The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

The God Delusion

A preeminent scientist -- and the world's most prominent atheist -- asserts the irrationality of belief in God and the grievous harm religion has inflicted on society, from the Crusades to 9/11.With rigor and wit, Dawkins examines God in all his forms, from the sex-obsessed tyrant of the Old Testament to the more benign (but still illogical) Celestial Watchmaker favored by...

Title:The God Delusion
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:0618680004
Edition Language:English
Number of Pages:374 pages

The God Delusion Reviews

  • J.G. Keely

    Athiests have been ranked as one of the least trusted groups, and the oft-repeated notion that atheism is the same as amorality is always saddening. A common argument I've encountered is

    And of course, I

    steal, rape, and kill as often as I like to--which is not at all.

    However, if you turn the question around, it has very unflattering implications for the believer who asked it:

    Athiests have been ranked as one of the least trusted groups, and the oft-repeated notion that atheism is the same as amorality is always saddening. A common argument I've encountered is

    And of course, I

    steal, rape, and kill as often as I like to--which is not at all.

    However, if you turn the question around, it has very unflattering implications for the believer who asked it:

    Of course, that isn't how morality works. It's not that most of us are sitting there wishing we could do these awful things, and being held back by fear of punishment. No, for the most part we don't like to see other people hurt. Even soldiers and doctors, trained to deal with death, still experience psychological trauma when confronted with its reality. We don't want to live dangerous, criminal lives, fearing constant reprisal. We want to live normal, pleasant lives of friendship and respect.

    For all his flaws, Dawkins helped me to realize that there is something to be achieved by identifying as an atheist. Not merely because it represents my position on any theology, but because people won't come to trust or understand atheists unless they are willing to speak openly.

    It shouldn't be a dirty word in America, a country founded on dissent. Our legal documents outline a system that holds personal beliefs and opinions to be of concern only to the person holding them, yet particular kinds of belief still carry political clout and others, social stigma.

    looks at various studies analyzing how Americans think of atheists, at one point showing that the average person trusts an atheist about as much as they do a criminal. Some might suggest that it's a choice, no one is born an atheist, any more than they are born a criminal (though arguments could be made there, too), but how much of a choice is it, really?

    We each look at the world and try to determine what we think of it, and while some people make these decisions blithely, I don't feel like I have ever had much choice in my views. If I looked at a red shoe, I couldn't simply believe that it was blue, I have to base my conclusions on what I see.

    I won't pull out the old 'I was raised in such a way, and came to atheism in such a way' story, because it's hackneyed, and it isn't really useful here. Suffice it to say that, as a child, I assumed a lot of mythical things were real, because people talked about them all the time--gods and angels and hell and ghosts and Santa and all those familiar cultural symbols appeared everywhere around me, even in cartoons. Eventually, as I learned more, none of it made any sense, nor did it answer any questions, so I stopped thinking any of it was real. Is that really a choice?

    Should I take Pascal's Wager literally, and choose to believe in god merely because if I do, and I'm right, I go to heaven, but if I don't and I'm wrong, I go to hell? Pascal didn't mean it seriously in the first place, but I'd be fucked for Buddhism, Hinduism, Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, Anglicism, Orthodox, Shinto, the Norse Gods, Zoroastrianism, Mormonism, and Scientology.

    There's also the fact that 'deciding' to believe in god, but not actually believing in your heart suggests that we can somehow 'fool' god, getting in on a technicality. None of this indicates that we have any real choice in the matter. It isn't like voting for a politician or picking a favorite band.

    If there was a god who wanted us to believe in him, then he probably wouldn't have created a world where his existence was merely one of numerous equally-appealing options, which are all surmounted by the final option that none of them exist. But to suggest this, to most people, is apparently tantamount to admitting that I molest children, employ and murder prostitutes (which is worse?), steal, lie, cheat, donate to the nazi war criminal retirement fund, and hate America.

    And it's this view of atheists as amoral that convinced me to openly identify as an atheist, instead of mere agnosticism. Like women, blacks, and gays, the first step in gaining respect is admitting what you are, and insisting that you are still a human being. Eventually, simply identifying with a movement is pointless, and even unproductive, since it strengthens the very separatist ideology that must be torn down for the sake of moving past the original conflict--but it's an important step in the beginning.

    Agnosticism simply isn't a strong enough stance, since I disbelieve in god in the same way that I disbelieve in a machine gun bunker under my bed. I'm not going to live my life as if my bed will kill me, or as if working on Sunday will cause me to end up in

    .

