The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins: I imagine this book rankles a lot of people. The mere title is sure to raise hackles, calling their cherished lifelong faith a delusion. But it’s not nearly as mean-spirited as the title may suggest. The book begins with an explanation of the difference between supernatural religion and Einsteinian religion. Einstein, though he often mentioned “God” did not actually believe in a personal, supernatural god. He was talking about the universe as a whole. Though not something to be worshipped, the same awe and reverence usually associated with religion is unquestionably felt by atheists.

Dawkins then proceeds to address large numbers of arguments for the existence of a personal creator-god. Most of his rebuttals against the creator-god boil down to this: if the universe is so complex that it must have been designed, then the designer must have been even more complex, and using that same logic, must therefore also have been designed. He also responds to famous arguments such as those from Thomas Aquinas and Pascal’s Wager.

The chapter “why there almost certainly is no God” goes through various probability-based arguments, most of which return to the fact that natural selection is not random chance but rather a series of tiny changes over thousands or even billions of years. With the exception of the very first spark of life, nothing just spontaneously appeared over the course of evolution. That initial spark is then argued for using the anthropic principle. This idea, when applied to the origin of life, is that we know that though the odds of all the conditions being just right for life are infinitesimal, we know that they are non-zero because we are alive to ask the question. I can’t refute it, but it’s a terribly unsatisfying argument.

Dawkins then moves on to address the roots of religion and morality in Darwinian terms. That is, if there is no god, why does religion pop up in all cultures? If there is no god, what’s the point in being good? Dawkins discusses both of these questions thoroughly and concisely.

After a chapter about why he is so hostile to religion and one equating childhood religious upbringing with child abuse (though he does believe that religious books should be taught as part of literature, just as the Greek myths are currently), Dawkins closes with a discussion of why we as human beings don’t actually need religion to be happy. Though religion has traditionally been expected to fill our needs for consolation and inspiration (among other things already addressed), there are plenty of other sources for these. The book ends with a revisit to the Einsteinian religion with various descriptions of the amazing, the mind-boggling, and the inspiring in our universe. The more we know, the more we yearn to know. Life is beautiful even without the supernatural.

This book has given me quite a lot to think about, some of it rather uncomfortable. I’m not going to get into my own personal beliefs in this review. I don’t agree 100% with everything Dawkins has to say, but I do believe this is an extremely important book and something people should read. It’s not that reading this will necessarily turn you into an atheist (though I suppose it might), but I do believe that one cannot really hold convictions without having considered thoughtful and concise arguments to the contrary. Otherwise it’s not a conviction at all, just mindless parroting of whatever you’ve been told. Even if this book doesn’t change your mind about anything, it should help you focus on why you believe what you do.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

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