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The Dawkins Delusion

Let me start off with a personal note: 'The Selfish Gene' was in great part responsible for establishing me on the path of questioning how the existence of life on earth came to be, although even when I first read 'The Selfish Gene' I recall thinking that Dawkins 'He writes of science with a religious fervor'. It is this side of Dawkins that has been given free rein in 'The God Delusion'.

Whilst I would agree that Dawkins is the most influential evolutionary biologist around today, I think he has been hit over the head once too often, metaphorically speaking, in his ongoing fight against creationism and intelligent design

That is not to say that there are no positive aspects to the book, I found two, neither, unfortunately, went on to be developed. The first point was the differentiation between a deism and theism, the second the quote unequivocally showing that the Founding Fathers intended that the US was no more based on christianity than any other religious belief.

As to much of the rest of it, well... In a section called 'The poverty of agnosticism' in Chapter 2, I was surprised to learn that Dawkins considers himself to be not an atheist but a "'de facto' atheist", what I would call strongly agnostic. He describes seven levels of theism from 100% belief in God (theist) to a zero belief in God (atheist), he describes himself as a category 6 i.e. very low probability (of the existence of God) but short of zero. "I cannot know for certain that there is no God but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the presumption that he is not there."“ I am agnostic only to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden." And this from the man who wrote 'Climbing Mount Improbable'.

Well Richard, there are no fairies at the bottom of the garden. 100%.

By definition someone who is not sure about the existence is a-gnostic (from the greek 'to know' the 'a' signifying the absence of the trait as in apolitical), some one who does believe in a theity is an a-theist', someone who believes in a theity would be a theist.

It is this kind of linguistic sloppiness that I find so shocking, both the fact that an intellect that I have so much respect for can put forward such poor arguments, and that none of his friends or editors called him on it.

And the book is full of it. Dawkins attacks arguments on the grounds they are ‘implausible’ and supports others on the grounds that they are plausible. I don't have a penguin dictionary, but my online Merriam Webster’s dictionary gives 3 definitions of plausible:

1: superficially fair, reasonable, or valuable but often specious <a plausible pretext>

2: superficially pleasing or persuasive <a swindler… , then a quack, then a smooth, plausible gentleman — R. W. Emerson>

3 : appearing worthy of belief <the argument was both powerful and plausible>

Plausible does not mean true or not true, plausibility is subjective - based on the finite knowledge and experience I have to date, does this new data support these preconceptions, if it does it is plausible, if not...

An unbelievable amount of the book is devoted to Dawkins attempt to disprove the existence of God by quoting from scripture. To me this makes about as much sense as trying to disprove the existence of fairies by quoting from James Barrie's 'Peter Pan' or Shakespeare’s 'A Midsummer Night's Dream". One might equally well attempt to disprove the existence of whales by quoting from ‘Moby Dick’.

I am all in favor of populist books on science so long as they are good science, but when scientists starts to use religious texts to support an allegedly scientific position - the existence of god is highly improbable - the position of science is weakened.

Science has enough problems with public perception without very publicly shooting itself in the foot.

If Professor Dawkins wants to advance the theory of evolution, illuminate the public (and make a tidy little sum for himself and his publishers) by writing a bestseller , might I suggest he sticks to what he knows best - evolutionary biology.

In atonement for 'The God Delusion' I would recommend he turn his mind to an ever-popular subject, sex. 'Darwin's Kama Sutra' would take us through the myriad ways in which our selfish genes have discovered to reproduce themselves. I struggle to envision certain evolutionary jumps, not least how single cell division turned into the many improbable means of gene replication displayed by the animals and plants that populate the world today.

It would I hope be a book that would be read by many an inquiring mind and would leave the world of fairies and the like to those who's intellects are more suited to such subject matter.

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0 #1 SRBrown 2011-12-19 01:39
While I highly respect your critique, I think that it needs a little re-evaluation.

The God Delusion promotes the ideology that belief in God is negative and incorrect; in other words, advances the nominative tenet of atheism. Invariably this means having to level a critique at religious people.

We have to realise that Dawkins was writing a book aimed at people who have frankly ignorant conceptions of both atheism and the importance of evolutionary biology. I think that he can be pardoned for the linguistic faux pas in "agnostic" (although we are using this in an altered meaning to the original Greek), and philosophically speaking it is highly commendable to be an agnostic in that it truly is impossible to disprove God. Every good scientist (as Richard makes clear through a touching anecdote actually in the book) should be ready to change his mind at a moment's notice should sufficiently firm evidence exist to merit it; the clouds could part tomorrow and a grey-bearded figure in a white robe could hurl fireballs at every evolutionary biologist alive. Then again, this is about (but marginally less probable) as likely as aliens in a spaceship laser-torpedoing all Psychiatrists, a hope that haunts the reveries of every Scientologist. The point made is not that he disbelieves "only" as much as in fairies, but that belief in fairies is more acknowledgedly as pointless, childish and stupid as belief in a God.

Similarly, Dawkins tends to use quotes from the bible (lowercase intended) in order to highlight the vicious, bullying god so often downplayed by the clergy. Most frequently these are used to highlight and demonstrate elements of the christian god which are exemplary of a being less than that as which he masquerades. If anything, these highly strengthen Dawkins' argument; rather than science "shooting itself in the foot", it is pulling its trademark stunt of understanding that against which it is arguing, and reinforcing its viewpoint with corroborative texts. I think if you are comparing this to using "Moby Dick" to disprove the existence of whales, there is something seriously wrong with your conception of the book. Furthermore, quoting from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" could very easily disprove the existence of fairies (who of course do not meddle with the affairs of men on Midsummer's Day, preferring to adorn trees at Christmas).

The idea of writing a biologically-themed Kama Sutra is a) unnecessary, b) more demeaning to the cause of evolutionary science than the image of The God Delusion with which your opinion has furnished you and c) highly disrespectful to the text itself. Also d), casts worrying aspersions on the character who suggested it. The gradual transition from single-cell replication to genetic transmission via sexual reproduction is something I'm sure you can look up somewhere, although I'm not sure if it would have accompanying illustrations.

Incidentally, but in no way meaning to be petty or offensive, I consider it rather amusing that an article reprimanding Richard Dawkins for incorrect language is riddled with all manner of grammatical blips. I think that what somebody has to say is far more interesting than finding petty faults with how he says it, but it could weaken the gravity of your point with others.

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