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Customer Discussions > The God Delusion forum

The Argument from Design


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Showing 1-25 of 297 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 2 Apr 2008 10:18:09 BDT
JA Foxton says:
The argument from design is a common argument employed by theists. It is usually argued that a house has a designer therefore the universe (which is rather more complex) must have a designer too. The argument fails on many levels.

Our first observation must be that, even if the argument succeeded, it would fail to achieve what the theist requires of it. What tends to be ignored is that it gives us no link whatsoever to the particular god which is being promoted. For instance, intelligent design could be the work of an evil demon. In fact, if the design analogy is pursued to its logical conclusion, then we should undoubtedly expect that the argument should point towards polytheism. After all, human design and production is almost invariably a team effort - houses, cars etc. are produced by any number of people all working together.

It is worth keeping in mind that, however dressed up in pseudo-scientific garb the design argument becomes, it remains an open question as to which deities, aliens or demons are implicated in the design process. It is lazy and dishonest to assume that everyone will simply roll over and accept the Christian god as being the culprit.

All of this is based on the assumption that the design argument has worked. However, it does not work - it fails miserably. This is an unusual argument because it can be treated mathematically and it can be established (with mathematical certainty) that it will never work. Because of this, it gives us an instructive lesson in where our thinking can go wrong in these matters.

The argument from design is logically flawed. In order to 'prove' design it rests on the assumption that design is present. It is a circular argument and, hence, is no argument at all. The problem seems to arise because human beings are easily bamboozled by probabilities. For anyone with a bit of knowledge of probabilities and who can handle mathematical inequalities, the argument is laid out beautifully in 'Logic : A Very Short Introduction' by Graham Priest.

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Apr 2008 16:43:16 BDT
Mr H says:
It continues to amuse me that someone would vote against an intial post not contributing to a discussion. How thick are you? Seriously - what are you, some sort of petulant brat who feels the need to stamp your feet when someone says something you don't like? Diddums. Grow up.

Nice point BTW Jaf.

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Apr 2008 17:33:32 BDT
Hi JA Foxton

Could you elaborate on why polytheism is a more logical approach in the 'Design argument' as oppose to monotheism? It's an interesting point and I was wondering if you could explain it in better detail.

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Apr 2008 18:48:45 BDT
JA Foxton says:
Hello Liam,

My pleasure. The design argument invites you to look at a house (say) and then to consider whether it just popped up out of nowhere or whether it had a designer. You immediately concede that it was designed. You are then invited to think about the universe and whether that is indeed bigger and more complex than a house. You concede that it is bigger and more complex. You are then supposed to jump to the conclusion that there must be a single god who is the designer.

But why? If you look again at the analogy, you will realise that a house is not the result of the efforts of a single individual. It may have been designed by a single architect or a team of architects. The design will then have been passed to structural engineers to check whether it will stay up. Then we come to the construction. Here we can list bricklayers, carpenters, plasterers, electricians, plumbers and so on. There is also the issue of who is sourcing the raw materials and making the bricks, roofing tiles etc.

If we are expected to buy into the design argument then we should expect that we can pursue the analogy - if it is a good one. If we are considering the construction of the universe as being like the construction of a house then we should expect a team of gods being involved. Funnily enough, most theists don't seem to think about this!

Hope this clarifies why polytheism is a more likely option than monotheism. And, incidentally, it is worth saying that the roots of this argument go back to ancient Greece where polytheism would have been the norm.

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Apr 2008 20:35:07 BDT
Vinogradov says:
EH,

I was thinking the same thing. There are now two people (or the same one twice) who voted that the FIRST post in this thread 'didn't add to the discussion'. This is a truly painful level of stupidity.

Let's spell this out for them. The first post created the discussion. It took us from a position of having no discussion, to one where we have a discussion. Without the first post, there would be no discussion. If you vote that the first post did not add to the discussion, then people are just going to conclude that you are very, very stupid.

Why on Earth would someone with that weak a grip on simple logic even worry about participating in a discussion of this sort? Sheesh...

