The God Delusion - an Appraisal  - Chapter 10

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This is the Chapter 10  Page for the appraisal of the contents of Richard Dawkins' book, The God Delusion.



Page Contents:









Chapter 10 Overview

"A much needed gap?"


Chapter 10 is divided into:



Chapter 10: Content & Comments





Quote 1: p.388


Does religion fill a much needed gap. 



ANSWERS FOR EXISTENCE : In this short preamble Richard poses the question whether religion fills a gap but then asks would something else fill it better? In this he talks about the role of religion as explaining our existence, but says he has dealt with this in chapter 4. In case you forgot that was the chapter with his staggeringly bizarre construction of life, when there was no life, by the means of statistics. In no way did he answer how we came to exist.


ANSWERS FOR MORALS : He also wrote of religion being to exhort us how to behave and said he had covered that in chapter 6 and 7. Chapter 6 was the one where the only reason he could find for us doing good was for self-benefit, but that takes it outside the definition of good. Chapter 7 was his really awful chapter about the Old and New Testaments, of which he obviously knew very little, and his suggestions for new ten commandments, which could never be agreed upon – or kept. So he may think he's dealt with these things to his satisfaction, but it is only to his satisfaction. No thinking and knowledgeable person would agree with the contents of those chapters. This last chapter, he tells us, will deal with consolation and inspiration.

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Part 1: Binker



Quote 2: p.389


Christopher Robin, I presume, did not believe that Piglet and Winnie the Pooh really spoke to him. But was Binker different?



IMAGINARY FRIENDS: Binker is an imaginary friend from a poem by A.A.Milne. He suggests that belief in God may be a form of having an imaginary friend, and even briefly ponders on ‘voices in the mind' but puts them down as by-products of the evolutionary process.


REASONS WHY NOT: This is of course all purely supposition and he doesn't try to go beyond it, because there is no way, as a scientist, that he can prove it. It does seem that with this suggestion he is being completely two-faced because earlier he has played very much on the fear factor that sometimes arises. The one thing about ‘imaginary friends' is that they are always friendly and always in our own image – like us. The concepts of God, even from other religions, are of a Being who is incredibly different from us. If Richard was a church pastor he would know that there are a lot of people for whom the image of God as ‘Father' is incredibly difficult. Their experiences of their earthly fathers put them off any such thought. No, all the evidence is clearly against this supposition. Sorry, a shallow thought.

LINK to Appendix 7 - Science or Philosophy


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Part 2: Consolation



Quote 3: p.394


Religion's power to console doesn't make it true.



RELIGION DOES CONSOLE : This is fascinating. He accepts that religion does console; indeed he goes on to bemoan the fact that many people, including scientists seem to be consoled by belief, but he struggles away with it being belief in God, rather simply ‘belief in belief'. This really is a sad state of affairs and makes most of the human race out to be a bunch of deluded idiots (but then that's what the book is about!).



Quote 4: p.395


First I must examine the claims of religion to offer consolation



UNWISE DECLARATION OF INTENT : He has just declared his intention that it is an understatement to say you can lead a happy and fulfilled life without supernatural religion. Debatable point! If there is a supernatural good God of the Bible it would seem stupid to ignore him, and indeed can you possibly live a totally good and happy life without Him if He's designed you to have that relationship? Well let's see what Richard says.

A WIDER VIEW: Richard really doesn't open up the subject of consolation (because he's not a pastor and obviously doesn't know much about it) but 'consolation' in a wider sense is aptly illustrated by this true testimony:

     'A' is a Christian and was in mid-life when his work was obviously slipping. In a letter to a friend he wrote, “I found my self in a real pit of darkness and despair, being hopelessly depressed and unable to find any solution”. 'A' went away on 3 months long-service leave. He came back worse than when he left.

      The doctor put him on drugs to calm him down and he went away to a rest home for a week. His wife set herself to pray for 'A' in every spare minute she had. When he came back he found his wife was really glowing, really radiant. At 4am on the morning 'A' was to return, she had suddenly awakened to find the Lord at her bedside, invisibly but really there. And the power of God seemed to flow through and through her as she silently worshipped. After 2 hours she rose, walking on air. That night 'A' heard all this and his wife prayed for him. “Then”, he said, “she laid her hand on my head, and prayed... it was as though a great wave of .. liquid love.. broke over me, and as it did so, it seemed to wash me clean... all the depression, guilt, fear, hopelessness... and even much of the awful drugged feeling. I felt like a new man. And that night I slept like a baby.”

 There are literally hundreds of thousands of people, past and present, who could give similar testimonies. 'Consolation' here, is not some academic thing, but a life changing experience.



Quote 5: p.396


there is nothing special about the moment when an old man dies.



FACING DEATH : Richard rambles into a philosophical section about the seven ages of man, as if that will help the person who is dying and wonders that death is and what will follow. Mark Twain's tongue in cheek comment sounds very much like a man who is desperately trying not to think about it. Thomas Jefferson's reference is unclear and an assumption, and Bertrand Russell's declaration was more about life than death. Isn't it fascinating, when a public figure who has spent his life denouncing faith comes to death, think about it, the last thing on earth he's going to do is acknowledge he might have been wrong and has fears about death. The man who faces death without query is in a serious case of denial!



