66. The God delusion

The God delusion - Richard DawkinsWhen I picked up David Bentley Hart’s Atheist Delusions, I wanted to a) be as fair-minded as I could be, and b) learn a little about the opposition, since the title is so loaded — it obviously references Dawkins’s very popular book. Many of my friends, family and acquaintances have read this. So I read them concurrently, finishing this one first.

Dawkins argues that religion and religious belief is (to paraphrase while retaining his tone) irrational, arrogant, dangerous and above all, contemptibly stupid. His main argument is that, given the universe’s improbable complexity, God must be even more improbably complex to create it, thereby himself requiring an even more improbably complex creator, ad infinitum. He offers only ‘natural selection’ as an alternative for the prime mover. The “who designed the designer” problem isn’t explained away by natural selection: although Darwin’s theory is an elegant, simple, and almost certainly correct explanation for the progress of life, it doesn’t attempt to address how those simple one-celled or even sub-cellular flora or fauna got here in the first place, nor can it. As has been pointed out elsewhere, Dawkins’s logic is lazy and unconvincing, mostly a rhetorical appeal to emotion, filled with unstated assumptions, and extremely condescending. And I found it hard to be objective in the face of his invective: as far as objectivity goes, I probably checked out about 3/5ths of the way through. Hey, I tried.

Dawkins reminds me of the man with the hammer, to whom everything looks like a nail. He’s so intelligent, but he seems obsessed with applying the theory (law?) of natural selection to every unsolved problem of propagation he can see, including the development of the universe, the spread of ideas and the rise of religious feeling. Also, the scope and extent of his anger, and the general sloppiness of his argumentative logic, suggests that something more primal, less rational, than his reason is driving him here, something more akin to religious fervor than scientific detachment. Both combine to make the book less than compelling, which is unfortunate for Dawkins’s stated aim that theists would be atheists by the time they finished reading it.

It’s a shame, because the truth is that science reveals a beautiful universe, of jaw-dropping complexity and improbability (see above), and its explanations for what things are and how they work and develop (including, by the way, natural selection) are elegant and awe-inspiring. Dawkins does such a great job of revealing this. It’s a shame he hates God so much, because I like his writing, what he says and how he says it, when he’s not quite so busy smacking me around.

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