Climbing Mount Improbable to the top of the Best-Seller List
Dec 15, 2006
Zoologist Richard Dawkins made his name originally for his lucid popular science writing in the fields of biological and cultural evolution - his wonderful works The Selfish Gene and The Extended Phenotype are still compulsory reading in this fascinating field - and more latterly for increasingly intolerant, grumpy tracts inveigling against religion. The God Delusion is the latest - and grumpiest - in the second category.
It's hardly surprising that Dawkins - an evolutionary biologist, after all - should object to religious accounts of the creation of the universe. But that he should do so as trenchantly and repeatedly as he does makes you wonder: Is it just because this stuff sells, or doth the lady protest too much? Is Richard Dawkins perhaps trying to convince himself as much as anyone else?
Science, he says, "flings open the narrow window through which we are accustomed to viewing the spectrum of possibilities". It is, to quote the late Carl Sagan, "a candle in the dark". It's the path to the truth. Without science, the universe has no meaning.
Of course, these are all things which a religious person (which I'm not, by the way) might say about God.
Dawkins says God is nonsense (there are shades of that famous exchange in graffiti: "`God is Dead' - Nietzsche. `Nietzsche is Dead' - God"), but in wishing to annex the epistemological high ground, Dawkins has engaged a piddling match which he simply can't win. The scientific method, being inductive, can no more reveal the truth about the universe than a holy scripture can. That's a formal logical proposition, by the way, and not some woolly post-modern nonsense. Brilliant philosophers and scientists, from the Descartes at the dawn of the Enlightenment to Hume at the end of it right down to post-war 20th Century writers like Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn, have all grappled with exactly that problem: How *do* we categorise science; an endeavour which seems to move unerringly toward the truth without ever having the tools to achieve it?
For all that, Dawkins is persuasive that we shouldn't forgo our own considered judgment for that of wise men in funny clothes who claim to be learned in obscure scriptures - then again, this is hardly news to anyone with a tertiary education. But in claiming science as the *true* candle in the dark, Dawkins sets his scientific brethren up to be no better: wise men, only dressed in lab coats and not habits, learned in obscure "scriptures", to whom we should defer our own judgment (if you think I'm overstating this consider: do *you* understand quantum theory, or even know what it is? Fluid dynamics? Aerodynamics? If not, and you still ride on aeroplanes, then on what basis, other than faith?).
This observation, which owes something to the historian Thomas Kuhn, infuriates Richard Dawkins, but I don't see any way around it. Kuhn argued, persuasively that the development of science and the particular currency of given theory is far more contingent on ostensibly irrelevant social and environmental circumstances than scientists care to acknowledge: a scientific paradigm provides not only answers to conundrums, but the questions, too, so its objective validity is impossible to measure from within the paradigm (or for that matter, from without).
The irony is that Richard Dawkins (who has avowedly rejected Kuhn's work elsewhere) drifts ever closer to it in the latter pages of The God Delusion - even citing favourably Ludwig Wittgenstein - without ever acknowledging the logical trap he's falling into.
That it's been a runaway best seller is indisputable; exactly why is harder to fathom: it's not as if it's bringing anything new to the table: Dawkins rehashes exactly the same old Philosophy 101 arguments that we all remember from those golden years at university, when there was time to argue the metaphysical toss, and self-righteously baiting self-righteous Christians passed for some kind of sport.
It's a sport that Richard Dawkins appears not to have grown out of. Nor has passing time or increasing maturity tempered his tone. But wailing dogmatically about the perils of dogma isn't going to persuade anyone who isn't already part of the congregation.
Nor is it even the most considered entry on the topic in the last year: Dan Dennett's "Breaking The Spell", published not six months previously, is a more erudite, thoughtful, intellectually stimulating and tolerant take on pretty much the same subject.
Pros: well written, excellent points Cons: Gets a bit old after a while. The Bottom Line: Excellent read for anyone that questions religion or loves a good debate about it. Growing up, I was Protestant, we went to church, not every week but on a regular basis. I did all of things that a normal Christian would do, but my parents didn't strictly adhere to the bible by any means. During middle school, I even kept up on religion, … more
You already know if you're going to like this book based on your religious beliefs. Religious beliefs usually remain pretty steadfast and so unless you're unsure this book probably won't persuade you. It doesn't help the way its written. Books don't don't much more controversial than this. Dawkins is a well known vocal atheist and in this book he sets out to systematically prove that God does not exist. He uses a number of very compelling arguments … more
Before reading this book, I had never read anything by Richard Dawkins. I had seen him on YouTube, and I can honestly say that Mr. Dawkins was the one mainly responsible for transforming me from a semi-believing but still doubting Catholic, to a full-fledged militant atheist. With that being said, I think this book will only truly persuade those who are already on the fence. If you are a devout religious person who is guaranteed to never change their minds, this book will be a … more
At last! An intelligent look at the insanity of religion. If you are agnostic, read this book and come over to the bright side. If you are atheist, read this book and feel the waves of reassurance and support while arming yourself for the next debate with a religious nutcase. If you are a "believer" then please either recognize that your beliefs are an reflection of the arbitrary facts of your family history, race, ethnicity, and the people you've … more
After Sir Richard Attenborough, Richard Dawkins is probably the wrold's most famous natural philosopher. Dawkins is also the world's most famous advocate of evolution, and enemy of creationism. This is his latest book, and it specifically targets the logic of religious thought. The book's title is not quite appropriate to its subject. Instead, Dawkins clearly states that he thinks the existence of God is a hypothesis that can be proven or disproven. He then proceeds to cite evidence that argues … more
Pros: Science and psychology parts are interesting Cons: Easily beat by a seasoned theologian; atheists have heard it all before The Bottom Line: There are better books about a god's non-existence out there I should probably tell you where I stand first on this subject: I am 75 percent atheist, 25 percent supernaturalist, and zero percent religious. When I introduce my spiritual views to new people, thats a bit of a mouthful, … more
Discover magazine recently called Richard Dawkins "Darwin's Rottweiler" for his fierce and effective defense of evolution. Prospect magazine voted him among the top three public intellectuals in the world (along with Umberto Eco and Noam Chomsky). Now Dawkins turns his considerable intellect on religion, denouncing its faulty logic and the suffering it causes.
Contents: A deeply religious non-believer -- The God hypothesis -- Arguments for God's existence -- Why there almost certainly is no God -- The roots of religion -- The roots of morality : why are we good? -- The "good" book and the changing moral Zeitgeist -- What's wrong with religion? : why be so hostile? -- Childhood, abuse and the escape from religion -- A much needed gap? A deeply religious non-believer. Deserved respect ; Undeserved respect -- The God hypothesis. Polytheism ; Monotheism ; Secularism, the Founding Fathers and the religion of America ; The poverty of agnosticism ; NOMA ; The great prayer experiment ; The Neville Chamberlain school of evolutionists ; Little green men -- Arguments for God's existence. Thomas Aquinas' "proofs" ; The ontological argument and other a priori arguments ; The argument from beauty ; The argument from personal "experience" ; The argument from scripture ; The argument from admired religious scientists ; Pascal's wager ; Bayesian arguments -- Why there almost certainly is no God. The Ultimate Boeing 747 ; Natural...