Perhaps best known for his first book, The Selfish Gene, the eminent evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is also the author of eight other books. In his latest book, The God Delusion , we experience Dawkins as an outspoken atheist and fierce opponent of religion in all its forms. The first message of his book is directed at those unbelievers who are still trapped, like R. Kelly's narrator, in the closet: “You can be an atheist who is happy, balanced, moral, and intellectually fulfilled.” But Dawkins is not content with mere emancipation from the shackles of belief; he will not rest on his laurels while religion is merely accorded an equal footing with atheism. Dawkins goes so far as to liken the religious education of children with sexual abuse, and calls for the extirpation of religion; he even finds agnosticism to be a “poverty”. For not only is religion nonsensical but, departing drastically from Voltaire and Seneca, it is a pernicious influence which is holding humanity back from the all-but -inevitable progress (with occasional saw-tooth regressions) of the moral Zeitgeist.
That the 20th century, result of this “progress”, was by far the world's bloodiest escapes his attention, as he optimistically states, without proof—blanket and unfounded assertions are par for the course for Richard Dawkins—that “there seems to be a steady shifting of standard of what is morally acceptable”. In short, all religions are bad because 1) the books upon which they are based are stupid; 2) the followers fail to actually follow the books; 3) and even when they do follow them they shouldn't do so because (see 1) the books are stupid; meanwhile, those who have had their “consciousness raised” by (the prophet) Darwin, the keepers of a completely arbitrary and morally subjective system under the guise of a loosely defined Zeitgeist are more moral. The reason: because Richard Dawkins is oh so smart.
But this is nothing more than what Chesterton, who knew a thing or two about atheists, called refusing to “submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around.” Dawkins reasons that early Americans were unenlightened because they, like the rest of humanity, kept slaves, while modern Americans are more moral because we no longer do. It is telling, though less than surprising, that Dawkins fails to single out the cause of slavery's demise: Christianity. That we practice infanticide and call it abortion is irrelevant to Dawkins, moral parasite that he is. Though it will surely give future atheists reason to gloat when the barbaric practice is finally banned because of the movement of the Zeitgeist. One envisages a future Dawkins character proving that atheists are more moral because we no longer practice abortion like our benighted ancestors.
Parts of his book are good: his tangents related to evolutionary biology are informative, and his warnings about the dangers of fundamentalism, though cliché, merit heeding. But one gets the feeling that Richard Dawkins knows no more about religion than I do about his master subject. He can't see how anyone could believe any of it to be true, and thus pretends that it is not useful. But there are a great many people who have believed it to be true; in fact, atheism is largely a new trend, and if many of the pagans, like Seneca, doubted that their religion was correct, they didn't sneer at those who did believe, and they certainly didn't pretend that it was without utility.
Throughout, Dawkins' tone is condescending and mean-spirited. And while I couldn't care less about what Dawkins thinks of believers—my faith is not that shallow—mocking those who happen to believe in a non-materialistic world is not the best way to win converts—or friends. Even those who are sympathetic with him will conclude that Dawkins is a jerk, and a tactless spokesman for atheism.
But there is another rather large flaw in The God Delusion. Dawkins believes that science has largely answered humanity's questions, questions whose very ambiguity caused our ancestors to regulate them to the realm of theology. To Dawkins, questions that presently remain unanswered will either be answered by later science or deserve no answer. By virtue of his enormous brain, Dawkins knows that those questions which cannot be answered by science, will also be unanswerable by religion. “Why are we here?” may be more meaningful than “Why are unicorns hollow?”, but both are difficult to answer so—implicitly of course—why bother asking? This fails to account for the possibility of revelation: certain questions are beyond the capacity for human reason to understand, but are attainable since God has, allegedly, deigned to walk among us. But Dawkins knows that this could not have happened because his human reason tells him so. QED.
Now science is not without its uses. Indeed, many religious people practiced science; Albert Magnus—from those poor Middle Ages, which produced Dante and the cathedral of Chartres—springs to mind. Whether we believe the world to be a part of God's creation or simply the result of natural selection applied over a large period of time, or both, science allows us to better understand the natural world around us. But science cannot answer the deep probing questions which have haunted man since the beginning of time. For all of our science, we are no closer to understanding why humans existence than was, say, Gilgamesh. Worse, we seem to forget this, postulating that because Gilgamesh did not have science and technology, we are obviously better off than he was. Maybe. But we still die, and all the science in the world is unable to tell us what it all means.
Contrary to what one might infer from his book, most religious people don't care if Dawkins doesn't share their faith, though many certainly pray for him. The religious individual who reads his book should not be filled with indignation. Instead, the feeling which he will feel first and foremost is that of pity. At worst, religions are, in the words of the irreligious Fred Reed, “gropings toward something people feel but cannot put a finger on, toward something more at the heart of life than the hoped-for raise, trendy restaurants, and the next and grander automobile.” Those who cannot even begin to consider that something suffer worse than mere delusion.