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Excerpt from The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The God Delusion

by Richard Dawkins

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins X
The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2006, 416 pages

    Paperback:
    Jan 2008, 464 pages

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Amusingly, Sagan's last point was foreshadowed by the Reverend Dr Fulton J. Sheen, a professor at the Catholic University of America, as part of a fierce attack upon Einstein's 1940 disavowal of a personal God. Sheen sarcastically asked whether anyone would be prepared to lay down his life for the Milky Way. He seemed to think he was making a point against Einstein, rather than for him, for he added: 'There is only one fault with his cosmical religion: he put an extra letter in the word – the letter "s".' There is nothing comical about Einstein's beliefs. Nevertheless, I wish that physicists would refrain from using the word God in their special metaphorical sense. The metaphorical or pantheistic God of the physicists is light years away from the interventionist, miracle-wreaking, thought-reading, sin-punishing, prayer-answering God of the Bible, of priests, mullahs and rabbis, and of ordinary language. Deliberately to confuse the two is, in my opinion, an act of intellectual high treason.



UNDESERVED RESPECT

My title, The God Delusion, does not refer to the God of Einstein and the other enlightened scientists of the previous section. That is why I needed to get Einsteinian religion out of the way to begin with: it has a proven capacity to confuse. In the rest of this book I am talking only about supernatural gods, of which the most familiar to the majority of my readers will be Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament. I shall come to him in a moment. But before leaving this preliminary chapter I need to deal with one more matter that would otherwise bedevil the whole book. This time it is a matter of etiquette. It is possible that religious readers will be offended by what I have to say, and will find in these pages insufficient respect for their own particular beliefs (if not the beliefs that others treasure). It would be a shame if such offence prevented them from reading on, so I want to sort it out here, at the outset.

A widespread assumption, which nearly everybody in our society accepts – the non-religious included – is that religious faith is especially vulnerable to offence and should be protected by an abnormally thick wall of respect, in a different class from the respect that any human being should pay to any other. Douglas Adams put it so well, in an impromptu speech made in Cambridge shortly before his death, that I never tire of sharing his words:

Religion . . . has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. What it means is, 'Here is an idea or a notion that you're not allowed to say anything bad about; you're just not. Why not? – because you're not!' If somebody votes for a party that you don't agree with, you're free to argue about it as much as you like; everybody will have an argument but nobody feels aggrieved by it. If somebody thinks taxes should go up or down you are free to have an argument about it. But on the other hand if somebody says 'I mustn't move a light switch on a Saturday', you say, 'I respect that'.

Why should it be that it's perfectly legitimate to support the Labour party or the Conservative party, Republicans or Democrats, this model of economics versus that, Macintosh instead of Windows – but to have an opinion about how the Universe began, about who created the Universe . . . no, that's holy? . . . We are used to not challenging religious ideas but it's very interesting how much of a furore Richard creates when he does it! Everybody gets absolutely frantic about it because you're not allowed to say these things. Yet when you look at it rationally there is no reason why those ideas shouldn't be as open to debate as any other, except that we have agreed somehow between us that they shouldn't be.

Here's a particular example of our society's overweening respect for religion, one that really matters. By far the easiest grounds for gaining conscientious objector status in wartime are religious. You can be a brilliant moral philosopher with a prizewinning doctoral thesis expounding the evils of war, and still be given a hard time by a draft board evaluating your claim to be a conscientious objector. Yet if you can say that one or both of your parents is a Quaker you sail through like a breeze, no matter how inarticulate and illiterate you may be on the theory of pacifism or, indeed, Quakerism itself.

Copyright © 2006 by Richard Dawkins. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company

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