I found this book to be a passionate espousal of Athiesm, "absence of belief"
and a strong denunciation of "blind belief". The book is correct in its denunciation of Christian theology's insistence on faith or blind belief but
its strong advocacy of Athiesm leads to logical inconsistencies and flaws.
Moreover, Richard Dawkins' treatment of Dharma systems and matters related
to India are seriously flawed at best and exhibits double standards at the
very worst. I will cover these three issues sequentially. I will finally deal
with my philosophical disagreement with Dawkins' entire approach.
The book's strongest part is its strong criticism of the "blind belief"approach advocated by Christian theology. Those parts should be required reading in the western world. It is unfortunate that Christian theology never acquired the liberal attitude displayed in the Gita:
II. ADVOCACY OF ATHIESM AND LOGICAL FLAWS
The book is replete with logical flaws. I found them every few pages. I can only point out a few of them:
Let us start with what Dawkins admits at the bottom of page 109:
God is NOT technically disprovable. What is the implication of this statement?
It means that Athiesm is ALSO a blind belief or faith system since athiests can not be 100 % certain that their position that God does not exist is right.
sell Athiesm instead of Christian theology. One shouldn't substitute one brand of snake oil with another brand.
The illogic of Dawkins shows up in specially stark terms in Chapter 5 where hediscusses the roots of religion. I had to smile at the sheer illogic of using
Darwinian theory in this area. Why is it illogical? It is illogical because since all religions are centered around the concept of God and God is not technically disprovable, Darwinian or any other scientific theory can never
disprove the idea that these religions are derived from the Divine.
goose chase and it shows in the number of speculative attempts by Darwinians.
I could give many more examples of illogic but that would be just repeating
my point that Dawkins wants to substitute one set of blind beliefs for another set of blind belief. Absence of belief (page 278) is also a belief! It is
in fact not true that Dawkins has no belief as can be seen by his comment onpage 15, "I am only calling supernatural gods delusional". If this is not a
blind belief then what is belief?
III SHODDY SCHOLARSHIP
Dawkins writes on page 13 that ".. if the word God is not to become completely useless, it should be used in the way people have generally
understood it". Then on page 33, Dawkins accuses Hindus of sophistry , "His
polytheism isn't really polytheism but monotheism in disguise. …. Lord
Ganesh the elephant god, and hundreds of others, all are just different
manifestations or incarnations of one God".
I found this behavior of first brushing aside the Hindu definition of the
Ultimate Reality in page 13 and then accusing Hindus of sophistry completely
unacceptable and unfair. It is completely unacceptable to not define God as
Hindus do when describing Hindu ideas of One God. Dawkins does not tell the reader how Hindus do define God or Ultimate Reality. When Hindus talk of manifestations of one God they do not mean that this "one God" is a Personal God outside the universe. I will allow Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886) the most prominent Hindu spiritual figure in the modern age to describe the nature of Ultimate Reality (bhakta means devotee):
'No one can say with finality that God is only 'this' and nothing else. He is formless and again He has forms. For the bhakta He assumes forms. But He
is formless for the jnani, that is, for him who looks on the world as a mere dream. The bhakta feels that he is one entity and the world as another.
Therefore God reveals Himself to him as a Person. But the jnani – the Vedantist, for instance – always reasons, applying the process of 'Not this, not this'. Through this discrimination he realizes, by his inner perception,that the ego and the universe are both illusory, like a dream. Then the jnani realizes Brahman in his own consciousness. He can not describe what Brahman is.
Do you know what I mean? Think of Brahman, Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute, as a shoreless ocean. Through the cooling influence as it were, of
the bhakta's love, the water has frozen at places into blocks of ice. In other words, God now and then assumes various forms for His lovers and reveals
Himself to them as a Person. But with the rising of the sun of knowledge,
the blocks of ice melt. Then one doesn't feel any more that God is a Person,
nor does one see God's forms. What He is can not be described. Who will describe Him? He would do so disappears. He cannot find his 'I' anymore.
