Thursday, July 31, 2008

Random Poetry Moment: Proper Motion

How could I expect

you to stay

when even the stars move?

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Who would you rather be touched by?

I think Dawkins was drunk when he wrote the last section of his book. He argues that it's worse to be raised religiously than to be sexually molested as a child. This is not a joke. Start reading at page 317.

He starts off by relating an off-the-cuff remark he made at a conference, when asked about Catholic priest sex scandal, shocked the audience by saying that the molestation wasn't as bad as the religious teaching. Instead of letting this hang as an off-color joke in the text, though, he goes on to try to argue the point! He begins by saying that being molested isn't as bad as people say, saying that he'd been molested. He defends Catholic priests on the charges of molesting children, but attacks them for teaching religion. He then cites one letter from a reader saying she'd been sexually abused as a child, but who felt religion was the worse damage. Finally he tries to get a therapist specializing in "religion abuse" to say the same, but, probably because she has clinical experience treating child sexual abuse -- she waffles. Dawkins, though, does not. To him, religion is a form of child abuse worse than sexual abuse. The next time I see a sexually abused child in the hospital, I'll be sure to console her by saying that at least her parents weren't Christian.

This should be enough to end any discussion of Dawkins as a serious thinker, or even a serious representative of atheism.

I will, in subsequent posts, address other criticisms he raises. You'll forgive me for not quoting from the text, but once I got to the section about children, I sped-read to the end so I could return the book to the bookstore as fast as possible.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

So 19th Century ...

Dawkins rarely addresses anything beyond fundamentalist religious belief. When he does, he has a lot of trouble. Describing his conversations with bishops and archbishops, he says the conversation is "interesting", but "nothing anyone would recognize as Christianity". What?

This, in Dawkins' view, is the best compliment to modern Christians: he doesn't recognize them as Christian. All the same, I'm not sure where Dawkins gets off deciding he, and not the Archbishop, is the arbiter of Christian orthodoxy.

According to Dawkins, when he attacks Christianity, these theologians respond by saying "That's so 19th century." As in: you are attacking a 19th century version of Christianity, which is no longer relevant.

In fairness, though, for most people, the choice is presented (almost) as starkly as Dawkins presents it: 19th century Christianity or nothing.

This is largely because sophisticated Christians keep their theology to themselves - a position, I think, which is no longer appropriate.

Religious nutters

In my view, Dawkins attacks a straw man version of religion: literalist readings of the Bible, a hateful God, a young earth, designed animals, harps in heaven, everyday miracles etc. But, in fairness to Dawkins, this is only a straw man in that it is an easy argument to beat down, not in the sense of being artificial. People do believe this stuff -- and perhaps they really shouldn't.

Dawkins, however, admits no alternative except atheism. He refuses to acknowledge any sophisticated version of religion (except Buddhism, for some reason). He only quotes religious fundamentalists: his quotes come from websites, not books; from fundamentalists, not, well, smart people.

It is worthwhile to note that when Dawkins is on target, attacking simplistic fundamentalism, he is doing something worth doing.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Short vacation ...

Hi all, thanks for reading so far. There's more to come, of course, but I will be away for the next two weeks, and will be posting rarely. Check back in May for regular posts!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

He reminds me of me

Richard Dawkins reminds me so much of one of my favorite people: me, ten years ago. The arguments are the same, the arrogance is almost identical. Dawkins employs celestial teapots, fairies, and the flying spaghetti monster as equivalent, logically, to God. In my day, I used flying, insensible, immaterial rabbits. We both found St. Anselm's ontological proof of God to be exceedingly silly.

Dawkins notes, confusedly, that one of his heroes, Betrand Russell, took the argument seriously. Dawkins does not note that one of the most famous logicians and mathematicians ever (and good friend of Einstein) Kurt Gödel, produced a modern ontological proof. I cannot pretend to understand it, and thus, be convinced by it, but I certainly can't belittle it, either.

At the outset I said belief in God was not a topic to be decided by experts - so Gödel's incomprehensible proof could hardly end the issue. What is frustrating about Dawkins, and indicated by Gödel's absence from his book, is Dawkins's radical unfairness. Dawkins, however, cannot believe anyone remotely intelligent could take God seriously. Every smart religious person is transformed in Dawkin's eyes to someone stupid, or, more often, a secret atheist, whose true beliefs were buried by religious persecution. But Gödel believed in God, not in "the old days when everyone believed", but in the 1960s and 1970s. And thus, since neither his intelligence, nor his faith, can be dismissed, Gödel himself is dismissed. The resulting book, so far, appears to the equivalent of what happens when partisans write political books. In fact, Dawkins reminds me of someone else. He's the Ann Coulter of atheism.

(In my next post: I agree with Dawkins about several things!)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Who cares about creation?

Dawkins, following the current popular evolution vs creation debate, vigorously attacks the 'hypothesis' of a 'superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed the universe' (p.31). He notes that he is attacking all religions generally, but Christianity specifically. But his hypothesis doesn't really get the point of Christianity. To quote (albeit from memory) the most famous living philosopher, and staunch atheist, Richard Rorty: "Why do people get so worked up about evolution and creation? The center of the Christian religion is not God the Creator, but Christ the Redeemer."

He said this back in my atheist days, but it stuck with me -- and now, I have to say, it is so true. Christianity's truth isn't in the genesis of the world or of the Bible; it's Gospel.

Rorty, shrugging off evolution vs creation

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Too much respect for religion?

Dawkins then turns to Islam in Europe, and the cartoon controversy. In his criticism of the cowering accomodations of certain segments of society, we are in complete agreement. The popularity of antireligious sentiment today, as seen in the mainstream reception of Sam Harris's work or Dawkins's, results from the rise of radical Islam.

The question is: is the problem religion generally, or radical Islam specifically? and, is the accomodation being given to radical Islam in Europe a result of respect for religion generally, or fear of radical Islam specifically?

I'd answer the latter in both cases.

Is Freedom of Religion a Good Amendment?

Dawkins attacks the 'special respect' religion gets, making a nice point that, in America, cancer patients cannot smoke marijuana, but obscure religious sects can use hallucinogens. He points out that if aesthetes claim they need hallucinogens to appreciate art, they'd have no legal basis for this. He claims these situations are equivalent. But, in America, we legally acknowledge in the Constitution that these situations are not at all equivalent: religion is not the same as art; there is not freedom of artistic appreciation in the Bill of Rights.

The differing treatment of religion between Europe and America, I suspect, relates to our different histories. Europe suffered through centuries of religious violence and persecution, and as a result, they draw a circle of silence around religion: France will suppress religious expression; Italy has laws against defaming religion. Knowing firsthand the horrors of religious violence, they seem afraid of it. (I would argue that America has an analogous relationship with race - having suffered from centuries of racial oppression and violence, we are sensitive to the issue, in a way Europeans might not be.)

America, however, never suffered from large scale religious violence: in fact, America began, in part, as a solution to Europe's religious violence. I would argue that the Pilgrims' experiment was, by and large, successful - but, just as it is reasonable to question the relevance of the 2nd amendment today, it may be reasonable to question the relevance of the 1st. But the criteria for revoking or curtailing amendments ought to be pretty stiff.