H. A. Orr vs. R. Dawkins and D. C. Dennett

There is a great recap in 3QuarksDaily of the ongoing feud between H. A. Orr and D. C. Dennett over R. Dawkins’ new book The God Delusion. For a quick taste of the flavour of their discussion:

H. Allen Orr in the NYRB:

Daniel Dennett’s main complaint about my review is that I held Dawkins’s book to too high a standard. The God Delusion was, he says, a popular work and, as such, one can’t expect it to grapple seriously with religious thought. There are two things wrong with this objection. The first is that the mere fact that a book is intended for a broad audience doesn’t mean its author can ignore the best thinking on a subject. Indeed it’s precisely the task of the popularizer to take this best thinking and present it in a form that can be understood by intelligent laymen. This task is certainly feasible. Ironically, the clearest evidence comes from Dawkins himself. In his popular works on evolution, and especially in The Selfish Gene, Dawkins wrestled with the best evolutionary thinkers —Darwin, Hamilton, and Trivers—and presented their ideas in a way that could be appreciated by a broad audience. This is what made The Selfish Gene brilliant; the absence of any analogous treatment of religion in Dawkins’s new book is what makes it considerably less than brilliant.

Aside from the fact that most of this is a standard exercise in academic posturing that has by now almost touched the ground, it remains indicative of the problem at hand. As far as i can see, Mr. Orr is dead-on and Mrs Dawkins and Dennett are playing obtuse scientistic atheists. What is Orr saying? He claims – quite rightly – that Dawkins (and one can safely add Dennett too) does not take religion seriously; that he does not try to understand what he is dismissing, which is, one might add, a rather un-scientific way of proceeding. The 2 Ds answer in turn that religion is unscientific, irrational and thus incomprehensible and cannot be taken seriously, because it is not serious.

If we are going to move beyond academic bashing and try to resolve the problem, we need to step back and try to describe the conflict in terms that all concerned might be able to understand. Dawkins and Dennett are approaching religion from the perspective of scientific, experimentally verifiable truth. Of course, religion is not scientifically true! Only fundamentalist Americans and Muslims believe that. But: science is not either the only measure by which to measure all things! Science has gotten us into quite a bit of trouble these last hundred years (think: chemical weapons, atomic bombs and global warming). Religion is not so much un-true as it is un-scientific; and the latter is a very important voice crying out in the desert of an age that has lost itself in scientific hopes for salvation that too often turn into bloody nightmares.

Religion is broken and needs to be fixed. But it should not be thrown away and replaced with a science that has no clue as to where it is headed. Religion must be let to play its role as an institutional pendant to science, as an eternal dissenter: not the voice of reason – but surely the voice of moral indignation and of caution. Neither science nor religion are the solution. It is rather the dialectic between them, the constant bickering between theologians and scientists (we may blithely ignore the Intelligent Design ignoramuses) that will allow us to move us forward without crashing into either a paradisaical tree of purported eternal life or a linnaen tree of dangerously misusable truth.

Theologians are not scientists; and scientists should not try to be theologians. The former might have attempted proofs of the existence of God, and they fell flat upon their large red noses (theologians drink lots of beer – at least Luther did). The later are welcome to point this failing out, but they shouldn’t themselves attempt to prove the falsity of all of religion, lest they fall flat upon their empty beakers and the world laugh aloud at their failure to understand what their shortsightedness did not allow them to see.

The Dennett and Dawkins books are not to be trashed, but they should be read as the well-intentioned writings of scientists (and science-worshipping philosophers) who are utterly incapable of realizing that anything but their own science could possibly be good, useful, even true. They are stubborn fundamentalists – though some who thankfully don’t tend to fly planes into tall, proud buildings, yet people who don’t see much further than their own cultural noses either. May God have mercy on us all!


One Comment to “H. A. Orr vs. R. Dawkins and D. C. Dennett”

  1. About 3 years ago I dropped into a black hole – four months of absolute terror. I wanted to end my life, but somehow [Holy Spirit], I reached out to a friend who took me to hospital. I had three visits [hospital] in four months – I actually thought I was in hell. I imagine I was going through some sort of metamorphosis [mental, physical & spiritual]. I had been seeing a therapist [1994] on a regular basis, up until this point in time. I actually thought I would be locked away – but the hospital staff was very supportive [I had no control over my process]. I was released from hospital 16th September 1994, but my fear, pain & shame had only subsided a little. I remember this particular morning waking up [home] & my process would start up again [fear, pain, & shame]. No one could help me, not even my therapist [I was terrified]. I asked Jesus Christ to have mercy on me & forgive me my sins. Slowly, all my fear has dissipated & I believe Jesus delivered me from my “psychological prison.” I am a practicing Catholic & the Holy Spirit is my friend & strength; every day since then has been a joy & blessing. I deserve to go to hell for the life I have led, but Jesus through His sacrifice on the cross, delivered me from my inequities. John 3: 8, John 15: 26, are verses I can relate to, organically. He’s a real person who is with me all the time. I have so much joy & peace in my life, today, after a childhood spent in orphanages [England & Australia]. God LOVES me so much. Fear, pain, & shame, are no longer my constant companions. I just wanted to share my experience with you [Luke 8: 16 – 17].

    Peace Be With You

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