A Thoughtful Review of Richard Dawkins’ Memoir

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Barbara King has posted a thoughtful review of Richard Dawkins memoir on NPR.

I admire Richard Dawkins, and I do agree that theistic religion is fundamentally poisonous to modern humanity. But, like the reviewer, I cannot agree that it’s appropriate to insult believers as stupid, gullible, or otherwise lacking in some desirable human trait.
The traits that allow believers to remain committed to their myths after so many other emblems of childhood have been abandoned are desirable traits, perhaps taken to extreme, but they are as human as any.

Primary among these traits is the human need for meaning, to ascribe purpose to a human life, particularly the suffering present in even the most fortunate lives and the ever-present spectre of death. Religion, by its very nature, is well suited to providing this meaning. A person not inclined to wonder or reflection, and that’s most of us, has in his or her local religion a ready-made worldview that provides answers to questions that science, by its nature, cannot answer. Science is wonderfully adept at telling us how, how things fit together and the causal chains that lead from one state to another. Only philosophy, metaphysics and its branches, can tell us why, why there is suffering, why we are mortal, why some are evil and others good, …

Religion provides meaning for a large number of people, and as far as I’m aware, Dawkins does not propose a viable alternative to religion. I’m all for fully educating everyone in both science and philosophy, but there are a large number of people who, given everything we atheists know about the world, will choose religion. It’s not just a matter of intelligence, as there are a small but significant number of clearly brilliant scientists and other thinkers that have retained belief in their religion despite being exposed to many of the greatest human ideas in science and philosophy.

My conclusion is that there’s something innate in many human beings that prefers religion over the alternatives. I consider it cruel to deny those inclined to religious belief the sense of meaning they derive from that belief, and the peace and joy that brings them, particularly when we have nothing to offer in its place.

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