Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Cannonball Read #11: The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

Does God exist? This is the question that is central in Richard Dawkins' ”The God delusion”. Dawkins is an atheist and he thinks that you should be, too. That is why he provides arguments in favour of a scientific explanation for our existence and deconstructs the arguments against it and in favour of a creationist theory.

My parents are not religious, but my grandmother is a devout Christian. We have always been close, and some of her beliefs rubbed off on me when I was growing up. She took me to church a few times, told me stories out of the Bible, spoke of the importance of prayer. Religion had such an impact on me during my early formative years that I became superstitious about it. Was the headache I was experiencing a punishment from God, because I had forgotten to pray? But then, when I turned 13, I started questioning things. Why didn't God listen to my prayers? Why was there so much suffering in the world, if God was benevolent? All the answers religion provided seemed very unsatisfactory to my curious mind.

Since then, I have been calling myself an agnostic. There are things in the world that I don't understand, that no one understands, that have stopped me from becoming a full-blown atheist. Dawkins book gave me a firm nudge in that direction. Just because we can't understand these things now, with the amount of knowledge that we have today, doesn't mean that we will never understand them, and it certainly doesn't prove that God exists. This is just one of various ”myths” about religion that Dawkins debunks.

The God delusion is an intellectual and philosophical exercise on the existence of God. Being prone to philosophical musings myself from time to time, I found it immensely enjoyable. It touches on many religion-related subjects, psychological and evolutionary explanations why it exists, the reason why it is so wide-spread, etc. It was informational, both about the history of religion but even about the influence it currently has in other countries (mainly in the USA, but Dawkins doesn't discriminate against any religion. He thinks they're all unnecessary, and in many cases even dangerous). It was thought-provoking, even thought-altering.

If there is anything that I disliked about the book, it was his badly disguised contempt for religious people. This is particularly evident in the first half of the book. He makes snide remarks against believers, and that, coupled with the fact that he delves into scientific facts without adequately explaining what some of the terms mean (”memes”, for example, or even natural selection for that matter), make it seem like the whole enterprise is nothing more than Dawkins winking at the educated ones among us (who are, of course, also atheists. Dawkins seems to imply that you can't be highly educated without being an atheist).

If Dawkins is out to convert (sorry about the choice of word) believers to atheism, he's certainly not going to succeed by presenting them as small-minded fools. He states right from the beginning of the book that he doesn't think that religion should be dealt with with kid gloves (and I agree) but we should make the distinction between religion and its followers. You don't want to respect religion? Go ahead, disrespect it! But you shouldn't disrespect people just because they are religious.

I would recommend this book to everyone, religious people and atheists alike. The latter will enjoy adding arrows to their conversational quiver, the former might enjoy the challenge of thinking outside the box. But, at the end of the day, the only people Dawkins will probably manage to convince will be people like myself: agnostics.

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