Thursday, May 27, 2010

Review- The God Delusion

A controversial, provocative book in which the author decries all religious belief, stating that it is the cause of many of the world’s problems.

If anything, I approached reading The God Delusion with some apprehension. The author is someone with impressive academic credentials. Yet, even before reading, it appeared that the author’s arguments against religion were simplistic, and based on many assumptions and generalisations.

I came away from this book feeling that though I did not have his great learning, I still had some sense of where Dawkins' assertions were deficient.These impressions were confirmed by critiques of The God Delusion by Christian authors, and even in a secular literary journal, The London Review of Books.

The London Review of Books suggests that the author had already decided when writing this book that there was little in religion or God that was worth investigating. Because of this, the author’s arguments are at the level of; ‘vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince.’

For a start, the author lumps all religions together, even with their theological differences.

He fails to distinguish the many people whose faith may stir them to go out and strive to make the world a better place, from those militant fundamentalists who fly passenger planes into skyscrapers or firebomb abortion clinics.

It could be asked if someone of Dawkins' great learning has much regard for those who said similar things to himself. Frederich Nietzche declared that "God is Dead." Nietzcshe said that he hated the idea of a God who knew him intimately, and that God had to die. Some commentators have said that Nietzche's ideas about power and the place of the "Superman' partly inspired Adolf Hitler when he wrote "Meln Kampf; thinking which eventually led to the Second World War and the Nazi Holocaust.

In particular, the author makes many generalisations about Christianity. Dawkins argues that all faith is blind faith, suggesting that children with Christian upbringings, who still have faith as adults only do so because of indoctrination, or inadequate education where they have not been taught how to think for themselves.

The author appears to have a superficial understanding of the Bible. He falls into the trap of quoting selectively passages of scripture.

In The Root of all Evil, a television program, which screened on the ABC religious affairs program, Compass, the author spoke about what he called ‘the evils of theism.’

Another writer, Nick Pollard, argued that Dawkins, if he brands something as evil, must believe that there are such things that can be deemed as good. Therefore, he appears to contradict himself. Is it possible to understand what good and evil are only through the theories of evolution, and that life did not come from God, but by chance.

‘..., how can Dawkins talk about anything being evil? Surely, even any use of that term contradicts his belief about reality.”

Another atheist, Paul Bloom, who is an evolutionary psychologist, acknowledges that religion is far important than Dawkins realizes. He then goes on to counter Dawkins' claim that belief in God is a product of childhood indoctrination.

Bloom writes; "The latest evidence suggests that even if people had been brought up without religion they would still develop supernatural beliefs of their own."

Finally, the author seems to have a passionate, almost evangelical belief in human potential through science. He writes; ‘the progressive trend is unmistakable and it will continue’, ignoring things like environmental disasters, famine, ethnic wars and nuclear wastelands that humans have all caused. Though throughout this book, Dawkins attacks God and religious belief, the author has an almost (to use a Christian term) ‘evangelical’ faith in science.

Ideas argued in The God Delusion come from a standpoint where life did come about through chance, and concepts like absolute truth, and good and evil only exist because of chance as well. If this is the case, then why is Dawkins' vision of how things in the world ought to be, more worthy of attention than what a Judeo Christian understanding of the world offers us?