Experiencing the God Delusion

god-delusionSo peculiar thought to start with- I always used to prefer Hitchens to Dawkins- because as I mentioned yesterday I’m not a fan of militant atheism. So it came as a big surprise to me that I much preferred this to Hitchens’ book.

I did enjoy this much more, if partly because it’s actually scientific, as opposed to just being pure vitriol. I also enjoyed the fact that it dealt with things in a more universal way. Despite the personal start, I thought it dealt very well with major issues. Dawkins worked in a logical manner, starting with the macro and then focusing down on the micro. I enjoyed his attitude to the awe of understanding and the desire to actually engage in back and forth arguments. Furthermore, by doing so, he was able to make far more positive arguments about how it is an option to be an atheist if you so choose. This coupled with his eloquent and at times beautiful writing, made this a rather liberating work.

dawkins rainbow.png

I also fundamentally agree with his point about being free to have an argument- because that is a central tenet of any free society. Personal opinions are worn like identities now and that is unhelpful no matter who is doing it. So yes- I respect his desire not to don kid gloves!

If only he could have kept up the same level of objectivity when it came to defending atheism! In addressing the critique of militant atheism as dogmatic, Dawkins defends his position as simply “passionate”. Now, while a part of me wants to argue that I am only passionate about things I believe in, I would suggest that there is something more going on. As his arguments devolve into the defence of atheists from perceived discrimination, I began to have a sneaking suspicion that this isn’t simply coming from a place of not believing in god.

Because modern day atheism doesn’t seem to be simply about the personal choice to not believe in god– it often seems to go so much further- painting religion as the cause for all evil and trying to create a group identity around disbelief. Here I see a parallel with the central tenets of Marxism- a political ideology which so often found ways to undermine and oppose anything that was on the more “conservative” side of the political spectrum. The idea, quite simply, is to make the personal political, and tear down anything that opposes a leftist “utopia”. To put it simply: he’s playing atheist identity politics.

For that reason he uses “anyone that’s not with me is against me” arguments. This is especially evident in his view of agnosticism. He seems to be very mistaken about what being an agnostic often means. He states there are two forms: Temporary Agnosticism in Practice and Permanent Agnosticism in Practice. Both of these presume that it is “in practice”– because for a lot of people they don’t want to *practice* atheism or agnosticism. In reality, there are a plethora of different reasons for identifying as an agnostic. To use Dawkins’ own metaphor of “herding cats” as a way of saying atheists think independently- he hasn’t considered the fact that some cats would rather like to mind their own business and let other cats go their own way. In fact, his image of cats trying to make their voices heard rather reminds me of a chorus of cats singing out of tune. Is there no possibility of having a cat who acknowledges that yowling from atop a wall at midnight is annoying? Okay- I may have taken this metaphor too far, but you get the idea- independent thinkers may very well want to keep their independence. The fact that Dawkins wants people to resist the term “agnostic” signifies his desire to overthrow individualism for the sake of his collectivist aims.

chorus-of-cats

This in some respects also explains the fallacious appeal to authority that so many atheists use. I mentioned this in my criticism of Hitchens’ yesterday. Honestly, I am a little sick of the “x number of scientists are atheists” argument. If you’re doing something just cos “all the cool kids are doing it” then it’s not really about independent thought. And of course denying people’s religion really won’t get you anywhere. It is no doubt true that “Even great artists need to earn a living”- but does this really matter? For some historical figures being religious was important (just ask the guy that wrote the bible 😉 ). And (good) critics wouldn’t want to ignore the role of religion in art because it would disrupt their search for truth. Ironically enough, Dawkins proves this point rather well by launching into a defence of religious texts.

Now as you can see I’m starting to repeat my criticisms of Hitchens’ book. Naturally the same “atheist fallacies” find their way into Dawkins’ arguments. But one more area I will address is the fact that neither of these books acknowledge that “the past is a foreign country, they did things differently there”. This is in no way meant as a moral relativist argument (by now, you all know how much I detest that) but as a simple appeal to look at context! One example was in the way Dawkins explores the kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara- a Jewish boy abducted by the Catholic Church. Now in his critique he actually condemns the parents for not simply converting to Christianity- which as someone striving for intellectual honesty is a little rich- but more than that it fails spectacularly to acknowledge that in the context he is speaking of, the parent’s conversion was unlikely to undo the damage that was done- Dawkins clearly has no idea how converts from Judaism were treated- still you know, way to *blame the victims*.

I will say Dawkins book felt far more intellectually rigorous than Hitchens’ book- yet on the whole I still have massive problems with the doctrines of militant atheism.

Rating: 3/5 bananas

half bananahalf bananahalf banana

Now- what do you think? What is your opinion on militant atheist books? Heck- what’s your opinion about militant atheism in general? Let me know in the comments!

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58 thoughts on “Experiencing the God Delusion

  1. daleydowning says:

    This is such a very good point. Militant, or radical, atheism is just that – it’s rigid and promoting a political agenda rather than explaining a personal point of view. My investigations in Mr. Dawkins’ work reveal that his intelligence and passion are being misused – he could be advancing scientific discovery/work, and getting his community as well as the public to consider nature/history in different ways. But because he’s so downright offensive and more rigid on his perspective than an autistic child throwing a tantrum, people either don’t like him and won’t listen to him, or champion him as a poster boy for their intensely militant (and unhealthy) campaign.
    Totally agree.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. notabilia says:

    A blah, milquetoast review, studded with some rich nonsense.
    There is nothing even remotely “collectivist” about atheism. Where are all these collectives? There are individual atheists, with a wide variety of opinions about nontheistic subjects. What the hell is supposed to be “Marxist” about objecting to religion’s enormous, colossal waste of money, time, and peoples’ lives?
    Have a little bit of perspective and respect – Dawkins and Hitches made magnificent contributions to the cause of freethinking against the ridiculous religious dogma that still permeates human society. If they have their foibles and excesses, what is that against the horrific, bestial, mountain of insanity that monotheism has produced? Who are you to “award” some bogus number to their literary efforts?

    Liked by 1 person

    • JJAzar says:

      I personally found this review to be thorough and fair. I believe the point about Marxism was an argument of parallelism as opposed to a direct comparison. Dawkins and Hitchens have clearly made leaps and bounds in the freethinking community, but their status does not absolve them of concise evaluation, does it? I would certainly hope not.
      As for your criticism regarding the review’s rating, I highly doubt the author of this article rolled a dice to decide what score to attribute to it. This is a well-learned, open-minded, individual who has provided a fair opinion. Expressing your intense dislike for the article is fair, but it does come across as (dare I say) militant. This is a great topic to have a dialogue about. Common courtesy goes a long way in starting a substantial conversation.

      Liked by 7 people

      • theorangutanlibrarian says:

        Thank you! It is parallelism, in a way- I’m also interested in exploring how one might have fostered the other- doesn’t necessarily mean I think it’s terrible (socialism is a direct result of Marxism for instance, but is not the same)- essentially I am sounding out these ideas- and what better place to do that than the internet! And yes, I would like to think these freethinking people would be willing to engage in debate- in fact I know they would.
        haha thank you- I don’t actually care if the person likes it or not- that’s upto them- and no, the rating was not arbitrary, but you already know that 😉 Thanks for coming along and joining in! And thanks for your kind words!

        Liked by 4 people

      • notabilia says:

        This is not “conversation.” This is typing words across the oblivion of space.
        Giving a major work of intellectual opposition “three bananas” shows the mendacity of internet ratings systems for bloggers.
        That’s what comments sections are for – opinions, when solicited by the blogger, which should have some verve, not be full of vacuous “concern.”
        That’s not say it should be done for more than two or three minutes a day, but why not respond to a fatuous attempt to downgrade “militant” atheism?

        Like

        • JJAzar says:

          Upon my initial reading of this post, I was not sure what the bananas signified. I wondered: Are the bananas intended symbolize the degrees of virtue expressed in Laozi’s Daodejing? Or perhaps the bananas signify a higher cosmological order pertaining to the orbits of Mercury and Saturn, respectively. But then I apprehended the meaning: The bananas are used in place of the conventional “star” rating known everywhere the sun shines (not literally, of course). Popular review site “Rotten Tomatoes” uses a similar rating system in that they do not literally quantify movies by the freshness of produce. The idea is humor and individuality, two things freethinkers tend to be advocates for. I hope this clarified the rating system, as I have grown quite fond of it as a frequent reader of this fine blog. Long live the Orangutans.

