Dead trees

One of the great things about the Xmas holiday is that it gives you the chance to catch up on your reading. I finally got round to reading two books I’ve been meaning to get for ages: Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion and Michael Bywater’s Big Babies.

The former is an intemperate rant against religion, and while it’s biased – Dawkins doesn’t give religion any credit for anything – it contains some great argument fuel. Dawkins’ demolition of Intelligent Design is superb, and he does a great job of lambasting the stupidity of people who believe that every word of the Bible is true while cherry-picking the bits that suit them and ignoring the bits that don’t.

My favourite one, though, was Big Babies. Subtitled “Why Can’t We Just Grow Up?”, Bywater’s book has been billed as humourous but struck me as deadly serious. His argument is that our culture is utterly infantile, largely because Baby Boomers rule the world and won’t accept that they’re not teenagers any more. Where the Grumpy Old Men shows and books cover fairly predictable irritants (Young people can be ignorant! Celebrities are vacuous!), Big Babies does a much better job of nailing the various idiocies of our age from nanny-state legislation to iPods, shell suits, CCTV and quackery.

14 thoughts on “Dead trees

  1. Squander Two says:

    > His argument is that our culture is utterly infantile, largely because Baby Boomers rule the world and won’t accept that they’re not teenagers any more.

    This is news?

    > he does a great job of lambasting the stupidity of people who believe that every word of the Bible is true while cherry-picking the bits that suit them and ignoring the bits that don’t.

    I’ve got a lot of respect for Dawkins, and, OK, I’ve not read it, but that sounds a tad stupid to me. The fact that the Bible regularly contradicts itself has proven to be one of Christianity’s greatest strengths. You’d think an expert on evolution would be able to appreciate the astounding degree of adaptability conferred on Christianity by the very fact that it is impossible to believe all of it simultaneously and therefore necessary to keep thinking about it and selecting the best bits — the fittest bits, in fact, as in “survival of”. Apparently not.

  2. Gary says:

    I don’t think I’ve expressed it clearly – the bit I’m talking about is going after the “god hates fags” crowd rather than more moderate people.

  3. Squander Two says:

    > the bit I’m talking about is going after the “god hates fags” crowd rather than more moderate people.

    But that’s immaterial — in fact, it’s even stupider. All Christians pick which bits of doctrine suit them and discard the rest, including — in fact, especially — the moderate ones. If Dawkins has a probem with that approach, then he has a problem with all of them. If he is picking on one particular group, then his real criticism is “How dare these people disagree with me!” rather than any complaint about consistency.

    Anyway, you’ll notice I said “the fittest bits”. “Fittest” doesn’t mean “nicest” or “kindest”. There is no doubt at all that Christianity has a great recruitment record when it sticks to the rain-fire-down-on-sinners stuff and tends to haemmorhage believers when it goes all moderate. That doesn’t mean that the moderation is a bad thing per se, but it does mean, again, that the lack of moderation confers obvious advantages that, of all people, you’d think a Darwinist could appreciate.

    Dawkins’s problem here is that he’s supposed to be attacking religion from a scientific perpective, but there is no scientific position from which to attack a hatred of homosexuality. Tolerance of homosexuality is a personal social choice — one that I happen to make myself (I suppose I’d better point out, before some idiot comes along and accuses me of things). But I can’t point to any published science and say “There! Gaussian curvature! That’s why I don’t have a problem with gay men.” That would be absurd.

    Bertrand Russell did a great job of writing essays on moral philosophy and on logic and on keeping the distinction between the two clear. That’s Dawkins’s one big failure: his determination to tie every single reason for which he thinks anything down to scientific evidence, when, sometimes, he has none suitable. The classic example of this is the bit in The Blind Watchmaker when, in the middle of one of the best explanations of evolution ever published, he suddenly starts complaining about the crap that gets into the modern pop charts. Yes, really.

  4. Gary says:

    his real criticism is “How dare these people disagree with me!”

    Oh, definitely.

    Dawkins’s problem here is that he’s supposed to be attacking religion from a scientific perpective

    I think where he comes unstuck is when he tries to assign all the evils of the world to religion. It’s a pretty major blind spot given his irritation at the “stalin was an atheist and Hitler might have been one too*” anti-atheist argument. Arguing that letting kids believe in God is tantamount to child abuse is taking things a bit far, I reckon.

    * Dawkins reckons he was a Catholic.

  5. Gary says:

    Thanks for that, Stephen. Great review – particularly this bit, which I think nailed it:

    Dawkins tends to see religion and fundamentalist religion as one and the same.

  6. Gary says:

    I’ll confess, I did skip the “god’s not a beardy man, he’s the possibility of something or other” bit :)

  7. Tony Kiernan says:

    My problem with Dawkins is that he never cracks a smile. He’s married to Lala Ward FFS! If that isn’t cheshire cat time I don’t know what is. He used to hang out with Douglas Adams. And, how he managed to keep a straight face as Ted Haggard chased him across the parking lot yelling “he called my children monkeys”, I’ll never know.

    Dawkins tends to see religion and fundamentalist religion as one and the same.
    I don’t understand the problem with that. Whether you have your bvedroom as a shrine to Pete Docherty, or only own Up The Bracket, you’re ears are still made of cloth.

  8. Ian says:

    You say that Richard Dawkins is “biased”. Well yes. What else would you expect from a book titled “The God Delusion”?

    If you want a balanced discussion, choose a book called “Arguments for and Against Gods” or somesuch.

    As for calling his book a “rant” — it’s a useful phrase, like an ad hominen attack against an idea, and about as convincing.

  9. tm says:

    >What else would you expect from a book titled “The God Delusion”?

    I don’t agree – so the title tells us what conclusion he reached – that doesn’t mean his arguments have to be biased to reach them. That’s the main criticism here.

    Dawkin’s biggest problem always seems to be that it’s difficult to argue against zealotry when you’re such a, well, zealot, about it…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *