The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins is a book I have had laying around for a while now and have been meaning to get around to reading. Now, finally, I have picked it up and begun reading it. Straight away, I can see that it is likely to provoke a little thinking – that’s a good thing, of course – and will probably precipitate a few blog posts over the coming weeks too.
Before I make any comments about the book and indeed, about Richard himself, I want to make it clear that I have great respect and admiration for the man. He is a Professor at Oxford with an outstanding academic career and is a world-renowned speaker and author. In addition, just from hearing him speak, you can tell he is a man who is in pursuit of truth; and he is also a man of genuine integrity.
So, that said, what a disapointement it was for me to find out that Richard is not a ‘strong atheist’ by his own definition, after all. In The God Delusion, he uses the following scale for classification of an individual’s strength of belief concerning the matter of the existence of God …
1. Strong theist. 100 percent probability of God. In the words of C.G. Jung, ‘I do not believe, I know.’
2. Very high probability but short of 100 per cent. De facto theist. ‘I cannot know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there
3. Higher than 50 per cent but not very high. Technically agnostic but leaning towards theism. ‘I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.’
4. Exactly 50 per cent. Completely impartial agnostic. ‘God’s existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.’
5. Lower than 50 per cent but not very low. Technically agnostic but leaning towards atheism. ‘I don’t know whether God exists but I’m inclined to be sceptical.’
6. Very low probability, but short of zero. De facto atheist. ‘I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.’
7. Strong atheist. ‘I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung ‘knows’ there is one.’
Now, I had to remind myself that this is the fellow who wrote a book in which he actually sets out to convince other people that the whole idea of God is a ‘delusion’. And he quotes the Microsoft Word definition, ‘a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence, especially as a symptom of psychiatric disorder’, stating that the first part (possibly excluding psychiatric disorder) describes religious faith perfectly.
It is evident from the above, that this is a man with strong opinions and someone who is not concerned about calling a spade a spade. He goes on to outline the purpose of his book:
‘If this book works as I intend, religious leaders who open it will be atheists when they put it down.’ – Richard Dawkins
So where do you expect this man to place himself on that scale? Surely, we must be dealing with a #7 – a ‘strong atheist’? What a disappointment to find out that he places himself as a #6 – not completely convinced. Yes, it is true that he says he is a #6, leaning toward a #7, but #6 is where he places himself on his own scale.
Richard acknowledges that it is impossible to prove that God does not exist. In fact, he says the fact is accepted and ‘trivial’. So, it turns out that this book does not set out to prove that God does not exist as I had first thought, but only that God is unlikely. A different thing entirely.
So, that’s my first observation: the most outspoken and probably the most famous atheist of our generation is not a strong atheist! How about that?