Mr. Kalsbeek is a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Walker, Michigan.
Richard Dawkins grew up in the Anglican Church of England. Both of his parents were scientists, and he too became interested in science, getting a degree in zoology. He became assistant professor at the University of California, Berkley and later taught at the University of Oxford, England. He is a proponent of the theory of evolution and a self-proclaimed atheist. He has authored a number of books regarding evolution in biology and genetics.
Though this is not a new book, I review it due to the pertinent nature of Dawkins’ assertions, which are being readily accepted as never before. Dawkins’ prediction is coming true before his eyes. Atheism is going mainstream in important ways.
Richard Dawkins’ purpose with this book is to convince readers that belief in a deity is the product of an ignorant mind and a backward culture that humans have not properly shed from themselves because of thousands of years reinforcing. Dawkins uses the knowledge of science and the examples of religious tyranny to prove his point. This also serves to make his other point, that Atheism is not as revolting as society has traditionally made it out to be, but makes for invigorated, balanced members of society.
The book begins by distinguishing between Albert Einstein’s metaphoric god, which Dawkins has no quarrel with, and belief in a supernatural deity, which is his target in the book. Since Dawkins’ determinations are always based on evolution, he builds the case that God is a hypothesis. He does not distinguish between deities, but lumps all together. The god of heathen idol worshipers is the same god that the Muslim, the Roman Catholic, and the Reformed believer worship. This makes “God” an easy target to disparage. Dawkins traces a history of God beliefs and numerous arguments for God’s existence and makes them look foolish. At one point he uses 18 different words to characterize, blasphemously, the Old Testament God, in order to show that He is a fictional figure, unable to be taken seriously.
Dawkins next compares Natural Selection to Intelligent Design. He makes the argument that Natural Selection promotes full growth of the mind, whereas Intelligent Design encourages a lazy, defeatist attitude for dealing with something that one does not completely understand. He then uses his knowledge of biology and chemistry to prove, in lengthy discussions, that there cannot be a God. In this section, Dawkins’ arguments are quite intriguing, it being obvious that he has much knowledge in the sciences.
After sufficiently showing that God does not exist, Dawkins seeks to answer the question why so many people evolved with a religious bent. He explains how genetic drift and gene mutation caused the persistence of this irrational behavior. Also, in his section on Memes, he explains how they survive through generations by conferring some advantage or being compatible. Those schooled in these areas would find his explanations especially interesting. Before reading this, I had not imagined that someone could use the sciences to such an extent in an attempt to disprove God.
Dawkins maintains that religion survives only by keeping its followers ignorant. He quotes Martin Luther, taking him out of context in the process, who said, “Reason should be destroyed in all Christians.” At this point in the book it became clear that Dawkins’ god is his brilliant mind. He really believes that there are no depths that the mind of man cannot uncover, and a deity above man is unthinkable. Ironically, Dawkins, in this chapter, demonstrates what it means to be self-deceived.
Next, the area of morals is explored. It is maintained that morality doesn’t arise from the Bible or religion, but has evolved in all humans. This point is driven home by examples of Christian immorality, case studies done on the issue, and the Bible’s “obnoxious” system of morals. Morals, Dawkins insists, continue to change despite religion, not because of it. Dawkins points to the evils of false religion, and sinful hypocrisy within religions, as proof that it is all a farce and there is no supernatural God. He quotes Steven Weinberg:
Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you’d have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, it takes religion.
Examples are not hard to find. From Muslim terrorism, to money-fleecing televangelists and from Inca child-sacrificing to numerous acts of hatred inflicted on others by professed Christians. Atheism, on the other hand, is true enlightenment and thus more apt to be considerate of others.
The fact that religion, in many cases, is absolutism is the reason that it is so hostile, according to Dawkins. He seeks to show the mental torture caused by religion and the cruelty upon other people that it has encouraged throughout history. Not only the Taliban, but the religious right that seek a Christian state, promote violence. Again, Martin Luther is pointed to, and is said to have influenced Hitler’s thoughts about the Jews. Not surprisingly, Dawkins doesn’t mention the fact that the theory of evolution influenced multitudes to think of the Arian race as superiorly evolved, and to see other races as less than human. Dawkins repeatedly emphasizes that “religion is the root of all evil.” He also maintains that even mild religion is evil because it provides the climate for extremism. This argument is an ominous one, in my judgment. Contrary to Dawkins’ wishes, there will always be “religion” in the antichristian kingdom, but certain types of religious people will be considered a threat to peaceful society.
The section on the sanctity of human life shows how the majority of people can excuse the murder of unborn children. In evolution, humans are not to be granted a special status over other animals. Embryos do not have a nervous system, while a cow in a slaughterhouse does. Another point made is that religious people, while maintaining abortion as wrong, deem the killing of abortion doctors to be morally correct.
The book ends with Dawkins advocating, as he started, for “consciousness raising,” so that society’s children are not continually psychologically damaged (victimized) by religion, unable to escape its effects in later life. The only way to put a stop to this is to make children wards of the state and to forbid parents to “indoctrinate” their children.
Dawkins continually emphasizes that the educated and mature mind will reject God and religion as being a childish fairy tale. This is extremely effective since it plays on every human being’s pride. No one wants to be labeled as being “backward.” Interestingly, Dawkins points out that natural selection doesn’t make sense to the young mind, but that evolutionary thought is dominant among the educated elite. This growing phenomenon is seen in how even “Christian” colleges have adopted evolution as the basis of their science curriculum. A Grand Rapids Press article quoted a professor of such a college as saying that most of the new students come into college believing creationism, but that professors “patiently deal” with such students until they see the light.
The parents and church that sinfully leave open the possibility that Genesis is not literal become guilty of leaving their children vulnerable. Such children have nothing to stand on when confronted with the “wise and prudent.” Even parents who faithfully instruct from earliest years are not immune from having a child depart for atheism. A few years ago, perhaps, such a child would depart for a more liberal, “enlightened” church. Today, those “leaning on their own understanding” find it socially acceptable to make a complete break. No longer associated with deviltry, Atheism is becoming a respected perspective.
Obviously, Richard Dawkins is not interested only in portraying religious people as ignoramuses, lower in the evolutionary process. He presents an agenda to rid this irritant from a developing society. His book is worth reading, for the awareness it brings to much that is going on in society today.