The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
One Line Summary
There is no bearded man in the sky
As I mentioned in my review of Waking Up, I went through a phase where I wanted to understand everything I could about religion. Where did these ideas come from? Were they valid? Did God exist, or was this some sort of crazy mass delusion that I had be unknowingly been a part of since I was a kid? What happens when you die?
So I read everything I could from traditional religious texts, philosophy to a group of people called the New Atheists. I debated random proselytizers on the street. I went onto internet forums and argued with people there as well.
Slowly, only one answer emerged that seemed to make any sense: the arguments for a God in the traditional sense described by religious texts was totally groundless. The emperor had no clothes. And this book, The God Delusion, was a major part of that discovery for me.
This pained me greatly. I had no desire to go against the beliefs and traditions which I had been raised with, yet neither could I deny what was so obvious true. And so I left those beliefs behind. The whole process took about a year, but slowly I adapted. The fear of burning in hell for disbelief disappeared. The existential angst about what was true was replaced with science and rationality. I call this my “Scooby-Doo” phase, because I started to believe everything could come down to natural, rational explanations. I looked down on “spiritual” people as less evolved and had no concept of the limits of rationality.
In terms of David Hawkins’ map of human consciousness, this put me at the 400 level. And that’s where this book is at. But as you’ll see, we can go far beyond this. 400 is a joke compared to the highest levels. You might as well still be asleep.
Why it’s Awesome
I’m not going to dissect every one of Dawkins arguments because honestly I’m rusty on my religious debating skills and it’s not something interested in doing anymore. The topic has lost interest to me. But I’ll try and cover some of the ones that are most important for those of you who aren’t there yet.
Basically, it comes down to lack of evidence. When you look at religious texts, you can clearly see their human influence and how their lack of scientific knowledge might have led them to making inaccurate metaphysical claims regarding God and the nature of reality. They were primitive people and in a way, we “know better” now. In fact, just looking at history it’s easy to see that organized religion has refused to acknowledge scientific advances in thinking and has even at time fought to sweep these truths under the rug.
Now, we have Evolution, The Big Bang, Multiverses (maybe), String Theory and the Higgs Boson. The idea of a bearded man in the sky controlling everything starts to look pretty silly in light of these discoveries.
And while one cannot “disprove” the existence of some omniscient being, no one can rationally prove that such a being cares about human affairs at all, especially such obviously petty human things like gay marriage or sex before marriage. It just can’t be done without a massive jump in faith, which of course is the central tenet of most religions. You need faith.
Most honest religious people will admit this. They know they can’t rationally prove their beliefs. But for people in the Scooby-Doo phase, this is not good enough.
So yes, this book is extremely important for people stuck in religious thinking if you want to do the highest levels of self-development work. Your beliefs about God are holding you back, there’s no way around it. You have a false understanding of reality and this misalignment with Truth is causing you all sorts of problems. You are attached to rules and dogma that aren’t beneficial for you.
Just one example of this: many religions teach that premarital sex is “sinful”. What’s the reality? The reality is that if you want to be in a successful long term- relationship with someone, you’d better be damn well sure that both of you are sexually compatible together first. Otherwise that is going to be a lot of years of frustration you’re going to go through because of ignorance.
In fact, I guarantee that if you’re a religious person, you probably harbor lots of guilt over your sexual desires. They seem “wrong” or “indecent”. You feel ashamed…for something completely natural and healthy. Does this seem like an optimal way to live?
Why Does It Suck
The problem with Dawkins and all the other New Atheists is that they don’t realize that they are just as close minded as the religious people they look down on for being closed minded. They claim they are “open” and hold no beliefs but they’ve got their head up their ass so much they can’t even see their own bullshit.
I don’t care how scientific you are, you hold beliefs. You hold probably hundreds and thousands of them. And guess what? These beliefs are totally taken faith, just like how you make fun of religious people for doing.
Now if you’re a Scooby-Dooer, this is the part where you’ll jump in and say “hold on, I’m not like religious people. I don’t take things on faith, I have EVIDENCE to support MY beliefs. Look at this peer reviewed study. Look at the results from this lab experiment. Look at what history tells us. If these things change, I’ll change my mind! So it’s different!”
