Friday, February 19, 2010

Is God just a delusion? First Meeting Notes

The notes from the first meeting of the Purdue Reading Group discussion on The God Delusion are up. You can read the section of the book that was discussed here for free. It seems at the beginning of the meeting they went over the differences between the words Theist, Deist, Pantheist, and Atheist.
Differences between Theist, Deist, Pantheist, Atheist:
- A theist believes in an intelligent god who cares about the created world.
- A deist believes in an intelligent god who created the world, but doesn't care about it.
- A pantheist (like Einstein) doesn't believe in a creative god, but rather believes in a set of rules that the universe follows. In this sense, god is the universe.
- An atheist doesn't believe in any sort of god (or doesn't care).
On to the section from Dawkins book about Undeserved Respect, here are the notes from the meeting.
Does religion get undeserved respect?
1. It's not a question of respect, it's a question of power.
2. The government can't control religious groups
3. Thus it's pragmatic to not fight against religion
4. The example of the cartoons printed in Danish newspapers isn't about privileging religion, but rather it's about fear.
5. "...the restraint of British newspapers derived less from sensitivity to Muslim discontent than it did from a desire not to have their windows broken." (p. 48)
6. It was brought up that the examples that Dawkins uses aren't normal, and are even in some cases "weird," so the conclusions aren't logically valid. In order for the conclusion to hold, it has to hold in all cases, not just in some special cases.
7. Why is it bad to use Freedom of Religion as an argument, yet it's okay to rely on Freedom of Speech? The founding fathers didn't differentiate between the two; they are both part of the first amendment.
8. The term "Ethnic Cleansing" may not be used to give religion special respect, but might just be a form of political correctness.
9. In the Irish civil war, calling them "Catholics" and "Protestants" would force people worldwide to take sides in the conflict, and it would escalate the conflict.
10. Following in the political correctness vein, religion gets respect from the media. This encourages the public perception that religion is set apart, and should be treated with care.
11. Last point, people tend to hold their own beliefs (be they religious or otherwise) with a special reverence. This means that they would feel personally attacked when other people talk negatively about their beliefs.
I really wish I could attend these meetings as I would then know the context of these notes a little better, as of right now I just have to guess the best I can by correlating it to the reading wherever possible. My overall response to the reading was that many of the examples were too extreme (i.e. not common enough) to be taken seriously or are taken to try and show a problem with religion when, in fact, they demonstrate a problem with something else, such as the laws in the US dealing with illegal drugs. I also found the example Dawkins gives that is addressed in point #7 above to be very weird. Dawkins seems to argue that basing something on Freedom of Religion is flawed while basing it on Freedom of Speech is not, yet they are both in the First Amendment.

Everyone is going to want, and generally deserves, at least a little respect for their personal beliefs. This does not mean their beliefs should be above reproach or worth of special protection, or that they would think such. Just that they will probably want anyone who criticizes them to do so with some kind of decency. Ultimately, I can see Dawkins point about religion receiving a lot of respect, but I think he has blown it way out of proportion.


  1. 6. It was brought up that the examples that Dawkins uses aren't normal, and are even in some cases "weird," so the conclusions aren't logically valid. In order for the conclusion to hold, it has to hold in all cases, not just in some special cases.

    On what grounds do they say that? That religious respect can have strange effects doesn't exactly speak against Dawkins' conclusions.

    Further wierd does not imply unusual. The example of New Mexico, for example, as a distinct parallel in how Alabama's laws on creches - businesses have to obey strict rules on them while churches don't.

    Legally speaking that a case is "unusual" doesn't stop it being a precedent or being a matter of law. Nor does the case's conclusion being "odd" make it any less binding. That case applies to other cases making it a very valid criticism of how the law behaves in the face of religion.

    Which looking at the examples in the quoted chapter, looks to be what Dawkins in criticising with the "wierd" example of New Mexico.

  2. So is that a problem with religion, or the law?

  3. Jake

    It is a problem with religion, as it translates into law - and that is a part of what we atheists have against religion.

    Dawkins' arguments against religion aren't all that novel or new. They are actually just refutations of the most common arguments we come across, and they are refutations atheists have been making themselves for millenia.

    The most important element to The God Delusion (From an atheist's point of view) is that it calls for atheist evangelism - on the grounds that religion is given a priveledged place in society that isn't actually fair.

    I mean, if I came to you and said "You can't marry the woman you love" and tried to change the law to make it agree with me - I had better have a very good reason why. Something that I can't even show exists wouldn't win me any points with you on that argument would it?

    Yet the major opposition to gay marriage is people who are using for their reason the debateable whims of an unknowable being which might well have just been made up in ancient Palestine.

    And that is without even getting into how a lot of Christians only hold to "Gawd"'s words so long as they are convenient. Not gay? Gay marriage is an abomination and a threat to the institution of marriage. Divorce? Well, *cough* *cough* the Bible uses some obscure metaphors.

    And these people are enough of a majority to mean that gay marriage has never won in a vote. Enough people are for denying gays the right to marry to be an election platform people will vote for - "God, guns and gays."