The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins is Oxford University's appropriate choice of professor of public understanding
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Published by Bantham Press, out now, hardback, 406 pages including index, £20.
In a nutshell.
God. Fascinating. Intelligent. Over-the-top. Worrying.
What's it all about?
In the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams wrote about the philosopher Oolon Coluphid and his trilogy of blockbusters: Where God Went Wrong, Some More Of God's Greatest Mistakes, and Who Is This God Person Anyway?
Seeing as Richard Dawkins believes that God was created in man's image, God is presented as where humanity went wrong and He is its greatest mistake. This book sets out Dawkins' arguments why.
In the first half, a wrathful Dawkins outlines his intolerance of people who believe in God, let alone raise them as believers (he advocates chewing off the ear of anyone who declares their child a follower).
Detailing a selection of believers, largely consisting of clearly-deranged nuts rather than his scholarly equals, Dawkins' intellectual sledgehammer smashes extremist targets of often-laughable but also-worrying beliefs.
Arguments are mostly at the social rather than individual level, but his attacks aimed at a growing "American Taliban" and Islam soon give way to ways he thinks, in more mellow terms, why both extreme and moderate religious beliefs should be attacked and what should replace them.
Who's it by?
Richard Dawkins is Oxford University's appropriate choice of professor of public understanding, what with his earlier works such as the Selfish Gene and the Blind Watchmaker. Like a modern series of "Just So" stories, they discussed how life on Earth could evolve to complexity from chemicals in layman's terms.
But turning from mere justifier of atheism, the God Delusion and the accompanying Channel 4 series The Root of all Evil? has Dawkins go on the all-out attack. Yet despite being an iconoclast in all meanings of the word, Dawkins is not so intolerant that he cannot count bishops among his friends and allies.
As an example.
"This is really all that needs to be said about personal 'experiences' of gods or other religious phenomena. If you've had such experience, you may well find yourself believing that it was real. But don't expect the rest of us to take your word for it, especially if we have the slightest familiarity with the brain and its powerful workings." - Just about sums up the book, Dawkins' tone and his view that religion is a mental disorder.
Likelihood of becoming a Hollywood blockbuster
You can safely assume that Mel Gibson won't be using this as the basis for his next film.
What the others say
"Everyone should read it. Atheists will love Mr Dawkins's incisive logic and rapier wit and theists will find few better tests of the robustness of their faith. Even agnostics, who claim to have no opinion on God, may be persuaded that their position is an untenable waffle." - The Economist
So is it any good?
Richard Dawkins started by kicking God to bits and now he turns his bovver boots on the believers who witnessed the ruckus.
Unlike his earlier works, which were arguments for particular aspects of evolution, this book sets out to be a manifesto for atheists to go forth and justify.
With the Pope apologising for any inconvenience he may cause and the Archbishop of Canterbury lost in his woolly beard, it's refreshing to hear someone come out strongly for something and justify it. However, it is let down by far too many Oxbridge dining table anecdotes, making Dawkins come across as an after-dinner bore on his bete-noire.
Like Marx and his manifesto, it's Victorian in ignoring the individual and while it has good (and worrying) analyses of trends - especially in the US and Muslim world - his 'solution' is too vague. Despite this, it's required reading for believers and atheists alike and his call for a frank and public discussion of religion should be heeded.