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Dawkins, R. 2008. The God Delusion. A Mariner Book, Houghton Mifflin Company.

Summary by James R. Martin, Ph.D., CMA
Professor Emeritus, University of South Florida

Behavioral Issues Main Page | Political Issues Main Page

I developed a summary of The God Delusion to clarify my own understanding of Dawkin's arguments and I offer it here to others who are interested. Although religion might appear to be way off topic for a web site devoted to accounting and management, it fits into a number of MAAW's topics. For example, the destruction of lives and property by religious extremist has some rather significant implications for the world's economic health. In addition to global economic issues, the topic of religion fits into many other topics including behavioral issues (e.g., critical thinking), controversial issues (e.g., do we need God to be moral and ethical?), political issues (e.g., the separation of church and state), tax issues (e.g., should religious organizations get special tax treatment?), and issues related to competitive strategy (e.g., how to compete in different religious cultures etc.). My point is that whether or not we view religion as off limits, it has wide ranging effects on business, economics, and politics.

Preface to the paperback edition. 13.

In this preface Dawkins comments on some of the negative points made by reviewers of the hardback edition of The God Delusion published in 2006. Many start by saying "I'm an atheist but..." Dawkins refers to this group as second-order believers, i.e., they "believe in believe" although they are not religious believers themselves. Another group starts by saying "I used to be an atheist but.."  According to Dawkins, using this phase is the oldest trick used by religious apologists. Dawkins continues with comments on the following negative points.

1. "You can't criticize religion without a detailed analysis of learned books of theology." Dawkins argues that the majority of theological books assume that God exist. The only useful works are those that allow for the possibility that God does not exist. Chapter 3 deals with this criticism.

2. "You always attack the worst of religion and ignore the best." If there were only sophisticated theologians the world would be a better place, but this sort of religion is numerically negligible.

3. "I'm an atheist, but I wish to dissociate myself from your shrill, strident, intemperate, intolerant, ranting language." Perhaps the criticism of religion in the God Delusion sounds like a rant to some because religious faith is viewed by most as uniquely privileged and above criticism. On the other hand a sober, reasoning criticism of anything other than religion would sound direct and forthright.

4. "You are only preaching to the choir. What's the point?" One reason is simply to raise consciousness. Another reason is to point out the almost universal acceptance of the view that religion can be attached to children (who are too young to develop an opinion of their own) by their parents.

5. "You are just as much of a fundamentalist as those you criticize." The difference is that fundamentalist do not accept the evidence. All the available evidence favors evolution. Dawkins says that if all the evidence favored creationism, he would admit it and change his mind.

6. "I'm an atheist myself, but religion is here to stay. Live with it." This is just more "belief in belief" again.

7. "I'm an atheist myself, but people need religion." The belief that the universe owes us comfort is childish. The underlying concept of religion is the neurologically highly implausible premise that we can survive the death of our brains. Perhaps many people cling to religion because they were let down by the education system and don't realize that non-belief is an option.

Preface. 23.

The God Hypothesis is a scientific hypothesis about the universe. The purpose of the book is to raise consciousness to the fact that anyone can become a happy, balanced, moral, and intellectually fulfilled atheist. The reason people don't notice atheist is that they are reluctant to come out. A purpose of this book is to help people come out while recognizing that organizing atheist is somewhat like herding cats. Atheist think independently and do not conform to authority.

A delusion is a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence. "When one person suffers from a delusion it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called Religion." Religion is the delusion that humanity's destiny is controlled by a power higher than itself. Darwinism is humanity's liberation from this delusion.

1. A Deeply Religious Non-Believer. 31.

Deserved respect. 31.

Dawkins provides a discussion of the difference between Einsteinian religion and supernatural religion. Great scientist who sound religious usually subscribe to the Einsteinian version rather than the supernatural version. Einstein said, "I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it."

Some useful terminology includes the distinction between theist, deist, pantheists

Theist believe in a supernatural intelligence who created the universe and still oversees and influences his creation. This deity is intimately involved in human affairs answering prayers, forgiving and punishing sins, performing miracles and knowing everything that is going on.

Deist also believe in a supernatural intelligence who created the universe, but one who never intervenes or has any interest in human affairs.

Pantheists do not believe in a supernatural intelligence, but use the word God as a non-supernatural synonym for Nature, or the Universe. (Note: My dictionary defines pantheism as, "The doctrine that God is or is in everything and that the various forces and workings of nature are modes or manifestations of his existence.")

