My copy of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins boasts the subtitle “the alternative Christmas gift”. Borders took the joke one stage further by sticking a card inside the cover which reads “oh come all ye unfaithful”. I’m sure Mr Dawkins won’t mind the joke. Reading him, it’s obvious he does have a sense of humour, although my approach to the book isn’t really to seek an alternative Christmas gift or message, or to declare myself unfaithful or not. I like a well written, intelligent book and I like a good argument. Richard Dawkins provides all of this for me.
What surprised me is that The God Delusion isn’t just the anti-God polemic that I’d been suspecting, the book that its critics have been ranting about. Dawkins prints some of the abusive letters he has received since its publication, damning him in no uncertain terms, and letters no doubt from people who haven’t bothered to read The God Delusion. The same mentality that led people to burn copies of The Satanic Verses. Dawkins certainly knows his theology, I would say more so than many of his critics, but his well considered book touches on science in discussing how the universe came to be, Darwinism in how we came to be, gene theory in how we came to be like we are and meme theory in how we came to think and act like we do. Yes, you meme-loving bloggers out there, Richard Dawkins is the one who originally coined the phrase meme in 1976.
So at times, and what I found very rewarding, is that The God Delusion serves as a kind of Richard Dawkins Greatest Hits, covering many of the topics he has written about at length in his other books. But be warned. Although he does cover themes such as natural selection (one of his favourites), he expects you to have some prior grasp of them. This book isn’t another A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (although that’s a book that serves its purpose well), and if it was it would be four times as large. This is a writer who respects the intelligence of his reader, and Dawkins supplies a rich resource of references to follow if you should see fit, from texts similar to his own (there are several books specifically about meme theory) and links to websites. He even quotes a comment to a blog post that he’s found insightful.
The God Delusion isn’t a book that will change my life because I don’t need to be converted to Dawkins’ argument, but it isn’t a book that will only succeed in preaching to the converted either; it is a clever, extremely well researched book that should be read by any intelligent person. And anyone who condemns it unfairly without a good counter argument deserves to be labelled ignorant. And ignorance is one of the things that really annoys Richard Dawkins.