The God Delusion

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Comments on Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion"

On Dawkins's website, there's also a description of this book (ISBN 0-906649-74-X) of his with links to online book stores.

Introduction

(from Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion")

This recent book by Richard Dawkins is another milestone in the battle of enlightened minds against customary superstition in this world, a beacon for determined seekers for truth who are trying to find their way in a sea of ignorance and misconceptions.

Dawkins analyses the central role that religion plays in forming, maintaining and consolidating common belief systems, no matter how improbable, deluded and harmful these belief system seem to be from an intelligent point of view. With the eloquence of a professional writer and the thoroughness of a seasoned scientific researcher, he presents the phenomenon of religious beliefs in all its ramifications in and its disquieting effects on human society.

It is, as it always was, generally accepted knowledge, that "nowadays" we do live in an enlightened society and that superstition and organized ignorance are weird phenomena from the middle ages, from our immature past. As Dawkins eloquently shows, this is a grave misconception. Superstition and aggressively organized ignorance rule our present, just as they ruled our past, with all their disastrous consequences.

Dawkins suggests to utilize the word God with greater care, because the way many scientists use that word in a special, metaphorical pantheistic sense, is aeons away from the intervening, miracle performing, thought reading, sins punishing, prayers granting God of the bible, of the priests, mullahs and rabbis and from the customary usage of the word.

Dawkins points out that religion helps to keep our minds closed to the mechanisms behind many of the eternal plagues of mankind, like war, genocide, suppression, starvation and, nowadays, the worldwide destruction of our environment. In his introduction he describes how utterly difficult it is for intelligent people to insist on understanding instead of yielding to mindless superstition, how difficult it is to avoid being ostracised for just seeking truth. In particular in well known great leaders of mankind in science and in politics it is often well visible how seriously such people have been or still are struggling with the overwhelming aggressiveness of the superstitious belief systems they have to live and work in and in which they have to survive one way or the other.

As an example Einstein is quoted, saying: "I belief in Spinoza's God who reveals itself in the harmonious order of all that exists, not in a God that meddles with the fate and destiny of mortal beings." And Bertrand Russell is quoted, saying: "The overwhelming majority of prominent intellectuals doesn't belief in the christian faith, but they conceal that fact in public in order not to lose their income".

Such battered, intelligent souls find crucial and badly needed support in contacts with other intelligent persons who find themselves in the same minority position. Dawkins says that he took the effort to write this book, among other reasons, to encourage intelligent people to "come out of the closet" and stop hiding their real convictions, making it easier for other intelligent fellow sufferers to find the badly needed support and encouragement to resist the overwhelming and devastating pressure of organized stupidity.

He hopes that sooner or later a chain reaction in the right direction may occur, once a certain "critical mass" of intelligent people, insisting on the truth, has been reached. This is in line with what is described on this Wiki about the critical mass leading to Point Omega, the next major change in human evolution(*).

Climbing Mount Improbable

(from Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion")

One of the recurring issues in discussions with theists is their argument that complex biological phenomena and complex physical functions never can have evolved gradually, because they consist of too many parts that only function together and not separately and that therefore a gradual growth towards such a multifaceted complexity cannot well be conceived.

Dawkins tackles this argument with what he labels as "the parable of Climbing Mount Improbable". Imagine a mountain with one very steep side, that is impossible to climb, whereas the other side of the mountain is a gradual slope giving an easy access to the top. (On) that top is a complex organ, for example an eye or the protozoan whip-rotor propulsion apparatus (flagella). Regarding the complexity of such organs as impossible to develop spontaneously, is like looking at the organ at the top from the steep side of the mountain. From that side, it is impossible to climb the mountain from the abyss and leap to the top in one big jump. Evolution however, follows the easy route around the mountain and reaches the top along the gradual slope: piece of cake! The combination lock of life is a mechanism that works through the principle of "cold, cold, warmer, hot". Real life always is looking for the gradual slopes at the other side of Mount Improbable, whereas creationists see nothing but the discouragingly steep side.

