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The God Delusion
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Richard Dawkins has a new book out called The God Delusion. Here's a Huffington Post op-ed which pretty much sums it up.

Like I've said before with Dawkins when he speaks about religion...yeah, he's pretty much right. But he's also belligerent and assholish. So who is his intended audience? I haven't read the book, and probably won't. Apparently he spends very little time talking about the virtues of religion. This is the man who coined the term "meme", and religion is probably the most pervasive and powerful meme of all. To hear him talk about it is to think that it persists the same way you get a bad song stuck in your head.

There are plenty of adaptive reasons for religion to exist. Yes, quite a bit of wrong-headedness is done in the name of religion, but so is an awful lot of good. And while most of the evils of religion are evident on a large scale, most of the good is done at the personal level. Billions of people have found psychological strength and comfort from the world's religions, and even though I think those beliefs are false, I can't deny their positive impact in lieu of their negative impact. That would be intellectually dishonest.

That doesn't mean I don't think the beliefs are false. Just that I understand that the truth or falsity of a belief doesn't necessarily correlate with its usefulness. That depends entirely on your goals.

Nevertheless, Dawkins is preaching to the atheist choir. It's the secular version of brimstone and fire. And I just don't think he's going to get anywhere with it.

Carl Sagan is dead, but he really was my favorite science writer. Not just because he was a great writer, and I wasn't even that interested in astronomy. It was his gentle, methodical, ultra-patient style. He was an atheist as well, but he didn't go around clubbing people over the head with it, telling people they were full of shit. He listened, empathized, and still made his arguments as lucidly as Dawkins, but without the rancid tone.

Another reason I don't think books like The God Delusion will really do much is that it's a prime example of grade-two thinking.

It's useful, for example, to shred the idiocy of faith healing or medical quacks. There's a viable alternative to people selling snake oil. It's called modern medicine.

But when it comes to religion, what are people like Dawkins offering in place of the beliefs they spend all their breath ripping to shreds and stomping into the ground?

Religion answers the most profound "why" questions in human existence, the ones everyone begins to ask as soon as they the ability. Why are we here? What happens when we die? What is good and what is bad? Are we alone in the universe? Why is do bad things happen?

Most of the answers an atheist will provide are either unpleasant or incomplete. Personally I'm fine with that, because I think it's a closer reflection of reality. But to a believer who thinks there's a omniscient father figure who loves them, has a plan for them, is watching over them, and is reserving a really great place for them when they die...well, in terms of sheer salesmanship, the atheist is screwed.

So the militant atheist can display the most immaculate reasoning they want, but at the end of the day you have to provide people incentive to want to change. You don't just have to do grade-two thinking, knocking down beliefs. You have to do the hard work of putting a framework in place that replaces what you've tried so hard to topple.

That's the book I've never seen but have hoped someday someone would write. The closest to a cohesive secular philosophy I've seen is objectivism and when I first heard about its stated principles I thought it sounded great. Too bad in practice it's functionally a cult run by kooks.

Maybe someday someone will articulate a framework that replaces religious beliefs with some of its better aspects but combines them with a secular worldview. I'm not holding my breath, and I'm sure it's not going to be Dawkins. But I'll keep on the lookout.

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