Book Love: Potential controversy approaching…

Warning for religion talk and length – sorry!  (For the length)

One factor in me becoming a suddenly useless blogger was that I finished reading The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.  Now, I know the mere mention of the name Dawkins is enough to have some people huffing and puffing and ranting away to themselves – hence the title of this post.  If you do plan to be offended by my views on the book, please look away now.  If you plan to disagree with me in a thoughtful and civil way, that’s absolutely fine and I can’t wait to read the comments!

Boring disclaimer over, let’s get on with it.  The reason this book stalled my blogging was because it was a lot to take in and I couldn’t quite decide what I thought of it.

Generally, I loved it.

I’ve been an atheist for a while now, and it was entirely my idea.  I decided on this before I’d ever heard of Mr Dawkins, and had decided 100% on my beliefs before I even discussed it with another person.  I spent a good few years genuinely trying to understand religious beliefs and how they came together into a valid argument, and couldn’t quite get there.  I couldn’t work out why I didn’t understand the arguments for the existence of God that I learned for my Religious Studies GCSE.  I just couldn’t get my head around them.  Then it dawned on me.  It wasn’t be being stupid or not studying hard enough – the arguments just didn’t make sense.  God doesn’t exist, so these arguments had no logical basis.

For years, I was convinced that God doesn’t exist, but I couldn’t manage to put my reasoning into words.  For the most part, this book spelled out exactly what I was thinking.  It was like someone had unscrambled my brain and laid out my thoughts in a logical and convincing way.  I felt so relieved that what I was thinking really did make sense.  I am now even more convinced of what I think, not because I’m taking everything Dawkins says as gospel (pun intended, sorry), but because I came up with these ideas on my own simply by thinking rationally about religion.

Overall, it was a very well written book, unsurprisingly given how much practice the author gets airing his views.  All the arguments were put across in a very readable and accessible way and I didn’t find it hard going at all.  Most of the arguments made complete sense to me, probably because they clarified what I already thought.  I reckon most people would be able to read the book easily, though I would recommend having at least a basic knowledge of the theories of evolution and natural selection, and possibly some understanding of (very) basic genetics.  These are referred to quite a bit without much explanation of the background and I think you would miss a lot by skipping over them.  They should probably form part of everyone’s education as well, if you want to start thinking broader.

For my part, I dredged up my rusty A-level biology (yes, I only took the final exam three years ago, but that doesn’t help my terrible memory!) and realised that I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed it.  I’ve never been able to get into the physics-y bits of science, even with Brian Cox now on the scene, but I am completely fascinated by Biology and life and how we work.  I gathered that Richard Dawkins has written some more “sciency” books – they’ve been added to my list!  Maybe that’s why I’m not religious – I’ve never been able to accept the explanation “this happens because God makes it happen”.  That’s far too boring!

Something else that really resonated with me was the idea that religion does not deserve it’s current status, where it’s almost taboo to criticise religion, and everyone is walking on eggshells, afraid of causing offence.  If religious belief is so strong, surely it shouldn’t matter that some people object to it?  I almost added to my mini-disclaimer at the top of this post, apologising for if I offend anyone, but then realised that this is exactly what Dawkins is talking about!  It’s my blog, I’m not setting out to upset anyone, and my beliefs are just as valid as anyone else!  I shouldn’t feel ashamed of being an atheist, I do avoid talking about it with people I don’t know that well, muttering that “I’m not anything really” when people ask about my religion.  Silly…

There were a few things I didn’t like, though.  Dawkins is quite aggressive in some parts, and I understand why he rubs plenty of people up the wrong way.  I didn’t like at all his statement that he is out to convert people with this book.  I don’t think it is any more possible to force a believer to become an atheist than it would be to force me to believe in God.  The best way to change people’s beliefs is explaining reasoned arguments and fairly weighing up all the evidence, something Dawkins does extremely well.  The God Delusion contains more than enough of this reasoning to get his point across, and telling people they are naive and wrong is surely only going to put them on the defensive and make them determined to stick to their guns.  That’s what I do, anyway.

I also thought that some of his arguments were weaker than others.  I take the view that when your opponent makes a strong point, it is far better to acknowledge that before coming back with some equally strong arguments of your own, rather than making up a weak fight against it.  Dawkins doesn’t seem to share this view, refusing to accept that there might well be some strong arguments in favour of the existence of God or the benefits of religion.  His determination that religion is not necessary for some people to get through difficult times, for example, doesn’t sit well with me.  He thinks that they are pointlessly deluding themselves, but I (and I reckon most other people) see it as a good side effect of religion.  While I certainly think that the bad effects of organised religion outweigh the good, I don’t deny that these good aspects exist.

Religion definitely gives many, many people a sense of purpose, something that I really envy.  When I start thinking too hard about there not really being a point to us being here, having evolved in a very clever way but without any end game etc etc, I do start depressing myself a tad.  Dawkins seems to have found some other meaning for life, but for some reason this was one logic he didn’t explain very well.  I think he may have made an attempt in the final chapter, but for me this didn’t really seem to fit with the rest of the book.  It was a (very interesting) discussion of lots of different science-y things, but they didn’t really seem to have a point to them in this context.  For me, for now, the best strategy seems to be just to not think about it too hard and get on with what makes me happy!

PS  I can only apologise for the essay-style length of this post.  I know it goes against all advice for beginner bloggers, ever, but I got a bit carried away.  Thanks and congratulations if you made it this far!