Book: The God Delusion

The God Delusion
Thanks to thewrittenwordreviews for scanning the cover.

Pedantic, borderline sadism. Hatred and mockery of faith.
406 pages, 

Richard Dawkins is the world’s most outspoken atheist. He crusades against organised religion and anyone who holds faith in phenomena that haven’t yet been proven by a double-blind scientific trial. In his books and feisty speeches, Richard Dawkins persuades the religious public to renounce their beliefs and adopt a stubborn, intolerant, militant mixture of atheism and science—let’s call it Dawkinism—instead.

His first argument is that God doesn’t exist. On page 35, he describes Catholicism as “shamelessly invented… tasteless, kitsch… airy nonchalance”. The rest of the book is peppered with anti-religious mockery, and trivia, which he sometimes turns into evidence (e.g. Joseph’s family tree). One of his arguments backfires on page 173, and he makes arguments on pages 83 and 119 that blatantly contradict each other. His crusade is far from flawless.

His second argument is that a world without religion would be a better one, claiming that religion was the sole cause of atrocities such as “9/11, 7/7, the Crusades, witch hunts, the Gunpowder Plot… …Northern Ireland’s troubles and those swindling television evangelists”. This more worrying argument is flawed for two reasons.

First, he overlooks the swathes of good that religion has done for society in terms of creating cultural traditions and amalgamating civilisations. Instead, he only talks about when religion goes wrong. Second, he assumes that science is inherently ‘good’ (or is at least ‘better’ than religion), when this is probably not true. Science brought us the atomic bomb, climate change, and even some genocides were ‘justified’ by science. The 9/11 attacks were no more of a reason to give up on religion than the atomic bomb was a reason to give up on science. As Deng Xiaoping said:

“If you close the window, you get no fresh air, and also no flies. But if you open the window fresh air comes in and also some flies”. — Deng Xiaoping

Neither science nor religion are perfect, but both have their place in society. They explain different phenomena and we need both.

The God Delusion would be a noble goal if Dawkinism actually offered any reasonable alternatives to the moral, spiritual, and metaphysical and questions answered by religion. But it does not. The scientific method, by definition, is useless at answering spiritual questions because, by definition, nothing purely spiritual can ever be directly observed! By never being able to answer spiritual questions, Dawkinism aims to demolish more than it builds, and is thus doomed to fail as a philosophy. (See my review of On Revolution).

I think that science and religion answer different questions entirely, and are more complementary than contradictory. Here’s a snippet from my conversation with Anthony Hewish back in 2009, when he showed me his Nobel Prize for Physics:

Me: What do you think about the existence of God?

Hewish: I think it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that God exists. I’ve been a Christian all my life. Arguments from authors such as Richard Dawkins I find shallow and trivial. Tension arises from religion’s historical background that leads us to all sorts of assumptions and theories. I agree with John Polkinghorne that you need both science and religion if you’re going to make sense of life as a whole.

Interestingly, the Dalai Lama agrees with both Anthony Hewish and John Polkinghorne on this matter.

But even if Dawkins were right, and there is no God, what benefit would that bring to the world? Disproving the beliefs of billions of people would do no good at all. If Dawkins had good intentions, then he would not want to be right, and would promptly give up his fight.

Above all, The God Delusion reminded me that no matter the magnitude of historical atrocities justified in the name of religion, atheistic extremism can be just as militant, stubborn and ugly as religious extremism. Just look at Dawkins. If atheists reject this book in disgust, and become more tolerant of religion as a result, then I’ll consider The God Delusion to be a success. There is no other way that this book could make any meaningful contribution to humanity.

Fortunately, Buddhism and Confucianism are spared from Dawkins’ wrath, for, according to Dawkins, they are “not religions at all but ethical systems or philosophies of life” (page 37-38). That phrase earned this book an extra star. You’re better off reading articles about Dawkins than the books that Dawkins wrote himself. Just try to avoid the firing line of his sadistic, atheistic crusade. ★

6 thoughts on “Book: The God Delusion

  1. I found his arguments totally unconvincing, and, in fact, think that the whole book is a joke. His ramblings are neither particularly intelligent nor interesting. I hear you when you say that he completely ignored the good that religion has done. In my mind it was as though he kept referring to some Muslims’ laws, practice of stoning, and all that, when he was writing it, there is no other way one can write such a book.

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    1. Finding this book a joke is probably the best, most tolerant interpretation. Well done. I was slightly outraged and felt like his thesis needed a response. I’m still thinking of counter-arguments to The God Delusion, but maybe that’s exactly what Dawkins wants: attention. The Science Delusion by Rupert Sheldrake offers a calm alternative.

      Dawkins’ thesis is like saying: “You don’t need to listen to your government, your superiors, or the law, and here’s why. You were stupid for being a law-abiding citizen all along, paying into a pension fund and taking Christmas holidays and all that, and I’m going to ‘raise your consciousness’ to a higher level”. Dumb.

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  2. I haven’t read the book, and so can’t say anything about Dawkin’s arguments. However, you do say in your review:

    “The scientific method, by definition, is useless at answering spiritual questions because, by definition, nothing purely spiritual can ever be directly observed!”

    But isn’t that the fuel for not believing? I mean, religion says it can give answers to spirituality, but all it does is point to scrolls, or to other historical evidence created at some point by man. And we all know how different men can be. We’re born storytellers… and while I won’t get into the topic of ‘truth in the bible’, I will say that religion bases itself very much on metaphor and storytelling to show guidance. To me, this just tells me ‘well these are stories’… and stories are no more answers than science’s lack of answer. Neither side can answer these questions, surely and simply because we don’t know. People may believe one thing or another, but we have no concrete idea what made us, why we’re here and what we should be doing. Theres no physical evidence for religion, which is why people turn to science because its something we can feel in our hands.

    I’m saying neither is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ here, however. Just that one can’t demand physical answers from science that religion offers nothing concrete for.

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    1. I completely agree with you.

      Regarding “The scientific method, by definition, is useless at answering spiritual questions because, by definition, nothing purely spiritual can ever be directly observed!”…

      Science provides no grounds for disproving religion. The scientific method states that “a hypothesis that can not be disproved becomes a theory”. According to the scientific method, we should accept God as a possibility because the scientific method will never erode the core tenets of religion—that work will only be done by atheistic zealots such as Dawkins who give science a bad name.

      Have you read The Science Delusion? It’s a good non-fiction book, really soothing to read. The God Delusion, though, was a repulsive call to arms.

      http://www.camtriplehelix.com/journal/issue/6/conversations-with-cambridge-nobel-laureates/pdf — I agree with Antony Hewish right here.

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