Book twenty-five: The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

I finished this more than a week ago on the way to Paris but the past week has been so busy that I haven't had time to write about it yet. The God Delusion is the second atheist text I've read this year and it's head and shoulders above The End of Faith. Though Dawkins quotes Harris a lot, he eschews Harris's rhetoric in favour of a more reasoned approach. Indeed, it often seems that Dawkins is quoting Harris purely to inject a little rhetoric.

The case Dawkins makes is thorough and compelling. First he defines what god is and examines different approaches to "the god hypothesis". From there he takes the various arguments for god's existence and demolishes them thoroughly. Then he presents of series of arguments showing that there is "almost certainly" no god.

This 'almost' seems to frustrate Dawkins. For all his thoroughness it's impossible to conclusively refute the possibility of god's existence, which is why religion has survived for so long. However, as he explains, the burden of proof should not fall on the atheist to disprove religion but on the faithful to prove it. Especially if the faithful would like us to run our societies in accordance with their beliefs.

It should be enough to demonstrate that god's existence is so staggeringly unlikely as to be virtually impossible. Evolution teaches us that complexity develops slowly but religion posits a staggeringly complex being right at the dawn of time. It doesn't fit with anything else that we know about the world. To aid in his demonstration, Dawkins considers some possible explanations for the roots of religion. One possibility is that it's an evolutionary by-product - something that was once useful but has lingered on beyond its original purpose.

After that he looks at morality, explaining why we don't need to assume a god in order to explain moral behaviour and showing just how immoral and offensive so much of the bible is.

The motivation for the book is the rise of fundamentalism and its attack on science. Dawkins gives a good account of how idiotic and uninformed creationism is, showing conclusively that the suggestion that it's a valid scientific theory in its own right is simply laughable.

He sees the teaching of creationism, and the indoctrination of children with religion in general, as a form of child abuse - a claim that will outrage religious apologists if they've made it this far into the book.

It's hard for me to imagine how a religious person could read this book and still be religious once they've finished but the faithful excel when it comes to self-delusion and denial of reason so perhaps I'm being overly optimistic. If the religious are unlikely to be changed by this book, then what's the point?

For an atheist like me, it's a joy to read such a well-argued and thorough debunking of the bizarre superstitions that shape our supposedly advanced world but Dawkins is preaching to the choir (pardon the choice of image) with me.

It's to be hoped, then, that those in between the two groups will read this and be changed by it. We need a critical mass of atheists on our side in the battle with those - Christian, Muslim, Jewish, whatever - who would force us back into the dark ages.