Thursday, July 17, 2008

I Smell a Set-Up

My first reaction to Richard Dawkins is that he comes across as an arrogant ass (in the King James sense, of course). I am sure I am not the first who has thought that or even verbalized it, but there it is. Of course, it has nothing to do with whether he is right or not. It is not an argument, it's an observation.

I will say this for him, his prose is written in a pleasing style. He is quite the penman.

I can tell it is going to take me a while to read this book because on every page or so I find something about which I want to protest or point out. That's what brings us here, after midnight, when I have to get up early and go to work in the morning. But I won't be able to sleep unless I blog this now.

It starts with Dawkins' stated purpose for writing this book. To do justice to his stated purpose would entail quoting the entire Preface. However, I believe the reader can get the general idea from the third paragraph of the Preface which goes like this:

"I suspect--well, I am sure--that there are lots of people out there who have been brought up in some religion or other, are unhappy in it, don't believe it, or are worried about the evils that are done in its name; people who feel vague yearnings to leave their parents' religion and wish they could, but just don't realize that leaving is an option. If you are one of them, this book is for you. It is intended to raise consciousness--raise consciousness to the fact that to be an atheist is a realistic aspiration, and a brave and splendid one. You can be an atheist who is happy, balanced, moral, and intellectually fulfilled. That is the first of my consciousness-raising messages. I also want to raise consciousness in three other ways, which I'll come on to. . . ."--Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, Preface, paragraph 3.

So there you have it. Mr. Dawkins wishes to convert us, right? Wrong. He only wishes to convert "open-minded" people. He knows, on the other hand, that fundamentalists--"dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads"--are incapable of being converted. They are not open-minded. Rather, they are victims of indoctrination--and lacking the intelligence to overcome it.

From page 28 of the paperback version (emphasis mine):

"If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down. What presumptuous optimism! Of course, dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads are immune to argument, their resistance built up over years of childhood indoctrination using methods that took centuries to mature (whether by evolution or design). Among the more effective immunological devices is a dire warning to avoid even opening a book like this, which is surely a work of Satan. But I believe there are plenty of open-minded people out there: people whose childhood indoctrination was not too insidious, or for other reasons didn't 'take', or whose native intelligence is strong enough to overcome it. Such free spirits should need only a little encouragement to break free of the vice of religion altogether."--Dawkins, The God Delusion, p.28, paperback.

I'm being set up. Can you see it? If at the end of this book Mr. Dawkins has converted me, that means I am "intelligent" and "open-minded" and a "free spirit" who was able to overcome the insidious indoctrination I received as a child. If, however, I remain unconvinced by Mr. Dawkins' impeccable logic then I am most certainly some "dyed-in-the-wool faith-head" who is just too stupid or too stubborn to bow to the great Oxford professor's wisdom. It is an appeal to pride and elitism. All the smart, beautiful people are atheists!

Hogwash. What if someone reads Dawkins' treatise and finds it (gasp) unconvincing? What if, when read, the logic is found to be full of holes? What if, when weighed in the balance, the book is found to be, in fact, very light on the logic side and very, very heavy on the rhetoric side?

Dawkins is fond of pointing out the worst in religious faith and peddling it as the norm. Thinking people, however, shouldn't buy that nonsense. For an example see the second paragraph I quoted above. Is it true, as Dawkins states, that many religious people will be warned away from his book, convinced not to read it, because some religious leader(s) will pronounce the work as a work of Satan and therefore, by extension, those who read it as participating in some evil act? Yes, that's true.

And let me also say (and I think Dawkins would agree) that if the Bible is true, then what Dawkins has produced is an evil work. In fact, it constitutes a high crime against heaven. That is, if the Bible is true (and I certainly believe that it is). Dawkins does not. In fact, he laughs at a bumper sticker which he once saw which refers to blasphemy as a victimless crime.

But it does not then follow that to read his work is an evil act. In fact, I would argue that it is a good and necessary act to read his work and engage it on an intellectual level (yes, Mr. Dawkins, some dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads do that sort of thing). This sort of diatribe needs to be answered, and answered well--with reason.

"Test everything; hold fast what is good"--St. Paul.

"Buy the truth and sell it not."--Proverbs

The Christian faith is a well-reasoned and reasonable faith which has stood the test of time--as well as an endless barrage of attacks from well-educated elitists like Dawkins. Those attacks have been traditionally answered and refuted by well-educated, thinking, reasoning men of faith who hold to the truth with such tenacity that they are not afraid to be engaged by high-minded, holier-than-thou (yes, I think it is an appropriate description of Dawkins' demeanor) zealots. Truth does not fear error. There are answers to the questions and apparent problems which the skeptics pose and Christianity is a thinking man's religion, completely intellectually and logically satisfying.

And neither will I fall prey to Dawkins' set-up. Dawkins will have to do more than merely assert that reasonable and intelligent and open-minded people will succumb to his wisdom and logic. He will have to prove it.

I have another thought which occurred to me while reading Dawkins that I will blog about later today. It is a tie-in to the religious liberty posts. I hope you will come back for it.


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