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Vera
03-18-2008, 05:58 AM
...is a book by Richard Dawkins, a biologist and a hardcore atheist, who basically wrote the book to argue against religiousness, religious apologism ("I don't believe but it's cool that others do!"), creationism and other various things. He doesn't argue that God absolutely doesn't exist, but claims there is no reason to assume he/it does, and in one chapter argues why God almost definitely doesn't exist.

I went in sort of skeptically because while not religious myself (and brought up completely outside church or religion of any kind; political beliefs at most), I've always been pretty open towards religions and religious practises.

Sadly Dawkins' writing hacks my agnoticism into pieces and generally wreaks havoc among those of us who prefer not to make statements about how the universe came into being. His arguments are almost cruely logical and I can't really come up with any opposing arguments.

Plus the religious traditions he attacks the most - the three monotheist major religions - do have a lot of illogical and warped practises, a lot of blood spilled thanks to them, and very negative phenomenons in current world (from Islamic terrorism to Bible-belt homo-hating America). And the points he makes about the position of atheists in the US is also a good one; even though the US is in theory a secular country, atheism is not something many public figures admit to.

He also elaborates on how the originally secular America became a playground for various religious (but mostly Christian) movements; this is something that really interests me as a person whose country can be blamed for inadequate separation of church and state, but among the people it's clear believers are nearly as few as church goers.

Enough my blabbing though - has anybody else read the book?

Sunny
03-18-2008, 07:30 AM
i've read parts of it, so take my opinion on this with a grain of salt.

my initial issue with Dawkins (and the people who read his book like it is, in fact, the bible) is his fucking attitude. honestly, i don't need to subscribe to the same belief system as the author to enjoy his work. i don't identify as an atheist, but some of my favorite pieces of writing are distinctly anti-god (o hai, Camus). that being said, Dawkins' rambling, pointlessly aggressive work isn't going back on my nighstand anytime soon. perhaps if the guy took a chill pill, we'd talk. but if i wanted to hear a self-assured bastard with a large vocabulary hurl insults at the concept of god, i'd give my ex-boyfriend a call.

he also seems to have a penchant for stating the obvious, which is infuriating since he presents it as some magical discovery. "people did many evil things in the name of god". o shit, REALLY? "religious practices and rituals are not logical".... wait, what? someone give the guy a nobel prize, stat!

in addition, he appears to have a problem with the notion of tolerance and acceptance, which, in my humble opinion, puts him on the same level of douchebaggery as the religious zealots he deems inferior.

and lastly, what i would appreciate from a philosopher is the basic understanding of the human condition. you simply cannot discuss the concept of (and the desire for) god without a sense of compassion and a grasp of human suffering. if Dawkins manages this somewhere in the book i didn't get to, my bad. however, from what i've read, he seems to place himself way above the stupid, god-worshipping masses, as if he had never experienced the pain and the loneliness that make people yearn for god. ultimately, i feel that you can't effectively discuss a massive human phenomenon without compassion for humanity. what turns me off about Dawkins is the fact that he is simply seething with contempt for those less enlightened and intellectually capable than he.

ok im dones! ;p

edit: mother fucker, i got his name wrong 4 times. it's DAWKINS, magdalena. not dawson. lord.

nieh
03-18-2008, 07:38 AM
i'd give my ex-boyfriend a call.

lolz, clitoris, etc.

Sunny
03-18-2008, 07:43 AM
*glares*

you shut it, mister! =p

batfish
03-18-2008, 08:51 AM
I've read extracts published in newspapers; they put me off buying the book. Maybe I'll get it from the library when I can be bothered.

As an atheist who often hangs out with a lot of Christian Union members, I sometimes feel like I have to justify myself and distance myself from people like Dawkins whenever we talk about faith.

