785 of 904 people found the following review helpful
on 14 March 2009
An excellent book, very well-written and thoughtfully argued. Stimulating and challenging - at times scathing - but something which definitely propels one to delve deeper into the reasons for belief - or indeed lack of them.
Dawkins' central thesis seems to be that the evolutionary process of natural selection, as propounded by Darwin and bolstered by the amalgamation of much subsequent indicatory evidence, provides a viable and real alternative to the "God Hypothesis" - indeed it blows it out of the water. But, why then - if blatantly false - is religion so ubiquitous? Evoking theories of evolutionary psychology and the human need for consolation and meaning (as well as the scientific ignorance of our ancestors), Dawkins explains the popularity of religion in purely secular terms.
But what, then, about morality? How can we derive our principles of right and wrong if not from an absolute source of incontrovertible authority (God / revelation)? Again Dawkins responds by explaining how the roots of morality have Darwinian origins and includes a chapter on how the moral lessons of traditional religion (quoting biblical scripture, although I suspect his treatment of the Quran or other sacred texts would be equally unsympathetic) are not that endearing anyway. Why be so hostile though - isn't religion a good thing, a quaint yet harmless cultural phenomenon? Well no, look at the fundamentalists, terrorists, homophobes and other fanatics being spawned by the religious project in increasingly large numbers. Dawkins is unequivocal: religion is dangerous and we need to protect ourselves from it.
So what's the solution, what do we do? Simple, answers Richard with customary gusto: take a strong dose of courage followed by an even stronger one of rationalism, then cast off these restrictive fetters we've inherited from childhood. Grow up, for God's sake (no pun intended), and breathe the fresh, fragrant air of twenty first century scientific freedom! Our experiments have revealed, after all, that there are no fairies at the bottom of the garden.
This, in a nutshell, is a synopsis of the book and something, I must say, I found to be an exhilarating read. I approached the book with an open mind, determined not to allow the predilections of my preconceptions taint my appreciation of his arguments, and was sufficiently enthused to write directly to the author (I await his response). It's always refreshing to have your beliefs challenged, and Dawkins is an expert at doing that. He also has a brilliant knack of reducing complex scientific content down to digestible chunks (peppered with generous offerings of very entertaining humour), and this adds considerably to the readability value of the text. It's not for nothing that Dawkins was the Charles Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, demonstrating his ability to explain - in simple terms - science to the layperson. Also worth pointing out is one of the key benefits of the book in the way in which it collates into a single place so many of the classic as well as modern arguments for belief versus disbelief, making it into a cutting-edge handbook for reference.
So what of the key questions the text raises? How can people of faith come to terms with the structured and forceful arguments outlined above? Can we marry faith with modern twenty first century scientific rationalism or are the two fundamentally incompatible, consigned to follow paths of mutually irreconcilable divergence?
I, for one, remain content with my faith as a Muslim after reading Dawkins' book. Although appreciating the validity of many of his arguments, and recognising the negative impact that extreme religion can have, I'm not convinced entirely by the argument for blind and random evolution. Too many holes exist for my liking, and a "leap of faith" is required similar to what the religious person must commit to. I also found his section on the "anthropic principle" to be singularly unconvincing. Cosmology and the origin of life is something science is still stabbing in the dark at (although Dawkins says he has "faith" the answer will be found as the discoveries of science continue). I choose to have faith that the answer has been given to us, whilst fully respecting those who choose to disagree. Ultimately, it's the personal prerogative of each individual to forge an understanding of existence unique to them, whether buttressed by an accepted world-view or not. Dawkins challenges and stimulates us into believing that there is nothing outside of ourselves - we are the sum and substance of billions of years of chance occurrences and all supra-natural entities our ancestors believed in are nothing but the fictions of human imagination. What we choose to believe, though, is our individual and independent choice.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 19 June 2015
"The God Delusion" is a well written and persuasive argument in favour of atheism. As we head into the 21st century it is a subject that is surely more relevant now than ever before. Richard Dawkins does a very good job of listing the major arguments for Gods existence and then discussing why none of these hold water when looked at objectively. He then goes on to discuss the arguments for there not being a God, providing a more scientific rational for existence. His writing is clear and easy to read, and at times quite witty and entertaining.
Dawkins' main argument stems from the fact that a proper understanding of evolution can be used to explain the existence of all life on this planet. Religion is an outdated notion that stemmed from a lack of understanding in how the world works. He goes on to examine more specific aspects of religion such as the wrathful homicidal God of the Old Testament and questions the morality of some of the more wacky passages from the Bible.
The focus is mainly on Christianity as this is the religion that Richard Dawkins is most familiar with. However his most extreme examples of the evils committed as a result of religion all come from Islam though so it would have been helpful if he had discussed this and other religions in more detail.
I also felt that the book did not really address the main reason people cling to religious faith - because the alternative is to accept a world where they are completely alone, just another biological entity which will one day die and cease to exist. Richard Dawkins is clearly lucky enough to find beauty and joy in science, and especially in evolution (he is a biologist after all). But for most people the idea of giving up their faith, even if deep down they know it to be false, to replace it with nothing is hardly appealing. This is why religious people get so mad at him, even though deep down they know he is right, he offers nothing in return. Perhaps a chapter on all the many benefits of a world without religion would have been helpful here as surely without all the war and division religion causes we would have colonised the galaxy by now.
221 of 259 people found the following review helpful
on 18 June 2007
The other reviews of this book demonstrate what a touchy subject this is! Whatever your views I would recommend reading this book. It's fluent, well argued and engaging - although he is sometimes so angered by religious people that the fury starts to seep through and you can sense his knuckles whitening on the pen.
As with many theses the nuggets are sometimes tucked away. He casually reflects at one point how "believers" are actually atheistic about many gods (Apollo, Ra, Vishnu, Odin etc) - they dismiss almost as many gods as he does.
His scale of believing/not believing is interesting too: this isn't just a case of yes or no, there are many graduations on the way through - so, which are you? Quite atheistic but vaguely think there might be a God? Find out where you are on this handy, easy-to-read scale!
Seriously: this is a book that puts religious belief into perspective. If you are fifty like me, Christianity was probably a big part of your childhood education, and you challenged it at your peril. Like everything else your teachers believed in (corporal punishment, fair play, fitness, mind/body balance) in later life you have to assess the value of those ideas. Are you going to try to pass them on to your children? Are you sure that's right?
My tip - don't read the intro when you start: it's the angriest chapter, as it recounts the polemical (and sometimes downright horrid) attacks which have been made on Dawkins about the subject, so he's cross.
My own beliefs? Why should you care! This is an amazon review. It's about the book and whether it's worth reading. Enough with the ranting already.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 18 September 2015
I cannot speak highly enough about this book.
Very early into it I realised this would enter the very short list of books that have changed the way I think about the world, sitting alongside The Handmaid's Tale and Bleak House to name but two.
In a sense the title book really tells you what it is going to contain.
Many have written on this subject but what makes this book so important is that it is written by a man who has both one of the finest modern minds alongside an ability to express his thought with a clarity and accessibility which is rare indeed.
The result is a thorough and searing dissection of religious belief.
on 25 November 2015
... and unwittingly confirms that atheism is an act of faith.
Not to discount the possibility of different channels of knowledge, but the Scientific Method is undeniably robust. To gain acceptance, any scientific theory must be validated by independent empirical evidence and every scientist is answerable to his or her peers. Sales figures topping 3 million testify that The God Delusion was written for the mass market, but when the author is an eminent scientist one would expect him to martial solid evidence applied with academic rigour in building the case for God's nonexistence. Alas, on that count he fails embarrassingly. What we have here is a book rich in polemic and poor in the way it appropriates science to serve its purpose.
My interest is in Chapter 4 - Why There Almost Certainly Is No God - which the author states "has contained the central argument of my book" and is the theme implied by the provocative title: The God Delusion. The rest of the book is largely a sustained attack on religious dogma and practices, some of it deserved, and on religious beliefs, largely undeserved, in places savage enough to warrant a WARNING: SECULARLY EXPLICIT, MAY CAUSE OFFENCE. But that is another story for another reviewer.