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Apr 2008 21:03:57 BDT
JA Foxton says:
I thought it might be useful to include some hints about where our thinking starts to hit problems when we think about probabilities because this seems to be at the root of the argument from design. And it might give us some protection from being duped by these arguments.

Your neighbour has just won the lottery. To keep things simple we will think about it as being a raffle in which 1 million tickets have been sold and your neighbour bought just a single ticket. The chance of him winning was 1 in a million but, hey, someone had to win and you slap him on the back and congratulate him.

There is also a weekly raffle in the village and each week 100 tickets are sold. Again one of your neighbours buys a single ticket and she wins the prize not just the first week but also the second week and then again the third. Three straight wins! How likely was that?

Well, we can actually answer this question. The probability is 1/100 x 1/100 x 1/100 which equals one in a million - exactly the same as the likelihood of your other neighbour winning.

But this is where our thinking processes start to play tricks on us. I would expect that in the second scenario you were starting to think that the raffle must be fixed - there must be skulduggery going on here. Mathematically both events are equally likely but, as human beings, we start to move effortlessly towards ascribing other interpretations to the events.

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Apr 2008 21:55:10 BDT
Personally, I think that just like the intelligent designers, you fixed the analogy and I can't work out how you done it...yet!

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Apr 2008 22:16:04 BDT
JA Foxton says:
Hi AMC,

No smoke and mirrors here!

You might like this one. This time we have a six sided die. Instead of the conventional numbers 1 to 6, this die has the letters A,B,C,D,E,F on its faces. We roll the die six times and record the results.

First result : AAAAAA
Second result : CABEDE

The first result is highly significant, the chance of getting all A's was 1 in 46,656 - amazing! Incredibly unlikely. What was the probability of getting the random string in the second result - errrrr, 1 in 46,656. It was equally unlikely to occur. But we confer no special status on this equally unlikely event. We can probably see that the 'special status' of AAAAAA is something which we bring to the party.

But it gets worse. Now suppose that you are Caroline Ann Bede and you have just rolled the die six times to produce the second result. How do you feel about the result? A random list for everyone else has special significance for you. (A miracle!) But, once again, it is clear that this is simply interpretation and what the participant in the experiment brings to it. For anyone else, this was just a random string of letters.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Apr 2008 00:02:37 BDT
...and similarly, the National Lottery is less likely to come up with 6 consecutive numbers (1,2,3,4,5,6) than 6 'randomly' spaced (1,2,10,17,29,48) - not. Another oddity of 'common sense' confounded by reality is that very young children will recognise the moon in the daytime sky, but some reach a later age where they only expect to see it in the night sky, despite their previous experience.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Apr 2008 08:30:36 BDT
JA Foxton says:
AMC,

Yes. Interesting example about child development too. I hadn't come across this before.

I do have vague recollections about an experiment connected with child development which was related to conservation of volume. I think it involved a glass of water being poured into a larger vessel. Young children would say that there was more water when it was in the larger vessel and then, at some point in their development, would make a sudden and quite radical 'flip' to understanding that the volume was conserved. If I remember correctly, children who were videoed when they didn't understand about conservation of volume would become quite agitated (and deny that it was them in the video) when they were subsequently shown the video after they had made the 'flip.'

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Apr 2008 16:52:43 BDT
Last edited by the author on 3 Apr 2008 17:15:38 BDT
[Edited - found reproduction of the tests on Youtube here (but not the child be confronted with their flip) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B65EJ6gMmA4&feature=related] - it's charming to watch!

Vague recollections for me too - my training, 25 years ago, didn't allow much time to dwell on Piaget, whose research I think it was, and I don't recall the children being confronted with their own 'flip' - I'll look it up and come back to you.

This crosses over to some extent with the somewhat tetchy discussion in another thread about treating believers as 'childlike,' or at least, believers feeling that they are so treated, and reinforces my point, that Guy's very reasonable wish that science was better received than it does is an optimistic wish. Many more people than we might like to declare publicly are incapable of grappling with the kind of science that would help them come to a better understanding of the world and their place within it. He highlighted that the 'supposedly intelligent' university students (my quotes, no-one else's) believe in the allegedly unbelievable. Even though EH pointed out that like all surveys, the study should be treated with caution, it nevertheless reveals that most people are 'single-discipline,' if they have a decent education at all. In other words, the 'experts' are only 'experts' in their own field, which can sometimes be very narrow. In other areas, they may have nothing better than a residue of what they were taught when they were 12!

