Book Review: The God Delusion

(Author’s Note: The following review was solicited and is written in accordance with this site’s policy for such reviews.)

Summary: A witty, razor-sharp attack on religious belief of all varieties. As one might have expected, Dawkins pulls no punches whatsoever and does not hesitate to heap scorn on foolish beliefs where appropriate. Atheists will cheer it; believers will probably be appalled and bypass it, which is unfortunate, since this book presents a great deal of legitimately new and interesting information, and closes with a passionate and powerful defense of atheism that every theist should hear.

I wrote in the post “A Book Review Policy” about the circumstances by which Richard Dawkins’ new book, The God Delusion, came into my hands. I have now completed it, and on balance, I thought it was excellent (and not just because I’m in it – about which, more later). However, such a blanket description does not do justice to the book as a whole. It was not a single, level plain, with every section of similar quality and tone. Rather, it was more like a mountainous landscape, with many peaks and valleys.

I will say that this book proved remarkably difficult to sum up concisely. After reading the first chapter of The God Delusion, I thought it was a brilliant and moving defense of atheism with a very unfortunate choice of title. After reading several more chapters, I thought the title, though still unfortunate, was an accurate summary of the stance which the book takes. After completing it, however, my opinion was altered yet again. As I said, on balance I did enjoy the book greatly, and would recommend it, though with some reservations which I will detail.

First, a few words about the title. As I have said before, I do not advocate using words like “delusion” or “brainwashing” to describe religion in general. Such pejorative terms have the effect of fostering divisiveness between atheists and theists, when we can instead win more converts and more support by presenting a more positive picture of ourselves and our goals. Although we should not spare the harsh criticism when appropriate, and it often is, the majority of believers are ordinary, reasonable people and we should not alienate them by using terms of insult that make it easier for fundamentalists to spread stereotypes about us. While Dawkins’ title is accurate in the literal sense, it carries too many negative connotations, and is likely to turn off the people who genuinely need to hear his message the most. Someone knowing nothing about this book but the title might perceive it as far more negative than it actually is, and I do wish he had chosen a different one.

With that said, let me turn to the book itself. The first chapter was probably my favorite of the entire book. In a splendid preface, Dawkins explains his intent to act as a consciousness-raiser, to enlighten people who might not be happy with their religion but did not know that leaving it was even an option. He defines what he calls Einsteinian religion, after Albert Einstein who, like many other scientists, held religion to consist of a reverence toward the universe as best as we can understand it, not worship toward a supernatural creator. Although Einstein is often invoked by modern-day proselytizers unaware of his true views, Dawkins lists, in an amazing and very informative section, a variety of quotes from preachers of Einstein’s own day who harshly denounced him for his nontheism. One which I found especially interesting was from the founder of the Calvary Tabernacle Association, who wrote to Einstein to demand that he still his “blasphemous tongue”, and claimed that Christians across America would soon demand that Einstein take his “crazy, fallacious theory of evolution” and leave the country, presumably to return to the Nazi-led Germany where he came from.

Dawkins also airs his righteous indignation toward the widespread but absurd belief that religion is something above questioning or criticism, and that opinions drawn from religion are somehow automatically worthy of respect in a way that other opinions are not. This is a pernicious meme, and I am glad to see it strongly challenged. I do have one criticism of this section, though: Dawkins discusses a 2004 Ohio case where a boy’s parents sued for his right to wear, to public school, a t-shirt that said “Homosexuality is a sin, Islam is a lie, abortion is murder”. He claims that “the parents might have had a conscionable case if they had based it on the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech. But they didn’t: indeed, they couldn’t, because free speech is deemed not to include ‘hate speech’”. This may be true in England, but it is not true in America, where the First Amendment does protect all speech whether it is “hate speech” or not. However, on balance this was an excellent section, and Dawkins makes a powerful and convincing argument that religious opinions, which often cause hatred, harm and discrimination, should be just as subject to criticism as any other kind.

