WHY?

The first post tells why. It may be too little, but hopefully not too late.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

“Scientific” Atheism

The popular (bestselling!) book, “The God Delusion”, tells more, and definitely more convincingly, about its author, Richard Dawkins (and so many others of his mindset), than of its purported subject. Inconsequential as it is from the enlightenment standpoint, it is definitely not The Guide for the Perplexed. If anything, it may add to the confusion of Dawkins's audience, adolescents, who are biologically driven to distance themselves from parents and therefore their beliefs. Because of that, and since nobody asked me to write a formal review of this book (no surprise here), I’ll just have some thoughts about and around it.

Scientists are primates (in case you had doubts)
Scientists' supposedly high intelligence is but a thin veneer on their human, primate, nature, sometimes making that nature shine all the brighter. As other humans, they are often vain and petty - and not just with their pet theories, which are proffered with intensity fitting a prophet, regardless of how small their impact could be. My statistics professor found nothing better on which to focus than on his long-lasting conflict with a colleague, who, in his obstinate benightedness, used x bar to denote average, whereas our esteemed teacher wisely used capital M. Talk about Lilliput and the Big- vs. Little-Endian conflict. Methods in research, when only possible, are as subject to fashion as dimensions of pants at some royal court, which everybody was supposed to maintain if he were to have a chance of being 'in'. I’d list some funny examples of the changing vogue from genetic research, my field, if they were not so boring and banal at the same time. A researcher's attainment of a position in academia frequently imbues him with the sense of infallibility - not just in his scientific judgments, but in anything where a lack of knowledge may pass unnoticed among the like minds - e.g., politics, international relations, religion. (Yes, I may be afflicted as well).

Dawkins the prophet
Which brings me back to Dawkins. Rarely have I seen such sincere and unchecked infantile messianism as in that book of his. It does not matter whether the new prophet rejects "religion" (it's his business); what matters is that he "hope[s] that nobody who reads this book will be able to say, 'I didn't know I could'." Oy-vey! This is the same  hope, nay, confidence, that Muhammad had - you remember, the one whose pictures may leave you headless. Surely, in that other "prophet" case the repercussions for humanity have been more drastic: because it is not possible, after he blessed humankind with the Koran, to say, "I didn't know", there is no other way than the global acceptance of Islam. Muhammad's jihad against non-believers is certainly deadlier than Dawkins's disdain for them (oops, his non-believers are "religious"). This, however, doesn't change the essence of this primate behavior: the desire to dominate - if not over body then over mind. Any doubts are verboten.

As would any "prophet" who has just been blessed with epiphany, he demands of his followers purity of the doctrine, relegating, as did Muhammad, the rest to the hypocrite category. The only options he entertains for those infidels are either their lack of intelligence, or their acting cynically to get the Templeton prize (as Dawkins half-jokingly cites a half-joke of Dennett that he should do that if he falls on "hard times"), or, at best, their self-deception while deceiving others. The first option becomes less likely if you are in the select group of "elite scientists". But then you simply are a statistically negligible case, still likely to merely "sound Christian" while most likely being atheistic in reality. In any event, Dawkins knows better: he even "satirically" imputes thoughts to Dyson, one of the "elite", who had the dishonesty or stupidity, if you believe Dawkins, to accept the prize (Dawkins condescends that "Freeman Dyson is way above being corrupted", clearly meaning the opposite).

Logic
Dawkins decides which arguments are worth considering, what attributes of God to dismiss, and how this term should be defined for this 'scientist' to better disabuse the public of such a preposterous notion. Intellectual dishonesty is always characteristic of false prophets. Dawkins invited himself to be not only judge and jury, but prosecutor and defense attorney. This allows him to safely but fruitlessly argue without an opponent. This is a game of chess with himself, with the outcome preset. Surely he can defeat any argument of the 'opponent', straw men sitting at the table with red herrings – logical fallacies abound. Among those, there is repeated appeal to authority, i.e., to "elite" scientists, many of whom did not endorse some poll's statement about a personal god. Correlation (of high intelligence with doubts of this nature) does not mean causation and, least of all, objective support for atheism. Not only scientists are prone to mistakes in anything that is not their immediate domain (and in that too, by the way), but they may be more prone to some of them than a common Joe Blow is.