          Liked by 3 people

        • theorangutanlibrarian says:

          Hahaha yes- defend militant atheism from scary, scary non-believers! Heaven forbid people should be the wrong kind of atheist or… dare I say it… an agnostic! *Shudders* Thank you for proving me right about the attitudes of orthodox militant atheists to the unconverted 😉

          Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      hahaha “milquetoast”!! I have never been called timid before- there’s a first time for everything.
      Let’s start with atheism+ as an example of collectivist atheism… and end with the Soviet Union- because, yes, it was atheistic (and by the way it had its “foibles of excesses”) And that leads nicely into how it is Marxist doctrine in disguise- Marxism was about tearing down social structures that were perceived to “waste money” as you put it- not that I’m standing up for religion here, but you did illustrate my point rather nicely.
      I don’t see how disagreeing with Dawkins or Hitchens is disrespecting them in any way- both of them stood up for freedom of thought and intellectual rigour- engaging with their ideas and challenging them is actually showing them the utmost respect in this regard. I highly doubt, however, that your heroes would appreciate you showing them such reverence that you will not even allow someone to criticise their ideas.
      And I am a primate, thanks for asking 😉 – you, I find it amusing to note, go by “fun social nihilist” (bit of an oxymoron if you ask me) so I’m not sure why you bother to engage in any debate…?

      Liked by 4 people

      • notabilia says:

        Debate sharpens the mind, eh?
        Why isn’t the world completely Marxist, if by your telling it was not about state party control of the means of production, but against “wasting money”? Who doesn’t want to see that stopped?
        Anyone can disagree, if they have some sort of informed point to make, but this reductive tendency egged on by the tech corporations to allow orangutans (one of the world’s most tragically endangered species) to “rate” authors just seems bizarre.
        Have fun blogging – or is that, too, an oxymoron?

        Like

        • theorangutanlibrarian says:

          Well it does when people have heard of a little thing called the cold war- not to worry, this is a book blog and there is a bookish cure for every problem- read Solzhenitsyn. And for your inability to tell the difference between an author and their book, I recommend Roland barthes “death of the author”. Then a book called “maps of meaning” to cure you of your nihilism (actually, ironically, Nietzsche would also work) and lastly a dictionary, so that you know what “oxymoron” means 😉 enjoy! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          • notabilia says:

            Ah, the Pecksniffian mind! The pince nez, the dripping condescension of the Olympian nobody!
            Read whatever you want to read, and save the putative British raj instruction for your cat.. Who cares what you’ve “read”?
            If you’re a wobbly “agnostic,” forever waiting equally for a capital-G “God” to come arrive on your doorstop in the morning as not, your mind has a long way to go, no matter what printed material is thrown before it.
            Say stuck in the past, and let the contemporary world pass you by.
            To your objection – “Militant orthodox atheist” -yes, that Fox News zombie phrase is right – we get direct instructions on how to not-believe every day from the Four Horsemen – and we are shot if we do not repeat them.
            Here’s a reading list: Michel Onfray, David Eller, Donald Crosby, Craig Dilworth. . Or forget it – I’m not sure you could handle any of them.

            Like

  3. Bookstooge says:

    Let me first state that I am a very fundamental Christian, just so you know where I’m coming from.
    If you liked this book, I’d recommend Berlinski’s “The Devil’s Delusion”. Berlinski is not a Christian himself, but he takes on militant atheism and it’s “take over” of science. If you do read it, I’d be interested in hearing what you think.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Steve D says:

    That comment thread was a wild ride!

    I wanted to point out an important distinction.

    “Because modern day atheism doesn’t seem to be simply about the personal choice to not believe in god– it often seems to go so much further- painting religion as the cause for all evil and trying to create a group identity around disbelief.”