Rather than focusing on the "central argument", however, Chapter 4 is mostly taken up with dismantling variants of creationist theory as applied to the natural world: the illusion that complex things must have been designed; the fallacy of irreducible complexity (as advertised in Watchtower!); God as a surrogate for gaps in our scientific knowledge. Darwin and Dawkins are both credited with raising awareness of the truth and up to this point the author has made a strong case for the evolution of species by natural selection, involving random genetic mutation rather than a guiding hand. All very well but, as the author knows, debunking biological creationism doesn't get rid of God. And so…
No fewer than 18 pages of Chapter 4 consider aspects of the so-called Anthropic Principle (AP), a logical trap into which Prof Dawkins falls headlong. Several versions of the AP have been coined, for planet Earth and for the cosmos. The "weak" versions are rhetorical tautologies reducible to nothing more than a truism, the self-evident statement that the conditional probability of finding yourself in a universe compatible with your existence is always 1. The "strong" version of the AP implies that life is inevitable in the universe, but that seems a step too far for an evolutionary biologist who later contemplates other universes with properties not at all conducive to life.
From bible-bashers to theoretical physicists, one thing we can all agree on is that our universe did have a beginning. Unfortunately, despite that it can be recast in different forms, the Anthropic Principle does not help us understand how or why the cosmos came to be. Prof Dawkins' fatal error of logic is to present the AP as an explanation, a "rational, design-free" alternative to theology. I repeat: the AP is a truism, not an explanation! The truism does invite explanation, of course, and there are a number of rival theories, the God hypothesis being one, the spontaneous-universe hypothesis another, the multiverse-casino hypothesis another. To return to the Scientific Method, one should note that none of these theories, however elegant and internally consistent they might appear, has a shred of objective empirical evidence to support it and to my knowledge no-one has devised a suitable experiment even in concept. This is a deal-breaker and one would anticipate a scientist of Prof Dawkins' standing to have unearthed some original ideas, either of his own or of eminent fellow scientists. Having said that, should science ever find hard evidence for a multiverse of one kind or another, it would not necessarily rule out a divine creator for the whole show.
Chapter 4 makes only one further point directly relevant to the "central argument": "Any God capable of designing a universe... must be a supremely complex and improbable entity who needs an even bigger explanation than the one he is supposed to explain". The professor doth profess too much, methinks! It is an unfounded, some would say naive, notion that a human construct such as probability or complexity can be ascribed to God. The only reasonable assumption we can make is that if our universe has a Creator, that entity would, of necessity, have an existence independent of space-time, fundamental physical laws and of course human concepts.
To my mind the only rational, and I stress rational, position available is agnosticism. Not the 50/50 balancing act the author dubs TAP (imagine maintaining your belief system by constantly trawling for new information, which might sway the odds one way or the other!), but a position that recognises the God-question to be beyond the scope of rational analysis. From that position one may continue to suspend judgement, pending divine or scientific revelation, or one may opt into one of two mutually exclusive belief systems, neither of which is rational: one based on God, the other on God’s nonexistence. Making either choice is an act of faith. Although Prof Dawkins is dismissive of people who have chosen otherwise ("The Poverty of Agnosticism"), he can’t avoid the fact that atheists and theists are bound together by the God-question, atheists being defined by what they deny!
Like anyone else, scientists are free to adopt theism, atheism or agnosticism and I doubt whether this book will convince many to switch horses. I concur with the words of atheist-physicists Prof Brian Cox: "There is naivety in just saying there’s no God; it’s b------s” and Prof Jim al Khalili: "I think it’s very naive of scientists who are atheists to think that somehow, just through the sheer force of logic, they’re going to convince the world that they’re right and that there should be no such thing as religion”.
on 1 November 2015
Dawkins poses arguments regarding the question of God’s existence. But really, the argument is about rationalization (science) versus the supernatural (religion).
This is a long and in depth book that basically makes the point you don’t need a god to be moral and this point is made emphatically from different angles. Dawkins also goes into great detail on the roots of religion.
He begins at the beginning by suggesting that there is too much fear of stepping on the toes of religion, preventing a rational discussion. It would seem that violence and drug-taking is acceptable if in the name of religion. Religion has special privileges and unlike nature or scientific theories, does not evolve.
