I found the Dawkins book of The God Delusion seriously flawed with respect to God but also misguiding in some areas with respect to science. For these reasons I decided to critically discuss it on this blog. All that I have written is my own opinions.
To begin with I want to address two terms that Dawkins uses, which go to the heart of the matter and that is not God per se. One term is in the title of his book and the other is found in chapter one “The God Hypothesis”. In the title he uses the word “delusion”. He admits that psychiatrists want to claim the word for themselves because they use it as a medical term. The psychiatric profession consider people who are delusional are mentally ill but so do lay people. However where psychiatry is concerned there is a long history. People have been and are being considered as mentally ill on religious grounds. The persecution of witches may have started with the Catholic Church but it was soon followed by the medical profession. And the treatment of followers of the Wicca and other Pagan faiths were treated horribly, even criminally by the psychiatrists. And then there is the “it depends on cultural considerations if you believe something to be considered sane or not” argument. So if you believe in Voodoo for instance and you’re African, then you’re sane but if you believe in Voodoo and you’re an American of Anglo-Saxon extraction on the other hand then you’re insane. This is a highly prejudiced diagnosis. Furthermore some psychiatrists have even claimed that prophets or avatars of God such as Jesus Christ are mentally ill. So using the word delusional in the title next to God raises all of these matters, whether intentionally or not.
Dawkins points out that the dictionary definition of delusional is a false belief or impression. So what is being said is that a belief in God is a false belief. False on whose count, on atheist scientists? The defence that Dawkins attempts in using the Microsoft Word definition that delusion is “a false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence” is qualified by the second part of Microsoft’s definition and that is “especially as a symptom of psychiatric disorder”. He wants to use the first part of the definition to apply to religion. Atheists don’t have the knowledge or the authority to make such a claim. But for all that God and religion is really the excuse. The core problem has to do with science and for a variety of reasons. This is revealed in the use of the second term in the first chapter.
Dawkins points out, by way of a quote that there is a war going on between rationalism and superstition. The word “superstition” is used where the word faith should be used. Superstition is a gullible belief in the supernatural and that is some force above nature but most people understand that it means things like ghosts. Superstition is also an unjustified idea as to the nature or effects of some things such as “don’t open an umbrella inside the house”. Such idea may have had some meaning in olden times but not today, although some people are still affected by them. None of this has to do with faith and the belief in God. It is a petty attempt to belittle and ridicule faith. The war is really between rationalism and faith. Rationalism is the use of reason to base one’s opinions and beliefs. In opposition to rationalism is faith, which is not based on reasoning but at the same time it is not without cause or justification. And I would also like to mention here, for the sake of completion that emotional response is also based on reason. A lot of people, including many doctors and many tele-evangelists as well as others see emotions as the opposite of reason but really emotions are bodily processes that result from reasoning that follows a perception or idea. Fear for instance follows the perception of danger. And while we may not reason out from first principles each time we would have, in the first instance or instances of danger, had reasoned. The reasoning we make is that owing to a possibility of harm we need to ready our body for sudden rapid action should we need to defend ourselves or flee in order to avoid that possibility. Thus the perception of danger is followed by reasoning which gives rise to fear or what doctors call “fight or flight”.
For some people and increasingly for many scientists reason alone is taken as the guiding principle of life instead of a guiding principle of life. For most scientists reason is the basis of certainty in their knowledge so reason becomes the guiding principle of their lives. In science the observations made and the experiments done are then discussed and analysed using reason and logic. This enables the scientist to arrive at a theory in some cases or to support or disprove a theory that has already been put forward by others. This takes science a step further from observation and experience. Science has been very successful despite some faults in the scientific method. We are all testimony to the benefits of science in technology. Enormous changes in technology have brought great benefits to people’s lives; For instance the development of telephones from the cumbersome handsets that only the wealthy could afford to the mobile smart phones that are within everybody’s reach and all this has been achieved in a relatively short time. These advancements in science use rationalism and certainly one can appreciate the great heights of such reasoning in considering that Einstein used his scientific knowledge and observations to do thought experiments. Then using reasoning and logic developed theories that radically changed our understanding of physics.
