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The God Delusion

A book by Richard Dawkins

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Cranes vs, skyhooks: latest round in an endless bout?

  • Apr 12, 2008
Rating:
+1
Please read this objectively before rating its usefulness. My own beliefs are left unstated. With such a controversial topic, the danger is that the star rating gets equated with the rater's agreement of the reviewer's own stated or implied position on God's (non-)existence, not on the reviewer's assessment of Dawkins' own claims for denial of God. I'm summarizing my response to Dawkins as I have hundreds of other books rated by me on Amazon, so I strive here for the same fairness I try to give any author.

After reviewing Christopher Hitchens' "god Is Not Great," Sam Harris' "The End of Faith," and Daniel Dennett's "Breaking the Spell," I now come to the fourth in recently amplified rationalizations that both attack religious credulity and assert scientific inquiry. As a scientist, Dawkins shares with Dennett an ease in explaining laboratory findings. As one tending towards social impacts, Dawkins connects with Harris, whom he often cites. As a popularizer of intellectual currents, Dawkins addresses the same audience as Hitchens. I've found all four books fascinating, and all four have caused me to think harder about my own beliefs; all four also contain flaws in their perhaps inevitably sweeping claims that may not prove major, but nonetheless need to also be addressed respectfully.

I anticipate many who criticize Dawkins may need reminding of his early caution, twice repeated: "I am not attacking the particular qualities of Yahweh, or Jesus, or Allah, or any other specific god such as Baal, Zeus,or Wotan." (31) He counters the "God Hypothesis" of a "superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us," with an "alternative view: any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution." Creative intelligences come later into the process and cannot have designed it, therefore our attribution to a Prime Mover or Uncaused Cause is incorrect, and so that's the title of his book. He reiterates: "I am not attacking any particular version of God or gods. I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural. wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented." (36)

Dawkins employs the crane, i.e., a process of gradual construction that allows more complex construction from the ground up, rather than a skyhook, i.e., a "deus ex machina" (surprisingly he does not use this phrase) that intervenes in the plans from the opposite direction, and lacks an empirical foundation traceable in the geological and genetic and biological records. Despite his credentials, he does seem to fudge Fred Hoyle's Boeing 747 argument as he does Anselm's ontological proof and Thomistic proofs, causing me to suspect he's stronger in science than philosophy; yet even with his insistent separation of chance from Darwin's theory, I felt as if Dawkins labored to explain this clearly. After he insists that this process is not by chance or by random unplanned happenstance, but by an immensely meticulous and attenuated internal mechanism of advancing by what benefits an organism in its survival, Dawkins enters the territory that Harris, Hitchens, and Dennett have also explored. Religious dictates to truth are undermined by claims using logic, improbability, and lack of external proof. If humans (see Dennett) have an inbred attraction to religion, it's like a moth to a flame-- the insect's been engineered to guide itself by the moon, and has not evolved past the stage of discerning and avoiding artificial light as its beacon.

Here, although compared to a radio interview I heard with him he devotes only a fraction of what I would have expected to this topic, Dawkins adds his own emphasis to the atheists' resurgence. I was peeved by his donnish dismissal of theology itself as a respectable endeavor. This may be logically true by his theorem, but it reeks of Oxonian snobbery. He denies that religious faith should be accorded any automatic respect per se. "The teachings of 'moderate' religion, though not extremist in themselves, are an open invitation to extremism." (306) That is, any appeal by moderate religious adherents cannot be justified anymore than the extremist interpretations, for both ultimately rest on non-demonstrable standards lacking objective verification.

Finally, as with his non-believing colleagues, Dawkins proposes an ambitious counter-attack. Young people, he warns, should not be subjected to beliefs by indoctrination; he agrees with Hitchens that such upbringing amounts to brainwashing. And, as with Harris' urging that if parents simply told the truth to their children, that religion would cease, Dawkins may appear quixotic in such an appeal to reason given our global diversity and immense differences in upbringing. As with Hitchens, Dawkins seeks the long-term vision of humanist nobility, and a sense of our own fragile bursts of life within a universe that on its own terms has plenty to chill, dazzle, and fascinate us.

A few of his points in this predictably ambitious book needed sharper focus. For example, Stephen Unwin's Bayesian argument for God's existence is converted by Dawkins into six points, but Dawkins glosses over them in his criticism. On language drift being probable "by the cultural equivalent of random genetic drift," Dawkins fails to give sufficient explanation. (189) I'd consult Guy Deutscher's "The Unfolding of Language" (reviewed by me) for an up-to-date elaboration.

Dawkins later leaps into the Stalin/ Hitler atheist debate getting tangled in Adolf's profession of such, striving to uphold his main point: "Individual atheists may do evil things but they don't do evil things in the name of atheism." (279) Stalin's "dogmatic and doctrinaire Marxism," however, did encourage mass destruction of cultural patrimony and attacks on religious confessionalists, so I became confused at too hubristic a simplification. In less brutal versions, the clash of secular and religious still causes terror, according to Dawkins. Yet, criticizing the right of the Amish to raise children in "their own" way, Dawkins does not raise the "rumspringa" option, featured as the title of a recent documentary, that allows young Amish a chance to sample the delights of the world outside before they decide to return to their traditions and continue them. Dawkins overlooks this rather sensible "Plan B" when it would have strengthened his argument, if unintentionally, that religiously raised children should be given a chance to question their faith and not be treated as if dissent is never an option.

Inconsistency in the documented nature of Dawkins' enormously complex assemblage of disparate sources deserves mention. While he introduces his quotations, he unevenly cites them in the endnotes. Furthermore, most chapters have but a few numbered references; not all of the texts he uses can be traced to the bibliography. For a controversial book like this, whose references by challengers and defenders will be hunted down, it's important that the same standards of scholarly reference be applied to every quote, summary, or paraphrase in conventional academic form.

When I finished and reviewed Hitchens' (livelier if more pugilistic; however, Dawkins baits the Templeton Foundation very annoyingly too) book a couple of weeks ago, I wondered what would replace the comforts of faith. For Dawkins, the "humanitarian challenge" must replace God. Even if our well-being depended on a belief in God, Dawkins rejects the truth of such a belief. Without independent criteria, it's next to impossible given the physical evidence that a Creator designed the universe. Dawkins here paraphrases Dennett's distinction between belief in God and belief in belief. Dawkins finds that while atheists may well despair, they appear to do so neither more nor less so statistically than their fellow believers. He also asserts non-believers and believers do not differ in basic morality; he favors, naturally, atheists here.

He ends his intermittently engrossing, yet ultimately scattered study with an analogy to "the mother of all burkas," asking us to imagine the tiny slit from which we see the world through our electromagnetic spectrum. This vast scale of improbabilities that allows us to live at this moment may be statistically nearly impossible to understand, but Dawkins inexorably insists that this is the only evidence we have.

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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, …
About the reviewer
John L. Murphy ()
Ranked #51
Medievalist turned humanities professor; unrepentant but not unskeptical Fenian; overconfident accumulator of books & music; overcurious seeker of trivia, quadrivia, esoterica.      … more
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About this book

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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