According to Dawkins, pantheism is sexed-up atheism while deism is watered-down theism. "The metaphorical or pantheistic God of the physicists is light years away from the interventionist, miracle-wreaking, though-reading, sin-punishing, prayer-answering God of the Bible, of priests, mullahs and rabbis, and of ordinary language."

Underserved respect. 41.

There is a widespread assumption that religious faith should be protected by a thick wall of respect even though there is no underlying  rational justification for this assumption. The constitutional right to freedom of religion has been used as the legal justification for discrimination against homosexuals and other groups. Religious freedom appears to mean "the right to poke your nose into other people's private lives". "What is so special about religion that we grant it such uniquely privileged respect?"

2. The God Hypothesis. 51.

"The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction..." The God Hypothesis or belief that there is a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us is a harmful delusion. There have been many versions of the God Hypothesis from primitive tribal animisms, through polytheisms, to today's monotheisms.

Polytheism. 52.

It is not clear why, but the change from polytheism (many Gods) to monotheism (one God) was apparently viewed as a progressive improvement, although we do have one God in three parts. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, there is, "The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." "The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one God." This was not well received by Thomas Jefferson who said, "Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity."

Monotheism. 58.

Judaism, originally a tribal cult, is the oldest of the three Abrahamic religions. Christianity followed as a less ruthless monotheistic sect of Judaism. Centuries later Muhammad reverted to the monotheism of the Jewish original and founded Islam.

Secularism, the Founding Fathers and the religion of America. 60.

The founding fathers were secularists. Contrary to the view of the American right, anxious to push their version of history, the United States was not founded as a Christian nation. The terms of the treaty with Tripoli (drafted by George Washington and signed by John Adams) starts out as follows: "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion..."

Thomas Jefferson said, "To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, god, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no god, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise... without plunging into the fathomless abyss of dreams and phantasms. I am satisfied, and sufficiently occupied with the things that are, without tormenting or troubling myself about those which may indeed be, but of which I have no evidence." Later, in Chapter 3 Dawkins quotes Jefferson who wrote the following to John Adams, "The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as his father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter." p. 123.

Precisely because America is legally secular1, religion has become free enterprise. Rival churches compete for congregations and their fat tithes. "The genie of religious fanaticism is rampant in present-day America, and the Founding Fathers would be horrified." "It is universally accepted that an admission of atheism would be instant political suicide for any presidential candidate."

The poverty of agnosticism. 69.

There are two kinds of agnosticism. TAP and PAP. TAP is Temporary Agnosticism while PAP is Permanent Agnosticism. The existence of God belongs in the TAP category because God either exist or he doesn't. It is a scientific question or hypothesis.

Dawkins develops a seven-point scale of judgments from 1 to 7 on the question of God's existence where 1 is a strong theist belief of 100 percent probability that God exist, and 7 is a strong atheist belief of 100 percent probability that God does not exist. Dawkins says that there appear to be many people in the first category, but very few in the 7th. He identifies with number 6 where God's existence is viewed as very improbable although one cannot know for certain. Clearly there is no justification for regarding God's existence immune from consideration along a range of probabilities.


NOMA. 77.

NOMA is the invulnerability to science of the God Hypothesis or that science is non-threatening because it is disconnected from religion's claims. The view that science cannot make probability judgments about God's existence is a widespread fallacy. "The presence or absence of a creative super-intelligence is unequivocally a scientific question, even if it is not in practice - or not yet - a decided one."

The Great Prayer Experiment. 85.

To pray is to ask that the laws of the universe be annulled on behalf of a single petitioner. The great prayer experiment is a pathetic case study in miracles. Does praying for patients help them recover?  There is no statistical evidence that it does.

The Neville Chamberlain school of evolutionists. 90.

The idea in this section is the view that evolutionist should fight creationism. But creationism is just a symptom, not the problem. The real fight is between rationalism and superstition. Science is a form of rationalism, while religion is the most common form of superstition.

Little green men. 94.

Dawkins comments on the possibility of alien civilizations saying that there probably are alien beings that would be viewed as superhuman, although we may never know about them. But these questions along with the God question are not outside the remit of science.

3. Arguments for God's Existence. 100.

Thomas Aquinas' 'proofs'. 100. Posteriori arguments, i.e., those that rely on inspection of the world.

