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.
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.
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."
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.
on 11 October 2006
I only managed to read three reviews of this before I felt compelled to add my own comments. Dawkins does not suggest that he is 100% correct, neither does he base his judgements on 'blind faith' as one reviewer here put it. The God Delusion is an excellent dissection of religious faith, a polemic which lays bare the often nonsensical and ridiculous beliefs held by religious people. Dawkins bases his ideas on sound scientific argument, on logic and, above all, on common sense.
The God Delusion is a wonderfully written piece, never becoming too technical or high brow so as to be beyond the grasp of us mere mortals, and given Dawkins' immense stature in the scientific community you'd be forgiven for expecting a book which only those in a similar field could hope to understand. I read this in an almost constant state of awe. Dawkins has somehow managed to put down in print things that, I now understand, I've been unconsciously thinking about for years but never given voice to. A happy agnostic two weeks ago, I am now an ecstatic atheist and I recommend this book to anyone who's ever expressed even the tiniest doubt that their religious beliefs might, after all, be poppycock.
If I had any complaints they would be thus: the book is obviously aimed at an American audience and I found this disappointing (that's my nationalism coming through!). There are also some instances of 'the Emporer's new clothes' about it, almost encouraging the ridicule of those with faith, which I don't believe was intentional but it did come through. Apart from that, this is probably the most important book I have ever read and I can't wait to read it again. First though, I'm reading Charles Darwin's Origin of Species!
on 24 July 2016
Most of the arguments in this book are not new and are exactly what you’d expect from a scientist, so there are no surprises to the religious. As a retired engineer who contributed to finding the “God particle” I’m committed to the scientific enterprise as long as scientists educate and don’t proselytize.
Dawkins starts the book in effect by building a straw man argument and then demolishing it. Ignoring the most obvious definition of a "supernatural" god as one who is above and beyond nature and therefore not of the natural world, he attempts to analyse the probability that God existing at all. Having missed this crucial point of religious theology, he misses the fact that the concept of "existence" does not apply to a supernatural being. So his attempt to prove that God does not exist is somewhat flawed. In fact, the argument to invalidate a supernatural God is to simply say there is nothing we can know (or say) about such a God. We must stay silent on the matter.
Nevertheless the gap between the supernatural world and the natural one has been bridged by various religions through direct human experience of God (mysticism) or by God’s revelation to humankind through an intermediary, Dawkins applies probabilistic reasoning to dismiss people who experience such delusions. He’s probably right - but we cannot be certain about any individual case.
I’m concerned in the way that Dawkins arguments slowly progress from scientific fact to outright speculation. He's a scientist. He knows what comprises scientific evidence and the difference between this and interpolated or extrapolated opinions of scientists themselves. It’s entirely unclear what’s fact or fiction in his book. Personal opinions should be made editorially clear from scientific fact. After all, that’s why we developed science in the first place - to rid ourselves of the opinions of powerful individuals.
The one thing Dawkins cannot do is convince himself that some forms of religion are better than others. He concludes that all religion is bad. He confuses belief in a supernatural God with that of religion, thereby throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Even if belief in the supernatural God were to disappear, I still believe there would still be room for religion. Let me explain why ...
Scientific facts are established by performing experiments. The results are analysed statistically to determine the probability of a significant outcome. But probabilities cannot say anything with certainty about an individual. Science might determine which parts of the brain are responsible for my consciousness or emotional behaviour but it will never understand or explain the unique decisions of a living person surviving in unique personal circumstances in a complex social world. We all need social and emotional support throughout our lives. Education, jobs and family give meaning to an individual life however we are social creatures and we also need powerful social communities to share our personal experience and human values. Religions can be a helpful way of making the right life choices and celebrating them in the community.
Dawkins feels religion encourages the wrong kind of thinking (i.e. no thinking at all). I think there are several options to consider:
1. to drop religion altogether.
2. to replace religion with a more rational social structure.
3. to reinterpret existing religions in more natural and humanistic terms.
I’ve seen fist-hand how modern religion is currently redefining itself in a way that Dawkins conveniently ignores. The fact is there’s room - a need even - for religion in the modern world; and that should come as no surprise - not even to a scientist.
on 29 March 2016
This is a book by an author who in the long run make you believe it is acceptable to be an atheist. Richard Dawkins is such a good and lucid writer. He pulls no punches in his assessment of religion. The root of all evil perhaps but for some people it is their reason for living. I am more than happy with myself in not believing in any god and that belief has been reinforced by this book. It is a must buy book!
on 19 January 2016
A love of Ricky Gervais and Brian Cox brought me to this book and a general awareness of Richard Dawkins. I was raised a Catholic but have had doubts for years, never really had the courage to admit to being an Atheist but because of publications like this I now can, confidently, with courage and knowledge. Thank you Richard, our world needs more men like you.
on 27 October 2007
This book will surely attract agnostics and atheists as its majority audience so it is saying what a lot of us already know and think. The book says a lot we'd all like to have said publicly and globally, like atheists don't murder thousands of people by flying planes into buildings, etc., so it is a gratifying agent for saying what needs to be said and heard. I continue to be amazed at how many religious people don't actually know the contents of their Bible and Quran and/or do not question it. I am one of those people who doesn't close my door to Jehovah Witnesses, I give them time and alarm them with the Bible's stories of Jephthwa, Elisha, Lot and Abraham and query whether this is the behaviour of righteous people or the barking mad who would be committed to mental asylums if they were around today. (The last JWs that came to my door actually had no knowledge of Elisha's God-invoked murder of children in 2 Kings as punishment for them laughing at his bald pate.) So, if so many theists don't even read their own holy texts it's difficult to see how many will rush out to read this book. It's like the majority of fundmentalist Muslims supporting the fatwa against Salman Rushdie without having actually read The Satanic Verses.
Which brings me to a few failings I see in this book:
- It doesn't hit its stride until circa page 200 when it starts looking at the absurdity of the Bible by reference to its content, especially the Old Testamant. That's a long wait to get serious in a 370-page book.
- The narrative is meandering and fragmented. Dawkins repeatedly walks into subject areas then quickly puts the subject aside saying he will come to that later. This resembles a University lecture where the lecturer has the basic backbone of what he is lecturing on and an end game but wanders off at tangents as he goes. The book would have far more punch and cogency had a good editor been allowed to structure it and give it more coherence.
- Dawkins does get emotional on the subject via a plethora of exclamation marks and italicised words that dilute the power of the arguments that would be stronger without them.
- At times he resorts to ridiculing his adversaries, at one point even using the schoolyard "Nar-nar-na-nar-nar". Again: formidable, objective reasoning isn't enhanced by child-like language.
- And finally, Dawkins can be self-indulgent with copious name-dropping and mentioning his wife reading the book aloud to him from cover to cover which was a little wincing.
Without these distractions, its intended audience of reasonable and reasoning theists prepared to question their beliefs would have a better platform to debate and engage from.