Tuesday, January 9, 2007

On Dawkins, Faith and Religion

The author of the book "The God Delusion", Richard Dawkins, makes an articulate and sharp-toothed case against the claims of religion, both as a basis of moral behaviour and the existence of God. Faith(belief in something contrary to evidence), argues Dawkins, provides the slippery slope into divisiveness, prejudice, and violence. Even though I am a Christian, I cannot deny this observation. History is littered with the evidence of how religion has worked against peace, tolerance and progress. Even today, the great "War on Terror" is at its heart, a religiously motivated conflict, a consequence of the battlelines drawn in the sand of Jerusalem between the Muslims and the Jews. In the heart of America, religious fundamentalism is also giving fuel to the actions of the right-wing politicians. On the documentary "The Root of All Evil?", Richard Dawkins confronted Ted Haggard, then pastor of the New Life Church. Haggard explained that the greatest issue facing the next generation will be the Islamification of Europe. *note: Haggard recently resigned as pastor of New Life because of allegations of sexual abuse and drug abuse.

Haggard doesn't think AIDS is a problem; he doesn't think climate change is an issue; Education in Third World countries doesn't get much merit either. The biggest problem is Islamification. From the point of view of an atheist, the whole religious conflict is really about two deluded parties arguing about who's delusion is better. And unfortunately, millions of people around the world buy into this pointless debate.

Furthermore, religous groups around the world are systematically engaged in, according to Dawkins' view, amounts to a Hitler Youth Camp-type indoctrination of children. In his essay, "Viruses of the Mind" he premises on the idea that children are programmed, by evolution, to be impressionable, and that religion takes advantage of this by setting up their false world view and teaching it as truth to the next generation of faithful, perpetuating the myths upon minds that havn't yet developed the capacity to think critically and weigh evidences.

Dawkins has a point about the consequences of religion. As the "faithful" categorically deny other perspectives as truth, assert their own beliefs as true, and perpetuate this absolutism, our society becomes polarized between religions. This has done the world no end of serious, bloody, and horrible conflict.

But what about Dawkins' arguments on the existence of God? His arguments are a highly articulate packaging of the same arguments atheists have used the world over: science, evolution, quantum theory, the lack of empirical evidence, cultural epidemiology. The case made with reason is overwhelmingly convincing.

But I believe, despite all the evidence and cuss me if you want, that God is out there and here. I don't have any reasons for why I believe that, but I do. And that's about as much as I have. It's enough for me. So what if its not enough for others?

I am not in the business of asserting my faith over others. That perspective is the slippery slope towards bombs on the tube, suicide bombers and restricting condom use in Africa. Trying to argue that my belief should be true for everyone else is the debate that leads to hatred and violence.

Faith is, on its own, nothing bad. For some, it's a delusion, for others, it's truth. However, what happens when a society begins to choose one truth over the other, and assert it without reason, without consideration, without acceptance, without critical thinking? That is where the danger lies. No one should dispute what you believe, but they can dispute how that belief is articulated and whether or not that belief should be the basis of how society will decide to act or how society should percieve one thing over the other.



anna katrina said...

Nice. This is perhaps the most pressing issue that has clouded my mind for the past few days. Aggressive Secularism and Secular fundamentalists? I'm a Christian and I believe in God. But at the same time, I am open to ideas and opinions of other faiths, and even those of atheists. But the decreasing number of believers has baffled me. The intellectuals who make it clear that there is no God in their lives, at least, are slowly turning the world against religion. It is evident, in how everything works in 'postmodern' times, that there is no more room for God. Unlike in the olden time when almost everything - famine, victory, epidemics, wars - were attributed to God's joy or wrath or whatever. Now, it seems as if the 'idea' of God has become useless. Not to mention, the ongoing battles between religions, that has done nothing to support faith. I cannot say that it is entirely the fault of the likes of Richard Dawkins. Much of the blame should go to the Church, or to other religions as well. But if gradually, faith will be ultimately wiped out from the face of the Earth - the very religions that has, for centuries, dictated what morality, the good and the bad, and other ideas that has held the society together are, (even if they may be delusional), what will become of us? That is what I'm afraid of. For all we know, it could very well be the start of a more progressive global community, or the end of the world as we know it.

SU Debate Society said...

First of all, morality doesn't have to be contingent upon religion. Perhaps I didn't quite make it clear in my discussion, but religion hasn't exactly been very moral, and in fact, has exacerbated cultural differences. Second, just because science is opening up explanations for natural phenomena, it doesn't mean that there isn't "room" for God. My belief in God doesn't rely on my being unable to explain certain events in the world around me. My belief is more contingent upon such unreasonable concepts as emotions, acceptance and construction.

God doesn't need "room" to exist. He just does. I believe that I can hold on to my belief, and still progress. I just won't impose it upon others, and leave myself ready to accept that society may move in a different manner, and because I am part of that society, I should cooperate with it. I don't have to agree with it to cooperate with it.

SU Debate Society said...

- that one was from Quark

Kristi said...

Great post.

I think the problems mentioned actually have nothing to do with faith per se. Faith, as you said, is belief without evidence. That in itself is not entirely bad. Faith could be telling a new friend a secret. You have no concrete assurance that your new friend will not reveal your secret on the next episode of "The Buzz". You only have your gut feeling without any real supporting evidence from past experience.

The problems that we see nowadays being attributed to faith are not necessarily hinged on the concept of belief without evidence. Rather, they are due to the organization of people with similar faith in God. We call these organizations "religions" and the leaders of these organizations "the church". Mismanagement, pride, and unwillingness to compromise between these bodies of organized faith are actually very likely causes of the conflicts that are rocking the world in the name of God.

Think about this - what if the world was full of people who had faith in God, but did not organize themselves to worship Him/Her/It? Would there be any major problems? You can't really wage a war in the name of your God by yourself. You can't commit large-scale marginalization of others because you think that YOU are better than them. Marginalization only occurs when there is one group, a WE, believing that they are better than another group, a THEM.

In line with that logic, if we delete organization from faith with God, there wouldn't be an issue.

Since we're opening up about our personal faith, allow me to share. I do believe in a God, but I find too much absurdity in organized faith to link myself to a religion.

SU Debate Society said...

That's my stand as well, Kristi. Religion, in my perspective, is a human imposition. I don't like it.

This whole discussion on atheism has led me to see that even what I hold as my own belief is a really indefensible. Never has Christianity had to give a reason for why it is. Perhaps, in the examination and open-minded pursuit of the questions and problems atheist thought raises against my faith, i can find a way to turn the atheists around.

After all, there's no such thing as the perfect argument; find the right thread, and you can deconstruct anything.

SU Debate Society said...

That's Quark again