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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion": A Review

In "The God Delusion," Richard Dawkins performs an Olympic medal-worthy feat. He writes 400 pages while simultaneously patting himself on the back and blowing his own horn. "South Park"'s satire of Dawkins' megalomania is better than Cliff Notes, because – unlike Dawkins – when it tries to be funny, it is.

I purchased "The God Delusion" expecting state-of-the-art atheism. Dawkins delivered a silly rant and a self-indulgent hodgepodge. He's preaching to the atheist choir, who exult "amen" at every burp.

The book is so scattered, so without intellectual discipline, so rife with falsehoods, misrepresentations, and blood curdling irresponsibility, that it is impossible, here, to deliver a thorough review. I can merely pick and choose.

Dawkins quotes letters from persons of faith who are, obviously, obnoxious. This proves nothing. Atheists can be obnoxious (Christopher Hitchens) or mass murderers (Stalin).

Dawkins, like Hitchens, conflates all religions and religious practices. They really do not perceive the differences between Jainism and Islam, between "zakat" and "jihad". They, thus, disqualify themselves as commentators, except to the most unquestioning of atheist acolytes. Luckily the rest of us, when assessing science, are not so blind - we can discriminate between a Mengele and an Einstein.

Dawkins insists that the foundation of the US is atheist. Dawkins fails to acknowledge that "all are created equal" is a Judeo-Christian invention. It is not Hindu (caste); it is not Muslim (dhimmitude); it is not scientific (eugenics; social Darwinism).

Dawkins, like Hitchens, is a broken faucet of snide comments about anyone who disagrees with him. His put down of Stephen Jay Gould, with its overtones of homophobia, is particularly egregious (55). Dawkins, unlike SJG, does not "bend over"! SJG is dead and cannot respond. Dawkins similarly puts down scientists, including Freeman Dyson – not dead but over 90 – who have accepted the Templeton Prize, calling them phonies and sell-outs. One of Dawkins' "jokes" depends for its impact on an atheist's resume being *longer* than a believer's (281).

Dawkins' cheap bullying makes you want to put him in the corner for a lengthy time-out, and restrict his cookie and juice privileges. His species of arrogance is no friend of scholarship; rather, it's the constant servant of brownshirt obscurantism.

Dawkins protests that he doesn't need knowledge of religion to critique it, because, after all, God does not exist. There is a most excellent London Review of Books essay addressing Dawkins' aggressive ignorance: "Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching," by Terry Eagleton.

Dawkins flaunts his ignorance in his dismissal of Luke's mention of Quirinius (93). I don't have space here to address this – do a Google search of "Luke" and "Quirinius" and you'll see that Dawkins is pulling the wool over his naive atheist flocks' eyes.

Religion is persuasive, Dawkins says, "to people not used to asking questions" (92). This statement is so false, ignorant, or blind I'd let it go without comment, but, who's been asking, "Why am I here" for the past ten thousand years, except people of faith – thus, inventing universities, medicine, philosophy, and science? Copernicus, Mendel, Lemaitre - these religious men's questions gave us the heliocentric universe, genetics, and the Big Bang theory. Dawkins, and atheists like him, are smugly certain of their every whim; persons of faith ask all the time.

Dawkins divides the world into two mutually exclusive categories: really smart people like him, and everybody else. He dismisses out of hand the fact that many great scientists are or have been believers. He implies that scientists from the past were faking being religious – they were cowardly liars lacking integrity – and he implies that his contemporaries who believe in God are bad scientists and "embarrassing" (99).

A chapter entitled "Why There Is Almost Certainly No God" reports that there can't be a God because evolution directs biological life – and yet there are evolutionary scientists who are also Christians. As for the anthropic principle, Dawkins argues that any entity that designed physical reality would just be too complex to imagine; so God doesn't exist because Dawkins can't imagine him. Dawkins says that multiple universes cancel out God. There is more evidence for the existence of God than for multiple universes. Dawkins argues against intelligent design; Francis S. Collins does a superior job of arguing against ID in his book, "Language of God." Collins is a Christian. So much for that chapter.

I could go on, but I don't want to, because this hodgepodge bored me. But this must be mentioned – Dawkins reveals zero awareness of the impact of his ideas on real people who, unlike him, don't inhabit ivory towers. Ethically, humans are comparable to cows? (297) Parents should not be allowed to teach their children? (326) Tens of millions of innocents were murdered in Germany, Russia, China, Tibet, Cambodia in the real-world implementation of megalomaniacal creeds like Dawkins'. If he knows his, if he cares at all, no awareness of it is shown in this book, which is not so much a deconstruction of God, as it is a hate letter to all of humanity.

The most telling line in the entire book may be, "wouldn't the designer of the universe have to be a scientist?" (104) Wow, Richard, all I can say is, thank you for designing the universe. We've been so mistaken for worshipping anyone but you for the past ten millennia.

I did like two things in this book: Dawkins does a beautiful job of explaining why moths fly into flames (172-3). When reading those four paragraphs, I felt like I was reading a different book. An expert was enlightening me in the most elegant, ego-free way possible, on a very basic question. Dawkins also writes, briefly, about having been molested as a child (316). I felt great compassion for him, and I had to think that he could write an essay on that that would serve him, and others, well.

South Park's creators on Dawkins.

Favorite line: "It's getting too thinky."

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