Sunday, January 4, 2009

The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins

When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion, it is called Religion. - Robert Pirsig, Author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle maintenance.

The God Delusion, a 400 page best-seller by one of the world's most passionate atheists and renowned biologist is an eye-opener into the realm of religion, creationism and intelligent design. Richard Dawkins, a Darwinian at soul, asks the hard questions about existence of God and religion, that most of us dare not ask with fear. Though the book may not convert a theist into an atheist, it definitely influences you in becoming a deist or makes you ponder about the other options (other than being creationist) or at least makes you think twice the next time you follow something that is indoctrinated on you.

The book starts off by clarifying the misconstrued word "God", when used by Einstein and other scientists ("God does not play dice" -Einstein). The book gets riveting as Dawkins proposes different arguments justifying the existence of God. Some of the arguments are truly intriguing and the author refutes all of them pretty systematically. The best arguments are,

The Ultimate 747 Gambit - "probability of life originating on Earth is no greater than the chance that a hurricane, sweeping through a scrapyard, would have the luck to assemble a Boeing 747"

The Pascal Wager - "even though the existence of God cannot be determined through reason, a person should "wager" as though God exists, because so living has potentially everything to gain, and in theory nothing to lose"

Irreducible complexity - "A single system which is composed of several interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, and where the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning."

Dawkins brings forth the infinite regress of "who is the creator of the creator?" as a counter-argument. He also feels that the proposer of a particular dogma should prove it logically rather than claiming it as proved just because it cannot be disproved. Bertrand Russell's teapot logic is used to humorously present this idea. The author then moves on to show that morals don't stem from the scriptures, for people who believe that for a human being to act morally fear of God/religion is very important. Dawkins criticizes the scriptures, drawing examples from both the new testament and the old testament as well as religions like Islam to show that the scriptures are devoid of morals. He talks about the moral zeitgeist by citing examples of changing moral standards over time to prove this point. He ends the book by talking about religion for consolation and inspiration and discussing their importance. Dawkins feels that the world of science, with it's infinite unknowns and truth seeking is inspiration enough to lead a motivated life making religion unnecessary.

A good read that opens up our minds into the limitations of our mind, the possibilities of science and the pitfalls of religion. Dawkins is very meticulous in his research and his presentation is commendable. He doesn't cover oriental religions in depth and feels that Buddhism is more of philosophy rather than a religion, with which I concur. I loved the theme that Dawkins reiterates, "There is no Catholic child or a Muslim child, rather there is a child born to Catholic parents or Muslim parents". Religion should be a prerogative of the child. The ten commandments of humanism is pretty impressive and is quoted in the book. I am yet to read and gather from the critics of this book, which will be my exercise over the next few month.

Here is an excerpt from the preface that is very compelling,

“Imagine, along with John Lennon, a world with no religion. Imagine no suicide bombers, no 9/11, no 7/7, no Crusades, no witch-hunts, no Gunpowder Plot, no Indian partition, no Israeli/Palestinian wars, no Serb/Croat/Muslim massacres, no persecution of Jews as 'Christ-killers,' no Northern Ireland 'troubles,' no 'honour killings,' no shiny-suited bouffant-haired televangelists fleecing gullible people of their money ('God wants you to give till it hurts.')”


scritic said...

Terry Eagleton wrote a particularly savage (but pretty much accurate, I'd say) review of "The God Delusion" in the London Review of Books:

Also check out this review in the NYT:

The best review I have seen is Thomas Nagel's in the New Republic although I can't seem to find it online. Nagel considers Dawkins' arguments with due seriousness and argues that the arguments (who created the creator?, the teapot in the sky etc) are philosophically inadequate even if they make for a rousing polemic.

Preetha said...

Here's another argument for the atheist side - If there is an afterlife (heaven/hell), then what is the purpose of this life?

Sugavan said...

@ Preetha: To live with me :)...on a serious note, I think there isn't an afterlife at all, I think when you die, you just die...

Harini Sridharan said...

Interesting! I find the other arguments like the Pascal Wager and the teapot argument more interesting than the author's own thoughts :)

Gops said...

How about Dawkins' point of how we tolerate something just because it is said/done in the name of religion?
The case of the Israeli school children and some Jewish scripture he quotes, comes to mind...

Very interesting, insightful blog - will make it one of my regulars..