Book Review: The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

This article is a review of the 2006 bestseller 'The God Delusion' by the celebrated evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. The article tries to capture the key points of this book on atheism, where it scores high as well as where it could have improved.

At the very start, I must mention that reviewing a book on atheism (or writing an article on nationalism for that matter) is a tricky affair. No matter how mild my language might be, it is inevitable that a few people would be offended by the theme of the book that I am about to review. Nevertheless, discussions like these need to happen as they are enlightening and even enjoyable. Plus this book was a bestseller of its times and has been translated into numerous languages (there is even a Bengali translation). So it makes sense to see what the Oxford evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins has to say in his 2006 bestseller The God Delusion.

The God Delusion is a book that is simultaneously informative and enjoyable to read. Dawkins has a knack for infusing a subtle brand of humour into all of his works and this one is no exception. Of course, there are pointed attacks on the religious but these are blended with old fashioned civility, which makes them even more effective. At the same time, the references to various sources, from other notable books to research publications to internet articles to actual religious scriptures show the labour that has gone into this work.


To provide a brief synopsis, The God Delusion starts with a definition of its scope. The Einsteinian "religion" (which is a brand of pantheism at least in Dawkins' opinion) isn't the target of attack. All other organized religion, however, will be put under the microscope, so to speak, although the main focus remains on the Abrahamic religions, due to the author's familiarity with them.

He then lists down all the arguments in favour of religion, right from Pascal's wager to the "Proofs" of Aquinas. These are then mercilessly refuted. Then he begins an examination of the origin of religion, attempting to insert the origin of religion into a Darwinian framework. He tries to do the same for morality, examining the all too important question, "Why do we have to be good if there is no God?" Finally, he also looks at the psychological need of having a God i.e. why do people believe in Gods so readily. The book ends with a few very moving lines about how science can help us widen our vision, helping us discover how to overcome our limits or to discover that there were no limits to start with.

What I liked about this book

The book as I have already said is a brilliantly written one. If you read this masterpiece you will be able to understand how Dawkins, despite being an atheist, has taken the pains to study various religious texts, right from the Old Testament to the Quran to the Book of Mormon. Also, another commendable feature is that while he criticizes Islam (and he does a good job at it) he never stoops down to the level of being Islamophobic. There is a huge difference between criticizing an ideology versus demonizing an entire community and I'm happy to see how Dawkins does a brilliant job of staying on the right side of the line. Dawkins has correctly realized that while no religion should be above criticism, criticism should never become a blind stereotyping.

Where this book score is how it takes the idea of religion itself and brings out the contradictions within it. For example, if God has such a well-made plan, then why do we pray to him and thus request him to alter it? When Dawkins begins to counter the five "proofs" given by Aquinas, I can swear that he instantly won my admiration. For example, the second proof given by Aquinas states that since everything has a cause, therefore there must be an ultimate cause for everything that exists in the universe. This "ultimate cause of everything" can be called God. Sounds convincing, right? True, that is until Dawkins lays his hands at it. See, when you go by this argument of cause and effect, even the entity called God must have a cause why he (or she or it or they) came into existence. In other words, someone or something must have led to the "birth" of God. Then the "Super-God" (i.e. the entity which created our God) must have a cause behind him as well. This will continue and develop into an infinite regress which instantly makes Aquinas' arguments lose all their weight. Everything gets smashed to pieces when we ask the question "Who created God?"

Dawkins also has to be credited for explaining evolution in a simple language (he has done it numerous times already in his previous books). It is easy to forget that Dawkins is probably the most eminent evolutionary biologist of our times and this makes it even more amazing how he has been able to explain a tricky concept in a language which probably a school kid would be able to understand. This was important as failure to correctly understand evolution has led to several people to veer towards creationism, especially in the USA where "intelligent design" is very well propagated.

I remember one of the sections in the book where Dawkins exhorts us not to address a child as a Muslim child or a Catholic child but rather to call him or her a child of Muslim parents (or for that matter a child of Hindu parents). This was an important eye-opener as more often than not we are bound to forget that children aren't born with any religion. They cannot even actually understand religious concepts let alone become followers of a religion. Dawkins also encourages us to read the various religious texts and appreciate the literary beauty of these while, of course, using our mind while reading these texts (It was mostly because of this encouragement that I began to read the Quran, and I must say this I am impressed by the artistic metaphors in the text. The same can be said of some of the verses of the Rig Veda which I have read.)

There is much to like about in The God Delusion, about how Dawkins differentiates between fanatical and liberal versions of religion (especially in case of Islam) even as he picks out faults in both versions; about how Dawkins emphasizes upon rational rather than dogmatic belief (whether in a religious or a scientific text); about how Dawkins is equally critical of all religions, not unduly favouring any one of these. The only thing that I can point out as a limitation would be the relative lack of criticism of the "Eastern" religions, whether Hinduism or Buddhism. Although he does critique the obscurantism in Hindu texts, a more thorough criticism would have added to the diversity of the book.

Concluding lines

As I conclude this review (which as I now realize has turned into more of a eulogy than a review) I must point out the impact that this book has on me. In the introductory pages of this book, Dawkins writes that he aims to let atheists live with pride and grow out of the stigma which the society forces upon them. He would be very happy if he knew that this goal was fulfilled at least in the case of one person.


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