That's why people like Dr Jonathan Miller are so lauded, because they have crossed the boundaries and excelled in areas of learning that are so often seen as mutually exclusive.

I don't agree with the 'standards are slipping' mantra, but I think that inevitably, it will be some time before the increase in university attendance attains the goal of all students reaching the same standard.

In the meantime, in the general population, many mutually exclusive ideas will be held within the same brain, and many of those will be what Piaget would recognise as characterising the 'concrete operational' stage of learning.

We're a long way from Utopia!

AMC

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Apr 2008 17:31:51 BDT
JA Foxton says:
Hi AMC,

Many thanks for providing this link. You are quite correct - it is a charming clip.

"it nevertheless reveals that most people are 'single-discipline,' if they have a decent education at all. In other words, the 'experts' are only 'experts' in their own field, which can sometimes be very narrow. In other areas, they may have nothing better than a residue of what they were taught when they were 12!"

Agreed. This is where I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I tend to agree with DH that scientists have more important things to do than educate the general population. On the other hand, I do worry about the consequences of them not adequately communicating (their own area of expertise) to the public. There are, of course, some very inspiring individuals who do manage to 'square this circle' and make cutting edge science accessible.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Apr 2008 18:24:53 BDT
R. Leal says:
Hi JAF

Even though I agree with most of what you say, I think you put the intelligent design theory in a rather simplistic way in order to make your point and start the discussion, which is fair, but I would like to know what you think of ramification concepts of the same term such as:

Irreducible complexity - Quoting Michael Behe, who introduced the term: "a single system which is composed of several well-matched interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning". The natural selection could not have created irreducibly complex beings, because, as in a mousetrap, you need all parts assembled and working in order to have the mousetrap.

Specified Complexity - Quoting mathematician, philosopher, and theologian William Dembski, who developed the concept: "A single letter of the alphabet is specified without being complex. A long sentence of random letters is complex without being specified. A Shakespearean sonnet is both complex and specified". The analogy would be the DNA sequences, which would be unprobable of occurring by chance.

And finally, Fine-tuned Universe - which is "fine-tuning of universal constants that make matter and life possible and which are argued not to be solely attributable to chance". And then proponents will argue that the different forces and particles present in the Universe act together in a fine-tuned system in order to make life possible, and the small change in any of these forces would render many things impossible to be formed.

I found these in a quick search on the internet, but I guess there are other concepts which try to explain (or rather try to make more credible) the argument from design.

Cheers

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Apr 2008 19:08:18 BDT
JA Foxton says:
Hi R. Leal,

These have been covered in some depth by myself and others. Would you be happy with some references to other threads?

If you find the 'Postcards from the Edge' thread and start from around the 17th September 2007 you will find a number of posts from myself and dvimus dealing with Michael Behe and William Dembski. This rumbles on until the 10th Jan. 2008 when I posted something on why Dembski's Law of Conservation of Information fails.

With regard to the fine-tuning argument, you will have to dig a little deeper. This time the relevant thread is 'The God Delusion should have been called "Why I hate religion .....' There is a post from myself on 29th July 2007 which deals with the fine-tuning argument in some detail.

Hope this helps.

Tony

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Apr 2008 20:21:33 BDT
Last edited by the author on 3 Apr 2008 20:24:49 BDT
Vinogradov says:
"Irreducible complexity - Quoting Michael Behe, who introduced the term: "a single system which is composed of several well-matched interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning". The natural selection could not have created irreducibly complex beings, because, as in a mousetrap, you need all parts assembled and working in order to have the mousetrap."

I'll just say something about this point for now...

