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The God Delusion

A book by Richard Dawkins

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Logical, glib and sometimes mean-spirited for those with thin skins

  • Jan 15, 2007
Rating:
+1
Pros: Very logically presented.

Cons: Tone, arbitrarily attributed motives, is sometimes condescending

The Bottom Line: If you believe in God and the Bible despite logic, avoid it. If not, you may enjoy it.

The God Delusion is not your typical scientific text. Dr. Richard Dawkins (atheist and devoted Darwinist—which seems odd to me since, as far as my understanding goes, he should consider himself a natural selectionist; however, the fewer the syllables the easier it is to keep in mind while juggling a multiplicity of ideas) states specifically that he is out to convert others to his ‘belief’ in atheism. As such, all readers need be warned.

For those who have read any of my essays in the Religion section of the Writers Corner will know that I am what I call a never-believer (I’ve opted for the hyphenated version because it doesn’t cause Word to show a red squiggly under it). Even so, while I support and believe most of what Dr. Dawkins pens, I have problems with some of it and its presentation.

The summary is easy enough. Dr. Dawkins goes through, step by step, to explain why the religious arguments for creation fail at all impartial levels of investigation. He uses “Darwinian” natural selection to explain it. The general thesis is this: science shows us X given the experimental and investigatory tools at the time; X can change to Y or X prime as experimentation and the tools become more honed; as this happens, science uses the laws and methods specific to it to accept and codify the new changes; religion does no such thing. Further, there is only one scientific method; there are hundreds of religions. The scientific method itself is open to question from time to time, but the strictures remain very strict and reproducible. With ‘religion’ there is no such methodology and, anyway, the religious perspective you use changes your rules of methodology. In a glib manner, the argument can also shrink just to this: who created the creator? In a thumbnail sketch, that is it.

Since this is not a scientific text in the normal manner, Dr. Dawkins allows himself to take liberties with language that would not be allowed in a peer reviewed text. This allows him to be glib, to make broad assumptions about the motives of the religious, and in some cases to be openly hostile. To be fair, he seems to be equally hostile to all three monotheistic religions. I mention this because, if you belong to any of these religions and have a thin skin regarding it, then avoid this book.

If you are someone who believes in the scientific method and in the biological view of natural selection for the explanation of life on earth including the fossil records and geological aging, then this book might be a good read. The reason I qualify it is the tone. He is unremittingly harsh in his treatment of the religious—if this is more likely to bother you than not, then you may not find it an enjoyable read.

This review puts me in a position I don’t like to be in. I am, and have always been, someone who does not accept any religion of any kind as an explanation for how we are here or why (how is the only one that matters to me, and then only as a sort of Trivial Pursuit reason rather than anything deeper; and the why belongs to each of us individually, so any broad search is automatically invalid). So I agree with Dr. Dawkins. However, I do not like him as a spokesman for beliefs I share. He is leaps and bounds beyond Madelyn Murray Ohare because he has the scientific credentials to bring to the fight (which I will cover immediately below). But since he has decided to take a truly adversarial tone, I’m pretty certain he will fail in his efforts to convert. To bring in the cliché about flies—he is using lots vinegar and there is no honey in sight.

The fight isn’t worth fighting; this comes from one who has been a soldier in the announced but disorganized war between the theists and the atheists. Please note in the following that I do not actually say which side the pig is on, so either side can interpret this as they will: don’t wrestle with a pig; all you get is dirty and the pig likes it.

When I was a good soldier I noticed something after having exactly the same discussion with the twentieth different person—such that I could have died and my body would have continued the argument until the other just walked away. It’s like bringing a knife to fight a series of Jell-o Monsters: slice, stab, poke as much as you like it does no good. And if the Jell-o Monsters get nasty enough, you get covered in sticky stuff. I mix these metaphors in which the ‘hero’ gets covered in mud or sticky raspberry gelatin to explain only this: both will fight until they either get tired or run out of steam; both blue in the face, angry, and uptight and neither interlocutor has moved one millimeter from where he/she started.

