I (and apparently Jim Lippard) went to see Dawkins’ talk based on his The God Delusion, which I have critiqued before. I was impressed at the technique. It was definitely the very best Revivalist Sermon I have seen. I was not impressed by the content, nor by the fact that Dawkins was playing for laughs, applause and identification of Us versus Them.
In particular I was annoyed that those of us who do not condemn someone for holding religious beliefs were caricatured as “feeling good that someone has religion somewhere”. Bullshit. That is not why we dislike the Us’n'Themism of TGD. We dislike it because no matter what other beliefs an intelligent person may hold, so long as they accept the importance of science and the need for a secular society, we simply do not care if they also like the taste of ear wax, having sex with trees, or believing in a deity or two. Way to go, Richard. Good bit of framing and parodying the opposition. Real rational.
I noted with interest that he seems to have abandoned his claim that an agnostic is somebody who has an evenly balanced probability assessment of the existence of God, which is total crap. But he failed to say if that meant he now accepts that while atheists and theists alike are making knowledge claims, agnostics simply aren’t. I doubt it.
What I most came away with was that he sets it up that one simply cannot understand the existence of religion, and so must treat it as an evil, immoral, or simply irrational thing. Apart from begging the question (since he is so fond of talking about logical errors), it makes the origins of religion a miracle. Now Dawkins is fond of miracles. He has said that evolution begins with the first replicator, ignoring the fact that replication systems are complicated things that cannot appear, as it were, by fiat. It’s a scientific miracle as he presents it [I believe there is a better, evolutionary, account of replication, which Dawkins cannot, because for him replication is the sine qua non, the necessary precondition for evolution].
If we demonise the God of the Old Testament, as he does, one is left wondering why in the hell the Hebrews ever wrote that book in the first place. Of course, the evolution of the Old Testament is a complex social process, beginning, I believe, from a henotheism in which YHWH and El (two distinct deities in the beginning) were tribal gods among other tribal gods (that is, they acted as social totems). On that basis one can easily explain why the OT deity is jealous, a bully and so on – the other sort of religion, ethical monotheism as it is sometimes called, was centuries in the future. But Richard doesn’t want to understand; he wants to demonise, diminish and eliminate the Enemy, so as to make the Bright Us, the ones with the Red A, confortable. As you say, Richard, simply because a belief makes us comfortable, doesn’t mean it is true.
And while we’re on truth, let’s stop pretending all this talk of truth is scientific and not religious in itself. Scientific ideas are tested or not, reliable or not. They are never True, just good enough. To talk about Truth is to help yourself to the trappings of religion under the counter, as it were. And this is the final point I want to make about Dawkins on religion: he is trying to produce exactly the same effects as religion does. Social cohesion, derogation of the Other, ideas that everyone can take for granted. I wish it were the case that he was taking the scientific approach here, but at best he’s using the cachet of science to promote his quasi-religion.
To clarify: I don’t think there’s a god or a higher power. I think we need to have freedom for all from the tyranny of religious extremism and absolutism. I think religions should not have exceptional standing in a secular society. And I think that includes the rhetorical polemics of Richard Dawkins. It isn’t a religion yet, but it’s not from a lack of trying on his part. If you want free-thinking, then think freely. Don’t just kneejerk react to religions around you: think.