Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Rise of Fundamentalist Atheism

All faith systems, alas, even the much hyped "scientific method" are prey to the disease of intolerance and fanaticism. This extends to nationalism (who can explain the blind reverence that some Americans have for their Second Amendment despite numerous shocking and crippling shooting incidents?), to religion (of course) and even to research - but that is a different story, altogether.

And I shall join hands with those irksome pop-culture "philosophers" , Trey Parker and Matt Stone in assaulting one Richard Dawkins - the closest Atheists have come to a suicide bomber. And in critiquing Dawkins, I must say that I am not in the best place: I have not read even one of his books. But I have heard him speak on youtube, which, people will certify is the next best thing to reading his books. And for smug loudmouths like yours truly, those speeches provide ample fodder to judge him.

I am not debating Prof. Dawkins' beliefs. I am an atheist myself and I do appreciate why he thinks the way he does. I do get irked when I see irrational blind faith, but I have the good sense to keep it to myself. Prof Dawkins does not.

Being an evolutionary biologist, Prof. Dawkins must realize that this "susceptibility" to believe in a supernatural being has evolved alongside humanity. Every culture in the world demonstrates this susceptibility- from the Pagans in the days of old to the Scientologists of today. The Egyptians had their Gods and Godesses as did the Greeks, as did the Indians (and they still do!). They might have been delusional - but this delusion kept them organized. And organization kept them resilient. Organization let them live long enough (by defeating and killing other not-so-organized tribes) to pass on their "delusion-susceptible" DNA.

And in the days of old where record was kept primarily by word of mouth, it is easy to see how an individual deemed exemplary and inspiring by his/her contemporaries (or even evil and ruthless, for that matter) gets deified in time. Grandparents would be telling their grandchildren "I knew this man who laid down his life for saving the whole town from the pack of wolves". The grandchildren would then tell their grandchildren "There was a great man with two heads who was eaten by savage beasts". And so on, until the "great man" becomes a deity. Because people like inspiring / horrifying stories.

People like inspiration. People like to know that there is someone out there who is better. And this whole thing ultimately formalizes into organized religion. Usually, the diktats issued by "holy books" are usually compassionate and constructive to society. And the stories help define, to the average clueless human being, the difference between good bad. Prof. Dawkins ignores the fact that most human beings have better things to do in their lives than decide what is good and what is bad using their own common sense. What religion does is that it serves it on a platter for them. It makes sure that people do not reinvent the wheel.

What prof. Dawkins' must do is focus on the real virus. The very concept of nationality.

Prof. Dawkins' views on how the world ought to be are impractical, that is a given. If he is prepared to have impractical views, why not have anti-border views? Borders create all the wars in the world. Not religion. The differences based of nationality are more bigoted and dangerous than religion.

Or is he uncomfortable with the idea of a Bangladeshi farmers (say) settling down in Oxford (or Cambridge or wherever he is)?


4 comments:

Alan Mackenzie said...

I read your blog article, and would like to respond to it.

"I have not read even one of his books."

I would refrain from judging Richard Dawkins in the way you did in this post, until you read some of his most prominent works. Try The God Delusion, The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, and River out of Eden. Although you denied that your are arguing against Dawkins' beliefs, your post suggests otherwise, and you seem to be disputing some of his main claims without looking further than YouTube. By reading his books, you will find that he spends time arguing the finer details - something he doesn't have time to do on TV, or in 5 minute interviews with right-wing pundits.

"The Rise of Fundamentalist Atheism."

There is no such thing as fundamentalist atheism, because there are no fundamental doctrines in atheism. Also, fundamentalism is not a personality type: religious fundamentalists need not be suicide bombers, or gay bashers, in so fact, we define religious fundamentalism as adherence to certain doctrines, and belief in scriptural inerrancy. Dawkins also points out in The God Delusion, that he would change his mind about theism if the evidence was there, unlike religious fundamentalists, who, even when they know there is evidence for evolution, still prefer creationism because it is, in their view, the word of God.

"Borders create all the wars in the world. Not religion."