    I agree with Dawkins' conclusions, yet I don't find him convincing. His books have threads of argument, but I rarely feel that the metaphors and examples he uses are ultimately useful. He never goes quite far enough, and so I think he falls short of his stated goal of a reader starting this book as a believer, and finishing it as an atheist. It feels more like a book to help confirm atheists. If you're already familiar with these arguments and their implications, then the book will make sense to you--if you aren't, then it's going to feel a bit incomplete.

    For example, at one point he talks about the idea of the 'sacred', that there are some things in religion which are not allowed to be discussed, and asks why this should be the case. We are scrupulous about discussing every detail of the rest of our lives, so why does this specific subset get its own special rules?

    Unfortunately, Dawkins doesn't provide us with the obvious answer: that every controlling political structure has set certain topics as 'off limits' in order to protect its power. As Orwell explores in

    , controlling language, controlling what people are allowed to talk about is the hallmark of any tyranny. And lest we forget, various churches have exerted this kind of political power throughout history, and some continue to hold that power today. So, it would be in their best interest to forbid discussion of dangerous ideas that might threaten their power.

    Yet Dawkins is certainly familiar with cultural Darwinism, with the way that ideas grow and change within a culture, the importance of 'infectious ideas' that take advantage of the natural fears, hopes, and habits of human beings--this should be all too obvious to the man who coined the word 'meme'. And yet, he isn't working here to make obvious and deconstruct these infectious ideas, to reveal their origins and purpose, and to show why we might hold such beliefs.

    But if his arguments are fundamentally dismissive and incomplete, it seems obvious to me why this would be, looking at the trajectory of his career: Dawkins has put himself in the unenviable position of being a public philosopher. He is a man of ideas which he constantly presents and defends against people who are uninformed, emotionally unstable, and self-assured. Something I've learned here on Goodreads is the more often people miss your point, responding only with the same tired antagonism, the more flippant and distant you can become.

    You start off reasonable and patient, which is time-consuming, draining, and rarely achieves anything. Watching Dawkins give one of his many lectures to believers is painful, because during the questions afterward, it becomes clear that almost no one there had sufficient knowledge of either rhetoric or theology to understand his points.

    It's like watching a mathematician explain his solution for the Reimann Hypothesis and then, in the audience, a man stands up and says "I don't know what 'zeta-function' means, but you're wrong". Few seem to recognize the thought and study that goes into disbelief, since belief can be achieved quite easily by telling children that if they don't follow the sky man's book, they will be set on fire forever.

    But your average believer is a different from a biblical scholar, who has some understanding what he means by his belief, and who tends to reject the bible as 'word of god' simply because he knows that there is no single bible to believe in--there are a hundred different versions, each full of extraneous parts, errors, conflicts, and revisions.

    A discussion with a well-informed atheist (there are, of course, many who are fundamentally ignorant) is similar to a discussion with a biblical scholar: both have an understanding of what they are discussing. One can see Dawkins engage in these discussions in various documentaries, and he comes off as much less of a stuck-up prick.

    But by taking his ideas public, he encounters angry conflict with a mass of uninformed, self-righteous people, both believers and atheists, and he is invariably dragged down, slight for slight condescension for condescension. More's the pity, he has an excellent background and a respectable mind, but fighting with the mob never elevates an intellectual argument.

    In the end, his responses should not be tailored to the ignoramus who asked a question he already answered. A big part of the reason I stopped studying atheism was that I realized all I was doing was training myself to argue with people who had very strong feelings about an issue they didn't understand. Instead, we should write for posterity, for the larger cause of human knowledge. A lesson we all could learn, in an age when our words and actions may often be recorded and remembered.

    Perhaps it will lend me patience when I must answer the same question I have already answered a hundred times in the same thread, from someone who is responding not because they feel intrigued, but because they feel threatened. Even if, in the end, there can be no coming together in understanding, merely fight and flight, at least I can do right by me, and put forth my best and most patient face. As far as turning believers into atheists, I'd send them to Bart Ehrman before Dawkins.

  • Xysea

    I am not an atheist, but neither am I a 'true believer'. I border more on 'agnostic', that is to say I believe there is some force beyond this Earth and that I don't know what it is, but I don't subscribe to any particular set of beliefs, per se.