Mota Boy
03-18-2008, 08:57 AM
I haven't read The God Delusion. In the past couple months I have read a couple other books by Dawkins, however: The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker. Dawkins is obviously very intelligent and very passionate about his beliefs, but I agree with Magdalena that his attitude does him in. In the intro to The Selfish Gene, he remarks that in his books first printing, one esteemed reviewer referred to it as a "young man's book". Dawkins seems to take this with a chuckle, as what is made as an argument in the book has become pretty much accepted fact within the evolutionary community since its publication. However, I read the words as a comment on the author's tone, something that hasn't abated. Dawkins is respectful of a few contemporaries, but absolutely contemptuous of any rival belief, whether scientific theory or moral structure. He seems to believe that he has stumbled across the correct logical understanding of things, and that anyone who sees different must be somewhat of a simpleton not to understand the self-evident truth.

Now, while this attitude is never pleasant or respectable, it is more understandable, at least, in the realm of science. New scientific breakthroughs often take a while to gain acceptance, and, especially in a field like evolutionary biology, academics from all fields like to jump in and stake a claim to the knowledge (literally all fields - attacks on evolutionary biology have come from everyone from chemists to astronomists to psychologists to feminists), citing supposed inconsistencies that must cause experts in the field to slowly rub their temples. However, in the realm of personal belief? In terms of philosophy? Sociology? Political science? Here it is Dawkins that ventures beyond the ambit of his field, and decides to tell everyone else that they're doing it wrong. Seriously, he just comes across as an ass. Even in The Selfish Gene I found myself raising my eyebrows at some of the unnecessarily derisive asides about religion (The Blind Watchmaker is, in part, targeted at a skeptical audience, so it's less invective).

I don't doubt that he makes some good arguments, and perhaps one day I'll read it (full disclosure: I'm pretty much an atheist here - not totally ruling out the existence of a deity that cares about our actions in one way or another, but finding it nigh impossible to see it fitting in with everything else I've ever learned).

Also, about secularism and the US - it's fairly well-known that more Americans say they'd vote for a Muslim than an atheist, but really... so atheists are discriminated against in the Senate and in terms of being President? That, like, what, .000001% of the available jobs in the country? Public figures don't admit to being atheists, but few admit to being Christians (aside from country music artists and politicians) - there are two reasons for this. First of all, in the US we generally don't talk about religion in the public sphere. It keeps conversation civil, as discussions on religion can lead to arguments regarding religion, which ultimately hit dead ends because people are coming at the discussions based upon completely different world outlooks. Political discussions have traditionally also been avoided (you see how wonderful it's been that *that* taboo's been lifted - or that Dawkins and Hitchens lift it in their books).

Secondly, when people think "atheist" they think "radical atheist", just as when they think "feminist" they think "radical feminist". That's because most atheists that make themselves known (in this day and age) are douchebags. They're thirteen-year-olds on the internet. They're someone suing to get three letters off of the colored paper we use to exchange goods and services. They're Richard Dawkins. They get the news coverage, just like Jerry Falwell or Fred Phelps overshadow tens, or hundreds of millions of Americans who consider themselves Christians but aren't douchebags about it.

Lastly (despite not actually reading what he wrote), I think Dawkins is a moron in that he's making the same fallacy that annoying, tween anarchists make (or annoying, twenty-something libertarians/Paultards make): he forgets that there's not an alternative.

Yes yes, I know - atheism, duh! What I mean is that for since the dawn of recorded human history in every single civilization we have ever studied, as well as the oral histories of modern-day hunter gatherer tribes, every single goddamn human society has always had religion. Likewise, religion is ultimately amorphous - according to the dictionary, religion is "a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects". So essentially, religion can be absolutely anything. Therefore, mistakes that are ultimately human mistakes can be attributed to a catch-all like religion.

