Monday, November 26, 2007

The God Delusion, Chapter 10 – A much needed gap?

Is a belief in God beneficial? Do we need God in our lives? Richard Dawkins discusses this issue in chapter 10 of the God Delusion. The first point he makes is that, whether or not a belief in God is beneficial in terms of psychological health or whatever, says nothing about the existence of God. There are studies indicating that religious people, on average are happier and healthier than atheists. The difference was not big but it was significant. However, it would be very erroneous to conclude that just because religion is correlated with happiness, God must exist… Dawkins writes:

"Religion's power to console doesn't make it true. Even if we make a huge concession; even if it were conclusively demonstrated that belief in God's existence is completely essential to human psychological and emotional well-being; even if all atheists were despairing neurotics driven to suicide by relentless cosmic angst - none of this would contribute the tiniest jot or tittle of evidence that religious belief is true. It might be evidence in favour of the desirability of convincing yourself that God exists, even if he doesn't."

Personally I do think that the world would be a better place if people would have an evidence based world view. Politicians today often get stuck when religious arguments are brought to the table. Should Jerusalem be in the possession of the Israeli, or the Palestinian's? How do you argue with Bush when he claims that the Iraq invasion was a mission given to him by God? There is just not so much you can say in response to such an argument. To be fair, this was not his primary argument for going to war, but my point stands nevertheless.

I do not believe in God, yet I consider myself happy and I enjoy my life. When I face misfortunes I do not pray to God to help me, rather I try to come up with a concrete and effective solution to whatever it is I am facing. I realize of course that I have been born in a wealthy part of the world and that my miseries are nothing compared to the miseries that the average human being must face, yet even for them I think that it would be better not to rely on God to console and fix things. An additional bonus that you get as an atheist, at least to the extent that atheists do not believe in reincarnation, is that you value your time here on earth more. I do not believe that I will be reborn when I die, therefore I want to make the best of the time that I have here on this planet. For this reason I am also unlikely to end up as a suicide bomber. Only a very religious person would sacrifice something as valuable as his or her own life in order to kill other innocent people.

In short, there are plenty of reasons to be grateful for our time here on earth. One does not need God to have some substance in life. My life is filled with substance, and I think that for most people, even for religious people, the principal sources of happiness lie outside of the realm of religion. I end with these words from the God Delusion which illustrates my point well.

"But could it be that God clutters up a gap that we'd be better off filling with something else? Science, perhaps? Art? Human friendship? Humanism? Love of this life in the real world, giving no credence to other lives beyond the grave? A love of nature, or what the great entomologist E. O. Wilson has called Biophilia"