The author Salman Rushdie once said, “We’re all living under a fatwa now,” referring to the practice of condemning to death those accused of besmirching Allah and Muhammad. The God Delusion, the latest thought-experiment by prominent Oxford evolutionist Richard Dawkins, is a vitriolic “bring it on” to fatwas, to fundamentalism, to clerics, priests, rabbis, monks and Maharishis — effectively, to God himself.
Dawkins is arguably the most influential Darwinist of the past quarter-century. If T.H. Huxley was Darwin’s bulldog, Dawkins is a swarm of bees — an unapologetic, take-no-prisoners enemy of organized religion who uses Darwinian arguments to both disprove the existence of God and to posit a theory of the evolution of religion: God cannot exist under the rules of natural selection, but the rules of natural selection perpetuate belief in God.
Creative intelligence in the universe, at present found most prominently in Homo sapiens, arose through natural selection. How, then, can a creative intelligence like God have created the mechanism that produces creative intelligence? God survives as a concept, though, because it has been “selected for” in the human consciousness, Dawkins explains. Belief in God, much like an allele, possesses traits beneficial to its own survival: it plays to human fears of death and human desires for meaning, and, by definition, it invests the carrier with socially valuable attributes, such as “virtue.” Like the “selfish gene” of Dawkins’s previous works, belief in God survives not through intrinsic truth or value, but through the use of attractive attributes to manipulate hosts.
By this argument, what stands in the way of reason is the passion of belief. Dawkins himself could take his own advice and temper his invective if he wanted to convince more skeptics. For all its scientific precision, The God Delusion was written by a culture warrior, not a scientist or a philosopher. Dawkins’s caucus of atheist Mensa members and corresponding peanut-gallery of religious basket cases (Pat Robertson advised women that “if you get married, you have accepted the leadership of a man”) don’t make his dialectic any more or less convincing.
This is exasperating, since Dawkins is a gifted scientist, as his 2005 tour de force of evolution, The Ancestor’s Tale, attests. In contrast, digressions in The God Delusion on the details of evolutionary theory feel more like red herrings than essential components of the central argument.
Dawkins is, without a doubt, a great writer, clear and concise in his prose, vivid and striking in his metaphors. But for most spiritual people, God isn’t something that can be logicized, argued against or thought through, and “The God Delusion” likely won’t change any minds.