The principle of climbing the gradual slope instead of trying to jump along the steep abyss is so utterly simple, that one almost asks oneself why it took so awfully long before a Darwin appeared with that discovery, revealing the self-evident.


(comments on Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion")

However, we should ask here the right questions. We should note that it is not so much Darwin's insights that were so remarkable, but rather the striking and massive ignorance that he was challenging. How on earth could such massive stupidness exist for such a long time ?

Imagine an extraterrestrial intelligence discovering earth and mankind. Then it would be quite difficult to explain that a species (our own) that on the one hand is capable of setting up complex organizations, can produce aircrafts for hundreds of passengers, huge submarines, and vessels diving to the deepest ocean floors, and that has put nuclear power into operation, is on the other hand showing such a staggering ignorance, such a massive stupidness regarding anything about its own behaviour. Such stupidness seems quite incompatible with the very apparent intelligence levels as are shown in the other walks of life. K. Sterelny is one of the authors who are bringing this strange discrepancy to our attention. He challenges his scientific colleagues, and also us in general, to find an answer to the question why on earth human beings have reached such a high level of intelligence while at the same time being so strikingly stupid and silly. It would indeed seem quite difficult to explain this discrepancy to some visiting extraterrestrials. Unless ............. these strangers would have grasped the general evolutionary rules for intelligence whenever it would emerge anywhere in the universe. (And they probably would have by the time they would have acquired enough skills and knowledge to be able to contact other intelligences far away in the universe. They would simply asses our situation as "being incidently in one of the well known and unavoidable, but passing and short lived, stages of the evolution of intelligence".)

In this Wiki it is explained why this utter delay in the discovery of the obvious, this incomprehensible level of collective stupidity and blindness, lasting until today, could occur, why it is that such striking examples of massive misconception and ignorance are so persistent and what is the evolutionary role and function of it. It is shown here, that this blindness phase in human evolutionary history is logical and necessary and could never have been avoided. It is shown also how such blindnesses exert their evolutionary function and in which way they will eventually lose their function and be overcome and how they will disappear from human existence in the next phase of our evolution. This will happen very very slowly and gradually in terms of genetical predispositions, but rather sudden in terms of phenotypical expression.

Religion imposing non-understanding

(from Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion")

Dawkins points out that creationists have produced in the course of time a continuing stream of examples of complex organs that should presumably be impossible to be conceived of as the result of gradual evolution. However, until now never one of such proposed examples has stood up to scrutiny. Every single one of them proved to be explainable by the usual evolutionary mechanisms of gradual changes and development. Darwin already pointed out that if at any time only one such example could be found, which could not logically be explained with the usual evolutionary principles and rules, that such one example in one stroke would nullify his evolutionary theories. In fact, such an example would be world news and would attract the immediate attention of hordes of scientists. But, such a thing never happened. As a consequence, the evolutionary ideas of Darwin and his colleagues still prevail, in spite of the uneducated ravings of creationists and such.

Dawkins points out furthermore that in these cases it is in particular organized religion that feels threatened by evolutionary thinking and that organized religion emphatically teaches to be happy with non-understanding and with settling for the religion's own childishly simplistic pictures of the world.


(comments on Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion")

On this Wiki(**) we show that organized religion does indeed induce non-understanding regarding many aspects of human life, and especially the more important and evolutionary aspects. In that way religion is one of the major tools with which human beings are kept unawares of the very basics of their very existence.

In fact, this unawareness is an expression of the evolutionary requirement for humans: to be by and large unable to think clearly about their own behavior. Organized religion very well helps to do just that. It thus keeps us religious humans procreating rather automatically, unhampered by too much insight in consequences, possibilities and alternatives. In turn, this is also conducive for a further expansion of the religion in question, which in reality and implicitly is that meme set's evolutionary "goal".

Unbelievable evolution ?

(from Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion")

The evolutionary changes or transitions that have most strongly challenged scholars to find the evolutionary ways along which these transitions could come about are the following three events:

1) The emergence of Life itself from inanimate matter;

2) The emergence of the Eukaryotic cell;

3) The emergence of Awareness.