Dawkins fails to ask the question: what would life be like without religion? Well, let's imagine two, three, five thousand years ago. If you *didn't* believe that, say, not murdering someone wouldn't come back to haunt you after you died? If there wasn't some magical super-being sitting over your shoulder making sure you paid your taxes and didn't rape the neighbor's wife? I'll admit I can't actually replicate the experiment, but it stands to reason that such fears prevent many horrible actions (the atheists today, by the way, are the beneficiaries of thousands of years of philosophy, not to mention modern societies that will make you pay for your crime in this lifetime). In fact, today in the United States, people that consider themselves "religious" are more likely to donate both time and money to charity than people that do not consider themselves such.

But generally, I think the main problem is that religion cannot be disentangled from human activity. Religion has, historically, dominated every society up until the modern age. So fucking OF COURSE everything that went wrong in human history is wound up in it. It's like expanding beyond religion and claiming that "belief structures" caused all the pain and hurt, so the best solution is not to belief in any system of ethics.

In that vein, attacks on religion, to be truly successful, must also ignore that the greatest atrocities of the 20th century - the Holocaust, the Cultural Revolution, the Cambodian killing fields, the mass starvation of Russians under Stalin, the eugenics movement in the United States - were secular movements. Even the largest terrorist attack in the US in the 20th century, the Oklahoma City bombing, was caused by a secular belief structure. So, uh, ban atheism?

The fact is, we're fucking human beings. When you get a lot of us together, we do stupid shit. We're petty, we're frightened of people not like us, we rally around distinctions both inborn (race) and arbitrary (nationality, or even neighborhood). We are, as a species, just not as smart as we think we are. Religion does have issues, it does have problems, but those should be attacked from within the field of religion itself, not from the outside. Religion is philosophy, is life, is part of who we are, as a species. It's indelibly tied to our souls that we believe in something. It crops up again and again throughout society, organically, from ritualistic worship of hard-core sports fans to the undying idiocy that are the horoscopes (sorry if you like the horoscopes, but... come on now). To blame religion for things that happen to humanity is to ignore that humanity is responsible for all the things that happen to religion. Quite frankly, I think that Dawkins' fundamental problem is that he sees an effect as a cause. Well that, and that he's a douchebag.

Sunny
03-18-2008, 09:07 AM
aw, mota, i loves you dearly. :]

BREAK
03-18-2008, 09:17 AM
I've read it. Wouldn't recommend it to anyone who didn't already have a major beef with religion, though. It's really a bunch of preaching to the converted. I'd much rather read God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens. The tone isn't as condescending, and reads more like appeals to reason. And he's funnier.

wheelchairman
03-18-2008, 11:56 AM
I haven't read it. But I heard his major flaw was taking religions, texts etc. at face value and then assuming that all believers also take all religious texts (relevant to their faith) as some kind of grand truth.

Which is dumb.

Now to read Claibe's post and hope that I didn't repeat him.

Agilulfo
03-18-2008, 12:34 PM
Here it is Dawkins that ventures beyond the ambit of his field, and decides to tell everyone else that they're doing it wrong. Seriously, he just comes across as an ass. Even in The Selfish Gene I found myself raising my eyebrows at some of the unnecessarily derisive asides about religion.

I read The Selfish Gene a few years ago and i didn't even bother to raise an eyebrow. I just kept on reading with disapproving sighs... Yes, the guy frequently goes beyond the sandals and tries to cover it up with humor. The parts where he sticks to biology are great, though - i learned lots with it.

Question: On the book The God Delusion, do you have to know tons of religion history to debate it?

Vera
03-18-2008, 03:34 PM
my initial issue with Dawkins (and the people who read his book like it is, in fact, the bible) is his fucking attitude. honestly, i don't need to subscribe to the same belief system as the author to enjoy his work. i don't identify as an atheist, but some of my favorite pieces of writing are distinctly anti-god (o hai, Camus). that being said, Dawkins' rambling, pointlessly aggressive work isn't going back on my nighstand anytime soon. perhaps if the guy took a chill pill, we'd talk. but if i wanted to hear a self-assured bastard with a large vocabulary hurl insults at the concept of god, i'd give my ex-boyfriend a call.
lolololol. This is epic win, even if he isn't around these parts any more. =D

I agree, though, he has a very annoying attitude. He is writing to convert ..but that's kind of part of the problem. Can you convert those religious fanatics who doubt evolution by giving them their own poison - aggressive arguing? I mean, sure, his arguing is logical and based on science and the principles of science, but still. Plus yeah, he comes off as a douche. Even if I'm an agnostic leaning towards atheism, I don't wanna be in this guy's posse. I'd rather hang out with the "wussies" who put off the God Question til after lunch and meanwhile discuss rainbows.