My English advisor in college had an answer for the inevitable question: Can God lift a rock so big that even He can’t lift it? The answer is “yes, but then He lifts it.” The point was that religion cannot work in the world of logic. Dr. Dawkins wants to pick a fight with ‘religion’ as a whole without regard to which one. This is a losing fight and not because he is wrong. Though I don’t like the delivery method, I do support the message. What Dr. Dawkins is refusing to admit is that religion is older than science. Those who believe in religion are not willing to accept any amount of well thought out logic that adheres to universally accepted rules for logicians. Any concept put forth by a biologist who supports natural selection or the supreme strangeness of theoretical quantum physics can be countered in a single breath by a creationist, religionist, true believer, or whatever label you want to hang on them: 1) Ok, but God made it thus; 2) It isn’t in the Bible/Qu’ran/Vedas so it cannot be true, thanks for playing; 3) Poppycock (or other invective not covered by the rules against swearing).

In the introduction, Dr. Dawkins compares atheists with homosexuals. He says it is time for the casual believer who is really an atheist just going through the religious motions to come out of the closet. Having come out of both closets, I understand what he means, but I think: what good? Sexuality is something that it is very difficult not to express. Even if the biology works a little differently for gay men and women, it still exists and is no easier to put aside than it is for the straight man or woman. In other words, this isn’t a matter of choice; it will find a way to express itself. Religion is a smaller force, taken in toto. There are some serious true believers for whom the notion of religion, God, Yahweh, Jesus, Mohammed and so on is so hugely important that it mimics the biological necessities; they are, however, in the minority. In a pluralistic society like ours, it is considered to be among the worst breeches of etiquette to bring up religion in mixed company, so it is something we are more likely to keep to ourselves than not. This should not be read to say that our sexuality should be completely uncovered—it is against the law in almost all locations in the country to express your sexuality other than hand holding or kissing. So I ask again, what good comes from people announcing their atheism? Here is the best way I know to phrase it. Say you are gay, eventually you will have to explain to your friends and loved ones why you keep bringing someone of the same gender to family functions—if you remain friendly with friends and a common participant in family gatherings, you cannot avoid this. There is no anti-religious analog to this (just because you stop attending church doesn’t mean you have stopped believing).

Science really doesn’t need the help. Dr. Dawkins mistakably says that biologist in the United States cannot do embryonic stem cell research in the U.S. This isn’t true. Federal funds cannot be used to test any new stem cell lines derived from embryos used after the August 2001 Executive Order. Nothing at all stops the labs from taking private funds. Also California and Missouri both have passed ballot initiatives allowing state money to be used for stem cell research using new strains. I mention this bit of nit picking to show that, even when one level of government is hostile to an idea; it doesn’t mean that this is true for every level.

If science were under attack; and should that actually happen (a temporary ban on one level of funding for one type of science does not equal a full attack on science as a whole) then the fight is not only worth fighting, good soldiers must fight. However, short of this, I see no reason to fight at all. Dr. Dawkins mentions studies that have shown that a large portion of avowedly religious Americans couldn’t name an Old Testament prophet and thought that Moses was one of Jesus’s disciples; this just shows they haven’t read the book they use as their texts. So what? Atheists like to bring this up all the time. I like studying quantum physics because it is so odd; however, I cannot say that I have read many of the original texts about it because they use language that is so foreign to me that it would take years of study to be versed in. I have to read interpretations of these studies. I fully believe in natural selection, but I have never read On the Origin of Species, does that make me any less a believer? I know that the book says nothing about being the nephew of a monkey and that the summary is natural selection not ‘survival of the fittest.’ Apart from this, I think there is some stuff in it about finches and maybe some salt spitting iguanas.

Finally I want to cover a conversation that Thomas Paine allegedly had with Benjamin Franklin. Mr. Paine was an atheist, and this ruined his career and life basically because he didn’t heed the warning of Mr. Franklin. Mr. Paine wanted to spread his message. Mr. Franklin called him a fool, but not because he disagreed; Mr. Franklin’s belief was that the only thing keeping the masses from stealing all the wealth he and others had was a belief in divine retribution. In short: Tom, you and I both know there is no God, but unless you want to have everything taken away from you, you’ll just let it go.