Creationists focus in particular on these transitions in evolution, propagating the notion that it is highly improbable that these transitions could result from gradual evolutionary changes, because they each represent a too large and complex change to be explicable through gradual and logical changes in inanimate and in animate matter resulting in a new level of organizational complexity. Dawkins mobilizes the idea of the "anthropic principle" to tackle these presumed evolutionary improbabilities. He brings forward that these transitions may be or may have been very improbable, but that they are nevertheless not completely impossible. By virtue of the law of large numbers it is then just a matter of sufficient time for such an improbable change to happen nevertheless. And because we happen to live on a planet where evidently these changes did happen, we may conclude that the transitions in question were not too improbable to happen sometime somewhere. And it is of course implicit that we are in exactly that place.


(comments on Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion")

We agree with the notion that the above mentioned three transitions in evolution must be very rare events and that much time is involved before such events eventually will emerge. In that sense we can understand the use of the "anthropic principle" argument. On the other hand we feel that these transitions, given enough time, do have to occur sooner or later anyway. Life can be regarded in its most original and primitive form as a configuration of inanimate matter that coincidentally finds itself in a form that enhances the same configuration to occur more often. Such a configuration in fact is then self-enhancing or catalyzing itself to be formed, making such a configuration just a little bit more probable than other, alternative configurations. Such a small difference in probabilities is already enough to start an evolution in inanimate molecules towards a gradual approach of something we would be able to recognize as "self-duplicating molecules" which can be regarded as the first step towards what we recognize as "life". Such a first configuration as a starting point may be rare to occur, but given enough time is is also inevitable that it will occur somewhere someplace.

Jackes Monod wrote excellent books and articles on this same consideration in the early seventies, one of his famous titles being "Chance and Necessity". Bottom line is that no matter how improbable it may seem that life emerges from inanimate matter, it will most certainly and unavoidably happen if the physical circumstances are favorable enough and given enough time. So there is, logically speaking, absolutely no need for postulating the hand of some "God" in order to be able to explain the existence of live matter. So if people adhere to religious fairy tales and such it is apparently not because of a necessity to explain the existence of our world, but rather for other personal reasons, most of which are not very honorable and in fact often are quite destructive for the persons involved or for their environment.

The emergence of "awareness"

(comments on Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion")

Similar considerations hold for the other two much debated transitions. The emergence of "awareness" is one of them. In a similar vein it can be argued that awareness is something quite different from the more basic forms of individual behavioral organization as can be found in larger numbers of more primitive species. At least, that is the argument of creationists, trying to find arguments for needing the hand of an external "creator" or God. However, similar to Monod's arguments, it can be shown that awareness automatically has to occur, once an internal information processing system, e.g., the animal's brain, has evolved far enough to make considerations and calculations on a "meta"-level possible. By then, "awareness" will result inevitably. And successively, so will "self-awareness" follow as soon as the next level of complexity and sophistication has been reached in evolution, simply because further development into that direction pays off evolutionarily.

These evolutionary transitions at first sight seem to be difficult to explain in terms of gradual evolutionary adaptations, and - naturally - they are embraced by creationists to defend the need for their God to be indispensable for explaining life as we find it. However, On this Wiki(*) it is argued that these are in fact logical and inevitable phases in evolution that most certainly will occur in one form or the other, given enough time. Therefore they do not need any God or other fairy tale to become logically understandable.

The "intelligence barrier" in evolution

(comments on Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion")

So, the above mentioned transitions, from inanimate matter to life, and then to complex cells, and then to awareness, are inescapably occurring phases in the evolution of matter and of life. Besides, it is also argued on this Wiki that the level of "self- awareness" sooner or later automatically leads to higher levels of intelligence. And arriving at a certain level of intelligence is another of such seemingly "impossible" evolutionary steps. This Wiki is dealing with the fact that evolution, moving from more general moderate levels of intelligence to the level of intelligence of Homo sapiens, needed to bridge an evolutionary threshold, that, for very good evolutionary reasons, normally puts a limit to the level of intelligence and awareness in any evolving species. This evolutionary block on intelligence has up till now not yet been pointed out in public among evolutionary scientists, but it is not difficult to explain. Normally, in any species intelligence becomes self defeating in case it rises above a certain level (see here(*) for further explanation).