If one analyzes oneself, one doesn't find any such thing as 'I'. Take an onion, for instance. First of all peel off the red outer skin; then you findthick white skins. Peel these off one after the other, and you won't find anything inside.
In the state a man no longer finds the existence of his ego. And who is there
left to seek it? Who can describe how he feels in that state – in his own Pure
Consciousness – about the real nature of Brahman? There is a sign of Perfect
Knowledge. Man becomes silent when It is attained. Then the 'I', which may be
likened to the salt doll, melts in the ocean of Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute and becomes one with It. Not the slightest distinction is left.'
– Sri Ramakrishna
(REFERENCE: The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna by M translated by Swami
Another example of shoddy scholarship is when he dismisses Buddhism as an ethical system or philosophy of life (page 38). If Buddhism is a mere ethical system or philosophy of life, then what is the meaning of nirvana?
IV. DOUBLE STANDARDS
I am not going to criticise Dawkins for quoting from Nehru. Nehru's claims
(pages 45 and 46) can easily be seen as false. Nehru speaks of organised
religion, dogmas etc. How can this be said of Hindu dharma when it is not an
organised system (no church, no organised priesthood) and has no dogma?
"If the revenue collector spits into a Hindu's mouth, the Hindu must open his
mouth without hesitation"
— Qazi Mughisuddin legal officer of Sultan Alauddin Khilji
(REF:ELLIOT and DOWSON, The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians;
The Muhammadan Period ( 1876-77)).
Even in modern times Pakistan has ethnically cleansed Hindus so that Hindus now form a miserable 1% of its population. Kashmir valley is now 99.9 % muslim which has been achieved by driving out half a million Hindus who are living a miserable life in refugee camps. Bangladesh is slowly driving out Hindus. The recent violence in India was due to the burning to death of 59 Hindu in a railway carriage in Godhra, India. Given this long history of muslim violence I don't understand why Mr.Dawkins expects no backlash but is very quick to expect British backlash against muslims for only 52 deaths. Surely even he can see the double standard here!
There is another issue here that also reeks of double standard. That issue is
not the fault of Dawkins but merely shows the insensitivity of Western authors and publishers. It irks Hindus that their Gods are written with small
g while the Christian One God is with capital G.
V. PHILOSOPHICAL DISAGREEMENT
My main philosophical disagreement with this book is that it is written on a
belief-no belief axis. Of course, no-belief is also a belief. It is not correct to replace one set of blind beliefs for another set of blind belief. What is needed is to go beyond belief. One must use some method whether third
person empirical (science) or first person empirical (meditation, japa etc)
to test the God hypothesis. A life lived entirely on blind belief is not worth living.
More posts by this author:
- Plight of East Bengali Hindus in the post 1950 period
- The strength of the universalistic Hindu position
- The problem of evil in the presence of a loving God
- An outline of Hindu dharma
- When Sooltan Mahmood Khilji of Malwa made Hindoos eat their gods
I did my school, college and parts of my University education in Kolkata. I got my M.Sc degree from Kolkata University. I went to USA in 1979 and got my M.S and Ph.D in Physics from University of Pittsburgh in 1984. I did my Post Doctorate in University of Southern California, Los Angeles and then worked as a Research Scientist in the Department of Physics, Astronomy and Space Sciences Center of University of Southern California. My scientific work includes heavy ion-atom scattering, multiphoton ionization and heliosphere data analysis of Pioneer 10/111 and Voyager 1/2 deep space spacecaft and analysis of solar extreme ultraviolet data obtained from SOHO spacecraft. I have been a National Aeronautics and Space Adminstration (NASA) Principal Investigator from 2002 – 2007. I have been a member of a NASA awards committee to decide allocation of money to different scientists. I have also refereed scientific articles submitted to Journal of Geophysical Research and Astrophysical Journal.