The obvious response to the above, from an evolutionary perspective, is that it's quite a false view of how natural selection works, and what it has to do. The logic seems to be like this. We have a biological system that works in a particular way. Let's really simplify things, and imagine that the system has got four parts. We'll represent the system as ABCD - the letters represent the interacting parts of the system. Now, none of the systems that could be formed by removing any one of the parts - say ABD, or BCD - would work the way that ABCD does. Therefore, there is no way of natural selection 'reaching' the ABCD state through a set of functional intermediates.

Well, a moment's thought shows the problem with this argument. Who says that the immediate precursor of ABCD had to be equivalent to the result of removing one of the parts of ABCD? The precursor could have been ABCDE - it could have lost a part to get to ABCD. Or it could have had repeated parts - AABCCD, for example. Or it could have been AbCD - with a slightly different form of the B part. The earlier form could also have functioned in a different way to ABCD - AbCD would not necessarily have been just a less efficient version of ABCD. A system might well be irreducibly complex in its current form - but that it no way implies that it couldn't arise by a process of evolution from fully functional precursors. In fact, there are very well established reasons to believe that evolved systems SHOULD exhibit irreducible complexity. This was worked out by the American geneticist Hermann J. Muller (who was awarded the Nobel prize for medicine or physiology in 1946 - I said it was a well established idea!)

It is perhaps not too surprising if Behe didn't know this stuff (he's a biochemist, and not an authority on the evolutionary literature!) However, the fallacy at the heart of his central argument was pointed out to him at the time by those who knew better (or 'biologists', to give them their correct title.) Behe acknowledged the problem, and promised to deal with it late. We're still waiting.

Just so you know I'm not making this stuff up, the issue was gone into in some detail in the Dover ID trial, at which Behe was a witness. Judge Jones wrote in his finding:

Professor Behe admitted in "Reply to My Critics" that there was a defect in his view of irreducible complexity because, while it purports to be a challenge to natural selection, it does not actually address "the task facing natural selection." (P-718 at 695). Professor Behe specifically explained that "[t]he current definition puts the focus on removing a part from an already functioning system," but "[t]he difficult task facing Darwinian evolution, however, would not be to remove parts from sophisticated pre-existing systems; it would be to bring together components to make a new system in the first place." Id. In that article, Professor Behe wrote that he hoped to "repair this defect in future work;" however, he has failed to do so even four years after elucidating his defect. Id.; 22:61-65 (Behe).
[References are from the original.]

I'd recommend a read of the Dover finding to anyone who's interested in these issues. It's really clear, and addresses the issues very well...

http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Kitzmiller_v._Dover_Area_School_District_et_al.

We could also point out that Behe's supposed examples of systems that evolution could not produce were clearly shown in court to have fully functional (not necessarily the same function!) precursors.

The existence of irreducible complexity in biological systems is fully compatible with evolution and natural selection. It is certainly not evidence of intelligent design.

That leaves specified complexity, and fine-tuning.

Someone else can have a go at those... but JAF has already done them over fairly thoroughly.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Apr 2008 20:49:58 BDT
Last edited by the author on 4 Apr 2008 09:50:10 BDT
Drew Jones says:
I'll have a go at putting forward the case against fine tuning with the help of http://wiki.cotch.net/index.php/Cosmos_is_fine-tuned_to_permit_human_life.

Evolution shows us that rather than the world being adapted to humans, humans are adapted to the world. The late Douglas Adams puts it neatly:
A puddle wakes up one morning and thinks: "This is a very interesting world I find myself in. It fits me very neatly. In fact it fits me so neatly... I mean really precise isn't it?... It must have been made to have me in it."

Like the irreducible complexity arguement this one too has a logical falacy, this time presuming the significance of human life. It is self-centered human value judgements which make us believe that being fine-tuned to support human life is significant. Why not posit that the cosmos is fine-tuned for bacteria? After all, the majority of life appears to be bacteria, so one could assume that bacteria are the ones benefiting the most from the fine-tuning.

A further look around shows us our world is well-suited for life forms of many types. This is obvious since so many different forms of life live in it. Even more, there are environments in the world where mankind is not well-suited but many other animals are. For example, much of the Earth is under water and teems with undersea life yet man is not adapted naturally for living under water. This shows that if this world was created especially for the human race the intelligent designer forgot about us when designing the vast majority of our home planet let alone the incredibly vast and inhospitible universe that lies beyond our agreeable atmosphere. The total portion of the universe that is directly capable of supporting life, let alone human life, is also negligibly small and from this perspective it could amost be considered a mistake!