1. The Unmoved Mover - Something had to make the first move and that something is God.

2. The Uncaused Cause - Nothing is caused by itself. The first cause must be God.

3. The Cosmological Argument - Some non-physical thing must have brought physical things into existence. The non-physical thing must be God.

All three arguments rely on a regress and invoke God to terminate it. They each are based on an unwarranted assumption that God is immune to the regress.

4. The Argument from Degree - There are degrees of things such as goodness and perfection. There must be some maximum so that maximum is God.

5. The Teleological Argument - Things look as though they were designed, therefore there must have been a designer and he is God. Charles Darwin's evolution by natural selection destroyed the argument from design.

The ontological argument and other a priori arguments. 103. Priori Arguments, i.e., those that rely on pure armchair ratiocination.

It is possible to conceive of a being than which nothing greater can be conceived. A being that doesn't exist in the real world is by that very fact less than perfect. Therefore we have a contradiction and God exist. If we can think of a thing, does that mean it exist? Is there a bridge from thought to things? The idea is simply that existence is more perfect than non-existence.2

The argument from beauty. 110

Since there are beautiful things in the world, e.g. art, music, there must be a God.

The argument from personal 'experience'. 112.

People believe in God because they believe they have seen him, an angel, or a ghost etc. When we are asleep we call this dreaming. If we are awake we call it imagination, or hallucination. The brain is capable of simulating all sorts of visions and visitations.

The argument from scripture. 117.

Jesus claimed to be the son of God, so he must have been right, or a liar, or God. The historical evidence that Jesus claimed to be the son of God is minimal. According to Dawkins, there is no good historical evidence that he thought he was divine. The gospels were all written long after the death of Jesus. All were copied and recopied many times by fallible scribes who had their own religious agendas. In addition it has been documented that the various features of the legend of Jesus (virgin birth, miracles, execution, resurrection and ascension) were all copied from other religions previously in existence in the Mediterranean and near east region. It is also possible that Jesus never existed at all.

The argument from admired religious scientists. 123.

Of course some scientist have claimed to be religious. In fact almost everybody claimed to be religious until the nineteenth century when there was less pressure to profess religion and more scientific support against it. A broad survey of scientist showed that the majority of scientist (78.8%) are atheists (p.128). Thirty-nine of 43 studies conducted since 1927 have indicated that religiosity is negatively correlated with education and IQ.

Pascal's wager. 130.

This is essentially the argument that you better believe in God because if you are wrong you suffer eternal damnation, and if you are right you gain eternal bliss. One problem with this argument is the idea that you can choose what you believe in. If you feign belief wouldn't the omniscient God see through the deception? Another problem is the view that there is something special about believing. Why is believing the key to eternal bliss? Why not good works, kindness, generosity, humility, etc.?

Bayesian arguments. 132.

This argument involves combining many estimated likelihoods to come up with a final answer. It includes estimates of good, evil, natural disasters, miracles, and religious experiences to somehow support the existence of God. This is essentially "Garbage in, Garbage out".

4. Why There Almost Certainly Is No God. 137.

The Ultimate Boeing 747. 137.

The argument from improbability is the most popular argument for the existence of God. The argument goes like this. The probability of life originating on Earth is no greater than the chance of a hurricane assembling a Boeing 747 while blowing through a junkyard. This is an argument that can only be made by someone who has no understanding of natural selection and thinks it is a theory of chance. The problem with this argument is that God is the ultimate Boeing 747. The question is not design versus chance, but instead design versus evolution.

Natural selection as a consciousness-raiser. 139.

Natural selection explains the whole of life and how organized complexity can emerge without any deliberate guidance. Darwinian evolution shatters the illusion of design. p. 143.

Irreducible complexity. 144.

Intelligent design suffers from an even greater problem than chance. Intelligent design redoubles the problem because it raises the question of the origin of the designer. Who or what designed the designer? Chance and design both fail as a solution to the problem of statistical improbability. A much better alternative to design, or chance is natural selection. Natural selection is the solution. It breaks the problem of improbability up into small pieces showing that evolution is a cumulative process. Evolution is not like leaping from the bottom of a sheer cliff to the top of a mountain, but instead like climbing slowly up a gentle slope to reach the summit. If something could be found that was irreducibly complex (could not have evolved), it would destroy Darwin's theory. So far it has not been found. However, turning the argument around, God as perceived by theist would presumably be irreducibly complex.