Mmm, rainbows.


he also seems to have a penchant for stating the obvious, which is infuriating since he presents it as some magical discovery. "people did many evil things in the name of god". o shit, REALLY? "religious practices and rituals are not logical".... wait, what? someone give the guy a nobel prize, stat!
I wonder if he's ever read a book or two on Anthropology or Religion Science (hey there's such a thing, too!). Because I have and his hard science approach towards religion only makes sense when arguing against creationists who're obviously fanatics trying to meddle in something that does not belong to them (science that we teach our kids at schools).

Also his view of theology doesn't match up to my experience with well-educated theologians, who are men and women of faith and extremely detailed understanding of the issues of their own religion and its history.



and lastly, what i would appreciate from a philosopher is the basic understanding of the human condition. you simply cannot discuss the concept of (and the desire for) god without a sense of compassion and a grasp of human suffering. if Dawkins manages this somewhere in the book i didn't get to, my bad. however, from what i've read, he seems to place himself way above the stupid, god-worshipping masses, as if he had never experienced the pain and the loneliness that make people yearn for god. ultimately, i feel that you can't effectively discuss a massive human phenomenon without compassion for humanity. what turns me off about Dawkins is the fact that he is simply seething with contempt for those less enlightened and intellectually capable than he.

I think he argues that human compassion, moral, caring, all these human phenomenons associated with religious experiences (like "we would not know right from wrong if not thanks to God") can exist without religion. I agree, but it has to be still noted that up until this point, moral and taboo and customs are, if not defined by a religion, then interlinked to the religious beliefs of the community.

Now, it's simple to assume that without religion we could have moral - I think we would since societies have to form some kind of a moral code, a set of rules what is good and what is to be forbidden, in other to survive and live functionally.

Okay, I only now just read Claibe's post; guess we made essentially the same point. I was also going to add that science in itself is a product of human behavior, and human behavior has long included religious practises. Then I was going to blabber about something I read today because I've been studying basics of anthropology but decided not to bore y'all with it. :]

JohnnyNemesis
03-18-2008, 03:39 PM
lol clitoris where is it etc.

I think I just got Mota Boy'd by Sunny. (she said everything I could have possibly even hoped to want to say in shockingly similar language, so yay).

I despise Richard Dawkins.

Vera
03-18-2008, 04:54 PM
You guys are going to hate me because I spent money on it. :(

But allow me to explain. Day 3 in London, Day 10 in England and my shoes were raping my feet like it was St Rape's Footdeath Day. I had a blister the size of a fucking fist and I was actually LIMPING because it hurt so fucking bad.

So I was like, screw this touristy walking around shit and my friend agreed she could leave me at Costa Coffee with a good book, go to her artfaggy museums and come pick me up when we had to go catch a plane.

I bought the book because I recognized the title, it seemed interesting, and the only other non-fiction paperbacks I could find were on topics like economy and celebrity press that I don't find too interesting. (Though after Freakonomics, maybe I should've picked up the Undercover Economist - it didn't seem like a hopelessly complex read.)

I'm still enjoying this book a fair amount, enough to take it to work every day and read it during my break. On the other hand, I'm beginning to tire of his doucheness. Maybe I'll skip to the parts about batshit religious nutjobs in the States, read those and then move onto something else.

