Irreligion: Book Review #5

While reading Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don’t Add Up, I had some extremely mixed feelings. Not about the ideas presented, but about the book itself. Now for the most part there is no new material really presented in this book that you couldn’t get from any other atheistic writer, however there are some new ways of viewing the material at hand.

The author of Irreligion is a mathematician by the name of John Allen Paulos, Professor of Mathematics at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA, known for his writings on Mathematic literacy. Now with those credentials one realizes that a man like this is quite intelligent, but then asks them self, “What does he know about religion?” Well truth is, Paulos presents the idea that using pure logic to see how a God doesn’t fit, is key to realizing what reality and unreality, truly is.

The average reader will go into this book and will easily pick up the basic ideas from each chapter, but Paulos will likely lose them when he begins to talk in Mathematic lingo, at times alienating the reader if they do not have an in-depth knowledge in the field of mathematics. Though he refrains from using many formulas, he does tend to create hypothetical equations in which variables are used to show, rationally, why certain things, such as divinity, miracles, etc. are just not supernatural.

The fast pace of this book is rather nice when it comes to the mathematics involved. When one is presented with something that is a bit too dense, there is a bright side: the book moves on from that topic rather quickly. Each chapter is relatively short, often less than 10 pages, but it does seem that some chapters are unnecessarily repetitive of earlier parts of the book.

Overall the concept of this book is cool, but the execution is tough. Paulos manages to create a book for those that have a more technical thought process, while he also teaches the reader to think more critically. Recommending this book is tough, its not an easy read, but it should not be overlooked, because it is rather rewarding.

Existential Quote of the Week: May 1 – 7

“In life man commits himself and draws his own portrait, outside of which there is nothing. No doubt this thought may seem harsh to someone who has not made a success of his life. But on the other hand, it helps people to understand that reality alone counts, and that dreams, expectations and hopes only serve to define a man as a broken dream, aborted hopes, and futile expectations.”

-Jean-Paul Sartre

“The Bible says not to kill yet many Christians support the death penalty”, CARM defends this view.

In this I article I would like to address a post that was created on CARM.ORG. CARM is the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, an organization devoted to the defense of the Christian gospel and ideologies. The post I’d like to address is a CARM writer’s response to an email written concerning Christians and their support of the death penalty. The email reads:

” The Bible says it is forbidden to kill, yet many Christians in America support the death penalty and order wars and bombs which kill tens of thousands, yet this is somehow rationalized and an excuse is made as to how this does not violate Christianity, when it plainly does.”

This is a very serious statement and is quite hard to address when dealing with the “turn the other cheek” principle and forgiveness that Jesus taught. Is it Biblically moral for a Christian (a New Testament following Christian) to believe that the killing of a person who has committed a crime, is just?

The response to this email is blurred by word play, but in the end the conclusion is:

“Furthermore, murder is the unlawful taking of life. Killing is the lawful taking of life. Therefore, in the issue of taking life we must determine whether or not is lawful or not. If a murderer is sentenced to death in a lawful manner via the law of the land, then it is not murder.”

With this conclusion one can see immediate problems, starting with the assumption that there is a lawful and unlawful taking of life. This is then followed up by saying that the lawfulness of taking a life is determined by the ‘law of the land’, thus immediately raising the question “Does this in turn justify Sha’ria law also?”

Not only does the statement made by the writer of this article, produced by CARM.org, suggest that the taking of life can be lawful, it also condones revenge.

“[…]God gives us the right of self-defense and sometimes in that self-defense, it is necessary to kill someone.”

Self-defense would be prohibiting something harmful from happening in the first place. Revenge is making a harmful action after the initial wrong has been done. And of these two categories, the death penalty would fall under the latter.

To follow a Christian principle of forgiveness, murder cannot be justified, but if one feels so inclined to quote an obscure Old Testament verse that condones war or violence or murder, and rape for that matter, then remember this, using a holy scripture to justify your actions can go both ways. Any person who thinks it is lawful to take your life can be justified by scripture also.

Murder and Killing are two terms for the same act, taking ones life. Does either term seem less violent? No, Killing is Murder, Murder is Killing, they are one in the same. However, it is no surprise that Christian Fundamentalists do not share this view.

Existential Quote of the Week: April 24 – 30

“One’s own free unfettered choice, one’s own caprice, however wild it may be, one’s own fancy worked up at times to frenzy — is that very “most advantageous advantage” which we have overlooked, which comes under no classification and against which all systems and theories are continually being shattered to atoms. And how do these wiseacres know that man wants a normal, a virtuous choice? What has made them conceive that man must want a rationally advantageous choice? What man wants is simply independent choice, whatever that independence may cost and wherever it may lead. And choice, of course, the devil only knows what choice.”

-Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Notes from Underground)

Existential Quote of the Week: April 17-23

“Regardless of the staggering dimensions of the world about us, the density of our ignorance, the risks of catastrophes to come, and our individual weakness within the immense collectivity, the fact remains that we are absolutely free today if we choose to will our existence in its finiteness, a finiteness which is open on the infinite. And in fact, any man who has known real loves, real revolts, real desires, and real will knows quite well that he has no need of any outside guarantee to be sure of his goals; their certitude comes from his own drive.”

-Simone de Beauvoir

French Existential Philosopher and Author

Thoughts on Ignorance

Emma Goldman onces said, “The most violent element of society is ignorance.” And I could not agree more fully. Massacres, genocides, and ethnic cleansing, among many other atrocities, have all sprung from the simple term ignorance, often accompanied by greed. There is another side of ignorance that is important to address also. The fact is, ignorance has created multiple extremely conceited, dumb and arrogant generations, and it is this point that I would like to address.

Over time people become ignorant of what is actually important because distractions are continually created, and eventually consume whole civilizations. Between the glorification of public figures, excessive amounts of shallow entertainment, and activities that require no mental activity, people have become more and more detached from any kind of search for knowledge and understanding. When one combines what is mentioned above with consumerism, a dangerous cocktail is created, which can be described by many different terms, escapism being one of them.

Escapism has almost become synonymous with our generation. When one observes society today they may notice that Aldous Huxley’s predictions of future societies was almost dead on. Now, one would think that at this time in history we would be making an exorbitant amount of progress considering we now have the greatest database of information and shared thought that man has ever seen. This database is what we call the internet. However, the majority of our population settles for minimum requirements being made and are no longer interested in learning.

Yet, if one has stopped seeking understanding, truth and knowledge they become a static being and ignorance rules their thought. Being enslaved by ignorance confines a person to only one corner of their overall existence. To be set free one must seek those exact objects which they have chosen to ignore.

Not only do we have the most massive database of information and shared thought that we have ever known, but we also have more books than ever have been available to any civilization, and they are all essentially at the tips of our fingers. But of course this is completely ignored by the majority of our population.

Imagine if every person had an inclination to seek knowledge, we would be far beyond where we are now. Many people who could help make a significant difference in the progress of man, have become absorbed in things that deter them from ever reaching their full potential, and this is one of the most important things to abolish in the world. With the abolishment of the trait of ignorance many other things will fall with it. Prejudices, delusion and minuscule differences could be done away with if people began to try to understand their fellowman, and began to examine the world through a critical eye.

We are at an important point in history that needs to be handled with extreme care, every person can make a difference, and by abandoning outdated ideologies, prejudices and any other obsolete things that divide us from each other we can make serious progress.

“Where ignorance is our master, there is no possibility of real peace.”
-Dalai Lama

The Dawkins Delusion? Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine: Book Review #3

After finishing “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins earlier this week I decided that I should read the book that was written in response to Dawkins’s behemoth, so I could see what a theologian would say in response to such an argument as the one Dawkins presents. And it appears that maybe I had my expectations too high going into The Dawkins Delusion?. McGrath tried to address some of the points made in The God Delusion but falsely or incompletely represented Dawkins’s views and points before he tried to refute them. At several points in The Dawkins Delusion? I found myself asking if McGrath even read all of Dawkins’s book, because some of the conclusions McGrath come to simply show his misunderstanding of Dawkins’s standing on the topics at hand.

In this review I will try to address a few of the things that I found to be important points to discuss, however, I will not address everything simply because while reading this book I wrote 9-pages, front and back, on the points presented. Maybe at some point I will make them into a complete work explaining where McGrath was mistaken about Dawkins’s viewpoints and what I think about McGrath’s points made in this book. Whether or not I am to do this is still unclear.

Theologian and Apologist, Alister McGrath, penned the 97-page book, The Dawkins Delusion? (2007) in response to Richard Dawkins‘s The God Delusion (2006), and he starts by explaining why he decided to write this book:

“It is clear that a response of some sort is needed to The God Delusion, if only because the absence of one might persuade some that no answer could be given.” -Alister McGrath, The Dawkins Delusion?, page 13.

I would agree with McGrath’s point here, that if there is an answer to be given then by all means share it with us, and ultimately, I think that was the goal McGrath tried to accomplish, but to say that he reached this goal would be dishonest. When reading this book I felt like there was little substance at all to McGrath’s arguments, except there were some ideas that he presented that made sense but really didn’t defend his case well.