The worship of gaps. 151.

The gap argument refers to gaps in present-day knowledge and understanding. If there is a gap it is assumed that God fills the gap. Gap theory is mainly concerned with gaps in the fossil records. It is essentially saying that if you don't understand how something works, just give up and say God did it. Science shows that we get nowhere by labeling our ignorance God.

The anthropic principle: planetary version. 162.

There are two explanations for our planet's ability to sustain life. The design theory version that says God placed the Earth in the Goldilocks zone, and the anthropic approach that says although the majority of planets are not in the Goldilocks zone, some minority are and we happen to be on one of them.

Another problem addressed in this section is the origin of life. Once there is life, Darwin's evolution can begin, but how did life get started? Dawkins tells us that it was a chemical event, or series of events involving DNA or something that copies like DNA perhaps related to the molecule RNA. Someone may find an answer to this question in the future, but the point is that  however improbable life is, it happened on earth. The anthropic alternative to the design hypothesis is statistical. There are between 1 billion to 30 billion planets in our galaxy and perhaps 100 billion galaxies in the universe. A billion billion is a conservative estimate of the number of planets. Suppose the origin of life only occurs in one in a billion planets. Even with such long odds life would have occurred on a billion planets. So the anthropic principle provides an explanation of how life started while evolution provides an explanation of how we live on a planet with as many as 10 million species. Design theory is not the answer because it is not cumulative and raises the Ultimate 747 infinite regress.

The anthropic principle: cosmological version. 169.

Scientist believe that there are six fundamental constants that hold around the universe. One example is called "strong force" measured as E, the proportion of hydrogen nucleus that is converted to energy when hydrogen fuses to form helium. Without going into details about this and the other five fundamental constants Dawkins tells us that each of them is in the Goldilocks band of values allowing for the possibility of life. Theist say God designed it this way, but that again leaves the existence of God unexplained grotesquely amplifying the problem.

Another possibility is that there is only one way for a universe to be. Dawkins continues with a discussion of "multiverse theory" where there might be multiple universes in a "megaverse". Perhaps of all the universes in this multiverse only a few have their fundamental constants set to biogenic conditions. The theist explanation is that God designed a universe friendly to life. What could be simpler than that? The answer is that almost anything would be simpler than a God capable of designing a universe. Natural selection on the other hand is the only process capable of generating complexity out of simplicity. The theory of natural selection is genuinely simple.

An interlude at Cambridge. 180.

This section includes a fairly long discussion of a conference at Cambridge where Dawkins was the token atheist among eighteen invited speakers. He ends the chapter with a summary of the central argument of the book.

1. One of our great challenges has been to explain the improbable appearance of design in the universe.

2. It is tempting to attribute it to an intelligent designer.

3. The temptation is a false one because it immediately raises the question of who designed the designer. Attempting to explain a statistical improbability with something even more improbable is not a solution.

4. The fact that living creatures are complex and look as though they were designed is simply an illusion. Darwinian evolution provides the crane (an explanatory device that actually explains) needed to show how living creatures have evolved gradually from simple beginnings.

5. There is so far no equivalent crane for physics, but the anthropic principle allows us to postulate an explanation even though it involves more luck than allowed by limited human intuition.

6. If one accepts the argument in this chapter, the God Hypothesis of an intelligent designer is untenable. "God almost certainty does not exist."

5. The Roots of Religion. 190.

The Darwinian imperative. 190.

All known cultures have some version of the "time-consuming, wealth-consuming, hostility-provoking rituals, the anti-factual, counter productive fantasies of religion". Religion has devoured resources, frequently on a massive scale. For example, a medieval cathedral could consume a hundred man-centuries in its construction. The question is Why? What is the benefit of religion?

Direct advantages of religion. 194.

The placebo theory - Religion is a placebo that prolongs life by reducing stress. But this is hard to believe since religion basically involves guilt, particularly the Roman Catholic version.

The consolation theory - Religion is consoling. But why would people find comfort in beliefs that are plainly false?

The control theory - Priests and rulers deliberately designed religion to control the underclass. But this doesn't explain why people are open to exploitation.

Group selection. 198.

This is the idea that in-group loyalty and in-group brotherly love may have helped religious groups survive.

Religion as a by-product of something else. 200.

