Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The God Delusion #43: Dawkins's Feuerbachian Roots

Dawkins thinks anyone who believes in God is utterly irrational. "Believing in God is on the same level as believing in cosmic teapots." (McGrath, DD, 53) McGrath writes: "It's yet anther recycled ananlogy that is all part of his general strategy of systematically mocking, misrepresenting and demonizing competing worldviews, which are always presented in the most naive light possible." (DD, 53)

In this regard Dawkins has no new insights to offer but rather recycles an old and largely philosophically discarded argument against God's existence as put forth in 1841 by German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach. Feuerbach's argument has been called the "projection theory." McGrath presents the argument like this.

- There is no God.

- But lots of people believe in God. Why?

- Because they want consolation.

- So they "project" or "objectify" their longings and call this "God."- Therefore, this nonexistent God is simply the projection of human longings. (See DD, 54)

This argument has its problems. First, "wanting" something is no proof that this "something" does not exist. For example, humans want food and water. Their wanting does not disprove the existence of food and water. Secondly, the Feuerbachian projection theory suggests that all worldviews are a response to human wants. But if this is true than the worldview of atheism would itself be "seen as a response to the human desire for moral autonomy." (DD, 54)

Two variations on the Feuerbachian theme are: 1) locating the origins of belief in God in sociological factors; and 2) locating the origins of belief in God in psychological factors. The first belongs to Marx; the second belongs to Freud. French philosopher Paul Ricoeur coined the term "the hermeneutics of suspicion" to apply to Marx, Freud, and also Nietzsche. These three, rooted in Feuerbach, did not actually offer proofs against the existence of God but brought their atheism already to their three related-yet-different ways of explaining why religion exists at all.

This is what Dawkins does. Dawkins offers a naturalistic explanation of religion. We'll look at that in my next post.