Why Logic Certainly Exists, and God Probably Does Too

Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion has lit up the blogosphere like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Regardless of what I’m about to say about the contents of the book, I think it’s a great sign that a philosophical book about religion is getting so much play, and I’m happy Richard Dawkins wrote it. I also think it’s great that Dawkins takes a strong atheist position and presents the case for it in the language of logic: premises, proofs, numbered points, summaries, conclusions. I’m not an atheist myself, but I had high hopes when I opened this book, expecting a serious work of philosophy.

I hate to say that I was quickly disappointed. I have a mere bachelors degree in Philosophy and I don’t claim to be an expert (though I know my stuff). But Dawkins isn’t playing by fair rules in his own debate.

When I present a logical argument, I sometimes imagine my elderly professor Josiah Gould (for whom I wrote a thesis on Plato’s Gorgias) evaluating it. I know that Richard Dawkins is from Oxford, but I swear on a stack of Wittgenstein that Professor Josiah Gould would give Dawkins’ book a C- at best, and that’s just because Old Man Gould was a softy at heart.

Dawkins is a decent writer and he has some good ideas, but logic is obviously not his strong point. His “arguments” are not valid arguments at all, and I intend to give three examples below (honestly, I could easily do five more).

Here Goeth:

His Main Argument Is A Bait And Switch

Chapter Four of The God Delusion is titled “Why There Almost Certainly Is No God”, and consists of a 44 page argument to this effect. The argument is then summarized in six numbered points at the end of the chapter. The basic idea is that there are two models for how things are created: the “skyhook” model (which resembles Creationist or God-based thought) and the “crane” model (in which things already created build themselves out, as in Darwinian evolution). Dawkins attempts to prove that the crane model is much more valid, and then the chapter ends there, numbered points and all, as if he only needs to prove that Darwinism is a better model than Intelligent Design to conclude that there is no God.

This is a classic bait and switch. Nowhere in the chapter does he address the proof he promises in the chapter title, and this is a hole big enough to drive a church bus through. Can Dawkins be unaware that many, many people believe in God and also believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution? 47 pages in this book are devoted to a single argument that does not prove its own promised conclusion, but instead “proves” a much smaller one (and, just for the record, he doesn’t fully prove anything in this chapter at all, though he does land some interesting points).

He Doesn’t Take On The Heavyweights

Preceding the above chapter is Dawkins’ critique of the most well-known arguments and proofs for the existence of God, which he summarizes and dismisses one by one. However, he chooses not to present smart and respectful versions of these arguments, but rather tries to diminish them in the telling. His mocking tone is unfortunate, because it leaves me feeling that he’d rather score cheap points than engage the hardest issues. Personally, I am sure that nobody can prove the existence of God, but I also know that some classical essays on the subject have great literary and metaphorical power.

The famous “ontological argument” for the existence of God is the centerpiece of one of the most well-known essays ever written, Rene Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy. Descartes’ method was to proceed only from the most unquestionable premises possible (this is the source of “cogito ergo sum”, or “I think, therefore I am”, which Descartes’ correctly cites as the only irrefutable first premise in any logical argument). Descartes later takes the questionable step of noting that he, as a thinking thing, seems to have a concept of the possibility that a perfect God exists, and then attempts to establish that it would be impossible for a human being to even imagine a perfect God if a perfect God did not exist. This is Descartes’ version of a famous argument for the existence of god known as the “ontological argument”. It can be easily refuted, but it’s still got some meaning as metaphor, and Descartes’ version of this argument certainly kicks the ass of every other version.

Yet Dawkins presents Saint Anselm’s lame version of the ontological argument, for God’s sake, and doesn’t mention Descartes’ version at all. This is especially puzzling because Descartes is not hard to refute — nobody takes his ontological argument seriously as a logical proof, but many have felt it holds a symbolic power as an expression of innate human divinity, which is why so many still read this essay today. But get this: Rene Descartes does not appear in the book’s index. A chapter on the ontological argument that doesn’t mention Descartes is like, well … it’s like a chapter on California surf bands on the early 1960’s that doesn’t mention the Beach Boys (Anselm being Jan and Dean in this equation).

But this must be a mistake, so let’s move on to Soren Kierkegaard, who is probably one of the most persuasive and widely respected religious philosophers of all time. Kierkegaard was one of the founders of Existentialism, and he wrote many books relating to his own fervent religious beliefs, such as Fear and Trembling and Either/Or. Kierkegaard’s take on the existence of God is entirely confrontational and aggressive: we believe in God, Kierkegaard says, because it is so irrational to do so, and this is all the proof he needs.

So let’s thumb through the index and see what Richard Dawkins has to say about Soren Kierkegaard, easily one of the most famous and widely read philosophers of the last two hundred years. Surprise! He’s not in the index either. Lame, Dawkins … lame.

His Arguments Are Subjective

Subjective opinions are fine, but they don’t have a clear place in logical argument. The preface to this book makes a big statement: imagine the world without religion, Dawkins says, and this is a world where the Twin Towers are restored, a world with “no suicide bombers, no 9/11, no 7/7, no Crusades, no Israeli/Palestinian war, no Serb/Croat/Muslim massacres …”. I do not agree with Dawkins here at all.

Is religion really at the heart of our world’s hostilities? I don’t believe it. I do not think either Osama bin Laden or George Bush are highly motivated by religion, for instance. It’s pretty clear to me that both are military-minded opportunists who’ve learned to use religion as a tool to stir nationalistic sentiments. Sometimes religious divisions cause wars, but in almost all cases the religious divisions are easy symbols for ethnic or economic divisions. There were no religious d
ivisions between the Hutus and the Tutsis (church-going Catholics all) in Rwanda in 1994 when they started killing each other. In fact many Tutsis sought refuge in churches, believing that they’d be safest there (tragically, they weren’t).

