February 2008


To Love and Cherish

Doing Apologetics

Christianity: The Basics

What is Wrong with Social Justice

Christianity and Secularism

Evidence for the Bible

Archive for February 15th, 2008

A Review of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion Part XVII

Friday, February 15th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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The latter part of the Richard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion”  becomes increasingly speculative as he applies his view of atheism and religion to topics such as homosexuality, abortion, and children and these issues would be better treated in more general discussion of the individual topics than a specific review of Dawkins’ slant on them.

One point Dawkins makes, however, is worthy of comment and on this point I will conclude my review.  It is when he talks about the “dark side of absolutism.” (pg 284) There is a lot of truth to Dawkins’ comments on this subject, and yet because they are true, they actually undermine Dawkins main point at the same time.

As he has throughout his book, Dawkins points to examples of religious people being so sure they were correct that they made their beliefs into law, or in some other way forced their beliefs on others. Such as a Pakistani Doctor sentenced to death for blasphemy because he said Muhammad was not a Muslim before he invented Islam.

The problem for Dawkins is can be seen in his claim that “Such absolutism nearly always results from strong religious faith.”  To see the problem in Dawkins statement we need to consider that nature of this dark side of absolutism and what makes it so bad.  At its core absolutism, is simply enforcing what you believe to be true on others. All societies do this to some extent. After all, that is what a law is; it is the power of the state forcing people to do some things and prohibiting them from doing others.  For example, we as a society are pretty absolute and downright intolerant when it comes to child molesters, and I would argue this is a good thing.

Absolutism becomes dark when the truth being enforced becomes uncertain, and it is this dark absolutism that we generally are referring to when we talk of absolutism.    This is a difficult area to discuss because people do not see themselves as being on the dark side of absolutism, they see themselves as standing up for the truth, or right, or good.

For example, currently there is a major debate over man-made global warming. Those who believe in it are trying to pass laws to prevent it. Those who do not believe it label these laws as part of the dark side of absolutism. Thus whether or not this is an example of the darker side of absolutism largely depend on what you believe.

Dawkins is certainly correct that throughout the history of religion the dark side of absolutism has been a factor.  What he fails to see is that, contrary to his statement, such absolutism is not at all restricted to religion, and in fact it is even a prominent part of modern day atheism. 

For example, almost everyone in western civilization, if not the world, would agree that the Taliban destruction of the Buddhist statues was an example of the dark side of absolutism. But at its core, how is this action any different than the atheist demanding the removal of a tiny Cross that was in seal of the city of Redlands, or any of the numerous other examples of the atheist desire to expunge society of religion.  Was the Taliban’s was seeking to remove any vestige of religion symbols they disagreed with really that different than the atheist desire to remove religious symbols they disagree with, particularly if they are Christian.

But that is the problem with such absolutism; it is very difficult to see from the inside. This is particularly true when the belief that one is correct, is coupled with corresponding view that others are wrong.  Dawkins and other atheist undoubtedly sees themselves as defending reason and science, when in reality they are often guilty of the same sort of intolerance and in some cases bigotry that they are so critical of in religion. 

I said earlier that Dawkins comments on absolutism undermine the main point of his book.  If one takes Dawkins comments on such absolutism to heart, then it is hard to reach any other rational conclusion than that it is this dark absolutism which is the real problem not religion.  In fact if you remove all the example of religious absolutism from Dawkins book, what remained would be some theories of the existence of God, some comments on the reliability of the Bible, and very little else. In short, though aimed at religion his book is really more an indictment of this dark absolutism in religion, something I and I believe most Christians also condemn, even if we don’t accept all of his examples.

To sum up this review, Dawkins’ book fails at almost every point, except his criticism of religious absolutism, but even here he mistakenly see this as an indictment of all religion, rather than an indictment on absolutism.  He is quick to point out any flaw of particular religions or religious believers as automatically an indictment of all religion. Yet, any positive quality or action is either ignored or written off as due to something other than religion.  More damming is that his knowledge of religion is often superficial if not actually in error.  Ultimately Dawkins book is more an example of atheist’s absolutism than any serious attack on religion much less Christianity.

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