Review: The God Delusion: Memes, Moral Zeitgeist, and Spiral Dynamics

I’ve just completed my second pass on The Gospel of Dawkins (a.k.a. The God Delusion). I owe you, my readers, a long overdue review of this book as part of my Creepy Library: New Atheists series.
One of the reasons it has taken me longer to post my review is that I
want to treat this book with reverence and respect which most reviewers had failed to do. Whether we agree with Dawkins or not, there is no
denying the fact that this book is the most influential and one of the most boldest, lucid, honest, scientific, passionate critique of God and religion, in recent times.

As I write this, The God Delusion
continues to sell like hot cakes (1.5 million copies and counting;
translated to 31 languages). Not bad for an “irreverent” book. Indeed,
with this single book, Dawkins had, arguably, accomplished more than
what the Enlightenment thinkers had done during their time (in terms of
ubiquity) on “raising consciousness” and bringing religion on the level
playing field of rational discussion in politics, universities,
conferences and mainstream media. So it is with deep respect and
humility that I offer my review and critique of this book.

I’ve planned to do a single post as a review. However, after reading
the book for the second time, armed with a yellow Hi-Liter I’ve become
more aware of the philosophical, psychological, social, and political
implications of this book. I find that it would be intellectually lazy of me to just post a short review and move on. This book is so juicy
that I decided to do a multi-post review. This post is the first part.

reviews had reacted on the controversial parts of the book (God vs.
Science, Atheism vs. Theism, Religion vs. Science, etc.). Theodore Dalyrymple’s review is a good example. As expected, religious fanatics and apologetics came in droves like fleas on Dawkins’ back
to collectively denounce his ignorance of religion, theology,
philosophy, sociology, (insert your favorite branch of knowledge and
pet theory). Though some had raised valid points on the limitations of
Dawkins as a philosopher and his championing of Darwinism, few had
honed in on the partial truths that Dawkins had eloquently and
elegantly argued about. There are already tons of negative, lazy, smug,
arrogant, ignorant, and intellectually dishonest reviews of The God
Delusion out there. I choose to take no part of them. In this
multi-post review I will attempt to hone in on those partial truths
while gently taking Dawkins’ views, hopefully, to another level.

said, I’d like to start my review on two of my favorite chapters in the
book, where Dawkins had laid down his arguments on morality: “Chapter 6:
The Roots of Morality: Why Are We Good,” and “Chapter 7: The ‘Good’
Book and the Moral Zeitgeist.”

As Richard Harries (Lord Harries of Pentregarth and retired Bishop of Oxford) had observed in his article in The Observer:

Michael Ruse has written: ‘The God Delusion makes me embarrassed to be
an atheist.’ But in all the hype and embarrassment over geneticist
Professor Richard Dawkins’s anti-religious arguments, there is an
important strand in his argument that has been overlooked: his views on
morality. These are interesting and significant, and well worth
weighing very seriously.”

Exactly! In the chapters about
morality, Dawkins had argued that “we don’t need God to be good” and
that morality doesn’t come from the Bible (or any other Holy book).
Theologians, philosophers, and scientists can bend over backwards to
show respect to world religions but, in my opinion, they have to refute
Dawkins arguments on morality if we are to give their arguments equal
respect as that of Dawkins. I’m still waiting for theologians to offer
a better alternative to Dawkins arguments on morality.

Dawkins had started his arguments on morality with his bias (or more
appropriately, expertise) on Darwinism (which are excellent arguments
in their own right, btw), he had the decency to move on to philosophy
and anthropology. What I especially like about Dawkins’ arguments is
that they are clean, simple, lucid, and, most importantly, supported by
arguments from moral philosophers, as well as backed by case studies
and scientific research. I wonder if theologians and philosophers who continue to
talk down on Dawkins’ ignorance (on matters of theology and philosophy)
would have the same decency and honesty to pull together knowledge from
different domains in support of their theological and philosophical arguments.

Here is a case in point: As part of his arguments on morality, Dawkins cited the work of Harvard biologist Marc Hauser, author of Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong and moral philosopher Peter Singer on their case study in the roots of morality (see: Morality without Religion [pdf]). Here is the part why I think Dawkins is onto something big. Here is Dawkins quoting Marc Hauser:

message of Hauser’s book,… is this: ‘Driving our moral judgments is a
universal moral grammar, a faculty of the mind that evolved over
millions of years to include a set of principles for building a range
of possible moral systems. As with language, the principles, that make
up our moral grammar fly beneath the radar of our awareness.'”