Jebus
03-18-2008, 06:06 PM
Reading this book has been on my to do list for a while. I've only actually read snips of it, but I do know the guy through a few of his documentaries. I enjoy his take on the ID vs evolution "debate", the Darwinian reasons for morals/values, the creation of the universe, and all that sciency fun stuff. I find him to be an intelligent man and I've learned a lot from him.

I don't actually have a problem with his cold, hard, soulless, robotic, logical, and scientific style. I do realize (and Dawkins probably does too) that it requires more than test tubes and bunsen burners to have a clear understanding of the human psyche. The thing is that he's foremost and always will be a scientist. It's only natural that his interpretation of the world comes from a scientific mindset. True. It's not the best way to send his message across, but it's still an interesting point of view.

but yeah...no doubt he's a douche. To be fair, kind of hard not be a douche and not to offend some people when trying to give reasons for why God doesn't exist. =\

PS: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_2xGIwQfik

Sunny
03-18-2008, 06:53 PM
I think he argues that human compassion, moral, caring, all these human phenomenons associated with religious experiences (like "we would not know right from wrong if not thanks to God") can exist without religion.

i think that's definitely true (and much like many of Dawkins' points, not much of a revelation). what i meant - and i'm not sure if i communicated it clearly - is that he doesn't seem to have an understanding of just how shitty human life is. i mean, unnecessary emoness aside, our existence is inherently painful (LYFE=PAIN BORN2DIE AMIRITE?). if Dawkins were a compassionate being (or perhaps a deeper thinker) he would take that into account before simply dismissing religious masses as stupid and inferior. the point is, certain inevitable events in life - suffering, death of loved ones, our own bodies aging and failing - are so difficult to handle that it is really no surprise people turn to the notion of god for guidance and help. a loving, fatherly god is the ultimate comfort, and you have to be dumb as a brick not to realize that a desire for a caring, omnipotent being is a very important part of the human condition. the reason why Dawkins strikes me as such a borderline psycho d-bag is because he seems to deliberately dismiss the pain that makes many people turn to god... and his lack of understanding of the realities of human existence is disturbing to say the least.

XYlophonetreeZ
03-19-2008, 12:26 AM
I like him as an evolutionary biologist, hate him as a human being and preachy atheist activist. The Selfish Gene is the soundest update of Darwinian evolutionary thought since the discovery of genes. But God, what a douchebag. Why the fuck do atheists need to impose their beliefs on others? Because they believe that some poor kid in rural Kansas is The Chosen One for curing cancer, only he'll never be able to accomplish that unless all the religious dogma he'll be taught throughout his life is stopped before it reaches him? Fuck that. Christians impose their beliefs on others because there is a destiny involved in their religion, because evangelism consistent with their beliefs. Atheists' "beliefs," as a group, are limited to "God Ain't." The only logical reason for them to impose this belief on others is simple bigotry and intolerance. Annoyed by those who believe in God(s)? Cry moar.

Sunny
03-19-2008, 07:38 AM
i believe the reasoning behind atheist evangelism, so to speak, is that the ignorant masses need to be enlightened and liberated from the confines of religious thought for their own good. some, in fact, believe that religion needs to be outlawed if we want our society to progress, because then people would devote their energy to a more worthwhile goal (what that goal might be, no one really knows). human rights? who cares!

in other words, i feel it's a crock of bigoted shit.

Vera
03-19-2008, 07:48 AM
In being agnostic (sliiightly atheist) and thinking still, "let people have their faith", I kind of believe that everybody ought to have the choice of educating themselves in how the world works according to science. If they have an epiphany and stop believing, so be it. But it's not fair to demand that they *must* accept atheism in order to be truly intelligent.

Oh and I get your point about compassion, human suffering etc now.

