Author: Richard Dawkins
Publisher: Black Swan
Date Published: 2006
A preeminent scientist — and the world’s most prominent atheist — asserts the irrationality of belief in God and the grievous harm religion has inflicted on society, from the Crusades to 9/11. With rigor and wit, Dawkins examines God in all his forms, from the sex-obsessed tyrant of the Old Testament to the more benign (but still illogical) Celestial Watchmaker favored by some Enlightenment thinkers. He eviscerates the major arguments for religion and demonstrates the supreme improbability of a supreme being. He shows how religion fuels war, foments bigotry, and abuses children, buttressing his points with historical and contemporary evidence. The God Delusion makes a compelling case that belief in God is not just wrong but potentially deadly. It also offers exhilarating insight into the advantages of atheism to the individual and society, not the least of which is a clearer, truer appreciation of the universe’s wonders than any faith could ever muster.
For a long time I wasn’t compelled to read ‘The God Delusion’ at all, despite my atheism and Dawkins’ respect amongst the atheist community. I eventually decided I may as well do so, especially since the Scarlet letter campaign appeared on some of my favorite blogs such as Pharyngula and Forever In Hell.
So I dutifully located it in Borders. Whilst searching for the blurb, I became a little suspicious and nauseated by the accolades plastered on every inch of available cover, which also continued for the first two pages. This is forgivable, it was most likely the publishers’ idea, rather than Dawkins’ (a word of advice for publishers; a few well placed literary review quotes are enough – 25 is overkill.)
Before I continue, I want you to know that I didn’t go into this looking for a fight, as some readers may have purchased the book specifically for (those of the religious or creationist opinion in particular). I certainly wasn’t a fan of Dawkins; I was largely indifferent to him. I started out generally optimistic when I opened the book. Then the cringing began. Soon there were moments that made me shake my head and say (quite appropriately I think). ‘Jesus Christ, Richard. Slow down there’. I really didn’t expect I would dislike ‘The God Delusion’ this much. My aversion truly surprised me. Now I would like to explain why.
Dawkins strikes me as a person who is compelling at public speaking, yet lacks the writing eloquence necessary to carry an entire novel length publication. ‘The God Delusion’ switches between reading like a speech and jokey, conversationalist manner. At times there is a vague sense of reading a powerpoint presentation.
Each chapter (usually, but not always) has a reasonable point to make (for example, how religions perceived sacred nature should not exempt it from examination or reproach. The Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy and ensuing riots are used to demonstrate how this sacred stamp can be used to justify mass hysteria and violence). However, the majority of the points Dawkins tries to make are spoiled by his analogies, conclusions and rhetoric.
In ‘The God Delusion’ scientists and atheists are, by default, apparently better, smarter people than anyone religious, so by that logic scientists who happen to be atheists are THE MOST AWESOME PEOPLE EVER!! Scientists are always referred to as ‘alert’ and ‘sophisticated’ (as is anyone outside of these fields which agrees with Dawkins), where as the religious are ‘barbaric’, ‘primitive’ or ‘fundemental’ (as are other heretics outside of the religious fields that dare to disagree with Dawkins, or be involved in anything remotely religious, such as the Templeton Foundation and by association Paul Davies). Throughout most of the book he generalises religious people as being inferior in intellect or outright dumb. Atheist children are labelled as ‘Brights’, yet Dawkins can’t fathom why other atheists would denounce this concept as arrogant. He outlines his generalisations and arrogance with such stunners as this:
“For atheism nearly always indicates a healthy independence of mind, and indeed, a healthy mind”.
To be honest, the majority of atheists I’ve met were simply ‘born into it’, rather than reaching their conclusion from deductive reasoning. They are quite lazy and generally don’t ponder it that much – they are the mirror image of a child who is brought up in religion and never questions it. Even if one didn’t take into account the subtle cunning and the tactical power of institutions such as the Catholic church, which have been built on the manipulative intellects of Priests over a hundreds of years, this concept of intelligence and ‘a healthy mind’ being linked to atheism would be backward. On top of this, Dawkins glosses over the well documented wrongs and atrocities that atheistic states have committed and only emphasises the faults of his opponent, a classically bad ploy in adult debate. He glorifies scientists without remembering (or willingly forgetting) such instances as the Nazi doctors and the German intellectuals who had such an integral role in the Nazi war machine. Dawkins addresses many of the complaints about his book in the preface to the paperback edition and also makes a show of addressing rebuttals during the chapters, but much like the ‘evil atheist regime’ section before mentioned, Dawkins simply glosses over them or gives them vapid replies.
