Sunday, May 24, 2015

Book Review: god is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything- Christopher Hitchens

God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons EverythingGod is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A few years ago my best friend and I were talking about Richard Dawkins and my friend mentioned that he wasn't sure why Dawkins got as much attention as he did. He even complained about The God Delusion and how it could have been so much more, but instead repeated a lot of the same old arguments. I pointed out that I think Dawkins popularity comes from being known in the science field and then making the transition to talking about religion. But just as I've said before that not every Christian should discuss or debate science, so not every scientist should discuss or debate religion. That conversation led to other atheist authors that my friend did recommend. One was Sam Harris and the other was Christopher Hitchens. I read The Moral Landscape at the time and actually found a lot of the arguments pretty compelling. I also, about that same time, finally listened to The GOD Delusion. Hitchens kind of went to the back of my mind. I stumbled across this book while browsing for a non-Christian religion or philosophy book to read this round and only when I checked it out did I remember that my friend had recommended Hitchens to me.

This book didn't impress me. Psychology research says that when you confront someone with facts that go against their beliefs that often times they will resist them and it will only make them believe their beliefs all the more. Even going in aware of this mindset I wasn't moved by much of his arguments. I also cannot say that I, believe my beliefs more, there are some doubts that remain or have risen up fresh, but overall I found the book unconvincing. Yes, many atrocities have been committed in the name of religion, but Hitchens falls prey to several logical fallacies and to over-generalization.

As a scientist and as an educator one that I try to avoid are absolutes. The subtitle alone "How Religion Poisons Everything" (emphasis added) is understandable because it will help market and sell the book and it is more sensational. I can even understand using it, although somewhat inconsistently, as a slogan or catchphrase within the book (this was especially odd to me, since I know it was published with a different subtitle in the UK, I assume the catchphrase had to change in those editions ). He frequently went after a straw-man argument in these cases, pointing out the worst religious extremism and heresy. There were attempts to refute the "No true (insert religious faith here) would do/believe that", but it was unsatisfactory to me." And he is correct there have been many wrongs, but when generalized to the extreme "everything" he just plain gets it wrong.

Furthermore, he had trouble giving any credit. For example, he pointed to Einstein, who almost certainly was a deist, and to Blaise Pascal, and others and pointed out that they "were the best that could be hoped for" given the beliefs of their time. In other words, he took people who believed in one religious faith or another and discounted their beliefs because they were ahead of their times, but not far enough ahead of their times to truly break-free.

It wasn't that I rejected his ideas outright, or that I disagreed with a lot of his examples [because I did agree with many], I just resist the "all" and "everything" extrapolation. I don't buy it and it isn't enough for me. I suppose it was worth listening to his arguements and claims, but they didn't convince me. I was also sad to learn that he has passed away since and so I won't have the chance to let him have another go at it, I am kind of looking forward to letting Sam Harris try again soon with his book Waking Up.

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