“The God Delusion”. What Does it Really Mean?

Last Updated On 16th August 2012

“The God Delusion”, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_God_Delusion, by Prof. Richard Dawkins, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Dawkins, is a famous book for the anti-religion tribe as well as many open-minded truth-seekers. It is a provocative title which is a complete statement. Considering that the author is a distinguished scientist whose statements carry a lot of “weight” with the public, I am of the opinion that it is fair for me to examine the validity of the title though I have not read the book itself (just had a quick glance at its table of contents and a little bit of its preface yesterday). However, I am aware that some may opine that it is not fair for me to comment on the title of the book without reading the book. I beg to respectfully disagree with them.

As a person who has had subjective experience of an interventionist supernatural power (which is commonly referred to as God or Divine power), I had initially thought that the title of the book itself is a falsehood. I planned to write to Prof. Dawkins, via the Contact email id of richarddawkins.net, seeking to know whether he considered the title to be a “scientifically valid” statement. I had thought that if my message did reach him and he deigned to respond, he would have to say no because I presumed that the title meant that he is saying that a supernatural interventionist power is a falsehood i.e. God does not exist or There is no God. As far as I understand the approach of science, Prof. Dawkins cannot disprove the existence of a supernatural power. BTW I am a computer software-technologist and not a scientist.

But then a correspondent, who kindly engaged with me on this matter over email, rightly pointed out that I should first find out the definitions of the words ‘God’ and ‘delusion’ before I ask Prof. Dawkins the “scientifically valid” question. I thank him for this advise.

By God, in this book-for-the-common-man context, the definition of supernatural creator and (interventionist) overseer/ruler of the universe (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/god) seems to be an appropriate one to take, I guess.

While I, not incorrectly, thought delusion to mean false belief, there are multiple definitions which vary in a subtle way. Two of the relevant ones, in my humble opinion, are given below:

1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delusion: A delusion is a belief held with strong conviction despite superior evidence to the contrary.

2) http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/delusion: A false opinion or belief.

Let me examine meaning 2 first as that is what I had previously gone by and I think many ‘common’ people (not experts in delusion like psychiatrists) would have gone by the same. By meaning 2, ‘The God Delusion’ can be taken to mean, ‘The false belief in a supernatural power’. The implication, to my mind, is: ‘The belief in a supernatural power is false’.

People who went by this meaning would have felt that the learned and distinguished scientist, Prof. Dawkins, has *declared* that the belief in God (supernatural power) is false. That may have convinced some of them to go by the authority of the learned and distinguished scientist that Prof. Dawkins is, and give up any faith they had in a supernatural power.

If such an effect has been created by the title of Prof. Dawkins’ book I would like to state that the distinguished physician-geneticist, Dr. Francis Collins, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Collins, has clearly stated in his lecture, organized by Veritas Forum at Caltech in 2009, “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence of Belief”, https://iami1.wordpress.com/2012/08/10/francis-collins-the-language-of-god-a-scientist-presents-evidence-of-belief-transcript/, that science cannot disprove God. Those readers who felt Dawkins has disproved God can study the lecture of Collins and know that Dawkins has *not* disproved God. So, in my humble analysis, this meaning of the book title, ‘The God Delusion’, which is, ‘The belief in a supernatural power is false’ is itself a falsehood.

Going by meaning 1 of the word, ‘delusion’, ‘The God Delusion’ can mean ‘The belief held with strong conviction in a supernatural power despite superior evidence to the contrary’. The implication, to my mind, is: ‘The belief in a supernatural power is being held (by some/all believers) with strong conviction despite superior evidence to the contrary’.

Perhaps some people have taken this meaning which, I think, is an opinion that the learned and distinguished scientist, Prof. Dawkins, can, in all fairness, profess. He may have presented his case for superior evidence for the absence/non-existence of a supernatural power in his book.

For those people who have had subjective experiences of the intervention of supernatural power, they *know* from experience of the presence of a supernatural power and so don’t need to look at logical arguments & evidence for the absence of a supernatural power. But such persons seem to be a very small minority in the world. The rarity of such supernatural experiences makes almost all of those who have not had such experiences and who seem to be the vast majority, to naturally doubt the supernatural experiences of the very small minority.

Further, as far as I know, there does not seem to be any objective, “scientific” evidence under “controlled conditions” acceptable to science to prove (“scientifically prove”) that supernatural events have occurred. So scientists like Dawkins who seem to have not had supernatural experiences themselves, are certainly entitled to entertain doubts about the veracity of subjective supernatural experiences of others. But some other people, including some scientists, who are willing to consider “non scientific” sources of knowledge like “reliable” eyewitness accounts may get convinced of the existence of supernatural power even if they have not had individual experience of supernatural power.

I believe scientists and others consider eyewitness testimony to be a lesser standard of proof than “scientific evidence”. In some cases, eyewitness testimony may be false. But that does not mean that all eyewitness testimony is false. In general, there may be some cases where claims of supernatural experiences or miracles are false. But that does not mean all claims of supernatural experiences or miracles are false.

Those who have not had supernatural experiences and thus lack subjective evidence of supernatural power, and prefer to trust only “scientifically proven” knowledge, will want to go by objective evidence of the presence of supernatural power or objective evidence of the absence of supernatural power.

Of course, other authors have other opinions on the matter. Collins, in his book, “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief”, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Language_of_God:_A_Scientist_Presents_Evidence_for_Belief, seems to be presenting evidence for existence of a supernatural power (I have not read the book yet but have studied his lecture on the same topic). Collins, in his lecture mentioned above on the same topic, clearly states that he presents evidence but *not* proof for the existence/presence of God. The reader may or may not agree with the opinion espoused by either Dawkins or Collins, on the basis of the “evidence but not proof” presented in their books and lectures.

I don’t know whether Dawkins, when he decided on the title of his book, was aware that some readers of his book title may go by meaning 2 above (‘The belief in a supernatural power is false’). If he did then perhaps it would have been more ethical/truthful of him to have changed the title to something else which did not lend itself to such a meaning which is a falsehood.

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2 thoughts on ““The God Delusion”. What Does it Really Mean?

  1. Thanks for the comment Sasi.

    Capra’s Tao of Physics is a very famous book. But I have not read it (or don’t recall reading it) or his other works. Now its difficult for me to make time to read his works – maybe later sometime.

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