Using the extremely absurd ‘atheist equals awesome’ logic, Dawkins then proceeds to a presumptuously claim knowledge of the spiritual status of famous scientific and political figures, dead or alive. As expected, Einstein is the center figure (Einstein was an atheist, therefore atheists really do rock! Woo!). This is basically a crudely executed appeal to authority, rather than reason. It fails because it is a) stupid b) doesn’t prove anything about God, or the lack thereof c) doesn’t take into account that it is more common amongst the religious, who often seek advice from authority figures such as The Bible, their prophets and priests, to care who said which clever quotes. If Einstein was an atheist (which seems likely) it doesn’t make my position as an atheist better or worse.
He then goes on to employ the same ‘gap theory’ that he discredits creationists for using. I don’t see how ‘We are here, therefore anthropic principle did it’ is any different to ‘we are here, therefore God did it’.
“The anthropic states that, since we are alive, eucaryotic and conscious, our planet has to be one of the intensely rare planets that has bridged all three gaps.”
“It needs some luck to get started, and the ‘billions of planets’ anthropic principle grants it that luck.”
Both systems still use a leap of faith. Instead of owning up to the fact that we don’t know the answer to the origin of life, and indulging in the ‘we don’t know yet’ response which he claims scientists apparently relish in, he generalises and takes massive leaps of logic in order to make his wobbly theories stand – which is sloppy debating, especially for someone as well educated as a scientist. Using the words ‘has to be’ when asserting ones claims never sits well either. The crazy thing is that I do think some of his theories could be correct, but his delivery and justification isn’t sound. In the end, can you really trust the logic of a man who advises a would-be author to read aloud their novel in order to determine whether it reads well for others?
He argues the statistical improbability of God as proof for lack of existence, whilst dancing around the same statistical improbability of our existence as being proof for his own theories. His supposed ultimate death blow to religion, the ‘ultimate Boeing 747’, is basically ‘if we’re improbable, that makes God even more improbable’…which simply means that God is improbable. How this equates to proof of the lack of God’s existence, I don’t know.
After pissing and moaning about the wrongs of religious indoctrination of children Dawkins goes on to explain his own beliefs – that children should be indoctrinated into reason etc. I’m all for kids being taught both sides of the coin, yet Dawkins seems to be proposing (based on his theory that raising children in a religion is tantamount to child abuse) absolutism, moments after condemning it beforehand.
“Justice Douglas saw no particular reason to give the religious views of parents a special status in deciding how far they should be allowed to deprive their children of education.”
Change the phrase to ‘atheist views’ and Dawkins would be screaming blue murder. It is these frustrating and mind boggling acts of hypocrisy that not only destroys the books credibility, but also scares me when coming from someone who is as ‘morally superior’ and ‘sophisticated’ as an atheist scientist.
Dawkins represents the type of atheism that I don’t want to see occur, where atheists use the same tactics as religion in order to indoctrinate people – which doesn’t make us any better:
“Camp Quest takes the American institution of the summer camp in an entirely admirable direction. Unlike other summer camps that follow a religious or scouting ethos, Camp Quest, founded by Edwin and Helen Kagin in Kentucky, is run by secular humanists, and children are encouraged to think skeptically for themselves.”
Yes, it is ‘admirable’ to indoctrinate children to what Dawkins thinks is appropriate, but not to indoctrinate them to what a religious parent might think is appropriate. If these children are truly taught to think skeptically, hopefully they will get up and leave Camp Quest half way through summer.
Finally, Dawkins, in a moment of sheer bizarreness actually tries to sweep the sexual and physical abuse of children by the Catholic clergy under the rug, in order to prove his before mentioned theory that being brought up a Catholic is worse than actual child abuse. Let me repeat that – Worse than being anally raped by Catholic Priests in Catholic ophanages. I mean, even without examination, this claim is so heinously stupid and offensive to be hardly worth entertaining. But Dawkins continues with such gems as
“Priestly abuse of children nowadays taken to mean sexual abuse, and I feel obliged, at the outset to get the whole matter of sexual abuse into proportion and out of the way.”