JoY
03-19-2008, 08:30 AM
Sunny, Mota Boy &, in short, Per have said most of what there's to say on the subject. actually, to be honest, I didn't read much else in this topic, except Sanni's posts, but whatev.

what reflected my sentiments most of all, was the following part in Mota Boy's post:
To blame religion for things that happen to humanity is to ignore that humanity is responsible for all the things that happen to religion.

we, humanity, are the ones clinging on hope, beliefs, faith, in all sorts of forms. what comes next, is what we do with it. you can't take responsibility away from the individual to shift it entirely to the convictions his actions were based on. not that you can blame everything on the imperfections of human nature, either. like violent videogames, made by us humans, aren't the cause of violence, but are more of a result of human tendencies; violent tendencies. violence can come of that, but the individual who brings violent tendencies into practice is the one responsible, if you ask me.

...strange comparison, but it just annoys me when phenomenons, entangled in human nature, are viewed seperately from us humans. like we didn't have anything to do with it ourselves, but like it just suddenly existed, coming from some kind of external source, having nothing to do with us. if that's how you view religion, it's kind of questionable how atheist you are.

Sunny
03-19-2008, 09:10 AM
In being agnostic (sliiightly atheist) and thinking still, "let people have their faith", I kind of believe that everybody ought to have the choice of educating themselves in how the world works according to science. If they have an epiphany and stop believing, so be it. But it's not fair to demand that they *must* accept atheism in order to be truly intelligent.


yeah, i mean, that's what bothers me about the Dawkins sort of atheists - the concept that belief in god (or lack thereof) is an accurate measure of intelligence. i know atheists that claim that religious people are "less evolved", for fuck's sake. bitchez plz.

JohnnyNemesis
03-19-2008, 10:52 AM
I like him as an evolutionary biologist, hate him as a human being and preachy atheist activist. The Selfish Gene is the soundest update of Darwinian evolutionary thought since the discovery of genes. But God, what a douchebag. Why the fuck do atheists need to impose their beliefs on others? Because they believe that some poor kid in rural Kansas is The Chosen One for curing cancer, only he'll never be able to accomplish that unless all the religious dogma he'll be taught throughout his life is stopped before it reaches him? Fuck that. Christians impose their beliefs on others because there is a destiny involved in their religion, because evangelism consistent with their beliefs. Atheists' "beliefs," as a group, are limited to "God Ain't." The only logical reason for them to impose this belief on others is simple bigotry and intolerance. Annoyed by those who believe in God(s)? Cry moar.

Yes yes yes yes yes yes so fucking yes yes yes. YES.

Vera
03-19-2008, 02:21 PM
Okay now I'm just amused. The chapter I got to while reading on my way to work and during my break basically deals with how he finds religion came about, evolutionally. At first he sounded like he'd just go the "atheism is the next step in evolution" route as Sunny briefed previously but then he moved onto more interesting theories. And by interesting, I mean slightly WTF-y.

Somewhere among his lengthy moth-metaphor (too long to be explained here) he compares atheists to homosexuals (because like, the majority of people are straight but like, gay people are not) and then basically talks about how children are likely to believe whatever you tell them and that sort of ends with adults who tell their children whatever their parents told them as kids, etc cycle continues.

As for evolution, the reason for religion is basically that religion is a by-product of something else; I think his main point is that people are brought up to believe in things and our "natural instinct" includes a belief in dualism (matter & mind - separate) which ties into all religious beliefs. And something about how like, it's more 'natural' to assume things of as designed rather than built over time by evolution.. Like you don't have to know how an alarm clock works, its inner machinery, in order to know when it'll go off. You can just look at when it's set and assume it's designed so it'll go off that time.

I'm fairly tired and probably not making much sense. Regardless indeed this may be the d-baggiest of his chapters so far but I'm sort of enjoying it because it's just so obnoxious. =D

wheelchairman
03-19-2008, 02:53 PM
On another note, the worst place to buy books in general is at airport/train stations etc. unless you know what you're looking for, you're likely to find books that are easily recommendable to travelling pseudo-intellectual type business yuppie douche bags. A phenomen of pop-intellectualism that is superficial at most. Typically if you don't know what you're looking for there will be a lot of stuff there that sounds interesting, but will leave you unsatisfied mentally.

