1,669 of 1,836 people found the following review helpful
on November 11, 2006
I read numerous reviews before I bought this book. Because of the controversial nature of the topic I was very interested in the perspective of the reviewer. Often this perspective was easy to guess but not always. So to make this review more valuable to the reader I would like to state my background first. I am a 50 year old active Catholic who has slowly become disillusioned by religion starting as a child when told my Protestant friend would not go to heaven. For years I existed on "faith" since I personally could find no evidence that God existed. As a Catholic there is also a good helping of "guilt" for good measure. I am also a very strong Constitutionalist and believe that the only way to get along is to have freedom of and freedom from religion. With the recent surge of religious fundamentalism and its effects on politics I have become increasingly concerned about what Dawkins calls the American Taliban and the push for a Christian Theocracy. This actually scares me more than Al-Qaida. The words "Faith" and "Belief" have been morphed into the word "Truth". This new "Truth" has caused me to do a lot of searching for answers for what really is true.
Richard Dawkins book was extremely helpful and was the first book I have read on the Atheist side of the fence. I found Chapters 1 through 4 and 7 through 9 easy to read. Chapters 5, 6, 7 and 10 were more scientific and a hard read for the average person. I actually needed a dictionary at my side to get through those chapters. I particularly liked the section in Chapter 3 on Pascal's Wager which I had mistakenly credited to Einstein in the past.
What I had found so interesting is that he expressed ideas that I had been developing in my brain for years, but did not feel free to discuss with others. (although he can state them more eloquently than I can). The result is that I have been pushed from a 5 to a 6 on his scale of belief.
The book is not only preaching to the Atheist choir, but to all those who a truly open minded enough to form there own opinions about God and religion. If you are in this category it is certainly worth purchasing.
Previous reviews stated that Dawkins was mean spirited and blamed religion for social evils. I did not find this to be the case, and I found that he was as fair minded as someone who believes as he does can be.
2,821 of 3,216 people found the following review helpful
on October 28, 2006
I've just finished reading the 141 reviews above mine, and I think they're utterly fascinating--almost as interesting as the book. And the scores--the numbers who find each review helpful--are equally remarkable.
Some reviewers, delighted to find their opinions supported by Dawkins, use the opportunity to bask in their superior intellects and display their generous contempt for those who disagree.
Other reviewers feel personally attacked by this book, fending it off as best they can so they can retain their illusions, which are obviously valuable and meaningful to them.
Actually, you don't even have to read the reviews to see which is which. Just look at the numbers. If you see very few finding the review useful, you'll know the review was written by someone opposing Dawkins' ideas. And if the majority find the review helpful, that means it agrees with Dawkins.
This tells me that most of the people who are bothering to read the reviews are already pro-Dawkins--and it bodes ill for his hopes that his book will convert the believers.
It won't convert many believers, not because it is wrong--it isn't--and not because it isn't well-written--it is--but because whatever else you can say about faith, it isn't easily extinguished. For those who have it, it is the only life raft on a limitless ocean. Those who don't have learned how to swim, or plan to.
The most annoying reviewers, from my point of view, are those whose remarks demonstrate they haven't read the book (such as the fellow who insists Einstein was a believer), or those who feel Dawkins doesn't have the Biblical knowledge to back up his conclusions.
He doesn't need any Biblical knowledge. None of us do, when it comes to the question of belief. Memorizing the Bible neither adds nor subtracts from our ability to feel faith.
And that's the bottom line for me. I am unable to accept an assertion of any kind supported by nothing more than faith. I need some kind of truth, some kind of evidence.
There are or might be moments when I am jealous of those capable of faith. I would love to believe, when a loved one dies, that he or she is going to a better place and that we'll meet again some day. What a lovely, comforting thought. Would that it were true, or that I could believe it. But I don't--and it makes this life and every moment in it more valuable to me.
I once asked myself how a person totally unfamiliar with religion, might choose among the world's offerings, might decide to adopt one of the world's thousands of religions. I could find no way. They all claim they're right and all the other religions are wrong. But are any of them right?
