Book Review: The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

This is the second time I read The God Delusion, in fact this book is much easier to understand after reading The Selfish Gene from the same author, Richard Dawkins.

In The God Delusion, Sir Dawkins postulates his notion against the idea of personal God. He agrees that randomness couldn’t make complex structures but some designer sitting above the clouds with white beard and stick in hand doesn’t seem at all plausible.

In his words,

“natural selection succeeds as a solution to the problem of improbability where “chance” and “design” both fail because natural selection is a cumulative process, which breaks the problem of improbability into smaller chunks.”

Each chunk is improbable to some amount therefore, huge number of such chunks accordingly leads to higher degree of unlikelihood. Chance stands no chance. Period.

Creationists, however, are of the view that statistical improbability is mere one-time event. They just don’t comprehend the power of accumulation.

It’s worth mentioning here that Sir Dawkins is primarily targeting Catholicism and Islam in this epic work, however, I feel the book touches the vulnerability of people (globally) who are under the influence of charm of religion exploited by priests, politicians and kings.

Natural selection

Natural selection operated right from the first evolutionary step, when life initially emerged in water where chemical reaction from the surrounding resulted in the formation of amino acid.

The building block further gained stability and formed proteins, which eventually lead to a level where self- replication became the norm. In the process of self-replication, error came into being and that “error” in biology lead to evolution.  

The entire process is cumulative and not one time event. Logically, it can never be a one-time event. That is the power of accumulation.

The God Hypothesis

Religious advocates claim that there is an existence of some super intelligence that intentionally designed and created the universe and everything inside it, including us.

Sir Dawkins rebuts the notion by saying,

“Any creative intelligence of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution”.

Progression of religion

When it comes to progression of religion, the book emphasis that initial stage was Polytheism followed by Monotheism.

Polytheists believe in many gods all at the same time. Like the ancient Greeks and Romans. Their gods, like the Viking ones, were very human-like, with powerful human lusts and emotions. Of the major religions that survive today, Hinduism is also polytheistic, with thousands of gods.

Monotheists advocates one God, who alone is an omnipotent, omniscient originator and ruler of the universe.

“The god of the Old Testament is the same god that Christians adopted in their New Testament. Following the Jews and the Christians, Islam proclaimed the same monotheistic god.”

From barbaric Bronze Age text known as the Old Testament have evolved 3 anti-human religions.

  1. Judaism – Tribal cult of fiercely unpleasant God.
  2. Christianity – By Paul of Tarsus. Looked outward from the Jews to rest of the world.
  3. Islam – Muhammad adding a powerful ideology of military conquest to spread the faith.

Patriarchal it may sound all three Abrahamic religion endorses sky God with white bread who is watching each one us. And he will give reward or punishments as per our behaviour. Also, we need not question its existence, we on our part just need to keep faith.

Sir Dawkins, however, proposes that not all of America’s Founding Fathers were committed either to a Christian God or to Christianity itself when they established their country. Neither did the Pledge of Allegiance contain any reference to God until the mid-20th century.

Shades of religious belief

Professor Dawkins describes that there are three shades of religious belief across the globe. And they are:  

Theism: It is a belief that there is one supernatural intelligence that is not only responsible of creating the (observable) universe but it continues to meddle with the present and the future. Christianity calls it the Trinity while Hinduism has their Brahma Vishnu and Mahesh. In case of Hindu tradition, the intelligence not only meddles with time – (present and the future) – it also sustains time. Thus, theists believe that God is intimately involved with every individual and intervenes in the world.

And how does it intervene? Prayers, of course.

So, the content of prayers is directly proportional to the good health and prosperity for people on Earth. If yes, then people who pray regularly should obviously be the most fit person, that is, people who visit Churches and Temples.

I enjoyed the part where Sir Dawkins talks about the experiments that were performed with prayers in groups, controlled v/s experimental. The crux was people who were unaware of group prayers service being held for them didn’t do well post-surgery while people who knew about prayers were held for them did fairly well.

Therefore, are prayers to be responsible or the mind-set which felt elated with the idea of prayers are being held. The sense of being loved, connected and wanted surpasses than mere monotonous prayer services. It is the mind if nurtured properly helps in giving better health and recovery.

Deism: It is a belief that some supernatural being has set up physical laws in the universe and after creating the universe takes no interest in human and other life forms. Therefore, no prayers or no need to visit temples or churches.  

Pantheism: It is a belief that God is the law itself, that is, it is a non-supernatural name for the laws of Nature and the Universe.

Interestingly, Buddhism or Confucianism as per Sir Dawkins is not religion but ethical system or philosophies of life and I couldn’t agree more with him.

Scientific evolutionary theory

Sir Dawkins says that deities are man-made delusions sustained through education. He agrees that there is some intelligence that underlines nature. After all, chance cannot be an agent responsible for the excellent fit of life forms to their particular environment.

So, the next question is, how did the properties of living systems come about?

Darwinian explanation of natural selection is the answer. It generates randomness, complexity without any plan. Natural selection operating totally without any goal. Genetics play a key role in being more reproductive than those who did not have them.

