Thursday, November 16, 2006

These Critics of Religion are Boring

The God Delusion
by Rickard Dawkins and The End of Religion by Sam Harris are both big sellers. They drag out all the tired old arguments we have heard before. Only the details differ. Their shared thesis is fundamentally this: Religion is irrational and does a lot of harm. Ho hum! Yawn, yawn! What we have is a variation on a theme that is as old as Western philosophy. The pre-Socratic thinkers who wanted to replace the myths and legends of the traditional Greek gods with a scientific-rational world-view were the first in a long line of critics who toot the same horn. From Democritus (Circa: 400 BCE) and his notion of reality as atoms and the void to Bertrand Russell (early 20th century) with his "accidental collocation of atoms" in a universe void of meaning and purpose, the denial of a Creator Powerful and Good on the basis of science and reason has been a standard theme of philosophy, though until recent centuries a minority opinion.

Is belief in God irrational? Let us just say that what reason requires in the way of religious belief is a topic about which there can be a real fight. For every Democritus there is a Plato and for every Bertrand Russell, an Alfred North Whitehead. Let Dawkins, Harris, and their ilk confidently proclaim themselves themselves the voice of reason in our time, while the rest of us find them at this stage of the game not a threat but merely boring. As for science, while it provides valuable data that needs to be taken into consideration, science as science settles nothing with respect to the ultimate questions of life, religion, and morality.

Does religion inspire much that is bad? Of course, but it is the source of much good too. It is ambiguous, neither pure devil nor pure angel. Moreover, religion always appears in a historical, cultural context and cannot be understood as a thing in itself and by itself. That is to deal in mere abstractions. So if you want to whip religion for its associations with the bad, go right ahead, but you will have to get in line. I have been doing it myself for at least half a century. But let us tell the whole story.

So if defenders of religion want to debate the likes of Dawkins and Harris, fine, they have a rational case to make; I just hope they make it well. Meanwhile, I find them so boring I am getting sleepy. Yaaaaawwwwwwn!

See Stanley Fish for a demolition of the logic of the professional atheists:, June 19, 2007.

Postscript: An article in The New York Times, November 21, 2006 ( describing a new aggressive mood by scientist in attacking religion as a harmful delusion is remarkable mostly for its apparent identification of religion with fundamentalism and God as an External Engineer or Designer. This betrays not only ignorance about other religion possibilities but a false hope that science as such can provide all people need in their search for meaning and morality. I won't even mention the arrogance and dogmatism displayed by some. In conferences of scientists and theologians I used to attend eminent scientists were always calling for theologians to get better acquainted with science. I never heard anyone suggest that scientists had anything to learn from anybody, much less from non-fundamentalist theologians. Now I am not sleepy and bored; I am exasperated and mad.

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