Now I'm thinking similar thoughts about God. I saw a website recently that compiled the names of all of the gods, worldwide and throughout history. They found 3800 different gods or supernatural beings. If I were inclined to believe, which one would I choose and why?
Dawkins points out that we're all atheists. We don't believe in Amon-re, Zeus, Thor, Apollo, Odin, etc., etc., etc. He just goes one god further.
323 of 368 people found the following review helpful
on December 21, 2006
Many have criticized this book for not speaking in a voice that could influence religious fundamentalists away from their delusion. There is no way the topic can be discussed that would have any hope of doing this. It would be akin to writing a book that through gentle persuasion would reason a paranoid out of his delusions. Ain't going to happen.
I believe the intended audience is those who already have grave doubts, and are looking for a well reasoned examination of the issue. I was impressed by the simple and straightforward approach to resolving a basic question: "since we can't know for sure if God exists, shouldn't we all be agnositics?"
I also enjoyed his definition of a pantheist (I'll leave that for the reader to discover).
The opening sections on Einstein and his "religious" beliefs, and a general discussion of pantheism and deism are worth the price of the book just by themselves.
As an aside -- those reviewers who cite Einstein's religious conversion away from atheism have clearly not read even this much of the book.
Written with great humor and wonderful quotations -- I am sure there is something here to offend just about everyone -- but also with great courage and forthrightfullness.
1,160 of 1,372 people found the following review helpful
Before considering Professor Dawkins's bestseller, a mention must be made of the over 300 reviews here posted as well as the assorted blogs, debates, and article the book has provoked. Reading through these, whether pro or con, one can not help but notice a clear and unnerving trend, not unlike one sees in reviews regarding works on the Middle East conflict; those who agree with his thesis from the outset almost always offer resounding and unadulterated praise without considering even the possibility of flaws in his methodology or logic. Of course, at the same time, those who hold his position as heresy rarely respond in any logical method to his position and rarely even seem willing to acknowledge the professor's obvious strength's as a writer. Such failure of reasoning on both sides points to a disheartening decline in the state of the western intellectual tradition that should give every person pause.
As a great fan of Professor Dawkins's previous work, "The Selfish Gene," a book that provided me with considerable food for thought several years back and profoundly altered my thinking, I looked forward with some excitement to "The God Delusion." Reading the new book on recognizes quickly that this is in fact one book, with three goals. Professor Dawkins imagines these goals as not only compatible, but structural to the argument he seeks to build. As for me I am less certain.
The first part restates much of what might be found in "The Selfish Gene," albeit more briefly and with some editions based on more recent scholarship. There is no need to review the whole of thesis, his obvious purpose will suffice; defending Darwinian evolution from the current relentless and often absurd assault it now suffers at the hands of certain individuals who prefer to shout at the storm rather than consider an umbrella. Now "The Selfish Gene," was nothing short of brilliant, and Dawkins here again demonstrates much of what makes him a gifted writer of science, explaining the strengths of Darwin's theory, and devastating many of the positions of those who argue against it. Other works of course cover this same ground, but there can be no doubt Dawkins here shines.
Of course, these points are not the goal of Dawkins's work, but only the foundation of a broader argument. From there he moves into an evolutionary thesis for the origin of belief and religion. Here he remains on firm ground, though many may find it disquieting, even as he moves to the next logical position that evolution and the cosmos requires no deity to explain itself. And it is from there that the Professor moves onto shakier ground as he seeks not to simply discount the evidence often cited for a supreme being, but rather argue against the possibility of its existence. Of course, the logical difficulty of proving an absolute negative - for example, "there are no blue dogs," are legion -- yet this of course does not deter the professor who approaches the subject with a zealot's fervor. Yet, many of the arguments here stand as both pugnacious and flawed, moreover revealing that while well versed in science, professor Dawkins might consider a few classes in philosophy, not to mention religion so that he might recognize that the Anglicanism in which he was raised is not the totality of all Christianity and, moreover, Christianity is by no means the totality of religion.
