Before I get into any criticism, I want to explain why this book is so important to me. I first heard of Richard Dawkins in a class with a teacher who absolutely loathed him. He gave me the impression that no one takes Dawkins seriously and he believes in “scientism” I hated that teacher, and I knew that I shouldn’t trust what he said about atheists, but I still had a slightly skewed perception of Dawkins before I really learned how highly regarded he typically is among atheists like me.
(Update 7/22/21: At the time of writing this post, I had no idea how truly transphobic and removed from reality Richard Dawkins was. To read my current opinions on him, please click here.)
I found The God Delusion when I started writing this paper (yeah, that’s how long ago it was), and soon after school let out I found my own copy in a used book store for $10. Since I was home for the summer, I took the cover off, making my fiancé keep that, and hid the book at the bottom of a shopping bag so that my mom would never see it. For the next year and a half I would read it on and off, and I would keep the cover of a tween fiction book on it so no one knew what I was reading. This book was my first secret act of rebellion as an atheist, and it was my only physical proof that I was a real bona fide nonbeliever.
Anyways, I know that my review of The God Delusion is bound to be a long one, so I’ll get to it. First of all, I think that when reading the book, it’s clear what Dawkins is an expert on and what he’s not. He’s an evolutionary biologist, but not a theologian, historian, politician, or anything of the sort. With such a broad book topic (why belief in God is wrong), there is a lot of ground to cover, and he hit a lot of it. The book included arguments for and against God’s existence, the origins of religion and morality, the evils of religion, and more.
Possibly my favorite thing in this entire book occurs on the very first page. Dawkins explains that coming out as atheist is an achievable and noble goal to have. He says that atheists can be “happy, balanced, moral, and intellectually fulfilled.” He starts off the book by reassuring readers that they should be anything but ashamed of being atheists, and if you happen to have doubts about religion, you’re certainly not alone.
Soon after this were Dawkins’ responses to arguments for God’s existence and his own arguments against it, which I really appreciated. Although he (obviously) didn’t disprove God, I think he did a thorough job of eliminating a need for God to explain anything. I suppose this was the first time I got a good, simple explanation of how natural selection guides evolution, and how it’s not as crazy as it sounds. A lot can happen over billions of years.
I think that Dawkins’ topics toward the beginning of the book are more up his alley, dealing with things like the anthropic principle and how evolution allows for the diversity of life that we see. Since he’s an expert in evolution, though, he also applied that to things like where morality and religion come from; they may have a Darwinian origin, but it seems as though he goes back to Darwin’s theory time and time again when you wouldn’t expect it. This is all well and good, but it seems to start off a pattern of Dawkins sort of dodging questions.
Towards the end of The God Delusion, there are many times that Dawkins discusses how religion has caused death and destruction for homosexuals and others as well as abuse of children in its indoctrinating tendencies. When he shows this, he often uses examples of different horrors that have occurred in the name of religion, although I’m wary of his use of examples, because there are plenty of examples of a lot of things, including things that religion has done for the better.
My greatest criticism of this book is that I don’t think Dawkins achieves his ultimate goal. He states in the preface that he aims to deconvert religious readers to atheists; each chapter is supposed to address a different reason why atheism is the way to go. Of course I agree that atheism is correct, but if I had been reading as a theist, I don’t know if this book would have convinced me. Some of the chapters deconstructing a need for God may have made me question my belief, but I would have taken offense at a lot of what Dawkins said in regard to believers.
Of course, one of the most obvious examples of this is the title of the book, which implies that belief in God is a delusion, but throughout the book, Dawkins shows religion as being evil and completely unfounded, which wouldn’t make me want to jump out of my seat and join his side of the God debate. When I saw The God Delusion in my church in their creationism library, I was taken aback at the fact that members of my family’s congregation were reading it without deconverting. Now I see why.
In the chapter on the roots of religion, Dawkins mused, “The religious behavior may be a misfiring, an unfortunate by-product of an underlying psychological propensity which in other circumstances is, or once was, useful.” He makes a lot of similar remarks throughout the chapter, baffled at how religion came to be, suggesting that it must have been some cultural accident that resulted in this peculiar and useless custom.
There are plenty of other times throughout The God Delusion when his unmasked disgust for religion shines through, although I suppose that he’s justified in occasionally allowing his emotions to cloud his reason. As far as I know, The God Delusion was one of the first books that unabashedly exposed everything wrong with religion all at once following 9/11. Dawkins was one of the first to go out on a limb and say that religion is completely fabricated and should be abandoned immediately before it causes even more harm. In a way, it is as if Dawkins was taking one for the team, saying what we were all thinking but kept to ourselves in the interest of not offending anyone.
Even if I disagreed with some of the ways that Dawkins went about his arguments, I always found it refreshing to take time out of my day of people talking about how much they love Jesus to read from someone who didn’t. The God Delusion was a good “intro to atheism,” as it touched on so many topics. I’m glad to be done, though, because now I can explore so many other wonderful books by other authors from different fields giving their own reasons for disbelief. Next up I’ll be reading Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, which, as far as I’ve heard, may be even more highly regarded among atheists than The God Delusion is.
Have you read The God Delusion, and if so, what are your thoughts? How does it compare with God is Not Great? Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading!