Friday, June 13, 2008

The God Delusion

I finished reading this book a while ago, and up to now haven't got around to posting my thoughts. That's not a surprise, because the book just starts wide of the mark, and just gets wider. It simply doesn't apply to any of the questions I am interested in. That makes it a plain boring. Yes, there's vitriol. Yes, there's way over the top statements. But there's only so many empty statements you can read before you start to wish you were doing something more interesting - like watching paint dry. At least paint doesn't insult everyone else.

So what makes Dawkins views so uninteresting?

His central argument requires God to be a complicated material object. Dawkins paints God as an enormously complex material object. He says,
However statistically improbable the entity you seek to explain by invoking a designer, the designer himself has got to be at least as improbable. God is the
Ultimate Boeing 747.

It doesn't matter that the statement is incorrect about probabilities. What's more worrying is that Dawkins assumes that God is not spiritual, but a material object - his very definition of complex implies something, like the 747, which is made of many parts.

This is totally irrelevant to a rational person. Christians don't believe in a God who is a material object made of material parts. A material object could not be the Christian God. A famous Christian argument states that material object isn't the first cause. A material object couldn't have any of the properties of God, and couldn't be responsible for actions ascribed to God. It's not the same God who acts in my life, and not the God who has acted in history. So if Dawkins is trying to argue against God, why does he define his god in a way which doesn't apply to a Christians or Jews?

In fact, this exactly the opposite of what Christians believe. We don't believe in gods which are material objects. We don't believe in sacred raisin cakes. We don't think that idols created the universe.

Dawkins also equates the word "faith" with irrational belief.
Faith means blind trust, in the absence of evidence even in the teeth of evidence.
That's not how Christians use the word where faith is trust in God. It doesn't reflect the way it is used in the Bible (see Hebrews 11 for examples). We certainly do trust God, but we're not blind. How could you describe Abraham as having blind trust when God appeared to him? Abraham would have been blind if he couldn't see God. Abraham knew that God existed, and did as God commanded.

Dawkins continues with weak arguments and aggressive rhetoric will make his case true. He is constantly putting words (his own) into others mouths - which comes across as distinctly fishy when you've read the original authors.

When he addresses C. S. Lewis he does so for about half a page, before dismissing him. How does he do it so easily? Easy. He says that Lewis didn't consider the possibility that Jesus was just a morally good preacher - but that's exactly what C. S. Lewis does consider. It makes you wonder whether Dawkins even read what he was writing about...

Dawkins points out there are terrible things (shock, horror) that happen in the Bible. For example, he dwells on Lot's incest at length and so says that we can't have got our moral lead from the Bible. He tries to claim that because it is Lot (Abraham's nephew) who is doing it that we should follow. The Christian view is that people aren't perfect, and that goes (especially!) for people whose lives are reported in the Bible as well as for us today. In fact, if he'd bothered to read a little further he would have seen how badly Lot's actions were condemned and what consequences they had. But like so many things, he conveniently left that out...

There are so many bad arguments here, that don't even seem to even engage straightforward Christian responses, (2, 3, 4) to his writing while insulting their intelligence. It makes me wonder if his real aim is to promote his chosen view of science and religion: That they are in conflict. He's obviously gone to great lengths to present himself as a scientist fighting against religion. In a sense then, it doesn't matter to him what people reply. For him, I suspect it's more important to have a heated and hate filled argument - to prove that "science" and religion are at odds - than to search out the truth.

I could go on and on boring anyone who stumbles on my blog to tears, but I won't. The God Delusion isn't worth it. Do something more worthwhile with your life.

Thanks to TwentyHertz for the world's most boring CCTV camera view, and Bart Koop-Henzen for a material, but complicated, 747 and J0nny_t for the war photo.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The God Delusion: Chapter 1

When I was younger, the Iron curtain divided the world and I used to listen to propaganda broadcasts from around the world. I used to particularly enjoy shortwave radio from Poland, Uzbekistan and the BBC. Science in Action was my favourite program. The most far out station I ever heard though was Radio Pyongyang from North Korea.

"The God Delusion" seems to come from the North Korea style of propoganda. Radio Moscow was subtle, and so it was slightly believable. Not so for DPRK. They were full of anecodotes about how corrupt and horrible the West was and void of real information. Living in the West it seemed laughable. That training is very useful for reading "The God Delusion".

The main point of the first chapter is:
Great scientists... who appear to be religious usually turn out not to be.
Off the top of my head I can name many scientists with religious beliefs. Let's see:
Coperinicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Boyle, Bacon, Kelvin, Maxwell, and in quantum mechanics specifically: Max Planck, Born (a Jewish convert to Christianity) and Heisenberg (who was a Lutheran).
I have always thought that people who resort to "Proof by Einstein" is a completely bogus way to argue anything. He treated his wife abysmally - having a mistress, and not even mentioning her in his scientific work - so he's not the sort of person I'd take a moral or religious lead from. I certainly wouldn't expect a Proof by Einstein from a scientist. But that's exactly what Dawkins does.

I think Dawkins portrayl of Einstein as an atheist is best refuted by the Einstein himself:
My position concerning God is that of an agnostic.
A thoughtful agnostic of the type that Dawkins reserves some of his most vicious vitriol for.

We don't have to put up with the type of wishy-washy anecdotal claims from Dawkins about the blanket beliefs of scientists being atheist. There are valid scientific studies into the religious beliefs of top scientists. For example this one:
Our study data do not strongly support the idea that scientists simply drop their religious identities upon professional training, due to an inherent conflict between science and faith.
There are more atheists who become scientists (as a proportion) than in the general population, but the study concludes that this is self-selecting:
It appears that those from non-religious backgrounds disproportionately self-select into scientific professions.
In fact the biggest increase (as a proportion) of people who become leading scientists is not among atheists, but among Jews (2% of the general population compared with 15% of scientists).

The rest of chapter 1 is an anecdotal rant against muslims. It could be taken from any far right wing magazine, and I don't have much time for that type of hatred directed at anybody.

So far this book is only notable because it's rude. Hopefully it will improve...