The God Delusion

Before I begin this review, I must start out by saying emphatically that I am a Christian. I was raised entirely in a Christian home, I have exposed to Christian morals all throughout my life, and have lived religiously by them (pun intended) for most of my life. However, right now you could say that I’m going through something of a spiritual search. I’m doing what many college students do – questioning the beliefs they used to have, searching for answers, rigorously and without regard to anything that may seem scary. If God does indeed exist (which I am still inclined to believe even after having read Dawkins’ book) , he should have no fear of my going through an honest quest to find real spiritual truth. My quest began with Francis Collins’ “The Language of God” which effectively solidified my faith in the idea that you can believe in science and God at the same time, and along with this solidification came a general acceptance of the theory of evolution. (And I don’t want anybody jumping on my back about evolution being just a “theory” – anybody marginally acquainted with both sides the creation/evolution debate should know that the term “scientific theory” is not applied lightly and in fact may as well mean “fact.”)

Now my search has widened to picking up the best the atheistic world has to offer – if anybody out there wants to challenge me on pointing out Richard Dawkins’ as the world’s leading atheist (a title which I’m sure he would wear with pride), do so, but I think I’m pretty secure in saying this. I thought that this would be the best test of my faith, if I could take all of what Dawkins said in, and still remain standing with my reason and faith intact. I’m not talking about blind faith here – because if I find an irrefutable, or even a very convincing, argument for God’s non-existence, I would believe it. But after reading The God Delusion, I have none.

After hearing so much about how The God Delusion effectively banishes the idea of religion and wonderfully puts down everything to do with God while leaving no room for questioning, I must say that I am very, very disappointed. Dawkins’s first mistake is making the book an attack on faith.

In the very beginning of it, he tells readers that he hopes that believers who pick it up will be atheists when they put it down. In this he fails miserably, for not only could he never manage to convince even the most casual Christian, he has fallen far far short of convincing me, someone who is specifically reading it in order to be convinced of the non-existence of God. In a book supposedly refuting religion, he goes to far too much pain to condescend, joke, and generally, pardon my French, piss on religion wherever he can. It’s hard to take him seriously when he’s giving out punch lines that have little to do with what he’s talking about other than illustrating Dawkins’s arrogantly idiosyncratic way of writing. It’s very distracting from the points he’s trying to make, but if his book’s central thesis were strong enough, it would survive this terribly indulgent material. As it is, it doesn’t. The snide remarks mask an underlying weakness of argument, and only those absolutely eager to demolish Christianity with little regard to true reason or thought will take his argument seriously. Let’s now begin by showing how his argument falls apart, piece by piece.

The first fifty pages of the book are nothing but whining about how atheists have been neglected, ignored, and practically crucified in the modern world. Of course, he never says this out right, but you can tell he’s resentful, and he sounds an awful lot like some kind of self-appointed martyr for someone who would decry the reason for most martyrs. After this rather boring outing, Dawkins makes the central mistake of the book, and outlines the religion he will refute.

And the simple, childish mistake he makes is this: he has no clue what he’s talking about. Yeah, you heard me right. Read that again. He doesn’t have a clue in the world. Oh, sure, he’s good at picking apart all the literal details associated with religion, but what scholar couldn’t do this with their hands tied behind their back? All this book will do is solidify the already ego-inflated “faith” of atheists. He outlines the way he sees religion and proceeds to debunk that. And, if you’re going to go by that, then Dawkins does a wonderful job of proving that “God” is a delusion. But hey, I didn’t need Dawkins’s book to tell me that. I already believed that the “God” of the book was a delusion. I’m not going to go into all the detail right here, but suffice it to say that if you have any kind of faith at all, Dawkin’s debunking of your God will not work.

Let’s move on, but more specifically, to what Dawkins himself proclaims as the central thesis of his book, and that is the Boeing 747 argument. People familiar with the evolution/creation debate will know what he derives it from, but for those not familiar, the creationist argument used to go that the chances of evolution happening are the chances of a tornado going through a junkyard and creating a Boeing 747. You need a designer, the argument always goes. Dawkins takes this one step further, and says that the supposed designer, to have the mental ability and cognition to be able to create this wondrous universe, would himself need to have someone to explain him. To Dawkins, this is all he needs to disprove God. To anyone with a faith in God, this argument is ludicrous, for several reasons.

Let’s postulate that “God” exists, and in this postulation, let’s also postulate that he created everything, indirectly or directly, that you see in front of you. Let’s also postulate, as Dawkins does, and simply ends it at there, that this God is subject to all the physical rules that we know. Wait one second. If God were to be subject to all the physical rules that we know, then he wouldn’t be God, would he? So let’s say he’s only subject to some physical rules, but even if you admit that, you still have the possibility open that he’s not subject to the rules of time, and not having a designer himself.