    Until I come across books like this one. Then, I get an irrational urge to defend spiritual beliefs (but not religion, and that's another discussion).

    What I mean is, I am generally docile and private about my spirituality and my beliefs until someone goe

    I am not an atheist, but neither am I a 'true believer'. I border more on 'agnostic', that is to say I believe there is some force beyond this Earth and that I don't know what it is, but I don't subscribe to any particular set of beliefs, per se.

    Until I come across books like this one. Then, I get an irrational urge to defend spiritual beliefs (but not religion, and that's another discussion).

    What I mean is, I am generally docile and private about my spirituality and my beliefs until someone goes out of their way to make inflammatory comments designed to browbeat me into supporting a point of view. That is true for prosthelytizing believers of any religion, as well.

    (No one ever persuaded me to become a Christian by telling me I was going to Hell if I didn't.)

    But Dawkins manages the atheists' equivalent, and its my main quibble with atheists and their arguments. It's all condescension and ridicule, moral superiority and incredulity. Followers of Dawkins' mantra are the evangelicals they despise without the religion. Its quite entertaining to watch a conversation between these two groups devolve, but very rarely is any substantive progress made in making one group better understand the other. And I believe we will need that reconciliation, as a society, sooner than later.

    Which is what annoys me about this book. It's well written, and somewhat well-argued (though Dawkins does engage in some sophistry, but not as bad as Sam Harris did in his book), but the tone of it is all wrong. He clearly isn't trying too hard to engage the people he should be, in favor of those who already believe or are sympathetic to his views.

    Because of that, I consider this book largely a masturbatory enterprise and not something that seeks to seriously put forth real arguments, or to promote understanding. It merely serves as a platform for Dawkins to illustrate his views.

  • Anica

    Well, this settles it once and for all. There is no God. Which turns out to be a good thing, considering the God most Americans believe in is a crazy, vengeful, ego-maniacal monster. Dawkins’ insights are so cunning and profound you can’t help feeling embarrassed for the believer.

    Believer #1: The diversity of life is too complex to be random, so it must have been designed by someone even more complex.

    Dawkins: If the designer is so complex, then it must’ve been created

    Well, this settles it once and for all. There is no God. Which turns out to be a good thing, considering the God most Americans believe in is a crazy, vengeful, ego-maniacal monster. Dawkins’ insights are so cunning and profound you can’t help feeling embarrassed for the believer.

    Believer #1: The diversity of life is too complex to be random, so it must have been designed by someone even more complex.

    Dawkins: If the designer is so complex, then it must’ve been created by someone even more complex. And on and on like that. In philosophical terms it’s an infinite regress. In simpler terms it’s: “So who made God?“ The only plausible explanation for the complexity of life on Earth is natural selection.

    Believer #2: The chances of having all the right conditions to develop life are so miniscule, it had to be done on purpose.

    Dawkins: It’s true the odds are probably about a billion to one. But there are potentially a billion billion planets in the universe. I’m not very good at math, but that definitely improves the likelihood. And we know it happened here, so it could definitely happen again.

    Believer #3: Without God to teach us, we wouldn’t know good from evil.

    Dawkins: People all over the world make the same moral decisions in thought experiments, regardless of vast religious differences. We do not need God to teach us good and evil. Not only that, no person in modern times can seriously claim they are basing their behavior on Biblical guidelines. We’re talking about people who were ready to kill their own kids, or at least offer up their virgin daughter to be gang raped. In the example of Lot, God only spares Lot and his daughters, because they are the most righteous people in town. Then the two daughters proceed to get him liquored up and seduce him. Which begs the question, wouldn’t God have seen that coming?

    “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.” Mark Twain

    “Let children learn about different faiths, let them notice their incompatibility, and let them draw their own conclusions about the consequences of that incompatibility. As for whether they are ‘valid,’ let them make up their own minds when they are old enough to do so.” R. Dawkins

    “But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed?” John Adams

    “What is there to respect in any of this, or in any of the crimes now being committed almost daily around the world in religion’s dreaded name? How well, with what fatal results, religion erects totems, and how willing we are to kill for them! And when we’ve done it often enough, the deadening of affect that results makes it easier to do again.

    So India’s problem turns out to be the world’s problem. What happened in India has happened in God’s name.