I know many people believe religion to be responsible for a lot of the world’s problems, and I respect Dawkins’ right to believe this. But he can’t claim it as a fact, or anything like a fact. In my opinion, he’s being gullible if he watches world leaders and celebrity terrorists talk about religion and believes they mean any of the pious bullshit they recite. Religion’s not the problem. Maybe religion can even help.


I don’t deny that Dawkins is a smart guy and a talented writer. It’s just that logic is not his strong point, and he shouldn’t wave his Oxford degree around and play around with numbers and premises and conclusions and summaries if he doesn’t intend to actually present a logical proof. I hope there will be more books on the topic of religion, and I will continue to pay attention to the stuff Dawkins says (as well as his fellow atheist Daniel Dennett, whose philosophical books like Brainstorms are as good as I wish Dawkins’ were).

But Dawkins himself turned in a sub-par performance here, and that’s why it’s a bit dismaying that The God Delusion is currently selling better than any Daniel Dennett book ever did. I say we give Dawkins the skyhook, and pray for something better.

33 Responses

  1. To Believe or Not to
    To Believe or Not to Believe

    That is the question
    Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
    the slings and arrows of some outrageous god
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
    And by opposing end them
    To die: to sleep; no more, and by a sleep to Say
    We end
    The heartache and the thousand natural Shocks
    God is heir to
    ‘Tis a consummation
    Devoutly to be wish’d
    To die. To sleep. To sleep
    Perchance to dream
    For in one god’s death what dreams may come
    When he has shuffled off his mortal coil
    Must give us pause
    There’s the respect
    That makes the calamity of god so long a life
    For who would
    For who could
    Bear him
    His whips
    And scorns of time

  2. godLook man, whether some

    Look man, whether some kind of powerful dude exists or not is just some kind of mental question that we need to get over and grow up about, because really all different countries all over the world came up with all kinds of crazy schemes about how shit started and what it all means, whether it was turtles or elephant gods or bearded dudes in robes healing the sick or people jumping onto comets in suicide pacts; so, this whole concept of god is just a thing we do to help us handle the whole death thing, to make things make sense, and it is sometimes tied up in a father-figure thing and sometimes in a mother-figure thing, and it has to do with fertility and growth, but it just about feeling some level of importance and a certain amount of control, and Dawkins is kind of angry because he sees that, and so he writes a book where he comes right out and says that indoctrinating kids with ideas about a benevolent god is a kind of abuse, which is overstating it, sure, as once that god shit is in there you find it kind of hard to get it out, and living without it becomes a challenge. I am sure some of his arguments were not that good, and maybe he chose ones that were not so obvious because he wanted to be different, and the ontological argument however stated is still the ontological argument and can be destroyed with a quick reference to some empiricist thinking about complex and simple ideas. But Dawkins never seems to smile and I don’t like him for that; I think if you are going to proselytise for an atheistic universe then you ought to make it seem like you are having a good time with it, but that is just a silly point to make light of the issue for a second.

    And of course religions cause wars. Ask people what they are fighting for and they will tell you that one of the main reasons is religion, and if that is what they say then that is what they are fighting for. If there was one version of the truth then we would not need to fight, and truth is connected to ego, and people like to have big egos and like to think they have the truth, just like Dawkins does, so they fight. Except he just rights a book and says that god is not there, probably. Though, as everyone knows you can’t prove a negative.

    If there is not a god then we are all talking about nothing, which is kind of ridiculous, and if there is a god…ah, fuck it, there isn’t.

    Sometimes I think we humans are a little too smart for our own good and we ought to stop thinking so much and just smile a little. I am not sure what we will achieve by getting to the truth anyway. Will icecream taste better? We will watch less TV, more TV? What is it we want to know? Is there a dude up there looking after us? Does it all mean something? Why is Kierkegaard so hard to spell? Is the universe expanding? Has anyone seen my blue trousers, the ones with the yellow stitching? Is life meaningless? Am I an angel?

    I need some lunch.

  3. symptoms and causeclaiming
    symptoms and cause

    claiming religion responsible for the world’s wars and battles is as logical as saying that politics are the cause of them.

    the sense of mission and the deployment of religion, politics, belief systems, morals, etc., are symptoms of human factors, such as greed and agression, feelings of insecurity, of loss and of being at loss, of longing and hope and frustration, and, most of all, of fear.

    they are symptoms. not the cause.

  4. good infoThis is a
    good info

    This is a well-informed review. Not only did I learn about the book in question, I also got a refresher course in philosophy.

    It sounds like Dawkins’ book makes the same mistake shared by Christian apologists like Josh McDowell; that is, they proceed from what they already believe and use that belief as proof in and of itself.

    Speaking of Christian apologists, did you know that the age of the Earth, according to conservative/creationist/Christians, happens to be approximately the same length of time since writing was first invented? I find that intriguing and paradoxical.

    Paradoxical because the written word helps to spread the truth, but it also can spread lies. The Bible says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God,” but elsewhere, it says that when people, by their own conscience, do the right thing, it is like the law is written in their hearts. This implies they have no need for the written word.

    I like the line from Ecclesiastes, “There is no end to the making of many books, and much study is exhausting to the body.”

    Ah, the Litblogger’s motto!

  5. I like your statement, “If
    I like your statement, “If you are going to proselytise for an atheistic universe then you ought to make it seem like you are having a good time with it…”

    And the fact that you can’t prove a negative – I’m glad you mentioned that. It’s important to remember in this kind of discussion.

