06 January 2009

When Science Acts Like Religion

Philosophy is an area of study which confuses many but intrigues us all. If you have ever read a philosophy book you know exactly what I mean. The popular definition of philosophy is “the love of wisdom” (not knowledge) which is really more vague than clarifying but the The Free Dictionary helps us out with a very thorough definition, a portion of which follows: Philosophy is…

• The critical analysis of fundamental assumptions or beliefs.

That is to say, philosophers tediously discuss ideas that can’t be proven true or false. They target your “beliefs” (faith) about the fundamental issues of life and focus on questions like these:

  • Where did we come from?
  • How did we get here?
  • How do we exist?
  • What are thoughts made of?
  • What constitutes morality?

  • The answers to all of these questions fall into the “belief” category and the philosopher’s intent is to substantiate or discredit those beliefs using logically arranged arguments. And they don’t all agree. The Free Dictionary lists over 180 different philosophies some of which blend, many of which clash violently.

    Rene Descartes used philosophical arguments about “thought” to prove the existence of God. The popular statement, “I think, therefore I am” was coined by him.

    David Hume and others, however, did just the opposite. They attempted to prove that “the conception of God” was not a reflection of His existence. But, (and this is an important truth) all philosophers begin with a supposition. They are dealing with beliefs and their premise in every case is unfounded. They may vehemently argue for what they “believe” (God or no God) but prove it they can’t.

    Descartes was a theist and used philosophy to justify his theism. Hume was an agnostic/atheist and used philosophy to substantiate his “belief” system. The writings of these men and others have heavily influenced philosophical musings in recent times.

    Now, because every person is philosophical by nature (God made us that way) most people are drawn into the discussion. And why not, it promises…not a possible answer, but the answer. If you are like me, you have on occasion bought (or borrowed) a book or two that includes the writings and thoughts of recognized philosophers. And, if you are like me, you have gotten lost in the rhetoric a time or two and been disappointed with the outcome. Descartes didn’t prove God existed and Hume couldn’t prove He didn’t. How frustrating!

    But, that doesn’t stop us from philosophizing. The need to investigate is basic to our nature. Every person at heart grapples with the “what and why of life” and is motivated by some type of philosophy. Every generation produces its notable thinkers and we have ours today, one of whom, Richard Dawkins, has written a very interesting book, “The God Delusion.”

    Mr. Dawkins is actually a scientist (ethologist - study of animal behavior) and he has an earned PhD. We applaud that. He is a clever guy. But, much of his writing is more philosophical than it is scientific. He is a rabid atheist and a staunch evolutionary biologist who has been referred to as "Darwin’s Rottweiler." His other books include “The Selfish Gene” (a gene based theory of evolution) and “The Blind Watchmaker” (arguing against the theologically based philosophy of intelligent design).

    In his most recent book, “The God Delusion,” Mr. Dawkins paints a picture in which science gets only a shadow of a brush stroke, philosophy is used only for window dressing and religion mixed with politics is the primary element. In essence Mr. Dawkins argues against the idea of God, using as his primary proof, all the religious nonsense and abuse he can site and for a side dish he makes political institutions complicit in the whole scheme.

    Interestingly enough, his observations are spot on. Religion (made and operated by man) has a poor track record when it comes to abuse and excess. In the name of “Religion” thousands have been hurt, many killed. On top of that, Religious institutions have managed to gain more than a fair share of the world’s wealth without being accountable for it. He is completely just in suggesting that “religion” has been politically pampered in every generation. It sickens even the religious.

    He doesn’t spend much time talking about the good things religious people have done and he mostly ignores the diversity in religious beliefs and practices and I won’t spend time crying about it. If I did, I would be no better than Dawkins whose lack of originality was alluded to by Joan Blackwell in her review published at The Guardian: “Dawkins's most original contribution is the examination of why religion has persisted so long after the scientific revolution…” She supports Dawkins and seems to enjoy the diatribe tone of his “academic” essay.

    What I will do, however, is point out a fundamental flaw in Dawkins’ argument. He can no more prove the non-existence of God by the actions of religious people (not all of whom represent the same “god”) than religious people can prove God exists by the actions of atheists. What is fair for one side is fair for the other.

    If atheists use theists as an argument to prove God is a delusion then theists can use the character of the atheist community to argue for His existence. He doesn’t like it when we do this but it is fair and a quick internet search of the atheist community will reveal some scary stuff.

    The level of accountability in the atheist community is very limited as well. No one has written the rule on acceptable behavior in an atheist world and, by the way, atheism is getting a fair share of pampering these days. Prayer was removed from public schools in America because the atheists were offended. Interesting. Many other political issues have fallen on the side of atheism also.

    Dawkins writes intelligently and gives the impression of fairness but only the already convinced are moved. He agitates believers and entertains everyone else.

    Score: Atheists 0 - Theists 0

    Even his confidence that the world would be a better place if run without religion seemed a bit shaky when he confessed that organizing atheists is like “herding cats.” Interesting observation. An atheist led world would be nothing more than an experiment and it could prove catastrophic. Religion is the devil we know. Atheism is the one we don’t.

    Mr. Dawkins can only assume that the world he advocates would be free, or at least less stained by abuses, more humanitarian, but how can he be certain of this? Has anyone written the bible on how an atheist world would operate? Marx wrote the manifesto (we all know how that turned out); maybe Dawkins will be inspired to write the bible. And don’t tell us it will all become obvious once the evolutionary process is ended (does it come to an end???). We have surely evolved sufficiently for many very clear principles to be established. Put them in writing. Let us see what you have. That is the democratic thing to do and it might relieve some of the bickering and arguing that takes place on a philosophical level.

    The real question is this. Can we really use religion to prove God doesn’t exist? Can we really say religion is causing all the problems in the world? Would a world without religion really be more loving, nurturing, helpful, constructive and so on?

    Unfortunately, there have been many transgressions by believers. Does that mean things will only get better if they didn’t believe? We can’t logically make that assumption. It might get worse. I shudder to think…

    All of this makes for a very good discussion and I really enjoy it but it does generate a lot of friction so don’t get all worked up about the verbal punching that goes on. Just thank God that Christians influenced our modern world sufficiently to allow, even encourage, the free and open discussion, albeit heated occasionally, around differing philosophical opinions.

    The only thing God has to say in this discussion is…

    He that comes to God (attempting to find Him) must believe that He is…(Hebrews 11:6)

    Note: Today “ethology” has been expanded to include human behavior. Maybe Mr. Dawkins influenced this trend. It does fit his philosophy and many recognized academic institutions agree, along with the non-thinking public. Sounds like atheists are getting pampered. ThinkAboutIt

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