The God Delusion - an Appraisal  - Chapter 8

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This is the Chapter 8 Page for the appraisal of the contents of Richard Dawkins' book, The God Delusion.



Page Contents:









Chapter 8 Overview

"What's Wrong with Religion? Why be so Hostile?"


Chapter 8 is divided into:




Chapter 8: Content & Comments





Quote 1: p.316


Religion has actually convinced people that there's an invisible man – living in the sky – who watches everything you do



A BAD QUOTE: This is Richard starting off this chapter with an incredibly bad quote from George Carlin. It is an appalling quote in that it so misrepresents the truth. As we've had to say before, I can only speak for Christianity and, as I suspect that this is a hit at Christianity, it is an appalling portrayal of the truth. God doesn't sit there in heaven ticking off whether we meet a ten-rule criteria and looking to condemn us all to hell the moment we miss one of them.


You want to know the truth? Here it is as the Bible shows it:


1. Yes, God sees everything we do.


2. Yes, He has designed us to work in a certain way and if you want a rule, it is live in relationship with Him so He can help us live the ways He has designed us to live so that we can have the most complete, fulfilled, happy, content, peaceful, creative lives possible – and it is possible.


3. The fact is that we don't live like that and we need His help, even to come to Him to get that help!


4. Through Jesus Christ He has done everything possible to show you that He loves you and wants you to know forgiveness and restoration to the life you can have.

5. He is not out to condemn but to bless and everything He does is to bring you to that place of receiving His blessing, to receive that life described above.


LINK to Appendix 2 - Basic Christian Beliefs



Quote 2: p.318


I am not going to bomb anybody



EXCUSING RUDENESS: Richard tries to excuse his hostility towards religion by saying he limits it to words, unlike religious people (inferred) who bomb people. That there are extremists in any religion should not write off the vast majority of the peaceful religious adherents. Christians especially, who are told to love their enemies, and seek to work this out, would particularly resent this inference. He wants to excuse his rudeness.


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Part 1: Fundamentalism and the Subversion of Science



Quote 3: p.319


Fundamentalists… know in advance that nothing will budge them from their belief.



THE POWER OF TESTIMONY AND OF LEARNING: There are two points to be made here:


1. As we have made comment in previous chapters, atheists, and Richard in particular, get upset when they encounter someone like the man Jesus gave sight back to, in John, chapter 9, who basically says, “Well say what you like. All I know is that once I was blind but now I can see.” Whether they like it or not that is a valid testimony!


2. I take exception to the words, ‘in advance'. I suspect Richard would brand me a fundamentalist because I believe the Bible. I became a Christian by an experience forty years ago, but have read and studied virtually every day since. You might have budged me from my belief forty years ago, but not today, because now I am well informed.



Quote 4: p.319


The book is true, and if the evidence seems to contradict it, it is the evidence that must be thrown out, not the book.



A GET OUT CLAUSE: This is a Richard's viewpoint which he will shortly seek to reinforce by the sad use of a confused American geologist, who we'll come to in a minute.  Although he may not like it, I have a get out clause which I'm sure will upset Richard. It is this: the Bible does not seek to be a book of science and therefore it attributes lots of natural activities (winds, storms etc.) to God but it doesn't try to say how God did it.


THE EXAMPLE OF JERICHO: For instance I used to have a friend who said, “I understand exactly how Joshua brought down the walls of Jericho,” and proceeded to tell me about the vibrations caused by troops marching in step, which means that normally when they march over a bridge they break step. I have no problem with that. The clever bit as far as I'm concerned is a) there was no mention of that scientific knowledge in the Bible, b) Joshua wouldn't have known that, having only stomped around the sandy desert, so c) I'm quite happy that God who does know such things, told Joshua to do what he did with that result.


A MATTER OF INTERPRETATION: The everyday Christian's problem, so often, is that they are mostly not scientists and therefore fall for making rash statements about what a certain passage of Scripture means in scientific terms. I suspect that Richard thinks that, so far his arguments have been conclusive and so we should abandon The Book. They haven't and so we don't.

One thing I have learnt about watching prophecy over many years is this: so often we think we understand it and yet again and again it is fulfilled in ways we would never have guessed – but it was fulfilled to the word! I haven't got a problem with science because my Bible doesn't try to explain what happens in scientific terms, and when atheists start trying to suggest how it happened in scientific terms, that is all they can do – suggest. More later.