    I’m a Frisbitarian. We believe that when you die, your soul lands on the roof and stays there.

  6. Identity, whether that be at
    Identity, whether that be at a national, local, or personal level, is the key to everything, and for the most part, for the past few millenia, the main conduit through which identity has flowed is that of religion; the promotion of a sanctified and unimpeachable notion of self is the key to everything, and the key to making your own notion of self feel safe is to denegrate the notions of others; this is what people are after, a way of being right, of being safe and ‘sane’; try talking a Christian out of his beliefs, or a Muslim, and watch them defend the beliefs to the last; when they are led into dead-end alleyways they just scale the wall with the ladder of faith, with the unfathomable ways of the big guy; and why do they defend these religious ideas so strongly, with such immovability, with such banal, calm faces? Because they are defending their notion of identity, their anchor in the world, what keeps them ‘sane’, they are defending their psyche from attack; so religion is more than just a symptom, it is the playground wherein the fears of humanity–fears of identity and sanity and belonging and death– play themselves out, and so Jews kills Muslims, and Muslims kills Jews, and then there are wars for oil, but this too is about identity, about the identity of the west against the east, that an American/British life is worth more than an Iraqi/Afghan life.

    So, what happens when Dawkins destroys our current notion of god, which he will not do (not for a little while yet anyway)? I guess our identity worries will just find a new conduit/playground, like in Gulliver’s Travels where they argue about which end of the egg to crack.

    So, Dawkins is right to say that religion is a big cause of wars, and the above comment is correct in asserting that religion is not the actual problem, but the problems of religion are the problems of identity, so the two intimately bound up. Religion is about identity, identity is why we fight, so what we need to do is to extinguish any notion of individual self, but I am not sure how we do that and still manage to pay the gas bill.

  7. Oh God, Richard DawkinsI
    Oh God, Richard Dawkins

    I think the best way to describe how I’ve come to see Richard Dawkins is that he’s bitchy and pompous. Like, fine, Dick (I really think it’s okay if I call him Dick), we get it — you don’t believe in God and see no rational basis for such belief. It’s cool; I can dig it. The thing is, though, that while fundamentalism and religious fanaticism exist (I don’t necessarily think they’re the same thing), those things are not the fault of God, nor are they the fault of religion, in and of itself. I think that fanatics have something something wrong with them, and while many seem to find that they can get their fanatic jollies in religion-land, I think it’s pretty illogical to posit that fanatics would cease to exist if religion didn’t exist. They’d just be fanatics about other things, like say, Prada or Thomas Pynchon or Britney Spears or collecting crap they got on eBay, and for someone who prides himself on being such an intellectual heavyweight, it’s pretty fucking weak to assert otherwise. Though I know that picking on religion is sexy, and all.

    Of course, as one of those people who have been brainwashed about Jesus since childhood, I guess I would be saying that. But as someone who works in the nonprofit sector, very closely with religious organizations, I can say with firsthand knowledge that there’s a hell of a lot of good that gets done in this world, and very very much of that good is born out of religious faith. So suck it, Dawkins.

    However, I believe that evolution makes a hell of a lot of sense, and I don’t think that believing so is at odds with my belief in the existence of God. I also think that people should just, you know, relax and do with their lives what they will, whether or not they see those lives as gifts or not. Because the most basic thing in the world is to ask “why?” and to seek answers. And whether those answers are sought in religion or not, no one should be denied the right to the quest. Especially not by intellectual snobbery, which, it seems in this case, is just another form of fundamentalism.

  8. Survey SaysGod: 1, Dawkins:
    Survey Says

    God: 1, Dawkins: 0

    But I sure loved him in Family Feud.

    There is a saying, something like … “If God didn’t exist, we would have created him.” I think that kind of sums up all of this in one line for me. Which gives me a lot more time to think about Pringles, nail polish and George Michael. Because in the end, you’re going to find out either way.

  9. ”’god”’ huh.
    ”’god”’ huh. (Edits)

    Disprove ”’god”’?—I suppose one could perform a Nietzsche/Foucault genealogy of ”’god”’ (it’d be historiographically a hellish job but let’s be ideal about this:)) – one might even be able thus atheistically to psychologise or some(other)how to situate revelation.—Or perhaps an argument from uneconomy – metaphysical or discursive – would do the job.—I’m not sure either strategy would convince religious people tho/. – Religious belief (since that is our topic here) seems to have more to do with grammar (in the late Wittgenstein’s sense) than with an operation internal to any language game. No?

    To prove a negative _per se_ you just need to find a counterexample to a correspondent positive. (In pure logic that would – specifically – be the negative itself of course.:)) Granted: _empirical_ propositions of any kind drink deep of logical openness: empirically a positive might not mean _forever_ that positive and a lack of the correspondent negative might not mean a lack _forever_ of that negative and _vice versa_; empirically no counter/example _yet_ _cannot_ mean no _possible_ counter/example. (The question of reference doesn’t inflect all this to the extent you might expect.) So empirically we only have specifically _relative_ proof open to us _at best_ – in whatever direction. But that’s different from _none at all_. Granted too: all positives are logically convertible into negatives and vice versa (so – among other things – logic doesn’t dis/privilege contested empirical propositions). But hey.—All this is of course _doubly_ refractory to the idea that a negative _as such_ is unproveable. Specific ones may of course – at least practically – be unproveable … for whatever reason(s).

