With two books on the bestseller list raising questions about the validity of belief in God, some observers see a movement they call the New Atheism. If they are right, Richard Dawkins is to New Atheism what Bertrand Russell was to what is now apparently "Old Atheism".
Yet there is a fundamental and significant difference between Dawkins, the author of the bestselling The God Delusion, and Russell. Russell was a philosopher. As such, he approached the question of the existence of God as an interesting exercise in logic and philosophy. Dawkins, in contrast, is an evolutionary scientist at Oxford University. He approaches the subject with an eye honed by scientific analysis and reason. His conclusion: belief in God is a "delusion" because religious faith is a false belief in the face of extremely strong evidence to the contrary.
There is also a difference between Dawkins and Sam Harris, the author of the best-selling Letter to a Christian Nation (reviewed in Part I of this series). Harris provides a condensed view of the problems many people see with Christianity. Dawkins' scope is much larger. He presents a lengthier and perhaps more erudite analysis of not just Christianity but the whole idea of a belief in God. In fact, Dawkins frequently challenges the reader intellectually with his analysis and commentary, particularly when he embarks into philosophical ideas and examines them with a scientific eye.
At the outset, for example, Dawkins even invokes Russell in explaining why he believes agnosticism — the position that it is impossible to know whether there is a God — is untenable. He also devotes a chapter to deconstructing arguments for the existence of God advanced by thinkers from St. Thomas Aquinas to C.S. Lewis and, more recently, the mathematical approach of Stephen Unwin
Yet even here the scientific method that permeates this work shows through. His scientific approach becomes stronger as the book progresses. He uses evolutionary principles to show why arguments that life supports the existence of God cannot withstand scrutiny. Likewise, in examining why all human cultures seem to have religion, Dawkins discusses not only evolutionary principles but alleles, memes (a term Dawkins is credited with coining), and memeplexes.