Friday, October 22, 2010

TGD: Chapter Four - Simplicity and the Nineteenth Century

At last we reach the end of chapter four. The final section is entitled, "An Interlude at Cambridge," and in it Dawkins describes a conference he participated in. The conference was sponsored by the Templeton Foundation, an organization which he has little fondness for. The Templeton Foundation awards a prize to individuals who, "Make an exceptional contribution to affirming life's spiritual dimension." Unsurprisingly, Dawkins was the only atheist speaker at this conference.

At this conference gave a version of his argument against God's existence, which I discussed earlier. Naturally his argument was not readily accepted by the other speakers. He describes a few of their main objections.

The major argument revolved on whether or not God is simple. The crux of Dawkins' argument is that God is incredibly complex. The people whom Dawkins was debating with argued that God is actually simple.

The people arguing that God is actually simple probably have a different understanding of God's nature and a different definition of the word simple. These differences of opinion are inevitable when people with different world views talk to each other about what they believe. These differences provide a real challenge for anyone who tries to talk someone out of their world view.

Besides claiming that God is actually simple, the other major response Dawkins received for his argument is that it is very "Nineteenth Century". If Dawkins' opponents explained what they meant by calling his argument "Nineteenth Century", Dawkins doesn't give it. He does, however, share his own opinion about what they meant by it.

According to Dawkins, saying that his argument is "Nineteenth Century" is simply a coded way of saying that Dawkins is being rude by making a direct attack on religion like that.

I have my own opinion about what they might have meant by the phrase "Nineteenth Century". The Nineteenth Century was the height of modernism and Dawkins' world view is very modernist. In particular, his belief that science and religion are fundamentally incompatible is a distinctly modern idea.

This idea has, for the most part, fallen out of favor. The only people clinging to the belief that science and religion are incompatible are religious fundamentalists and men like Dawkins.

Having said that, this is an important conversation to have. I think most people understand that science and religion can coexist, but most people haven't given too much thought to how that compromise works in practice. Reading Dawkins' book has forced me to reevaluate my beliefs about how science and faith interact.

So I'm glad that Dawkins is making this argument. My only regret is that he didn't work harder to understand the people he was arguing with. I think he could have gained some valuable insights into how religious people view the world. So far what I've read from Dawkins indicates that he doesn't really grasp what makes a religious person's mind ticks.

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