Also, natural selection seems plausible because it is a cumulative process. And it supports the million years of evolutionary process.

The book mentions his discussion with an Oxford theologian. The theologian claimed that the reason for Holocaust as per God is to allow its victims to display courage and nobility.

So as per his equation, purpose of the wars is to show courage and humility by the ones who surrender. So, God has nothing to do with mass murders. All “He” wants us to do is show courage and yes, keep faith but do not question. Period.

The universality of God Theory

Beliefs in supernatural things has been carried from generation to generation and according to the idea that divine powers exist. After all, many once believed that Earth was the centre of universe and that sun moved around the earth.

Natural selection succeeds as a solution to the problem of improbability where “chance” and “design” both fails. Since, natural selection occurs over time, which breaks down the problem of improbability into smaller chunks.

Each smaller chunks further gives rise to slightly improbable pieces. Large number of smaller improbable pieces stack together to make an end product, which obviously will be improbable, in fact, far beyond the reach of chance.

These end products form the subjects of the creationist’s wearisome recycled argument. For them the statistical improbability is mere onetime event. They overlook the power of accumulation.

Dissection of religion

Sir Dawkins says that he is certain that there is no God. One of the biggest challenges is to explain how the complex structures/life forms are made on planet Earth.

Natural temptation is to attribute some superior creator. For instance, watch is designed by some intelligent engineer and same goes for spider web, wing, eye, brain etc.

This temptation is false because it might lead to another problem statement, that is, then who designed the designer.

Hence, the most workable definition so far is Darwin’s Natural Selection.

Roots of religion

Sacred paintings and music monopolised medieval and renaissance talent. Devout people have died for their Gods, whipped blood from their backs. What is it all for?

During medieval times huge cathedrals were built yet they were never used for dwelling or any related useful purpose. To whom was it advertised at?

And what exactly is the role of religion?

Religion is a deliberate attempt to:

  • Motivate people to do good
  • Consolation and comfort
  • Gives an apparent order to society
  • Foster togetherness
  • Satisfy yearning to existential hankerings

An individual can work towards all these things without carrying a tag of being a religious person.

I’d like to quote Bernard Shaw here,

“The fact that a believer is happier than a sceptic is no more than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one”.

Religion is a by-product of something else

Religion according to Sir Dawkins is not an offshoot of Darwinian evolution rather it is a product of child’s mind. A mind that has never really grown to see the reality as is.

It prefers to accept fantasies and illusions as real. And that is called the subjective reality. Irony of the situation is many people fall victim to this illusion. Why?

As per the evolutionary psychologists, organs at an individual level too have undergone evolution. For instance, eyes are an evolved organ for seeing, likewise wings are evolved for flying and brain is a collection of organs for dealing with a set of data processing needs.

Accordingly, religion can be seen as a by-product of mis-firing of several of these modules, for instance, forming existential theories without any solid or substantial proof.

Another psychologist Paul Bloom talks about “religion is a by-product” view that children have a natural tendency towards dualistic theory of mind.

Dualists acknowledge distinction between matter and mind. Also, personify inanimate physical objects at the slightest opportunity, seeing spirits and demons in nature/waterfalls/clouds.

Children like to make sense in everything. They like to add purpose to everything that exists and many never grow out of it. And these happen to be the most favourable condition for the growth and sustenance of religion.

Takeaway: My two cents

Everything in the universe, living as well as non-living is the result of natural selection. However, humans with millions of years of evolution still believe that God or some supernatural being has created the universe. This happens to be one of the major motifs across religion worldwide.

Families instil to believe. Such religions are based on faith that has been carried from one generation to another, so on and so forth. Faith, however, makes sense if it’s backed up with facts. Unfortunately, when it comes to religion there is no fact, just assumptions.

For the sake of arguments, let’s say “super humans” like Krishna, Arjuna, Jesus, Buddha and the like existed and they have had transcendental experience but my questions are:

  1. All those were their experiences, what are we “regular humans” suppose to do with that? As long as they are their experiences, for us it’ll amount to nothing. So, we worship them just because they have experienced some thing, which we cannot get access to?
  2. If those experiences were real, then reality must repeat itself. After all, truth always remain the same and fiction/imagination have many versions. If I experience the transcendental bliss or develop an anti-gravity force so that I can walk on water, I’ll too write scriptures advocating God’s existence or son of God, whatever you like to call it.
  3. Why do adults train their kids to worship deities? Or believe in the divinities of others?

May be because they seek security, to fit-in society, psychological connectedness. So, believing in imaginative deities or in some “super hero” gives them a feel-good factor, a feeling of strength. Like by praying they feel, at least someone is listening to them even if the world is busy in itself.

When everything starts from within, there is no point looking for solution outside.

Religious devotion is maintained through education. And established through generation to generation underlying all instances of cultural evolution. Manmade delusions, like deities are sustained through education. It is still surviving even though humanity has undergone million of years of evolution, simply because it is backed up by art and music.

At least I want my kid to have her own opinions. An individual who can think and question. I respect the fact that we are a product of 4 billion years of evolution, let’s start behaving like one.

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