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The God Delusion

August 26, 2013

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

Dr. Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist and firm believer of Darwin’s theory of evolution as opposed to creationism and intelligent design. Throughout the book Dawkins makes his arguments for science and reason trumping faith; his arguments are very refined after a lifetime of having these debates. He references quotes from various notable historical figures to demonstrate their religious believes (or lack thereof) as evidence of how the zeitgeist (spirit of the times) has changed over time. Finally focusing on the importance of now indoctrinating children into the religion of their parents without any choice or exposure to other religions for comparison.

If God doesn’t exist, how can so many believe?

Chapter 5 “Roots of Religion” proposes an interesting scientific answer to why so many people believe in a religion and why it has persisted in so many forms throughout history. Although the book mostly focuses on Abrahamic religions no doubt because of it’s membership size, it does also reference polytheistic religions of antiquity. Since religion is such a wasteful endeavor, consuming time, money, physical resources how could it have thrived for all of recorded history in some form or another despite evolution’s goal of removing inefficiency. The answer is that religion might be a by-product of another evolutionary trait: Hyperactive Agent Detection: seeing intelligent actor where none is required. Many see this as a beneficial evolutionary trait to assume some intelligence (like a predator) exists and take precautions rather than assuming it does not. He also claims this is magnified because humans are naturally dualists and teleologists: believing that our body and mind are separate and that everything we see or experience has a purpose for being.

How Zeitgeist alters our view of history

The author provides numerous examples of things that did happen and were acceptable in the past would be seen as completely unacceptable by today’s society. Many references to items in the Old Testament bible with a quote summarizing it:

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Other examples include Abraham Lincoln who was considered very progressive in his time for abolishing slavery by today’s standards would be considered a racist. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s rhetoric during the Iraq/Afghanistan wars would be considered bleeding heart liberal by World War 2 standards.

Another example of how views on religion have changed over time is the Catholic church kidnapping a baptized Jewish boy to protect him from his Jewish family’s upbringing: Edgardo Mortara. Since he was baptized (by his Catholic babysitter) he was considered a Christian and therefore in need of protection from his Jewish upbringing.

Select Historical Figure Quotes

Voltaire: Those that can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.

Bertrand Russell: Many people would sooner die than think. In fact, they do.

In addition to the book providing a well thought out argument, it also provides a massive list of referenced books that support this argument. One of those references has been added to my reading list: Just Six Numbers.

 

 

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