The God Delusion

June 11th, 2007

If you're at all interested in theology and religious questions, this will probably be an interesting book to you. Richard Dawkins is a crusader for atheism and what he essentially sets out to do in The God Delusion is to encourage people to embrace atheism, chiefly those who either aren't quite sure about it, and those who feel atheist but fear admit to it.

I should say from the beginning that if you are religious, you should read this book with an open mind. Dawkins is aggressive, and at times arrogant. He basically calls out agnostics as a pathetic fence sitting bunch that should just get with the program already. And he doesn't stop there, with phrases like "an imaginary God" he is sure to ruffle feathers. I can't say I enjoy this type of expression, it is divisive and negative. But he certainly is a lot more than a troll. And that's why you shouldn't let this aspect of the book deter you. His approach as a scientist is still for the most part completely scientific, quoting results of studies on the various topics that are being discussed.

However, his belligerence towards religion does raise one (of many) very important point. As it is, religion lives a very sheltered life in our society. You can criticize and condemn just about anything you please, but you may not say a bad word about religion. This is such an ingrained part of our culture, and no one will think to question this. I think Dawkins is absolutely right in saying that religion should face the same scrutiny as everything else, and precisely because it is so important to people. Why *should* religion be the sacred cow?

What I see as the main value of the book, however, is that many claims that are made about religion in general and specific religions as well. For example, religions like to claim morality. Religious leaders like to say that it is through religion that people are moral and that without religious rules we wouldn't know how to establish our ethics. Dawkins disputes this violently, by saying that scripture is extremely ambiguous on morals and that studies have shown that people with no exposure to religion whatsoever have the same values as religious people do. This to me is perhaps the single most interesting point made.

Another fascinating point is a theory about where religion actually comes from. In terms of evolution, Dawkins suggests that religion is a cultural artifact, a byproduct of our evolutionary process, that has proven sufficiently attractive for us to cultivate it.

In what goes more towards advocacy, in his quest to promote atheism, he is eager to show how religion is destructive in all sorts of way. This too may be instructive, as it brings out how there are a lot of things about religion that we do not notice very much. In particular, Dawkins makes a point of saying that moderate religion is indeed dangerous, because it fosters an environment in which extremist religion is possible.

One final issue that makes Dawkins's blood boil is the indoctrination of children into religion by their parents. This is essentially how religion is perpetuated, and it's a pretty thought provoking issue when you think about it.

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5 Responses to "The God Delusion"

  1. ash says:

    I agree with Dawkins on a lot of things, particularly the indoctrination of children (although calling it that in itself is sure to raise some hackles). Where I sit on the fence though is as to whether his approach is the right one. I can certainly understand his anger but at the same time, I find myself unable to whole heartedly support his rhetoric. Maybe it's apathy on my part, although I think it's more the divisiveness you mentioned. Is extremist religion going to grow or fade in the face of 'hardcore' atheism?

  2. While I can't agree with Dawkins, I guess I'm delusional, I do think Ash brings up an excellent point. My guess is "hardcore atheism" along with other similar practices (forced conversion, etc.) only increases people's tendency to move toward extremist religion. If they want to convert to whatever, they'll do so on their own free will. The harder you push the harder they resist. Then again, maybe that's just me...

  3. erik says:

    I've been meaning to read his book but I don't have a lot of time on my hands right now. I might even try the audiobook version since the last time I tried an audiobook was way long ago. Any ideas where I could get it?

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