Byzantine Reality

Searching for Byzantine failures in the world around us

The God Delusion

The two things you should never talk about in polite company are religion and politics. Most people are familiar with some variation of this phrase, knowing that bringing up either tends to instantly ruin a conversation. If everyone in the room is of the same opinion (a rare situation indeed) then the conversation becomes extremely boring and everyone just makes each other feel better, or (more likely) one or more participants are not in total agreement, causing discord at the least and ruined friendships in many scenarios. But why is it that talking about religion and politics bothers us so much? Enter The God Delusion.

The God Delusion strikes right at the ultimately uncomfortable nature of religion (especially when none or more than one are involved). It largely focuses on the battle between science and religion, where scientists tell us that they can co-exist with religion and whenever we have yet to discover the explanation for phenomena, religious people attribute it to God and fiercely defend it. Dawkins shows us how both are wrong, how science is fundamentally incompatible with religion, unless you are willing to greatly cheapen the definition of God, and how the religious are consistently proven wrong about phenomena that they believe is performed by God but in fact is not.

Dawkins gets a lot of heat for being abrasive as far as religion goes, but he at least knows why. He’s willing to defy the “don’t talk about religion because it makes everyone uncomfortable” rule as far as he needs to in order to get his point across, and in The God Delusion, he is very careful to reiterate that he’s not trying to be a dick, just trying to get you to understand the facts. He realizes that hearing stories about the supernatural for your entire life conditions you to accept them or at the very least, tolerate other people talking about it. What he wants the reader to understand, however, is to (1) realize that the stories are actually pretty weird and (2) we can do better than religion, namely through science. Most atheists usually understand (2) pretty easily but as I’ve been brought up around these stories, (1) was not obvious to me until I read this book.

A good chunk of the book also talks about religion from an evolutionary perspective, which is Dawkins’ specialty. It looks at potential origins for religion and the dangers that have historically risen from using religion to blindly label people – specifically labeling those with the same religion as friends and those with a different religion (or no religion) as enemies. It’s all done in a compelling manner and like the rest of the book, Dawkins cushions the heavier blows to try not to hurt the reader’s feelings.

It covers some material and general ideas from The Blind Watchmaker and The Selfish Gene, but does so at a high level, so this works as a good starting-off book for those yet to read Dawkins’ books as well as those well-versed in Dawkins’ style. It doesn’t quite promote the same level of awe as The Blind Watchmaker and The Selfish Gene but is definitely a compelling work that’s accessible and meaningful, and I’d certainly recommend giving it a read.