Thursday, February 1, 2007

"The God Delusion" or I'm not that kind of atheist. (Pt. I)

I finished Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion about a month ago. I would like to write a full review, but with school starting I doubt that I will have time. There are several topics that I would like include in a review. Some of these will be the subject of blog posts from time to time.

Dawkins' book left me with the feeling that I'm a different kind of atheist than he is. Dawkins believes that someway, somehow, all differences can be resolved. He has a faith that apparently irreconcilable differences can be resolved. For him it seems that the natural sciences strive to think the thoughts of God before Creation. Intuitively, setting aside issues of His existence and the like, the natural sciences strive to answer the question what would God have to know in order to create the world around us. Consequently, there is also a faith seen in many natural scientists that reality is fundamentally harmonious and conflict is illusion and deceptive. I think this the meaning of the passages on the beauty of the Theory of Evolution as well as why he quotes various natural scientists waxing poetic about the beauty of Nature and her laws.

What kind of atheist am I? I'm not quite so optimistic as Dawkins that reality really is harmonious and that opposites and conflicts can be reconciled. In a nutshell: I don't think there is any intrinsic harmony between reality and human wishes, needs, and desires. I particularly like how Cornelius Castoriadis phrased this problem:

The creation of democracy and philosophy and the link between them has its essential precondition in the Greek vision of the world and human life, the nucleus of the Greek imaginary. This can perhaps be clarified by the three questions in which Kant summarizes the interests of Man. About the first two: What can I know? What ought I to do? an endless discussion begins in Greece, and there is no “Greek answer” to them. But to the third question: What am I allowed to hope for? there is a definite and clear Greek answer, and this is a massive and resounding nothing. And evidently it is the true answer.

[Cornelius Castoriadis, Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy: Essays in Political Philosophy, “The Greek Polis and the Creation of Democracy,” (Oxford University Press, New York: 1991), p. 102.]

What may I hope for? Christians treat the lack of any basis for hope as a refutation in itself. It's been said that Christians can't write tragedy, because they believe that human suffering in this world is minuscule when compared to the joys that await Christians in the world to come. I agree with the first of the Buddha's Four Noble Truths: Existence is suffering. What this means is that there is suffering. The world is always out of sync with human wishes, needs, and desires. No one is at fault: not the devil, not Woman, other people, God, or whoever. There is no metaphysical conspiracy without which human beings would not otherwise suffer frustration, pain, and sickness.

This being out of sync suggests that Nature and her ways are also not amenable to human understanding. For the kind of creatures that we have become with our evolutionary history, it may very well be necessary that reality, God, a faith in a fundamental harmony to existence, is a necessity.

Our intellect did not arise so that we may understand the world around us. It arose so that we might persist a little longer before dying and to have offspring. Understanding the world around us is at best a side-effect, and more likely it is a charade put on by our drives and desires. Naive self-deception is more likely to be the norm. Human beings are astonishingly good at believing that what they need to believe to be true is in fact true.

Of course, if one believes the Truth, and not merely the pursuit of truth, is of inestimable value then that last sentence is particularly depressing. But what can I say? Life sucks, but it rarely sucks completely and without reserve.

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