The middle section of the book is a fiery and uncompromising polemic against religious belief. Dawkins displays a razor wit when it comes to incomprehensible and cruel religious ideas: he calls the God of the Old Testament a “megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully”, along with about half a page of other epithets and calls the Catholic doctrine of saints “shamelessly invented”, among other things. However, he makes it clear that his opposition is to all religious belief, and remarks that the likely response along the lines of “The god Dawkins doesn’t believe in is an old man with a beard on a cloud. I don’t believe in that god either,” is a deliberate tactic of distraction, whose “very silliness is calculated to distract attention from the fact that what the speaker really believes is not a whole lot less silly”. I laughed out loud when I read that, as well as at several other points through the book where Dawkins delivers some particularly cutting remark against a ridiculous belief.

In the following chapters, Dawkins dissects, briefly but lucidly, the arguments historically offered by theologians for God’s existence. Then (in a chapter titled “Why There Almost Certainly Is No God”), offers his own novel argument for atheism. It is an expanded version of a claim often made by atheists, that invoking God as an ultimate answer really does not explain anything at all. However, he enlarges on it at great length, suggesting that the stupendous improbability of a vastly complex and intelligent deity just existing with no prior cause at all should be sufficient reason to completely discount that hypothesis, just as we discount the hypothesis that the world as we see it came into being through chance. This is an interestingly original argument, although I doubt many believers will find it convincing.

The book then moves to the evolutionary origins of religion. Drawing on arguments made by philosophers such as Daniel Dennett, he proposes that religious belief is a byproduct of some other evolutionary adaptation, such as the need for children to instinctively believe whatever their parents and authority figures tell them as an aid to learning and survival in an uncertain world. The memetic explanation – that religious beliefs evolve like living things, with those whose characteristics make them best suited to proliferation thriving at the expense of others – is also brought in and explained with surpassing clarity (not surprising, since Dawkins is the creator of the word “meme”).

The last few chapters of the book concern morality, both the immoral practices often sanctioned by religion and the origins of non-religious morality. Dawkins casts an appropriately glaring spotlight on the hatred and nastiness often displayed toward atheists by those whose religious beliefs purportedly make them superior citizens. Some of the most novel and important information of the book was presented here. For example, the case is discussed of a 1969 police strike in Montreal that caused an outbreak of rioting, looting, robbery and other crimes. This event has been used by religious believers to argue that the moral restraint of God is needed to make humans behave; but cleverly, Dawkins draws the opposite lesson, noting that Montreal’s citizens’ religious beliefs did not prevent this undesirable outcome. He also brings up the important point, which needs to be more widely pointed out, that most of America’s most dangerous, crime-ridden cities are smack in the Bible Belt. The chapter also contains a very interesting, and new to me, account of an experiment conducted by the biologist Marc Hauser and the philosopher Peter Singer which found that, in a series of tests posing moral dilemmas which the test subjects were asked to resolve, there was no statistically significant difference between the answers of atheists and theists.

Dawkins then moves on to the immoral practices condoned in scripture, and the changing societal attitudes that have led us to reject them. Of course, we have not all moved on; he tells the horrifying story of an experiment where young Israeli children, between ages 8 and 14, were presented with the Old Testament story of Joshua’s slaughter of Jericho and asked to evaluate the morality of his actions. A shockingly large majority of the children indicated that Joshua was doing the right thing, because wiping out religions other than Judaism and preventing the dire peril of Jews intermingling with non-Jews constituted sufficient rationale for genocide. And yet when the same story was presented to another group of Israeli children, except that this time it was set in ancient China and not presented in the context of Judaism, an equally large majority disapproved of the action.

This leads into his next point about the divisiveness of religion and how it extends and prolongs conflicts, such as the religious wars in Northern Ireland or the Middle East, that could otherwise be tamed much more easily. Dawkins gives examples of evil actions directly provoked by religion, both ancient and modern, and eloquently makes the point that even moderate religious faith often fosters dangerous fanaticism by creating an environment in which any religious belief is “respected” and held exempt from criticism.

