothing is possible outside sciences’ materialistic philosophy is an absolute statement. – A denial of the possibility of anything spiritual. Dawkins insists science comes up trumps – the best fitted shoe for any philosophical logical argument despite the fact the vast majority of scientific studies and discoveries have all been counter intuitive. Even possibly the greatest - Einstein’s theory of general relativity may yet need to be modified should we ever develop a coherent theory for quantum gravity.

Even so, on many occasions, we rightly put our faith in science- until another theory can be proven. However, within Dawkin’s own field of expertise – biology - the Holy Grail of Darwinian evolution which underpinned scientific belief is under challenge. It is acknowledged our early earth temperatures, following the “big bang” at 300 degrees Celsius were a very hostile environment for any primitive life but we have now discovered bacteria ( bacteria has DNA ) continuing to exist in the heart of volcanoes, where conditions replicate those first earliest conditions. It seems plausible many uncoded molelcular forms with the potential to self replicate binded together and under natural selection evolved into the coded RNA and DNA molecules that drive the functioning and reproduction of all living cells.

I think you could liken it to a form of evolved intelligent design or creation or biological evolution- ( call it whatever you wish) arising effortlessly over many billions of years. The remarkable sequential life giving events give rise to a possibility of another form of intelligence, which is outside of material matter and energy to created it (nothingness or GOD) or that which was necessarily and preceded its existence.(nothingness or GOD)

For acclaimed physicist and mathematician Stephen Wolfram, life complexity, intrinsic to physics is not only driven by natural selection but more from the ability of non complex life forms to quickly become complex. Wolfram contends wherever one sees complexity-say in the shape of a leaf –its form is not just generated because of some particular purpose by some sophisticated process. He has indicated in his experiments biology expands into complexity from even very simple rules of growth- even in complex species evident in the fluidity of parallel cell development.

I think the creative element exists within evolution which nevertheless remains an important milestone in helping us better understand how we came to be whom we are. We have only recently evolved our “consciousness” allowing us to ask the big metaphysical questions. Modern science is not philosophy- since it remains a helpful tool to relay layers of light to guide our path, just as religiosity with metaphors, analogies and old stories from differing cultural backgrounds illuminate ones beliefs.

All of the arguments against a belief in GOD presented by Dawkins with much aplomb are self refuting. You can argue until you are black in the face and it won’t make an a iota of difference - our existence gives rise to a much stronger philosophical arguments that appeals to another’s existence and so on back to the original singularity which transcends our understanding. In every day of our adult life we make an estimated 2 billion judgments with only the very tiniest slither ever entering our consciousness. To assume such a tiny slither makes our scientific undertanding the irrefutable be all of everything seems to me to be in the exact same vein as Dawkins assertions against the fundamentalist GOD delusion. All of his assertions, once debated philosophically, expose the weak ineffectual nature of such non existential arguments.

Dawkins also makes a point of the possibility of linking violence to religion. I don’t wish to defend the indefensible – past atrocities committed in the name of religion remain atrocities, but I think religion is often the lever which would be easily substituted for another secular one to suit the purpose of its murderous perpetrators should it be convenient within a particular country or region. In other words I think the desire and will to power which consumes some in an “ecstasy of violence” does not need religion to power its explosive fuel. There have been any number of commensurate psychopaths in many countries in which religion was not a good lever but whose rule precipitated untold death and misery – some of the worst in modern history had no need for religion to underpin such pathways.

The idea of a reconciliation, and for justice to finally prevail are not pie in the sky romantic notions of a flowery religion, but viable alternatives for hope that transcends a miserable materialistic philosopy of science. That hope in goodness in turn depends upon the actions and the philosophy we adopt in this world today. Atheists, humanists, agnostics and believers equally can all do very good work, since good is not dependent upon belief although it may influence what you do and why we do it.

As Dawkins attempts to tear down the old theistic idols he reveals his passion for science and for science’s ability to make sense of much of the material world for us – one that I share with him – but I also think his atheistic passion borders on the equivalent of the religious zealot so consumed by his belief that one is unable to ascertain his own life philosopy - except for the one lonely point – He does not believe in GOD.


susan said...

This was a wonderful review of a book I found wanting for many reasons similar to yours. A book I read recently called 'Biocentrism' written by a very reputable scientist, Robert Lanza, might be just the thing to clear your palate after that one.

I'm reminded of something said by Jung:

Synchronicities are little miracles, through which an otherwise Unseen Consciousness communicates with us. We may speak to the gods in prayer, but significant coincidence is the medium whereby they speak to us.

Seraphine said...

i suspect eventually science will find a reason behind reality. spirituality will have an explanation. we will know the mechanics of creation and dying.
do i believe in god, a supreme, all-knowing, omniscient intelligence? no. mostly because there is too much ugliness, cruelty, brutality and pain in the world. life itself is too arbitrary to suggest a rational intelligence behind it.
at least, i hope that is the case. if god were a person, i wouldn't like him very much.
science might prove me wrong some day.

Seraphine said...

the best bosses mingle with the unwashed masses! that might have prevented the financial mess the western world is in at present.

arulba said...

Interesting review.

I haven't read anything by Dawkins, yet. Scientists, like many Western theists,take it on faith that time is real and linear. Therefore, they assume there is a definite beginning and end and almost all of Western science and religion is skewed by this perspective which doesn't exist in the East or among most Native American cultures. There is no discussion in most Eastern philosophies of beginning and ends or intelligence out of nothing. Most claim the discussion of "which came first" misses the point of our existence. Not that it's not interesting or non-important, but rather the focus on the questions "why do we live" and "where do we come from" pales in significance to question, "how shall we live".