In the last chapter Dawkins talks about science opening our eyes wide about what is possible, which seems oddly oxymoronic when compared with this chapter – when the chapter ended, I think I literally scratched my head. Wait, Dawkins just declared it the central argument of his book. Would such an esteemed scholar as him really make so egregious a mistake as to ascribe to “God” every rule that he knows? Most people that I know who believe in God believe him to be “timeless” in the sense that he lives outside of time. Though no human can truly conceive this in their brain, that does not preclude the possibility, and it seems terribly terribly blind of Dawkins to ignore this completely. Throughout the rest of the book, I did my absolute best to try to scribe to Dawkins point of view, but I just could not do it. When speaking of origins of the universe, there is no reason whatsoever to suppose that the “God” postulated by most religions could not be outside of time and thus be able to not have been “created” by someone else. None. Try to come up with answer, you won’t. Aside from this, Dawkins plunges even deeper down his arrogant self-constructed hole and says the following: “Whatever the improbability of life arising on our planet, it must necessarily have arisen because we are here thinking about it.” This he calls the anthropic principle, which basically states that because we’re here, there must have been a naturalistic beginning to us, which, once again, is absurd. Dawkins’ sheer adherence to solely naturalistic explanations of things ignores such an obvious alternative: that non-material things do exist. Why evolution being true precludes the possibility of a God existing is beyond me. The God that I believe in could work fully in harmony with evolution.

To continue, one thing I do give Dawkins’ book kudos for is lovely and almost inspirational writing about the wonders of natural selection. Never before had I seen evolution in this light, and you can tell Dawkins has a great love for this material when he’s writing about it. The final chapter has such beautiful writing that I found it hard to believe the same religion-hating man had written it. It is when Dawkins diverges from his effervescent anti-religious bigotry and goes to his love for science that the book truly flourishes. But in his unending lust-affair with science Dawkins elevates it to a pedestal that right now only God really occupies, and the scary thing is that Dawkins wouldn’t mind placing science right in God’s place. (I’m reminded of a South Park episode where a main character journeyed into the future to find the religion had been eradicated and science was now “God” with just as many wars being fought over it as had been fought over religion. In the episode Dawkins also had a love affair with a woman who used to be a man. Oh, South Park.) Mind you, it’s not scary because of something to do with God, but because of something to do with the idea that science should ever be elevated to such a high position, God or no God. I see this in Dawkins’s book in sections where he criticizes intelligent design and creationism for merely “filling in the gaps” and then proceeds to say that all the unexplainable phenomena in the world right will eventually be explained by science. How is this not a “science of the gaps,” and how is science allowed to fill all these empty spaces but God isn’t? I am no advocator of the God of the Gaps way of thinking – I think that’s a dangerous way to go if all you’re going to do with God is use him to fill any empty space you find, but what I am saying is that Dawkins’ failure to notice this discrepancy is glaringly annoying.

Another thing that the book does admirably well is offer up the idea of a world without religion. By the time I had closed the book, I could actually picture a world where God did not exist, and everything was still in order, no mass chaos or looting or promiscuity or violence or drugs, but the same general peace we enjoy now. I say idea because that is all it is, and until we are actually living in this world, this atheist utopia that Dawkins wants the reader to believe in will remain nothing more than an improbable vision, and a very improbable one at that.

At one point Dawkins goes through the moral “Zeitgeist” of the human race, explaining how, across human history, morality has steadily and observedly changed. For example, Abraham Lincoln gave a speech about how he never would expect that black and white men should have the same privileges, or even close to equal ones (the white obviously being superior). Yes, the same Lincoln who is known for “freeing the slaves” never envisioned a world where black and white kids would go to school together, where black and white people would inter-marry and have kids, where a black man could have the same status and privilege as a white man. Dawkins gives other examples of this ilk, all to show how morality can change throughout the ages. It is odd, then, that in categorizing how egregious both the Old and New Testaments are in constructing morality, he fails to ignore how the Zeitgeist affected those times and writings as well, instead merely writing off how religious monstrosity must have poisoned the writers.

This goes hand in hand with something I mentioned earlier – how Dawkins fails to approach the argument from a completely rational perspective. If he truly wanted to come up with a book that actually convinced people of the non-existence of God rather than simply solidifying people in their beliefs, he would have paid more attention to how the religious mind works, rather than make the false assumption that every kind of faith is blind faith. Most of the accusations he aims against religion are all ones I could agree with – yet I still consider myself a Christian, because I have truly questioned my faith and made it my own. Dawkins is under the false assumption that every adult who is still a Christian must be doing so blindly.