In what will likely be the most controversial chapter of the book, Dawkins argues forcefully that inculcating children with religious ideas of depravity, hell and damnation is equivalent to child abuse. He quotes numerous accounts of people who are still trying to throw off the cult-like beliefs they had been brought up with, people who were estranged from their loved ones and split apart from their families because of religious differences. He also discusses the heartbreaking story, previously unknown to me, of Edgardo Mortara – a Jewish child living in Italy who, in 1858, was kidnapped from his weeping parents by papal police and taken away to be raised a Catholic, never to see them again – all because his Catholic nursemaid had secretly baptized him. Once this was discovered, of course, the powers that be reasoned that he had to be taken from them, because a “Christian child” could not be permitted to be brought up by Jewish parents. Dawkins gives lengthy examples of Catholic newspapers piously defending this abduction as a just and necessary action. But lest one feel too sorry for Edgardo’s parents, Dawkins also points out that they could have instantly rejoined him if only they, too, had consented to a meaningless splash of water on the head. Religious irrationality hurts people on both sides, he argues, and scorns as little better the religious labeling of children who are far too young to possibly make that decision for themselves. He argues persuasively that people should cringe when they hear labels like “Christian child” or “Muslim child”, as opposed to the more accurate “child of Christian parents”, and that respect for diversity does not and should not compel us to accept factually false or morally harmful beliefs.

And now, readers, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: Yes, I am in this book. Not by name, it’s true, but Richard Dawkins favorably quotes my website and provides the URL! I was reading the chapter on morality when I came across this passage:

One way to express our consensual ethics is as a ‘New Ten Commandments’. Various individuals and institutions have attempted this…. Here is one set of ‘New Ten Commandments’ from today, which I happened to find on an atheist website.

  • Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you.
  • In all things, strive to cause no harm.
  • Treat your fellow human beings, your fellow living things, and the world in general with love, honesty, faithfulness and respect.
  • Do not overlook evil or shrink from administering justice, but always be ready to forgive wrongdoing freely admitted and honestly regretted.
  • Live life with a sense of joy and wonder.
  • Always seek to be learning something new.
  • Test all things; always check your ideas against the facts, and be ready to discard even a cherished belief if it does not conform to them.
  • Never seek to censor or cut yourself off from dissent; always respect the right of others to disagree with you.
  • Form independent opinions on the basis of your own reason and experience; do not allow yourself to be led blindly by others.
  • Question everything.

This little collection is not the work of a great sage or prophet or professional ethicist. It is just one ordinary web logger’s rather endearing attempt to summarize the principles of the good life today, for comparison with the biblical Ten Commandments.

As any regular reader of mine may recognize, those are my words: they are the principles from my essay “The New Ten Commandments“. The book’s footnote to this section gives the URL to Ebon Musings. I have no problem admitting that my jaw literally dropped open when I read this page of the book, and I acknowledge that it made it somewhat more difficult for me to write this review in a spirit of impartiality. Nevertheless, I will attempt to sum up my thoughts on the book as objectively as possible.

The God Delusion is not just a rehash of well-known atheist arguments, although it does contain that information and that is a good thing, because there are a great many people who still have not heard it. However, it also contains useful evidence that was previously unknown to me and, I think, to a great many atheists, and this makes it a valuable find. (Who knew that some radio stations have the effrontery to defile John Lennon’s beautiful song “Imagine” by changing its lyric “…and no religion too” to “…and one religion too”?) An atheist will find much in here of use when debating the religious, and I do recommend it for that reason. It also contains some genuinely stirring declarations of atheist pride, such as the following:

Being an atheist is nothing to be apologetic about. On the contrary, it is something to be proud of, standing tall to face the far horizon, for atheism nearly always indicates a healthy independence of mind and, indeed, a healthy mind.