    The problem’s name is God.” Salman Rushdie, ‘Religions, as ever, is the poison in India’s blood’

    “That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet.” Emily Dickinson

  • Aeisele

    This is perhaps the worst polemic against religion I have ever read. Really, if Dawkins actually knew anything about religion, he wouldn't have written the book. Instead, he knows nothing about the subject, and so if you know nothing about something, you don't even KNOW when you say stupid things.

    For instance, Dawkins brings up John Hartung's article about "love thy neighbor"(Hartung is not, in case you were wondering, a biblical scholar. He's a Professor of Anesthesiology). The argument is tha

    This is perhaps the worst polemic against religion I have ever read. Really, if Dawkins actually knew anything about religion, he wouldn't have written the book. Instead, he knows nothing about the subject, and so if you know nothing about something, you don't even KNOW when you say stupid things.

    For instance, Dawkins brings up John Hartung's article about "love thy neighbor"(Hartung is not, in case you were wondering, a biblical scholar. He's a Professor of Anesthesiology). The argument is that both the Old Testament's (or Torah) and the New Testament's idea of "neighbor" is an in-group conception - in other words, other Jews. Now, let's not get into the issue that Dawkins and Hartung seem to be more fundamentalist about the bible than most Christians (I mean, Hartung says that "Moses" wrote the law - guess what? Most Christian scholars don't think this!). Hartung points out many verses that seem to argue this. Yet in bringing up Leviticus 19:18 (love your neighbor as yourself), and then arguing this means only other "Jews" (even though there was no such thing as "Judaism" when this book was written), he seems to forget Leviticus 19:32-33. There, aliens are to be considered as "citizens", or "natives." In addition, please tell me what example Jesus uses to illustrate what "neighbor" means? The good Samaritan! (who were of course considered inferior by the Jews).

    This is just a smattering of his ignorance. Would you think that Dawkins MIGHT have consulted someone scholar in religious studies for this work? Ehrman is about the only one. He quotes Douglas Adams more than any specialists in the field. There are other annoying things about the book. Like the fact that he basically treats the most violent and fanatical of the religious as the standard. Of course, does he treat Nazi Eugenics as "standard" science? Of course not (and for anyone who thinks "science" is self-correcting - well, that's just naive).

    Another thing: he gives T.H. Huxley a free pass on his eugenic racism (his statements that blacks in the south might not be evolved enough to have democratic rights- which by the way, he made at the same time Christian abolishionists were establishing universities and cities in the mid-west that were race-inclusive), because it was a part of the "Zeitgeist", yet using the violence of the Old Testament against religion.

    Another thing (are you sick of this yet?): in arguing that there most likely was no religious conviction in anyone who did anything good he said that Martin Luther King Jr. basically just got his ideas from Ghandi, who of course everyone knows wasn't "really" religious. Well, if you read Dr. King, and believe him (which Dawkins, by the way, doesn't like doing - he'd rather foist his own "intelligent" interpretation of what they were doing on them), King actually got much of his social justice vision from the theologian Walter Rauschenbauch. He got his notion of non-violent resistance from Ghandi, which is much different.

    Anyway, if anyone out there is really looking for atheistic resources, do NOT read Dawkins. He'll just make you look like a fool in any educated person's view. Instead, read an intelligent atheist, who understands religion, like Nietzsche. Start with Beyond Good and Evil, go to the Genealogy of Morals, and then finish with Twilight of the Idols and the Antichrist. They will give you a better perspective.

  • Riku Sayuj

    I have been a big fan of Dawkins from the time I read

    . This book does nothing to damage that, even though it is not as logically cohesive as The Selfish Gene. The God Delusion is easier to argue with and maybe even win, if only in my mind. Dawkins argues mostly against the Christian God that created earth and knows nothing of the vast universe beyond. He remains silent about the God hypothesis that can arise from new physic

    I have been a big fan of Dawkins from the time I read

    . This book does nothing to damage that, even though it is not as logically cohesive as The Selfish Gene. The God Delusion is easier to argue with and maybe even win, if only in my mind. Dawkins argues mostly against the Christian God that created earth and knows nothing of the vast universe beyond. He remains silent about the God hypothesis that can arise from new physics and eastern cosmogonies.

    I feel that while The Selfish Gene was a standalone book intended to convey a brilliant concept in a very articulate fashion to the general reader, The God Delusion is a more of a glorified pamphlet meant to be a handbook of reference for any atheist for the range of illogical, childish or even intelligent arguments that might be addressed to him. An atheist who reads and remembers a fair bit of The God Delusion will always be well equipped to blunt any argument against his position.

