Let me begin by stating I have never been a fan of Richard Dawkins. It’s not that I don’t agree with the man or his ideas, it’s the fact that he behaves like a pompous ass to just about everyone who disagrees with him. When he speaks in public there’s an air about his person that he is in a position in the know and that those who disagree with him must either be idiots or zealots. Perhaps I was just watching the wrong YouTube videos and CNN specials, but Dawkins for me, is everything that is wrong with atheism. I think what did it the most was an interview he did several years ago in Playboy (yes I read the interviews in Playboy, it’s the last respectable part of that magazine) where he was wearing a little red “A” on his lapel. When he was asked about he stated that it was a symbol for atheism and that the pin was part of a “National Coming Out Day” for atheists. Two points. One, while I do recognize that atheists are some of the most misunderstood social groups and there is severe prejudice against us, appropriating “Coming out” offends me as an ally to LGBTQ individuals as it should to anyone with half a brain. Two, wearing a symbol for your ideology and criticizing Christians for their revering of the cross is not only ludicrous it’s detestably hypocritical. Atheists don’t need symbols to tell them who they are. That’s the point. You can’t create an ideology around negating another. But that’s where I stand.
As you can see I don’t have much to say in favor of Dawkins, or at least I did until I began the book I sent you along with the last which of course brings me to my next point.
I’m sorry B—–. I’m sorry that your friend rejected you because of our relationship. As I said in the last letter, if you need to sever all contact with me I understand. Your Christian friends sound like, and apparently are the kind of people, that would automatically distrust someone who is friends with an atheist. Though if I may come to your self defense, if that girl is going to say that the two of you can’t be together because you admit doubt about god, she’s probably not right for you in the long run. That isn’t me giving you advice, I would never be so presumptuous, all I can say is that, when it comes to relationships, you need to find someone who respects you, not someone who agrees with everything you believe in. Keep trying with her, because from what you’ve told me about her, she sounds like a lovely person, and the fact that she’s openly gay as well probably doesn’t hurt. Loved the picture you sent by the way, you two are so cute.
But let’s get back to Dawkins because this book was incredibly important, at least for me. I picked up The God Delusion in the clearance shelf at Hastings because I had heard about it frequently whenever listening to Christopher Hitchens and his public debates. I knew that, if you are an atheist, or if you debate them regularly, The God Delusion is canonical. It’s just one of those books that you have to read at some point in your life. I bought the book and started it, but, like many of the great books in my life, placed it down and forgot about it. The start of the summer arrived, and the open schedule allowed me the chance to begin reading the book again.
It’s hard to truly describe how important this book is B—–. Not just for society, but to myself. This book was an eye opener.
I had read Hitchens often before picking up Dawkins, because Hitchens was steeped in literature and philosophy, and not just a few beautiful lines of Emily Dickenson. Hitchens would be able to quote obscure Anglican bishops from the thirteenth century and then quote direct passages from the Bible. Dawkins approach is more scientific, in that he employs his experience and knowledge of how the scientific community thinks and behaves for his argument:
Contrary to Huxley, I shall suggest that the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like any other. Even if hard to test in practice, it belongs in the same TAP or temporary agnosticism box as the controversies over the Permian and Cretaceous extinctions. God’s existence or non-existence is a scientific fact about the universe, discoverable in principle if not in practice. If he existed and chose to reveal it, God himself would clinch the argument, noisily and unequivocally, in his favor. And even if God’s existence is never proved or disproved with certainty one way of the other, available evidence and reasoning may yield an estimate of probability far from 50 per cent. (50).
Now B—–, you can probably hear your girlfriend’s voice nagging in your head already. Why do atheists always have to challenge our faith this way? Why do they ask us to prove god exists when all we need is faith? Well B—-‘s girlfriend, the reason for this is stated above. The god question is a question about reality making it a philosophical debate., Philosophy is more than stuff your stoner friend always blabbers about while listening to Stone Temple Pilots and talking about worlds in drops of Coca-Cola on butterfly wings, philosophy is human being’s attempt to rationally come to terms with his existence. There’s a reason men have driven themselves mad over Ontological and epistemological arguments. If the world we live in has a plan what is it? How will we ever be completely sure we have discovered its meaning? Once we find such meaning how do we live in this world? What happened to Arya’s eyes at the end of Games of Thrones? All of these questions are answered, rather easily, by religion.
The narrative goes there is a being of supreme power, who has a dick, and controls all of reality because he, remember that dick, made it. He also has a firm moral compass but does not mind sending you to eternal misery if, in the short expanse of your life, you commit sin or don’t believe in him or if you voted for Barack Obama in the last election. A deity is the answer to the philosophical argument.
The conflict however, is that many people in this world are not completely convinced because, in any philosophical argument, if you argue for something’s existence, then it falls to you to provide evidence. That’s why so many atheists challenge Christians, because we’re not convinced by the evidence given to us.
Dawkins’s argument is rooted in science, and every aspect of his argument is rooted in this idea that god is superstition and a distraction from the more philosophically profound universe that scientists attempt to understand every day.
Dawkins doesn’t just praise science in The God Delusion, he pursues, point-by-point the fallacies and arguments of religion. One such idea is Pascal’s Wager:
The great French mathematician Blaise Pascal reckoned that, however long the odds against God’s existence might be, there is an even larger asymmetry in the penalty fir guessing wrong. You’d better believe in God, because if you are right you stand to gain eternal bliss and if you are wrong it won’t make any difference anyway. On the other hand, if you don’t believe in God and you turn out to be wrong you get eternal damnation, whereas, if you are right it makes no difference. On the face of it the decision is a no-brainer. Believe in God. (103).
