From the publisher:
“In this provocative must-read, the preeminent scientist-and world’s most prominent atheist—Richard Dawkins—asserts the irrationality of belief in God and the grievous harm religion has inflicted on society, from the Crusades to 9/11. The God Delusion makes a compelling case that belief in God is not just wrong, but potentially deadly. It also offers exhilarating insight on 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. With rigor and wit, Dawkins 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. This is a book that challenges all of us to test our beliefs, no matter what beliefs we hold.”
When I first heard about all the hype surrounding this book (when it first came out), I was kind of turned off. It (along with Hitchens’ book) sounded, well, it sounded mean. I’ve never had belief in the Christian god, though in the past I’ve flirted with both a kind of philosophical/spiritual Platonism (you know, the one that says “God is real (and perfect and good) but religions aren’t factually true”) and spiritual pantheism/panentheism (“Nature/the Universe is divine and religions are just ways of communicating with that divinity, and some of those ways are morally & intellectually better* than others”). So I didn’t have a vested interest in protecting Christianity from condemnation. However, I still retained that very liberal attitude that Culture (including Religion) should be respected to the degree that it does no harm: if you want to believe that the execution of some Iron Age carpenter-cum-preacher somehow makes you a better person, well, okay, who am I to judge you? And why should I dismiss the possibility that supernatural things could happen (albeit perceptually filtered through different cultures’ mythologies)? It just seemed like Dawkins was going out of his way to rain on the parade, and to do so without having proof that there wasn’t something real lying behind all those trappings. I didn’t really care to read this book at that time.
But I did read Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. Which sparked in me a renewed interest in science. From there, I searched for other sources of scientific writing (both in print and online). One day, Carl Zimmer posted about Carl Sagan’s tv series Cosmos and I promptly watched the whole series from beginning to end. But I wanted more so I looked on YouTube for more vids about science and when The Greatest Show on Earth came out, I was quite keen to read it. It’s very difficult to learn what’s going on in scientific circles today without bumping up against the attack campaign of the Creationists.
All of which eventually led to my becoming quite acquainted with Dawkins, both as a biologist and as an advocate for Rationalism. So by the time I picked up this audiobook, I was pretty much so familiar with the contents from recorded lectures and interviews, nothing came as a surprise. Not only have I ventured to read The God Delusion, but I have to say that I agree with it for the most part. Under the banner “harm” I no longer include just physical harm, systemic discrimination (e.g. racism, misogyny, bigotry against homosexuals), an unhealthy attitude to the planet & its other inhabitants, and cultural genocide. Now I include violence to truth, obstruction of education, personal indoctrination of children, and the waste of (financial and human) resources sucked up by religion.
The problem with doing this review is that I don’t really recall much of the book! I finished listening to it back in February and because I was listening, the content has kind of blended into all the lectures and interviews I’ve watched and listened to over the past year or two. A few things do stand out though: discussions of agnosticism and Spinoza’s/Einstein’s pantheism; a discussion about morality without gods; and Dawkins’ appeal to quit saddling children with the religions (and corresponding labels) of their parents.
Oh, and one more thing: I didn’t find it mean at all. Though often caricatured as “strident” and “shrill” Dawkins is actually rather kind and rational (fancy that). He’s just passionate about scientific truth, and like all lovers wants everyone to share in his joy. Hmm. Yes, that and he can’t abide those people who knowingly and deliberately hide it, lie about it, and brainwash others about it. It’s well worth reading—even if you’re religious I doubt you’ll actually be offended by most of what Dawkins says and all of it is well worth considering.
*Many who are adherents of this general belief would say that no religion is inherently inferior, that we should all just accommodate each other’s religious without analysis or criticism. But I had early on formed a dislike of some aspects of Christian theology so I always discriminated between religions.