The God Delusion Richard Dawkins An impassioned rebuttal of religion of all types (published 2006)
Richard Dawkins • Professor for the public understanding of science at Oxford university • Fellow of New College • Fellow of the Royal Society • Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature • 2005 Shakespeare Prize • 2001 Kistler Prize • 1997 international Cosmos Prize for achievement in human science • 1990 Michael Faraday award of the Royal Society • 1987 Royal Society of Literature Award
Richard Dawkins • He is best known as an ethologist, evolutionary biologist and science writer • He is also an atheist, a secular humanist, a sceptic, and an outspoken critic of creationism • His early books include: • The Selfish Gene (1976), The Extended Phenotype (1982), The Blind Watchmaker (1986), River out of Eden (1995), Climbing Mount Improbable (1996), Unweaving the Rainbow (1998), and The Ancestor’s Tale (2004). • His latest publication and the most controversial is “The God Delusion” • The English language version has sold over 1.5 million copies and been translated into 31 different languages • It has become his most popular book
The God Delusion Ten Chapters • 1. A deeply religious non-believer • 2. The God Hypothesis • 3. Arguments for God’s existence • 4. Why there almost certainly is no God • 5. The roots of religion • 6. The roots of morality: why are we good? • 7. The ‘Good’ Book and the changing moral Zeitgeist • 8. What’s wrong with religion? Why be so hostile? • 9. Childhood, Abuse and the escape from religion • 10. A much needed gap?
H. Allen Orr New York Review of Books • “The God Delusion seems to me badly flawed. Though I once labelled Dawkins as a professional atheist, I’m forced, after reading his new book, to conclude he’s actually more an amateur.”
Some quotable quotes • All religions are the same: religion is basically guilt with different holidays (Anon) • Truth, in matters of religion, is simply the opinion that has survived (Oscar Wilde) • When enough people share a delusion, it loses its status as a psychosis and gets a religious tax exemption instead (Richard de Sousa)
Three themes to be covered • Is God amenable to scientific inquiry? (Don) • Chapters 1,2 and 4 • The origins of religion (Lindsay) • Chapter 5 • Does ethics depend on religion? (Don) • Chapters 6 and 7
Einsteinian religion • Dawkins claims: • “By ‘religion’, Einstein meant something entirely different from what is conventionally meant.” (p.15)
Some Einsteinian quotes • “I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious, then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it”
Some more…. • “The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naive.” • “I am a deeply religious non-believer. This is a somewhat new kind of religion.” • I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings.” “
….and finally • “I have never imputed to Nature a purpose or a goal, or anything that could be understood as anthropomorphic. What I see in nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism.”
Dawkins sums up… • “Einstein was using ‘God’ in a purely metaphorical, poetic sense. So is Stephen Hawking (‘for then we should know the mind of God’), and so are most of those physicists who occasionally slip into the language of religious metaphor.”
Dawkins’ plea (+ a sample of his angry mood) • “I wish that physicists would refrain from using the word God in their special metaphorical sense. The metaphorical or pantheistic God of the physicists is light years away from the interventionist, miracle-wreaking, thought-reading, sin-punishing, prayer-answering God of the Bible, of priests, mullahs and rabbis, and of ordinary language. Deliberately to confuse the two is, in my opinion, an act of intellectual high treason.”
The God Hypothesis • “There exists a super-human, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us.”
Agnosticism – two types • Permanent Agnosticism in Principle (“PAP”) • Temporary Agnosticism in Practice (“TAP”)
PAP… example • “In 1835, the celebrated French philosopher Auguste Comte wrote, of the stars: ‘We shall never be able to study, by any method, their chemical composition or their mineralogical structure.’ Yet even before Comte had set down these words, Fraunhofer had begun using his spectroscope to analyse the chemical composition of the sun. Now spectroscopists daily confound Comte’s agnosticism with their long distance analysis of the precise composition of even distant stars.”
TAP… examples • What caused the massive extinction of life at the end of the Permian period? • We don’t know, but one day we might find out at least a possible answer, just as we have with the Cretaceous extinction. • Does life occur elsewhere in the universe? • Again we don’t know, but now we do know there are several hundred planets circling other stars. This was not known a few years ago. • Dawkins comments. “We must still be agnostic about life on other worlds – but a little bit less agnostic. Science can chip away at agnosticism …..”
God’s existence “God’s existence or non-existence is a scientific fact about the universe, discoverable in principle if not in practice.” (p.50)
NOMA “Non-Overlapping Magisteria” • Stephen Jay Gould: • “The net, or magisterium , of science covers the empirical realm: what is the universe made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory). The magisterium of religion extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for example, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty).”
Dawkins’ Bottom Line • “A universe in which we are alone except for other slowly evolved intelligences is a very different universe from one with an original guiding agent whose intelligent design is responsible for its very existence.” “The presence or absence of a creative super-intelligence is unequivocally a scientific question, even if it is not in practice – or not yet – a decided one.”
Rephrasing • If God interacts in any way with the natural world (or the universe), even if it is only at its creation, the world will be affected in some way; there will be a change, some sort of result, and therefore, in principle, God’s action is amenable to scientific inquiry.
Dawkins’ Alternative to The God Hypothesis • “Any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution” Or, in other words • “Creative intelligences, being evolved, necessarily arrive late in the universe, and therefore cannot be responsible for designing it.”
Discuss • Can Dawkins sideline the Einsteinian God? • Is his formulation of The God Hypothesis valid? • Do you think God is amenable to scientific inquiry? • How about Dawkins’ extension of Darwinism to eliminate God?