The ability to believe is necessary for information transfer. Those who produce information (scientists nowadays) should be less likely to uncritically accept anything, especially something that they cannot in principle verify by commonly available scientific means. Clearly, the proportion of information producents has always been small - ever since some of them (surprise, priests) separated from the crowd. The role of priests, who were the original scientists (Mendel, the founder of genetics, included :)), was the same as today's scientists'. This is probably why some of the latter, when immature like Dawkins, have Oedipal fantasies toward the “religious” or simply are anxious because of perceived competition.

Rhinoceros horn
Spinning Darwinism to satisfy his agenda, Dawkins applies at will, when it suits him, obnoxiously conceited and banal value judgments to phenomena deserving much better, particularly in the evolutionary context. For instance, the native legend that the horn has aphrodisiac properties is 'fatuous' to him, despite his earlier citings about the placebo mechanisms of homeopathy, which make it thus very different from 'magic' he invokes. Were he not so ideologically engaged, it would not take him much to infer a clear evolutionary benefit to the human ability to employ effective placebo mechanisms in the absence of other means to deal with disease, grief, stress, etc. He would also see that a placebo effect does not rule out the real one, which can be even further augmented by the placebo effect. This, however, would require exercising some logic.

...ex machina
For all the absolute rejection of religion, professed by Dawkins, he could find nothing better to offer than the expression of what he calls "our consensual ethics" (p. 298), which, in his opinion, "has no obvious connection with religion". Well, except for the name, "New Ten Commandments", and a little detail that the first commandment is the negative Golden Rule (do not do unto others...) as formulated by the great Jewish sage, Rabbi Hillel. That was a century before the same rule, but in its positive form (do unto others...), is said to have been pronounced by Jesus. Hillel formulated that rule in response to a question about the essence of Torah (Judaism) as can be taught while the student stands on one foot. "This is the whole Torah," he said, "the rest is commentary. Go and learn."

The "New Ten", written by a plagiarizing "ordinary web logger" (definitely no sage, to see which the reader does not need Dawkins's comment), are either redundant or trivial. Dawkins qualifies as neither a new Moses nor a new Hillel by adding to those ten his own 'progressive' four, the first being his order to enjoy one's sex life. He cautiously (probably so that it would not be perceived as sanctioning rape for those who like it) adds, "as long as it damages nobody else", leaving the reader under impression that one's sex life inevitably damages at least him/her, if not more people.

It is hard to imagine that Dawkins does not know the origin of the Rule, again illustrating his dishonesty or, at best, ignorance. The Bible-plagiarizing Moral Code of the Builder of Communism in the atheist Soviet Union was another example of “consensual ethics”, apparently coming from nowhere. At least the communists did not plagiarize the title.

It is simply not interesting to see his tried and tired and recycled Marxian spiel, his Old Worldian comme il faut derision for America, and newly fashionable antisemitism (the ominous influence of the nefarious Jewish lobby - he does not even attempt to gentrify it by its 'Israel' moniker). In general, unless you are a Dawkins, another man’s faith is not of your concern - as long as it does not drive him to change yours or kill you. Whatever your faith is, mine, Judaism, says it’s the deeds that matter. As Maimonides wrote (translation in Am J Psychiatry, 2008, 165, p. 426),
As for religious commandments, however, the harm and benefit that they bring are not evident in this world. The fool might, therefore, imagine to himself that everything that is said to be harmful is not harmful, and everything that is said to be beneficial is not beneficial, because these things are not clearly evident to him. For this reason religious law compels one to practice good and punishes for doing evil, for the good and evil will only become apparent in the world-to-come. All this is benevolence toward us, a favor to us in light of our foolishness, mercy upon us owing to the weakness of our understanding.

Dawkins will not change anybody’s faith with his arguments, much as he tries. Naïve, they are so much alike those we heard during classes in 'Scientific Atheism', which were mandatory for every student – back in the USSR.

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