Friday, October 06, 2006

Richard Dawkins

In her review of Richard Dawkins' book 'The God Delusion', Mary Midgley points out that Dawkins is labouring under the same flawed ideology he is attacking.

Correctly linking fundamentalist religion with atrocities throughout history, he proposes that science should replace religion entirely. ("Imagine there's no religion too").
This is rather like saying that because American and Nazi social Darwinist scientists misappropriated Darwin's ideas for racist ends, ultimately leading to the Holocaust, all science should be done away with.

By redefining Pantheism and Buddhism as non-religions, Dawkins tries to steer around the fact that many of the greatest scientists, such as Einstein, had pantheistic religious attitudes, and that Buddhism has not been credited with much in the way of atrocities. A religion with a ubiquitous god (Pantheism), or one without the concept of god(Buddhism), can still be a religion in the proper sense of the word. Pantheism does not even entail a belief in the supernatural or metaphysical, since god and world are seen as coextensive.
It could be argued in fact that the removal of religion by Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot, aided their horrendous crimes, by removing all vestiges of moral conscience in the perpetrators. When it comes to mindless violence, atheist dictatorships do not have a much better record than theocracies.

Midgley is to be commended for pointing out the pressing need to find the causes of fundamentalist religious thinking rather than simply reacting against it. If scientists react, they fall in to the same trap as religious opponents of evolution reacting to the misuse of Darwin's ideas.
Religion - particularly in its more introspective forms: Sufism, Zen, Gnosticism - is concerned mainly with self-knowledge (or should be), while science is concerned with knowledge of the world. The false rivalry between Science and Religion largely disappears when, like Einstein, one experiences self and world as a continuum.

The Buddha recognised that bodha (Self-knowledge) and dharma (religion) are codependent. Ultimately, however, the realisation of the Self supersedes human religious mores.

Self-knowledge is of great advantage to scientists, helping them to see when their prejudices and desires are distorting their objectivity, as was the case with social Darwinism.



Art Neuro said...

This is what I don't get:
Why do people need religion to have a moral conscience?
Why can't they have a socially determined moral compass without resorting to God?

This isn't a knock on religion, but more of a broader quetion about humanity being human.
Why can't they just say, "you know what? I'm not joining the NAZIs/Stalinists to round up folks and exterminate them"?
I mean, how much courage could it take to dissent, or even paassively resist the mob brutality?

Just wondering out loud.

jeronimus said...

Hi Art
The word Sanskrit word 'Dharma' (Pali 'Dhamma')is sometimes loosely
translated as 'religion' but has
a much more profound sense.
Even animals have a dharma to fulfil, yet they don't need to
have a concept of God or attend
church services to fulfill it.
The Buddha was not advocating
organised religion as a prerequisite for enlightenment,
but was merely pointing out that
morality and Self-realisation
cannot be separated from each other,
because if one is inhibiting or aggressing
'others' one is really doing it to oneself (the Self, Buddha Nature, the Pleroma, 'God' etc)
Sufi masters used to assess
people on their level of understanding of this basic reality. If they were not anywhere close
to that realisation, they would tell them to go to the mosque, then at least they would get a sense of law. If they were conscious of morality as an innate thing, they would tell them to
shun organised religion altogether.
I am fairly sure O. R. would be of little value to you or most of my friends(not that I am a sufi master).