Quote 5: p.320


I know what it would take to change my mind and I would gladly do so if the necessary evidence were forthcoming.



BLINDNESS: We have touched on this in previous chapters. I have two problems with Richard's confused beliefs about himself:


1. His writing shows that he is not open to the considerable number of scientists who believe differently to him. Whether he likes it or not, he seems the exact personification of a fundamentalist. He won't listen! Richard doesn't seem to know himself.


2. I've given examples from the Bible previously of those who were confronted with the incredible evidence that pointed to who Jesus really was, and yet who were unable to see it. Spiritual blindness is very common and is exhibited by those with closed minds, those who are so insecure that they dare not give serious consideration to alternative ideas and the evidence supporting them.



Quote 6: p.321


As a scientist I am hostile to fundamentalist religion because it actively debauches the scientific enterprise. It teaches us not to change our minds and not to want to know exciting things that are available to be known.




SWEEPING STATEMENTS: The difficulty with Richard's writing sometimes is that he does not define what he means and therefore seems to make sweeping statements, which like all sweeping statements opens itself to the error of inclusivism.


FUNDAMENTALISTS: This term usually seems to be applied to those who go overboard in their statements of belief to say more about the Bible than it says about itself. On the other hand it seems to be used by Richard to include anyone who says the Bible is true as an historical document and as a teaching document from God. Now that latter might apply to me but if it does then its application in the sentence that follows is completely erroneous.


CHANGING MINDS: Richard may not realise this, but at the very heart of the New Testament teaching is the requirement to be open to have your minds changed to conform to the truth. The second sentence above is quite funny, because I would be able to say exactly that in respect of Richard and other scientific atheists.


AN ILL-INFORMED SCIENTIST: Over the next page Richard documents the example of geologist Kurt Wise who undermined his life by the view that the earth was less than ten thousand years old. So lack of understanding about Hebrew cultural writing styles and conclusions jumped to, meant that this man struggled with his belief systems. So he may have given up greatness but, despite the fact from my perspective he was confused, I nevertheless somehow feel there is something naively winsome about his approach to life, which actually feels more wholesome than the rantings of this book. Perhaps in eternity he will have the last laugh.



Quote 7: p.322


All he had to do was toss out the Bible. Or interpret it symbolically, or allegorically, as the theologians do



CLOSED MIND JUDGE: Actually not everybody does. And this silly set of suggestions comes from a closed mind that is not qualified to judge – as he has show time and again throughout this book. We've talked enough about reason and interpretation. Let's add some variety.


A MORE REALISTIC PERSPECTIVE: Alister McGrath in The Dawkins Delusion points out Richard's fallacious arguing by pointing out what other scientists say: e.g.

The natural sciences depend on inductive inference, which is a matter of ‘weighing evidence and judging probability, not of proof'”, and “Any given set of observations can be explained by a number of theories.”


A little later McGrath goes on to compare two sets of writings about genes, the first by Richard in The Selfish Gene and the second, a rewriting of that passage by Oxford physiologist, Denis Noble. The first (by Richard) concludes, “their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence”. The second (by Denis Noble) concludes, “We are the ultimate rationale for their existence.”


The point McGrath makes is that “Dawkins and Noble see things in completely different ways.” In other words, empirical evidence is open to different interpretations. It is not so closed as Richard would make out.


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Part 2: The Dark Side of Absolutism



Quote 8: p.324


Religion can be a force for evil in the world  



ONE SIDED EXAMPLES : In this Part Richard moves into the mode he used in The Root of all Evil – of using extremes to try to try to prove a point. He does it by quoting “the Muslim world” and “the incipient American theocracy”. In this Part he berates Islam for the way it applies its blasphemy laws, a quick mention of blasphemy laws in Britain, and then a large section on the ‘American Taliban'. I have no particular quarrel with what he says about Islam but to use that and American extremists so-called Christianity is the worst form of arguing possible. One could equally say there are way-out, extremist scientists and therefore all scientists are bad. An appalling argument.