    But this huge strength of the book is also its major flaw that demotes it much below the Selfish gene in my opinion. The Selfish gene is a must-read book that I would thrust in the hand of anyone I like - because I want them to learn from it, raise their consciousness or because I want to have a wonderful discussion with them. In contrast, the God Delusion is a book I would thrust in exasperation at someone with whom I am tired of arguing and would rather prefer them to go through Dawkins' exhaustive repudiation of most arguments. That is the difference. The book would be useful if I want to convince someone or If I wanted to win an argument. But what if neither was ever my objective? It gives me no intrinsic value that is not situational. But then, perhaps I was never one of the intended audience of the book; the purpose of this book, is not to explain science. It is rather, as he tells us, “to raise consciousness".

    He also spends a lot of time debunking obvious fallacies and beliefs purely because they are prevalent. It might be important to show how silly they are, but I frankly was impatient to get on with it and not spend time on such obvious facts. Most of the arguments in the book are ones that I could have come up with too if I had sat down and though about it. True, Dawkins has made my job easier, but what if I am comfortable with not having the God Delusion and with the fact that a lot of people have? What if the formula of zeitgeist that Dawkins proposes about what is moral is applicable to religions too? After all, the religion of today is far from what it was in the 1900s. maybe religion too will evolve and become more and more liberal. The only genuinely useful sections in the book for me were the intriguing discussion on morals and that wonderful last chapter on model building. If only the rest of the book was as memorable.

    I have a few other peeves with the book too - It condemns anyone who understand religion and science and takes the informed decision to be an agnostic. This condemnation by Dawkins of agnostics is perhaps my single biggest point of difference with Dawkins.

    I have no problems with the debunking of the God Hypothesis as Dawkins defines 'God'. But, his atheism goes into exactly those realms which he accuses religious fundamentalists to be going in.

    He gives an example of a Priest who says that even though he has moments of reservation about the existence of a God, he keeps such doubts to himself and extols God's virtues purely so that the common man is not mislead into doubt. Dawkins condemns this as intellectual and moral cowardice.

    Then later, in a section titled 'Why there almost certainly is no God', he freely acknowledges that "most probably" God does not exist and then classifies himself as an agnostic leaning heavily towards atheism. Then he says that such agnostics should refrain from calling themselves agnostics as it will cause damage to the common people who want to support atheism. Is this not the same intellectual and moral cowardice? If you cannot in your own logic call yourself a full blown atheist, do not do that just to prove a point or to support a pet theory. If there 'almost certainly' is no god, then it is 'almost certainly' a 'delusion' to say that pure atheism is fully reasonable too.

    Dawkins makes an appeal to closely define the meaning of the word "God". But then, not matter how you define it, as long as the basis is in irrationality, the same principle is being attacked. And hence to say I believe in Science as the ultimate answer when it has so far been unsuccessful in furnishing one is just to substitute the term "Science" for "God".

    Of course I understand the value of people like Dawkins being there to be the vanguard for this change. And there is a real need for a spokesperson for the atheists when the other party has so many very vocal ones. But that does not mean that he should call for educated agnostics to brand themselves as atheists just to add religious fervor to the brand. All that is still no reason to call for making atheism an organized religion too. agree with all the points and the logical arguments of The God Delusion but I disagree with the spirit of the book which seems to convey that religion is the enemy for us to combat by organizing ourselves.

    There are too many paradoxes and unknowns in nature which science is more and more throwing up its hands in utter confusion towards. What if the universe truly is 'queerer than we can suppose' as

    puts it? Dawkins manages to explain most phenomena with natural selection but dismisses the larger conundrums and paradoxes with the great sweeping idea called the 'Anthropic principle'. The Anthropic principle might be a good tool to stall an argument but is no authentic scientific theory as he pretends it to be. It would be the equivalent of saying that the clock is telling time correctly isn't it, so that explains its form and function and hence it needs no designer. I just paraphrased above the argument Dawkins uses to prove that atheism is absolutely valid. Well, unless we resort to such rhetoric devices, it is not. And in the 'belief spectrum' ranging from radical theism to complete atheism, the only position we can take without resorting to faith is one of doubt - agnosticism.

    In conclusion, my opinion is that pure atheism is not possible under present scientific knowledge and that is why agnosticism is the only reasonable position to take - without slipping into blind belief in science after climbing out of blind belief in religion.


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