Natural selection builds children's brains to believe whatever their parents tell them. This is valuable to children for survival, but makes children vulnerable to bad advice which they in turn pass on to their own children. Religious leaders are clearly aware of the vulnerability of children's brains and the importance of indoctrinating them early.

Psychologically primed for religion. 208.

The psychology argument involves the distinction between monist and dualist. Monist believe that mind is a manifestation of matter. Dualist on the other hand believe that there is a difference between matter and mind and the mind can be a disembodied spirit that inhabits the body but conceivably could exist elsewhere. The assignment of purpose to everything is referred to as teleology. Children are teleologists, and are likely to be dualist. This combination predisposes us to believe in a "soul" and thus to religious belief.

Another idea in this section is that irrational religion could be a by-product of the irrationality mechanisms build into the brain by the brain's selection mechanism for falling in love. Religious faith and falling in love both have attributes of being high on an addictive drug.

Dawkins goes on to say that the accidental by-product explanation is the one he wants to advocate and that it doesn't matter what sort of nonsense infects the child's brain. The point is that once infected the child will grow up and infect the next generation.

The idea of immortality survives because of wishful thinking. Reason is the greatest enemy of religious faith. As Martin Luther said, "Reason should be destroyed in all Christians."

Tread softly, because you tread on my memes. 222.

Memes are units of cultural inheritance. Meme theory involves attempts to determine whether there are units of cultural imitation that behave as replicators, like genes. A gene is a stretch of DNA that is duplicated with extreme accuracy. There are mutations (flaws in replication) called "alleles". Genes compete and over generations either increase or decrease. The question in meme theory is whether this is applicable for memes.

There is a fairly long discussion of meme theory in this chapter including a list of religious memes such as:

You will survive your own death. If you are a martyr, you will go to an especially wonderful part of paradise... Belief in God is a supreme virtue. Faith or belief without evidence is a virtue. Everybody must respect religious beliefs at a higher level than any other type of belief. There are some weird things we are not meant to understand, e.g., the Trinity.

Dawkins tells us that there is a strong possibility that the details of each religion were shaped by unconscious evolution. p. 233. However, this does not rule out the deliberate manipulation by priests and others. Religions most likely are designed at least in part. Although most religions have evolved, there are some religions that are almost entirely intelligently designed. Scientology and Mormonism provide examples.

Cargo cults. 234.

In this section Dawkins describes an amusing case where islanders in the Pacific thought rituals performed by white men persuaded the gods to send cargo. The case suggest four lessons. A cult can spring up at an amazing pace. The speed with which the origination process covers its tracks. Independent cults on different islands indicate the susceptibility to religion of human psychology. Cargo cults are similar to older religions such as Christianity that presumably also began as cults.

6. The Roots of Morality: Why are We Good? 241.

This chapter is about good (morality) and evil, where morality comes from, why we should embrace it, and whether we need religion to be moral.

Does our moral sense have a Darwinian origin? 245.

There are two types of altruistic genes. Those that favor genetic kin, and those that are reciprocal. Humans, bees, wasps, ants, termites etc. have the altruistic genetic gene. However, there are four reasons for individuals to be altruistic, generous or moral towards others.

1. Genetic kinship.

2. Reciprocation.

3. Acquiring a reputation for generosity and kindness.

4. A way of buying unfakeably authentic advertising.

The four reasons above do not explain why we are good to others that we do not know and will never meet again. The urge to altruism, kindness, generosity, to empathy, to pity are much the same as the urge to sexual desire. These urges are in an individual's psychology and they are independent of the ultimate rationale. In other words, the Darwinian pressure that drove sexual desire is procreation, but sexual desire is present even when there is no intent or reason to procreate. In much the same way the altruistic characteristics are there even when one or more of the reasons to be altruistic is not present. "Sexual lust is the driving force behind a large proportion of human ambition and struggle, and much of it constitutes a misfiring. There is no reason why the same should not be true of the lust to be generous and compassionate."

A case study in the roots of morality. 254.

Moral dilemmas are used in psychological experiments to determine the moral sense of real people. An example is where a runaway trolley on a railway line threatens to kill a number of people. A person is in a position to divert it onto a siding, but a man is trapped on the siding. Most people agree that it is morally acceptable to divert the trolley to save the many at the expense of one person. But what if the alternative is pushing a fat man off a bridge to stop the trolley. Almost everyone agrees that this would be immoral although the result is the same, the man used to stop the trolley is "collateral damage" (the Rumsfeldian phrase). Studies have indicated no statistically significant difference between the moral judgments of religious people and those of atheists. These studies indicate that we do not need religion to be good or evil.

