Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Richard Dawkins is a vile man.

I feel impelled to write, in some small measure, about a personal experience that occurred just a few hours ago, involving myself, Richard Dawkins, a woman and my bed. As I lay in bed, essentially waiting for my alarm to go off (I have accustomed myself to it marking the day's beginning), a person entered the room (announced) and asked me to perform a number of tasks for her, mostly minor things that take not more than a few minutes to do.

However, as she finished this she noticed, on my bench, a copy of Richard Dawkins The God Delusion. It was then that she uttered an entirely salient point: "Richard Dawkins is a vile man. He twists everything to suit his own ends." This opinion had never occurred to me before. Richard (may I call you Richard?) and I have never met. But this woman "enlightened" me to the facts of the matter.

I spent the morning errands contemplating this opinion. I do not simply trust Prof. Dawkins. I am not inclined to believe anyone about anything, unless it is trivial, obvious, or supportable in some meaningful, demonstrable way. The vain exhortions of this believer swayed me not at all. Although she made her point in good faith, so to speak, I found it offensive.

I found it personally offensive because I am a skilled reader. I spend significant amounts of time trolling through data, searching for meaningful information. I understand that Prof. Dawkins (like anyone else) has an agenda and world-view that impacts his writings and arguments. An incentive structure exists for us all, and it encourages us to behave in particular ways. As a result, although Richard and I are in general agreement on matters concerning atheism and religion, I do not accept his arguments as unequivocal. I am uncertain that Dawkins is completely fair to religious institutions; on the other hand, I believe that he is absolutely right when it comes to modern religion and religiousness. But a nagging recess of my mind reminds me that the church built safe, secure churches in almost every European town, hamlet or city around 1000 CE, preserving the lives of many peasants. I am also reminded of the intellectual contributions of the church during these early periods, and the complicity of the orthodox church in the rule of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine). Even so, I weigh this against the numerous errors and repressions the church engaged in, particularly against scientific inquiry and even alternate versions of Christianity (many of them equally legitimate compared to Rome, though this is a discussion for another time).

The point is that when I conclude that religion is a fossil and dangerous in this day and age, I do not regurgitate Dawkins or anyone like him.

The second thing that struck me about this were the words, "You're really trying to not believe, aren't you?" uttered when this woman saw the book. The implications here are ludicrous, and I call shenanigans on her phrasing. First of all, I am not trying to disbelieve. In fact, given my upbringing and the recentness with which I rejected my beliefs, I would say that I spent more time trying to believe in this ludicrous superstition than anything else. I would even go so far as to venture that I would prefer for a god (or gods) of some sort to exist. I wish to pursue my interests unto eternity and continue to learn and understand new things. On the other hand, nonexistence didn't bother me before life, and it certainly won't bother me afterwards. But it isn't my preferred outcome. Even so, the practice of honesty and rigor must lead me to reject the occasionally comforting notion of providence.

But this mere intentional fallacy, committed by her, only annoys; there are more interesting parts to it. The vehemence which the words protested, and the implication that non-belief is less natural than belief, fascinate me far more. It seems to me that the believer, in its natural habitat, fiercely seeks to defend its position from its natural predator: truth. Although I cannot speak for her, I suspect that the non-belief many of us atheists attest acts as proxy and catalyst to the subtle doubts and fears that plague the minds of the "thinking faithful." In other words, we are uncomfortable reminders of the absurdity of faith.

So I conclude, tentatively, that faith occupies a more natural position than non-belief. People want this god delusion more than they want truth and facts. I think we will soon outgrow this infant disposition.

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