I very nearly found myself cheering out loud when reading passages like this. These are things that society needs to hear, and that need to be said as loudly and as often as possible; and no one alive today that I know of can make that case with greater force or passion than Richard Dawkins. That said, it is unfortunate that many people who need to hear this message will not read it. This is largely because many religious people will avoid the writings of atheists no matter what they say, of course, but Dawkins himself must also bear some responsibility because of choices of word use such as the book’s title, which will encourage theists to play to their prejudices and disregard it. I do not claim that his criticisms are unfair: the beliefs he attacks really are ignorant and ridiculous, and in many cases harmful. In any case, as Dawkins himself argues so well, it is foolish and dangerous to hold religious beliefs above criticism or to treat them differently from other kinds of ideas. I acknowledge all these points, and yet I still think his rhetoric could, in several places, have been toned down to convey the same point in a manner less likely to make people feel as if they are being personally insulted. I did enjoy this book; I did find it useful, and I recommend it for other atheists. But it is probably not the first book I would recommend to a theist genuinely seeking to learn what atheism is all about.

Atlas Shrugged: Sixteen Tons
Atlas Shrugged: The Rapture of the Capitalists
Atlas Shrugged: The Craft of Not Acting
New on the Guardian: Beyond Debating God’s Existence
About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, City of Light, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Stupac2

    I am quite jealous that you got to read this book so soon! I’ve had it on preorder for months. Dawkins is one of my favorite authors, and I’m glad you recommend the book nonetheless.

    And congratulations on being cited in the book. That’s quite impressive.

  • frank

    Thank you for that review, now I know what to get for Christmas. Congratulations on being cited in the book as well. That is quite amazing.

  • jake3988

    Test all things; always check your ideas against the facts, and be ready to discard even a cherished belief if it does not conform to them.

    Unlike most republicans and most christians, I go through this process. Some long cherished beliefs that I’ve hold dear to my heart I find out they’re not true or aren’t factual at all. Sometimes it saddens me I believed the way I did.

    But like any true science guy, I’m GLAD I was proven wrong. That’s the difference between religion and atheism (and science). When something is proven wrong we cherish it, religion steadfastly denies it (or in MANY MANY cases, casts them out as heretics and has them killed!)

    Anyway, I love Richard Dawkins, this sounds like a great book.

  • Prof. V.N.K.Kumar ( India )

    Your review is quite balanced. I expected nothing less. True, Dawkins is a strong atheist who doesn’t mince his words, when dealing with religious beliefs and such people might not make many friends in this religion-infested world. But he is courageous enough to call a spade a spade. I am only surprised that he could hold the tenure for so long in his teaching career. But why are you so surprised that he has mentioned your website in his book ? Your site is a well-planned and well-thought out introduction to atheism, intelligible to even non-philosophers like me and there is no need, Adam, to be so self-effacing. You write well. Thanx for the review.

  • vjack

    So much to read and so little time. This one is on my list along with several others. I just finished Dennett’s latest and really enjoyed it.

  • Archi Medez

    “This little collection is not the work of a great sage or prophet or professional ethicist. It is just one ordinary web logger’s rather endearing attempt to summarize the principles of the good life today, for comparison with the biblical Ten Commandments.”

    –from Dawkins


    Good review, and congrats on the citation in Dawkins’ book. He says “one ordinary web-logger…” but the fact that he quoted yours is itself a compliment.

    Dawkins has included the URL and this should bring even more readers to the site.

  • Peter Doyle

    I plan to buy this book, but I hope that Dawkins takes time to explain why atheist political movements such as Communism, even the Reign of Terror after the French Revolution are so bloody. Stalin murdered more people than Hitler, Mao it is believed was as bad, and Pol Pot is up there too. I have to ask in Atheism why do the ends justify the means, in view of this history, this supposed very enlightened modern history supported by some of the best minds of the 20th Century, where is the moral imperative to do right drawn from.

  • J

    why do the ends justify the means

    They don’t.

    atheist political movements such as Communism, even the Reign of Terror after the French Revolution are so bloody.

    It is so. Freakin’. Tiresome. To have to answer this one over and over again. Is Communism emblematic of atheism? Fine. Then the Crusades and the Jihad are emblematic of religion. Call it trite or facile, but I’m tired of coming up with more-clever responses to this.

    here is the moral imperative to do right drawn from.