If there is no God, why be good? 259.

Einstein's response to this question is a good one. "If people are good only because they fear punishment and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed." If a religious person admits that they would continue to be good without divine surveillance, they have undermined the claim that God is necessary for us to be good.

7. The 'Good' Book and the Changing Moral Zeitgeist. 268.

The Old Testament. 269.

The Bible is "a chaotically cobbled-together anthology of disjointed documents, composed, revised, translated, distorted and 'improved' by hundreds of anonymous authors, editors and copyists, unknown to us and mostly unknown to each other, spanning nine centuries". Using the Bible as a basis for morality is only for those who have not read it or who did not understand it. For example the story of Noah is appalling. God (with the exception of one family) drowned all humans including children and the rest of the animals that were unfortunate enough not to be included on the ark. Although most theologians no longer take the Book of Genesis literally, many people do, including, according to a Gallup poll, 50 percent of the U.S. electorate.

The treatment of Lot's two daughters provides another example. Lot, the only good man in Sodom, bargained with his two daughters virginity and later impregnated both of them. Abraham's willingness to use his son as a burnt offering provides another example. Moses was not a great role model either. In the book or Numbers God incited Moses to attack the Midianites. After all the men were killed, Moses gave orders to kill all the boy children and all the women who were not virgins. The soldiers were told to keep the virgins alive for themselves. Another example is Joshua's destruction of Jericho which is morally indistinguishable from Hitler's invasion of Poland.

The point of this section is that we do not derive our morals from the scripture. Modern morality does not come from the Bible.

Is the New Testament any better? 283.

In comparison to the Old Testament the ethical teachings of Jesus were admirable. However, the central doctrine of Christianity of 'atonement' for 'original sin' is not. It essentially condemns every child, even before it is born, to inherit the sin of a remote ancestor? This is "vicious, sado-masochistic and repellent". Jesus supposedly had himself tortured and executed for a symbolic sin committed by a non-existent individual. If God wanted to forgive our sins, why have himself tortured and executed. Why not just forgive us.

Love thy neighbour. 288.

'Thou shalt not kill' means thou shalt not kill Jews. 'Love thy neighbour' means fellow Jew. Jesus was a devotee of the same in-group morality and out-group hostility. Religion is a divisive force, a label of in-group/out-group enmity and vendetta. Of course in-group loyalties and out-group hostilities are not limited to religious groups, but religion amplifies and exacerbates the damage by labeling children as Catholic children or Protestant children, etc., promoting segregated schools, and taboos against marrying out, i.e., heterogamy as opposed to homogamy.

 "Even if religion did no other harm in itself, its wanton and carefully nurtured divisiveness - its deliberate and cultivated pandering to humanity's natural tendency to favor in-groups and shun out-groups - would be enough to make it a significant force for evil in the world."

The moral Zeitgeist. 298.

The moral Zeitgeist refers to the spirit of the times. Today, most people are moral and have moved on from biblical times. For example, slavery was taken for granted in the Bible. In the 1920's women could not vote or serve on a jury. Woman are no longer considered as property. The Zeitgeist moves on as a steadily shifting standard of what is morally acceptable, but this is in spite of religion, not because of it. Individual leaders are responsible for some of these changes along with improved education and recognition that each of us shares a common humanity with members of other races and with the other sex. These are deeply unbiblical ideas. These changes clearly show that we do not need God to be good, or to decide what is good.

What about Hitler and Stalin? Weren't they atheists? 308.

Hitler hated the Jews for being Christ killers, a Catholic tradition. Martin Luther was also a virulent anti-Semite. Hitler might have displayed some sympathy for Christianity to gain support from the church. According to Dawkins, Pope Pius XII refused to take a stand against the Nazis. The point here is not whether Hitler and Stalin were atheists (Stalin probably was, but Hitler probably wasn't), but whether atheism systematically influences people to do bad things. Atheist may do evil things, but they don't do them in the name of atheism. Stalin did evil things in the name of dogmatic Marxism. Hitler on the other hand did evil things in the name of an insane unscientific eugenics theory. Religious wars however are really fought in the name of religion.