Quote 6: p.398


But, of course, scientific medicine can also offer comfort



NOT ALL GET HELP : Just a small point in passing: a considerable number of people are very much helped by medicines and by surgery – but a lot aren't! For those people who are not getting the help they need through traditional medicine then, indeed, ‘the strong arms of God' are often there it seems to bring help.



Quote 7: p.398/399


Why don't religious people talk like that



TALKING ABOUT DEATH : Richard has been talking about the realities, or otherwise, of life after death. He has quoted an Abbot who had been very positive about death. His point is that few of us are like that. I agree, and it's a shame. However, we need to be clear in our minds about it.

There are only a limited number of options it seems:


1. There is nothing after death – this is Richard's view (see end of p.399). He really has no alternative if he holds to a purely material existence. As Russell said, at death it's a case of “I will rot.” A true atheist has to cling to the thought that ‘out of body death experiences' are simply a physical phenomena, overload in the brain cells, and real death terminates everything, full stop!


2. After death there is a return back to this earth in the same form or some other form – reincarnation – there are a number of problems with this, mostly quite depressing.


3. After death everyone passes on to another ongoing experience. Now this is ultimately what most religions teach in some form of another. I've never heard a non-religious person espousing this position but I suspect that many hope that this is so. Psychologists tell is that one of the reasons people shy away from death is that the thought of non-existence is naturally repugnant to a living soul. The Bible teaches that there are two possibilities for this ‘ongoing experience' and they are based on what we believed and what we did this side of death. The Bible indicates that we make choices and we choose whether to believe or not, so we choose whether our eternal future will be good, bad or indifferent. This is not to create fear but simply to suggest that anyone in their rational mind always chooses what is good and pleasant. If there is any possibility that this paragraph is true, then it is sensible to pursue it and see where it takes us.

LINK to our page What Happens after Death 



Quote 8: p.400


Why are such enlightened places so rare?



TERMINATING LIFE : This is Richard talking about euthanasia and he almost despairs that there are so few places to go where you can have help to end your life. I see it differently. In the Old Testament in Israel there were “cities of refuge” where someone could flee if they had committed manslaughter to avoid the revenge of loved ones of the dead person. I have no problem with the idea of certain states or nations choosing to be different from the majority (although I wouldn't want to live there because of the risk of abuse when I am old) where people, like Richard, can travel if they want to have help in terminating their lives.


DANGERS OF ABUSE : I am not convinced in my mind over the arguments for euthanasia and I do believe that an open state where euthanasia is practiced widely is in fact a dangerous place. Everything else I see of mankind tells me that human beings are often unscrupulous, uncaring and self-acting, and therefore whatever rules are set in place for the protection of the weak who do not want to go prematurely, will be more easily circumnavigated in a nation where euthanasia is easily accessible than in one where it isn't. Of course if people like Richard were totally serious about it being the end of a purely material world, then he will save the air fare and buy a pistol and shoot himself, that's if he is really serious about what he believes. I'm not sure he is. He sounds more like a theorist.



Quote 9: p.400


individuals who are most afraid of death are the religious ones




FEAR OF DEATH : There are three points to be made here:


1. They have indeed been religious and aware of God but their teaching has been inadequate and they have never come to a full assurance of faith and of God's total love and acceptance for them, even though in other ways their faith has been real. I think there are a lot of Christians like this. It's a call to the church to teach properly and fully.


2. They have had a nominal religion which means they believed in God but nothing beyond that was real, which means now the reality of life after death is facing them and they are unsure about it.


3. The non-religious people have a blind faith that having lived their lives out on the basis that there is no God, then there's no alternative to continue that belief when facing death – a form of stoicism.


FUNERAL SERVICES:   I think it worthwhile here, in the light of Richard's comments, to observe differences between Christian and non-Christian funeral services. By 'non-Christian' here, I am not referring to other religions but those who have no faith. I have the opportunity to take funeral services for both groups. It is here, perhaps, most of all, the differences are visible.

At the funeral of, and attended by, those of no faith, there is a cold emptiness, a formal ritual which everyone endures. For the funeral service of believers who have an assurance of an afterlife, while there is sorrow at the loss of a loved one, there also tends to be a tremendously joyful celebration of the life of the one who has gone, together with a rejoicing that they have 'emigrated' to the 'next country' where we will one day join them in a pain-free and joy-full eternity. The difference between the two is staggering!



Quote 10: p.401


the doctrine of purgatory




Most of us in the worldwide Christian Church don't believe in purgatory, so I'm not making any comment on a Catholic add-on.