    I would argue that there is a fine line between these two points. Atheism is the belief that “god” does not exist. Anti-theism is a stance against religion of all forms, and tends to be the more ‘militant’ wing of atheism. It is certainly easy to conflate the two, especially when many so-called atheists seem to have an unmitigated hatred for religion of any kind, regardless of any historical or cultural context.

    Anti-theists want to extinguish religion. Atheists just want to be left to their own beliefs.

    Good review! I found it engaging and fair 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      haha it was a little! I had fun with it 😉
      That’s a very fair point- I can see why you would want to make that distinction- I was definitely trying to make it clear that I was talking about the militant branch of atheists. Unfortunately they are the most vocal group of atheists- though I know full well they do not speak for all atheists or represent people that generally want to be left to their own beliefs (having been part of that group myself). I think the issue comes from militant atheists co-opting the word atheist for their own political anti-theist agenda. But, yes, I agree in essence. In practice I find words do begin to take on a meaning of their own when people start to use them politically. Hope that clear things up (though it may also have complicated them further 😉 )
      Thanks very much! Glad you liked it! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  5. oldschoolcontemporary says:

    One of the most puzzling parts of Dawkins’ work was in that they don’t really formula arguments against God, by which I mean to write, there’s lots of smoke, just not fire. Writing how people who might disagree with you are “Dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads” isn’t an argument I can really sink my teeth into.

    Alister McGrath in his “The Dawkins’ delusion” book, which is only a slip at around 100 pages, really wrote it best when they explained: “It is, in fact, actually rather difficult to write a response to this book (meaning to Dawkins’ material)—but not because it is well-argued or because it marshals such overwhelming evidence in its favor. The book is often little more than an aggregation of convenient factoids suitably over-stated to achieve maximum impact and loosely arranged to suggest that they constitute an argument. To rebut this highly selective appeal to evidence would be unspeakably tedious and would simply lead to a hopelessly dull book that seemed tetchy and re-active. Every one of Dawkins’s misrepresentations and overstatements can be challenged and corrected. Yet a book that merely offered such a litany of corrections would be catatonically boring.”

    I’d like to write for people who felt their hearts won over by Richard’s God delusion material, I’d ask that they re-examine what Dawkins himself described as “The central argument” to his book, namely their “Who designed the designer” argument, although, it’s hard to call it “their” argument, as even in the days of people like Mohammed, they’d been asked such questions. Re-examine that argument, for if the central argument isn’t up to standard, and it’s certainly not, not by a long way, how much worse are the secondary arguments likely to be in quality.

    Insofar as the review goes, as many others have already added, I’m of the opinion that it’s an even-handed and interesting approach to Dawkins’ material, one which should be read and appreciated by both believers and atheists alike, sadly not everyone is so reasonable as to do so. 😛

    Liked by 3 people

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      That is an excellent point and I do think there is far more in the book that I could have gone into- but I didn’t want to bore people- as it is this is longer than reviews I usually write!
      I think that’s a fair point too!
      Thanks very much- I’m glad you thought so! (Haha yes predictably some militant atheists are not OK with anyone criticising their idols 😉 )

      Liked by 1 person

  6. TheBookishUnderdog says:

    Really interesting response! I started reading the God Delusion years ago but never got very far into it. I may give it another go. I think, like you, I would find this kind of work a bit annoying in places though. I used to be very much ‘religion is the root of all evil, let’s have long conversations about how God doesn’t exist’ whereas now I’m more in the ‘I don’t believe in God, that’s my decision, I don’t need to debate it anymore’. Am I rambling? I think I might be rambling XD

    Liked by 2 people

  7. oldschoolcontemporary says:

    It seems as though there’s a blurring of the lines on the subject too, sadly. Perhaps one arising from the idea of “hate speech”, that words can somehow be physical violence. It’s at the point now where to appeal to reasons for your beliefs could be misconstrued as some sort of western colonialist act of oppression.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Codie says:

    There was an internal battle going on between what was better: the review or the comment thread – I settled for them both being equally enjoyable. I quite simply don’t enjoy preachy books. It doesn’t matter what the religion or doctrine being preached is I just don’t like it, so I know this book wouldn’t be for me. However, your review was amazing! It never judged or condemned the authors viewpoints, although you didn’t agree and you handled the parts you didn’t enjoy really eloquently. Sometimes books like this are hard to review because it is a touchy subject for many people, especially if you’re not giving it gold stars (or tasty bananas). I agree with you about scientist not equaling atheist, I’ve heard that “argument” so much and it’s just not true. I’m not an atheist but I also don’t believe in the ideology of religion (spiritual would be the closest description of what I am) so I’m not partial to any particular group. For me it’s as simple as, believe what you believe but don’t condemn those that do not – I feel that was your whole point. Once again, such a well-thought out review.

