Erik Graff's Reviews > The God Delusion

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
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's review
Nov 06, 2010

did not like it
bookshelves: religion
Recommended to Erik by: A.M.
Recommended for: biblical inerrancists
Read in January, 2007

When others throw such words as "god" or "spiritual" or "soul" into their conversation I must ask them what they're talking about unless the context is clear. Unchurched, when I was a kid I thought they all meant something, something obscure to me, but still significant. Feeling ignorant and ashamed of this, I generally would let such remarks pass, but they haunted me.

The study of Latin in high school was a start in unpacking such nebulous words via etymology. I was lousy at Latin, good at effortlessly retaining word roots. In college this interest expanded into Greek and German. "Spirit", I learned, was a wind or breath word which came in its various forms to be associated with life and its principles. That made sense. "God" was more obscure, becoming even more nebulous upon my first reading of the bible. There the concept seemed more a whole host of concepts bearing what Wittgenstein called "a family resemblance" to one another, concepts ranging from war host(s) to clan leader to monarch within contexts ranging from polytheism and henotheism to monotheism and even to the neo-Platonic theory of forms. "God", in its biblical reference at least, was nebulous certainly, but one could discern discreet elements to the cloud of metaphors and concepts.

I got a degree in religion in college, went on to four years of seminary, proceeded to degrees in depth psychology and philosophy, read and continued to read quite a lot about religions, theologies and metaphysics. Along the way, on a few occasions, I even encountered a few apparently non-human, but intelligent, entities, some by my own intention via "consciousness-expanding" drugs, some quite by surprise--enough, in any case, to appreciate the possible experiential bases for belief in such extraordinary entities.

Then, of course, there are dreams. We, all of us, dream and meet in our dreams hosts of apparently non-human, but intelligent entities. We don't, however, generally take our dreams very seriously as witness my treating them in the possessive. We, in our culture, tend to treat dream contents as derivatives of waking life. This has not always been the case, nor is it the case in all cultures. I paid a lot of attention to dreams, keeping daily records of them for at least six years, reading books about dream theory.

Dawkins, unfortunately, appears to have done very little study about any of this. He is upset by the religious right and has at least perused the bible. Reading it as a biblical inerrancist might, he is understandably quite upset. In addition to this, he has also paid some attention to some of the histories of doctrinal orthodoxies in the Christian tradition. There, too, he has been upset by both the conceits of medieval metaphysicians and the intrinsic authoritarianism of the whole mindset. I share these concerns, but have the psychologist's concern to understand whence such doctrinaire
authoritarianisms come from, a concern which, for him, seems to start and end with the observation that many people are either thoughtlessly insecure or cravenly prone to prey on the insecurities and ignorance of others. There are plenty of instances of such to be sure, as witness cynical manipulators like his fellow atheist Karl Rove, but there's more to all of this religion business than that and his simplistic and insulting dismissal of the religious is unlikely to give him much of a hearing among the people he wishes to convert.

Dawkins is a scientist and modern science has prejudices which, while heuristically productive, are limiting. They include (1) a preference for the quantifiable, (2) a rejection of phenomena which are not etiologically reproducible, and (3) a rejection of models of causality which are not etiological. The domains within which these assumptions are profitably employable are many and broad, but they are not exhaustive and they have very little direct bearing on how we experience our lives day to day. While such methods can be, and are, applied to the phenomenology of religious experience, the experience of, say, parapsychological research seems to indicate that some very real phenomena are not--not now at least--replicable. Perhaps they are just too complex, just as god-concepts which try to represent what amounts to the philosophical interpretation of the world must needs be complex and variable.

One of the possible etymologies of "religion" pertains to paying due reverence to ancestors and traditions, much as is found in ancient Roman religion and modern Shinto. While many traditions taught in comparative religion courses are atheistic (classical Buddhism for one), "our" tradition in the West has been predominately tied to one or more kinds of theism for quite some time. If it is okay to treat such precursors as Copernicus or Galileo or Newton or Darwin as revered contributors to our modern scientific interpretations of the the world, then too it should be appropriate to pay a bit more reverence for and attention to the theologians, their circumstances, their evidences, their methods and their interpretations.
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Comments (showing 1-12 of 12) (12 new)

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Mohit Parikh His haughtiness is repulsive.

message 2: by Erik (new) - rated it 1 star

Erik Graff Haughtiness upon ignorance. Yes.

Mohit Parikh "I even encountered a few apparently non-human, but intelligent, entities"
How were you able to conclude they were intelligent?

Is there a good, authentic book to learn more on this subject? The only reliable accounts (considering Castaneda's as fictional) I know are those of Tolle with, what he defines as, Pain-body.

message 4: by Erik (new) - rated it 1 star

Erik Graff Strassman's DMT: The Spirit Molecule
Hancock's Supernatural
Terence McKenna's various lectures about DMT on the Web
The MIT conference on alien abductions
...and then there's all the UFO abduction stuff, most especially John Mack's books on the subject.

Rakhi Dalal Read Terence McKenna's lecture on DMT and it just left my head spinning! Say do you believe ? I mean have you really encountered such experience? And if you did, what was it like?

Also read about Strassman's DMT, where he describes forty-ninth day of development of Human fetus as "beginning of the soul". What is your observation on this?

message 6: by Erik (new) - rated it 1 star

Erik Graff The descriptions in McKenna, Stassman, Hancock and Rogan (Joe Rogan is an American comedian. You can hear his description of a DMT experience on YouTube) are certainly believable based on my experiences with psychotropics. What's most intriguing, however, is their similarity and its suggestion that there is something objective, something real, about what they've experienced.

Personally, I've only once encountered a nonhuman intelligence (it was silent but clothed, so I assume it was intelligent) under the influence of LSD--a nonhuman entity, indeed a "world", which had no correspondence to my actual surroundings at the time.

The 49th day business I presume has to do with the fetal development of the nervous system. Personally, I don't like the use of the word "soul" in this context because it's too loaded.


message 7: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Obrigewitsch Religion VS. Atheism is the new Opiate for the masses.

message 8: by Raposa (new)

Raposa Good review, but it got me a little confused on the matter: what exactly would be your faith, or religion? Considering what you said of your experiences with drugs etc.

message 9: by Erik (new) - rated it 1 star

Erik Graff I don't subscribe to any organized religion. I have a strong faith that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow and the like.

message 10: by Warwick (new)

Warwick Good review – though must admit I'm a little sceptical of this bit:

the experience of, say, parapsychological research seems to indicate that some very real phenomena are not--not now at least--replicable

Can you give me an example of the kind of thing you're thinking of?

message 11: by Erik (new) - rated it 1 star

Erik Graff ESP phenomena, for instance. They appear to occur, but they appear to be events that cannot be forced.

message 12: by Warwick (new)

Warwick Ah, OK. I haven't yet read or seen anything to convince me that they occur at all (but then perhaps I'm still hooked on replicability). Anyway, I more or less share your views on Dawkins's demerits as a religious analyst, though I do think he's a brilliant popular science writer.

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