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Part 3: Inspiration



Quote 11: p.404


I tried to convey how lucky we are to be alive




WHO ARE THE INSPIRED: This one page on Inspiration is utterly barren of anything deep and meaningful. The best he can say is that we're lucky to be alive because of the trillions who haven't been born. Frankly that gives no inspiration whatsoever to the person who has been born into poverty, born into disability, or who has simply been demeaned by others. For them, without God's love, every day is a hopeless struggle – I know because I meet them. Why is it the Christians and not the atheists around the world who are building and helping in orphanages, hospitals and clinics (yes there are exceptions), why is it that like Mother Theresa, who the atheist likes to deride, they are found tending the sick and feeding the poor in the world's bad spots? It is because they are inspired by their God to be Christ-like, the best example the world has ever known!


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Part 4: The Mother of all Burkas



Quote 12: p.406


I want to use the narrow slit in the veil as a symbol of something else




ENORMITY OF REALITY : Richard uses this analogy to suggest to us that what is knowable to our natural senses, about this incredible world, is just like a slit in the total of reality (I think that's it). I like it. I think it's a good analogy and I think in respect of science, Richard is a total enthusiast and it's enjoyable when he sticks to what he knows. I still think that much of science has to be conveyed by analogy and no doubt in ten years time he may express some of these things very differently, but I can live with that.


A LAST QUESTION : Increasingly, it seems, science seeks to move into philosophy to postulate ways that things might be. As I have previously quoted, others suggest that so often the evidence we have does not constitute proof, it merely provides data which needs interpreting and the nature of the data itself requires the use of analogies. If indeed this is so, and Richard's closing words in this last chapter are, by nature, philosophical because they propose something that in every other way our minds can't grasp, if in the light of all this Richard is happy to speculate, postulate, assume, guess at etc. etc. the reality of life, why is it that he cannot seem to grasp what seems so staggeringly obvious to millions of others, the possibility of God in reality? Is it that his mind is locked in to perceptions of past painful events which he misinterpreted so that every conclusion since has been skewed? And how about you? It's a very common phenomena.

G.K.Chesterton in his book, Orthodoxy, paints a picture of a madman who "is commonly a reasoner, frequently a successful reasoner." But his reasoning is locked into his irrational belief that he is god, Napoleon Bonaparte or whoever, and nothing will budge him from that. He likens them to modern scientists and modern scholars (and remember that was written in 1908) and says to illustrate their closed minds, "They see a chessboard white on black... they cannot alter their standpoint; they cannot make a mental effort and suddenly see it black on white." He then opens up the world of materialism and says, "As an explanation of the world, materialism has a sort of insane simplicity. It has jsut the quality of the madman's argument; we have at once the sense of it covering everything and the sense of leaving everything out."  That is the sense we are left with in Richard's writing in this last part.

LINK to Appendix 7 - Science or Philosophy


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NB. In what follows Q stand for ‘Quote'




Richard asks if religion fills a gap and could it be filled some other way. He relies on his past arguments, which is difficult because he failed to make his case there. (Q.1)



Part 1: Binker


Binker is an imaginary friend in a poem. Richard suggests that perhaps this is the origin of ideas about God, that we want an imaginary friend. I have pointed out that such imaginary friends are in our own image but God is most decidedly different and even awesome, which would rather defeat the object of the exercise! (Q.2)



Part 2: Consolation


•  Richard accepts that people have the need to be consoled and that religion consoles, but says it's belief in belief rather than belief in God and belief doesn't make it true. That just seems a sad state for the human race if that is so and begs the question why people believe. (Q.3).
•  I have suggested that if we are designed to believe, it seems silly not to. (Q.4) He puts up various people's comments about dying but I have suggested that the person who can face death without any qualms is probably in a place of denial. (Q.5) I have also noted that good as modern medicine is, it doesn't always help everyone and those who aren't being helped by it, often do get consoled by a sense of the presence of God, (Q.6) and I have laid out the various possibilities about the finality of death. (Q.7)
•  He speaks about euthanasia and I have expressed my concerns (Q.8)
•  He also speaks about those who are religious often showing most fear and I have suggested why. (Q.9)
•  I have avoided responding to comments about purgatory. (Q.10)



Part 3: Inspiration


This is a sad, meaningless page (Q.11)     



Part 4: The Mother of all Burkas


Richard uses the analogy of a slit in a burka to portray the tiny amount we know of wonderful reality, and I have wondered why, if he can let his mind range this far, he can't let it range to the possibility of God. (Q.12)



Overall Comment:


This seems rather a philosophical chapter and the book seems to end with a whimper rather than a flourish. He really doesn't make a case for God being an imaginary friend, so I don't think he really believes that. He also doesn't provide alternative means of consolation from science for those who need it and I sense that the shallowness of that part was really because he has had little or no pastoral experience. When it comes to inspiration the best he can say is that we are lucky to be alive, which perhaps accounts for why atheists are not normally the most inspired or inspiring of people. On speaking about how wonderful reality is, clearly way beyond our senses, I almost wondered if he was going to talk himself into accepting the possibility of God, but sadly no. I think as a last chapter I would have expected a gathering together of all of his ammunition against belief in God and the evidences for that belief, but instead all we had was the theory of wide reality, which was a very disappointing end, but perhaps that sums up the book. Earlier ones, in his own sphere, are very different. This one was a mistake.


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