Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Book Review: "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins (Part 1 of 2)

Atheism is a subject that I haven’t spent a lot of time researching until lately. This is due to the fact that Atheism has been fairly rare in my neck of the woods (“The Bible Belt”) until the so-called “New Atheism” books became national best sellers. Because Atheism never appealed to me as a rational account for reality, I never really saw the need to investigate further. But as soon as my friends abandoned their faith in God and the Bible, I felt it necessary to find out why. Lo and behold, many of them did so because of books like “The God Delusion.” And because I care about my friends, and want to be equipped to “give an answer” for my beliefs (1 Peter 3:15), I felt obliged to not only be familiar with atheistic reasoning, but to see if it can account for reality. “The God Delusion” was atheism’s first attempt at this.

In this book, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, spends 10 chapters convincing his readers that “The God Hypothesis” not only has poor explanatory power, but hinders our rational, scientific, and moral minds. Though the author is a gifted writer, I was most disappointed that there was virtually no argument for atheism for the first 75 pages. In light of this, one sentence in the first chapter really got “The God Delusion” off on a bad start for me:

“It is possible that religious readers will be offended by what I have to say, and will find in these pages insufficient respect for their own particular beliefs (if not the beliefs that others treasure). It would be a shame if such offense prevented them from reading on, so I want to sort it out here, at the outset.” (p. 20)

In other words, Richard Dawkins was about to get offensive. Now, I’m all about being up front with your beliefs, and even stepping on the toes of those who disagree with you. But one thing I strongly despise is disrespect. And for one who provides not one argument for atheism in the first 75 pages, disrespect and offense is not very appealing to a reader such as myself. Fortunately, I’m not closed-minded, so I kept reading in accordance with Dawkins’ plea.

Nothing in the first chapter really rubbed me the wrong way. Some of the points that Dawkins developed was the “religious” nature of the atheist and used Einstein as an example. Dawkins sought to dispel the commonly held myth that he believed in God, as if the theists could claim him as one of their own. In doing so, Dawkins could justify his own “religious” nature, yet be fully atheistic in the process. Perhaps the following quote illustrates:

“If by ‘God’ one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying…it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity.” (p. 19, where Dawkins quotes Carl Sagan)

The last point in the chapter deals with some things that I have long realized; the political correctness in “respecting” Muslims and other easily offended religious groups. Without getting nit-picky with Dawkins, I found myself agreeing with much of what he said, and he rightly pointed out the many double standards involved in so-called “political correctness.”

Chapter 2, “The God Hypothesis,” didn’t get off to a good start in the following being the first sentence:

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

This isn’t to say that Dawkins doesn’t have the write to say what he wants about YHWH, but this certainly sets the tone for the bias that is prevalent throughout the book. However, I think the downfall is Dawkins’ hope of converting as many people as possible to atheism. And unfortunately, for Dawkins, he isn’t going to get a lot of converts from people like myself; those who have actually done a little bit of research in the area of theistic evidences. Instead, Dawkins’ target audience seems to be those who are in a “confused” state; perhaps they’ve grown up religious, but were never taught to question anything. Whatever the case, Dawkins’ bluntness doesn’t give him any more credibility in converting the honest researcher who isn’t after emotional appeals.

While there is much to mention with regards to Chapter 2, I wanted to use this review to address some of the arguments Dawkins presents for his atheism. In Chapter 3, the author seeks to refute some of the long-held “proofs” for God’s existence. Honestly, I was expecting much more from Dawkins. Never did I see any evidence that Dawkins has spent any time researching the modern, refined evidences for God. Instead, he refers back to the thirteenth century Thomas Aquinas, as if this was the best that theism had to offer. The reason this bothered me is because if Dawkins really wanted to convince his readers that there is no God, then why not appeal to the best that the other side has to say? Apparently, high standards don’t apply to Dawkins.

First, the author “deals” with a few variations of the Cosmological Argument. In my opinion, Dawkins' attempt was elementary. Had Dawkins bothered to read anything by modern theistic philosophers, he would be aware that Aquinas’ arguments have actually undergone some significant development since the thirteenth century. It would be like me writing a refutation of evolution today but referencing Origin of Species and leaving out the plethora of evolutionary literature that has been written since. Surely, Dawkins would be appalled, and rightly so. He would hold me to the highest standard in dealing with the best that the other side has to say. Unfortunately, Dawkins didn’t think too much about double-standards when writing his book.

It is quite insulting to see how little Dawkins actually devoted to the Cosmological Argument. From what I could count, only four paragraphs were devoted. In “refuting” the argument, Dawkins appeals to the constant drumbeat of the theist’s “assumption that God himself is immune to the regress.” (p. 77) This is repeated throughout in dealing with the various theistic arguments. However, if Dawkins had bothered to read, for instance, William Craig’s treatise of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, he would have been aware that the regress doesn’t apply to God, as it only applies to things which have a beginning:

I. Everything that had a beginning, had a cause.
II. The Universe had a beginning
III. Therefore, the Universe had a cause.

If there is a problem with an “infinite regress” for an eternal being, I submit that Dawkins has a much bigger problem in postulating that everything came from nothing. But to my knowledge, Dawkins did not deal with his own problems in atheism. Perhaps Dawkins doesn’t see it as a problem that, given his view, things can spring into existence from nothing! Would Dawkins’ not agree that from nothing, nothing comes? Apparently not, because for him, from nothing everything came!

For this reason, I have no reason to conclude otherwise that Dawkins is a poor philosopher as well as a poor researcher. Perhaps Dawkins is a great biological researcher? But the author has shown absolutely no evidence of being able to apply the same standards to his field to that of other fields to which he has no expertise.

There is almost no use in dealing with the other 4 “theistic proofs” as they are just as poorly dealt with. Perhaps one of the most insulting is his dealings with the Ontological Argument. Anyone who has taken a look at the philosophical arguments put forth with regards to this controversial issue would be appalled at how unfamiliar the author is with the arguments. In fact, if Dawkins had written this section as a philosophy paper in an introductory course, he would have failed. Whether you find the Ontological Argument to be good or not, atheist or theist, you can’t help but cringe at how this man passes for an intellectual. And I don’t mean this to be insulting. Dawkins has truly failed in fairly dealing with these theistic arguments.

One theistic evidence that was missing from “The God Delusion” was the Transcendental Argument for God’s Existence, commonly referred to as TAG. But after reading Dawkins’ poor treatise of the arguments, I’m actually glad that he didn’t try to tackle it. I can’t imagine how poorly he would misrepresent it. But again, I don’t think Dawkins gives a rip about representing one’s views fairly and could care less in targeting people like me as his audience. Instead, Dawkins is after the theists who never bothered, or will ever bother, to read the scholarly, source material for these arguments.

Read part 2 HERE.


micheygirl66 said...

You're a great book reviewer!I don't mean that book is great.I mean you have a talent for reviewing books.Maybe you'll eventually write your own?Go for it!

Mike Felker said...

Thank you! Hope to one day!

21CrosschecK21 said...

Haven't read the book yet... and I am not sure if I will as much of it sounds like straw talk. I really appreciate the review. And agree with Kellie, (did I just say that? lol) your quite talented.