Book Review: The God Delusion

The New York Times bestseller, “The God Delusion” written by English biologist Richard Dawkins has currently over 3 million copies sold and is the literary centerpiece for the New Atheism movement. The sole aim of Dawkins’s exposition is to demonstrate the nonexistence of a transcendent being who’s just a delusion of religious dogmatism that is held in the face of strong contradictory evidence. Dawkins contends that a supernatural creator is an impossibility and seeks to prove his case against the creationist argument from design. The book can be summarized according to six main themes:

1) One of the paramount challenges to the human intelligence has been to describe how the complex, unlikely appearance of design in the cosmos arises.

2) The usual temptation is to feature the presence of design to real design itself.

3) The attraction is a false one because the designer theory instantly raises the larger difficulty of who designed the designer,

4) The most original and influential explanation is Darwinian evolution by natural selection.

5) We don’t have a corresponding explanation for physics.

6) We must not surrender the hope of a superior explanation rising in physics to something as authoritative as Darwinism is for biology.

These six statements shape the main idea of Dawkins’s objection to the case for a lack of deity. 

            In an attempt to raise the consciousness of the reader, the author quotes prominent atheists alongside the founding fathers of America, making the distinction between critiquing religions and the “religious feeling.” The first chapter cites Albert Einstein as the authority and example of a deeply religious non-believer and how the reader should place the same amount of criticism towards religion. Religion is viewed through the scope of being untouchable, unattackable with all the freedom and privileges afforded to it. This sets the tone for the rest of the book as the author seeks for the reader to retain an open mind towards what could be many possibilities. 

            Dawkins turns his attention to the God of the Old Testament as a jealous, most unpleasant, a figment of the imagination to describe Yahweh. He defines the God Hypothesis as follows: “any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution” (52). He attempts to refute private revelation rather than evidence in which science primarily deals with the questions of “how” and religion deals with the questions of “why.” The reader gets the impression that Dawkins is adamant with the Abrahamic God, but he later admits that all gods and anything supernatural fall under the same classification. Dawkins furthers his objections with examples of religious zealots who have undermined the faith and conducted experiments that show statistics on the spiritual practice of prayer that finding no differences in its receiving and outcome. 

            Arguments for the existence of God are systematically laid out from Thomas Aquinas’s proofs, a priori & a posteriori arguments, personal experience and others involving theodicy and the problem of evil. Dawkins doesn’t cover each argument in great detail but instead provides a succinct response demonstrating what he perceives as the inadequacies of each proof, providing an alternative worldview. The use of scripture text is interpreted from an eisegesis perspective that doesn’t answer the question concerning belief in God. Although, Dawkins assumes some admission to the fact that a person named Jesus could have existed, he makes it clear that believing anyone who accepts the truth by revelation is nevertheless problematic. The conclusion of his argumentation is built on the premise of infinite regress and the improbability that God certainly doesn’t exist. 

             The majority of Dawkins’s rebuttals can be fundamentally found in Charles Darwin’s evolutionary mechanism of natural selection with the “consciousness-raiser” that can complete the intricate process of origin. This follows with the argument for the “God of the Gaps” theory as intelligent design and irreducible complexity but according to Dawkins suffers from the same objections as chance (145). Again, we see the use of illustrations used to properly respond to explain the question, Who made God? Were Dawkins fails in this valiant attempt is found in the assumption that a divine designer is an entity incomparable in complexity to the universe. Corky statements and unsubstantiated evidence for nonexistence are his primary means of discourse and he would rather rely on a multiverse theory than the probability of a supernatural deity existing. Dawkins states, “Natural selection works because it is a cumulative one-way street to improvement. It needs some luck to get started, and the ‘billions of plants’ anthropic principle grant it that luck”(169).  It’s in this fine-tuning that implies that a creator is behind the scenes, but Dawkins seems to turn the outcome to a cosmological version.

            The roots of religion for Dawkins is a by-product of the evolutionary process, a sort of survival guide that consoles and comforts having advantages for humanity. He references the concept of memes to illustrate his point of cultural ideology being able to be passed down as a gene does with character traits. Dawkins further explains this by saying, “We are biologically programmed to impute intentions to entities whose behavior matters to us” (213). He follows this train of thought with how religion has manipulated the child’s brain becoming a by-product of their parents and upbringing. This argument presents a weak case that Dawkins evidentially confuses the human mind as a highly complex organ but in reality, can understand the simplicity of so-called mysteries when properly presented with the evidence. The moral argument is another which Dawkins attempts to leverage insisting that our moral sense might have a Darwinian origin and he highlights studies that have placed morality on a universal plain regardless of religious affiliations. Dawkins provides four proofs for this claim that ultimately determine that we do not need God to be good or evil for that matter (258).

            Dawkins goes on to point out specific biblical references that, according to today’s standard, will fail the moral code of society. He highlights numerous Old Testament texts, mostly found in the Pentateuch, to substantiate that today’s apologist have cherry-picked and chosen which elements of the Bible to agree and disagree on. Dawkins fails yet again within the hermeneutical text, considering the literal and allegorical forms of speech, which he contests without any proper reasoning. The New Testament takes a slightly different view from his perspective as he admits the possibility of Jesus existing but is prescribed as a model that has similar teachings to modern-day cults. Again, the arguments are unsupported and offer no textual comparison to affirm his claims. Instead, statements made like, “The book of Revelation, which is certainly one of the weirdest books in the Bible,” validates his ignorance regarding eschatology and draws from other religions to further his agenda of disproving the authenticity of the Bible. 

            There are, however, some points further along in the book that I do happen to agree with Dawkins concerning the segregation of schools and the indoctrination of children from their parents in finding their views and beliefs. His reference to the Bible as just a major source for literary culture is a way of Dawkins filling in the gaps whereby religious experience or divine revelation is no longer needed. Another point of agreement would be on the numerous child abuse cases that have occurred within the Roman Catholic church that has left a detrimental mark on Christianity and the loss of trust from the community. Although, he follows this with another rhetoric towards scripture as being taught as truth rather than evidence (379). Dawkins concludes his final chapters with the idea that religion doesn’t fill the necessary gaps, but apparently, his book accomplishes this task (388). Religion is portrayed as an invisible friend that brings consolation and inspiration to human existence. A liberated mindset becomes the calling card of Dawkins that is constructed on calculation and reason. Here he provides very little, aside from a few illustrations, to build on this thought. 

            Towards the end of the book, Dawkins even admits, “I genuinely don’t know the answer” and much of that can be delineated in his writing. Dawkins’s argument for atheism falls short in properly explaining the explanations given but just parades around random experts of the field followed by illustration that seem to lean one-sided at best. Secondly, Dawkins’s case for the absence of a divine designer becomes this complex theory that is improbable and unable for experimentation. Dawkins mistake can be found in comparing the divine designer with the complexity of the universe. If our minds are the results of an evolutionary process, how are we able to trust and lean on our understanding of truth claims as they appear to us? The evidence that Dawkins demands can be found in the knowability of truth, as the starting point, that provides the basis for knowledge found in the most basic entities about reality. Dawkins refuses to entertain this and the results are a “God Delusion” that doesn’t favor the mind of the atheist. 

Bibliography

Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Mariner Books, 2006.

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