In October, I went to hear Richard Dawkins speak on secularism. He was promoting his latest book, The Magic of Reality and as I’d read and admired his earlier work, The God Delusion, I was eager to hear him. For many in the room of approximately 500, the lecture must have been satisfying because, afterwards, a majority of them lined up along three walls to buy his new book. The sight of so many fans made this puny writer salivate with envy. But I confess, I was disappointed by what I’d heard.
Dawkins’ lecture was about the origin of belief. His began by saying early man invented god(s) to explain natural phenomena. These gods were metaphors for the unknowable but over time, they became mistaken for truth. To support his argument, he quoted theologians throughout history who perpetuated this mistake, largely, Dawkins felt, to control their followers.
Much about his lecture troubled me, but I’ll address only his premise: that man invented god(s) to satisfy a desire to understand a mysterious world. Of course, a premise is a beginning assumption from which a logical argument follows. In itself, it is no truer than a metaphor. For example, Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am,” seems self-evident but it is not truth, being improvable.
Any premise can be met with an opposing one. Instead of assuming that religion grew from a desire to explain the universe, one could argue the reverse. God is not a way to understand nature, but rather nature poses questions which lead to God. In other words, God isn’t the means but the end.
As I say, neither premise is provable but I marvel at the hubris which surrounds both sides of the God argument. Listening to Dawkins’ lecture, surrounded by my fellow atheists, I should have felt comfortable; but I did not. From their mouths came expressions of contempt that might be raised against non-believers in any mosque, church or synagogue. Sadly, to believe or not believe always means choosing sides, building fences and promoting exclusion.
I had hoped we atheists would rise above a sneer. But that was my delusion. I left Dawkins, selling his books, and drove home with a heavy heart.
(Courtesy of http://www.fandensoldermor.com