Outgrowing God by Richard Dawkins
God is a desperately complex fella. He presides over a number of religions but takes different approaches to each. He even takes on different appearances. In Christianity, he’s a white man with a long flowing white beard, even though that faith was founded in the Middle East. In India, he might be a she, or both, and could be purple or have the head of an elephant. In ancient Egypt, the head might be that of a falcon or a jackal. God is such a kidder and just loves to dress up.
In this 2019 book, world renowned atheist, Richard Dawkins, takes us on a journey into the contradictions and pitfalls of believing in any deity. It’s, at least initially, a step by step investigation and easily understood. Unfortunately, Dawkins can’t contain himself and eventually delves into his favourite subject of genes and DNA sequencing etc. The book goes from being one that exposes the fallacies inherent within religions, to one where he needs to show us the scientific proof of what he says, but in confusing and poorly explained details.
Anyone who has ever read the Christian bible will, if they are honest and not afraid, accept that there are substantial contradictions between the Old Testament and that of the New. One God is all about vengeance and wrath, death and destruction. The other is about forgiveness and love. They are not the same. The (supposedly) Christian bible suffers from multiple personality disorder.
This writer for Rebel Voice must confess to having left faith behind many years ago. Like Dawkins, who was raised Anglican, the journey from faith (in this case, Catholicism) to atheism began during teenage years. It was simple observation and experience, later supplemented with research. Many of the questions that emerged surrounding Judaeo-Christianity are to be found in this book of Dawkins‘. It’s comforting to realise that the exact same quandaries that afflicted you as a young person were also being suffered by a multitude across the Christian world.
In Outgrowing God, Dawkins raises the not-so-small matter of the conduct of Abraham, founding ‘father’ of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. He points to Abraham’s behaviour when going to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Dawkins rightly demonstrates that Abraham’s behaviour was that of someone with serious mental health problems. Imagine if you had been Isaac and your father dragged you up a mountain to murder you (and it would have been murder) only for a weird voice to tell him not to. Today, Abraham would be locked up and rightly so. Yet three faiths are built upon the teachings of this man. Figure upon that for a while.
Then Dawkins reminds us of one of the ten plagues visited upon the Egyptians who were allegedly refusing to allow the Jews to leave Egypt. The Angel of Death was sent to murder (and it was murder) the first born of each Egyptian family. Is that the kind of deity you want to worship, one that would murder innocent children?
Dawkins could have added the destruction of both Sodom and Gomorrah, both of which would have had children living there. Were those children guilty of a sin? What sin was it? What about the Great Flood? Again, let’s set aside all the innocent adults who drowned in that one, what about the children? Why should anyone worship a deity who places such little value upon the life of children? Again, figure upon that for another while.
As Dawkins states, there are so many different gods and so many people who believe in them all that everyone can’t be right, although the Buddhists apparently try to embrace all (but surely Buddhism is a philosophy rather than a religion?). It appears as if the one true religion is the one with the most powerful military backing it. At least that’s how it has always been throughout history.
In Part One of Outgrowing God, we have headings such as:
- So many Gods!
- But is it true?
- Myths and how they start
- The Good Book?
- Do we need God in order to be good?
- How do we decide what is good?
Part Two then progresses with:
- Surely there must be a designer?
- Steps towards improbability
- Crystals and jigsaws
- Bottom up or top down
- Did we evolve to be religious? Did we evolve to be nice?
- Taking courage from science
The first part of this book is very interesting. The second has its moments but, ultimately, becomes a rambling explanation of the psychology and science behind a belief in a deity or deities. It didn’t have to be this way and Outgrowing God would have benefited from a stronger editor.
Crystals and jigsaws is about as perplexing as it gets, not because it’s a particularly difficult subject, but because Dawkins tries to do too much in too few words and it becomes jagged and incomplete. He wanders and meanders and turns back upon himself at times. It becomes frustrating to follow. It lacks clarity. It could have been great but his analogies are poor even if his enthusiasm is evident.
Throughout Outgrowing God, Dawkins tries to keep it light, it’s meant to be that kind of read. To this end he makes humorous comments. Some work but many fall flat. His book is described as “fiercely funny”on the back cover. Is it f**k. It’s anything but.
When exploring religion with a view to demonstrating the failings therein, a writer has much evidence at his disposal. Whether it’s alien spirits in volcanoes, or flying horses, or raising people from the dead or skilfully parting the waters of the Red Sea but then getting lost for decades in the desert (should have thought to look at the stars perhaps?), religious doctrine gifts us with many opportunities to turn away. An atheist is spoiled for choice when deciding which contradictions and/or impossibilities to choose in tearing theism apart. Dawkins could have explored this aspect of global religion in more detail.
Adam and Eve? A story of misogyny. But Dawkins missed out on the presence of Lilith, the first woman, in opposition to flawed Christian teachings. Lilith was made as an equal to Adam but he complained that she wouldn’t do as she was told and whinged until Yahweh made Eve, Lilith being banished to reappear as a serpent, a Suffragette snake, who tempted Eve to disobey her man thereby casting humanity into Original Sin. Isn’t that the most women-hating story ever invented? Yet there it is, at the basis of three religions. You might need more than a while to figure upon that one.
There are many other examples from monotheism alone, but suffice to say that Dawkins could have leaned more heavily upon religious flaws, such as childhood cancers, to demonstrate the impossibility of worshipping, or believing, in a god worthy of the name. That said, his first part did at least prove his point.
His second part was, as previously stated, confusing. He provides diagrams that make little sense and are unnecessary. It reads as if he penned the second part in a hurry, and serves to hurt the overall impression the book makes. OK, there are interesting pieces about the human eye and Darwinism. But this is a book sub-titled “A Beginner’s Guide”. It didn’t need to go heavy on the science. Rock crystals, enzymes, DNA proteins, amino acids, nucleotide bases and their structures do not make for great reading when poorly explained.
Overall, this is not the worst book you will ever read. It will not appeal to theists, or at least not to those afraid to ask difficult questions of their beliefs. It might attract the curiosity of believers with healthy minds who are confident in their faith, although how they counter the points within I have no idea. For atheists, this will reveal little that is not already known. After all, that’s why atheists are that way to begin with, they have done the research and asked the questions. It might be nice though to feel vindicated by someone of Dawkins’ obvious intellectual stature.
Sult scale rating: 6.5 out of 10. This is a fairly lively exploration of the religious beliefs of global society. It starts with the obvious failings of religion and moves into the reasons why humans feel the need to worship a deity or deities. It introduces science, some of which is welcome but some of which is gratuitous. Pick it up, if only to say that you read something by Dawkins. But believers beware, this book may cause you to rethink your worldview and could lead to an existential crisis, at least until you manage to forget the contents and go back to believing in your magical, unseen phantasm that might or might not be male or female or animal, or good or bad or white or black or blue, or angry or loving or destructive or pacifist or watching or ignoring or interfering, or not.
An it harm none, do what ye will – Wiccan Rede (just saying)
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