8. What's Wrong with Religion? Why be so Hostile? 317.

Why not live and let live. Isn't it just harmless nonsense? Aren't you just a fundamentalist atheist?

Fundamentalism and the subversion of science. 319.

The difference as indicated earlier is that religious fundamentalist know they are right and are not interested in evidence. A scientist believes in things like evolution because they have studied the evidence and when the evidence shows that something is presented incorrectly a scientist is willing to change their opinion. This is not true of religious fundamentalist. Science books change as new knowledge is acquired. This is not true in the case of holy books.

The Dark side of absolutism. 323.

Apostasy (abandoning what one believed in as a faith) and blasphemy can get you beheaded or imprisoned in some countries.

Faith and homosexuality. 326.

In Afghanistan under the Taliban, the punishment for homosexuality was execution. Private homosexuality was a crime in Britain until 1967. According Jerry Farwell, 'Aids is not just God's punishment for homosexuals; it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.' Attitudes towards homosexuality indicate the sort of morality inspired by religious faith.

Faith and the sanctity of human life. 329.

Many religious people oppose taking embryonic life, and terminally ill life, while enthusiastically supporting the death penalty for adult life. A certain kind of religious mind cannot see the difference between killing a microscopic cluster of cells and the killing of a full-grown doctor. The point is the recognition of a difference between secular consequentialist and religiously absolute moral philosophies.

The Great Beethoven Fallacy. 337.

This is the human potential argument that abortion might have killed Beethoven. The fallacy in this dopey pro-life argument is the conclusion that every time we fail to seize any opportunity for sexual intercourse we deprive a human soul of the gift of existence.

How 'moderation' in faith fosters fanaticism. 341.

Attacks such as the one in 2001 on the World Trade Center and the subway attack in London in 2005 can only be motivated by religious fanatics who perceive their actions to be a righteous pursuit of what their religion tells them. They believe what they say they believe, and the lesson is that this behavior comes from religion itself, not religion extremism. "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." p. 345. "The teachings of moderate religion are an open invitation to extremism." "Christianity, just as much as Islam, teaches children that unquestioned faith is a virtue." "Faith can be very dangerous, and deliberately to implant it into the vulnerable mind of an innocent child is a grievous wrong."

9. Childhood Abuse and the Escape from Religion. 349.

This chapter begins with the story of a six-year old child of Jewish parents who was secretly baptized by a Catholic nursemaid and then taken away by papal police to be brought up as a Roman Catholic. The nursemaid was Catholic because Jews needed servants whose religion didn't forbid them from working on the Sabbath. The point of this story is that labeling children as possessors of beliefs that they are too young to have even thought about is a form of child abuse.

Physical and mental abuse. 354.

The point of this fairly long section is that the mental abuse imposed on children by their parents, teachers, priests etc. in the name of religion can have more long-lasting and damaging effects than physical abuse. Telling children that after they die they will burn in hell for various sins, or that a woman is the property of her husband are examples of child abuse. The fear of burning in hell can be very real for otherwise rational people, but children are easily traumatized.3

In defense of children. 366.

Children should be taught how to think, not what to think. They should not be brought up in an atmosphere of dogma and superstition. Society should protect them from nonsense and allow them to decide what they think about religion when they are old enough to think.

An educational scandal. 372.

This short section has to do with the rational for teaching literal biblical creationism in the name of diversity. Supposedly teaching science from a biblical perspective. This doesn't go over well with Dawkins and other scientist who know better than the rest of us that creationism is not science.

Consciousness-raising again. 379.

Society has accepted the preposterous idea that indoctrinating tiny children in the religion of their parents is normal and right. A Child is not a Catholic child, or a Protestant child, or a Muslim child, or a Hindu child, etc. They are children of Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, and Hindu parents and should be allowed to choose or reject those religions when they are old enough to do so. Children should learn about different faiths and draw their own conclusions about whether any of them are valid.

Religious education as a part of literary culture. 383.

Most people know very little about religion even though they claim to be religious.4 But the Bible should be part of our education as a major source book for literary culture. Atheism provides no justification for cutting the Bible and other sacred books from our education. In doing so we would loose touch with a "treasured heritage".

