Book Review: The God Delusion (Dawkins, 2006)

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Published on: 2014.12.10

The God Delusion, trade paperback
(Copyright © 2014 by Wil C. Fry.)

Full Title: The God Delusion
Author: Richard Dawkins
Year: 2006 (mine was 2008 paperback)
Publisher: Mariner Books
ISBN 0-618-91824-8
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Wikipedia page

◊ Summary

Dedicated to British humorist and science fiction writer Douglas Adams (1952-2001), The God Delusion is a polemic against religion and the idea that religion is necessary for morality. Dawkins — a biologist and outspoken atheist — uses clear and unencumbered prose to argue that not only is there no evidence or logical argument for the existence of a god or gods, but that religion itself is unnecessary and often outright harmful to society.

◊ What I Liked Least About It

Like many outside religion (and quite a few within it), Dawkins makes the classic mistake of citing specific examples of humans causing misery in the name of God as proof that believing in God is a bad idea. This might make an atheist feel better, but it’s only proof that some (many) humans are deeply flawed and that many other humans are flawed enough to pledge allegiance to them. Not only is it poor evidence with which to attack religion and personal faith — because it’s irrelevant, but it’s anecdotal at best. It’s far too easy to cite just as many examples of religious persons doing good — feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, caring for the sick, not murdering people, etc. — in the name of God.

Also, Dawkins several times mentions websites in the book — which has become increasingly common for authors since the advent of the World Wide Web — including full URLs to specific webpages. This is a problem for several reasons. First, a full website URL doesn’t look good in print, especially when it encounters a line break. Second, while a reader might be tempted to remember and type a short domain URL (wilcfry.com, for example), my guess is very few would attempt to copy character-by-character a very long URL, like several included in this book (example, not from the book: http://wilcfry.com/wil/environment/global-warming/deny/index.htm#notascientist). The third problem with this is link rot, which is even more a problem with printed books than with websites. If I include in a blog entry a link to a website, and that page is later taken down or moved, it’s a simple matter for me to remove or correct the link. But in a book, the incorrect and useless URL is there forever.

◊ What I Liked Most About It

Aside from the false argument I mentioned above (some religious people are bad, so religion should be avoided), Dawkins’ logic seems clear and well-reasoned, especially when he challenges the argument that without God there is no reason to be moral:

“Do you really mean to tell me the only reason you try to be good is to gain God’s approval and reward, or to avoid his disapproval and punishment? That’s not morality, that’s just sucking up, apple-polishing, looking over your shoulder at the great surveillance camera in the sky, or the still small wiretap inside your head, monitoring your every move, even your every base thought.”

Perhaps Dawkins set for himself a task that was more complex than he first imagined. Arguing against religious ideas entails more than just presenting the lack of evidence for God’s existence. He also is forced to argue evolution versus creationism, the Bible’s veracity, how morality would have developed with or without religion, and why he’s against even the idea of religion — not to mention painstakingly countering every popular “proof” of God’s existence. Yet despite the complexity of the task, he managed to stay the course, carefully going through each point.

◊ Overall Impression

My overall impression was: somewhat disappointed. I’d been led to expect the book to be a masterpiece of logical thinking and witty prose, and it wasn’t. I think it’s a case of having too-high expectations. I was expecting to be wowed, bowled over. Instead, it was a solid read, sometimes enjoyable and other times not so much. But it was a book worth reading.

I dog-eared a few dozen pages to return and more fully digest later. Some have said they enjoyed it more the second time, while others have said this book alone convinced them to abandon religion. I am certain that if I’d read this book at the height of my religious fanaticism, it wouldn’t have made much of a dent in my faith. For someone on the fence, I suppose it could have an effect.

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