Professor Keith Ward in Is Religion Dangerous sums up his careful investigation with the following:

"So is religion dangerous? Sometimes it is. But it is also one of the most powerful forces in the world for good.... At best, religion, the search for supreme goodness, a life lived for the sake of good alone, will help to promote the welfare of all sentient beings. Some danger is unavoidable in unavoidable in any human enterprise. But religion is the main driving force for wisdom and compassion in a world that would be bleak and cruel without it."


LINK to Appendix 8 - Facts, Formulas & Freaky Behaviour


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Part 3: Faith and Homosexuality



Quote 9: p.326


Afghanistan under the Taliban




PRIVATE HOMOSEXUALITY: Any argument about God and religion that starts off with those words is surely going to be one-sided, lacking objectivity and hardly worth listening to. This section is more a rant about why private homosexuality is all right, than about anything else. The only point worth making in this Part is in the concluding brief paragraph “Attitudes to homosexuality reveal much about the sort of morality that is inspired by religious faith.”


VARYING VIEWS: I suspect Richard takes the stance that he takes because he wants to win favour and it seems an obvious point with which to bash Christians. However I suspect the truth is very different from what Richard might like to think. To clarify the ‘Christian position', if there is such a thing in respect of homosexuality, I would like to suggest the following summary in Britain at least:


1. Because of the pressure from the homosexual lobby and the weakness of any moral base within the country, the law in Britain has demanded acceptance and not far off approval of homosexual relationships.


2. The Biblical Christian position is to love and care for the homosexual – as any other person – but to frown on homosexual sexual behaviour because Christian ethics limit sexual activity to between male and female in a committed marriage situation. Anything outside of that lends itself to abuse in a variety of ways.


3. Listening to non-Christians talking in pubs, clubs etc., or observing the writings of some of the most popular tabloids, it is quite obvious that there is a very strong undercurrent still within the country – despite the Law and despite the Media – that is highly derogatory (and even violent in attitude at least) towards gays.


4. There is therefore, I suggest, a greater negative feeling within the non-Christian world about gays than there is in the Christian world. To pillory the church for its stance over homosexual behaviour ignores the feelings of a much bigger people grouping in this country, that mostly remains ‘under cover' because it realises is runs contrary to the Law and the Media.


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Part 4: Faith and the Sanctity of Human Life



Quote 10: p.329


Human Embryos are examples of human life




A PRIMER FOR CONSIDERATION: The bulk of this Part is given over to either hitting the American excesses or simply discussing the illogical stances that are often taken over abortion and euthanasia. Put aside all the negatives about the excesses of the pro-life camp in America, and I suggest the rest would act as a useful Primer for further considerations about abortion and euthanasia. This is not to say that what Richard says exhausts the subjects, for books on ethics do it better, but some of the points he makes are worth thinking through. This is also not to say that I agree with all he says, merely that his points are worth thinking about in order to come to a clearer mind on the subjects.


I'm not quite sure why this Part is in a book on seeing God as a delusion. I suspect it's just a useful tool to hit religious communities which aren't always strictly logical in their thinking. The subjects of abortion and euthanasia are both big and would take up far more room that I consider necessary here.


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Part 5: The Great Beethoven Fallacy



Quote 11: p.337


The point lies in its potential




URBAN MYTH : Richard here takes to task those who would use the argument again abortion about having killed off Beethoven and suggests that much of what is said about this is urban myth and no more. What I have said above, covers all that appears in this Part.



Quote 12: p.340


Absolutist moral discrimination is devastatingly undermined by the fact of evolution




QUESTIONS ABOUT EVOLUTION: Now I find this quite intriguing because mostly I hear evolution referred to as a theory because, as a number of people have said, you can't prove what is millions of years ago history. I have to be honest, as I have sought to be throughout these notes, and declare I have two problems with evolution: a) lots of scientists say some very negative things about evolution [and not just Christians] and b) I have lots of logical questions about evolution that no one has been able to answer. I have decided, to include an Appendix at the end of the notes on the Chapters, specifically questioning this assertion on the two grounds I have just mentioned, so for the moment, I would like to leave it there.