10. A Much Needed Gap? 388.

Dawkins begins by mentioning the four roles for religion; explanation, exhortation, consolation, and inspiration. Explanation refers to the role of religion to explain our existence. This role is now completely superseded by science. Exhortation refers to moral instruction covered in Chapters 6 and 7. Consolation and inspiration are the topics of this chapter.

Binker. 389.

Binker refers to a child's imaginary friend. It is, according to Dawkins a preliminary to consolation as a model for understanding theistic belief in adults. Pedomorphosis is the retention into adulthood of childhood characteristics.

Consolation. 394.

Consolation is the alleviation of sorrow or mental distress. Religion, as the argument goes has the power to console. Although this doesn't make it true, some argue that feelings are more important than truth. This is belief-in-belief. The question is whether there is any reason to feel depressed if we do not believe in God?

Belief in an immortal soul can be consoling and many people say they belief that they will survive their own death. But, according to reports from nurses, the people who are the most afraid of death are the religious ones. This doesn't support the idea that religion comforts the dying.

Inspiration. 404.

We are lucky to be alive and our life is as meaningful as we choose to make it. We have won the DNA lottery since trillions of possible humans will never be offered life in the first place.

The mother of all burkas. 405.

I will leave this section to those who read the book and finish my summary with a quote. Dawkins ends the book by saying that he is "thrilled to be alive at a time when humanity is pushing against the limits of understanding." "Even better, we may eventually discover that there are no limits." p. 420.

Appendix: A partial list of friendly addresses, for individuals needing support in escaping from religion. 421.

Books cited or recommended. 427.

Notes. 436.

Index. 449.



1 Some might argue that "In God We Trust" is the official motto of the United States. This is true but it was not adopted as the nations motto until 1956. According to Wikipedia it first appeared on U.S. coins in 1864 and has appeared on paper currency since 1957. It does appear to violate the First Amendment which prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion and it is not a motto that was endorsed by the Founding Fathers. See

2 For more on the ontological argument see

3 "Brain washing" or what a world-renowned psychologist refers to as "coercive persuasion" is when people are pressured into adopting new beliefs in situations where they cannot physically escape. See Coutu, D. L. 2002. The anxiety of learning. Harvard Business Review (March): 100-107. (Summary).

4 Americans are "stupefying dumb about what they are supposed to believe". From Moore, R. L. 1994. Selling God: American Religion in the Marketplace of Culture. Oxford University Press. p. 10. I found this quote on page 26 of Prothero, S. 2007. Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know - And Doesn't. Harper.

Note: According to The Pew Research Center reports, religious beliefs are changing.

Change in U.S. religious affiliations from 2007 to 2014:

Christian 78.4% decreased to 70.06%
Non Christian 4.7% increased to 5.9%
Unaffiliated 16.1% increased to 22.8%

The unaffiliated group includes:

Atheist 1.6% increased to 3.1%
Agnostic 2.4% increased to 4.0%
Nothing in particular 12.1% increased to 15.8%


Some other books by Richard Dawkins:

Dawkins, R. 1976. The Selfish Gene. Oxford University Press.

Dawkins, R. 1986. The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design. Norton & Company, Inc.

Dawkins, R. 1997. Climbing Mount Improbable. W. W. Norton.

Dawkins, R. 1999. The Extended Phenotype: The Long Reach of the Gene, Revised Edition. Oxford University Press.

Dawkins, R. 2000. Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder. Mariner Books.

Dawkins, R. 2005. The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution. Mariner Books.

Dawkins, R. 2006. The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary Edition. Oxford University Press.

Dawkins, R. 2010. The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. Reprint Edition. Free Press.

Dawkins, R. 2011. The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True. Free Press.

Dawkins, R. 2012. Attack of the Theocrats! How the Religious Right Harms Us All - and What We Can Do About it. Pitchstone Publishing.

Dawkins, R. 2016. The Extended Selfish Gene, 4th Edition; Including two key chapters for The Extended Phenotype. Oxford University Press.

Related summaries:

Martin, M. and K. Augustine. 2015. The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life After Death. Rowland & Littlefield Publishers. (Notes and Contents).

Robinson, Sir Ken: Do Schools Kill Creativity? TEDTalks YouTube Video. (According to Robinson we are educating people out of their creative capacity. Note and Link)

Schoemaker, P. J. H., S. Krupp and S. Howland. 2013. Strategic leadership: The essential skills. Harvard Business Review (January/February): 131-134. (Self Test on Strategic Leadership).