Sunday, July 01, 2007

Pleasure reading

So my first pleasure read that has nothing explicitly to do with my studies/research: The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins. And I *loved* it. A logical & humorous look at the arguments for and against the presence of a higher power, with a sampling of various approaches (physics, morality, history, theology, literature, etc.). I kept reading parts aloud to Andrew (often much to his annoyance). Dawkins just confirmed everything I suspected, but never articulated...

Some of my favorite bits:

"I am not in favour of offending or hurting anyone just for the sake of it. But I am intrigued and mystified by the disproportionate privileging of religion in our otherwise secular societies. All politicians must get used to disrespectful cartoons of their faces, and nobody riots in their defence. What is so special about religion that we grant it such uniqely privileged respect? As H. L. Mencken said: 'We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.'" - 27

"How many literalists have read enough of the Bible to know that the death penalty is prescribed for adultery, for gathering sticks on the sabbath and for cheeking your parents? If we reject Deuteronomy and Leviticus (as all enlightened moderns do), by what criteria do we then decide which of religion's moral values to *accept*? Or should we pick and choose among all the world's religions until we find one whose moral teaching suits us? If so, again we must ask, by what criterion do we choose? And if we have independent criteria for choosing among relgious moralities, why not cut out the middle man and go straight for the moral choice without the religion?" - 57

Not Dawkins, but quoting Sam Harris's Letter to a Christian Nation, which I *clearly* need to read: "It should be blindingly obvious that beliefs of this sort [that the second coming will occur with a disaster] will do little to help us create a durable future for ourselves -- socially, economically, environmentally, or geopolitically. Imagine the consequences if any significant component of the U.S. government actually believed that the world was about to end and that its ending would be *glorious.* The fact that nearly half of the American population apparently believes this, purely on the basis of religious dogma, should be considered a moral and intellectual emergency." - 302

"As long ago as 1954, according to Robert Hinde in his thoughtful book Why Gods Persist, a Gallup Poll in the U.S. found the following. Three-quarters of Catholics and Protestants could not name a single Old Testament prophet. More than two-thirds didn't know who preached the Sermon on the Mount. A substantial number thought that Moses was one of Jesus's twelve apostles. That, to repeat, was in the U.S., which is dramatically more religious than other parts of the developed world." - 341

In total agreement: "The King James Bible of 1611 -- the Authorized Version -- includes passages of outstanding literary merit in its own right, for example the Song of Songs, and the sublime Ecclesiastes... But the main reason the English Bible needs to be part of our education is that it is a major source book for literary culture." - 341

"Does religion fill a much needed gap? It is often said that there is a God-shaped gap in the brain which needs to be filled: we have a psychological need for God -- imaginary friend, father, big brother, confessor, confidant -- and the need has to be satisifed whether God really exists or not. But could it be that God clutters up a gap that we'd be better off filling with something else? Science, perhaps? Art? Human friendship? Humanism? Love of this life in the real world, giving no credence to other lives beyond the grave? A love of nature, or what the great entomologist E. O. Wilson has called Biophilia?" - 347

" 'Tell me,' the great twentieth-century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once asked a friend, 'why do people always say it was natural for man to assume that the sun went round the Earth rather than that the Earth was rotating?' His friend replied, 'Well, obviously because it just *looks* as though the Sun is going round the Earth.' Wittgenstein responded, 'Well, what would it have looked like if it had looked as though the Earth was rotating?' I sometimes quote this remark of W. in lectures, expecting the audience to laugh. Instead, they seem stunned into silence." - 367

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