It is also possible complexity is a basic property. As was said earlier, nothing is very unstable state. At this point in time we can't be clear whether the universe is fine-tuned at all, since we do not have the basic physical theory or theory of everything to decide which universes are at all possible and how they look. Our current physical theories on which our cosmologies are based offer only good approximations but cannot decide this question. It is rather misleading if current theories are used to do so. Even if a small change in constants make the universe uninhabitable for the carbon-based life we see, it cannot yet be ruled out that other forms of life could exist.

Finally we can turn this argument back on itself and argue: Who fine-tuned God? Of all the gods possible, we have an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, creator god who interacts with human beings and even sacrificed himself to save mankind. Surely he must be fine-tuned for us!

I'd also like to add to Derek Huby's Irreducible complexity post below that Kenneth Miller also demonstrates that the non-biological example Behe puts forward with the mousetrap is not irreducibly complex itself either since it could function with a missing trigger as a tie clip; a key chain without the spring and the base alone could work as a paper weight.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Apr 2008 23:33:19 BDT
JA Foxton says:
A few more odds and ends about Michael Behe's mousetrap model. Apart from Ken Miller using a stripped down mousetrap as a tie clip, there was also the spectacular debunking of Behe's idea from John H. McDonald. He demonstrated how the five-part mousetrap can be reduced to four parts - whilst still retaining the ability to catch mice - then three parts, then two, then one. Obviously the effectiveness diminishes at each step but that is another matter.

In addition, from a historical perspective, it is worth noting that the spring-loaded trap beloved by Behe dates back to the 1890's and was patented in 1903 by John Mast. It didn't result from design and creation from nothing. Mast borrowed from 5 or 6 existing patents. It is actually the result of an evolutionary process!

Finally, arguments by analogy rest on having a reasonably good analogy. Here a mousetrap (mechanical) is being used in relation to a living thing. Show me a mousetrap which reproduces and has baby mousetraps and maybe we can pursue this argument further!

There is actually one other point which I would welcome comment upon. Irreducible complexity is seen as evidence of design. With irreducible complexity you remove a bit and the whole system fails. Good design tends to have failsafe mechanisms and backup systems to keep things running if one part fails. Isn't irreducible complexity actually an argument against something being intelligently designed?

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Apr 2008 13:19:15 BDT
Mr H says:
I've had my gall bladder removed but I'm still here. Odd that.

If this world is designed for us, will someone please explain why we can't live in the oceans, nor in volcanoes, nor on moutain tops. And why wasps? And why does too much sunlight give us cancer? And why does fire burn us and why is thunder so scary?

This planet is not made for us - we have adapted to live here through evolution.

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Apr 2008 10:33:02 BDT
JA Foxton says:
Hi R. Leal,

Now that you have had a couple of days to think about the excellent contributions from Drew and Derek, you will probably realise that, from a scientific perspective, Intelligent Design lies in tatters. Useful and interesting as this information was, you did not need it to consider my statements in the opening post.

In your response you did suggest that I had treated intelligent design theory in a rather simplistic way. I would claim that this is not the case and that, rather, it is Intelligent Design which has added layer upon layer of confusion - making it difficult to see a simple and obvious truth.

Maybe you would be good enough to consider this question - "Does anything in Intelligent Design give any clue as to the identity of the designer?" If you can't provide an affirmative answer to this question then my point stands - exactly as it was written.

Tony

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Apr 2008 16:48:35 BDT
R. Leal says:
Hi Foxton,

"In your response you did suggest that I had treated intelligent design theory in a rather simplistic way".

My post was not meant as a criticism to you. Maybe I didn't express myself the best way but I was referring to your second sentence, "It is usually argued that a house has a designer therefore the universe (which is rather more complex) must have a designer too." I thought that was a bit simplistic to the creationist way of seeing things, not that was wrong, absolutely. I actually wanted to know what you guys had to say about those other concepts which are part of the same theory. As you may have realized, I am here more as a learner than anything else.

