Posted by: Steve Coplan | January 12, 2007

The G@d Delusion, Part 2

With Dawkins still selling like hotcakes, the New York Review of Books offers this less than complementary review of the book by evolutionary biologist Allen Orr. In broad strokes, the reviewer’s objections are that Dawkins dismisses several millenia of religious practice and thought with a rhetorical flourish – the divine can’t be proven, hence belief is based on a statistically improbable conjecture. “Though I once labeled Dawkins a professional atheist, I’m forced, after reading his new book, to conclude he’s actually more an amateur,” the reviewer writes. Dawkins is a ineffective crusader for his point of view, essentially. Religious belief is not sustained by statistical certitude, and as the reviewer points out, he is resolutely disinterested in engaging with theology since its foundation is empirically weak. This clearly hurts his own cause, but doesn’t seem to have hurt his prospects at the Barnes and Noble cash register.

Evolutionblog has this review of the review of Dawkins, that points out that Dawkins doesn’t really have to address theology since his point is that religion and science are inherently inimical. There may be degrees of conflict, but ultimately the two schools of thought stand in opposition. To support this view, evolutionblog points out that scientific discovery until the late 19th century was in part motivated by the desire to understand the workings of God (see Newton, Isaac) but as soon as evidence turned up that contradicted scripture, religion and science parted ways. This is a simplistic analysis that repeats Dawkins’ mistake. If you perceive religion as monolithic and define the characteristics to fit your argument, you don’t have to explain the shades of grey. Darwin was in fact a deeply religious man, and for him the fact that his conclusions militated against a literal interpretation of scripture did nothing to shake his faith. He, of course, realized that he was going to encounter issues with the institutions of religion, but at a personal level saw no challenge to his faith that the earth was not 6,000 years old or that existence came into being fully-formed.

By dismissing theology, Dawkins doesn’t have to deal with the messy question of why there are such divergent views of who, what or why God is. Equally, he doesn’t have to deal with the response that most Western religions have had to muster to accomodate modern science. For many who don’t believe in a literal interpretation, or even an allegorical interpretation of the Five Books of Moses, the text itself provides some clues that we aren’t taking an actual 24-hour period in the creation account. Only if you choose to ignore that the sun was only created on the third day in the first verses of Genesis, can you argue for the literal version of the six days of creation. By lumping together those who accept only a literal interpretation of the scripture with those with far more nuanced views on the subject, Dawkins is making his opponents argument for them – science and religion are ultimately irreconcilable. Religion that seeks to explain ‘the how’ is a distortion. That is a realm of science. Religion seeks to explain the why natural laws in the abstract exist, which may help to understand why religion persists despite the strides science has made.

Related: The G@d Delusion (part 1) , In the Beginning, The Salami Conspiracy

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