The God Delusion: A Review

I’m continuing to work through my list of books worth reading twice. As I finish each one, I plan to post a review here, as well as on Amazon and Goodreads. {See my previous post about Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.} Today I’m writing about The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. 

I realize it is complete and utter cliché to say that this book changed my life, but: This book changed my life. It explains everything I was feeling, doubting, wondering about, and unsure of. The writing is concise and easy to understand and ridiculously on point. I picked up this book at exactly the right time. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Or something like that.

This is not a casual read . . . well over 400 pages and dense with information and explanations. After every chapter {or section, in the case of lengthy ones} I would go back and look for passages to highlight and reconsider. For purposes of this review, I will present what I found to be the most compelling tidbits from this read-through {my third overall}. 

Acknowledging that non-belief is an option. This sounds silly when you think about it; I mean, of course it’s an option. But realistically, growing up in a culture where virtually everyone you know is of some religious stripe or another, and following the religion of your parents is expected and encouraged, this is not something that most people even have on their radar. 

Understanding the special privilege that religion receives. Both theists and non-theists take an unusually delicate approach when it comes to criticizing—or even discussing—religion. The unspoken “rule” is that religious beliefs are somehow more worthy of respect than other beliefs, and more deserving of a wide berth when it comes to assessment. Somehow we’ve accepted personal religious ideologies as an untouchable topic that cannot be challenged, because, reasons. 

Placing the burden of proof where it belongs. One cannot “prove” that god{s} do not exist, because that is the wrong way to look at the question. The burden of proof always lies with the person{s} making the claim. This logic does not change because a large number of people happen to believe in something. Bertrand Russell’s infamous celestial teapot is shared as a classic example. For a modern twist, you might contemplate proving/disproving the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

Drawing comparisons between various religious mythologies. The book specifically discusses the aspects of Christian mythology that were “borrowed” {to put it nicely} from earlier, already established religions {e.g., virgin birth, star in the east, performing miracles, resurrection after death}. However, even a cursory review of any of the major world religions practiced today or in the past shows myriad similarities and overlap in their stories. For example, consider the epic of Gilgamesh and compare/contrast to the biblical story of Noah. Or the fact that the Hindu characters of Brahma and Saraswati parallel the Old Testament characters of Abraham and Sarah {in more than just the similarity of their names}. 

Worshiping a God of the Gaps is a pretty bad strategy. While Dawkins is also known for being an outspoken atheist, first and foremost he is a scientist, specifically an ethologist and evolutionary biologist. When it comes to the “arguments” for creationism or intelligent design, he takes them down in a heartbeat. The text beautifully explains natural selection, irreducible complexity, and the argument from personal incredulity. 

Learning about Cargo Cults will blow your mind. A “cargo cult” is essentially a “religion” that evolves quickly among isolated islanders with minimal contact with outsiders. In short, the islanders come to see the newcomers {soldiers, missionaries, etc.} as well as the supplies they provide {cargo} as divine. Seriously, do yourself a favor and Google John Frum and then try to argue religious beliefs are not of our own making.

Being moral does not require a god. Morality and altruism benefit us from an evolutionary perspective. In case studies {including the famous “runaway trolley” dilemma} there are no statistically significant differences in response between theists and atheists. Also, the Bible {Old Testament or New} is truly the last place you want to be searching for ethical advice. {Which most people would conclude if they actually read the thing.}

Objecting to fundamentalism is not enough. Even “reasonable” {i.e., non-fundamentalist} views open the gateway to extremism, because once children are taught that faith is a virtue not to be questioned, they can also be taught to use it as a force for good or evil. Most people do not choose their religion; most people have it foisted upon them at a young age by the adults in their lives. The religious indoctrination of children has come to be seen as normal. Religion thrives because children are primed to trust the adults in their lives and believe what they say to be true. Can you imagine what a different world we would live in if all children were instead exposed to many world religions and mythologies and as they grew had the opportunity to draw their own conclusions about their similarities, incompatibilities, and logic?

I have heard that Dawkin’s has a “younger audience” version of this book in the works, and I think that is a fantastic idea and hope it comes to fruition. {I’m picturing something along the lines of The Magic of Reality in terms of reading level/explanations.}

Happy Homeschooling Humans: Our First 10 Weeks {part 2}

A few days ago I shared the first half of this two-part post, which summarized what we’ve been up to for math, language arts, Spanish, geography, world history, American history, and world religions. The remaining subjects—mythology, general science, evolution, health, art, music, and critical thinking—will be covered here.

I still giggle when I think about how at the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year I decided to introduce the Senior Agents to Greek mythology and thought we’d spend a few weeks maybe, one quarter tops, before they were ready to move on. I figured we’d read a couple of the more well-known stories and then either continue with another short study {Egyptian? Norse?} or ditch it altogether. Ha! We’re now into our third school year of having mythology as a separate topic. Our primary focus so far has been on Greek mythology {their favorite} but we intend to get back to Egyptian mythology and then branch into Norse mythology. In the meantime we’ve been incorporating some review of Native American, African {Anansi the Spider is a favorite}, and Aboriginal mythology as well. We recently picked up The Golden Hoard: Myths and Legends of the World by Geraldine McCaughrean {which covers tons of mythologies we haven’t explored at all yet} and plan to begin that soon.

General Science
We've completed the first section of our science spine {matter}. Right now we’re reading Basher Chemistry before moving on to the next topic {materials}. In addition, we discovered a new book series called STEM Quest, and are working our way through Astonishing Atoms and Matter Mayhem {including the simple experiments suggested throughout}. Agent E {6th/7th} is the only one doing any regular written work for science {using Everything You Need To Ace Science}. 

We needed to make evolution a distinct subject {and not just include it under “science”} because the Agents find it so fascinating and we follow way to many rabbit holes where it’s concerned. We started with a re-read of Our Family Tree {an absolute classic around here; we read it at least once a year}, and we are currently in the middle of When Bugs Were Big, Plants Were Strange, and Tetrapods Stalked the Earth, book two of the series by Hannah Bonner. Two documentaries we viewed recently were Your Inner Fish {which is actually three parts, and also includes Your Inner Reptile and Your Inner Monkey} and the Nova series Becoming Human. We also read a DK eye wonder book about Early People, which overlapped nicely with our world history studies.

For health we have decided to focus on puberty and sexual health/reproduction. Possibly not the first go-to topic for most homeschoolers of elementary and middle school students, but it is so important to address adequately. Robie H. Harris writes a tremendously useful series of books for kids of all ages. Currently we are on book two of the trilogy that includes It’s Not the StorkIt’s So Amazing, and It’s Perfectly Normal. We intend to get back to all of the American Girl body/health/feelings books {including the new one for boys}. 

Art and Music
So far we’ve covered early music up to ~1600, and early art through the Renaissance. We briefly detoured to take a look at some music-related folk tales and spent some time going more in-depth with prehistoric art. Mostly, however, we’ve just been plugging along with a re-read of our two chosen spines: Children’s Book of Art and Children’s Book of Music.  

Critical Thinking
While we’ve always sort of “covered” critical thinking by default, we made a conscious decision to include it as its own subject this year. We started by re-reading two favorites by Dan Barker {Maybe Yes, Maybe No and Maybe Right, Maybe Wrong}. We intend to continue with another book the Senior Agents and I have read previously: If You Had To Choose, What Would You Do. {There’s also a sequel.} I usually include books that cover the similarities of world religions {like The Belief Book and The Book of Gods} under the category of critical thinking as well. We also discuss current events and all the baggage that entails.