You’ve probably heard this argument in some form or fashion B—–, there’s always that one seemingly intelligent Christian figure in your life, often a camp counselor or youth administrator who argues with your criticism by saying “Well, even if god doesn’t exist, I still believe in him because there’s still the possibility that I could be wrong, in which case I couldn’t go to heaven.” This argument is so full of holes it’s being sold as Swiss cheese….
Did I really just write that joke? Wow.
My argument, counter-argument, to this B—-, is that this is attitude is not only self deceiving, it’s rude to a potential creator. This argument is like someone walking up to you and saying, “Hey I came to your birthday party. I don’t really like you or care about you but I heard there was cake.” The Christians that follow Pascal’s Wager, though many of them probably don’t even know that’s the argument they’re employing, or who Pascal was, are using a weak argument and Dawkins argues it proficiently:
There is something distinctly odd about the argument, however. Believing is not something you can do as a matter of policy. At least, it is not something I can do as an act of will. I can decide to go to church and I can decide to recite the Nicene Creed, and I can decide to swear on a stack of bibles that I believe every word in them. But none of that can actually make me believe it if I don’t. Pascal’s wager could only ever be an argument for feigning belief in God. And the God that you claim to believe in had better not the omniscient kind of he’d see through your deception. (103-4).
By deconstructing many people’s faith, Dawkins is able to get at the heart of what religion offers people, but too often, what it attempts to sap from people. He cites one example of a man by the name of Alan Turing:
In 1954 the British mathmetician, a candidate along with John Von Neumann for the title of father of the computer, committed suicide after being convicted of the criminal offense of homosexual behavior in private. Admittedly Turing was offered a choice between two years in prison you can imagine how the other prisoners would have treated him) and a course of hormone injections which could be said to amount to chemical castration, and would have caused him to grow breasts. His final, private choice was an apple that he had injected with cyanide.
As the pivotal intellect in the breaking of the German Enigma codes, Turing arguably made a great contribution to defeating the Nazi’s than Eisenhower or Churchill. Thanks to Turing and his ‘Ultra’ colleagues at Bletchly park, Allied generals in the field were consistently, over long periods of the war, privy to detailed German plans before the German generals had time to implement them. After the war, when Turing’s role was no longer top secret, he should have been knighted and feted as a savior of his nation. Instead this gentle, stammering, eccentric genius was destroyed, for a ‘crime,’ committed in private, which harmed nobody. Once again, the unmistakable trademark of the faith-based moralizer is to care passionately about what other people do (or even think) in private. (289).
I won’t quote much more B—– because, as I stated in my last letter, I could quote the entire book if you let me. I just want to give you my impression of why this book is important, not just for an atheist to read, but for every human being to read. Recently I started Carl Sagan’s The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candlelight in the Dark, and a quote from the book seems to mirror Dawkins’s concern:
All over the world there are enormous numbers of smart, even gifted, people who harbor a passion for science. But that passion is unrequited. Surveys suggest that some 95 percent of Americans are “scientifically illiterate.” (6)
And thus I return to Dawkins who argues that The God Delusion is:
This book is a personal statement, reflecting my lifelong love affair with science. […] Think about it. On one planet, and possibly only one planet in the entire universe, molecules that would normally make nothing more complicated than a chunk of rocks, gather themselves together into chunks of rock sized matter of such staggering complexity that they are capable of running, jumping, swimming, flying, seeing, hearing, capturing and eating other such animated chunks of complexity; capable in some cases of thinking and feeling, and falling in love with yet other chunks of complex matter. We now understand essentially how the trick is done, but only since 1859. Before 1859 it would have seemed very odd indeed. Now, thanks to Darwin, it is merely odd. Darwin seized the window of the burka and wrenched it open, letting in a flood of understanding whose dazzling novelty, and power to uplift the human spirit, perhaps had no precedent—unless it was the Copernican realization that the Earth was not the centre[sic] of the universe. (367).
While I am not a scientist, I do respect the philosophers that have gathered to that school of thought, and try everyday to increase our knowledge of our universe rather than submit to blind trust. My wife, my best friend, and several of my relatives day by day practice and live science, and the results of their endeavors is true knowledge and not empty superstition. The God Delusion is a love letter to science as well as a dissection of the bloated corpse of theism.
While I still do not like Dawkins as an orator, I can no longer criticize the man’s ideas. In short B—–, respect Dawkins the writer. And read the book when you get the chance, it’s worth it.
Now, as for your girl troubles, see if she likes Ellen Page. If she does, then you’ve got a keeper.
Sincerely, yours in the best of confidence and support,
Joshua “Jammer” Smith
P.S. I forgot to mention this, but it’s important. One of the best parts of Dawkins’s book is that it comes with a list in the back of other books, and while he includes a work by Ann Coulter, blech, he does give a wide variety of books you ought to look up. You know I’m a sucker for lists.
P.P.S. Did you notice I didn’t use Benedict Cumberbatch when I quoted the Alan Turing passage? Huh? Even though he did that movie. I could have totally posted a photo of Benedict Cumberbatch but I didn’t, because I’m a grown up with self control and…and…