However there is more to life than just the material surroundings. So all of the success of science and rationalism does not discredit faith because there is religious faith and faith in other abilities that we have and that collectively we call psi. In the case of psi or psychic abilities we can see that we are capable of acquiring knowledge, which is not always conscious. Knowledge that is subliminal does not have apparent reason nor allow us to use reasoning but can still be seen to be valid belief. Religious faith is in a similar category. So before I discuss religious faith I would like to discuss an example that is commonly found in ordinary people’s lives. This example involves a woman I met in the United States at a religious convention. During the convention many people came forward to share their personal experiences. One woman’s experience had been particularly interesting to me at the time because I found a few other people’s reactions, one of them being someone who professed herself to be the woman’s friend, enigmatic and for a long time afterwards their behaviour had puzzled me.
The woman had related the incidence of a rape that she had suffered in her home town. She said she had gone to a bus stop that was situated in a very lonely place. I don’t recall if she had said whether it was day or night but I recall she said that she had walked a long way to get to the bus stop and that it was on the edge of town. There was no one else around and she sat alone on one end of the bench at the bus stop. After a time she saw in the distance the figure of a man approaching. When he reached the bench he sat at the farther side and did not interact with her. He did not look at her or speak to her and he did not act strange. She said that despite his ordinary appearance and manner she had had an extremely bad feeling about him. He showed no sign that would justify her feeling. It was purely a gut feeling that was unsupported by any physical evidence. A short time later a bus arrived and stopped. She said no one got on and no one got off and the bus left. After the bus left the man moved along on the bench and began to hassle her. He finally raped her and left. When she had finished speaking I asked her why she didn’t get on the bus. She replied that it was not going to take her where she wanted to go. It was not her bus. So I said to her “if I were you in that place and had a very bad feeling and a bus came I would have got on even if it was headed for Woop-Woop!” She looked puzzled so I said something like “surely it was an opportunity for you to get out of there safely. Why didn’t you grab the opportunity?” She had been quite emotional as she related her story. She looked nervously at the woman beside her that was supposed to be her friend and then looked at me with some anxiety but did not give me any answer. I felt that something was stopping her from being able to reply. So I rephrased my words in a way that was as supportive of her as possible. She stirred a bit and made a sound but then the woman who was seated next to her joined the conversation. She insisted that the woman had acted correctly and began a discourse about having a right to be at the bus stop. I told her that this has nothing to do with whether you have a right to be there or not and everything to do with protecting herself, to take some measure for her safety. To my shock the woman’s “friend” began to argue with me insisting that she had rights and had the right to exercise her rights as a citizen of the US. I tried to give her an example of safety over-riding rights to be somewhere, so I cited the case of people in sports stadium. What happens if a gunman appears with a semiautomatic and threatens to shoot people? I asked her “would you be concerned about exercising your rights to be there or would you forget about the ticket you’d purchased and your rights and instead scramble for the exist gate?” This “friend” then said that of course she would run away but that the gunman threatening to shoot people was evidence of danger. I reminded her that the woman sitting next to her had said “I had a very bad feeling about this guy” after he sat on the bench and before the bus had arrived. The friend looked to be very annoyed with me. I had then turned and tried to counsel the woman telling her that her gut feeling had been a strong warning and that in the future if she felt that way again she should act on it. At that point the friend, together with a few of the others began to attack me. They appeared to be enraged. They began by insisting that the woman’s gut feeling was not evidence, even in the light of the fact that she got raped because it could not be proved that the two were linked. They then launched a discussion about women’s rights to walk the streets, especially at night and be unafraid and that they had to exercise their rights. They refused to talk about her gut feeling as a warning and told me in no uncertain terms that I should keep my advice to myself and that their friend did the right thing. I was stunned by the reaction however as the woman appeared particularly distressed I let the matter rest but I was very puzzled about her friend’s behaviour and the things that were said.