One might take his arguments one at a time, but I will focus on one, it having received great attention. Dawkins posits "A designer God cannot be used to explain organized complexity because any God capable of designing anything would have to be complex enough to demand the same kind of explanation in his own right." Of course this ignores the prevalent notion of both the Jewish and Islamic tradition that God exists both inside and outside his creation, and thus cannot be fully known. Moreover, he likely would not like this argument applied to cosmology; the fact that it grows increasingly complex as our understanding grows does not make the next more complex factor less likely, but merely outside of our current grasp. The effort to understand this with probability as a method of rendering a supreme being unlikely comes across as self serving and holding to a standard the professor would surely not wish to apply to science.
Yet it is in the final piece of his work that Professor Dawkins becomes the most vitriolic and, in fact, a bit sophomoric as he attacks religion by pointing to all the evil in history rendered in its name. The effort appears like the work of a rather polemic inclined undergrad, especially as the Professor fails to consider the good brought by religion, nor seriously consider the degree to which concepts arising from religion have influenced or even founded much of the secular humanist philosophy he holds so dear. Moreover, Professor Dawkins shows no taste for considering the considerable evil done in the name of atheism. Regarding these, however, he has no stomach for discussion, writing curtly ""We are not in the business of counting evils heads, compiling two rival roll calls of iniquity." Yet that is exactly what he does when it comes to those of faith, ignoring the torture and murder of many, often due to their particular commitment to religion done in the name of "reason" by Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and their ilk. Instead, Dawkins contrasts theoretical atheist utopia with the religions practical and often horrific evils. Sadly, such an effort generates much heat and little light. Had he been willing to engage the more interesting and complex issue, he might well have concluded that humanity is capable of much horror and violence, for many motivations. But then, such a conclusion would hardly serve his narrow polemic goals.
Nothing in the world should be held as not subject to reason. Unfortunately, Professor Dawkins could well have used more of it in engaging in his efforts. While one can certainly render cogent arguments for atheism, indeed many have, the effort here seems more designed to score easy points by burning straw men at the stake. No doubt, this review will receive votes for and many more against, not based on its reasoning, but simply based on people's particular faith on which side of these issues the reside. But then again, most seem inclined to simply march along side their ideological kin, rather than engage in serious consideration of such weighty matters.
27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on April 27, 2007
I listened to The God Delusion as an audiobook, and found it fascinating. I've engaged in debates with my husband over it, and he hasn't even read it yet! Such is the substance of a very thought-provoking book. My husband insists that atheism is as much a religion as any other religion, but I beg to disagree. As Dawkins quotes, I think, Bertrand Russell, in the book, if I didn't exist for all the millennia before my birth, why do I insist that I have to exist in some form after my death? It's just not important. People insist on an afterlife because they are so self-centered, it is an affront to them to think that they can ever completely cease to exist. Ernest Becker in his sometimes brilliant "The Denial of Death" also addresses this question and states that humans insist they must have a soul to elevate themselves in importance as individuals. Also interesting is the fact that the atoms in ones body are recycled throughout ones life so how can one claim unique existence.
Dawkins brings up hundreds of points that stimulate lively discussion, which is the purpose of his book. While some of his arguments aren't as complete as they might be -- like the important role that religion, as a form of superstition and explaining the unexplainable -- has played in human history, the book has many ideas that deserve to be stated, and driven home. I especially identified with his characterization of God in the three major religions as a judgmental, ruthless, punishing dictator. That to me more clearly than anything, proves that this God is nothing other than a human's personification of a human. Because only humans have the qualities attributed to this supernatural being.
As a person with a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology myself, I fully understand his reliance on the argument that Darwin's theory of natural selection provides the simplest and most elegant explanation of the complexity and diversity of life on earth. The science of probability explains why earth happened to be one of the planets on which life could evolve (see this week's newspaper articles on another true earthlike planet discovered elsewhere in the universe. Dawkins himself will I'm sure applaud the evidence that we are NOT unique). The power of science over religion is that by applying the scientific method we can continuously narrow the realm of things we don't know. To me this is far more powerful than the leap of faith, which requires one to cease to ask any questions at all.
