August 2007
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Elgin’s Books


  • Christianity and Secularism

  • Evidence for the Bible


  • A Review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part IV

    Listen to the MP3 

    August 31, 2007, Wausau, Wi  I ended part III of my review of Richard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion” by pointing out that atheism, like all world views, involves a component of faith.  It is not the completely reason and evidence based system that it claims to be.  This time I want to look at what is at best a strange line of argument made by Dawkins, but it is an argument which is increasingly common among atheists.

    On page 20, Dawkins writes, “A widespread assumption, which nearly everybody in our society accepts – non-religious included – is that religious faith is especially vulnerable to offence and should be protected by an abnormally thick wall of respect, in a different class from the respect that any human being should pay to another.”

    To anyone even remotely familiar with the assaults to which Christians and Christianity are routinely subjected, Dawkins statement will come as somewhat of a surprise. To justify this strange claim, Dawkins points that “In Northern Ireland, Catholics and Protestants are euphemized to ‘Nationalists’ and ‘Loyalists’ respectively.”  Yet this hardly is showing any deference to religion. What Dawkins’ neglects is the historical fact that the conflict in Ireland existed long before there was any difference in religion.  In fact it is more likely that the difference in religion was caused by the conflict rather than the conflict caused by the difference in religion.

    Another way Dawkins’ attempts to show that religion has some sort of preference is that religious leaders are sought out for their opinions on moral issues.  While he says he does not want them excluded from such discussions as he puts it “why does our society beat a path to their door, as though they had some expertise compare to that of, say, the moral philosopher, a family lawyer or a doctor?”

    One reason perhaps is that, while Dawkins may not like it, religion is a source of moral teachings. So why wouldn’t we seek the opinions of those trained in a moral teaching for their advice on morality?  A lawyer is trained in the law, so that might make a lawyer a good source of legal advice, but what is legal and what is moral are two different things.  There are many things that are legal and yet immoral.  For example, most everyone, including atheists, would agree that adultery is immoral. Yet it is legal. In fact one of the big problems I see is that we, as a society are thinking more in legal terms and less in moral terms. In fact one of the universities I was associated with, required its instructors of ethics to be lawyers. Thus a common defense we frequently hear for questionable actions is, “but there was nothing illegal” as if that makes everything ok.   Much the same can be said about doctors. They are trained to give medical treatment, not moral advice.  ‘Practices safe sex, and everything is ok.’

    While the moral philosopher has at least studied morality, one could just as easily ask, what makes them automatically more qualified than a theologian? Moral philosophers may be trained to think about moral issues, but what are they using as a basis for their moral view?   At least for a theologian, the basis for their moral beliefs is pretty clear. With many moral philosophers, it is not clear at all. The situation is sort of like having two doctors, one who was trained at a school you know well, and another whom you have no idea where or how they were trained. Which would you trust with your life?

    Several of the other examples of the supposed “unparalleled presumption of respect for religion”, involve Islam, and actually argue more for a special status for Islam than for religion.  For example, Dawkins points to the recent incidence of the Danish cartoons that caused riots in the Muslim world, and how newspapers “expressed ‘respect’ and ‘sympathy’ for the deep ‘offence’ and ‘hurt’ that Muslims had ‘suffered.’” (pg 27) I know that here in the United States, many news organization refused to even show the cartoons.

    The main problem with Dawkins’ argument is that his examples are not representative of religion in general.  For example, with the Danish cartoons, while deference and respect was clearly paid to Islam, there is no such similar deference paid to Christianity.  When Andre Seranno  received a grant from the government to place  a crucifix in a jar of his own urine in the name of art, most of the complaints were that it was government funded. More importantly the newspapers were not sympathizing with the hurt felt by Christians, but instead attacking them for being intolerant and trying to stifle artistic freedom.  There was much the same reaction when, again in the name of art, a picture of the Virgin Mary was smeared in Elephant dung.  Then there was the play that depicted Jesus has a homosexual.  When Christians complained, and justifiably so, about these and many other affronts, there were no calls to understand there hurt, but rather they were label intolerant and were accused of censorship.

    In fact, the affronts against Christianity and Christians are now so common, that even many Christians accept them as a normal part of life in 21st century America.  Thus like so many of Dawkins’ claims, the claim that there is some sort of deference paid to Christianity, is simply false, and shows a massive misunderstanding of the actual situation.

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact

    Part I     Part II   Part III   Part V 

    2 comments on “A Review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part IV

    1. Interesting. So let me get this right. You’re trying to say that Christianity is more under threat than Islam (for example)? I think you’ll find that, generally, what’s under attack is fundamentalist and intollerant forms of religion. For example, your own comments implying that differences in the brains of men and women mean that gay couples should not be allowed to raise children (I’m interpreting your words) stikes me as being based on quite rigid moral views that,in turn, are based on your religion. That this view is based on your religion does not make it any less tolerant. In fact, given the known inaccuracy of the bible as a “literal document”, it might be wise not to draw too many moral rules from there. Stoning adulterers anyone?

      Each religion, by definition, believes it is correct, yet they cannot all be correct. No religion has any particularly strong vantage point to make the case to be more “true” than others. As a consequence, it’s my view that no religion has the righ to dictate to others. However, we are lucky enough to live in a democracy where we get to decide what is acceptable and what is not through a form of consensus. Dawkins’ point, one of them anyway, is that nobody has the righ to say “I am right, you are wrong”. Rather, we should say that “By today’s norms, you are wrong.” Laws should, and usually do, follow these shifting norms (e.g. the shifting legal status of homosexuals over the last 50 years following the shifting social consensus).

      Believe what you like. If your religion says “If you’re gay, you’ll rot in Hell!” that’s your issue and someone who is gay but deeply religious can elect to bury their feelings. Don’t foist your particular “Holy Book” on the rest of us.

    2. Mr Easton,
      I must say that your comment here is very typical of the closed mindedness so prevalent today and is actually typical of what I was talking about. So let me outline what you have done here.
      Rather than address what I actually said, you create a strawman to attack, though I do give you credit that you did say that it was your interpretation. Then you attack your strawman by labeling it negatively as “quite rigid moral views.” Then you declare that it was based on my religion, thereby ignoring the basis you gave in your own strawman. Your final statement is a problem as you said it “That this view is based on your religion does not make it any less tolerant.” I take from the context that this was a mistake and you meant to say “Intolerant.” (If I am in error here I apologize, It is just that I am not used to having my views criticized for being too tolerant.)
      Thus rather than any seriously considation, my views have been distorted and negatively labeled, such that no more consideration is needed. While a very standard approach today, it is hardly open minded, nor is it rational.

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