Richard Dawkins‘ The God Delusion is arguably the most popular atheist book of all time, selling about three million copies since its release over a decade ago. (I say “arguably” since, if we’re talking about books that led people away from religion, the Bible’s gotta be right up there.)
But one of the more surprising aspects of the book’s success is that an Arabic translation of the book has been downloaded (for free) many, many more times online — approximately 13 million times, by Dawkins’ count, though it’s not easy to track the files so take that number with a huge grain of salt. The point is that people who live in Muslim-majority nations are reading the book, and that’s no small thing.
Last year, the Center for Inquiry, which merged with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, announced plans to facilitate the spread of Dawkins’ books in nations where they may not be welcome by making several of them available for free to anyone who wanted them in their native tongue. That day is finally here.
The newly launched Translations Project offers four of Dawkins’ books, free to download, in a few different languages:
- River Out of Eden (Urdu, Farsi, and Indonesian)
- The God Delusion (Urdu and Indonesian)
- The Blind Watchmaker (Farsi and Indonesian)
- The Magic of Reality (Farsi)
In addition to making it easier for people who speak those languages to read his books, this is also a way to bypass translators in those nations who put their lives at risk by working on these projects. In case you’re curious, there are no legally published translations of these particular versions of the books, which is why Dawkins is allowed to offer these for free.
For any author to just give away copies of his most famous books is virtually unheard of. This isn’t just a publicity stunt, though. As Dawkins said very clearly in The God Delusion‘s preface, “If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.” He immediately followed that sentence with, “What presumptuous optimism!” — suggesting that it was (wait for it) delusional to think that would actually happen. But he’s now doing something quite remarkable to facilitate the goal of getting people interested in science and turning them away from religion.
In countries where being openly godless could very well be a death sentence, it’s next to impossible to sell copies of a book promoting atheism. What if someone finds it? By making his books free to download in those particular languages, there’s a much better chance people in those countries can explore these ideas without fear of getting caught.
It’s hard to hide a book, but it’s easy to delete a file. (And then re-download it later.)
(Screenshot via YouTube. Large portions of this article were published earlier)