    No for me with respect to proof the ”’god”’ thing just seems to give out too quickly onto transcendence (in the Kantian sense) for it consistently – i.e. across the whole range of its possible meanings – to possess a referent – that is to say: to be substantially a real sign.—You can’t prove _any_ of Kant’s antinomies but that _clearly_ has more to do with transcendence (= specific non-reference) than negativity _per se_.—Does that seem like a better philosophical–logical model for proving (the intractable bits of) ”’god”’?

    PS Levi – would you think of posting that dissertation on the _Gorgias_ anywhere? or putting it up somewhere as downloadable file?

  10. Creation without
    Creation without Creator

    ((just one example))
    (corresponding title of the translation into German; English title: The Creation)
    by P. W. Atkins (a physical chemist – like me, that is: therefore, I know him from textbooks)
    might fill in a gap in this discussion. I loved and still like this book, the seemingly ‘narrow’ view of the natural sciences.

    But I’m in that trance-like state of depressive mourning and cannot argue w/r to its aspects in detail now. The blogosphere enthusiasm may be due to the fact that many people are looking for an ‘easy way out’, a way that sounds clever, stylish, is cheap, does not require any care or involvement: while typically and en vogue (populist, politically and socially cruelly incorrect, immoral in the effect) pointing at irrational causes (for 9/11 …), that seem to be out of reach, cannot be healed, etc. Old song. Sign of the times. Small steps. Banality. No explanation.

    ‘Nobody can prove the existence of God…’
    ‘We believe in God because it is so irrational to do so’ – because all the fundamentals of being must appear irrational to the human scale, the exuberant build-up of human consciousness for which Nature didn’t / ‘couldn’t'(?rules of the game) care too much (‘Tell me who invented the human heart, then show me where he was hanged ..’ (Durrell)).
    Hanging between the banal (survival) and the absurd (destiny, the beyond) we want to make time rhyme in ‘consciously’ ‘planned’ beauty, radiating, sending messages, inter/mediating …the game between the two.

    ‘Creation without Creator’ does not stop in taking the side of Darwinism and still does not mean to prove that there is no ‘God’ (but does not cite Descartes or Kierkegaard, either – being more of a book of physics) – but (in the view of modern science) that there is no causal human-like actor ‘who (intentionally) invented/created’ ‘this world’ – at least (!) not necessarily (!) so (‘God’ might have chosen another kind of play (heeh: see all of Watts’s books..))…:
    The universe can be explained as some self-contained (“recurring”) dynamics (the (3..n) dimensions of space, that weird dimension of time, spiralling, worm-holing, playful also with microscopic strings (depending on the mathematical ‘model’, the history of scientific attitudes…), black time-holes and reversals, breathing, just splitting ‘itself’ (!), blossoming from nothingness(!), breaking symmetry “for some being” (more than just “for some time”), some play of evolution .. . just sketching the picture). Such an image is logically consistent, I think. And as far as we can get, maybe.
    Satisfying for those who dislike or mistrust those images which are too transparently modelled – like, e.g., Mormons ‘necessarily’ having to(!) find a Holy Book also in the New World (short version, etc.) – the absurdity stays with us, looks us in the eye, mirroring our temporality (already during life)…- and the surreal still does not feed our senses, we stay in bondage, philosophies offering some dislocation, some peace, no derivation..

    It stays a trip (nausea for human ‘minds’, without cheap decisions),

    – and this makes me dizzy for months now, me who was trained to abhor from the immeasurable, the not-logical, the not openly deductible, the unnatural… – my late young wife was content to look fatalistically (even) at the (often ‘cruel’) beautiful colorful Darwin cycles of evolution which are not trivially determined, either – but just didn’t think it worth while (even rejected) to look at the absurd beyond, creator or not, since even this just cannot be decided (by us) (but the original sin of thinking. reflecting. contemplating. the metaphors)
    ((- and was able to determine AND accept the absurd WITHIN/AS Nature – and detect what is baloney (heeh: see Carl Sagan’s detection kit ..) like that which Dawkins seems to present
    (in the service of publicity mixing domains of (re)cognition ?) (also overemphasizing the “egotism” of the gene (underestimating the delicate balances, the dependencies on interaction (‘partner’ species)) in earlier works in a restricted view on Nature’s earnest (Goethe) play (see M. Eigen (and Monod ..) for that)))) –

    and this is also as far as I can see it
    corresponding to Kerouac’s philosophy, see, e.g., in
    All of life is a foreign country
    (the wheel of the quivering meat conception)
    Kerouac’s consolation is new:
    No arbitrary conceptions,
    Neither this nor that –
    The reason why there are so many things
    is because the mind breaks it up
    The shapes are empty (empty phantoms)
    that sprung into come –
    emptiness is not non-being
    but dissolving duality:
    There are no images that the mind
    Can grasp
    To assure itself of immortality

    No beginning, no end, empty=not independent,
    And spiral in cause
    We are
    Safe in heaven dead

    Maybe also Balthazar in Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet showed an insight being more human and sincere (and logical) than Dawkins?:
    “We are all hunting for rational reasons for believing in the absurd”(=no God ?, heeh)(Gnosis)
    Let’s share our hallucinations in a friendly tone while we are (?) here, not deforming them, making them trivial, harmless.

  11. What would you do if…A lot
    What would you do if…

    A lot of the proof of God’s existence in the Bible is based on the fact that God reveals himself to a human. It is usually just one human, Moses, for example.

    Here is something that I think about from time to time: what would I do if God or Jesus or Mohammed or Buddha appeared to me? Like I’ll be sitting someplace quiet and all of a sudden I think, what if God appeared to me right now? What would I do? How would I know that it’s God? Would I tell someone else? What would I say? I don’t think about it often, but I’m sure it crosses everyone’s mind from time to time.

