Book Review: Outgrowing God: a beginner’s guide by Richard Dawkins

Book Review: Outgrowing God: a beginner’s guide by Richard Dawkins

by Alex Thurley-Ratcliff.

“Should we believe in God? Do we need God in order to explain the existence of the universe? Do we need God in order to be good?” asks the back cover blurb on Richard Dawkins latest book. Dawkins does not just return a list of answers to these standard questions in Outgrowing God.  As ever, he brings a wonderfully light touch to his written work as he does to his speaking. This time he has written in a readily accessible format – working through some of the deepest questions of faith/atheism in easy-to-read chapters. Clearly the book is written for a younger audience, a new generation as Dawkins says, who wouldn’t necessarily wrestle through The God Delusion which is a longer and deeper read.

These twelve chapters address the questions that need to be answered – “Do we need God in order to be good” is neatly followed by “How do we decide what is good” and then later, in “Part Two : Evolution and beyond”, Dawkins deftly examines whether there are evolutionary roots to religious belief and ‘being nice.’

Here are all the classic elements of modern atheist reasoning – a quick run through how myths develop, then a look at the moral capriciousness of the big three monotheistic faiths, Judaism, Islam and Christianity; a take-down religious texts’ worst exemplars – child killing, genocide, abuse of young girls and women and theological inconsistency on the part of a loving god. The conclusion of Part One – the simple premise that can easily be tested by children and adults alike, you don’t need God (or gods) to be good, stands starkly and boldly against the classic faith position that “mankind is sinful from birth.”

The fact that half this book is Dawkins’ quick and lively exposition of cosmology and evolution is a real plus. As one of the modern popularists of genetic theory and the man who coined the word “meme” as far back as 1976 in his book The Selfish Gene, Dawkins is well-placed to lead us through some fascinating examples of how there cannot be ‘intelligent design’ nor a designer (intelligent or otherwise). If you read this book for nothing else, the chapter on the evolution of the eye and the amazing complexity of squid physiology is worth the read!

These insights into his specialism as an evolutionary biologist help bring us into the awe that awaits when we observe the life of the stars and life on earth. It is no mistake that the end of the book speaks on how science and courage can combine to enable us to live free from superstition even when we do not have answers. 

Whatever your views on faith I’d recommend this book; though if you do have a faith, you might not appreciate the ultimate conclusion. As Dawkins concludes, “I think we should take our courage in both hands, grow up and give up on all gods. Don’t you?” 

Published September 19 by Bantam Press. Available from good bookshops including October Books in Portswood Road, Southampton.