The God Delusion The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Year: 2006
Pages: 406

Few people, with the notable exception of perhaps Christopher Hitchens (who is perhaps better known as a warhawk than an atheist), are as outspokenly critical of religion as Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins. The God Delusion represents his first effort at a book whose entire text is (ostensibly) an attack of religion—his previous works, such as The Ancestor’s Tale have been mostly scientific works about evolutionary processes or mimetics.

Having heard Dawkins in various other contexts—a few interviews, some previous books, &c.—much of the book wasn’t new to me. Almost as if the entire religious debate writ small, The God Delusion contains its fair share of recycled material and careworn phrases. Which is not to say that Dawkins isn’t an excellent writer—indeed, his slew of successful books is what pushed him into prominence—and that he isn’t very thorough in his attack of religion.

There were a few portions in particular that stood out to me, and which I found particularly interesting. The first was a lengthy chapter about mimetics: mimetics, or the sort of “evolutionary” passing of “memes” (units of cultural information)1. I find this kind of social science fascinating, because what we’re talking about here is how culture is passed on generationally. I think even religionists would agree with most of the tenets here, even if their noses would crinkle at some of the terminology that Dawkins uses. Dawkin’s question is Assuming no supernatural impetus for its longevity, why is religion such a healthy and persistent meme?. He reasons that the answer must either be that religion does cultural good or that it’s caused by a “mis-firing” of other impulses. His eventual conclusion is—grudgingly—a mixture of both. But I am now inspired to go find some other works on mimetics.

The other particularly poignant section, and apparently Dawkin’s pet peeve, is the way in which young children are immediately labeled with the religion of their parents, as though the largely arbitrary matter of a progenitor’s religion was somehow congential. 5-year-olds can be “Christian children” or “Muslim children” or “Buddhist children,” and yet you would never heard children referred to as “Marxist children,” “Contractarian children,” or “Anti-establishment anarchist children.” Given my vehement stance for intellectual liberty, this seems to me a rather good point. Kids are too young to know any better: parents obviously think that they are doing their kids a favor, but are they really? Personally, I think this sort of nonsense only increases sectarian tension.

The God Delusion had some good points, but overall I must admit that it didn’t blow me away by any stretch of the imagination. But a solid Dawkins work, to be sure, with a few high points that make it worth recommending.

  1. You’ve probably noticed this word before if you read blogs at all. “Memes” in this context are generally a sort of ‘chain letter’ phenomenon, whereby some repeatable activity is passed on by connected individuals. The very word was coined by Dawkins in one of his earlier books.[]
§1888 · August 23, 2007 · Tags: , , , , , ·

8 Comments to “The God Delusion”

  1. Brady says:

    Funny that you should post about this now- I’ve been spending a couple of hours per day reading this at Barnes and Noble.

    I’m not quite finished with it, but I wasn’t blown away by the book, either. Dawkins is a good writer, and he makes some good points, but it wasn’t nearly as thorough or eloquent as I expected. Most of his interesting points were actually made by others, merely cited in the book.

    I’ve heard so much about how rabidly Dawkins attacks religion, but he seems a puppy dog compared to people like Sam Harris, who aggressively badgers religious moderates and fundamentalists alike (even though I doubt many or any of them are reading him).

  2. Ben says:

    Probably the most vehement must be Hitchens, I think, who will set down his drink, peer over the tops of his cheaters condescendingly, and the proffer a devastating phrase with a slightly slurred British delivery. He’s wonderful theatre if nothing else.

  3. Brady says:

    Hitchens is a fascinating character in himself.

    He’s one of the most vehement critics of religion. He thinks Mother Teresa’s renown is one of the biggest con-jobs in the twentieth century.

    Yet he hates Noam Chomsky, and he called Bill Clinton a rapist and a liar who should be tried for war crimes.

    He was incredibly outspoken against George H.W. Bush’s war against Iraq, yet he’s incredibly supportive of George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, so much that he’s been called a neocon.

    What’s the deal with this guy?

  4. Ben says:

    You’ve seen the videos I have here of his speech on free speech, right?

  5. Brady says:

    Yeah, good stuff. I also saw him speak at Barnes and Noble a couple of months ago.

    It almost seems like he takes a stance on something, gets in the good graces of a particular group, then says something incredibly antithetical and offensive to that group, which gets him the support of another group, etc. It’s like he wants to turn every topic he speaks on into an oblique discussion of censorship and free speech.

    I guess for as much as he admires Orwell, that’s a fitting tack to take.

  6. Ben says:

    You got to see Hitchens? You jerk.

  7. Brady says:

    Yeah, that’s one of the perks of living in NYC. Dave Barry is going to be at that same B+N sometime next month.

  8. […] The God Delusion aims not only to prove the inexistence of God but also that religious belief is responsible for a lot of terrible things (the inquisition, the crusades, terrorist attacks, etc). He also grumbles about a bias against atheists that prevents many people from ‘coming out’ and publicly acknowledging their atheistic belief. Dawkins scoffs at the ‘overweening respect’ accorded to religion throughout the world. He may have a point there, I too see no reason why attacking religion should give rise to so much self-righteous anger. Would people be as angry if someone questioned their choice for President or, horror of horrors, featured him in a newspaper cartoon? Darwinism teaches us that the great complexity found in Nature is the result of gradual evolution and did not arise spontaneously. According to Dawkins, God would have to be incredibly complex in order to have created the world, listen to millions of prayers, sanction the occassional miracle, etc. This obviously raises the question about where such a complex God came from. The standard response I have come across is, “God has no begginning and no end” or, “Our limited intellects are incapable of comprehending God’s true nature”. Whether or not you are convinced by such a response depends to a large extent on your upbringing. Which brings us to Dawkins pet peeve – labelling children as ‘Hindu children’ or ‘Catholic children’. Dawkins feels that since children are too young to decide for themselves whether they beleive in God or not it is wrong to label them with their parents religion. He says religious labelling is equivalent to labelling children by their parents political opinions, wouldn’t you be enraged (or at least puzzled) to hear of a Marxist child? I was dissapointed that Dawkins did not use the problem of evil (or, why does suffering exist when an allegedly all-powerful and benevolent God could simply do away with it?) as an argument against the existence of God. Dawkins is an excellent writer but he comes across as heavily biased due to his own traumatic encounters with religion as a child. By the end of the book I was fairly convinced of the negative effects of religion. This was my first book on atheism, please pardon any stupidity. You can also read Heliologue’s knowledgeable review by clicking here. […]

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