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Review of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion

In the preface of his book, The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins optimistically asserts: “If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.” I do not know if that will actually happen but the arguments that the author eloquently puts forth to illustrate the futility of religion–any religion–are quite strong and convincing.

Commenting on the psychiatric implications of the word “delusion” in the title of his book, Dawkins quotes from Robert M. Pirsig’s book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, as follows: “When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion, it is called Religion.” How appropriate! And the God Dawkins speaks of is not any particular god. He writes, “I am not attacking any particular version of God, or gods. I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented.” And he uses every rational weapon in his arsenal for this purpose.

Explaining the conventional concept of the Trinity, Dawkins quotes from The Catholic Encyclopedia:

In the unity of Godhead there are Three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, these Three Persons being truly distinct one from another. Thus, in the words of the Athanasian Creed: “the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three but one God.”

I count three Gods in that statement, and so does Dawkins. I do not understand how these three “truly distinct” Gods can be at the same time only one God. In case you still waver favorably toward the Trinity, Dawkins drives the fatal nail by quoting from Thomas Jefferson. “Thomas Jefferson, as so often, got it right when he said, ‘Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.'”

The book consists of ten chapters spread over 406 pages, plus an appendix which includes: “A partial list of friendly addresses for individuals needing support in escaping from religion,” “Books Cited or Recommended,” “Notes,” and “Index.”

In the second chapter, “The God Hypothesis,” discussing polytheism and monotheism, Dawkins observes, “It is not clear why the change from polytheism to monotheism should be assumed to be a self-evidentially progressive improvement. But it widely is–an assumption that provoked Ibn Warraq (author of Why I Am Not a Muslim) wittily to conjecture that monotheism is in its turn doomed to subtract one more god and become atheism.” Atheism is the absolute negation of theism; no more subtraction of Gods can occur nor is needed thereafter.

In the last chapter, “A Much Needed Gap,” Dawkins discusses the need, as is commonly believed by religionists, for a God (even if He does not exist). He raises the question: “Does religion fill a much needed gap?” He continues, “It is said that there is a God-shaped gap in the brain which needs to be filled: we have a psychological need for God–imaginary friend, father, big brother, confessor, confidant–and the need has to be satisfied whether God really exists or not.” He argues that if indeed there is such a gap, it doesn’t necessarily need to be filled by an imaginary God; each of us should be able to find a suitable way to fill such a gap. As Dawkins puts it, “If the demise of God will leave a gap, different people will fill it in different ways.” Dawkins describes his own way as follows: “My way includes a good dose of science, the honest and systematic endeavor to find out the truth about the real world.”

In the third chapter, the author reviews the arguments for the existence of God, many of which have already been proved faulty and fallacious by numerous others. Dawkins adroitly exposes the simplistic make-believe kind of sophistry implicit in these arguments. Speaking of Pascal’s Wager, for example, he observes, “Pascal’s wager could only ever be an arrangement for feigning belief in God. And the God that you claim to believe in had better not be of the omniscient kind or he’d see through the deception.” He writes, “Bertrand Russell was asked what would he say if he died and found himself confronted by God, demanding to know why Russell had not believed in him. ‘Not enough evidence, God, not enough evidence,’ was Russell’s reply.”

Peppered throughout with enchanting quotations from other writers, philosophers and scientists, The God Delusion is an extremely read-worthy book which is very persuasive in supporting its basic thesis of a delusion about a God that does not exist.

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