Reflections Prompted by Richard Dawkins's: The God Delusion

By Klostermaier, Klaus K. | Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

Reflections Prompted by Richard Dawkins's: The God Delusion


Klostermaier, Klaus K., Journal of Ecumenical Studies


Most of the 374 pages of The God Delusion (1) are mercifully not about God but about religion, specifically the "Three Abrahamic Religions"--Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. More specifically, the book is about Christianity and, most specifically, about American Christian fundamentalism. I found myself in agreement with most of what Richard Dawkins--not without humor and with passion--found wrong with the preposterous sayings and doings of believers and preachers of all sorts. Organized religions, one could conclude, are more concerned with power, domination and money than with God. I also agree with Dawkins that one should not identify children by the religious affiliation of their parents, and I certainly support his opinion that "[a] good case can indeed be made for the educational benefits of teaching comparative religion." (2)

However, I disagree with Dawkins when he equates the follies of religious believers with religion as such, identifies the utterances of some preachers with the notion of God, reduces reality to matter, and postulates the omniscience of science. Dawkins must certainly be aware of the frequent abuse of science, the frauds committed by scientists, and the exaggerated claims made by some; he probably would not identify these with science as such.

Dawkins's main "scientific" argument for rejecting a Creator is that evolution, as he understands it, works from the most simple and primitive to the more complex and advanced, whereas the assumption of a Creator God would place the most complex being at the beginning. "Evolution" is a very ambiguous term that has been interpreted by many theorists in many different ways. If Dawkins sees in the theory of evolution the basis for scientific atheism, Ernst Mayr, arguably the most respected contemporary theorist of biology, thinks that "Virtually all biologists are religious, in the deeper sense of this word, even though it may be a religion without revelation, as it was called by Julian Huxley." (3)

In order to serve as the foundation of a coherent theory of nature, the theory of evolution, as Dawkins presents it, requires the introduction of a metaphysical notion such as chance and the assumption of a transcendent omniscient and omnipotent "selector" performing at every instant simultaneously billions of instances of natural selection. Dawkins expands the range of nonscientific elements by introducing luck as a major factor. Nobody has ever seen or touched chance or luck, and the fact that there exists a probability calculus that is, among other things, helpful in the insurance business does not make chance any more substantial. The probability calculus makes the emergence of the universe and the development of any organisms appear to be extremely improbable. We obviously need something in addition to chance and luck to end up with a real world.

Dawkins has made it abundantly clear through many earlier publications that he is not only a confirmed atheist but also an out-and-out materialist for whom spirit/soul does not exist. Ali those who assume the existence of a Creator agree that she/he/it is Spirit. There are many theories that try to explain the relationship between Creator and creation, from a deistic distancing to a pantheistic amalgamation. Thus, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan held that the evolving universe is identical with its creator:

   [T]he God who is responsible for this world, who is the
   consciousness of the universe, is working through brute matter from
   which He has to liberate Himself and liberate us. He Himself is
   suffering in each and all of us. This suffering will be at an end
   when the spirit which is imprisoned in transitory matter is
   released, when the potential world-spirit or spirit of the whole
   becomes the actual consciousness of each part, when God becomes ...
   "all in all," when the solitary limited God becomes the pantheistic
   God. (4)

Dawkins, apparently approvingly, quotes Carl Sagan: "[I]f by 'God' one means the set of physicals laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. …

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