December 16, 2010
Dawkins and Delusion, Still
I wish I’d seen this article, A Mission to Convert, a few years ago when Dawkins’ The God Delusion was a hotter topic. Still, it’s a great article for those interested in the “fundamentalist atheism” he has helped to spawn. Allen Orr argues here, and others have echoed since, that the Dawkins approach is simplistic, amateur, and question begging. Subtle arguments for God are dismissed as sophistry, while subtle arguments for atheism are presented as incontrovertible; damning statistics about religion are presented at face value, while difficult statistics about atheism are explained away. “So why,”asks Orr, “is a clever philosophical argument for God subject to withering criticism while one against God gets a free pass and is deemed devastating?” The answer is that though Dawkins may be a scientist, he is not acting like one when he criticizes religion. He is, rather, arguing towards a preconceived conclusion, one that he has arrived at for some other deeper reasons. Here is a great paragraph about the lack of intellectual rigor in The God Delusion:
Dawkins has written a book that’s distinctly, even defiantly, middlebrow. Dawkins’s intellectual universe appears populated by the likes of Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Carl Sagan, the science popularizer, both of whom he cites repeatedly. This is a different group from thinkers like William James and Ludwig Wittgenstein—both of whom lived after Darwin, both of whom struggled with the question of belief, and both of whom had more to say about religion than Adams and Sagan. Dawkins spends much time on what can only be described as intellectual banalities. (link)
Let’s not beat up on Dawkins too much, but I want to make a point that we should all remember the next time we are presented with sweepingly aggressive claims about the total bankruptcy of religion, or the complete absurdity of the existence of God: Greater minds than Dawkins have struggled deeply with the question of God and religion.
Thanks to Great Cloud of Witnesses for pointing out the article. Well worth the read!