He also seems to think that there’s something wrong with religious upbringing, having parents teach their kids the religion that they came from. Yet Dawkins himself was raised in a Christian home, and himself says that he thanks his parents for “not so much teaching him what to think as how to think.” He completely forgets that this teaching came from Christian parents who wanted to educate him in the way that Dawkins could choose for himself whether or not to believe. He goes on to list all the details of hell that scar so many children, once again, completely ignoring the hundreds of children educated in a Christian home that believes in Hell and never really gave it a second thought when making their decision to believe. (Yours truly included.) He suggests that children should be allowed to make their own decisions, but never really examines how this could go about, or how teaching a child would work in terms of other areas of life, such as morality, science, discipline, and a myriad of other issues that any parent should be familiar with. Who decides the morality for the children, if not the adult? I’m not inherently saying that morality need be based on religion, but what I am saying is that if Dawkins is going to criticize religion for influencing children too much, then the same criticism must be leveled against morality – for who is to decide the morals taught our children, regardless of their religion? Dawkins? I certainly hope not. I don’t want my kids walking around making snide comments to everyone they meet.

Basically, Dawkins’s mode of argument goes something like this: Show what the worst of religion has done, and then make a case for why it should be done away with, as it does obviously so little good (Mother Teresa, as we all know, didn’t do an ounce of good in her life, which is why she won that treasured world-renowned Razzie, the Nobel Peace Prize). He does a pretty good job of setting up atheism as an alternative; I will give him that. Nobody has ever really done major harm because they were atheists – he effectively refutes the idea of Stalin and Hitler being atheists, and even if they were, he even more effectively denounces the idea that their crimes were because of a lack of a belief in God. But crimes against humanity still exist in other ideologies – Dawkins himself shows how patriotism has done pretty great harm in the past. All of it does sometimes seem to come close to successfully advocating the doing away of religion, but it never once comes close to disproving God, or proving he is a delusion, which is the main point of the whole book. Even if it weren’t, though, it still wouldn’t work, because it is simply ludicrous to claim that the worst that can happen should automatically support or deny its inclusion. The worst that can happen with the illegalization of cocaine is that some people will die because its illegality forced them to get caught up in the dangerous underground of drugs and get shot in the head. Does this mean that cocaine shouldn’t be illegal? Of course not – it’s still a dangerous drug in its own right, and part of the price that needs to be paid is those few people dying. Another example – Power lines have caused a lot of deaths over the years by electrocution. Hell, electricity itself has caused inummerable deaths. Does this mean we shouldn’t enjoy the benefits of television, radio, a warm house, lights, and the world wide web? Of course not. The worst of something never precludes its inclusion, so it’s surprise that Dawkins chooses to employ the kind of logic that would fail a student in college.

To go back to the biggest weakness of the book, Dawkins completely ignores the strongest cases for God. He ignores all modern philosophers, including the very notable CS Lewis, merely mentioning him a couple of times cursorily. He ignores Jurgen Motlmann, NT Wright, and Karl Rahner, every single one of whom has been vastly influential to a modern understanding of Christianity, and these few names are just the tip of the iceberg. In response to accusations that Dawkins never considers arguments from theologians, he has said, on his website, RichardDawkins.net, “Would you need to read learned volumes on Leprechology before disbelieving in leprechauns?” And I answer this: No, you would not. No one is asking that you read up on those leprechauns. You can disbelieve whatever you want to disbelieve. HOWEVER, you would need to study up on leprechauns if you’re going to write a whole freakin book about them, Mr. Dawkins, whose stated, written, printed purpose is to actually convince people of how much they’re wrong when it comes to religion. It’s honestly very difficult for me to believe that such a supposedly intelligent man could make such a ridiculously simple mistake, and that no one should question him for it.

And that, my friends, is what fells The God Delusion. Simple mistake after simple mistake, a complete lack of knowledge (and, actually, a complete lack of caring to know) on what he is attacking, and simply an egotistical desire to flex a little atheistic muscle and lazily spew off a string of meaningless jumble that will have little credence with those who actually give a damn (pardon the pun) about their faith. Once again, I’m not talking about blind faith here, for that I do not advocate, nor have I ever advocated it. If you have blind faith, you have no faith. I’m searching through answers right now because I want to truly understand what I believe, and if I actually do believe it. So far my search hasn’t led me far from where I’ve started – and like I said at the beginning of this review, if this is the best the atheistic world has to offer, then I don’t see myself going much further, and as NT Wright’s Simply Christian is next on my list, I think I’m probably gonna head right on back over to God.

If anybody out there has any thoughts on this, please comment. I’ve been wanting to read this book for a long time, and now that I have, I’m aching to share ideas with it with anyone who’s interested and wants to add more to the discussion.

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One Response to “The God Delusion”

  1. AWESOME BOOK!

    Christians.
    Christ died on the cross for your sins. How do you repay him? By wearing crosses around your neck. Why would he want to come back to a world where there are a couple of 2 BILLION people sporting a reminder of the worst experience of his life. AMDG

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