The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins

Discussion in 'U.K.' started by lithium, Apr 30, 2007.

  1. lithium

    lithium frogboy

    I've heard so much about this book I had to read it for myself. OK, I was an atheist to begin with and remain an atheist, but I think Dawkins' book usefully brings together a number of ideas which are floating about in our culture.

    He questions the automatic respect we have for religion - why should it be immune to criticism? He discusses the idea that religion deals with an area into which science cannot delve - but religion makes real claims about the nature of the universe. He talks about the damage religion can do. He also systematically addresses all of the arguments for the existence of gods, something which for many of us will be old ground, but for those who are unsure or who are taken in by the rise of fundamentalism this may well be a helpful guide. I don't think it's going to convert anyone who has been successfully indoctrinated, but for those who may harbour some uncertainties, or who haven't thought their faith through and just accept what they've been brought up with, this will be a consciousness raiser.

    It's also a consciousness raiser about issues like bringing children up as believers, Dawkins makes the point that to call a child a "Christian child" or a "Muslim child" and to indoctrinate them with one belief system to the exclusion of all others before they are properly able to think for themselves is a form of mental abuse. What we want are children who have been taught how to think for themselves, not those who are taught to slavishly accept what they are told. Would you call a child a Marxist or a Conservative because that's what its parents are? Would you think it right to bring a child up with strict Marxist views and to teach it that all other ways of thinking are wrong (and not just wrong, but so evil that you will burn in hell for them)?

    I understand where the accusations of arrogance continually levelled at Dawkins come from. He is certainly passionate and does not mince his words. But I can't accept that his scientific viewpoint is arrogant, almost by definition. If evidence were to come to light that any of our scientific discoveries were in fact wrong, we would change our ideas in an instant to incorporate the new knowledge. This marks it out as totally the opposite of the breathtaking arrogance of the religious mind, which accepts ideas not just without evidence, but in spite of evidence to the contrary. If the evidence doesn't fit the belief, then it's the evidence which needs to go, not the belief!

    I'd recommend this book to believers, doubters or atheists. It's written in a very engaging and often quite informal tone and Dawkins made me guffaw a few times with his devastatingly sarcastic turn of phrase. He writes most convincingly and interestingly when discussing his own area of expertise which is evolutionary biology. It's not really a science book though, it reads more like a lengthy article with plenty of personal anecdotes. Dawkins is one of our most important and interesting thinkers and he writes knowledgably and engagingly, but his arguments and rhetoric can be pretty robust, and not a little sarcastic!
     
  2. Peace-Phoenix

    Peace-Phoenix Senior Member

    Christians often like to wheel out atheists whol'll denounce Dawkins and his certainty on the non-existence of God, but I'll not be one of them. I often use his flying spaghetti monster argument myself - it brilliantly illustrates the point that the burden of existential proof must be on the proponent, not the opponent....
     
  3. lithium

    lithium frogboy

    That's the odd thing - Dawkins does not say that we can be certain there is no god. Like any good scientist, he is open to the possibility of being proved wrong if evidence is forthcoming. (How many believers can say that?)

    He makes an interesting point about agnosticism - you either have 50/50 agnosticism where you believe there is an equal likelihood of god existing as not existing and that we can say nothing on either side, or you have some other percentage. Those of us who term ourselves atheists can of course not claim 100% certainty of there being no god, we need to be open to all possibilities, however slim. But we can say that we are about 99% certain and that the likelihood of there being a god is so implausibly small, and the evidence to the contrary so overwhelming, that in practice we are atheists even if technically we are 99/1 agnostics.

    The Flying Spaghetti Monster (pasta be upon him) is a great example of this. We need to be equally open to the possibility that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster and that He performs miracles with His Noodly Appendage. But we're not 50/50 agnostics on the issue - we're pretty sure that it's so incredibly unlikely that in practice, and in the absence of evidence, we discount the possibility as absurd, even though we cannot technically say that it's absolutely impossible.

    The FSM analogy was actually not created by Dawkins, though he uses it often. It's a real (well, satirical) religion, which has inspired its own great art!

    Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster


    [​IMG]
     
  4. dapablo

    dapablo redefining

    Tis a book I'd like to bump into myself.
     
  5. lithium

    lithium frogboy

    A friend was telling me about this book by a Christian who apparently doubts the existence of Richard Dawkins...
    [​IMG]


    It's a genuine book!
     
  6. dapablo

    dapablo redefining

    Might be worth a read if it was written in jest, but I wouldn't suppose it was.
     
  7. Peace-Phoenix

    Peace-Phoenix Senior Member

    I've seen it in SPCK down the street. I'd heard it was written by an atheist who thinks Dawkins has gone too far? Could be thinking of a different book with a similar title though....
     
  8. lithium

    lithium frogboy

    I think that's the one. McGrath is actually an ex-atheist ex-biochemist, now Christian Professor of Theology, he doesn't actually doubt that Dawkins exists, the title of his book just seems to suggest that! I think it's his second book attacking Dawkins' atheism... He calls Dawkins an "atheist fundamentalist"

    Apologies in advance for linking to the Daily Mail but McGrath wrote an article for them:
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=433628&in_page_id=1770
     
  9. daisy_chain

    daisy_chain Member

    Is it the God delusion in which Dawkins mentions emmanuel college? Just I used to go there, and I'm always interested to read his opinions on the subject, I know he attacked it in one of his books. I've not read the God delusion or the Dawkins delusion, but I'd like to. And McGrath did a debate with Peter Atkins, who is a chemistry professor at oxford, and an atheist, at my university last semester, and I really enjoyed it.
     
