Very soon I will start posting my thoughts on Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion, as I’ve been promising for some time. A couple of days ago I poked a bit of fun at him, just as a warm-up. Today, I’m talking about an episode of his TV show entitled The Enemies of Reason, which is available to view online. In this show, his topic is superstition. And, I found myself agreeing with him through much of it.
Superstition, as Dawkins explains it, is when people make irrational cause-and-effect connections between things. I don’t recall the exact example he used, so I’ll provide one: A black cat crosses in front of you, and the next thing you know you’re struck by lightning. Rather than making the connection that walking in a lightning storm is dangerous, you presume that it was the black cat’s fault. Dawkins finds superstition behind various New Age beliefs, astrology, and so on. His critique of superstition is right on point.
While he didn’t go into this on this particular show, I believe that superstitious beliefs are present in many Christians. While I can blow off superstition in general as idiotic, superstition in Christians drives me bonkers, and I would team up with Mr. Dawkins to expose it. As he explains that people in general have a tendency to draw cause-and-effect connections between things, it is normal, then, to expect that it is no different for Christians. Reason, which I believe is not an evolutionary trait as Dawkins does but is a gift from God) is to enable us to think through our life experiences and find truth rather than drifting into superstition.
However, superstition has been found to be very valuable to some in the organized religion business, especially if it can be tied to money. Tithing is one such teaching, where people are taught that if they don’t give at least 10% of everything to their local church, bad things will happen to them. (For more on this topic, read this.) I believe whole-heartedly in giving and generosity, and believe that God blesses those who are generous. However, God is not a machine, and tithing is not a simple formula. There are many other examples of superstition that exists in the Church, and they keep people from the real truth.
While I agreed with perhaps 90% of what Dawkins said, there are points that I do disagree with. For one, faith is not necessarily the same as superstition. Faith does not have to be irrational, or illogical. Another point on which we disagree is, as I mentioned earlier, the origin of reason. There are difficulties in a materialistic understanding of man’s ability to reason. Tied to the nature of reason is the question of the limits of reason: Dawkins puts way too much faith in man’s ability to figure things out and arrive at any notion of truth. If, as Dawkins believes, reason is an evolutionary development, the question then becomes “are we evolved enough to really grasp reality, or are we merely ants in comparison to the humans of the future?” How will we ever know? I’m sure my cat thinks he has things figured out, too.
I am a fan of reason (with its limitations), and as I listened to Dawkins, I also realized that I am a skeptic by nature. I – believe it or not – actually look at some things the same way he does. As I flip through channels and see various TV preachers who I won’t name, I feel the same sort of revulsion and anger that I’m sure he does, as I see the cockeyed culture and manipulative teachings that have very little if anything to do with reality. I am angry because they tarnish what I hold as truth; coincidentally, that’s why Dawkins gets angry, too. The main difference, of course, is what we believe to be the truth. So, I guess I can at least understand some of Dawkins’ attitude.
Finding that I agree – a wee bit – with Richard Dawkins is an odd thing. I haven’t changed my opinions on his book, however, and I’ll hopefully get a chance to deal with that some next week.