“We should be aware of the remarkable power of the mind to concoct false memories, especially when abetted by an unscrupulous therapists and mercenary lawyers.”
“The Catholic Church worldwide has paid out more than a billion dollars of compensation. You might sympathise with them, until you remember where their money came from in the first place.”
“I can’t help wondering whether this one institution has been unfairly demonized over the issue, especially in Ireland and America”
“…the example shows that it is at least possible for pyschological abuse to outclass physical”
Perhaps Dawkins should aquaint himself with the recently published Commission To Inquire Into Child Abuse, which outlines the horrifying attrocities systematically committed against children that he so happily glosses over in order to back up some flimsy theory. Lucky for Dawkins, this particular sacrifice on the altar of sheer fuckwittery was during the second last chapter and due to stubbornness I finished the book – if this had been mentioned in the first half I would have immediately thrown it in the bin. It cemented in place (for all time – even if our planet is taken out by the sun going supernova) what a sheer flaming cockhead Dawkins is.
Now, after this rant of dooooom, I will be fair and speak of the redeemable features of ‘The God Delusion’. There are good things to find in this book. Dawkins cites many interesting case studies, such as the study of childhood morality by Israeli psychologist George Tamarin. His passion for science and evolution is beautifully conveyed to the reader at times (it is here where his writing shines). His deconstruction of the fundamental dangers of the Intelligent Design movement to science and schools are also well constructed and worth reading. The opening lines of Chapter 2 are masterfully executed and worthy of quoting in future – and since I’ve began to read The Old Testament, I can’t help but agree with his opinion of Jehovah’s character. His campaign to get out atheists ‘out of the closet’ and therefore free from fear of harm is also commendable. If only he had not ruined these aspects with the above mentioned problems, which really dominated the majority of the book.
I made 4 A4 pages of notes – this by someone who is an atheist and agrees with a few of his generalised points. ‘The God Delusion’ is designed to illicit a response, good or bad. In that respect, Dawkins has clearly hit his mark. He is an attack dog, with science for teeth and mocking rhetoric his bark. Perhaps this was why the tone was deliberately cheeky and arrogant and his points delivered with the subtlety of a brick through a glass window. But even if I stop to admire this effect (which is not hard to achieve, anyone with a blog and can manage) I can’t help thinking that it will only widen the gap between both sides of the debate, rather than illicit the thoughtful reflection Dawkins apparently craves. He is at times a atheist zealot. A ‘black and white’, ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’ fundamentalist. His meme theory, a ridiculous pseudoscience at best, is a symptom of Dawkins’ Scientism and his inability to view anything in society, even our culture or art, as something that cannot be quantified or explained by science in some manner. This is exactly the same as being unable to find an explanation for anything without God. In the end, he becomes what he supposedly despises.
He wants us to become ‘organised’, partly to protect ourselves, but also to gain political power. This would counteract atheism’s greatest attribute – our individualism and the fact that we weigh problems logically, instead of following the churches. I see, under his guidance, atheism becoming just another religious sect, another delegate to refer to or lose money from in elections. I don’t want atheists, or any group in particular, to have ‘sway’. Might is not right – even if atheists eventually form the ‘might’ part.
I don’t hate Dawkins. Apart from some of his severely demented and strange opinions on the nature of child abuse, he seems like an interesting and witty person. I just wish that he wouldn’t write any more books (however, this is unlikely). He stands on the shoulders of other brilliant people, including his heroes Darwin and Einstein, yet brings nothing of substance to the debate. For this very mediocre at best opinion piece he has made a lot of money – its a shame how these kind of works are often rewarded far beyond their actual value.
I was going to give this book 2/5, but the Catholic Priest fiasco really turned my stomach and left a bad taste in my mouth. It upsets me that ‘The God Delusion’ has such a high profile and so many praise laden quotes to sheath itself in. In order to make progress peacefully we need logic, compassion, reason and respect – something that, for all its posturing, ‘The God Delusion’ doesn’t deliver. Sadly, it only highlights how ridiculous the intellectual elite can be.
♥ – 1/5