But, he asks, why are some people religious and others not? He holds up the example of America, generally more religious than England. Could it be that England has tired of its protracted religious history and conflicts? Could it be that America is more religious because its history features immigrants seeking spiritual comfort after being removed from their roots?
He points out that Children are prone to ‘dualism’, a coalition of thoughts with parents. Almost like having a familiar. Could this be where the idea of God came from? A sort of comforting voice in the head that makes us feel we are not alone? Does this belief cling into adulthood, creating a lifelong faith that offers reassurance?
Interestingly research has shown that individuals with higher education are less likely to be religious. Yet Dawkins argues a non-believer can be deeply religious. For example, Einstein marvels at the complexity and order of the cosmos without actually believing in God.
Dawkins explains ‘NOMA’ as a non-overlapping magisteria, which means that science and religion cannot overlap. If one encroaches upon the other, religion can no longer exist. This is seen in the case of scientific research into the power of prayer. A group of candidates were asked to pray for a subject; the other not to. The results, if proven that prayer has power, cannot be used to prove that God exists, for religion is about faith, not scientific proof. Yet if unproven, devout religious clerics would disregard the experiment.
Dawkins further explores the obscurity of religion via the Scriptures, written long after the death of Jesus by various scribes with different political agendas. Some of it is illogical. For example, an Old Testament prophecy states ‘the Messiah will be born from David’. This becomes irrelevant, as Jesus is born from a virgin (Joseph’s ancestry becomes irrelevant) Personally, I still see Joseph as Jesus’ father, if not in body, but in mind.
Dawkins argues that natural selection is the true answer to the amazing things seen in nature (not by God, the grand designer). Great things come from small improvements. Creatures evolved through a series of small modifications over time have a huge result.
It took me quite a while to plough through this book that does not differentiate for different reading levels. The arguments are pretty simple, but are put in complex, convoluted ways. Some words are very obscure: tergiversation, prestidigitation, trilemma, although I could glean the meaning in spite of these words. There must have been simpler ways of putting across Dawkins’ points.
I felt the book would have been more reader friendly if each chapter had recapped with summarizing points as done so in chapter 4. This book does after all concern the argument of God versus science, which concerns us all.
I did see Dawkins’ logic in a lot of his arguments. For instance, the Darwinian natural selection of tribes who worship peace-loving gods rather than warring gods. His argument is about human kindness surviving the test of time, rather than blind faith.
I would recommend reading this book to understand Dawkins’ side of the argument, only then can the cleric argue against it, but is not a light read.
333 of 400 people found the following review helpful
on 28 September 2006
If you're reading this, the chances are you're either a 'radical atheist' (the preferred term of Dawkins' late friend Douglas Adams, to whom the book is dedicated), hoping that The God Delusion will give you a good satisfying dose of anti-religion rhetoric; or you're a devout believer, hoping to be roundly appalled and outraged.
Either way, you could be disappointed. For the first half or more, The God Delusion is more rigorous and scientifically demanding than we have been led to expect (Jeremy Paxman in interviewing Dawkins called it 'entertaining': well, yes and no). Dawkins goes to great, and occasionally tiresomely great, lengths to detail why the existence of the universe, the development of life and the variety of creation can be comfortably explained by science and probability. And then he gets to grips with traditional justifications for the existence of God, disposing of them in his own neat way. Perhaps these sections seemed superfluous to me as someone who is satisfied that Dawkins is right and there is no God; and doubtless they will seem equally superfluous - in another sense - to those who believe in God and not in Dawkins.
(It's worth saying at this point that when Dawkins means 'God', he means a personal, supernatural creator of the religious scriptures, a God-being rather than the more progressive notion of God as something nebulous that exists in all of us. This is after all the commonly understood meaning of God, which children are taught and most Christian, Islamic and Jewish adults continue to believe in. For sophisticated modern believers, who do not take the scriptures literally, Dawkins doesn't really regard you as religious at all; and you take that as an insult or compliment as you see fit.)