I also think Dawkins does an admirable job of destroying the idea that in the modern world we have to rely on a supernatural being to explain anything. While the author obviously picks and chooses among his source materials to document his views, he nonetheless does a thorough job in such documentation. I think he has written a highly informative book that stimulates intellectual re-examination of a topic that will never go out of style.
107 of 130 people found the following review helpful
Richard Dawkins, well known writer on evolutionary theory, begins this volume by quoting from Robert Pirsig (author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) (page 5): "`When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called religion.'" This is a volume that religious readers will despise and that nonbelievers will probably speak well of.
There certainly are questions one can raise about this volume. For instance, Dawkins claims that the founders of the United States were not overly religious. However, research clearly shows that religious sources were among the most commonly cited in the lead up to the American Revolution. And the colonists were a religious people; some colonies had been, in essence, theocracies. However, such cavils are not directly relevant for the thesis of Dawkins.
The book runs along the following lines:
First, Dawkins explores standard arguments on behalf of God's existence and disposes of each of these. Some might argue that he attacks some straw men here, but--overall--this is a readable critique that will be compelling for some and not for others.
Second, he addresses why, in his opinion, the idea of the existence of God is unlikely.
Next, he asks why religion has become widespread. He adopts an evolutionary approach to address this. He ends up speculating that (page 174): ". . .there will be a selective advantage to child brains that possess the rule of thumb: believe, without question, whatever your grown-ups tell you. Obey your parents; obey the tribal elders, especially when they adopt a solemn, minatory tone. Trust your elders without question." In short, we tend to reify the values of our parents and other respected figures. If those values are religious, then people will accept those religious values with little question. He follows this discussion up by addressing why morality is so widespread, since many equate morality and religion. He examines a series of studies that suggest that both believers and non-believers accept fairly similar moral positions. Dawkins' question (page 226): "This seems compatible with the view, which I and many others hold, that we do not need God in order to be good--or evil."
Other questions are addressed as well, such as the contention that there is a gap in human life that God fills, the down side of the confident absolutism of many religious people, and so on. The book is well written and literate. In the final analysis, though, its basic contention is such that those who begin reading the book in agreement with Dawkins will like it and those in disagreement (if they read the book at all) will be appalled. Nonetheless, for those interested in the recent books focusing on the subject of the validity of religion, this is a must read.
92 of 114 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2006
Dawkin's writing is always passionate, here though is a polemic that screams urgency on nearly every one of its 350 odd pages. Clearly born of a growing dismay at the re-encroachment of religion into not only moral but political discourse, Dawkins has set out his lifelong objections to both the irrationality of religious belief and also to the damaging effects he argues it has on society and above all to children. In a particularly controversial and biting chapter he condemns the religious indoctrination of young people as a form of child abuse greater than that of the catholic priest sex scandals.
I find Dawkin's prose electrifying, provocative and at times beautiful, particularly here when describing the compatibility of awe and wonder at the universe with the atheistic position. Dawkins attempts to rebut most of the historical arguments for God's existance, refute the claim that morality is dependent on at least a belief in God (if not his actual existence) and in general the idea that religion serves as some kind of Platonic noble myth keeping society sane, happy, moral and together. He ends the book by arguing that children should not suffer the abuse of being force fed religion, and instead should be raised as rational beings, helping to create a mature society in which scientific method determines questions of fact and philosophical reasoning that of moral value.
I'm an aetheist, though I have a much too pessimistic view of human nature to call myself a humanist, but upon finishing the book I was rather swept away for a short time in a kind of hope that reason can indeed one day abolish dogma and superstition to produce both a fairer and a happier society. I'm rather left thinking though, that perhaps that could only be in a society of cloned Richard Dawkins, or at least of an unlikely human society where most people have a level of intellect and courage even approaching his. At one point in the book he refers to a positive correlation between intelligence and atheism without drawing any negative conclusions as to how difficult that leaves turning the mass of not so intelligent citizens into rational moralists.