Indeed this woman’s story and particularly the attitude of the “friend” and a few others that were there that day had really puzzled me for a long time. I thought about it from time to time long after I was back to Australia. Some years ago, after hearing the testimony of an evil person, I remembered something that I had not given any relevance to at the time. The information I got from the evil man about the methods employed by evil people and the recollection resolved the puzzle. The woman who was raped had made some mention that shortly before she headed off for the bus stop she had spoken to her friend. I can’t remember precisely what she said but she had mentioned that either she had just left her friend’s place or had left some other place and was headed for her friend’s place. In other words the friend knew of her whereabouts at that particular time. And from the confessions of the evil man I realized that the man who had raped her had not arrived at the bus stop by chance as I had assumed. It was a set up and again from what the evil man had told me such a set up is never done on the spur of the moment. It is planned. This information explained the friend’s angry outburst. Of course she would not want the woman acting on her gut feeling. That would have “spoilt the game”! She was a false friend and now I would say without a doubt that she was an evil person. The woman’s gut feeling was all she had but it was based on strong evidence even thought the knowledge was not conscious. Her gut feeling was all that stood between her safety and a crime committed against her. She had weighed up her gut feelings against the sensory information that she had and reasoned that she was wrong about how she felt because the man did not act out until after the bus had left. That is why she did not get on the bus. She had fallen for the medical misinformation, which a lot of offenders are quick to quote and that is that if she used her gut feeling as evidence for anything then she’s crazy because her gut feeling is irrational! The important point here is that she had no sensory information and no physical evidence but she had sufficient confidence in the subliminal knowledge she had as to have had “a very bad feeling about this guy” to quote her words. A bad feeling is none other than anxiety, the mix of fear and worry about someone or something. Thus her faith, without the benefit of reason, was her trump card. And yet she didn’t use it owing to reasoning that was based on popular and medical opinions, both of which discredit psychic abilities as irrational and thus bogus. There was no reason for her to believe that there was danger and yet her belief was spot on correct.
There are countless millions of cases of people worldwide experiencing something called stress and when we consider ESP it can be explained and indeed dealt with easily with counter ideas. There are many reasons put forward from modern living and busy lives to the wrong diet, toxins in our food and not enough exercise but none give people a solution because none of the reasons given resolve the stress. These scientific reasons are not valid or at least sufficient. In some cases a medical opinion is considered scientific reason! If we take the example above once again but this time let’s stop short of the bus’s arrival. We have the woman seated on one side of the bench and a man sitting quietly on the other side. She is distressed with “a very bad feeling”, which in medical terms is called anxiety. There is NO physical evidence to justify her anxiety. Such anxiety can be created in many and varied places without a crime to follow so as to justify the anxiety. It’s a game that evil people play for all sorts of reasons. It is the same set up no actual crime or is there? There is still a crime because the stress causes medical problem, especially for the heart. A psychiatrist though will say that there is no apparent cause. On that basis he reasons that the fear she feels is an irrational fear. And this is called a psychiatric observation which is then used to reason! How about the gut feeling she has forewarning her of the danger which she can’t explain? The gut feeling she will be told is delusional, irrational and if she was to voice those three little letters of ESP a psychiatrist would add magical thinking to the list of symptoms. On basis of these observations and scientific reasoning she can be diagnosed as having a Generalized Anxiety Disorder and if the magical thinking comes into the diagnosis and most particularly if she insists that “someone may want to do her harm who does not appear strange or threatening”, then the psychiatrist would reason further that she is paranoid and possibly be a danger to the public. So she can ever be diagnosed as being schizophrenic. She would be prescribed drugs to take for those reasons. If the foul play that brings about this anxiety was to continue then she may have to take those drugs for the rest of her life. If she becomes enraged about her situation it will a diagnosis of having “anger issues”. This diagnosis is claimed to be based on science not because of experiments followed by reasoning but because of “psychiatric observation” and reasoning. A lot of people, and some psychiatrists as well are screaming pseudoscience but it goes on and the numbers of patients are increasing. Papers on these fabricated “mental disorders” and the drugs used to supposedly treat them are published in prestigious scientific journals. And might I add in many cases the papers are written by ghost writers because the authors do not put their names to them. When and if studies on ESP are published in these same journals many in the scientific community scream “woo woo science”. Often paper on ESP are refused publication or if published because well done experiments are involved then they are immediately followed by others claiming to repeat the experiments and not get any results. As I will discuss later the tampering is done using ESP! This is science that is based on reason. What reason? Money! Drugs, research funds aplenty, not to mention taking big sums of money to promote the drugs to the public, BUT it is a zero sum game, and the losers are millions upon millions of innocent people whose lives are ruined. If you look at the overall picture of diseases brought about by stress then the crimes of all religious zealots added together pale by comparison. And while scientists are not the cause of these diseases they are responsible for doing science with an agenda.
We tend to associate reason with the truth or the real cause of something but this is not always the case. On the other hand we tend to think that if we cannot see a reason to account for something then it must be false and yet it may be true. We can also see that reasoning and logic can be applied to find a solution but not all matter can be resolved or understood using reason and that does not make them invalid or delusional. God and religion can be reasoned about but not enough to find proofs or develop theories. However faith is not baseless either. Dawkins wants to ask scientific questions and reason about God. Is this possible? Is Dawkins’ hypothesis a good start, or any start at all?
In the next post I will discuss Dawkins God Hypothesis.