  10. lithium

    lithium frogboy

    Yes there's a section on Emmanuel College called "An educational scandal". For anyone who doesn't know that's the "city academy" set up and run by a fundamentalist Christian which teaches Creationism, Intelligent Design and the literal truth of the Bible, just staying within the requirements of the National Curriculum but basically undermining its science content and aiming to indoctrinate its students...

    There was a pretty good channel 4 documentary on the place by I think John Sweeney a little while back, too.
     
  11. daisy_chain

    daisy_chain Member

    The channel 4 documentary was very biased against the school. I know I'm coming from a biased point as well, because I benefited from the system at emmanuel, but it's not half as bad as the documentary made it out to be. I can't comment on what Dawkins says on the subject, because I've not read what he has to say, but basically the school says from the beginning that it has a Christian ethos, so people know what they're in for before going to the school. Science is taught alongside religion, so I was taught about evolution as well as creation, as they are both theories about how the world came into being.
     
  12. Peace-Phoenix

    Peace-Phoenix Senior Member

    I don't think religion should have any place in schools except in the context of balanced World Religion lessons that afford equal weight and time to teaching the cultural and historical aspects of all religions and of atheism. The trouble of having an established Church is that it biases Christianity in schools. If people wish to be Christians, that's all well and good, but it should be a free choice. Enforcing worship and Christian teaching in state schools restricts freedoms of choice. France really had the right idea, even if its methods are somewhat suspect....
     
  13. daisy_chain

    daisy_chain Member

    Emmanuel isn't a state school as far as I know, it receives no funding from the government, as it was set up by Sir Peter Vardy, and the money comes from him. I do understand your point though, because the official religion of England is Anglican, it makes it easier for Christian schools to be set up. There are schools that teach other religions though, although they are mostly, or exclusively attended by people of those religions. I think it would be better if all schools taught every relgion with equal weight, but there will always be teachers with particular religions, and that will put a certain slant on their lessons, I'm talking about relgion teachers specifically really. There are so many religions that most schools focus on the largest, and if all religions were to be taught, none would be covered in particular depth. I don't think the aim of teaching mainly Christianity is to convert all pupils to Christianity, but I can see how people could feel that way. I guess the only real option is to stop all religious education, and I'm not sure that's a good option either. At least if one religion is taught it gives pupils the opportunity to explore what they think. A lot of RE classes did end in heated debate, because we were allowed to disagree, and a lot of people were very vocal, which can't be a bad thing.
     
  14. Peace-Phoenix

    Peace-Phoenix Senior Member

    I don't think we should stop religious education. Religions are an enormous part of world history and of modern cultures. People should be free to study religions and be given an informed choice as to whether or not a certain religion is right for them. As for state schools, they are required by law to have a daily period of "corporate worship". This is the purpose behind assemblies. Often schools stretch this law, but given that it is so open to interpretation, you may end up with some schools strictly requiring worship in assemblies and others that don't. I know in my primary school we were forced to pray and sing hymns daily. By high school they were much more lax, and only about once every few weeks would they have a Christian assembly. I don't think the point was originally to convert people, but to use schools as a place to offer prayer. Nevertheless, having an established church in a multicultural and agnostic society does lead to those sorts of accusations. Thus other religions begin demanding their own faith schools which, I believe, present serious challenges to cultural integration. As it is poverty leaves many ethnic groups marginalised and schools may represent one of the few means to bridge divides. This is one of the reasons why I don't think schools should be dominated by a particular faith....
     
  15. daisy_chain

    daisy_chain Member

    We had assemblies in which hymns were sung, but very few students actually sang, and the fact that you didn't sing didn't affect how teachers treated you, it wasn't a necessary thing. I do agree with you though, I think our culture is very prone to turning into many small cultures with not an awful lot to do with each other, and that's not something I want.
     
  16. lithium

    lithium frogboy

    Actually that's where much of the controversy comes from. Under the city academies scheme, all Vardy needed to do was put up 10% of the school's budget - I think around £2million, and the government put up the other 90% - about 18million. In addition to this the government funds all the school's overheads and salary costs in perpetuity. I might have got the numbers or percentages slightly wrong, working from memory, but that's roughly how it is set up. It is basically a state funded school.
     
  17. daisy_chain

    daisy_chain Member

    Wow, I didn't know that. Does the government fund other faith schools? I mean schools of other faiths, not just Christian ones.
     
  18. lithium

    lithium frogboy

    Was Bibilical creation taught literally alongside science, as a scientific claim or theory?
     
  19. Peace-Phoenix

    Peace-Phoenix Senior Member

    One of the physics teachers at my state school would teach Big Bang theory as it is supposed to be on the curriculum and then say, but this is what I believe, and talk about Adam and Eve, if can you Adam and Eve it....
     
  20. daisy_chain

    daisy_chain Member

    We had a physics teacher like that, and a biology teacher, who would teach evolution, but then say, personally, I don't believe in macroevolution (obviously microevolution was never disputed) and say that he believed in 7 day creation, but not go into great detail in the science lesson, as we covered creationism in RE and assemblies. We did do a poster on creation vs evolution at one point though...
     

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