my own integrally-informed interpretation, based on the above quote,
the principles of morality is shaped and guided by movements, shifts,
and mutations of “structures of consciousness” (see Jean Gebser) rather than by religion. Taking this argument further and using a Wilberian argument, I would say that religion is a by-product of structures of consciousness instead of the other way around. That’s why there are archaic religions, magic religions, mythical religions, mental religions, and integral religions (and who knows what other structures to come). Dawkins (and his fellow New Atheists) are waging battle on the archaic, magic, and mythical forms of religions. God bless them all 🙂

The reason I brought up the *integral
gambit* is to affirm Dawkins’ eloquent and solid arguments on morality
(and religion) and take them to another level. By his own (humble)
admission, Dawkins is not equipped to take his moral Zeitgeist
argument further. Here is the part of his moral arguments where Dawkins
expressed his insight and humility. Allow me to quote him extensively.

has shifted in the intervening decades. It has shifted in all of us,
and the shift has no connection with religion. If anything, it happens
in spite of religion, not because of it.”

“Where, then, have
these concerted and steady changes in social consciousness come from?
The onus is not on me to answer. For my purposes it is sufficient that
they certainly have not come from religion. If forced to advance a
theory, I would approach it along the following lines. We need to
explain why the changing moral Zeitgeist is so widely synchronized across large numbers of people; and we need to explain its relatively consistent direction.”

how it is synchronized across so many people?…. One way to put it
would be in terms of changing meme frequencies in the meme pool, but I
shall not pursue that.”

“Some of us lag behind the advancing wave of the changing moral Zeitgeist
and some of us are slightly ahead. But most of us in the twenty-first
century are bunched together and way ahead of our counterparts in the
Middle Ages, or in the time of Abraham, or even as recently as 1920s.
The whole wave keeps moving, and even the vanguard of an earlier
century (T.H. Huxley is the obvious example) would find itself way
behind the laggers of a later century. Of course, the advance is not a
smooth incline but a meandering sawtooth. There are local and temporary
setbacks such as the United States is suffering from its government in
the early 2000s. But over the longer timescale, the progressive trend
is unmistakeable and it will continue.”

“It is beyond my amateur
psychology and sociology to go any further in explaining why the moral
Zeitgeist moves in its broadly concerted way. For my purposes it is
enough that, as a matter of observed fact, it does move, and it
is not driven by religion — and certainly not by scripture. It is
probably not a single force like gravity, but a complex interplay of
disparate forces like the one that propels Moore’s Law, describing the
exponential increase in computer power. Whatever its cause, the
manifest phenomenon of Zeitgeist progression is more than enough to undermine the claim that we need God in order to be good, or to decide what is good.”

(from The God Delusion pp. 268 to 272).

Notice how Dawkins used the words shift, meme, wave, progression, consciousness, interplay, and the phrase “not a smooth incline but a meandering sawtooth,” as if Dawkins is trying to describe a spiral?
Ok, I admit that’s a bit of a stretch 😉 But seriously, Dawkins’
arguments on God, religion, and morality would have been richer, more
informed, more solid, more elegant, if he used the theory of human
development known as, Spiral Dynamics.

that I’m making the assumption that Dawkins is not familiar with the
theory of Spiral Dynamics (SD). However, it’s also possible that
Dawkins is aware of Spiral Dynamics but, for some reason, he doesn’t
take it seriously or disregard it altogether. I think it’s logical
to assert the former (Dawkins unfamiliarity with SD) than the latter,
for two reasons:

1) Spiral Dynamics makes use of memetic theory, building upon Dawkins’ work on memes. In SD lingo, it’s called vMemes.

Spiral Dynamics is compatible with Dawkins’ critique of religion and
morality. Its human and cultural development theory is compatible with
Darwinian evolution as well (i.e. memes, life conditions, etc.)

That said, a possible counter argument
is that, Spiral Dynamics “is not currently supported by mainstream
anthropology, social sciences, and evolutionary biology” that’s why
Dawkins is unaware of it, or chooses to ignore it at this time. I can
only speculate.

In any case, I think the onus is on SD proponents
to reach out to Dawkins (and to the the academia and popular media at large) than the
other way around. That’s the premise of my previous post, “The New Atheists and Integral Camp Should Talk.”

whether Dawkins embrace Spiral Dynamics or not in his future writings,
his arguments on religion and morality stand on their own. But it would
do Dawkins (and his fellow New Atheists) more good (i.e. give them
more”‘ammo”) if they have a solid theory of human and cultural
development to back them up.

More musings on The God Delusion
coming soon. In the meantime, I highly recommend that you pick up this
book, read it with curiosity, while setting aside its irreverence. It’s
one of the most important books in the “spirit of our times.”

See also:
Review: Letter to a Christian Nation

Review: End of Faith

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