Richard Dawkins: The God Delusion

Richard Dawkins: The God Delusion

Without a doubt, contributing to the public understanding of science is a noble pursuit. Confirming the public suspicion that scientists are arrogant, pedantic know-it-alls who want to root out every vestige of mystery and religious awe from society—well, that's collateral damage caused by the way Richard Dawkins goes about this noble pursuit. In his latest and perhaps most combative book, The God Delusion, the British zoologist and evolution-popularizer tries to show not only that God doesn't exist, but that even the most private and well-meaning belief in God opens the door to terrible consequences for the individual and society. Dawkins claims not to be aiming at fundamentalist believers. Instead, he hopes to reach the mainstream denominations, the liberal Christians, and the secularized churchgoers who, dismayed at their theocratic, credulous brethren, have eschewed miracles, inerrancy, and the like for a more generic and less dogmatic spirituality. Since they've already rejected supernaturalism, he hopes they'll take the logical next step into naturalism and stop making common cause with the superstitious enemy.

Unfortunately, Dawkins' weapon is a flamethrower rather than a smart bomb. Claiming that he doesn't want to convince conservative believers, he nevertheless heaps ridicule on literal readings of the Bible, Christian apologetics of the "Liar, Lord, or Lunatic" variety, and religious crusades against abortion, birth control, and stem-cell research. Such preaching to the choir—taking Dawkins at his word that he wants liberal Christian readers—is at best padding for a man who's been cranking out expensive hardbacks like they're going out of style. At worst, it's "You're either with us or you're with the abortion-clinic bombers" dualism, a fallacy that Dawkins' religious opponents were flogging long before the advent of the "New Atheism."

For all his scattershot, sloppy rhetoric, Dawkins is on the side of the angels. He proffers the equation that supernaturalism plus indoctrination equals zealotry without the possibility of restraint, and few who have been awake during the opening of the 21st century could dispute his logic or his evidence. He humanizes the statistics about unbelieving scientists with a comparison between the awe of understanding and the awe of ignorance (using phrasing coined by Douglas Adams, one of many secular saints Dawkins practically canonizes). Yet he fails to present atheism as an affirmative, joyful choice. Few secular Christians will leave their traditions, dysfunctional as they are, for his cold refuge of skeptics and stuffed shirts.

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