Tuesday, May 29, 2007

In defense of Dawkins.

The god-botherers are on the defensive and they don’t like it one bit. Most of us have had to deal with these people our entire lives especially if one lives in the god-besotted United States.

These people grab us on the street corners to preach at us. They will invade the peacefulness of our homes to pound on our doors until we answer so they can ask their deceitful questions. I say deceitful because they are often taught to ask a fake question in order to start conversation and then taught to switch the conversation over to religion.

If one is in the hospital they roam the corridors like vultures wanting for death to creep down the hallway. Unlike vultures they don’t have the decency to wait until you are dead they want to get to you just before you go so they can tell you how you will be tormented for eternity in unspeakable misery by the all-loving deity they worship unless you convert immediately

Some are cheap bastards who stop in restaurants and instead of leaving a tip leave a track that says “Here’s your tip”. The “tip” is a lecture on religion and how one must be saved or off to the eternal torture room of Jehovah for you. For years we were told man was made in God’s image. Now we find out that the “man” that sentence refers to is Dick Cheney.

We can’t even change television channels, in the US, without have one moronic evangelist or another screaming at us about our sins and then begging us for our money. These con men tend to do more begging than preaching. But I’m not sure that is any improvement.

What about the loyal opposition? For the most part we talk to each other. We don’t knock on doors or go out recruiting new atheists. Now in recent days several intellectuals have written books debunking the god mythology. Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Dennis Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens have each penned their rebuttals to religion. All have sold well. They get some publicity and are asked to speak on campuses or appear on television or radio. All relatively mild compared to the theological onslaught we experience on a regular basis. And the religionists are apoplectic.

Once again a writer at the left-wing Guardian has waded into water far too deep for him to handle. Martin Kettle makes a small attack on Dawkins. It is small in volume and small in intellectual content. In reality is devoid of any substantial rebuttal to Dawkins, it is more of a sneering type of reply than an intellectual one.

Kettle sets up the story by saying Dawkins “doesn’t, can’t and won’t do faith.” But, “a lot of other scientists find ways to live and let live with religious people. Quite a lot of scientists are even religious themselves.”

First, Kettle is wrong when he says a “lot of scientists are even religious themselves.” This is a standard claim made by religious folk but not really accurate. First, they don’t define scientists and then don’t define “a lot”. They prefer to use the term scientist as loosely as possible. A high school teacher who teaches chemistry, for instance, may qualify. But if we mean individuals of high academic standards in science then only a very small percentage are religious.

It may be argued that there are “hundreds” of scientists who are religious, maybe thousands. And that could be correct but then the number of scientists is much higher than that. And the evidence shows that the more knowledgeable the scientist the less likely he is to be religious. In a poll of members of the National Academy of Sciences only 7% said they believed in a personal god. In the UK a similar poll of the Royal Society found that just 3 percent agreed strongly with the statement that there a personal god and 79 percent strongly disagree. The rest fall somewhere in the middle but more on the disbelieving side.

The fact is that only a few eminent scientists believe in a god. So believers concoct facts. Dawkins found a website that listed six Nobel Prize winning scientists who are Christians. But the problem was that four of them never won a Nobel Prize and one that did is a friend of Dawkins and has told him he is not a believer but attends church with his wife for social purposes. But people who believe in walking on water can believe anything.

Kettle then says that Dawkins is “one of the best things that has happened to religion”. This sort of comment is prevalent among religious types in particular. Why? Because they want to dismiss Dawkins and the others. They want to pretend that this challenge to a divine security blanket is of no consequence, or better yet, good for religion. This is the equivalent of whistling in the graveyard to prove you aren’t afraid when in reality you are terrified.

I watched a video of Dawkins speaking at a university campus, a real university, near the campus of Jerry Falwell’s religious indoctrination center called Liberty University -- which in my opinion is misnamed twice over as students have no liberty and it really isn’t much of a university either. Of course the Falwellian faithful turned out in large numbers at the other university to make snide remarks to Dawkins during the Q&A period. One such student commented in a way that it sounded precisely like a prepared speech being read word for word. It wasn’t so much a question. Why ask questions when you believe you have all the answers anyway?

His whole mini sermon was that the comments made by Dawkins only made his more firm in his beliefs. Of course the pubescent preacher “knew” that would be the case when he prepared the comments, no doubt some time before he even heard what Dawkins had to say. Why do this? The reason is simple. The religious types actually think that if they say this sort of thing the atheist will suddenly have an epiphany that speaking against religion actually makes people religious. Thus the atheist will shut up. Like their theological fantasies they are wrong here on every facet.