In The God Delusion, Dawkins acknowledges that religion is not the only factor responsible for territorial and political disputes. He argues that religion is a primary factor, alongside political and economic injustices. When examining Northern Ireland, he argues that "Protestant" and "Catholic" provide for divisive labels, which people use to identify their adversaries. Catholic children, and Protestant children attend different schools, and have these labels imposed upon them by adults.

My parents come from Glasgow, UK, and are familiar with religious sectarianism. Unfortunately, such things go on, for example, their prospective employers would ask my parents whether they were Catholic or Protestant, and would consequently use that in order to determine whether they were suitable for the job. At social functions, people would slip religious questions into conversation, and if my parents gave the wrong answer, those asking the questions would no longer speak to them. This is one of the reasons why they moved away from Scotland, and if sectarianism is bad up there, imagine what it is like in Northern Ireland. Religion might not be the only factor, but it is still a primary factor.

I like the idea that you express an interest in Richard Dawkins, but please do your research before making sweeping statements about him. Articles like yours only serve to confuse people with inaccurate information, and provide religious apologists with material suitable for their own ends.

Please check out my blog article, which I hope will point you in the right direction with regards to atheism, and the process of critical thinking:

http://rankatheism.blogspot.com/2007/02/misleading-premises-in-arguments.html

Regards,

Alan.

Rap said...

Alan:

1. My take on Prof Dawkins was humorous. All my personal attacks on him were in jest.

2. If you got the feeling that I actually believe in God after reading my article, then I did a bad of job of writing. Because I was an atheist since class four (fourth grade) in India. I had no idea that atheism was so widespread until I came across some sites on the net a few years ago.

3. When I used the term "fundamentlist atheism" I meant, aggressive atheism. (An intolerance towards other faith systems).

Of course all the arguments that you have presented in your site hold water.

But you're missing the point of religion. The point is to keep the masses in check, to enforce a code of ethics on them by fear. A code of ethics which is vital for them to pass on their genes.

It is unlikely that a predominantly atheist society would be stable. Because atheism requires a certain amount of critical thinking - which I do not think the masses are capable of.

In my mind, it is not a battle between theism and atheism. I am an engineer (hoping to be a scientist). The idea of divinity does not make sense.

I am just trying to make up my mind whether there is a point in pursuing an agenda which convinces the average person on the street that there is no God.

I think we should not try to "fix" what isn't broken right now. If we somehow focus on figuring out a way to reconcile the difference major religions have in the world today, then we should be fine.

Talking of raising children as atheists until they choose their faith system is nice on paper. But it isn't going to work. (Prof Dawkins does this on numerous occasions .. even on youtube!).

Of course, I do understand was somewhat out of line in commenting on his ideas without reading his books. I have ordered a second hand book from Amazon, and I do intend to read it.

As an engineer, one learns to treat systems as black boxes. When one hears what Prof Dawkins is saying, one can see whether it is useful to society or not by just listening to the import of his statements. One does not doubt the rationale of his claims regarding atheism.

I think lots of greater atheist minds have existed in the past. Einstein comes to mind. They realized that religion was an opiate for the masses; something which was irrational and crazy, yet imperative to the survival of humanity as a race. The did not publicize their antipathy towards religion like Prof. Dawkins has done.

Rap said...

UPDATE:

Alan. You will feel pretty silly now ;).

I did read the Selfish Gene and I found the book quite riveting. The book made a lot of sense - and as I had written in my original post WITHOUT READING THE BOOK- I do agree with all the assertions the book makes.

As a matter of fact - a more dumbed down version of evolution (but scientific nevertheless) is what I did believe in. I was not aware of the sublter nitty-gritties - but the large picture was fine all the same.

My whole contention is that Prof Dawkins' error in judgment is not his scientifically rigorous theory. (Plus .. as he mentions .. it is not really his theory) - but his desire to rid the world of the god "delusion".

Blind faith is bad. But it is necessary for a stable society. Humans are much more secure in a stable society - as are their genes. My whole argument, as a matter of fact, is a mere extrapolation of his theory.

I also find my previous post regarding "the universal scaling of religion" to be scarily accurate. I feel vindicated after reading his book.

Anonymous said...

Strawman!