Due to his well known scientific dismissal of group selection theory, and despite a long discussion of 'memes', he doesn't seem to take on board the rather unfortunate but plausible possibility that whilst religion may be a clutch of often nasty Darwinian 'misfirings', selection processes involving memes may mean that those cultural groups who clothe these evolutionary blanks in the memetic robes of religion may in fact inevitably survive over those which don't. This is arguably something we are witnessing in parts of Europe where the increasingly secular populations are simply being replaced by the more fertile muslim populations. The survival of the religious 'go forth and multiply' meme vs the humanist feminist 'woman have the right to careers' meme seems to have one predictable outcome, both for the memes and the cultures that bear them. Consider, Amsterdam, the citadel of European humanism, now a place where homosexual couples are afraid to openly show their love for fear of being beaten up for offending religious sensibilities.
Another criticism in an otherwise excellent book, is that Dawkins spends far too little time rebuting the absurd charge, commonly thrown at him, that he is an atheistic 'fundamenatlist'. And absurd as the comparison with Islamic radicals or Bible literalists may be, it is one that has become almost a deep rooted Pavlovian criticism of Dawkins even amongst highly intelligent intellectuals. This is an accusation, incidently, which Dawkins admits here is acutely painful to him.
This is a brilliant and inspirational book and deserves to be read by as many people as possible. Although unlikely to be read with fair minds by religious believers, hopefully its fate is to become more than simply a 'Bible' preaching to already converted aetheists. I would imagine Dawkins aim in writing this book was to provide an inspiration for those wishing to fight the cancerous return of unthinking dogma in public life. In this, I'm certain he has succeeded magnificently.
69 of 85 people found the following review helpful
on April 25, 2007
There seems to be no middle ground with readers of The God Delusion, they either love it or hate it. That seems to reflect the preconceptions one brings to the volume, the religious feel attacked and the atheists feel vindicated. The religious scramble to find some way to counter the arguments, the often hostile beratement Dawkins delivers, while the atheists dance on the grave of dying religiosity.
My one real beef with the book is that although packed with enough argumentative logic to make it a seminal discourse on the refutation of deity (the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim deity almost exclusively), Dawkins relishes the ad hominem and childish attacks too much. That undermines his own work in places, and while the humor is biting and I found myself openly laughing I also see how offensive it could be to people of faith.
While I'm not going to contribute an overview because that's been covered so many times, in so many ways - in fact the words dedicated to synopsis by the various reviewers most likely exceed the actual words in the substantial volume itself - I will give an impression, my impression. My impression is that this is a book that I will refer to many times in the future. This is a book that I will keep on my shelf with the other reference tomes, and one which will become more valuable than the Bible itself.
Religion and the belief in God isn't going away, despite the arguments against deity. But I do think we need to arm ourselves against unwanted religious intrusion into our public and national lives. Dawkins, for all his gloating, does give a substantial refutation of the idea that morality is religious in nature. That alone is worth the cover price. It's brilliant to be able to cite logical case by case for the ideas of humanism as a source of moral behavior and good conduct.
Other than that, it's a great read, a valuable resource. I'll recommend it to all my friends, and send it as presents at Christmas (nothing could be more appropriate).
- CV Rick
167 of 210 people found the following review helpful
on October 1, 2006
Very few scientists are religious, and highly successful ones are the least religious: a study in 1998 suggested that only about 7% of members of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA believe in a personal God. There are some, of course, who mention God from time to time as a poetic way of personifying nature, and Einstein is often claimed as a religious man on the basis of remarks of this kind, notwithstanding his perfectly clear statement that "the idea of a personal God is quite alien to me". Today nearly all working scientists can identify with the mathematician Laplace, who said that he had "no need of that hypothesis" when asked by Napoleon why he did not mention God in his book. Richard Dawkins, however, goes much further than this; for him, belief in a personal God is not just an unnecessary hypothesis, but a major source of evil in the world. No wars, he says, have been fought in the name of atheism, but many have been fought in the name of God, and much of what we call ethnic persecution is in reality religious persecution. Belief in God, therefore, is not just something to be politely set aside, but something to be actively opposed. A large part of the book is devoted to justifying this position, much more radical than the vague agnosticism that nearly all of his academic colleagues will readily agree to.
