Are you a Christian? Are you a Muslim? Or perhaps you’re a Buddhist. Did you willingly decide to believe in a certain God or were you simply brought up that way? If your answer is the latter, your parents are in deep trouble—at least according to the famed evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.
According to the Oxford University professor, the current “society…has accepted the preposterous idea that it is normal and right to indoctrinate tiny children in the religion of their parents.” Simply put, Dawkins believes religious indoctrination is nothing short of child abuse.
Dawkins, whom the book’s publicity blurb refers to as “the world’s most prominent atheist,” has penned a stunning and oddly convincing (for the most part) argument against religion with his latest release, “The God Delusion.” This provocative book dissects religion from head-to-toe: he debunks all known arguments in support of the existence of supernatural deities and then presents a flood of reasons explaining “why there almost certainly is no god.”
In the absence of God, Dawkins argues that religion is merely a by-product—a remnant if you will—of evolution. “Could irrational religion be a by-product of the irrationality mechanisms that were originally built into the brain by selection for falling in love? Certainly, religious faith has something of the same character as falling in love (and both have many of the attributes of being high on an addictive drug),” he writes. For Dawkins, this evolutionary by-product should go because it creates more problems than benefits.
Dawkins explains that morality developed in a similar vein. Morality—in the form of kindness, altruism, generosity, empathy, and pity—is nothing more than “misfirings, Darwinian mistakes: blessed, precious mistakes,” he explains. Morality is the by-product of kin altruism, which was once beneficial to the survival of our prehistoric ancestors. Unlike religion however, morality is a beneficial result of evolution.
He fervently attacks the claim that morality is rooted in religious scripture: “To be fair, much of the Bible is not systematically evil but just plain weird…the legend of the animals going into the ark two by two is charming, but the moral of the story of Noah is appalling. God took a dim view of humans, so he (with the exception of one family) drowned the lot of them including children…”
The author then quotes Thomas Jefferson, “The Christian God is a being of terrific character—cruel, vindictive, capricious and unjust.”
However, the novelty of the book is not Dawkins’ attacks on religious fundamentalism (which most reasonable people would agree with), but rather, his distaste for society’s tolerance and reverence of religion in general.
For Dawkins, even moderate religious teachings amount to mental abuse: “But if your whole upbringing, and everything you have ever been told by parents, teachers and priests, has led you to believe…that sinners burn in hell, it is entirely plausible that words could have a more long-lasting and damaging effect than deeds.”
Most of the textual arguments are against Christian theology; as someone who was raised a sort-of Buddhist, I am curious at how Dawkins would take on (and rip apart for that matter) non-Abrahamic religions. The lack of substantial discussion on Eastern religions in “The God Delusion” left me with a feeling of incompleteness.
Dawkins believes in the truth in science: there must be logic and evidence for every argument made and for the most part, his arguments are lucidly (and logically) backed. Unfortunately for Dawkins, his firebrand spirit and the uncompromising tone of this tome belie his solid reasoning. For some readers, “The God Delusion” will come across every bit as arrogant and fundamentalist as those works and ideas he opposes.
This is not a coolheaded book by any means. Dawkins makes it clear: this is not a debate—because there is no debate. He’s right and you’re wrong (if you believe in supernatural beings, that is). Even agnostics do not escape Dawkins’ scathing commentary.
His writing is sarcastically witty and the overall organization of the book is quite successful, despite occasional lapses into repetition. “The God Delusion” is structured as a narrative chain, as opposed to an arch. Each chapter deals with a standalone topic that is interrelated and linked to the other chapters. It is entirely possible to pick and choose the chapters that you want to read—some readers may find this a better approach to this book as Dawkins’ polemical tone is often difficult to swallow in large doses.
Now that “Reason and Faith” may join the pantheon of general education requirements for undergrads, I think I’ve found a great piece of summer reading for incoming freshmen. “The God Delusion” is bound to be provocative, and whether you’re a stalwart Christian or life-long agnostic, this book’s a thinker. As you’re reading, you’ll find yourself fruitlessly (most of the time) trying to think of comebacks against Dawkins’ line of reasoning.
The God Delusion
By Richard Dawkins