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Book Review: The God Delusion – Why there almost certainly is no God?

The God DelusionThe God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The God Delusion – Why there almost certainly is no God?

I have been a big fan of Dawkins from the time I read The Selfish Gene. This book does nothing to damage that, even though it is not as logically cohesive as The Selfish Gene. The God Delusion is easier to argue with and maybe even win, if only in my mind. Dawkins argues mostly against the Christian God that created earth and knows nothing of the vast universe beyond. He remains silent about the God hypothesis that can arise from new physics and eastern cosmogonies.

I feel that while The Selfish Gene was a standalone book intended to convey a brilliant concept in a very articulate fashion to the general reader, The God Delusion is a more of a glorified pamphlet meant to be a handbook of reference for any atheist for the range of illogical, childish or even intelligent arguments that might be addressed to him. An atheist who reads and remembers a fair bit of The God Delusion will always be well equipped to blunt any argument against his position.

But this huge strength of the book is also its major flaw that demotes it much below the Selfish gene in my opinion. The Selfish gene is a must-read book that I would thrust in the hand of anyone I like – because I want them to learn from it, raise their consciousness or because I want to have a wonderful discussion with them. In contrast, the God Delusion is a book I would thrust in exasperation at someone with whom I am tired of arguing and would rather prefer them to go through Dawkins’ exhaustive repudiation of most arguments. That is the difference. The book would be useful if I want to convince someone or If I wanted to win an argument. But what if neither was ever my objective? It gives me no intrinsic value that is not situational. But then, perhaps I was never one of the intended audience of the book; the purpose of this book, is not to explain science. It is rather, as he tells us, “to raise consciousness”.

He also spends a lot of time debunking obvious fallacies and beliefs purely because they are prevalent. It might be important to show how silly they are, but I frankly was impatient to get on with it and not spend time on such obvious facts. Most of the arguments in the book are ones that I could have come up with too if I had sat down and though about it. True, Dawkins has made my job easier, but what if I am comfortable with not having the God Delusion and with the fact that a lot of people have? What if the formula of zeitgeist that Dawkins proposes about what is moral is applicable to religions too? After all, the religion of today is far from what it was in the 1900s. maybe religion too will evolve and become more and more liberal. The only genuinely useful sections in the book for me were the intriguing discussion on morals and that wonderful last chapter on model building. If only the rest of the book was as memorable.

I have a few other peeves with the book too – It condemns anyone who understand religion and science and takes the informed decision to be an agnostic. This condemnation by Dawkins of agnostics is perhaps my single biggest point of difference with Dawkins.

I have no problems with the debunking of the God Hypothesis as Dawkins defines ‘God’. But, his atheism goes into exactly those realms which he accuses religious fundamentalists to be going in.

He gives an example of a Priest who says that even though he has moments of reservation about the existence of a God, he keeps such doubts to himself and extols God’s virtues purely so that the common man is not mislead into doubt. Dawkins condemns this as intellectual and moral cowardice.

Then later, in a section titled ‘Why there almost certainly is no God’, he freely acknowledges that “most probably” God does not exist and then classifies himself as an agnostic leaning heavily towards atheism. Then he says that such agnostics should refrain from calling themselves agnostics as it will cause damage to the common people who want to support atheism. Is this not the same intellectual and moral cowardice? If you cannot in your own logic call yourself a full blown atheist, do not do that just to prove a point or to support a pet theory. If there ‘almost certainly’ is no god, then it is ‘almost certainly’ a ‘delusion’ to say that pure atheism is fully reasonable too.

Dawkins makes an appeal to closely define the meaning of the word “God”. But then, not matter how you define it, as long as the basis is in irrationality, the same principle is being attacked. And hence to say I believe in Science as the ultimate answer when it has so far been unsuccessful in furnishing one is just to substitute the term “Science” for “God”.

Of course I understand the value of people like Dawkins being there to be the vanguard for this change. And there is a real need for a spokesperson for the atheists when the other party has so many very vocal ones. But that does not mean that he should call for educated agnostics to brand themselves as atheists just to add religious fervor to the brand. All that is still no reason to call for making atheism an organized religion too. agree with all the points and the logical arguments of The God Delusion but I disagree with the spirit of the book which seems to convey that religion is the enemy for us to combat by organizing ourselves.

There are too many paradoxes and unknowns in nature which science is more and more throwing up its hands in utter confusion towards. What if the universe truly is ‘queerer than we can suppose’ as J. B. S. Haldane puts it? Dawkins manages to explain most phenomena with natural selection but dismisses the larger conundrums and paradoxes with the great sweeping idea called the ‘Anthropic principle‘. The Anthropic principle might be a good tool to stall an argument but is no authentic scientific theory as he pretends it to be. It would be the equivalent of saying that the clock is telling time correctly isn’t it, so that explains its form and function and hence it needs no designer. I just paraphrased above the argument Dawkins uses to prove that atheism is absolutely valid. Well, unless we resort to such rhetoric devices, it is not. And in the ‘belief spectrum’ ranging from radical theism to complete atheism, the only position we can take without resorting to faith is one of doubt – agnosticism.

In conclusion, my opinion is that pure atheism is not possible under present science and that is why agnosticism is the only reasonable position to take without slipping into blind belief in science after climbing out of blind belief in religion.

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Posted by on January 11, 2012 in Book Reviews, Books, Thoughts

 

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