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The textbook that isn’t

“College should be a time of personal exploration and broadening of horizons.”

Sound familiar? Sound bytes like that are used by professors and students to justify course material that pushes the limits of contention – and sometimes outright crosses it.

When buying books, I noticed that a 300-level psychology course had assigned Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion.” Now, I’m not in that class, so I don’t know if the professor offers counterpoints for this polemic, but the class is supposed to be about genetics and culture.

Also, as much as I wanted to write about this laughable, albeit alarming, reading assignment immediately, I figured I should read the book myself before passing judgment. I’m currently about half way through, but I’m pretty sure I’ve figured out the predominant themes.

The first thing I should point out is that parts of this book are legitimately interesting. So who knows, maybe the professor only assigns readings from those parts. However, I question the validity of the entire book having read further.

Dawkins’ primary thesis is that God, like every other formerly unapproachable posit – such as the composition of the sun – can and should be considered on a scientific basis. He then spends a few chapters discussing all the standard defenses of God, explaining why he disbelieves in them.

The next section discusses his alternative. Obviously any book attempting to refute God must discuss cosmology – what’s out there and how did it come to pass?

Using an imaginative combination of Darwinian evolution and the anthropic principle, Dawkins attempts to create the world without relying on any form of design. (The anthropic principle is an oddly circular response to the question: “How did humans, a statistical impossibility, occur by chance?” Which, in turn, argues that we could not be arguing said point unless said impossibility occurred.)

Honestly, my favorite part, so far, is when he attempts to explain the beginning of it all. This involved pages of obscure theories about multiverses, cycling realities and – my personal favorite – the hereditary universe.

I suspect that Dawkins, having exhausted his “what if” repertoire, realized this abject failure to explain cosmology would count pretty strongly against him, and fled back to more familiar ground: attacking others.

I’ll end the book review by simply saying Dawkins should not be considered a scientist. He begins with a fairly rational method, but quickly degenerates into baseless and pointless assaults against Christianity and the premise of a higher being. Ironically, I do recommend this book to all Christians, as it offers equal parts intrigue and humor for a critical reader.

The tragedy is that it’s meant as a serious work. Coincidentally, I believe Dawkins’ publisher even feared for this book, as he fills up four pages with glowing reviews by obscure persons and publications.

I say all that to say this: Why is this book reading material for a class on the psychology of genetics?

Granted, Dawkins does discuss Darwinian natural selection, but that can be accomplished at a lower price tag in more accredited sources. Personally, I believe this is an abuse of power by the professor akin to a physics professor listing “The Purpose Driven Life” as required reading.

I know that someone will be offended by that statement. They will argue that restricting what a professor can assign and discuss hampers creative learning and expression, or that I attack this particular instance only because of my personal faith.

But if that hypothetical physics professor – the one assigning religious texts – actually exists, those same individuals would be on the front lines, protesting. We have this idea that learning is not just about memorizing and regurgitating facts, but about learning to think for oneself. I’d like to be the first to call foul on this ridiculous simplification.

Like anything else, the human brain operates by the JIJO principle: Junk In, Junk Out. Yes, professors should expect their students to be able to understand the significance of course material and think about it critically, but their revelations are only as valuable as the information they’re given.

Classroom material can and should be monitored, if not by the departments than by the students themselves. Challenge professors who assign material or forward ideas that their background and the course description leaves them unqualified to discuss and the students ill-equipped to resist. After all, what does the JIJO principle imply if your input is a polemic manipulator like Dawkins?

Post Script: I have not taken the course in question, nor met the professor. As mentioned, he or she might be an intelligent and fair individual. The book, however, is still laughable.

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