Scientists who fail to realize the faith based nature of their research because they think their assumptions are the Truth with a capital T seem to me to be committing the same error as those they warn us against. I totally agree with you! It's really just another form of religious zealotry.

Gary said...

Lindsay, this was a thoughtful and terrific read.

I have been a fan of Dawkins for some time and became a bit of a fundamental non-believer partly due to his writings. I also read Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, who are of the 'religion does no good' vein.

Lately, I find myself much more nuanced in my thinking. I still find religious belief of any stripe on the side of superstition and projection. But I do see the inherent search for consciousness and connection within them sometimes.

As for the violence card - religion is not the cause of violence or the antidote in my thinking. It's more complex. I am compelled to think secular humanism and doubting religious thinking may lead us further ethically than religious practice though.

Whoops, I'm rambling (and not as thoughtful as your review).

My partner Anna will love your review, as it aligns well with her thinking when we debate this :)

Best to you - we will be in Australia for a month Nov/Dec by the way...

Seraphine said...

"Dawkins insists science comes up trumps – the best fitted shoe for any philosophical logical argument despite the fact the vast majority of scientific studies and discoveries have all been counter intuitive."
i like the pleasant way you have of reminding others that they have their shoe on the wrong foot. and shhhh! he likely has mismatched socks too.

lindsaylobe said...

Hi everyone. Thanks you for your thoughtful comments.


Thnks for the encouragement and that book sounds like a good read. I just read "The Fifth Miracle” by physicist science writer Paul Davies which was also interesting. See below where I subsequently make references to him and his conclusion. Thanks also for your references and to the master Jung.

Sera - I think we are all trapped within this multiverse - confined to the limits of our imagination since we cannot step outside the universe to view its reality but rather are confined to the fascinating images and discoveries from deep outer space to the seemingly contradictory nature of tiny particles behaviors as illustrated by quantum mechanics.

Many scientists maintain there is no ultimate reality – only more and more pieces to the reality jigsaw but I prefer physicist writer Paul Davies ideas that thinking beings were always fundamental and integral to the consequence of a universe in which we are not alone.

Within this mystery of creation- that binds matter and energy to evolve into consciousness lies our difficulty in understanding the nature of free will and determinism- what can be beautiful or bad but also seems mostly random.


Nice to hear from you again. Maybe they all have a valid point since our quest to find a definitive beginning and end is going nowhere fast – where does life come from? Was it from the first chemical soup of our universe contained within meteorites which bombarded the earth’s surface or was there always an ephemeral intelligence present which enables matter and energy to bind together to evolve into life. If we opt for the latter the idea of a beginning and end starts to get fuzzy ?

In the meantime we continue to struggle to show compassion and trust to one another.

You may find the conclusion to “The 5th Miracle’ by Davies on page 227 interesting ‘’ on the one hand is orthodox science, with its nihilistic philosophy of the pointless universe, of impersonal laws oblivious of ends, a cosmos on which life and mind, science, and art, hope and far, are but fluky incidental establishments on a tapestry of irreversible cosmic corruption.
On the other hand, there is an alternative view, undeniably romantic but perhaps true nevertheless. It is the vision of a self – organizing and self –complexifying universe, governed by ingenious laws that encourage matter to evolve towards life and consciousness. A universe in which the emergence of thinking beings is a fundamental and integral part of the overall scheme of things. A universe in which we are not alone.


You may have read some of the material from Unitarian philosopher Peter Singer. I love the way Peter challenges us to be more generous in our support in the world to strangers in countries living below the poverty line. Peter is a great guy and a atheistic moral ethicist who I think nevertheless echoes that same ideas of Christ –just going to prove to me what is good has nothing to do with ones beliefs although they may in turn influence what we do and why we do it.

Albert Schweitzer was another who proposed the spiritual and ethical is fused in his insightful ‘reverence for life’ principle to create the values for ethical practices that we still struggle to achieve. I agree that the extreme fundamentalism of religion with abstract values is indeed a hindrance to ethical outcomes but l also think most fanaticism has its roots tied to a secular power struggle. I hope to see you both when you’re in Australia.

Best wishes

The Crow said...

I wish I had some astute observation to add to those already posted, but I don't. I will say, simply, that I appreciate what you have written, and that of those who responded to you. Looks like I have a book list to compose and visits to the library to make.


Seraphine said...

i don't know what's worse, randomness or
the certain
passing of everything. but
certainty seems
the greater of the two.

lindsaylobe said...

HI Sera
i don't know what's worse, randomness or
the certain
passing of everything. but
certainty seems
the greater of the two.

If it be of any consolation to you – I think that certain passing of everything is not certain at all – even from a scientific viewpoint. From 1918 when Ernest Rutherford first demonstrated atoms were made up of much smaller things to 1924 when Louis de Brogie revealed the location and velocity of electrons varies according to the observer- observed as particle by the observer only to revert to a wave otherwise- the purely materialistic philosophy of science was beginning to is look less and less credible.

More recently Quantum mechanics reveals that the classical theory of physics is fatally flawed and I don’t think we can assert everything must be material.

It seems increasingly likely nothing ceases to be at all – only the movements from one state to another. In that sense your long departed relatives are all still here – but don’t try talking to them!

Best wishes