Thursday, 14 April 2016

Encountering Dawkins on Religion

Reading The God Delusion as Delusions about Being.
Richard Dawkins is the new prophet of atheism and a great missionary of evolutionary science. He is feared by most of popular preachers whom he deconstructs in debates. He combines wit and iconoclastic zeal with brilliant oratory to popularize evolution and atheism. However his popularity owes something to simplistic generalizations about religion that attract popular imagination. In places brilliant critique of abuses of religion and shallow doctrinaire exotericism (Zaahir Parasti) and credulity of a significant faction of believing camp, is combined with ideas and constructions  that are  both misleading and shallow. Since Dawkins is now a presence and his work a new Bible for some critics of religion and atheists, we need to engage with him to understand both modern man’s alienation from religion that he understands little and misreads much if we assume that it is saints and sages and philosophers of religions that present the real face of it. We aren’t going to tame this bull in the china house of faith  but try to understand his rage.  On every page of his book is something to embarrass a Mullah or even a sophisticated religious scholar who isn’t informed about tenor of modern scientific outlook. He rubbishes familiar arguments we see advocates of religion invoking. Science has succeeded in dislodging the religion of the Mullah – we can see that Mullahs made much of  fill-in-the-blanks-argument and tried to defend none knows the sex of child in the womb or none can predict tomorrow’s weather.
      For me the best defense against him is to yield to his scathing critique on many points – let us learn to be humble and learn from him and far more sophisticated atheists than him, and then examine a few key points where he misidentifies the target or throws the baby with the bathwater. Let us note some points that may merit consideration by Dawkins admirers and critics. I focus on clarifying the grammar of religious belief or term God, and I think we can appreciate his position while stating our own and showing that it is not all or none option that we are forced to take. We can agree with Dawkins on the following key points, among others:
  • Evolution in form of different species is considered quite plausible by what closely approximates as ijma (consensus) of scientific community. It has been found to be highly useful idea that helps explain a lot and creationism as popularly taught in contradistinction to evolution in biology is purely speculative and has failed to provide a method for doing science or explaining in any better way much that evolution explains. Evolutionary science is based on certain premises and evidences that are hard to challenge though it suffers from various deficiencies. We live in a world shaped by this science. “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution,” Dobzhansky said long ago. Now we know we are all witness to the phenomenal progress of biology. Evolution, one important definition states, is descent with modification. Evolution in some sense can’t be denied. Methodological naturalism that grounds it too is almost impossible to refute as far as doing science with this in background is the key practice today. Who can deny the animal in himself or herself? Our behavior can’t be explained if we discount any kind of relationship to animals. Darwin’s book The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals needs to be read if one has any doubt. And we just need to think how many times we say about someone that he is an animal.
  • That literalist theology is scientifically or rationally indefensible. And only some Mullahs are  consistently literalist.
  • That the existence of evil in the world forces us to abandon simplistic thesis of divine goodness and power anthropomorphically conceived.
  • That we needn’t invoke miracles as constituting breach of laws of nature. We need to read the most well known spiritualist Madame Blavatsky on miracles that are done by knowing laws better rather than breaking them. One might also read Schuon on “naturally supernatural” character of intellect or his definition of Revelation as macrocosmic objectvization of the Universal Intellect to understand how problematic is division between natural and supernatural as popularly posited. 
  • That religious fundamentalism has served neither religion nor truth and we must resist baneful influence of teaching religion in a way that excludes, creates holier than thou attitude, oppresses women and feeds an imperialistic theology.
Some points that put Dawkins in perspective and critique his distortions or misapplications include, among others:
  • Religion criticizes metaphysical claims of modern evolutionism and needn’t deny evolutionary biology as far as empirical evidence implies it. Great religious thinkers contest philosophical uses of evolutionary biology and social Darwinism. Evolutionist metaphysics is riddled with too many problems to warrant serious consideration. Reductionist naturalism applied to consciousness/spirit/intelligence is laughable. 
  • It isn’t the truth but problem solving capacity of evolutionary biology that needs our attention. Science can’t fight symbolic, existential truths and in fact deeper questions it leaves out as it focuses on fallible models predicting certain results. If science deals with truth, it is not the metaphysical truth but truths we construct and keep refining.
  • Dawkins says he is interested in knowing about what is true and religion doesn’t fit the bill. Now religion is interested in saving people from suffering – and hell – and not truth itself.
  • Argument from selfish gene thesis needs to be properly appreciated rather than straightway condemned. It is parasitic on a profound truth that all life is individual and we can appreciate or experience anything only in terms of primordial experience of subjectivity or self – from Plato to Iqbal we have traditional arguments for enlightened self interest  or what Iqbal phrases as Khudi ki zed mei sari khudayi.
  • Dawkins creates a ghost out of the body and spirit of religion and then proves ghost is a figment of imagination. He doesn’t engage with any theologian properly; he quotes his own imagined definition of God or Beyond or supernatural that he pitches against the natural and empirical and then finds it easy to question.
  • Dawkins attacks (personal) God and mystics talk about Godhead, Absolute, Self, Ground of Being, Unity of Existence instead of existence of personal God taken as Absolute.
  • Dawkins attack God of heavens, a supernatural God who is to be believed without evidence. Mystics talk about God within who is to be realized or witnessed rather than believed on authority.
  • Dawkins is uncompromising champion of reason and evidence. So is Buddha, a founder of a mystical religion.
  • Michael Ruse, atheist and philosopher of science, questions Dawkins and thinks it is shameful to be an atheist if God Delusion is the standard. He accuses him of failing to engage with sophisticated religious thinkers and therefore keeps repeating simplistic notions. 
  • There are no absolute proofs for God but there are five and in fact many more ways of finding God that though not formal and indubitable proofs are very strong pointers. How convincing are they may be decided by reading their modern statement by Maritain and Kreeft’s defense in The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. If we refuse to entertain any theistic thesis, howsoever sophisticated, we have likes of Heidegger and Wittgenstein and Derrida and Levinas talking about quasidivine nature of Being (Being can’t be refuted by Dawkinian strategy). The fact that Dawkins doesn’t engage with highly sophisticated religious and secular understanding of the grammar of religious belief or God-talk or language-of-transcendence forces us to say that he knows so little about philosophical theology as Harun Yaha knows about evolution. Both utterly fail to impress us.
  • The only task that if performed would silence Dawkins and his fundamentalist theological critics is showing how theology is autology (science of Self) and translating theological terms into existential language of certain mystics or leading theology back to its source in metaphysics. Then we don’t use word God but Being and thus we can’t have a title like God Delusion.

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