February 20, 2007

God Delusion - Some thoughts.

Reading God Delusion by Richard Dawkins was thoroughly enjoyable and immensely instructive. In the book Dawkins talks at length about knowledge of natural selection as a "consciousness raiser" regarding the origins of the universe. He says that this book is intended as a consciousness raiser regarding atheism: atheists can lead lives that are "happy, balanced, moral, and intellectually fulfilled" and there is nothing to be apologetic about atheism.

This book certainly raised my consciousness, though in a slightly different way. I was never actively religious and I did not think being an atheist was a big deal. But I also never seriously confronted the idea of religion and tended to be agnostic about it. That meant I did not fully appreciate various shades of religiosity and their consequences. The first important lesson from the book for me is a clear realization of the poverty of religion in all of its roles: as an explainer, as a comforter, as a moralizer etc.

The second lesson is a clearer idea of the power of science to explain the universe. In a very vague and general sense I always knew that science is incredibly successful at explaining the nature. But this book made me see this in a very concrete way and gave me an intense desire to pursue this idea further. Dawkins quotes Richard Feynman, comparing the precision of quantum mechanics's predictions about real world, "to predicting a distance as great as the width of North America to an accuracy of one human hair's breadth". This is just an example of how powerful science is. It's clear in view of this realization how utterly ridiculous any recourse to religion is when attempting to explain nature.

Dawkins is pretty systematic in his treatment of religion. He takes as the contentious issue the very believable "God Hypothesis":
There exists a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us.

He persuasively argues that we should treat this as a scientific hypothesis and then destroys it. He proposes an alternate view:
Any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution.

He covers a whole gamut of issues: supposed "proofs" of god's existence, religion's role in morality, evolutionary basis of religion's development etc. His writing is delightful and the points he raises provide lot of food for thought.

Aside from the incisive criticism of the content of religion, Dawkins also attacks the "methodology of religion". The fundamental premise of religion is belief without evidence. Religion systematizes this premise and compels people to live in happy ignorance. Dawkins forcefully reasons why this widespread practice of belief without evidence paves the way for fanatical application of religion that is becoming all too common today.

I initially intended to write a detailed review of the book to encompass all the key ideas. But then days of procrastination turned into weeks and the due date for the library is now upon me. I decided finally that such a review is not necessary. It can't in a million years substitute for the book and I can't do better than simply urge you to go read it.


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