LINK to Appendix 4 - Quotes about Evolution


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Part 6: How ‘Moderation' in Faith fosters fanaticism


Quote 13: p.341


the dark side of absolutism




IMMODERATION?: I'm not sure where the word ‘moderation' comes in. From the outset Richard speaks about the excesses of Saudi Arabia, briefly mentions the ‘rapture' Christians of America, and then for the next four pages speaks about Islam. There nothing about moderation in any of these examples. I think his point in this section is that the Islamic community (?in Britain) although moderate, fosters and allows fanaticism to grow. The Islamic community will have to answer that one.


LINK to Appendix 8 - Facts, Formulas & Freaky Behaviour



Quote 14: p.346


Christianity… teaches children that unquestioned faith is a virtue




IGNORANCE OF FAITH: I really don't know what world Richard inhabits but his generalising leaves a large percentage of us insulted. My teaching style, and that of many of my colleagues, requires Bible students to ask questions. This is an absurdity that just appeals to the illiterate gallery! At the end of p.347 he repeats this and says “Faith is an evil precisely because it requires no justification and brooks no argument.”

As we've had to comment more than a few times in this book, this is Richard displaying his phenomenal ignorance of the Christian faith. I may be unfair to Richard because his closing comments in this chapter appear to refer to Islam. I would love to see him writing a book to the world Islamic community and see what happens.

LINK to Appendix 2 - Basic Christian Beliefs


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NB. In what follows Q stand for ‘Quote'



In his preamble to this chapter, Richard seeks to excuse himself for his rudeness.


Along the way I have pointed out that:

  • The opening quote that he uses is an appalling mis-portrayal of the truth of Christianity and only goes to confirm yet again he has little knowledge of the Christian faith, (Q.1)
  • He seeks to excuse himself by comparing himself (favourably) to religious fanatic bombers. It's a bit like a man who killed his wife comparing himself to a serial killer and saying, I'm not bad really. (Q.2)



Part 1: Fundamentalism and the Subversion of Science


The point he seeks to make here, I believe, is that anyone who believes the Bible is against science. A slight misunderstanding to say the least!


Along the way I have pointed out that:

  • Testimony and years of learning undermine his thesis of fixed, ignorant minds (implied). (Q.3)
  • His case about ignoring evidence or throwing out the Bible, falls as soon as you realise that the Bible is not a scientific text book and often needs interpretation. (Q.4)
  • Richard displays a staggering apparent lack of self-awareness in what he believes about himself. (Q.5)
  • His explanation of why he dislikes religion reveals further lacks of understanding which he seeks to bolster by citing another confused scientist. (Q.6)
  • He fails to acknowledge that science is not as precise as he would like to portray and that his position is not as clear as he makes out. (Q.7)


Part 2: The Dark Side of Absolutism


This Part is a terrible example of one-sided arguing by using extremes and avoiding the middle ground. (Q.8)



Part 3: Faith and Homosexuality


This is mostly a tirade for private homosexuality, again from one sided examples, and ignoring the wide spectrum of feeling about the subject in the country, that is more secular than religious! (Q.9)



Part 4: Faith and the Sanctity of Human Life


This Part, although not exhaustive, once you take out the hits against American extremists, is a useful Primer for considering the finer points of abortion and euthanasia. (Q.10)



Part 5: The Great Beethoven Fallacy


He points out that the Beethoven fallacy is an urban myth (Q.11) and reveals what, I suggest, is an untenable position over evolution. (Q.12)



Part 6: How ‘Moderation' in Faith Fosters Fanaticism


This should really be “Moderation in Islamic Faith” because that is what a large part of this is about, after a brief hit at extreme America again. (Q.13) He concludes with a section on children and faith which only goes again to reveal his misunderstandings of elements of the Christian faith. (Q.14) His only appeal to the title of this Part comes in the references to the Islamic bombers. Apart from that the title seems most inappropriate.



Overall Comment:


This is a chapter, sadly, which is inundated with extremes as examples and misunderstandings galore. It has in the midst of it some challenging thinking about abortion and euthanasia which might provoke those who resort to bad verse-quoting, to think deeply about some of these issues, and come to some more coherent views, and also renounce extremist activists who take life to save life. This will not rest comfortably with some, especially in America, but we, the Christian community are supposed to be a community of truth. It is possible that sometimes our superficiality only reflects the superficiality that so often appears in this book. That should not be so.


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