The mechanism of this threshold is the reason why in a variety of phyla, whales, mollusks, parrots, corvidae, primates, etc., intelligent capacities have evolved, completely independently from one another, but that in all of the species involved the development of intelligence always stopped at more or less the same level. Apparently, there is a natural maximum to intelligence. That maximum level is around where self-reflection is becoming possible and meta-decisions about the own behavioral strategies are coming within reach. Only Homo sapiens (apparently) escaped from this quite logical evolutionary block and developed a higher level of intelligence than any species in any of the other phyla did. On this Wiki it is explained what made this escape, Homo habilis becoming Homo sapiens, possible. The trick is in the development of a very specific block on human intelligence, namely on all aspects of the own psychological functioning, regarding the Self as well as regarding personal and social relations. Such a specific block on the utilization of intelligence in certain fields of functioning, takes the sting out of the normal evolutionary block on the further development of intelligence, because this block prevents a higher intelligence to have its usual negative effect on procreational capacity. Elsewhere on this Wiki(**) it is explained how such an evolutionary block on high intelligence normally works.

The "anthropic principle" argument: coincidentally it is "us"

(comments on Richard Dawkins' "The God delusion")

From an evolutionary point of view it is purely coincidental that the conquest of the intelligence barrier has been taken by Homo and not by some species of whales or octopuses or crows. In that sense Dawkins' "Anthropic Principle" (see above) can be applied. We humans are the most intelligent species on earth, because, whereas both phyla were ready for it, coincidentally that trick occurred in a primate and not in some octopus species. Otherwise clever octopuses would now be studying the behavior of a variety of primates instead of us humans studying the behavior of mollusks.

This Wiki is dedicated to spreading awareness about the present day situation of Homo sapiens in that we are standing at the brink of a next transition, point Omega, in which humanity will collectively quite suddenly overcome the cultural programming that boosts and enhances the already genetically built in blocks of intelligence regarding the own behavior. What we will enter then is an evolutionary phase in which the average human individual will develop much better and further than what has been considered "normal" until today. That realization will result in an enormous leap forward in the expression of the already inborn and readily available human intelligence. This will in fact produce such a huge and sudden leap in intelligence actually being expressed, that it is phenotypically an obvious discontinuity in our evolution.

The evolutionary leap of Point Omega

(comments on Richard Dawkins' "The God delusion")

If creationists would have known about the difficulty of our evolution moving from the previous, more common, level of intelligence of say, 1 to 2 million years ago, towards our present and in particular our future level of intelligence, creationists would certainly have embraced this transition as "impossible to explain evolutionarily". As is shown above (Climbing Mount Improbable), that would be completely wrong because although indeed showing a rather sudden and strong leap in phenotypic intelligence, it is all based as usual on very gradual processes of selection and mutation.

In fact, on this Wiki it is shown that this development of human intelligence is a good example of how in evolution some phenotypic achievements (may) occur in sudden leaps, simply because for a full deployment certain already built in design characteristics have to be overcome in order to make the novel characteristic express itself fully. For such transitions evolution does not show a smooth and gradual series of changes, but happens in sudden bursts and leaps. Fodder for creationists it seems, but as this Wiki shows, the phenomenon of creationists and other deluded souls are themselves part of the cultural strengthening of the awareness blocks regarding the self, that have been built into the genetic basis of our behavior before the explosive development of human intelligence could start in the first place.