Recommended:
Yes

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More The God Delusion reviews
review by . October 06, 2010
Pros: well written, excellent points      Cons: Gets a bit old after a while.      The Bottom Line: Excellent read for anyone that questions religion or loves a good debate about it.      Growing up, I was Protestant, we went to church, not every week but on a regular basis. I did all of things that a normal Christian would do, but my parents didn't strictly adhere to the bible by any means. During middle school, I even kept up on religion, …
review by . July 01, 2010
You already know if you're going to like this book based on your religious beliefs. Religious beliefs usually remain pretty steadfast and so unless you're unsure this book probably won't persuade you. It doesn't help the way its written.      Books don't don't much more controversial than this. Dawkins is a well known vocal atheist and in this book he sets out to systematically prove that God does not exist. He uses a number of very compelling arguments …
review by . July 31, 2010
Before reading this book, I had never read anything by Richard Dawkins.  I had seen him on YouTube, and I can honestly say that Mr. Dawkins was the one mainly responsible for transforming me from a semi-believing but still doubting Catholic, to a full-fledged militant atheist.  With that being said, I think this book will only truly persuade those who are already on the fence.  If you are a devout religious person who is guaranteed to never change their minds, this book will be a …
review by . July 13, 2010
At last!      An intelligent look at the insanity of religion.  If you are agnostic, read this book and come over to the bright side.  If you are atheist, read this book and feel the waves of reassurance and support while arming yourself for the next debate with a religious nutcase.  If you are a "believer" then please either recognize that your beliefs are an reflection of the arbitrary facts of your family history, race, ethnicity, and the people you've …
Quick Tip by . July 06, 2010
I'm no opponent to religious critiques, but I found this book lacking any serious argumentation.
Quick Tip by . July 06, 2010
as someone who is completely undecided on religion, I looked forward to taking in this point of view. but the pompous and didactic tone of the book made it unreadable
Quick Tip by . July 02, 2010
You will either love or hate this, I think.
Quick Tip by . June 17, 2010
trash.
review by . October 31, 2009
After Sir Richard Attenborough, Richard Dawkins is probably the wrold's most famous natural philosopher. Dawkins is also the world's most famous advocate of evolution, and enemy of creationism. This is his latest book, and it specifically targets the logic of religious thought. The book's title is not quite appropriate to its subject. Instead, Dawkins clearly states that he thinks the existence of God is a hypothesis that can be proven or disproven. He then proceeds to cite evidence that argues …
review by . May 11, 2008
Pros: Science and psychology parts are interesting     Cons: Easily beat by a seasoned theologian; atheists have heard it all before     The Bottom Line: There are better books about a god's non-existence out there     I should probably tell you where I stand first on this subject: I am 75 percent atheist, 25 percent supernaturalist, and zero percent religious. When I introduce my spiritual views to new people, that’s a bit of a mouthful, …
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Wiki

Discover magazine recently called Richard Dawkins "Darwin's Rottweiler" for his fierce and effective defense of evolution. Prospect magazine voted him among the top three public intellectuals in the world (along with Umberto Eco and Noam Chomsky). Now Dawkins turns his considerable intellect on religion, denouncing its faulty logic and the suffering it causes.

Contents:
A deeply religious non-believer --
The God hypothesis --
Arguments for God's existence --
Why there almost certainly is no God --
The roots of religion --
The roots of morality : why are we good? --
The "good" book and the changing moral Zeitgeist --
What's wrong with religion? : why be so hostile? --
Childhood, abuse and the escape from religion --
A much needed gap? A deeply religious non-believer. Deserved respect ; Undeserved respect --
The God hypothesis. Polytheism ; Monotheism ; Secularism, the Founding Fathers and the religion of America ; The poverty of agnosticism ; NOMA ; The great prayer experiment ; The Neville Chamberlain school of evolutionists ; Little green men --
Arguments for God's existence. Thomas Aquinas' "proofs" ; The ontological argument and other a priori arguments ; The argument from beauty ; The argument from personal "experience" ; The argument from scripture ; The argument from admired religious scientists ; Pascal's wager ; Bayesian arguments --
Why there almost certainly is no God. The Ultimate Boeing 747 ; Natural...
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Details

ISBN-13: 978-1400133789
Author: Richard Dawkins
Genre: Religion
Publisher: Tantor Media Inc
Date Published: February 01, 2007
First to Review
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