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Ahh thank you!! I’m so glad you liked them both! Ah yes I feel the same way about preachy books and was forewarned about this one- but the opportunity came up for me to listen to the audiobook and curiosity got the better of me! Thank you- I’m really glad you liked it! Ah yes, I understand that I waver between agnostic and spiritualist, but mostly these days I feel like an “I-don’t-care”-ist 😉 so yes, I definitely don’t belong to any particular group. Yeah, that’s exactly how I feel- when it comes to religion, I feel it should be a personal choice, not something people feel compelled to believe or not believe in. I try to be open minded about these things- as long as you’re not hurting anyone else, it really doesn’t make a difference. Thank you!

      Like

  9. The Quill says:

    That was a surprisingly unbiased review. When you mention the “religion as cause of evil” argument, I think Dawkins clarified in an interview that it’s not religion per se, but the dogmatic style of thinking that it introduces. He protests against children being labelled Christian, or Jewish or Hindu or any other religious affiliation. It’s because infants can’t decide for themselves. He’s, as far as my perception extends, trying to try attention to the unjust doctrinal ion of children which prevents them from exposure of arguments on any topic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Well thank you very much! Yes, he has said things like that, but then he usually clarifies with things like “but I protest x…” For instance, with the example you gave, while I tend to agree (although being Jewish is an ethnicity so can’t really be put in this category) I am a little hesitant, because it is an unavoidable fact that all education and parenting is inevitably a kind of indoctrination and category-less societies cannot actually work given that we actually need categories to understand the world around us. I personally also think with regard to this there is no way of getting around these issues without inevitably being more cruel to the child in question than is necessary- it’s funny that he mentioned the Mortara case- because his argument borders on a modern day version of that. Furthermore, my issue is that he is also being a tad doctrinal in his beliefs (his doctrine being aligned in this instance with structuralists such as Derrida) So back to your original point- I find that there are secular ideologies that can equally produce dogmatic styles of thinking and that’s why I have trouble with some of Dawkins attitudes. Hope that makes sense.

      Like

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      That’s certainly debatable- Hitler actually expressed a lot of anti-Christian sentiment and a lot of evidence from his compatriots (transcripts, diary extracts etc) suggest he wasn’t religious at all- his primary purpose of using religious imagery was to appeal to the masses. It makes sense, as the fascist ideology itself is not religious. Fascist governments- from Germany to Italy- were very keen to use religion to appeal to their conservative audiences, but in principle were not actually based on religious doctrine and were opportunistically exploiting religion to further their goals (with the ultimate plan of replacing religion with the state). And, just to be clear, fascism could exist without religion- the Mexican Red Shirts for instance were atheistic. Sorry for that rather long winded response- and just to be clear, none of this is to let any religious organisation that collaborated with the Nazis (etc) off the hook

      Like

  10. professorgrif2003 says:

    Some New Atheists try to use the theory of evolution to disprove the existence of god. This is nothing but an elaborated manipulation of a scientific theory to promulgate a philosophical stance which has undermined the true reality of the theory of evolution and all that it entails. The theory of evolution cannot prove or disprove the existence of an intelligent designer, nor can any other scientific theory that is currently known. The fascinating thing about human beings is that we have been able to incorporate evolution out of the purely biological and successfully apply it to language and technology thus creating an entirely new avenue of evolution, the evolution of the conscious mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      I really agree with you here. My issue with New Atheism, as someone that is irreligious, has always been that it is a philosophical stance that to my mind is as fundamentalist as the belief systems it critiques. Like you said, the theory of evolution cannot prove or disprove beliefs. Yes that is fascinating and I agree.

      Liked by 1 person

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