    Same here. Where are all these superlatively moral religious people hiding?

  • Aerik

    wtf is with this “I am spammer” checkbox?! Anyhow, congrats on making it into a popular atheist bookshelf item!

  • lpetrich

    There are simply more people available for killing nowadays.

    I’ve seen estimates that the population of the Roman Empire was around 50 million people. But I’ve added up the populations of the present-day nations in the Roman Empire’s territory and I’ve found 660 million people — over 13 times more.

    Furthermore, the Wars of Religion in early modern Europe were very bloody — something like 20% or 25% of Germany’s population died as a result of the Thirty Years War. The idea of religious tolerance emerged only after the failure of Catholics and Protestants to exterminate the other side; contrary to what some Xians would have you believe, it is not an exclusively Xian idea or one that can reasonably be credited to Xianity. Aside from dismissing much of it with the help of the No True Scotsman fallacy, of course.

    There is also the interesting question of why the Protestants succeeded and earlier schismatics failed, schismatics like the Albigensians and John Huss. One wonders why the Protestants were more successful in getting support from political leaders than earlier schismatics were.

    In fact, they had a saying back then, cuius regio, eius religio, “whose region, his religion” (more properly, “whose rule”, but “whose region” sounds better).

  • Ebonmuse

    wtf is with this “I am spammer” checkbox?!

    It’s a defense against comment spam. Spammers employ programs that fill out comment forms, but I assume that such a program will not be smart enough to unmark the check box before submitting, and I can automatically reject such comments. I used to have a captcha (an image of distorted text that users had to type in to leave a comment), but this solution is less intrusive, and friendlier to sight-impaired readers (if I happen to have any).

    I plan to buy this book, but I hope that Dawkins takes time to explain why atheist political movements such as Communism, even the Reign of Terror after the French Revolution are so bloody.

    In fact, there is an entire section of the book devoted to answering this charge. Since Dawkins speaks for me on this issue as well, I will summarize: Unlike religious dictators and crusaders throughout history, neither Stalin nor any other dictator killed people in the name of atheism. (It should go without saying that killing in the name of God, or because of one’s religious beliefs, is sadly quite common.) Rather, they killed people because of their lust for power. If you are saying that being an atheist does not automatically make someone a good person, well, that’s no shocker. But unlike religious beliefs which can all too readily be put to service in the cause of inquisitions and holy wars, atheism has never been used to justify such atrocities.

    …this supposed very enlightened modern history supported by some of the best minds of the 20th Century, where is the moral imperative to do right drawn from.

    As it happens, I recently devoted an entire post series to explaining the roots of atheist morality. I suggest you take the time to familiarize yourself with it.

  • Prof. V.N.K.Kumar ( India )

    If, as you say, this book cannot convert the faithful masses into becoming secular humanists, because the vitriolic criticism may make them defensive enough to switch off their receptors, I am wondering why Richard, with all his unquestionable intelligence wrote this book. I now feel that he had no intention to influence the deluded masses, since they are not amenable to reasoning in any case.

    My guess is perhaps he had a limited objective in writing this book. He only wanted to assure the intellectuals that there is nothing wrong with their secular stance and also reinforce the conviction among the intellectuals that the science & metaphysics of Naturalism and Humanism is the only viable philosophy for critical thinkers.

  • Ebonmuse

    I think one of Dawkins’ major purposes in writing this book was to reach out to people who were dissatisfied with their religion but didn’t know that leaving it was an option available to them. He says as much in the preface, which I thought was brilliant, and I agree with him there – we need to do more to let everyone know that atheism is a live choice. I think there are a great number of people who would identify as atheists if they were made aware of that.

  • lpetrich

    The French Revolution was very anticlerical, yes, but it was only partially atheist.

    Atheism is aristocratic; the idea of a great Being that watches over oppressed innocence and punishes triumphant crime is an idea of the people.

    Maximilien Robespierre, the main architect of the Terror and its thousands of guillotinings of alleged troublemakers. It ended when his fellow leaders decided to get rid of him — by guillotining him.