Once we all understand the why and how of the existence of "creationists" and all other cultural tricks that keep our already innate self-blindness securely in place, the typically human stupidity will finally understand itself and as a consequence a rather sudden explosion of higher intelligence will grab the whole of humanity. It will be a highly contagious process that nobody can escape from and that nobody in his right mind would want to escape from anyway. In the transition phase it will be primarily the so called "privileged" and powerful, not yet aware that they in particular have all along been taken for a ride, who will resist the awareness to spread. But they will not any more be able to prevent the transition from happening. They will still be a majority, but their majority will have lost its critical mass. At that point in time the minority of enlightened souls will have reached its own critical mass, triggering a chain reaction from that point on, resulting in a mass transition that we chose to call here Point Omega.

Usefulness of Religion

(from Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion")

Dawkins points out that much research has been done to compare the moral and ethical attitudes of religious people as compared to non-religious people. Many institutions, political parties and religious authorities would relish the idea that religion breeds moral and ethical behavior. However, such a correlation, let alone a causal explanation, has never been found. On the contrary, the massive number of attempts to find such an effect, paired to the failure to do so, is an overwhelmingly strong evidence that such a relationship does not exist indeed.

If there is any relationship at all, it is rather the other way around. It has been shown by a number of researchers that in our modern and relatively prosperous societies there clearly exists a positive correlation between religious belief and zeal and the frequency of criminal behavior. Also, religion tends to give shape, coordination and direction to human evil behavior. It makes evil behavior more massive and therefore much more dangerous and destructive. Dawkins quotes Blaise Pascal (1670) saying that "One never commits evil deeds so happily and thoroughly as when instigated by religious conviction". And this seems a very accurate and true statement, valid until today.

Baseline of Dawkins' comments is that religions are not serving any positive and useful goal in boosting and preserving human "goodness" and in controlling human destructiveness and other evil behavior and that we could better do without these delusive and confusing mind sets.


(comments on Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion")

But, as one can ask, if religious delusions are so utterly useless, why then are they so common and influential in any modern human society ? Why would such anomalies exist if there was not one or other evolutionary advantage on some level of functioning ? The whole situation looks like an evolutionary anomaly.

On this Wiki we defend the notion that religious fervour and zeal do indeed have a specific purpose. Only, they are not useful to the individuals themselves. The individual carriers of these religious notions clearly do have an impaired capacity to see the truth and to grasp the important mechanisms of social life in a sober and coherent way. Cognitively and also in terms of personal flexibility and personal opportunities they are at a strong disadvantage as compared to individuals with a more sober and intelligent mind set. They do carry an enormous load of confusing rubbish with them all their lives. On the other hand the religious zealots may enjoy a more solid embedding in the prevalent culture and derive safety and security from their apparent adaptation to societal norms and requirements. But that then only comes at the high personal price of loss of personal freedom and self sufficiency. Besides, such advantages would also hold in case the communal belief systems were not so full of superstition and lies.

As is described on this Wiki, religious zeal and fervour, yes, what is more, the advantage of religious delusions and blindness, yes even the advantage of blocking intelligence and thus reducing the potential useful output of the individuals, do indeed have a high evolutionary advantage. What seems unbelievable and self contradictory on the level of individual functioning and what seems an anomaly from the evolutionary perspectives of human beings, becomes quite logical and "natural" if seen from the perspective of the evolution of "power structures"(*), Power Structures being the meme set entities that rule our evolution since the agricultural revolution.

It is also shown on this Wiki that this situation, this anomaly of human intelligent faculties being hampered and constricted by all overruling and powerful meme sets of delusion and collective blindnesses and superstitions, no matter how useful they may be from the perspective of the present evolution of "power structure meme sets", are only a transitory state in human evolution(*), or rather in the evolution of any hypothetical intelligence in the universe, and that humanity, for purely technical reasons, is at the brink of the next giant evolutionary (phenotypic) leap into a future without further needing religions or any other system of "collective blinding". In that for us humans novel situation our intelligent faculties will no longer be hampered, limited and controlled by the present all pervasive power structures, but can be exploited to the full of their potential, causing an as yet unexpected and for most people unbelievable take off of a truly enlightened society. It is also shown on this Wiki that, because of the underlying mechanisms of the contagiousness of human development and social interactions(***), this transition, Point Omega(*), will happen rather suddenly and at a surprising speed.