Wednesday, November 15, 2006

To God or Not to God

Re the ongoing argument between believers and disbelievers, as embodied in the Chopra/Dawkins debate on Huffington Post:

Chopra frames Dawkins' first principle as
Science is the only valid way to gain knowledge. Nothing about God is needed to explain the world. Eventually science will uncover all mysteries. Those that it can't explain don't exist.
This is Chopra's formulation, but it seems fair, based on my reading of Dawkins' earlier post (promoting, one presumes, his book, The God Delusion). While sympathetic to Dawkins' fears about religion in politics, I was quite put off by his attitude and approach.

Perhaps I question his intentions and motiviations.

I found his HuffPo piece Why There Almost Certainly Is No God to be a militant promotion of a belief system that denies God without providing proof of that negative assertion. He seems to obtusely assume an inappropriately narrow understanding of God, and then he proceeds to destroy his straw man. Framing "God" as "a being who designs universes, listens to prayers, forgives sins, wreaks miracles, reads your thoughts, cares about your welfare and raises you from the dead," he employs logic and the other fine tools of his trade to demonstrate the foolishness of worshipping a superstition.

But I think he presents a false binary choice between that superstition and his science.

Dawkins shows me a strikingly limited frame of reference when he says, "If [nature and the universe] is what you choose to mean by religion, fine, that makes me a religious man," yet fails understand that love and beauty are also a part of that universe.
  • I think this is Chopra's principal rebuttal -- not that, nyah-nyah, there is too a God -- but that non-material things like love and beauty cannot be measured -- or predicted -- by our scientific instruments, but they are nonetheless real. Thus, Dawkins' attempt to disprove God -- by demonstrating that God has not/cannot be proven -- seems fundamentally flawed.
But perhaps more disturbing to me -- the God question itself is endlessly fascinating -- is why does Dawkins care so "passionately"? It's not like he's trying to persuade anyone who doesn't already agree with him -- if he is, then his communication skills are sadly lacking: you don't persuade people by calling the superstitious fools. Chopra decries "his poisonous tone" and I tend to agree.

It's a religious zeal, if you ask me, and I am fundamentally distrustful. More things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your science, Horatio, and that's just not a knock on your science -- it just is. Dawkins either can't or won't understand that. If he can't, I feel sorry for him, as brilliant as he is. If he won't, well, maybe it's all just a turf issue...