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1,089 of 1,293 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not the best work on atheism, January 4, 2007
This review is from: The God Delusion (Hardcover)
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.
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Tracked by 11 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 293 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 4, 2007 3:52:13 PM PST
Your review certainly is cogent and resonant.

Posted on Jan 5, 2007 1:44:58 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 5, 2007 3:37:25 AM PST
Thanks for the thoughtful review. I am someone who has been positively influenced against religion by Dawkins's arguments, but also find that his tactics are sometimes too confrontational for my tastes. I wonder, however whether his confrontational style is strategic rather than thoughtless, since atheism has been too long on the defensive.

It seems to me Dawkins's arguments against the concept of God are not sophomoric but are rather quite convincing. Why posit a God with so much incredible baggage when simpler explanations are available for any point the God concept is meant to address? Further, his arguments against religion, though no doubt provoking, may simply have been intended to push religion off its moral high horse rather than, say, make the assertion that a certain group of people never makes any mistakes. The latter would indeed be an extraordinary position to defend.

Dawkins need not explain Lenin, Stalin, and Mao because he is elucidating atheism, not defending communism. I would assume their aggression sprang from their totalitarian political beliefs rather than their absense of religious commitment, especially since morality is not necessarily linked to religion at all, as Dawkins points out.

Posted on Jan 5, 2007 6:28:59 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 5, 2007 6:29:55 AM PST
Possibly the best, most objective review I have read. My own review tended towards satire, and its good to see somebody approach the topic calmly and thoughtfully. Long live evolutionary biology, and may we soon see the demise of those who believe that expertise in one domain translates into expertise across all other domains.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 5, 2007 8:38:58 AM PST
J. A Magill says:
Thank you for your nice comments. Regarding my assertion to Dawkins need to defend Stalin, Lenin, Mao, & Co. my point is that it seems disingenuous to hold the theory of atheism as a utopian theory against the actual record of religion. Under such a comparison one might consider that democratic reality would surely be found wanting against an authoritarian ideal. In many places I've seen people argue that this critique is unfair, because these badies did not kill based on atheism. Such assertions, however, are simply historically ignorant. Mao sent the entire Chinese Buddhist hierarchy to their deaths, just as Lenin and Stalin did the Orthodox Church. Their reason was something Dawkins might well have written, "the pernicious evil of religion."

Posted on Feb 3, 2007 4:45:33 AM PST
Thank you for your insight about Dawkins.

The "standard" Monotheistic concept of God is that IT is Universal, Omniscient, Omnipotent, and Eternal.

Those attributes of God seem to have remain unchanged for the 14 BILLION years that scientist have been able to reproducibly measure in what are sometimes know as the Laws of Physics. What HAS changed over the last five thousand years of recorded (human) history is our perceptions and understanding of those Laws.

If you drop a pen from a height one foot above the surface of your desk, there is a "very high probability" that the pen will fall to the surface of your desk. The probability of that pen dropping to the desk approaches an absolute 100%. It is not magic, nor a miracle, but will happen virtually every time no matter many billions of trials you do it. Because of the consistency and constant nature of the Laws of Physics, we also assume that the motion of the pen falling that one foot distance is the same whether that distance is one foot above your desk or one foot above a similar surface twenty billion light years away, allowing for differences associated with the Gravitational Constant.

That assumption is also called Faith. If we understand the true nature of Faith, then we also can believe that the universal nature of the Laws of Physical PROVES that God exists. Those observations that seem to violate those Physical Laws are likely a result of our being Misinformed (our information was incorrect or we measured wrong), Misunderstood (our information was misinterpreted), or Misrepresented (somebody lied). The Proof of God is NOT in deviations or aberrations of the Laws of Physics, but in the Universality and Consistency of those Laws. The Proof of God is in the Absence of Miracles.

However, thank you for helping me understand Dawkins. His anti-Religion fervor is likely from resentment of feeling that he was being lied to in his childhood, rather than an attempt to be logical or "Scientific" in his analysis of the function of Faith and Religion.

Both Science and Religion try to understand the world around us. Science tries is to understand the world by studying its minutia as objectively and reproducibly as possible, and only recently thru Quantum Mechanics has come to understand the statistical nature of particles and the need for relationships in determining their identity. Religion tries to understand the world to provide a structure with assurances and comfort that will enable people to benefit from their skills and relationships. The only assurances and comfort that Science provides is that its concepts are derived from constant refinement of the world as it is, rather than as mankind wants or assumes it to be. Religion, however, tends to use its need for structure to create a vision fossilized by the technical understanding that existed when that vision was created.

Science tries to determine the nature of God, while Religion tends to tell God what IT should be. It was Religion that built the Tower of Babel, not Science. It is not Science that is anti-God, but Religion.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 19, 2007 7:52:24 PM PST
The first part of your message seemed well reasoned, however, you lost me in the last sentence of the last paragraph. Science is an observation of the created physical universe. The metaphysical is limited, to a degree, in how it corresponds to physical reality.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 19, 2007 7:52:27 PM PST
[Deleted by the author on Feb 19, 2007 7:52:55 PM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 22, 2007 1:32:24 PM PST
Phantoboy says:
In fact this comparison is invalid historically. The effects of Christianity, Communism, Nazism et al are the effects arising from extensively described social philosophies, each more or less religious in character. Atheism, on the other hand, is no philosophy at all, nor a movement or social system, but one isolated feature of a person's beliefs. The proper contrast with these other systems should be against Humanism, which has a very good track record in advancing humanity indeed. Secular (that is atheistic) humanism is the comparison modern atheists really should be inviting, as that is generally what they mean to promote, if you press them for details. The fact that they do not make this point clear, perhaps not even in their own minds, is very remiss. Secular humanism was not the impetus behind any great evil that believers try to hang on "atheism" as such.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 10, 2007 4:17:48 PM PDT
Jordan says:
Love your review. I've just finished a similar one though not as well written as yours. It bothers me to no end that people both offer unadulterated praise and outright dismissals of a book based solely on its conclusion. The same inanity applies even to the "helpful" votes on this site. I am an atheist, and found Dawkins' argumentative tactics in the final chapters to be borderline pathetic.

Posted on Apr 25, 2008 7:26:32 PM PDT
A very well written review. You took the actual contents of the book and review them, breaking the thesis into smaller intelligible arguments.
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