The reality is that a rational, well thought out rebuttal to religion, as Dawkins has written, doesn’t enhance faith. It may make the fundamentalist more determined but the net result in society is a weakening of faith. As a former fundamentalist, who changed his beliefs from reading just such a book, I can attest that is the case. And I’ve seen it happens with lots of other people as well. Debunking religion does not enhance religious beliefs at all.

Second, the non-believer isn’t so stupid as to fall for the irrational logic the believer uses. He isn’t going to close his mouth merely because some religious type pretends that such attacks help his religion. He sees through the strategy and realizes that these scared religionists just want him to shut up. The one thing the faithful can’t endure is doubt. They need certainty in their life and they want atheists in the closet because it reassures them that they must be correct since no dares disagree with them.

Kettle says Dawkins is good at exposing the irrationality of religion but “he cannot engage the millions who just feel better with some sort of confused belief than with nothing at all.” Kettle, who says he is an atheist, argues that Dawkins just doesn’t understand this. I suspect he does.

People feel better holding lies than recognizing the truth. There are people too afraid to live in the world as it is so they invent an imaginary world to comfort themselves. They want to believe there is a magic man in the sky who can change reality. And they want to believe that there are things they can do to get this magic man to do their bidding. If they pray hard enough he will cure cancer or even raise the dead. Most importantly they want to believe that he can endow their drab lives with some sort of divinely important meaning. They want to believe in a god for the same reason some people want to believe in healing crystals. It gives them a false hope.

The problem is that the comfort is a lie. And lies make life harder not easier. The sick individual relying on “Dr. Jesus” too often ignores the real doctors who can actually help because to go to them shows a lack of faith. The net result is that something curable becomes lethal due to neglect.

This “faith” not only causes them to live their lives with false hopes it causes them to hate and condemn others who challenge that faith. It isn’t just those faithful who fly airplanes into buildings either. It is the vile Falwell's preaching hatred against entire classes of people. It is the Ratzinger’s covering up abuse for the sake of the church and denouncing condoms in nations plagued by AIDS. It is faith filled politicians who think God wants America heavily involved in the Middle East because of his secret plan to bring Jesus back to earth.

You can see the faith in the face of people like Rev. Paul Hill, a killer who shot to death a doctor for performing abortions. Hill said he knew Jesus would welcome him to heaven and went to his execution looking forward to death. He enjoyed the death of others and his own. This concentration on the after life always reduces the value of this life. But there is no evidence of an after life which means that religion is inherently anti life. It opposes the only life we have entertaining fictional existences instead.

Kettle makes one comment that was not just wrong but inherently dishonest. He said “other scientists find ways to live and live with religious people” implying that Dawkins doesn’t. Live and let live usually means respecting the rights of others. Dawkins has done nothing to violate the rights of religionists. Live and let live doesn’t mean that one must shut up and say nothing. Oddly Kettle seems to have no problem with religionists preaching constantly at atheists. That isn’t a violation of “live and let live” but he has a problem if atheists reply. His version of “live and let live” is to allow religion to do as it wishes and offer no opposition and no public disagreement.

There is one comment that was left on the site running Kettle’s little piece that amused me to an end. I will reprint the sentence in question. It says far more than the author intended:

As a christian, I do not have the intellectual capacity to respond to Dr. Dawkins or his ilk, for which I am grateful, because the question of why religious belief refuses to die, can best be answered by a believer.

If one writes that “as a Christian, I do not have the intellectual capacity to respond”. She did not say that she is a Christian and is intellectually unable to respond. She said she is intellectually unable to respond because she is a Christian. The sentence is confused but then her entire comment was confused.

She says the evidence for a god is all around us because god made it evident. Nice circular reasoning. She writes that the “invisible attributes” of god “have been clearly seen”. So the invisible is clearly visible. Any more nonsense like that and she could be a bishop, if she wasn’t a woman. In fact maybe she can write Andrew Sullivan’s next column on why doubt is faith and faith is doubt.

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Blogger Ethereal said...

Good article. I have finised reading Dawkins book, The God Delusion.

I really enjoyed reading his books and this article is good as well.

Keep up the good work NGZ.


June 10, 2007

Blogger Ryan said...

Excellent work. It was really enjoyable to read, and you made some strong arguments.

At one point when naming other atheist authors you say "Dennis Dennet", I think you mean "Daniel Dennet" ,right?

I wrote an "In Defense of Dawkins" as well but it's on a different subject.

February 22, 2010

Blogger GodlessZone said...

Yes, I meant Daniel Dennet. I know a professor named Dennis Dutton and get my academics with similar sounding names confused, usually by transposing first names.

February 22, 2010


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