« Religion and Science -- 6 | Main | The Best Argument for the Existence of God? »

October 31, 2006

Dawkins Religious?

Well, we know he's a six on the seven point disbelieve-in-God scale. But then Richard Dawkins writes this:

An American student asked her professor whether he had a view about me. 'Sure,' he replied. 'He's positive science is incompatible with religion, but he waxes ecstatic about nature and the universe. To me, that is religion!' Well, if that's what you choose to mean by religion, fine, that makes me a religious man. But if your God is a being who designs universes, listens to prayers, forgives sins, wreaks miracles, reads your thoughts, cares about your welfare and raises you from the dead, you are unlikely to be satisfied. As the distinguished American physicist Steven Weinberg said, "If you want to say that 'God is energy,' then you can find God in a lump of coal." But don't expect congregations to flock to your church.

Do those of us who rank high on the waxing-ecstatic scale (and myself I can get pretty exuberant about summer breezes and all sorts of landscapes) really meet some definition of religious?

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at October 31, 2006 10:39 PM


This view seems to be born out of an inability to believe that anyone can find beauty in something they (are trying to) understand, but only in Mystery (with a capital M and that rhymes with... er, starts with E and THAT rhymes with G and that stands for God). Or possibly from the belief that being religious is somehow a Good Thing. Martin over at Saltus Sobrius recently wondered about the claim "I'm not religious, but I am spiritual" and this strikes me as similar to that. It strikes me as applying the term religious, or the term god, to a concept so nebulous that you'd be hard put to find anyone to whom it didn't apply - which may be the point, in the end.

Posted by: The Ridger at November 1, 2006 5:44 AM

No, just observant.

Posted by: Milo Johnson at November 1, 2006 9:45 AM

An infinite number of perspectives inhabit the room between 6 and 7. You can find any deifinition of religion you want in there.

Is it a logarithmic scale or just linear?
So many questions.

Posted by: Jay Saul at November 1, 2006 12:49 PM

The appropriate word in today's culture for Dawkins's attitude is 'spiritual', not 'religious'. (One could quibble that neither really means very much, but that would be a separate discussion.) I'm reminded here of Wittgenstein's discussion of 'introspection' (Philosophical Investigations, paragraph 412). Just like 'introspection', 'spirituality' is arguably irrelevant to an actual conscious experience of the world. Why do folks even want to be (or be identified as) spiritual? I suspect that the spirituality meme was invented by religious culture and 'designed' to describe the putative benefits of religion. I don't think it's useful and I don't think that secularists should use it.

Posted by: roy sablosky at November 2, 2006 10:30 AM

To my thinking, the distinguishing characteristic of a religious person is faith, i.e., belief in and acceptance of something (existence of god or gods, and all that follows therefrom) with no evidence or possibility of evidence. It's a completely irrational type of believing that actually rejects the notion of evidence, which is the foundation for most normal beliefs about the way the world is.

Ergo, you can wax as poetic as you want. You'll only be religious if you're waxing poetic about god(s), faith, or something related. There is nothing irrational about enjoying a beautiful day.

Posted by: Christopher Cuttone at November 2, 2006 3:12 PM

A lot of religious traditions admire and effectively claim to own ecstasy, so they must suppose an affiliation with anybody who is good at it. Sammy Davis Jr was Jewish, you know.

Posted by: MT at November 14, 2006 1:49 AM

The Sufi dervishes seem to identify dizziness with divinity, and so whirl to pray. If it captivates the mind, it must be God.

Posted by: MT at November 14, 2006 11:04 AM

Post a comment

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)