"...if you believe in a [Creator] you're stupid"
The God Delusion
Email Print Normal font Large font Jon Casimir, reviewer
November 4, 2006An evolutionist explains why it's time we stopped believing in a higher power.
The simple argument of The God Delusion is this: if you believe in a supernatural, intelligent Creator, you're stupid
. And not just a little stupid. Not off-the-rack, casual stupid. No. You're wilfully, perversely ignorant. A danger to yourself and others
and probably to inanimate objects.
Richard Dawkins, the world's foremost evolutionist, doesn't actually spell it out that way, but the conclusion is hard to miss. After 150 years of evidence in favour of the theories of Charles Darwin, Dawkins is satisfied that science has buried the God idea. Natural selection has proved such an effective engine for understanding life that the Bible must be dismissed: "If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down."
The God Delusion systematically tackles centuries of arguments for a Creator, from Thomas Aquinas's proofs to Intelligent Design, pulling each apart to show what makes it unworkable. Where science has not yet debunked a position, Dawkins argues the answer is unlikely to be God.
Believers say faith can't be examined empirically. They say you can't find God by reading science books and weighing facts. Maybe not, Dawkins would counter, but you can find against him.
Dawkins's bottom line: God may be un-disprovable, as unicorns or fairies are un-disprovable, but the hypothesis of His existence cannot be placed on an even footing with the hypothesis of His non-existence. Evidence and probability deny it.
What makes The God Delusion confronting is not only what it says, but the fact it's being said at all. Dawkins rails against the anti-intellectual privileging of religion
, the widespread notion that belief is personal and can't be questioned. As Hitchhiker author Douglas Adams once put it: "If somebody votes for a party that you don't agree with, you're free to argue about it as much as you like ... but if somebody says, 'I mustn't move a light switch on a Saturday', you say, 'I respect that.' "
Dawkins also bemoans the polite wall erected between science and theology in recent decades. He blasts fellow scientists as appeasers disengaging from the battle for rationality to make their own lives (and funding) easier. He insists there is no divide. If you say God created the universe, you have made a scientific claim that must be tested.
It is tempting to see The God Delusion as a Network moment. With fanatical religion on the global rise, with violence being perpetrated in the name of one deity or another, with the Age of Enlightenment drifting further behind us, Dawkins seems mad as hell and is not going to take it any more.But it's not anger that fuels this work. If anything, it's exasperation, the frustration of a man who sees himself directing people to their own noses.
And a surprising and controversial thing about The God Delusion is that fanatical religion is not its target, though he does spend time imagining a world without it. Dawkins rejects all belief in the supernatural, even at its mildest.
For some, this will read as arrogance. And it's true that the author's passion gets the better of his prose in places. But though Dawkins may be short on doubt, and even possibly on tolerance, he cannot be accused of fundamentalism. He says he would change his mind in an instant if the evidence warranted.
The God Delusion is unevenly weighted, often repetitive and less eloquent than Dawkins's previous works. But that doesn't mean it fails. It takes flight when he moves beyond the yes/no argument about God to explain why evolution has created an abundance of religion.
Dawkins asserts our predisposition to belief is an unfortunate by-product of other processes.
The analogy he draws is to the moth, which used the light of the stars to guide its way for millennia and, as a result, now throws itself suicidally into flames or hot globes. That's a comparison to make the churches happy.
In a fascinating chapter, Dawkins argues that evolutionary psychology suggests human beings were moral animals before religion colonised us. What we call Christian values may be better understood as nothing more than the parts of the Bible that correspond to a moral grammar already encoded in our DNA.
The author goes on to declare religion a form of child abuse,
calling for denominational schools to be abandoned
- really, is there such a thing as a Catholic fact? He argues that belief in God warps the developing mind
. If a child is encouraged to accept something without evidence or reason, and worse, to accept that leap of faith as a virtue, hasn't that child's ability to think been dangerously malformed?
A part of me wonders if Dawkins wants to take Santa Claus away, too, but the question is valid.
Yet for all the championing of rational thought, it seems odd that there is not much attempt to understand why reason is so undervalued by humans, why atheism remains so unpopular in spite of the evidence. Clearly, many of us would rather relax into a beautiful lie than wrestle with a complex truth. Or maybe we're just not up to it.