Monday, February 9, 2009

My Experience with Dawkins & Non-Belief

Dawkins first entered my library in the early spring of 2004 with the book The Blind Watchmaker. At the time I was in the midst of a crisis of faith regarding biblical depictions of the cosmos, the amassing examples of where the theory of evolution displayed more explanatory utility than various creation models, and the incongruence of the Bible and evolution. In reading creationist materials, Dawkins' name surfaced somewhat frequently as an example of an atheistic evolutionary perspective. I found him during one of my somewhat routine perusal of the science section in a local bookstore, and I brought him home.

The Blind Watchmaker was a mediocre read at the time. I recall attempting to read it cover-to-cover, but I found that it spent more time than I wanted on issues which I felt were peripheral to my concerns about the explanatory functions of evolutionary theory. If I were to read it again, I am sure that I would see it differently, but I recall putting it down not having found what I was looking for. In the April of 2004, Biggums and others may recall that I regained belief. I sent out a grand email apology to a number of congregants who used to meet at my house for Bible study and fellowship (including Biggums). In this email I explained that I had shown a lack of faith in God's character, and I apologized for the lack of ceremonial punctiliousness that this produced (e.g., I did not observe Passover on the correct timing). Bones of Contention and Buried Alive, both creationist books attempting to explain the evidences for human evolution, were on my immediate reading shelf, and I read them in fairly short intervals. The dishonesty and inability of the authors to place the evidence into a creationist model brought me right back to closet disbelief.

In the summer of 2004, I picked up Dawkins' The Ancestor's Tale—probably my favorite of Dawkins. This book likely had the most influence on me of any of Dawkins' works. In it he presents case study after case study of present biota and their past analogues, and he places them within the context of the "molecules to man" path of evolution. Even though this work was not intended to inspire non-belief or atheism, I found this work to be particularly convincing. I must state, though, that Dawkins' contribution to my atheism is negligible.

I am not content knowing only one side of a debate. Tooting my own horn here a bit, I am very inquisitive and intellectually curious. I find a great deal of intellectual satisfaction and intrinsic reinforcement through understanding more than one angle of a debate (most people would too, if they tried it). If I had not had the experience that I have had in Christianity, Judaism, and, to a much lesser extent, Islam, I would not have found Dawkins' works to be convincing. My studies in religion have reinforced my intellectual curiosity; they have conditioned me to find intellectual satiation in constructively seeking coherence through confusion—the process of "not knowing" and yet studying until I find a cogent explanation or interpretive model. If I had read Dawkins without my background in religion and "creation science," I would not have been able to accept what he argues. I would have found that I needed to read and consider a lot of evidence from the angles of religion. Having already indoctrinated myself in many angles of religion, I had that, and Dawkins addressed many of these angles in salient way.

To further distance my non-belief from Dawkins, Dawkins was only one of hundreds if not thousands of books that have brought me to where I am today. The one book that has influenced me the most is, no doubt, the Bible. Next to the Bible, creationist literature is the second heftiest contribution to my non-belief. Third, I would ascribe a significant weight to liberal and critical biblical scholarship. The last category of influence might include Dawkins. This category would include the non-creationist science and philosophy literature that I have read. Dawkins is only one of maybe a dozen authors in this final category. Note, I have read much more conservative biblical scholarship and creation science in my life than liberal biblical scholarship or non-creation science.

I take a degree of offense to the role that many attribute to Dawkins in my atheism. I would more likely than not be an atheist today without Dawkins. He is a cherry on top, so to speak, but not the much-more-significant multi-layered cake and frosting which are beneath.

11 comments:

  1. So atheism offers cake... maybe if I read this after lunch I'll get something more out of it.

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  2. Oh, we have cake, all right... the likes of which you've never dreamed.

    Seriously, though, I like this post. It's personable and it strikes at a stereotype that some people might have regarding the role Dawkins plays in deconversion. I had never even heard of Dawkins when I deconverted.

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  3. I agree. Very well written and I enjoyed reading it.

    Is it glueten-free cake by any chance?

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  4. My gosh, gluten free? are you gluten intolerant? My kids can't eat gluten, and I do better without it.

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  5. My kids are both celiac... how odd is that?

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  6. Odd yes...must be a divine appointment ;-)

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  7. Should exchange gluten free recipies or something now? I have a CD full of them that my mom put together. She used to sell gluten free cook books on ebay.

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  8. recipes? sure. I have a working menu of approx a dozen dishes to make...and I over use them. my kids love sardines and meats...so I often default to sardines and stuff of that nature. I was planning to make a post about an atheist diet and I was going to include the evolutionary origins of gluten intolerance...

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  9. I like gluten; but, boy, does it hate me. We might consider changing this to an anti-gluten blog!

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  10. gluten and god are similar in my experience. they produce temporary, short-lived euphoria but they are followed by side effects that are less than desirable (fatigue and expulsive viscosity).

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  11. Interesting. Personally I really enjoy gluten and the fact that either I or my kids mom has celiac scares me. I get tested about once a year and I consume as much gluten as I can when I'm not with my kids. I enjoy beer, pizza, anything breaded and fried. I've had them all gluten free but its not the same.

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