    I don’t have an answer for this. But when I think about it, it makes me dizzy. I get the same feeling when I think about the big bang theory. I try to imagine nothingness and I become dizzy and feel for a second like gravity has been suspended and I fly off the earth into outer space. Just for a second. Then I force myself to think about something else. Or think about it rationally.

  12. Thanks for asking about the
    Thanks for asking about the “Gorgias” thesis — I’d probably be embarrassed to reread it and discover I’m not as brilliant as I thought. But I am planning on writing about “The Republic” here soon …

  13. I look forward to that. The
    I look forward to that. The Republic was one of the first philosophical texts I ever read – after the Communist Manifesto, thank God. 🙂

    You know the joke? ‘Three things derive from Plato: communism fascism and the English public school system.’

  14. identity — how can we define
    identity — how can we define ourselves? how can we save ourselves?
    how can we stand our mortality, our existence that we feel is at stake and put into question with every breath we take?

    the moment we’ve entered into what we today define as ‘human’, we have begun to find existence and life and ourselves questionable.
    the moment we’ve begun to ask questions, we’ve begun to feel called into question,
    the moment we’ve begun to think, we’ve begun to experience ourselves as separated from the surrounding world, separated in our own essence, in our thinking and actions. and this feeling of separation is threatening and ominous and causes fear of loss.

    fear to lose life. fear to lose love. fear to lose power. fear to lose future. fear to lose identity. fear to lose ourselves.

    war, greed, agression, fanatism — it’s all about loss, it’s all about fear; the fear of loss, this feeling of separation, of not being a part, of being at loss.

    fear is the reason for greed and hate, for walls, borders, nations, alliances.

    fear is why we mistrust. it’s why we fight and judge, why we strive for power and hurt each other, why we disdain and reject and kill.

    and we yearn for a life without fear, where who we are and what we love does not disappear or fade or die.

    and we fight for this life. and we kill for this life.
    and we create borders and nations and religions, belief systems and codes of ethics. we band together and team up, connect, ally, unite.
    and we judge and disapprove, fight and hate each other.

    we create separation to overcome separation. we create fear out of fear.

    yet we need to feel that we ARE — by feeling strong, by feeling healthy, by feeling loved, by feeling accepted, by feeling connected, by feeling alive.
    we need to feel that we’re safe, and we try to feel safe by saving food, space, stories, by claiming a piece of earth, a hunting ground, an idea, a religion, a truth our own — because we hope this might save us, save us from fear, save us from loss.

    because we hope this might cover the cracks.

    this is the cause of our human condition: our fear of loss.

    our religions and notions, philosophies and beliefs are our attempts to cure ourselves.

    how we understand and deploy them, convert them and put them into action, however, are the symptoms – along with our worries and our longing, with our mistrust and fanatism, our stubbornness, our visions and our wars.

    it’s hard when the patients are their own and only doctors.

    is there hope, i wonder? can the circle ever be unbroken?

  15. As this is being written at
    As this is being written at work, it will probably end up rather disjointed. But I never post as Litkicks anymore because I feel like I don’t have time to compose a well-thought out answer, so I’m just going to throw caution to the wind here.

    Right now, there are a bunch of so-called conservatives who are claiming the results of the recent election results were not a condemnation of conservatism but, in fact, a ringing endorsement of the philosophy because George W. Bush is not really a ‘conservative’ and by voting for Democrats, the American public was actually endorsing a more pure conservatism!? In the same way, some communists will argue the reason their philosophy failed is because it was never genuinely practiced in its purest, most Platonic Ideal form. So it wasn’t the idea that failed, but the human element. This type of arguing almost sounds to my ears like “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Sure, by itself, a gun is an inanimate assembly of machined metal and plastic, incapable of any kind of self-determined action. But, in the wrong hands, it is incredibly easy to misuse. And it seems to find its way into the wrong hands quite often. And the question is, if something, like an object or an idea, however well-meaning and perfect in theory, seem to constantly end up being used for bad ends when put into practice, is it possible there is just something flawed in the idea and it should be scrapped or at the very least refined from the bottom up?

    Now, I know this is a horrible analogy as religion (or conservatism, or communism) is in no way designed to kill people. Another argument gun supporters make is a variation of “Sure guns kill people, but so does random object X(say, automobiles, or chickens). By your logic, I guess we should ban cars (or chickens)too.” And then they sit back with a smug smile like they just came up with “Cogito, ergo sum.”
    In this case, religion would be cars (or chickens), which can kill people, but are in now way designed (contra guns)for the purpose, actually are designed for many good uses (like getting places, or frying), but are occasionally misused(by drunks or teenagers or whoever invented to chicken nugget or the guy in the San Diego Chicken costume). But the world is probably a better place because of them. Certainly it is because of chickens, despite the pecking. (If we can fix this global warming thing, and stop people from using chickens as weapons)

    So no, I don’t think we should ban religion.

    However, as far as the popularity of ‘picking on’ religion these days, well . . . The thing about the Richard Dawkins’ of the world, for all their flaws, is, I don’t believe there is any movement to take over the pulpit of churches on Sunday to teach evolution. They may think religion is stupid, church is stupid, people who go to church are stupid, hell, they might even think that all religious buildings should be razed for the good of humankind, BUT I don’t know of any movement to actually do so. There is no movement to break down people’s doors and stop them from saying grace at dinner. There is no movement to ban or burn the Bible. There is no movement to force people not to believe in God. (Though, on a tangent, I do think there is something to Alan Watts’ idea of taking all the Bibles and locking it in a time capsule for 200 years, then opening the capsule and reading the Bible with fresh eyes.) On the other hand . . .

    . . . there is a movement to insert personal religious beliefs into public life, (banning the teaching of evolution, prayer in school, the 10 Commandments hanging in classrooms and courtrooms) and to use religion to regulate how people behave in their own homes, even when they are doing things that in no way harm other people other than maybe making them feel icky inside when they think about them. I realize these are the efforts of a minority of a minority, but, they have a lot of sway right now. There is an active movement to force religious practice on those who would prefer not to. And unfortunately for the majority of religious people, they get some of the shrapnel from the rhetoric aimed at the few. And it is a discredit to those who (as it seem to be in the case of Dawkins) don’t make a distinction between the two, just as it is a discredit to those who don’t speak up loudly against the abhorrent practices of their brethren.

    And in that way, I think religion has earned itself some picking on, the same way the silly temporarily-slumming-while-my-parents-and-their-corporate-jobs-pay-for-my-college-education middle class white kids selling The Socialist Worker at my BART stop every week have earned themselves some (a lot of) picking on. (Free Mumia!!)

    This has strayed off the subject of Richard Dawkins and God. To bring it back, it sounds like the primary problem with Dawkins book is that he thinks he’s so smart, he doesn’t have to explain himself to people. Because he’s just right. Just like Pat Robertson.

  16. we, as sailors on homemade
    we, as sailors on homemade ships
    on which we act in certain patterns
    of a selfmade order,

    we are plowing our way through the waves of a chaotic ocean,
    searching for intermittent islands,
    refusing to accept that these islands
    are just temporary appearances
    and no solid ground.

    searching for the peace of an intermittent order
    in the muddled confusion of an infinite amount
    of possibilities and options;

    not daring to plunge headfirst into the bondless blue around us
    and drown in the ocean of unknown darkness –
    to get lost in the yawning chasm of eternity,
    becoming a part of the immeasurable vastness of chaos.

    instead, we are sailing around in circles,
    on the line of equator,
    rolling and rocking,
    between the icebound extremes of the north and the south,
    of the yes and the no,
    of the self and the world,
    between the exclusiveness of the far away polar ice caps
    of the banal and the absurd.

    everything is taking place between poles.

    a tropical, dualistic life we live!

    we exist on a gradient of the relative and the possible;
    between certainty and uncertainty, foresight and helplessness,
    easing and fright –
    between knowledge and presumption,
    the proven and the speculation,
    between vision and frustration,
    hope and fear.

    strange about that is the fact,
    that we cannot escape from this wavering, unstable plane,
    from the planks of passage,
    because the wider the enlightened field of the known
    seems to extend, the more threatening and ominous
    the possible dimension of the unknown eclipse is becoming,
    not diminshed, but merely pushed along
    by what we call knowledge.

    living and deciding between this polarization,
    between primordial fear and primeval trust,
    is a conditio humana per se,
    no matter whether it is well thought through
    or just a vague feeling.

    we are struggling with the effort of making sense
    of the extremes of an either friendly or hostile world,
    and the ambivalence of all gains and advantages and improvements,
    that are merely possible in connection with losses,
    is obvious.

    the theorem of entropy and the recognizing
    of the composition of the order of an organism just being possible
    by means of letting off an even greater amount of chaos,
    is not so much different from our ancestors relation to the cave bear
    two thousand generations before.

    from him, the bear, all welfare of existence came:
    food, clothing, tools and shelter,
    but also all harm:
    danger, devastation, violation and death.

    no wonder, he was worshiped as a mediator
    between mankind and the gods.

    this was a time when only the gods could tame the chaos,
    control it, sort it out –

    now it is the paradox of maxwell’s demon
    to have chaos in its grip:
    a spirit, knowing and controlling the movements
    of every single molecule.

    the mover without moving.
    the motionless creator.

    his movements must be great and powerful enough
    to get the whole universe going,
    but at the same time so tiny and imperceptible,
    almost nonexistent,
    to escape the question who or what is moving him or her.

    we can’t escape the mystery of our existence
    unless we stop asking questions.
    but asking questions itself is a part of this conditio humana –
    put into words or dimly felt.

    gods have emerged everywhere during the eras,
    filled up with the characteristics and intentions
    we fear and appreciate on ourselves.

    and they often came into being as rapacious monsters first,
    and then gradually transformed into loving fathers,
    the dimension of these transformations depending
    on how far the individual cultures managed
    to establish a fundamental confidence
    and the hope of a human world order.

    and……man discovered his family connection to the loving father,
    and thus his godlikeness.

    still we don’t know whether we discovered god
    or invented him.

    but just the same we do not know about ourselves.

    to abolish god therefore is a most inhuman act,
    as much inhuman as leaving
    all decisions about us creatures to him.

    but you can say just the same about the mathematic laws,
    for no one can justify or prove
    that they are either solely discovered
    or solely invented.

    so of course we should not be too amazed
    to be a part of the universe,
    or to experience that our equipment to handle it
    is containing just this universe again;

    or to find ourselves hanging
    between the banal and the absurd
    and dangle
    in the eternal wind
    of chaos
    and dream.

  17. jamelah – amen to all you’ve
    jamelah – amen to all you’ve said.

    shamata – maybe mankind is the chicken, and religions its eggs??
    solving the problem of who of them came first then would bring us back to the question of god…

  18. shamatha — Dude, that hurt
    shamatha — Dude, that hurt my head. But in a good way, and I think you should throw caution to the wind more often. Because the wind needs caution more than LitKicks does, says I. Plus, my post was also a bit disjointed, though I did not write it at work because I would never ever ever do such a thing.


