the corner office

a blog, by Colin Pretorius

The God Delusion

I finished Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion last week. It's telling that I feel compelled to write about the book but can't quite decide what to say. It's one of those books that'd be well received by most atheists and godless types, is persuasive enough to probably convert some who sit on the fence, and will just further upset those whose faith is absolute.

There are a few themes to the book. It's an anti-religious polemic, it's a detailed rebuttal of arguments in favour of a creator's existence, it dips its toes into the evolutionary origins of our need for religion, argues that morality is an evolved, inherent human trait (that if anything, is subverted by some religious beliefs), it spends some time on the negative social, political and psychological consequences of religion, and it offers a view of what Dawkins refers to as Einsteinian religion: enrichment of our lives by rejecting the notion of a personal, supernatural 'god', and replacing it with simple wonderment at the beauty and complexity of the world around us, made all the more beautiful by an enhanced understanding of it. In this respect, the book is inspiring.

The pro-atheist arguments are, to me, compelling. Good fodder for boozy arguments, but even so, it did challenge my own views. I always describe myself as agnostic, but in truth, that amounts to being a functional atheist who can't be bothered with getting into arguments about whether what I believe or don't believe amounts to 'faith' too. Dawkins confronts the wishy-washiness of agnosticism, and by his own definitions of the terms, I guess I am basically an atheist. I see no evidence of a creator, no matter how appealing the notion is, and on balance, don't think there is one.

Where I don't consider myself to be a committed atheist, is that I don't really care whether there's a creator or not. Even if there is a creator, I still see no tangible evidence of its involvement in our affairs, and if it is involved, don't think it's particularly 'nice' by any normal notions of decency considering how it's allowing the world to unfold, and would have no compulsion to approve of, let alone worship it. So on the whole, I find that neither believing nor disbelieving is the least hassle way of getting on with my life. Dawkins is probably right - I should identify myself as an atheist and be willing to stand up and be counted. Will I in future? I'm not sure.

My only reservation about the book is the polemic aspect. Dawkins is utterly scathing when it comes to religion. I can understand why Dawkins does it, and I have some sympathy for his frustrations, but there is a fine line between blindly respecting a belief (a notion which Dawkins rightfully, imho, deplores), and respecting a person's right to hold that belief. Outright attacks often feel like they cross that line. Furthermore, the attacks get in the way of the potentially more productive messages of the book. Ridicule might get some people to reconsider their beliefs, but on the whole, it won't. In practical terms, it means that people, including myself, would be less likely to recommend the book to believers, because few people are likely to be swayed by a book which appears to insult them.

On the whole, though, definitely a worthwhile and valuable book, if you're open to what it has to say.

{2006.12.19 00:27}

« eBay scalability

» Yay!