Chapter 5 The origins of religion • Where does religion come from? • Why do virtually all cultures have it? • To answer these questions, Dawkins argues that religion is a by-product of something else • Benefits of religion may include: • > Providing consolation and comfort • > Fostering togetherness • > Satisfying our yearning for knowledge of existence
A Darwinian approach • The Darwinian question is • What is the advantage generated by having a religion? Religion is wasteful of scarce resources • Large quantities of time and energy used in the construction of temples and cathedrals • Death of many who have died in religious wars • Darwinian selection ruthlessly eliminates waste
A Darwinian approach • How has religion benefited the survival of an individual’s genes? • My suggestions • Large families with the woman’s primary role being child bearing (traditional Roman Catholicism, Exclusive Brethren) • Polygamy (traditional Mormons, Islam)
Religion as a by-product • Consider religion as a by-product • Example - moths flying into lighted candles because their eyes use light from distant objects (moon) for navigation, not because they want to commit suicide • Apply this to religious groups that utilise beliefs that are contradicted by science
Some widely-held religious beliefs • Examples are • The virgin birth • The raising of Lazarus • The resurrection of Jesus • God hearing everybody’s thoughts • The day of judgement • Bread & wine becoming the body of Christ
Are humans psychologically primed for religion? • Human tendency to dualism • Deep-seated human belief that the mind and the body inhabit different worlds • Mental illness being seen as possession by demons • Striking similarities between the intense love that a worshipper feels for God and the love an admirer feels for his/her dearly beloved
A Darwinian view of religion • Religious groups use a lot of resources in pursuit of their religious activities • Children initially trust those in authority who provide them with advice on how to live in this world • Many attributes of religion are designed to help its survival • This has probably occurred by a mixture of design and natural selection.
Belief and reason • Martin Luther repeatedly warned Christians of the danger of reason • “Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but struggles against the Divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.” • “Whoever wants to be a Christian should tear out the eyes of his reason.” • “Reason should be destroyed in all Christians.”
A Darwinian approach to ideas • Natural selection as it applies to ideas (memes) rather than to genetic material • Gene pools for carnivores would contain a different groupings of genes compared with those for herbivores • great sense of smell, sharp claws, meat-eating teeth, meat-digesting enzymes
A Darwinian approach to ideas • A meme pool of religious ideas : • You will survive your own death • If you die a martyr, you will go to paradise and there will be 72 virgins waiting for you • Heretics, blasphemers and apostates will be punished (by death, mutilation or ostracism) • Belief in God is a supreme virtue. If you find your belief wavering, work hard at restoring it and beg God to help your unbelief.
A Darwinian approach to ideas • Faith (belief without evidence) is a virtue. The more your beliefs defy the evidence, the more virtuous you are. • Religious beliefs must be accorded a higher level of respect than other beliefs. • Do not try to understand mysterious things such as the trinity, transubstantiation or reincarnation. Become fulfilled by calling it a mystery. • Beautiful music, art and scriptures are self-replicating tokens of religious ideas.
A Darwinian view • Some of these memes have absolute survival value and would flourish in any meme pool. • Others would only survive with the right mix of memes. • Consider Islam and Buddhism as two meme pools, with Islam analogous to a carnivorous gene complex and Buddhism analogous to a herbivorous one.
An example of a meme - Cargo cults • Evolution of ideas • Cargo cults evolved at an astonishing speed • They arose in both New Guinea and Pacific Melanesia; the earliest ones from the 19th Century, the more recent ones from after WW2. • The wondrous possessions that the immigrants brought. • Broken ones were sent away and new ones kept arriving.
Cargo cults • No white man was ever seen to do anything that could be recognised as being useful. • Sitting behind a desk shuffling paper was obviously a form of religious devotion • Cargo was obviously of supernatural origin. • The locals eventually figure out that these rituals are important to encourage the gods to send more cargo. • More than 17 outbreaks in New Caledonia, the Solomons, Fiji and the Hebrides • Over 50 in New Guinea.
Discuss • What do you believe are the likely origins of religion? • What have been the common roles for religion? • Are these roles changing?
Does Ethics depend on Religion? • Chapter 6 • The roots of morality: why are we good? • Chapter 7 • The ‘Good’ Book and the changing moral Zeitgeist
Chapters 6 and 7, Contents • Two Chapters … 64 pages … on Ethics? • In fact, Chapters 6 and 7 are composed of: • 30 pages on the horrors of sacred scriptures or the behaviour of religious people, • 12 pages on the evolution of altruism, • 10 pages on the Moral Zeitgeist, • 7 pages on Hitler and Stalin, and • 5 pages on ethics
On the Origin of the Moral Sense A Darwinian perspective • Altruism – kinship, reciprocation and symbiosis, reputation, conspicuous generosity • Misfiring or the “by-product” theory • Moral dilemmas across cultural and religious boundaries – thought experiments
Moral Philosophers – two types • Absolutists – Absolutists believe there are absolutes of right and wrong, imperatives whose rightness makes no reference to the consequences. • Consequentialists – Consequentialists hold that the morality of an action should be judged by its consequences.
The Moral Zeitgeist • “Zeitgeist” – spirit of the times • “A broad liberal consensus of ethical principles … A mysterious consensus which changes over the decades… and …moves in parallel, on a broad front, throughout the educated world.”
Conclusion on the Zeitgeist • “Where, then, have these concerted and steady changes in social consciousness come from?... For my purposes, it is sufficient that they certainly have not come from religion.”
Discuss • Are there any absolutes? • Has religion played a part in the development of the moral Zeitgeist? • Will it continue to play a part in the future?