All this is worthwhile but when the book was more than half over, by page 200, and we were still on "The Roots of Religion," I couldn't help wondering when it would all get going. I needn't have worried. Dawkins, who has been quite restrained up until now - his disrespect limited to the odd sneer of 'faith-heads' or referring to the God of the Old Testament as a 'psychotic delinquent' - lets fly with the passion of his true feelings once the subject turns to morality.
And it is a thrilling, invigorating display. Dawkins systematically dismantles all arguments for morality being connected to religious belief in any sense (indeed shows how diametrically opposed much religious teaching is to widely accepted morality), addresses tricky issues like the Darwinian explanation for altruism, disposes of a few sacred cows along the way (Mother Teresa is "sanctimoniously hypocritical [with] cock-eyed judgement," God an "evil monster"), and horrifies us with religion's historical and present-day cruelties and injustices.
The other principal benefit of The God Delusion is that it gives us an opportunity to see all Dawkins' religious arguments in one place, having previously experienced them only in snippets of other books, newspaper articles and TV programmes. And he wastes no time in reiterating some of his favourite rhetoric:
"I think we should all wince when we hear a small child being labelled as belonging to some particular religion or another. Small children are too young to decide their views on the origins of the cosmos, of life and of morals. The very sound of the phrase 'Christian child' or 'Muslim child' should grate like fingernails on a blackboard."
"I have found it amusing strategy, when asked whether I am an atheist, to point out that the questioner is also an atheist when considering Zeus, Apollo, Amon Ra, Mithras, Baal, Thor, Wotan, the Golden Calf, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and almost all the other gods that have been invented since the dawn of man. I just go one god further."
And having put the fear of, well, God into us by detailing the dark side of religious belief (Dawkins would argue that there is no bright side: if your good morals and deeds are determined solely by a God you believe in, he argues, you are an "immoral person we should steer a clear passage around"), he is too professional to leave us floundering. Instead he injects the last ten pages with a soaring essay on the passion of science, which "widens the window" on what we can see, and leaves us with a lasting taste of the freedom that can be ours if we can only dare to think for ourselves. It is reminiscent of this beautiful passage from his earlier book Unweaving the Rainbow, which seems a good place to end, letting the wonder of what's really there speak for itself:
"Fling your arms wide in an expansive gesture to span all of evolution from its origin at your left fingertip to today at your right fingertip. All across your midline to well past your right shoulder, life consists of nothing but bacteria.
"Many-celled, invertebrate life flowers somewhere around your right elbow. The dinosaurs originate in the middle of your right palm, and go extinct around your last finger joint. The whole history of Homo sapiens and our predecessor Homo erectus is contained in the thickness of one nail clipping. As for recorded history; as for the Sumerians, the Babylonians, the Jewish patriarchs, the dynasties of Pharaohs, the legions of Rome, the Christian Fathers, the Laws of the Medes and Persians which never change; as for Troy and the Greeks, Helen and Achilles and Agamemnon dead; as for Napoleon and Hitler, the Beatles and Bill Clinton, they and everyone that knew them are blown away in the dust of one light stroke of a nail file."
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 6 July 2015
Well-written and very readable, this book seriously questions religious "blind faith" in a down-to earth and practical way. I have read a few of Prof.Dawkins' works, and this is one of the best. It should be compulsory reading in all secondary schools, and particularly"Faith Schools". Be warned though, it does hit hard at unquestioning belief and will leave the reader to a wholly new appreciation of religious folly. Thoroughly recommended!
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 30 December 2012
I loved this book through and through, I was reading it and thinking that I must read it again! It is a very clear and easy to read even for me whose first language is not English; clear, concise where he needed to be, straight to the point and not too technical when it came to the scientific parts (which I very much appreciated since I am not a scientist myself), loads of further reading references, and very funny, it is a must read for EVERYONE that at any point in their lives have questioned the existence of God. In my opinion the best part of it was his approach to atheism is one of pride and being able to enjoy and appreciate life without the false promises of religious believes. Thank you Dr Dawkins.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 29 June 2014
I grew up believing in God. I was born in a christian family. We eat God, drink God, sleep God, but after reading this book, I can honestly say, the world looks different and its refreshing to see this God in a different perception. Highly recommend it.