Dawkins’ main aim of the book is to raise four consciousness raising messages: (1) that atheism is a realistic aspiration for any individual; (2) natural selection describes the complexity of life better than the Creator hypothesis; (3) children should not be labelled by their parent’s religion; and (4) atheists should not be apologetic about their beliefs. Although Dawkins focuses on these four central themes, he also explores other topics, such as the origins of religion and the evolutionary origins of morality.
The most significant message of the book for me was Dawkins’ message that there is nothing wrong with unbelief. On page 1:
[This book is intended to] raise consciousness to the fact that to be an atheist is a realistic aspiration, and a brave and splendid one. You can be an atheist who his happy, balanced, moral, and intellectually fulfilled.
In Chapter 4, Dawkins focuses on the well known creationist argument that design was responsible for life because biological complexity is too improbable to have arisen by chance. Dawkins argues that both chance and design were not responsible; rather, the third option, natural selection, caused complex life by breaking down improbability into small pieces. Although I disagree with Dawkins’ argument that refuting design refutes God (at least, this is what I think he argues), his arguments for evolution are, as always, his strong point.
However, I thought the weakest part of the book was Chapter 3. Dawkins’ critique of philosophical arguments for God seems far too simplistic; he hurries through each argument, and as a consequence they are only superficially covered. I feel there are better books out there that provide more comprehensive responses to philosophical arguments for theism.
Finally, I have difficulty with Dawkins’ confrontational style. I absolutely share Dawkins’ concern regarding religious fundamentalism, but I think his abrasive approach to religious belief in general not only polarises religious debate, but also hinders constructive dialogue between those on opposite sides of the fence who are willing to speak to each other.
In conclusion . . .
Although I admire Richard Dawkins’ views on biology, I’ve always been uncomfortable with the antagonism he expresses towards religion in general. Although the book provides a clear summary of atheistic beliefs, arguments and concerns, its confrontational tone in parts might turn some Christians off from reading it altogether. This, I believe, is sad, as there are many parts of the book that provide positive and refreshing insights into what it means to be an atheist.
Have you read the God Delusion? If so, what did you think of the book?