In a book for young people, ‘Outgrowing God: A Beginner’s Guide’, Richard Dawkins says we should grow up and give up on all gods.
Richard Dawkins, formerly the University of Oxford’s Professor for Public Understanding of Science, is a passionate advocate for atheism.
Described as a junior version of ‘The God Delusion’, his latest book rejects the idea of a supernatural God or gods, says the stories in the Bible probably aren’t true, we don’t need God to be good and creation doesn’t need a designer as it is explained by Darwinian evolution through natural selection.
His critics say he is counteracting religious fundamentalism with no understanding of theological arguments around the nature of ‘God’ and confrontational approach to the relationship between science and religion.
In an interview with Channel 4, Richard Dawkins said: ‘The child mind is receptive to whatever the mind is told by authoritative adults speaking very seriously. It is easy to see why all over the world, people inherit the religion of their parents, grandparents, school teachers priests and so on. And they really do believe it. .. we can break the cycle by counter education and that’s what I’m trying to do in my life.’
‘I stopped believing first of all because I realised that there are lots of different religions and they can’t all be right, so why would you assume that the one you have been brought up in, is right? That was when I was 9. Then I reverted and got confirmed at around 12 or 13. Then I finally gave it up when I was about 15 or 16 when I understood Darwin. I was left with a residual Deism, where I believed in some kind of supernatural creator, creative intelligence and I gave that up when I understood Darwin.’
Chris Cotter, research fellow Edinburgh University, co-founder of The Religious Studies Project and co-director at the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network, gives his view of Dawkins’ latest book:
‘There isn’t much that is substantively new here. In the first section, the reader is walked through a collection of points he has made over the years – most of us are atheists regarding most gods, we shouldn’t ascribe non-/religious identities to children, the God of the Old Testament is nasty, the New Testament notion of atonement is awful, we use criteria from outside the Bible to assess its moral worth, etc.
However, the central idea of the book – that it is directed towards children in order to break the transmission of religion – is an interesting one. Evidence shows time and again that family transmission is key to religion’s maintenance, with enormous importance lying in ‘credibility enhancing displays’ in the family home (judge me by what I do not by what I say).
Furthermore, for every 26 former Christians who move to the ‘no religion’ category in the UK, only one moves from ‘no religion’ to a Christian identification, demonstrating that once the link has been broken it is highly unlikely to be reformed, particularly in adulthood.
In this book, Dawkins not only targets religion in the early stages of the human life cycle, he also places it in a more infantile stage in his narrative of human evolutionary progress from superstition to science (a problematic narrative popularized in the Victorian era).
The model of religion that is constructed here is self-consciously Abrahamic (focusing on the concept of God in Judaism, Christianity and Islam) and consists of a collection of propositional ‘truths’ that are supposed to be subscribed to by ‘proper’ adherents (despite demonstrable evidence that this rarely plays out on the ground).
But mostly religion is constructed as a failed science and engaged with in that manner. This reduces religion, once again, to truth claims, neglecting the many millions of ‘believers’ who quite happily maintain belief in both religion and science, and paying scant attention to the role of ritual, material culture, practice, meaning-making and so on.
Importantly, the text fails to interrogate other areas of human life where tradition might be appealed to, or where normative claims are made – such as politics, economics, the family, national identity or love – perpetuating the problematic notion that once certain ‘religious’ beliefs are cast aside, rationality will prevail.’