The God Delusion

 
Author:
Dawkins, Richard
Publisher:
Bantam (2006)
ISBN:
9780593055489
Purchase:
Buy this book from Amazon.co.uk

Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion is, depending on your point of view, one of the most celebrated or reviled books of our time. In a nutshell, his central contention is that science is as useful to our understanding and enjoyment of the human condition as religion is dangerous.

I should start by saying that I am only an intelligent reader of scientific material and am not, therefore, an expert in Dawkins' field or in the other scientific areas which he covers with ease and explains with lucidity; in other words, I accept his science which, I am sorry to say, would seriously inconvenience his parody of monotheistic religions, largely based on "The American Taliban". He recognises degrees of fundamentalism but argues that moderates in any sphere are simply providing cover for extremists; and that the only way to eliminate religious extremism is to abolish religious moderation. As a piece of anthropological or sociological generalisation this is astonishingly unscientific. Aside from the kind of draconian measures which Dawkins would excoriate, controls of extremists are almost invariably exercised by moderates; in our own sphere the most potent threat to fundamentalist Christianity is moderate Christianity, not Dawkins.

At the deepest level, Dawkins asks three questions which all self-conscious Christians who count themselves as committed, need to answer: how useful is the Bible to an entity that proclaims a Gospel of Love? What is the added value of Christianity over atheism? And how can we say that the sacrifice of Jesus was "full and final" when there is almost certainly intelligent life on other planets.

These are not the issues which Dawkins would identify as critical because he has already dismissed Scripture as harmful, demonstrated that, if anything, atheists are more ethical than Abramists and the third issue would be as difficult for him as some of his science no doubt is for most of us.

If the science is the strength of the book, the caricaturing of religious faith is its weakness. His comments on some aspects of American Christianity and Wahabist Islam would cause very little controversy in their respective mainstreams and so Dawkins makes his task artificially easy. His good arguments are also spoiled by over-extension and meretricious parody which ranges from mere cattiness to self indulgent nastiness which discredits - admittedly, only at the individual level - his self congratulation in the matter of good conduct.

Overall, this tendency to lurch from sublime science to ranting and to oscillate between peer reviewed science to tabloid newspaper articles, is deeply disorienting. As a Christian, my two real sorrows are, first, that this book is not better focused and more challenging to our position, secondly, that it misunderstands our strength  and, therefore never comes to terms with it. For all its failings, an organisation dedicated to love is better for the world than one dedicated, no matter how benignly, to self interest. In a typically strange rant which purports to show that Hitler might have acted out of Christian conviction, Dawkins shows that altruism breaks down under pressure; so does Christian love but at least we have room for penitence. Dawkins' smugness in the face of terrible violence which cannot be attributed to religion is hard to take. Rather than ranting, Christians should hope that his next attempt is more effective.