The God Delusion

I am an atheist. So I agree completely with all the arguments of The God Delusion. As a review of the book, that statement should be the end of it. But somehow the book gave me a strange feeling of dissatisfaction. You see, you may believe in God. Or you may not. Or you may actively believe that there is no God. I fall in this the last category. But I still know that it is only my belief, and that thought fills me with a humility that I feel Dawkins lacks.

Now, it is one thing to say that the concept of God is inconsistent with the worldview you have developed, perhaps with the help of science. The concept is indeed very inconsistent with my own personal worldview, which is why I am an atheist. But it is quite a different matter to discount the concept as a delusion. I believe that our knowledge is incomplete. And that there is plenty of room for a possible God to hide beyond the realms of our current knowledge. Does it mean that we should call our ignorance God and kneel before it? I don’t think so, but if somebody does, that is their prerogative.

You see, it is all a question of what your worldview is. And how much rigor and consistency you demand of it. So, what is a worldview? In my opinion, a worldview is the extension of your knowledge. We all have a certain amount of knowledge. We also have a lot of sensory data that comes in every moment that we have to process. We do most of this processing automatically, without conscious effort. But some of the higher level data and information that we encounter merit a closer analysis. How do we do it, given that we may not know much about it? We use our commonsense, our pre-conceived notions, the value systems our parents and teachers left in us and so on. One of these things that we use, or perhaps the totality of these things, is our worldview.

Let’s take an example. Douglas Adams tells us that dolphins are actually smarter than us and have regular inter-galactic communication. Well, we have no way of refuting this claim (which, of course, is only a joke). But our worldview tells us that it is unlikely to be true. And we don’t believe it — as though we know it is not true.

Another example, one that Bertram Russell once cited. Scripture tells us that faith can move mountains. Some people believe it. Science tells us that a nuclear blast can, well, move mountains. Some people believe that too. Note that most people haven’t directly witnessed either. But even for those who believe in the faith-mountain connection, nuclear energy moving mountains is far more plausible a belief. It is just a lot more consistent with our current worldview.

Now, just because God is a delusion according to Dawkins’s worldview (or mine, for that matter), should you buy it? Not unless it is inconsistent with yours as well. Worldviews are hard to change. So are our stances vis-a-vis God and science, when seen as belief-systems — as the movie Contact vividly illustrates. If you missed it, you should watch it. Repeatedly, if needed. It is a good movie anyway.

It is true what they say about a scientific worldview being inconsistent with any sensible notion of a god. But worldviews are a funny thing. Nothing prevents you from tolerating inconsistencies in your worldview. Although Dawkins goes to some length to absolve Einstein of this lack of consistency, the conventional wisdom is that he did believe in God. The truth of the matter is that our collective knowledge (even after adding Einstein’s massive contribution) is limited. There really is plenty of room beyond its limits for God (or eight million gods, if I were to believe my parents), as I will try to show in my next post.

That, however, is only the tip of the iceberg. Once we admit that there are limits to our knowledge, and to what is knowable, we will soon find ourselves staring at other delusions. What is the point it discounting a God delusion, while embracing a space-delusion? In a universe that is unreal, everything is a delusion, not just God. I know, you think it is just my sanity that is unreal, but I may convince you otherwise. In another post.


3 thoughts on “The God Delusion”

  1. In theory the idea of a limited ‘worldview’ is a nice idea, but it falls down where an individual has knowledge of a wider universe but then still chooses to believe that to which he has been indoctrinated. In one of the latter chapters of TGD, Dawkins describes a promising and brilliant geologist/palaeobiologist who decides to put to test what he knows scientifically and what he has been told about/by the bible.

    The individual chooses the bible over his lifetime’s work and adopts the notion that the Earth is approx. 10,000 years old despite his original ‘worldview’. This scientist was not limited by a “certain amount of knowledge”. Quite the opposite – he had more than most. It’s far easier and more comfortable or convenient to call something the truth when you don’t have to justify any of the answers.

  2. You seem to simply be saying that one has a right to be irrational… and to hold fast to a worldview that encourages and reinforces a belief in the irrational. This argument might at first seem to be one that promotes tolerance and a respect for mankind’s diversity. However this view is itself irrational. Naturally, we all live with a degree of uncertainty in our lives, however, believing that a god can move mountains is not the same as believing that an atom bomb can move mountains; not only can it move the mountain, it can literally blast it “to kingdom come” 🙂

    Believing that a god can move mountains has no precedent (as far as I know!), no logical method for arriving at that understanding and no process by which that end result can be achieved. One might as well believe in magic. Therefore to promote a world view where the ability to have faith in such magical occurances is not only considered possible but also a virtue is not only delusional but also ultimately divisive. Divisive because each of the world’s established systems of faith maintain that their brand of magic is the one true brand and the others are at best misguided.

    While at this point I don’t care to argue whether or not an adult should have the right to hold a worldview based on faith, I do however think it is important to highlight the dangers that mankind faces from holding on to these primitive beliefs. A worldview based on faith is not only about a belief in gods, it also shapes our attitude towards other man-made systems such as capitalism and the economic system based on the “free market”. Ironically it is the most scientifically advanced country in the world that not only maintains but also actively promotes the universal acceptance of these systems, both religious and economic – You better believe what I believe, or else…

    One has a right to hold on to an irrational worldview as much as one has a right to be ignorant 🙂

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