I think I bought Arthur Schopenhauer's (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Schopenhauer) "The Art of Knowing Yourself" in one of these places because the people who stocked the shelves figured it was a self-help book. That was one of the more ironic moments in a book store. However the book itself is marketed as a kind of Oscar Wilde-esque set of quotations on life by Arthur Schopenhauer. Which would leave someone who was seeking that, deeply disappointed. (or if someone was seeking self-help...well the philosopher of pessimism won't be much help anyways.)

I did however get I am Legend and parts of the Dune series in book stores, so that's alright I guess. (oh and stuff by Nick Hornby.)

Mota Boy
03-20-2008, 04:42 AM
On another note, the worst place to buy books in general is at airport/train stations etc. unless you know what you're looking for, you're likely to find books that are easily recommendable to travelling pseudo-intellectual type business yuppie douche bags. A phenomen of pop-intellectualism that is superficial at most. Typically if you don't know what you're looking for there will be a lot of stuff there that sounds interesting, but will leave you unsatisfied mentally.Psh, elitist. I've purchased over half the book I've read in the past year at airports and found them a fantastic source of raw information... airport bookstores, as they have limited space, only contain the best-selling and best-reviewed books, so you really have to declare yourself to be intellectually beyond a very wide span of individuals (from the self-selecting book reading community at that) to snub your nose at book stores aimed at travelers. I've found everyone from Homer (the blind, not the bald one) to Camus to Carl Sagan... are you sure you're not just glancing at the few business books on predominant display (by the way, some of which are very much worth reading)?


As for evolution, the reason for religion is basically that religion is a by-product of something else; I think his main point is that people are brought up to believe in things and our "natural instinct" includes a belief in dualism (matter & mind - separate) which ties into all religious beliefs. And something about how like, it's more 'natural' to assume things of as designed rather than built over time by evolution.The "by-product" argument is a necessity for an evolutionary biology approach to religion, as religiosity does not confer any special survival advantage to the individual. Personally, I think it comes from a few things - interestingly enough, our logic. We're terribly curious creatures, humanity. Think of the child that endlessly asks "why?". Understanding the world, and most importantly, discovering cause-and-effect certainly helps us survive. Noticing that, say, the ground always rumbles before the nearby mountain explodes, or that staring at the group leader's woman always leads to an ass-kicking will help one avoid being affected by such unpleasant outcomes in the future. We've taken cause and effect a bit further (an effect of a slowly-but-steadily increasing intelligence on survival and reproduction in the group dynamic in which human beings evolved) and learned to create complex narratives. Say, Ug wants to be chief, so he's just giving you that mastodon thigh because he wants your support because he knows the current chief is old and will die soon.

Then, this becomes mixed up in a psychological issue that leads us to develop spontaneous rituals as we attempt to understand the world. The effect was first and most famously noted by B.F. Skinner in experiments on pigeons. It's well known that you can develop a habit in a certain creature by rewarding it for doing whatever you deem "good" (like giving a dog a treat for sitting). Skinner had the insight to deliver food at random times and see what would happen. Turns out, the animals developed their own rituals. First off, the associated the food with whatever they were doing at the time the food appeared, and began doing that action more in response. In doing that action more, they became more likely to be doing it when the food appeared, reinforcing whatever random behavior in which they had been involved. Some began flying in one corder of the cage, or bobbing their heads incessantly, or other such completely ineffective behavior. Reading about the experiment, I couldn't help but think about how, whenever I was receiving a particularly poor (stolen) wifi connection in my apartment, I'd lift up the front font of my laptop for a few seconds to get the page to download faster, which it sometimes did (maybe not faster, but sometimes soon after I raised up the keyboard). My thought was that maybe the wifi card was there and I was giving it more "air" or some other thought that, in reality, had no connection.