    Anyway, I don’t think I disagree with you, really. Because chickens are tasty, especially when battered and fried. Sure, they’re gonna give us all bird flu and we’ll all die, but, you know, those 11 original herbs and spices sure were nice for awhile. I think I have to stop talking about chicken now. But okay, yes — throughout history, people have used religion to justify all kinds of nasty things, from slavery to flying airplanes into skyscrapers, and for the most part (with the exception of those using religion to justify their nastiness), people know this is wrong. Does the fact that the majority of the world’s religious people are not fanatical weirdos even out the minority who are? Perhaps. I guess I’d say yes. Because religion is a human endeavor — the attempt of people to interface with and describe the divine — it is naturally flawed. It cannot be anything but flawed, because people, even those with the very best intentions, are flawed. Yet they do the best they can. I think this is okay. I also think that fundamentalist asshattery — in any form — is a product more of the downsides of human nature than it is of religion. In these cases, I think that religion is used as an excuse to justify actions and ideologies after the fact, instead of actions and ideologies truly coming from religion. If that makes sense.

    I understand that religion still gets a lot of leeway culturally, and that, at least here, at least for now, nobody’s saying that religion (Christianity in this case) can’t be practiced. And I think that’s a good thing. Of course, I believe that freedom of religion also necessitates freedom from religion, because choice is important. It’s unfortunate that there are people who are so insecure about their faith that they have to try to shove it down other people’s throats, instead of believing that right living is the best kind of proselytization. But then people are special.

    Anyway, yes, I’d classify Dawkins in the same category as Pat Robertson or James Dobson or Rush Limbaugh — so sure of his inherent correctness that he comes across as little more than a pompous, bloviating gasbag.

    (I think this is the longest! reply! EVER!)

  19. Flat outLike spending an
    Flat out

    Like spending an inordinate amount of time arguing that the earth is flat. If the flat-earthers have been indoctrinated since childhood, then reason isn’t going to enter into their mindset. And if they control the world, then people like Michael Fox and my niece will just have to waste away and die – who cares. I would like to point out the dangers, though.

    I suppose we could dismiss Mein Kampf as radical Nazism, without savoring the rich language and metaphor.

    I don’t believe the Pope is a religious man, despite the fact that his hardcore followers seem to think he is.

    I don’t think religious wars were fought on the basis of religion, just as I don’t believe territorial disputes were really fought on the basis of terrain.

    I like agnostics – they fall into that poll category of “did you vote today” – yes, no, not sure.

    You can’t prove a negative (re-GE Moore) which I why I think John Kennedy and Elvis could still be alive.

    My favorite thing about the flat-earth society is that it forms the basis for all their beliefs, thus no need to think for themselves.

    Go to sleep, earthlings; do what you’re told, and may the flat-earth bless us and keep us safe from those who believe the world is round.

  20. Religion as Evolutionary
    Religion as Evolutionary Advantage

    The Economist’s review gave one premise of Dawkins’ book, viz., religion was an evolutionary advantage for man to get where he is today.

    DISCLAIMER: I didn’t read Dawkins’ book.

    Dawkins would best blame alienation rather than religion as the source of man’s problems. Religion only works as a smokescreen when it’s used as the reason for violence.

    As Nietzsche pointed out, man must find meaning for himself, and the world, if there is no god. This is easier said than done. Camus died young but had concluded that life was absurd, i.e., meaningless.

  21. Can you imagine being
    Can you imagine being arrested or killed by a church/state power because you said Earth is not the center of the universe? That would sour anyone on religion.

  22. In the center of Rome is the
    In the center of Rome is the Campo di Fiori where Giordano Bruno, a follower of Copernicus, was burned as a heritic in 1600.

  23. Both of these two pieces of
    Both of these two pieces of writing are amazing and I am going to print them out and stick them on my cork board in my bedroom and look at them sometimes and try to understand parts of what is said. Very beautiful freely-flowing thinking on a difficult subject. I feel very humble when reading such things, but helped out also.

  24. I have to say that sometimes
    I have to say that sometimes I attempt to write with a little bit too much surety on subjects that I barely grasp the true significance of. I ought to write a little more…um…honestly, just saying that I am not too sure about most things, particularly big subjects like religion and evolution and mankind’s way of getting through the days and the years. I think that religion might mean something, that there might be a kind of guiding something or other out there all wavering and glowing and smiling with love, and that everything might well be ok in the end, that we have nothing to fear, not really, but it is hard to know, and I don’t know, and neither does anyone else, not really, not me, not you, not Mr Dawkins, not even Jesus, i am sure. And I bet somwhere in the back of his mind Richard Dawkins still has a little regard for ideas of God, of eternal bliss, a softness to lean on to cushion the blow of death. I bet that is why he is so angry about it all the time, because he knows there is a little bit of the God-thought-thing in him somewhere still, and it grates against the scientist in him. But that is conjecture, which is all I have.

    I still think that DIFFERENCES between religions really do cause wars. People REALLY do believe in these religions and REALLY kill each other because of that. I don’t think it is fair always to impose a belief upon someone, to say ‘Even though you say that you are doing this for religion I say you are not.’ That is not fair, I don’t think. If they say they are doing it for religion then at some level this is true, surely. It is not just fear. They believe in what they believe in. They are willing to die for it. Therefore, organised religion is wrong, in a way, though they do do some nice stuff, really kind stuff, that helps people all over the world, so maybe it is good as well. Um, I am confused now. I don’t know what I think anymore, but I do know I will never go to church or believe in an organised religion, that I believe in evolution as far as I understand it, that the stars are real, that the sky is real, that my eyes are real, and that the whole god/no god thing is possibly the biggest waste of energy mankind has ever got involved in apart from war or those TOP 100 BEST WHATNOT television programmes. Amen to the monkeys and the angels.