Personally I am a non-believer and feel pretty comfortable in accepting natural selection as the most credible theory, until, as someone quoted by Dawkins says, a rabbit is found on a pre-cambrean fossil. Then the Darwinism would be the one to be in tatters.

I actually always thought the most (and maybe the only) plausible argument on the whole of ID was the fine-tuning one. Not that I think it's a probable one, but as Darwin didn't help us with the inanimate world as much as he did with the animate world, you can't help but keep an open mind to such theories. I admit my ignorance on this and would like to know what scientists such as Stephen Hawking had to say about this (I have one of his books in line to read).

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Apr 2008 19:23:36 BDT
Last edited by the author on 5 Apr 2008 23:13:14 BDT
JA Foxton says:
Hi R. Leal,

OK, I can see your point here. Of course both approaches have featured in the wider debate on this forum. We have had participants who have put the case that 'a house has a designer' and we have also had the ID approach too. In a way, it really didn't matter as far as my opening post was concerned.

If you want to pursue the fine-tuning arguments then I would highly recommend 'God : The Failed Hypothesis' by the physicist Victor Stenger. From this book I first came across a reference to the philosopher Gilbert Fulmer. Fulmer claims that fine-tuning arguments are logically incoherent. In other words, just as the argument from design can be shown to fail, so must the fine-tuning argument. Again, the complexity can deceive us but the essential truth is that, however complex it becomes, it is doomed to failure.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Apr 2008 15:00:32 BDT
E. K. Thomas says:
Tony, I see you have started a thread on your favourite subject. May I ask a simple question? What basic characteristics/principles/features would you expect to find in an intelligently designed universe? A simple list of positive items (not negatives) would be helpful.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Apr 2008 15:56:39 BDT
Vinogradov says:
That's a really good question.

However, I will be polite enough to let Tony answer it before I add my tuppence worth.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Apr 2008 16:20:23 BDT
JA Foxton says:
Hi Keith,

Unfortunately I am not a science fiction writer and would not wish to speculate about alternative universes which have been designed. My experience is limited to this universe which is exactly how we would expect it to be without positing any need for a designer (intelligent or otherwise.)

However may I mischievously suggest that an 'intelligently designed human being' would come equipped with sufficient rationality so that they would not be duped by design arguments? - this would have been really neat and would have saved me a certain amount of effort.

If you are genuinely interested in this question then I can refer you to 'God : The Failed Hypothesis' by Victor Stenger. He does make eleven suggestions as to what would support the 'God Hypothesis.' You won't be entirely surprised to find that all of them fail.

This thread actually offers you the opportunity to make a link from the design argument to any particular god which you happen to believe in. Since you have not addressed this, I assume that the design argument offers no support to your particular brand of religion over any other?

Secondly, I go on to claim that the design argument fails anyway. Because this is the case, I do not need to indulge in wild speculation about what a 'designed universe' would look like.

"I see you have started a thread on your favourite subject."

I wouldn't say that it is my favourite but I do find it interesting. I also find probability interesting - watch this space!

Over to you, Derek!

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Apr 2008 16:46:53 BDT
JA Foxton says:
Advocates of the fine-tuning argument may claim that it is extremely unlikely to find life in the universe - that the probability of things being 'just right' are infinitesimally small. How do they know this? In fact, the calculations point to the opposite being true.

Number of universes observed = 1
Number of universes with life = 1

Probability of finding life = 100%

Admittedly there is the potential for a high degree of experimental error. If anyone observes any more universes then I solemnly promise to come back and edit this post to reflect the new data. Until that time, the likelihood of finding life remains at 100%.

I think that I'm indebted to Victor Stenger for this complicated(?) calculation. In addition, the observation of more universes will kill the fine-tuning argument stone-dead. So, if anyone does produce more data we can forget about fine-tuning!
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Discussion in:  The God Delusion forum
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Initial post:  2 Apr 2008
Latest post:  12 Jul 2008

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The God Delusion
The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (Paperback - 21 May 2007)
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