Yes, it is different. Rationality is certainly a step up from irrationality. And rationality is extremely useful. I don’t deny Dawkin’s claim that science allows us to do incredible things like land a man on a moon, fly airplanes. And that is why if you want to learn how to operate in this world, you should do things like read books and study the best knowledge humanity has to offer. That’s partially what this blog is about.
But let’s not kid ourselves. All the peer-reviewed studies, double blind experiments and consensus in the world proves absolutely nothing about a belief.
This is actually shockingly easy to see. If you’ve ever made a deep study of a rational subject like mathematics, you know that every claim hangs on what are called axioms or postulates. Let’s look at the definition of an axiom:
“An axiom or postulate as defined in classic philosophy, is a statement (in mathematics often shown in symbolic form) that is so evident or well-established, that it is accepted without controversy or question”
In other words, a statement taken on faith. Or believed just because everyone else believes it.
Really grasp the significance of this. There really is no such thing as “first-hand knowledge”. All beliefs are second-hand.
Someone might argue that “well, it has to be this way. How else can we do rationality unless we start with some kind of agreed upon assumption?”. And I agree. You can’t do rationality any other way. And that’s what makes rationality limited.
This is very scary for Scooby-Dooers. They want to believe that all their rational models really have figured everything out. But no matter how good your logic is, when the foundations for such knowledge rest on faith, you’ll never really know what is True.
But here is another revelation for you: 99% of people don’t actually care about truth.
Why? Because we just want what we want. Our beliefs are only useful as long as they serve us in getting us what we want. When getting what we want and Truth collide, we tend to sweep Truth under the rug.
Acknowledge to yourself that you’ve often clung to a position in an argument even though you knew it was wrong. Acknowledge to yourself that when people attack your beliefs, you tend to get emotional. Acknowledge that 99% of the things you believe you only believe because of the time and culture in which you were born and you’ve never actually sat down and verified these beliefs for yourself.
Acknowledge that you know nothing.
Of course, you could argue that I’m committing the same fallacy as the Scooby-Dooers. Aren’t I using rationality to try and show the limits of rationality? Isn’t that a contradiction?
Yes, it is. Does that bother you? Why?
Notice I never said rationality wasn’t useful. Of course I’m going to use rationality to try and convince rational people. You wouldn’t try and speak Spanish to a bunch of people from France. All I’m trying to say is that there are limits to rationality.
The fact that I can’t even prove what I’m saying is in a way a proof of what I’m saying. You’re still left with the same conclusion, which is actually no conclusion. Nothing can be known for sure.
You might be wondering, if rationality has limits, where does the next level of understanding come from? What’s after rationality?
The answer is direct experience.
Say you’ve never seen fire before. As rationalists, we could try and sit down and rationally figure out everything we could about fire. I could explain that it’s a sort of redish, orange color. It’s hot. It tends to wave about and creates smoke. If we were very important rationalists, we could even say that fire comes from the rapid oxidation of carbon.
And yet all that shit would pale in comparison to the experience of actually standing in the presence of fire. Feeling the heat, seeing the colors. The rationalist has lots of wonderful models of reality. The person experiencing fire understands the deeper reality of it.
How does any of this relate to your self-development work? Two reasons:
- I see people make the mistake of thinking that knowledge can substitute for real experience. They think they can read a book about how to improve themselves socially and that’s all they need. They don’t understand that they must actually get out there and experience reality itself. They just get lost in theory
- Constant self-development work means constantly challenging your beliefs. Close-mindedness shuts you off from the highest levels of personal development a person can achieve
The Wrap Up
I would highly recommend this book to any religious person. It’s going to fuck with your head and challenge everything you’d probably even been taught since you were a kid. For that reason, this is a great book.
However, I would tell you not to stop there if you’re seriously interested in self-development. Also, read other books from the New Atheists like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. Especially Sam Harris. Cross-reference it with the reading of religious texts and people.
And when you’re all done, realize you’re not done. You’ve peeled off one layer of delusion, but more remain.
This is the nature of Enlightenment work.