Now, looking at Skinner's work, it's hard not to see resemblances to the culturally-repeated rain dance - complex rituals developed over generations of randomly-delivered rewards (though, as people studied weather patterns, shamans may have been better at predicting rain, and so rain dances were timed to occur when rain was favorable). This, combined with our desire to draw conclusions and tell stories, led to the creation of religion. Hell, look at the modern-day responses to the Southeast Asian Tsunami (Allah declares we are not pious enough) or Hurricane Katrina (New Orleans: City of SIN!). Simple randomly-delivered stimulus-response.

Our brains were designed to hunt down large game, to identify and hide from predators and to outwit other members of our small bands. They weren't designed for understanding the innumerate mysteries with which the universe provides us. It took millennia of technological and intellectual breakthroughs before we arrived where we are now. Trying to wrap your head around them within the confines of one lifetime worth of experience in the small geographic location in which a human was destined to live in those days? Impossible. We can't handle it. So we take things we know - human beings and animals (which we anthropomorphize) and create complex stories explaining how they crafted what came to be.

Interestingly, you can take Dawkin's idea of the meme, which he introduced in The Selfish Gene and carry it over to religion. In a sense, religions themselves "evolve" to become "more fit" for survival. They explain more phenomenon, they simplify, they become grander, they create harsher punishments for disbelief, or greater incentives for proselytizing, which help their message spread to new minds, stay in old minds and ward off other beliefs that may compete for the "religion" niche (such as the Southern Baptist chick I heard on the radio, who warned against yoga, for its very etymology was based on "yoking" yourself to some heathen god - or environmentalism, for that matter, as that was disguised worship of an Earth mother [in a heart-breaking part of the show, another woman called in, desperately saying "please tell me I'm not crazy - I believe everything you're saying, but everyone around me is making me feel crazy to think this").

In that vein, atheism itself is aggressively competing for that niche. Science has been making inroads for decades (which is why the religious establishment so often challenges it) in the realm of explaining the world. However, I do believe that there is still very much a spiritual component to human beings. It makes us happy. Secular philosophies help that to an extent, but we repeatedly see those that cast-off religion return to some form of it (new age hippie culture that emerged in the sixties has a ton of resemblances to religion that helped fill the void for something greater, and younger Chinese are flocking to religion as the Maoist ideology that once replaced it has all but vanished from modern-day China). I think that until a secular philosophy finds a way to fill the spiritual void as well (as Communism tried to do with it's preachings of humanity's fall from our hunter-gatherer Eden, progress towards a return to that Golden Age with a worldwide communist revolution and brotherhood of the worker [sound familiar?]), it will be unable to compete with religion. Outright hostility itself is not a very good barrier, as it only fills the spiritual void with a sense of moral superiority and personal enlightenment, which can become unbearably douchebaggy.

wheelchairman
03-20-2008, 06:14 AM
Psh, elitist. I've purchased over half the book I've read in the past year at airports and found them a fantastic source of raw information... airport bookstores, as they have limited space, only contain the best-selling and best-reviewed books, so you really have to declare yourself to be intellectually beyond a very wide span of individuals (from the self-selecting book reading community at that) to snub your nose at book stores aimed at travelers. I've found everyone from Homer (the blind, not the bald one) to Camus to Carl Sagan... are you sure you're not just glancing at the few business books on predominant display (by the way, some of which are very much worth reading)?

Oh they always have some of the more apparent classics. But I'm also talking about in a certain price range as well. 20$ or 30$ for a book is not even a consideration. (well actually that's not true with the dollar being worthless... uh 20 or 30 euros then). Yeah that's accurate.

I however always find the history and politics sections to be lacking quite often. On entire bookcases I will only find maybe 2 or 3 books tempting enough to buy.

Duskygrin
03-26-2008, 12:48 PM
My bf deeply reveres Dawkins. I don't. In fact, I never read anything but long excerpts from his books, and it's not my cup of tea. For some reason he (bf) went apeshit and we had a row over him. Wow. Kudos for the spread of tolerance, I'd say.