Richard Dawkins and the nuisance of religion

Photo: Richard Dawkins, a well-known advocate of scientific thinking.

Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist known for launching the concept of meme which can be understood as unit of cultural information spread by imitation, seems to criticise religion and belief because these are based on mass hysteria and the use of fear as a political tool. Science seems to work in another way: science is contemplating without being subjected to hysteria and without allowing the opinions of others to influence the outcome of the research. This is what Dawkins stands for. But is that so? Dawkins’ criticism also seems to focus on what could be called a form of illiteracy. It also gives rise to a phenomenon called fundamentalism, which is the inability to interpret a text any other way than literally. It is practically the fault of all those whose doctrine is written, both the church and the scientific world (but it is perhaps the jurists who are most responsible for it). Since science is heavily based on textualism and rationality (sometimes even rationalism), so it is not uncommon for Dawkins to read the Bible in the same way he reads scientific texts. But if so, he will make the same mistake as the church. If he wants to exacerbate the wrong reading, but in that case it would be reasonable for him to offer the right one. That’s not what he does.

The spearhead of his criticism points to churches, even though he labels things he doesn’t like as “faith.” Dawkins criticises the supremacy of tradition as a castrating force for critical thinking. The criticism is justified. But on the other hand, the same non-criticism is spread in civilised cultures, where a thing once proven is true and thus requires no further independent doubt. That is, science uses authority in the same way that the church does.

It is clear to everyone that faith is different from reason. On this basis, religions, especially the major religions of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, really seem to be fundamentally different from the sciences. But is it after all the “faith” that drives religious people into a mass hysteria and outrageously killing each other? If that is the case, then this very ambiguous term “faith” must mean something other than what these religions are talking about.

As a one hundred percent representative of science, mr Dawkins refuses to accept that reason does not extend everywhere, and that there could be any substantial entities outside of reason. He does not want to believe that reason has its limitations and shortcomings. However, this is what many people believe. This kind of “anarchist” way of thinking believes that not everything is born out of reasoning and that there are things that are difficult to explain rationally. Personally, I would believe that reason does not play as great a role in nature as science thinks. It is quite reasonable to think that man’s ability to reach the world with his senses is limited. But science seems to be stubbornly based on the opposite view. However, even though I have my own hypotheses, so far it has not been fully explored what biological limitations could have been associated with our human receptivity. On the other hand, it is also clear that irrationality cannot act as a veil for abusive activities, not even within the Church.

Fundamentalism and illiteracy

There are many types of illiteracy. The worst thing is not being able to read at all, the worst and the scariest thing is that you take everything you read literally. In science, this happens very often, in law regularly. Photo by Polina Zimmerman on Pexels.com

Unfortunately, many people themselves do not see that there is as much fundamentalism in science as it is in religions. Fundamentalism lives through texts. In fact, fundamentalism is one of the worst scourges of civilisation. It is best seen in phenomena such as law, justice, and jurisprudence, where a cold and insensitive letter ignores this common sense. Who are more persistent than the lawyer, the judge and the legislator (politician) to can hide behind the texts and their bivalent logic. And to whom it is more important than to an academically active scientist, for whom theory is much more true than the living nature he perceives. However, Westerners do not see these as problems of fundamentalism! Why not? Perhaps because their effects do not surprise. Equally, all phenomena of fundamentalism arise from the same form of illiteracy as the sudden idiocy of terrorism. This problem is as old as education itself and it has its roots exactly where religions and scientific thinking were born: in the world of writing! The writings and their interpretations are the basis of the philosophical problems of science and religions.

The best science-driven fundamentalism is reflected in the way Dawkins reads the basics of Christianity. For example, he takes Mary’s virginity as a given fact, unwillingly or unable to see its symbolism. He criticises the ordinary people for doing the same, despite knowing the impossibility of “divine virgin birth.” Why is he doing this? He apparently does not want to interpret virginity as something other than literal virginity because he thinks so believers think. But what’s the use? He does not criticise fundamentalism, but the lack of rationality in fundamentalism. Why is that so? Well, he doesn’t understand people who are fascinated by symbolism that isn’t based on reason. He is a kind of fundamentalist himself. However, this is how we feel and demonstrate our human powerlessness. We may formulate our helplessness as admiration for something that is not clearly explained by reason. That, on the other hand, does not mean that our feelings of helplessness are unfounded. We are just not able to express the reason we feel powerless and why we need support. They are different things.

Justified criticism of religions

The religions criticised by Dawkins make human almost a supernatural being (although science often does it, too). However, the original idea of ​​religions emphasising personal spirituality was to be something else entirely: one had to try to be a part of nature, even though this feeling was unknown and a bit scary to man. The religions could not tell the reason for this, it was only said to be the reason for expulsion from paradise or, more generally, past sins and evil deeds, but, in science, it has not even been asked. Early religions were also not any mass movements from the beginning. The essence of religions includes privacy and personality and, after all, salvation was everyone’s own business. When religions become massive state religion they also become political, whatever their ethical message. Their core remains hidden in the fog of politics.

However, Dawkins is right that religious movements take advantage of people’s despair and powerlessness (often including illness) to support and empower themselves. It is clear that such activities fragile the foundation on which religions have been built. Many such features are based on misunderstandings — or ignorance, so to speak. Sometimes even children can be amused by the nonsense of religions. And such features are easy to attack. Spirituality, for example, has virtually nothing to do with non-human reality — religion only concerns human experiences and feelings. Religions also have nothing to do with children (hence children are called “innocent”). I don’t think children’s religious teaching is even necessary, because they finally can’t understand what it is all about (not even adults do!). If something should be said, then one could tell why adults believe as they believe. The inclusion of children in religious activities only makes spirituality even more incomprehensible.

We humans also differ from each other in the need for religions. Some reflect on “reality” throughout their lives and still feel unwilling to commit to any spirituality, while for others the connection to “something greater” is the most important thing they know. To understand religious thinking one should have the ability to read “between the lines”. Excessive love of logic only leads to fundamentalism. Cultural differences between people should not lead to ethical conclusions, as Dawkins does. It makes sense to say that even if Dawkins is partly right, blind faith in scientific methods can also produce stupid conclusions.

Published by Jukka

Freelance writer and philosopher of irrational

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