Genre: Non-Fiction, Philosophy, Science
Narrative Style: First person, scientific and philosophical discussion
Synopsis: Dawkins endeavours to explain where our need for religion comes from evolutionally and why he is so passionately against religion. He explores the morality of the bible in close detail as well as looking at the psychology of religion.
It’s hard to know whether Richard Dawkins is better known as a biologist or as a religion hating atheist. As such, I was keen to read this work. I am familiar with Dawkins writing having read The Selfish Gene and The Greatest Show on Earth previously.
At the beginning of the book, Dawkins explained some of the reasons he is so against religion and his tone was almost preacherly as he called for atheists to band together in order to challenge religion’s privileged position in modern society. This tone, accompanied by Dawkins superior attitude towards anyone who believes, is what most people find difficult about Dawkins when he talks about religion. Indeed, I was a bit troubled by it myself. I don’t think it helps that religious people feel Dawkins looks down on them. Dawkins calls himself passionate and that is fine but it doesn’t mean that everyone has to agree with you. It seemed ironic that he should be asking atheists to band together – to form a religion as it were. There is a further reason why I think this will never happen. For me, and I am sure other atheists, part of the reason for not belonging to a religion has to do with not wanting to be a member of an organised group.
Thankfully, this polemic does not carry on throughout the whole book otherwise I think I would have stopped reading. Instead, Dawkins moved on to what he is good at – talking about science. He discusses how he feels that religion has developed in an evolutionary sense and what it might mean about humans psychologically that we seem to need a God figure. He also assesses whether we really do use the Bible as a guide to morality and finally what he feels to be the worse problems with religion. This is really interesting and as I already consider myself an atheist so I could consider Dawkins evidence quite dispassionately.
Towards the end, Dawkins advocates stopping adults passing their religion on to their children an act he considers a form of child abuse. I have to admit that this made me a little uncomfortable. While I understand that children can suffer because of their parents’ beliefs, I feel that this would be a huge infringement of personal freedom and would probably be unenforceable anyway.
Ultimately Dawkins misunderstands the nature and strength of belief. After all, the whole point of having faith is that you have faith. All the reasoned arguments in the world are not going to change that. This would seem to be borne out by the reviews of this book on Goodreads which seem to be split along religious lines. If you believe, this book makes no difference. Personally, I don’t have an issue with religion in most of the ways I come across it. Most of the people I know who are religious are kind, loving and don’t feel the need to foist their religion on to others. Perhaps it is naive of me to separate this from the problems – war, homophobia, abortion doctor killing extremists – but that is how I feel. I don’tthink Dawkins would approve.