Ooh, atheism! Who'd've thought it would become flavour of the month like this? Dawkins' blunt yet shrill The God Delusion didn't convince me at all, it just made me think Dawkins was a bit of a scary megalomaniac. As an atheist, it didn't convince me as a book, as an argument, but then neither have any of the religious responses to it that I've read. Often these argue well enough for the existence of something, i.e. something spiritual (we can't empirically prove or find love, but we know it exists), but none argue convincingly for the specificity of their own very particular brand of religion. Dawkins doesn't get out of the double-bind of needing a prime mover, but equally that is no justification for thinking e.g. that Christ is the way to salvation, nor that "we" need saving. It is a huge leap from arguing that there is "something out there" to being able to posit that your own version of faith is any kind of truth.

Anyway, just landed on the mat, we have AC Grayling's Against All Gods (published by Oberon Books who say: "World renowned philosopher A C Grayling tackles the question of religion head on in this series of bold, unsparing polemics on a topical and highly controversial subject.") Hopefully, I'll be interviewing ACG very soon.

Readers Comments

  1. Hmm, I generally take the idea of Dawkins as a megalomaniac or fundamentalist with a shovel full of salt, as I have yet to see him come anywhere near managing to beat religions on those scores; a large part of the problem seems to me that when atheists are critical of religion it is promptly denounced as intolerant, when religions denounce godlessness it is simply viewed as being within their proper sphere and entirely acceptable. I'm not really sure why you feel a prime mover is required either. It generally seems to me that the universe doesn't require any such entity to have come to its present form (either in terms of cosmology or biology). One might possibly exist in some form regardless, (as a pantheistic property of the universe or in some other non-interventionist form), but that is not a type of deity envisaged by most religions.

  2. Hi Richard,
    You say you "generally take the idea of Dawkins as a megalomaniac or fundamentalist with a shovel full of salt." Fair enough. But they are two different things! I quite deliberately didn't say he was a fundamentalist: fundamentalist atheist, a term often thrown at robust/argumentative atheists, is a term that makes no sense to me either. Atheism is the rejection of a belief; fundamentalism (which begin within American Protestantism) is utterly faith-based. I'm happy for atheists to denounce religious belief as robustly as they can. But I still think Dawkins is "scary": a man with so little doubt about the rightness of his opinions is to me one who can be characterised as (tending towards being) a megalomaniac.
    "Prime mover" was my shorthand for "beginning cause" (I certainly didn't wish to suggest I thought this was an "entity" -- I don't). Science knows what happens microseconds after the Big Bang, but they still don't know "why" the Big Bang itself occurred. The theory of the Big Bang has many holes. This, in no way, justifies the specificity of any religion; it should remind those of a scientistic bent that science continues on a road of discovery, not least one that discovers its own past failures.

  3. What's weird about Dawkins is that he seems to think that in order to be an atheist you have to prove that religion is wrong. You don't. All you need to do to be an atheist is to conduct your life without reference to a deity. It's that simple. You don't have to stand around in front of churches and mosques with nutty look on your face using ancient sacred texts as evidence that your local vicar would burn incestuous couples. Just get up, live and, later, go to sleep. That's all you have to do.

  4. "Just get up, live and, later, go to sleep".

    Repeat until death.

    Now, that's my philosophy right there!

    Lee Rourke.

  5. Bo Aoyama, Tokyo Thursday 08 March 2007

    For an interesting (but long) overview of current lit on this topic, see:

    NYTimes March 4, 2007
    Darwin’s God

  6. I don't see how Dawkins comes across as a megalomaniac, and he certainly doesn't scare me. Megalomania implies dogmatism and Dawkins is anything but dogmatic. His arguments are well taken and expounded with squeaky-window clarity in support of his opinions. Thus he is entitled to stand by those opinions. Just recently on TV, speaking to William Crawley, Dawkins reminded us that he knows what it would take to change his mind.

  7. Martin Dickinson Monday 19 March 2007

    "Just get up, live, and later, go to sleep".

    Very admirable, and a philosophy I try to adopt but unfortunately, and I temporarily forget who said it, "The best lack all conviction whilst the worst are full of passionate intensity". If we did not have the likes of Dawkins to fight the cause of atheism, the religious elements would march on unopposed.

  8. Bertrand Russell said that "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt," very much the same meaning as your quote Martin

  9. What are you all talking about, you lot? The arguments presented in Dawkin's book are all cogent, difficult in the extreme to undermine and conveyed in a really gentle manner. He is erudite, witty and just the sort off person whose intellectual curiosity amazes and inspires. Megalomaniac is a ridiculous insult and so far off the mark that it hardly merits attention. The book sales are driven by his erudition not some supposed aggressive voice. That's why he is selling so many copies. The truth is out. God doesn't exist. Go and live in the Middle East if you want to find out where religion takes us in the end. An incredible waste of time, emotion and resources. Come and live in Europe. Religion has slowly expired here and left us with some delightful empty churches, great food and our complex, if bloody history. That's identity enough.

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