Saturday, April 28, 2007

Interim report on 'The God Delusion'

‘Logically, anything I don’t understand is unimportant.’

- Dilbert’s Pointy-Haired Boss

'The God Delusion’ came in at the library, and I’ve read the first four chapters. In the first one Richard Dawkins makes pretty much the same point that Tony Payne made in ‘Islam in Our Backyard’, a point that I agree with: there is no division between ‘secular’ ideas which can be discussed freely and ‘religious’ ideas that cannot be. Ideas should be allowed, or forced, to fight each other freely, with none of this rubbish along the lines of ‘everyone is entitled to their opinion’, or ‘I disagree with your beliefs, but I respect them’. Like Tony, Richard is naturally very optimistic about the ability of his own beliefs to come out on top in this free for all. So much so that he is rather a long time getting to the point: the first two chapters are a more or less random hodge-podge of anecdotes about the evils and absurdities of religion.

Despite expressing hope in the introduction that his book might lead readers to atheism, Richard has written in a style of continuous ridicule that will chiefly serve to amused those already converted. Like the lovable rogues at, Richard takes it for granted that all those who disagree with him are stupid, brainwashed, or on the take. Early on, he make an argument from authority to justify his heavy reliance on ridicule:
‘Thomas Jefferson, as so often, got it right when he said: ridicule is the
only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions.’
But when confronted with an unintelligible proposition, we must always be careful: does the unintelligibility really lie in the proposition, or in us? Richard quotes several definitions of the Trinity in order to ridicule them, and makes no attempt to understand them because he is confident that there is nothing there to understand.

‘Arius of Alexandria, in the 4th Century AD, denied that Jesus was
consubstantial (i.e., of the same substance of essence) with God. What on earth
could that possibly mean, you are probably asking? Substance? What ‘substance’?
What exactly do you mean be ‘essence’? Very little, seems the only reasonable
Well, ‘substance’ and ‘essence’ are translations of Greek philosophical terms with meanings as specific and clear in their home environment as ‘force’ and ‘power’ have in classical physics. Arius was trying to say something, and the something he was trying to say would have had real consequences for the worldview of his contemporaries and their consequent actions.*

Richard’s habit of assuming that anything he can’t understand must be drivel is rather endearing, and has kept me from getting as irritated or depressed by his book as I was by Jim Wallis’. Tomorrow, I will outline his central thesis, and my response. Onwards and upwards!

* Don’t ask me what exactly, however, since that would mean I would have to go off and do some actual research.

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