Thursday, January 4, 2007

Richard Dawkins' God Delusion

OK, by now we know Richard Dawkins is Mr. Meme. He's also a take-no-prisoners, atheist badass. He's a man with a mission, but is he preaching to the choir or converting the wicked?

The choir's all like "aaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh" whenever Dawkins opens his mouth, and with good reason. He's the Noam Chomsky of evolution and cosmology. Hell, the two men look, act, and sound alike. Dawkins and Chomsky seem to be that rare breed of principled old white guys gazing down from their ivory towers and observing the fruits of their labors are perhaps rotting on the vine. They're trying to do something about that, at great risk to their professional and personal reputation. Certain types of geeks instantly recognize this as cool, in much the same way Slim Pickins riding an H-bomb down the godless commie pinko throat of a Rooskie missile silo is cool, but cooler because they are about creating things, not destroying them. These geeks are raising a great chorus of appreciation.

Meanwhile, inside their churches the wicked are all like, "WTF?".

I mean, let me get this straight: you, Richard Dawkins, believe that God is a meme. He's a worm propagating on the networked system of culture. So, you believe God is real. But you are trying to convince the people for whom God is most palpably real that He is not real. Right.

Here's an analogy for Dawkins' approach:

You've got your Sony-BMG root kit. It's infected the PCs of a gajillion hapless Celine Dion fans - never the most stable group to begin with. Now you tell them the only way to fix their Windows installation is to join the EFF and fight against Digital Rights Management. Technically, you are correct - over the long haul, if you get everyone on the planet to believe in the unnaturalness and scientific invalidity of DRM, the God meme^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^HSony-BMG root kit-like malware will be eliminated as a worldwide phenomenon. In the mean time, that root kit on Hapless Fan's PC is sending his personal data to Sony, slowing down his machine, hiding Russian mafia bot nets, etc. Celine Dion is yowling, her fans are crying and cursing Dawkins and the EFF in the name of all that is holy, for lo, they have been cast out upon the hard plains of despair.

Dawkins is trying to convince your basic Christian that God, as they believe He exists, violates natural law and can not - must not exist. In the mean time, Dawkins personally believes God does exist, just not in the way your basic Christian thinks. Your basic Christian observes God existing - Dawkins acknowledges this is a valid observation. Your basic Christian simply has the explanation for those observations wrong. What's really important to your basic Christian - and anyone else who considers themselves "spiritually inclined" - is that a god-thing exists and gives meaning and other stuff to their lives. Also that God clearly can kick ass and enable god-fearing people to kick ass. This person may not understand that the details, their untenable beliefs, aren't central to the power of the metaphor - but that's part of the meme's evolutionary self-defense mechanism. Richard Dawkins himself came up with this analysis, yet he fails to draw the natural strategic conclusion - that he must tackle religion head-on, Noam-style, Rebel Alliance-style, as a viral meme, not chip away at the meme's outer defenses.

Perhaps Dawkins should try to get people to switch to the Mac instead.

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