A few days ago, I finally finished reading a book authored 7 years ago. In my defense, I had a helluva time understanding my previous read "Thus Spake Zarathustra". It was a compelling and thought provoking read, and it did give me some 'a-ha' moments which have definitely raised my consciousness so I though I'll put some of the major talking points of the book right here for the tl;dr generation (of which I'm apologetically a part of).
Although a fairly unbiased account, the book didn't seem to present any provoking and substantive argument till I'd reached the middle of the book. Unsurprisingly, the 'conscious-raising' moments came around this part. Still, even though the first half of the book is part christian bashing rant, it does offer up many insights into the mindset of the theists and the kind of arguments (easily debunked by Mathematicians, Physicists & Anthropologists) they've come up with to defend their belief systems. One thing Dawkins wants to make clear is that the book does not intend to discredit religiousness of the philosophical, or as he calls it, the 'Einsteinian' kind; which is
“a sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection”. He especially intends disprove the God Hypothesis put forward by supernatural gods or personal gods (of the Abrahamic kind).
“As H. L. Mencken said: 'We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.”
The God Hypothesis
A large part of the initial chapters is dedicated to explaining and expounding on the different types of agnosticism, namely,
- TAP or Temporary Agnosticism in Practice - The belief that there is an answer to the question "Why are we here?" and we just haven't found the evidence for it, or don't understand it.
- PAP or Permanent Agnosticism in Principle - The belief that some questions can never be answered, no matter how much evidence we gather. It's beyond our reach.
According to Dawkins (and I'm a believer of this contention as well), is that many intellectuals are unfortunately too eager to accept PAP as the proper stance to take. The folly here being that God has an equal probability of existence and non-existance. Dawkins put forwards the idea that the God Hypothesis is a scientific hypothesis like any other and the current evidence puts the probability of God's existence in a very remote area (much lower than the 50% advocated by PAP). One major hurdle we (atheists) face today is that there a number of things whose existence is undisprovable, like the Unicorn, or The Flying Spaghetti Monster, but the hypothesis of their existence is very rationally not put on an even footing with the hypothesis of their non-existence. Why then, the burden of proof not rest with the believers rather than the non-believers. Simply put, the odds in favor of God's existence are not equal to the odds against as most agnostics would have us believe.
Stephen J. Gould while asserting that Science cannot simply comment on God's possible superintendence of nature, coined the term NOMA or Non-Overlapping MAgisterial. In essence, it states, the it's the magisterium (the net) of science that covers the realm of fact and theory, while, the magisterium of religion extends over questions of the ultimate meaning and moral value, and they cannot overlap inquiries. It sounds all well, until you ask if What these questions are that religion can so successfully answer while science must slink away?. As rational and logical beings we must concur that if a question lies beyond science, how are they not beyond philosophers and theologians. Dawkins agrees:
“Perhaps there are some genuinely profound and meaningful questions that are forever beyond the reach of science. Maybe quantum theory is already knocking on the door of the unfathomable. But if science cannot answer some ultimate question, what makes anybody think that religion can?”...“we can all agree that science's entitlement to advise us on moral values is problematic, to say the least. But does Gould really want to cede to religion the right to tell us what is good and what is bad? The fact that it has nothing else to contribute to human wisdom is no reason to hand religion a free license to tell us what to do. Which religion, anyway?”
And what happens when the magisterium of religion tries to dictate that God makes planets move the way they move, or how fire works the way it works, while pioneers and astronomy, physics and chemistry have discovered the reasons for them doing so already. Such claims of God suspending the laws of nature on will undermine this universally accepted dictum that science must say silent on claims of religion. The book considers a case, where, say sometime in the future, some scientists actually discover DNA evidence that Jesus really did lack a biological father. Would Religion say, "Whatever, science exists in a separate universe anyway." or would it use this scientific discovery to justify a conviction it already had in-spite of earlier evidence, while tossing away all the rest of contradictions that have piled up over the ages. Ironically, the Roman Catholic Church aspires to a NOMA friendly doctrine, while still asserting that a performance of miracles is an essential qualification of sainthood. NOMA then, ceases to be a two-way bargain.