Here, der Spiegel gives Richard Dawkins the floor (03/02/2011), as his book, The Greatest Show on Earth is published in German:
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Has religion not been very successful in an evolutionary sense?
Dawkins: The thought that human societies gained strength from religious memes in their competition with others is true to a certain extent. But it is more like an ecological struggle: It reminds me of the replacement of the red by the gray squirrel in Britain. That is not a natural selection process at all, it is an ecological succession. So when a tribe has a war-like god, when the young men are brought up with the thought that their destiny is to go out and fight as warriors and that a martyr's death brings you straight to heaven, you see a set of powerful, mutually reinforcing memes at work. If the rival tribe has a peaceful god who believes in turning the other cheek, that might not prevail. – "Interview with Scientist Richard Dawkins: 'Religion? Reality Has a Grander Magic of its Own'"
It's hard to tell exactly what Dawkins is trying to say here, but curiously, "a peaceful god who believes in turning the other cheek" was exactly what the early Christians preached and they went from being a persecuted people in the Roman empire to running the show in the course of about two and a half centuries. But your mileage may vary.
We also learn,
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Aren't you afraid that some of these people might be alienated by the sometimes strong language in the book?
Dawkins: What strong language do you mean?
SPIEGEL ONLINE: You call your opponents "Holocaust-deniers," "ignorant," "ridiculous" and "deluded to the point of perversity."
Dawkins: My suspicion is that more people will find it amusing. If I read an author who is ridiculing some idiot, I myself am rather amused. There may be some who will be turned off and I will have lost them in those passages. But I suspect they'll be outnumbered by those who are amused.
I suspect he is right, but none of that adds up to an argument, nor even heads in the direction of one.
Which reminds me, why is der Spiegel calling Dawkins a "scientist"? When did he last do any actual science?
Denyse O'Leary is co-author of The Spiritual Brain.