Lke an earlier famous atheist, Bertrand Russell, Dawkins has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Bible that goes far beyond that of most Christians. He quotes chapter 19 of Genesis, which tells us that the "uniquely righteous" Lot offered his two virgin daughters to satisfy the lusts of the men of Sodom who arrived at his house wanting to sodomize the angels who were visiting him: "do ye unto them as is good in your eyes". Likewise he produces ample evidence of what has long been obvious to any intelligent reader of the Bible, that it is simply impossible for every word to be the literal truth, because it abounds with internal contradictions. Dawkins is perfectly aware, of course, that the more sophisticated Christians recognize the absurdity of belief in an old man with a white beard up in the sky; that they readily accept that there are many inaccurate statements in the Bible and that the God of the Old Testament is very hard to hold up as a role model for humanity; and that they do not advocate applying the penalty of death prescribed in chapter 20 of Leviticus for cursing one's parents. For most such Christians the Old Testament is an embarrassment, but Dawkins is not convinced that the New Testament is as much of an improvement as is sometimes claimed, and describes "atonement, the central doctrine of Christianity, as vicious, sado-masochistic and repellent". The more general problem is that once you accept that there is much that is repellent in the Bible how do you justify picking out the bits that you like and ignoring the bits you don't like?
If Dawkins were merely trying to demonstrate that religious belief is irrational, there would be little point to his book: most of his academic colleagues accept that already and need no further convincing, and his religious opponents will not read the book anyway, except perhaps in search of passages they can use against him in their hate mail and websites. Nonetheless, people who are broadly in agreement with him do need to read the book, because of his contention that religious belief is not just irrational, but is also dangerous. He gets angry when he reads of "a Muslim child", aged four, when what is meant is a four-year-old child of Muslim parents, or when religious massacres in what used to be Yugoslavia are euphemistically called "ethnic cleansing". His aim, therefore, is to make his readers angry as well.
Dawkins is, of course, famous as an evolutionary biologist, and he also discusses the appearance and survival of religious beliefs from an evolutionary point of view. In the words of the novelist Barbara Trapido, "People have no sooner got themselves born than they start to imagine the gods want them to flatten their heads, or perforate their genitals, or arrange themselves into hierarchies based on the colour of their skins. The gods require them to avoid eating hoofs, or to walk backwards in certain sacred presences, or to hang up cats in clay pots and light fires underneath them." For this sort of thing to make evolutionary sense there must be a survival value for the individual in religious belief. What can it be? Dawkins explains it in the same way as he explains the habit of moths of burning themselves to death by flying into candle flames, not as something beneficial in itself but as an unfortunate by-product of behaviour that in nearly all circumstances is indeed beneficial, namely flying towards a light source. For religion, he suggests that it is nearly always beneficial for small children to believe what their parents tell them, with the consequence that they believe not only in the dangers of playing with fire, but also in whatever nonsense their parents tell them as well.
112 of 140 people found the following review helpful
on September 24, 2006
One reviewer tells us that "There is no debate (NONE!) between science and religion. ........The biblical writers didn't intend us to take them literally, that is obvious. They were addressing metaphysical/spiritual matters with literature. So where's the debate?"
Where? Simple! Religionists will certainly not leave the determination of facts to scientists since as we have seen, they continue to make implausible empirical assertions about everything from the age of the earth to the literal exitence of angels. They also try to force religious ideas into the educational system. On the other hand, scientists (especially atheist scientists) are not about to leave moral and spiritual questions up to religionists (at least I won't).
Of course, even more important is the global political factors. The zeal with which those infected with religious fire try to convert the world and prevent folks from behaving in certain ways is astounding. Violence is always a possiblity when the belief is strongly enough felt. I was raised in a religious home, but overall, I now feel frightened by religion.
Dawkin's never fails to engage the issues intelligently and frankly. This book is no exception. Read with an open mind and try to not worry about what the meaning of life without God might be. It does have meaning but you must not let fear of death or hell get in the way of reason.