I was going to write a small review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion
but kind of got bogged down in other things.
Luckily I no longer have to do this as Dawkins' speech at the AAI
is up, this recapitulates many of the points Dawkins makes in his book. So if you have a spare 45 minutes you can see a video and spare me about 2 hours of writing. On the plus side you won't have to hear me ranting on the really odd stuff in the book like most of chapter 5, which is about memes and the speculation that memes are subject to evolutionary pressures of their own. Frankly this chapter seemed to me to go off on a tangent and to be too speculative. Of course, the origins of religion have to be explained, but I don't really think you have to go further than the fact that man is a communicating animal and stories tell us about the natural world and how to survive. Once you accept the importance of stories in human survival you can easily imagine some stories becoming more abstract and not dealing directly with observable phenomena but trying to explain distant and abstract things like the stars or how we come to be here. To suggest that there are some evolutionary principles at work that exert pressures on stories so they become, in some way, "more fit" to be passed on seems spurious.
I'd heartily recommend The God Delusion
to anyone even if you have seen the video, the book contains many more examples of the weirdness of religion, like the whole shebang of the orders of angels
of which Dawkins says in his section on Polytheism (which includes some nice rants about the holy trinity):
And we mustn't forget the four Choirs of Angelic Hosts, arrayed in 9 orders: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels (heads of all hosts), and just plain old Angels, including our closest friends, the ever-watchful Guardian Angels. What impresses me most about Catholic mythology is partly its tasteless kitsch but mostly the airy nonchalance with which these people make up the details as they go along.