Throughout The Dawkins Delusion? McGrath consistently claims that Dawkins was misrepresenting Christianity, religion and abusing science through the majority of The God Delusion. However, McGrath fails to give hardly any specific examples of these injustices he claims Dawkins brought against Christianity, religion or examples of the abuse he brought on science. It is sad to say that McGrath’s best two arguments in this book for the existence of a God are at most, weak.

One of the first points that McGrath responds too is belief in God being infantile and childish, and mentions how Dawkins compares belief in God to the belief, in say, Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy.

“Like many of Dawkins’s analogies, this has been constructed with a specific agenda in mind – in this case, the ridiculing of religion. Yet the analogy is obviously flawed. How many people do you know who began to believe in Santa Claus in adulthood? Or who have found belief in the Tooth Fairy consoling in old age?” –The Dawkins Delusion?, Page 20

This being a serious point is just laughable, because every rational person would agree that just because an adult starts to believe something does not necessarily mean its true. For example, Hitler began to believe that ethnic cleansing was the right thing to do once he was into adulthood, and his belief was not at all justifiable by the age he began to believe it. Nor does the statement “consoling in old age” prove anything in the terms of God existing. Though it maybe true that some people find solace in the belief that heaven awaits after death, it does not make the existence of God a truth. For instance, I could easily say that I find solace in the idea that there is a massive being consisting of noodle like appendages and meat balls somewhere in the sky, and that he will watch after me in the afterlife, or that he created everything. Simply believing that does not make it true.

Over the course of the book McGrath paints the picture that Dawkins hates all religion and says all bad is caused by religion, which is simply false. In Dawkins book he never once says he hates religion, or for that matter, hates all religion. First off Dawkins states clearly in the beginning of his book, that he is mainly referring to the three major monotheistic religions, and more directly Christianity, because he is most familiar with it. As a matter of fact, Dawkins even says that other religions (i.e., Buddhism) present more direct and important moral teachings. However, Dawkins does acknowledge the great moral teachings of Jesus, or whoever penned the character of Jesus. (Dawkins leaves the existence of Jesus as an open question)

McGrath responds to the misinterpretation that Dawkins thinks all religion is evil by stating that atheists and the religious have both had their fair share of violent and malicious acts. Which is completely agreeable, both sides of the spectrum have been corrupted and have committed atrocities.

Later on in the book McGrath refutes some of Dawkins points by simply saying, “I don’t believe that.” while also acusing Dawkins of generalizing Christians. This may be a valid argument to a certain point, but Dawkins meant for his book to address the Christian majority, not the direct belief system of McGrath. McGrath holds a lot of views that do not run parallel to the majority of Christian believers. (Example: the majority of Christians do not accept evolution yet McGrath does.)

One important point that needs to be addressed is McGrath’s misinterpretation of atheism. From reading The Dawkins Delusion? the reader will often notice how he relates atheists and faith. For example terms like “godless faith”, “faltering faith” (when referring to atheists that are beginning to consider religion) and many other uses of the word “faith” when referring to atheistic beliefs. This is a misunderstanding, atheism does not have a system of “faith.”  And often McGrath assumes that there are a set of systematic atheistic beliefs, which there are not. The only requirement to be an atheist is not believing in a god. Other than that there are no central beliefs that are attributed to all atheists.

McGrath has stated many times in his career that he was once an atheist and by stating this one would assume that he has a better understanding of what being an atheist means. I only bring up the whole point of misrepresenting atheism because of the numerous times that McGrath claims Dawkins to misrepresent Christianity and religion, while at the same time he misrepresents other peoples belief systems.

The last specific point I would like to address here is McGrath saying Dawkins has a cognitive bias when it comes to analyzing facts. For readers who do not know what cognitive bias is, it is essentially an evolved mental behavior in which a person begins to distort facts or give illogical judgement, often discrediting the facts and evidence that do not cohere to their belief or worldview. One can fully accept that people will often write books that only present the facts that work with their beliefs so they can try to sway readers one way or another. However, McGrath does not give a single example of evidence that Dawkins ignores when explaining ideas and processes in his book. So it is hard to take McGrath’s claim seriously here because he does not show readers what evidence he is talking about when arguing that Dawkins is being ignorant of scientific evidence for God.

In all reality it seems as though if McGrath had full intentions of trying to seriously analyze Dawkins’s book but quit about a third of the way through. The book itself seems to be an effort to release some of the frustration that The God Delusion caused to many believers, and I believe that if McGrath had been able to provide more specific examples of the ‘mistakes’ Dawkins made in his book it would be a more sufficient response to The God Delusion.

If you are looking for an argument to dismantle The God Delusion‘s ideas then I suggest you not waste your time with this book, and keep searching. However, if you are looking for a book that is written by an intelligent man, embarrassing himself by making false accusations and hypocritical observations of Dawkins then look no further.