    I think that this kind of debate is something that is worth having a lot because it can help to clarify things for people a little, help people to see the issues more clearly and calmly, which can make making a salami sandwich or vacuuming under the rug that little more enjoyable.

  25. Ah, I knew something went
    Ah, I knew something went down but you have given me a time and place to use in my future rants. Thank you, Stoke.

  26. yes, indeed – people do
    yes, indeed – people do really kill each other for their religions and beliefs.
    religion was designed to make sense of the chaos, to give meaning to our existence, to overcome fear and confusion, to satiate our longing. we invented it to help us cope.

    but people, we, are flawed and keep using it in that way – as a defence, as a weapon, as an armour against our fears and struggles of identity and survival.

    religion is not the problem. but many problems have been caused in its name.

    politics are not the problem. laws are not the problem. theories are not the problem. ideas are not the problem.
    but how we understand and define them, what we make them and make of them very often is.

    it is us wo are responsible for our creations, not our creations for us.

    and if our creations, or concepts and ideas and beliefs, correspond with the truth, or with Truth with a big T, if something like this should exist, this, as you say, we cannot know.
    all we can make is attempts to cope. like this discussion.

    thank you!

  27. Wow. My wobbly brain gears
    Wow. My wobbly brain gears are clattering on this one. Why? Well, it’s like this:

    For this discussion, I am using the phrases “belief in god” and “religion” interchangably.

    My first reaction was, “Religion as evolutionary advantage? That sounds wrong.”

    First scenario: There is no God, we evolved a belief in God as an advantage. This seems impossible, because real evolution can’t lie. In other words, the development of lungs served a real purpose. It would do an organism no good to “believe” it can breath on land, if it really can’t. The spots on a butterfly helped it hide, so it survived. What evolutionary good would religion be in survival of the fittest?

    Second scenario: There is a God, and He caused evolution to happen. There are people who believe in both God and evolution. Naturally, God’s idea of evolution would culminate in humans possessing that rational capacity that animals don’t have, what some might call the “divine spark”.

    Third scenario: Evolution doesn’t exist. But it does exist. I believe evolution, in some form, does exist. I’m with the scientists on that one.

    Fourth scenario: Evolution does exist. So humans evolved, right? So, part of our evolution was the “divine spark.” So, based on the statement in scenario one, that “evolution can’t lie” – then, how did we evolve to believe in God, unless he does exist?

    I’m sure there are flaws in this line of inquiry, but what are they?

  28. that’ll work.Jamelah,I just
    that’ll work.


    I just wanted to take a minute to tell you how much your response here kicked ass(hattery). And I thank you.

  29. dawkinsHe sounds like he`s in

    He sounds like he`s in the business of selling books.

    Great review.

  30. My Thank You -out to the
    My Thank You –

    out to the depths of the Black Forest where minds entangle in mIsteries and one has such a rare and special courage to nourish
    warm sensitivity even in this world

    out over the Ocean where waves splash into existence, mingle for a ‘time’ in interactive ‘beauty’, then return to the pattern (continuum ?) that just IS – to that experienced master/teacher of the absurd

    out to Potters Bar / Field to that loving poet whose writing helped me across some very sharp edges my mind projected, since I just cannot stop thinking, feeling
    these unhealing wounds

    while everything flows
    panta rhei
    You know

    and is as it is

    and Your answers are like warm rain into the (‘real’?) barren soil of my desperate isolation
    (I don’t intend/mind to sound/be ‘romantic’ or trivial here …)
    (where most of the time I don’t feel lyrical or poetical at all, but just ripped open in sensoric
    pain, the periodic spiral mind sensations of depression.. sorry)

  31. warren: “Dawkins would best
    warren: “Dawkins would best blame alienation rather than religion as the source of man’s problems. Religion only works as a smokescreen when it’s used as the reason for violence.”


    and bill: evolution can’t lie, as it’s not a conscious being. yes. it’s not a who. it’s a process. and it works on the principle of trial and error, and therefore can be wrong and lead into dead ends.

    and as for religion / spirituality / belief having been an evolutionary advantage for man – interesting thought.

    yes, maybe, because those who had trust and hope and the hold of a higher authority were able to better face the threatening challenges and struggles of life.
    yes, maybe, because it is easier to overcome the problems of the immediate enviroment if there is a meaning beyond that in your life.
    yes, maybe, because those who teamed up under one name and idea were stronger than than heterogenous groups or loosely connected individuals.

    religion as the creation of tribal unity.
    and as self-fulfilling prophecies – i believe i am strong and my existence has meaning. so i am, and it has. and there is no sense in giving up.

    and the ways to perform it maybe being the compromise between the animalistic survival instincts and newly developed reason:
    wild animal passion wants to make us howl, but reason tells us growling is not appropriate, so we sing halleluyah instead. we want to grunt and growl, but we feel it’s out of place, so we chant and dance to some higher being.

  32. Wellness#1 Belief in god is

    #1 Belief in god is an act of faith and faith requires no proof, is opinion without support
    #2 Evidence contrary to the existence of God exists in abundance, but does nothing to dent #1
    #3 Therefore a rational/logical argument will not prove squat to the faithful, even if it does have truth
    #4 In the end, even with the concession by the faithful to the logical that that logical/rational/evidence-based argument is superior/truthful, God cannot be disproven as human knowledge is incomplete
    #5 Given this, only a religious argument that negates/disproves God can negate/disprove God
    #6 #5 does happen, and can occur only because the believer chooses/didn’t have faith at the start
    #7 Nobody can kick-start #5 You can only “get well”if you want to, to quote an old psych teacher

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Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!