1-Sentence-Summary: The God Delusion makes the case for science as our fundamental source of hope, optimism, and inspiration in life, arguing that religion is an outdated by-product of evolution, that God doesn’t exist, and that we can be just as happy, moral, and fulfilled without it.
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In 2018, I left the church. I know, I know. Heretical! Before you curse me through your screen, however, know that I’m a spiritual person. I believe in the power of a good story more than anyone. I just think it makes more sense to draw from all stories, all religions, philosophies, books, biographies, and fairy tales worldwide, rather than just one.
Richard Dawkins takes a slightly different point of view, but he, too, is no fan of the church. In his seminal book The Selfish Gene, Dawkins explained our replicating genes as the driving force of evolution. He also proposed that humanity embrace science over religion in The God Delusion, and his thoughts around that topic are what we’ll explore today.
I know this is a controversial issue, but whether you’re an agnostic or diehard Christian, I encourage you to look at the following ideas with an open mind. Form your own judgements, and don’t dismiss anything on principle.
Here are 3 lessons from the book about God, science, and religion:
- There are 3 main reasons why God is unlikely to exist.
- Religion could be a side effect of evolution rather than a feature.
- When we embrace science over religion, we might break limits without losing our morals.
Let’s dive in!
Lesson 1: God is unlikely to exist due to 3 arguments, 2 of which are common-sense, 1 of which is based on science.
I’ve always questioned the existence of God in the form the Bible purports. Why would God appear as a larger-than-life old man if he could be anything? Dawkins, however, takes this idea further with a simple thought experiment: If God created the universe and everything in it, who created God?
This is the first of Dawkins’ 3 main arguments against God’s existence:
- If everything in existence goes back to an intelligent, supernatural designer, who designed this designer? It’s a question that infinitely regresses back to itself, and since religion can’t provide a good answer, the idea of God itself falls apart.
- The Bible is highly unreliable and constantly contradicts itself. Written by multiple authors hundreds of years after the reported events, the Bible is hardly a textbook. Is it “turn the other cheek” or “an eye for an eye?” Was Jesus born in Betlehem or in Nazareth? Since it can’t even agree on simple facts let alone important moral guidelines, the Bible isn’t exactly a trustworthy source of information. Even religious people admit this, rarely taking the Bible literally.
- Natural selection is a better, more rational, verifiable explanation of life on Earth than God. Science is about sticking with the best hypothesis until a better one comes along. For religion, that was Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, Dawkins claims. If tiny genetic adjustments help a species survive, those adjustments compound. That’s how you get from amoeba in the ocean to fish to mammals to monkeys walking on two legs — and then to us. No God needed.
Only one of these arguments is rooted in science. The other 2 are simply common sense. If that’s all it takes to put a serious dent in God’s “credibility,” what other discrepancies might we be missing?
Lesson 2: Religion might simply be a by-product of evolution, the most successful meme in history.
If you make a stir fry and have onions left over, you might make onion soup the next day. Given it tastes well, you may buy extra onions next time, make more and more soup, until, eventually, you forget the stir fry altogether. Unfortunately, the onion soup doesn’t have the same healthy variety, and so you end up on the toilet all the time.
According to Dawkins, religion came about in a similar way, a by-product of evolution that succeeded more than it should have. Religion blended in well with a once useful trait for survival: obedience to authority. In times when it was important that your kids didn’t wander off into the desert or pick the wrong fruit from a nearby bush, conformity was essential.
Apply that same conformity to stories of miracles and men walking on water, however, and you end up with a society that spends tons of money on churches, makes ritualistic sacrifices every week, and listens to a long line of clergymen with their own agendas.
Add to that religion’s foundation in stories, and you have a great formula for survival. All religions have central themes, a big story arc, and countless fables and parables that convey their teachings. In a way, they’re the most successful memes in history!
That’s why religion has survived until today, even though, evolutionarily speaking, like eating only onion soup, it is no longer a great strategy for humans hoping to secure a thriving future — if it ever was in the first place.
Lesson 3: Science can remove the limitations of religion without taking away its benefits.
If religion is neither rooted in fact nor helpful to human survival, what should we do with it? Replace it with science, if you ask Dawkins. Since humans have the power to believe whatever they want to believe, the very force that can drag us into the flawed web of religion can also align us with reality.
And while it is true that our brains are capped in their ability to quickly, intuitively understand the world around us, we don’t need miracles to make up for our mental limitations, Dawkins believes. Where religion constrains us, claiming we are pawns in someone else’s larger scheme, science makes life limitless — there is nothing we can’t learn, discover, or invent, if only we push forward far enough into the world of knowledge. In that sense, science might be more inspiring than religion ever could be!
If you want to live a life full of wonders yet stay grounded in reality at all times, there might be no better lens on the world than that of science — and even if, ultimately, you cannot find your way through life without faith, honestly embracing science is still worth a try.
The God Delusion Review
The God Delusion is no doubt a controversial book. Then again, in today’s world of self-selection and confirmation bias, chances are, the people interested in it will already be agnostics or outright atheists. Meanwhile, diehard believers will reject the book before ever opening it. Are you one of the rare exceptions? If so, you’re in for intelligent writing, well-constructed arguments, and an interesting hypothesis — and my utmost respect for keeping an open mind.
Who would I recommend our The God Delusion summary to?
The 14-year-old who doesn’t understand why he should go to confirmation class, the 62-year-old lifelong believer who feels let down by her church community, and anyone looking for a sustainable source of hope in life.