Pharyngula

A devil’s catechism

My review of Dawkins’ The God Delusion(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll) (currently at #4 on Amazon’s bestseller list!) is in the latest issue of Seed, which showed up at my door while I was flying out East. They changed my suggested title, which I’ve at least used on this article, in favor of the simpler “Bad Religion”. You could always buy the magazine to read it, but I’ll give you a little taste of what I thought.

Oh, yeah…Seed does that nice plus of having an artist render a portrait of the author, so there’s also a picture, artfully ruggedized and made much more attractive than I am in reality. Not that I’m complaining.

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Dawkins…is not proposing the abolition of religion, but rather that we should acquire a proper perspective on it. Religion is a cultural heritage that should be appreciated for its contributions to history, literature, and art, and he actually advocates more education in the subject. At the same time, its promotion as a guide to absolute truth, as a dogmatic and authoritarian prescription for behavior, and perhaps worst of all, as a substitute for scientific thinking, leads to catastrophic excesses and false conclusions, which he documents at length. We can respect poetry as a window into the human mind and an outlet for the expression of beauty, but we’d laugh at someone that claimed poetry explained cosmology, was grounds for declaring war on another nation, or could cure cancer. But these kinds of claims are made by religion, and readily accepted by a dangerous majority. Dawkins is asking that we recognize religion as a legitimate expression of human feeling, but that we also don’t over endow it with powers it does not possess.

It’s interesting how some reviewers seem to read the book as some kind of slavering, hateful rant against religion, but there’s more to it than that—it’s a rejection of religion as an authority, and a denunciation of the mindset that seems so willing to overlook the fact that religion makes claims of truth, sometimes very dangerous claims, in favor of a reverential and false image of religion as a source of piety, humility, love, and charity.

Don’t worry, no one is planning to chuck your grandma in an oven because she prays…we’d just rather that the baloney Rev. Tilton tells her on the TV does not become government policy, and we’re suggesting that you should look askance at someone who claims to support an idea because a god told him to, rather than because he made a rational, informed decision.

(Oh, and Seed also has a very seductive overview of EO Wilson’s idea for reconciling science and religion, as laid out in his new book, The Creation. I’m skeptical, but I’ll have to read the whole thing before I make up my mind.)