Monday, November 26, 2007

The God Delusion, Chapter 10 – A much needed gap?


Is a belief in God beneficial? Do we need God in our lives? Richard Dawkins discusses this issue in chapter 10 of the God Delusion. The first point he makes is that, whether or not a belief in God is beneficial in terms of psychological health or whatever, says nothing about the existence of God. There are studies indicating that religious people, on average are happier and healthier than atheists. The difference was not big but it was significant. However, it would be very erroneous to conclude that just because religion is correlated with happiness, God must exist… Dawkins writes:

"Religion's power to console doesn't make it true. Even if we make a huge concession; even if it were conclusively demonstrated that belief in God's existence is completely essential to human psychological and emotional well-being; even if all atheists were despairing neurotics driven to suicide by relentless cosmic angst - none of this would contribute the tiniest jot or tittle of evidence that religious belief is true. It might be evidence in favour of the desirability of convincing yourself that God exists, even if he doesn't."

Personally I do think that the world would be a better place if people would have an evidence based world view. Politicians today often get stuck when religious arguments are brought to the table. Should Jerusalem be in the possession of the Israeli, or the Palestinian's? How do you argue with Bush when he claims that the Iraq invasion was a mission given to him by God? There is just not so much you can say in response to such an argument. To be fair, this was not his primary argument for going to war, but my point stands nevertheless.

I do not believe in God, yet I consider myself happy and I enjoy my life. When I face misfortunes I do not pray to God to help me, rather I try to come up with a concrete and effective solution to whatever it is I am facing. I realize of course that I have been born in a wealthy part of the world and that my miseries are nothing compared to the miseries that the average human being must face, yet even for them I think that it would be better not to rely on God to console and fix things. An additional bonus that you get as an atheist, at least to the extent that atheists do not believe in reincarnation, is that you value your time here on earth more. I do not believe that I will be reborn when I die, therefore I want to make the best of the time that I have here on this planet. For this reason I am also unlikely to end up as a suicide bomber. Only a very religious person would sacrifice something as valuable as his or her own life in order to kill other innocent people.

In short, there are plenty of reasons to be grateful for our time here on earth. One does not need God to have some substance in life. My life is filled with substance, and I think that for most people, even for religious people, the principal sources of happiness lie outside of the realm of religion. I end with these words from the God Delusion which illustrates my point well.



"But could it be that God clutters up a gap that we'd be better off filling with something else? Science, perhaps? Art? Human friendship? Humanism? Love of this life in the real world, giving no credence to other lives beyond the grave? A love of nature, or what the great entomologist E. O. Wilson has called Biophilia"

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

true, but people may be engaging with their super-ego state when they believe in 'god'and are not trying to fill time but are exhibiting memories of parent/authority relationships. animal domination structures may be the basis of religion and all traces of authoritarianism may have to be nixed from human developement before religion/god belief tendencies ceased in humans. which may be an evolutionary jump from now and not easy for current humans.

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rasmussenanders said...

Thank you for the comment,

If I understand you correctly you are saying that religion is a phenomenon favored by natural selection and that therefore it will be hard to abolish it (correct me if I am mistaken).

I have no objection to your description really. I think that religion probably did and maybe still has some advantages in evolutionary terms. Yet I also believe that overall we would be better of without it, and the way to get there is to discuss and write about it. That is what I am doing...

SHock said...

"Only a very religious person would sacrifice something as valuable as his or her own life in order to kill other innocent people."

This may sometimes be the case, but I do not think this is the main reason. Dispair, honour and the thought that you will die for a cause and for a better life for those who will still be around are probably much more prevalent. How many millions haven´t died for the country, the king, the honour, family and friends? Most suicide bombers think they are at war and that the innocent victims are collateral damage.

Most people who kill innocent people and then kill themselves either think they are in war or are derangend. Look at the school shootings in Finland. That kid shot a lot of innocent people and then took a bullit to his own head. All in the name of getting rid of stupid people. He thought in some ways he was at war against the human race.

rasmussenanders said...

Thank you for the comment Shock.
My wife actually had the same objection when she read the text, and I am bound to agree with you both.

The phenomenon of people sacrificing their own life in order to kill innocent people is present outside of religion. However, I will maintain that the case is extraordinarily clear when it comes to religion. There is a semantic problem of defining innocent people. I do not for instance consider military agents to be "innocent". Also I draw a line between those who were intended to be killed and those who die as a result of collateral damage.

The implication is that if you fight for your country, you are not killing innocent people. Also soldiers are often merely risking their life, not sacrificing it, an important difference.

The shootings in Finlad were done by a clearly disturbed person with a clearly disturbed representation of the world around him, something which he and many suicide bombers has in common. The difference is that the school shooter was not part of a prevalant institution.

I don't know if this got a whole lot clearer. In sum I do think that you are right in principle, though there are still differences between the cases that you (and I) have talked about.

SHock said...

The thing is I do think that many of the suicide bombers believe that the people they kill are not that innocent. At least I guess that is how they justify their deeds. However I don´t know if this really is how they think.

"Also soldiers are often merely risking their life, not sacrificing it, an important difference."

This is a very late phenomena. Earlier it was your honour to die for your country and your leaders. That is why it is so difficult for modern societies to go to war. Very few are prepaired to die for honour nowadays. During WWI you could have 100 000 men dying during a single day just trying to take a hill.

rasmussenanders said...

Thank you again for the comment.
There was honour in dying for your country, sure. But they did not go to the battlefield for the purpose of dying, they went there to take the hill (or whatever).

Concerning the suicide bomber I would also expect that they lump together everyone from a particular and then see them all as guilty, even though there is very likely a few people who actually sympathise with the suicide bombers own cause.

When I speak about innocent people I am (implicitly) using a more objective definition. I would say that civilans, who are not part of a miliatary or another agency such as CIA, then that person would be an innocent victim should he/she be the victim of a suicide bomber. The fact that the suicide bomber believes that the person was guilty does not make any difference.

Anonymous said...

"Religion's power to console doesn't make it true. Even if we make a huge concession; even if it were conclusively demonstrated that belief in God's existence is completely essential to human psychological and emotional well-being; even if all atheists were despairing neurotics driven to suicide by relentless cosmic angst - none of this would contribute the tiniest jot or tittle of evidence that religious belief is true. It might be evidence in favour of the desirability of convincing yourself that God exists, even if he doesn't."

LOL! I see Dawkins is still the blind scientist. The same could be said for much of science. Just because a theory works does not mean it's true. Of course that's nonsense and so is Dawkin's postulate. If it works, get a clue. Maybe it is true. If it is not, then explain why has to work rather than sidestepping the issue.

I want thank you for writing this book report. Now I don't have to waste my money buying Dawkin's book. I was a loyal customer and read his Blind Watchmaker, but after joining his site and being treated like dirt by his band of thugs who make up his constituents there, I have decided to drop him from my books-to-read list. You seem like a reasonable sort. What the heck is wrong with those jerks who frequent his web site?