    And as to that book itself, I wonder what Richard Dawkins says about non-Abrahamic religions, especially pagan religions with their much longer history than Abrahamic religions. These usually involve a multitude of deities, and they are seldom exclusivist; worshipping one god does not excluse worshipping another.

  • Ian B Gibson

    Nice review, although I have to take issue with you on this:

    First, a few words about the title. As I have said before, I do not advocate using words like “delusion” or “brainwashing” to describe religion in general. Such pejorative terms have the effect of fostering divisiveness between atheists and theists, when we can instead win more converts and more support by presenting a more positive picture of ourselves and our goals.

    Can we? As Dawkins himself should know as well as anyone (since he is probably attacked more by these people than by religious fundamentalists), there are far more apathetic or ‘diplomatic’ non-theists out there than there are militant atheists. So are you suggesting that if only people like Dawkins would keep quiet, these others would have won over much of the American population?

    Look around you – do you see a nation receptive to the gentle, diffident & apologetic approaches to debate (if so, you might consider applying to work for the DLC)? It should be obvious after all that has happened over the last few years that allowing yourself to be walked all over is no way to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the American public – if you don’t believe me just go and ask Gore and Kerry.

    Having said that, it shouldn’t need to be pointed out that Dawkins hardly qualifies as the kind of empty-headed, shouty demagogue that all too frequently infest our media (neither am I advocating that he should be). He’s just an intellectual who also stands his ground; he rarely makes unwarranted compromises on important matters such as those he addresses in his book. He isn’t nasty or mean-spirited; he just doesn’t give religion the respect that it falsely believes it deserves by default. I applaud him for this and only wish that there were more on our side with such backbone. If more of us acted like Dawkins, whilst we may or may not be more successful at deconverting the masses, we would in either case at least be able to retain a modicum of self-respect.

    Incidentally, this is from the Wikipedia entry for ‘delusion’:

    A delusion is commonly defined as a fixed false belief and is used in everyday language to describe a belief that is either false, fanciful or derived from deception. In psychiatry, the definition is necessarily more precise and implies that the belief is pathological (the result of an illness or illness process).
    Psychiatric definition

    Although non-specific concepts of madness have been around for several thousand years, the psychiatrist and philosopher Karl Jaspers was the first to define the three main criteria for a belief to be considered delusional in his book General Psychopathology. These criteria are:

    * certainty (held with absolute conviction)
    * incorrigibility (not changeable by compelling counterargument or proof to the contrary)
    * impossibility or falsity of content (implausible, bizarre or patently untrue)

    I couldn’t think of a more accurate way of describing belief in God.

  • Mark Waldman

    Bravo for your comments objecting to the pathologizing of people who choose to believe in God–yes, most are highly decent folk. Yes I’m an atheist, but I’m also an Associate Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Spirituality and the Mind. 15 years of research has shown no evidence that religion is bad for you, and I’ll tell you, I’ve looked hard for such evidence. Dawkins, I fear, gives atheism a bad name, for most atheists, I have found, are extraordinarly tolerent towards those with differing beliefs. I would like to bring your attention to a new book, Why We Believe What We Believe, by Andrew Newberg, that I hope you’ll review on your site. Newberg’s book is the first to present a comprehensive overview of the neuropsychological mechanisms of all beliefs, including the neural correlates of religious experienceand human morality. The book has received good press, but no one has commented on one of the most important chapters (to me) in the book, “The Atheist Who Prayed to God.” This is the first brain scan study on atheism; its very positive, very illuminating, and speculatively controversial. I helped design the study, and I’d love to know what other atheists think.

  • Keith Merrick

    Mark, I don’t see why you think Richard Dawkins ‘gives Atheism a bad name’. Why would you not want to line up behind someone who ‘tells it like it is’? Surely your fear of hurting the delicate sensibilities of the religious are just a manifestation of what Dawkins is fighting against in the first place: that religion should have no special immunity from critisism. After all, I suspect you wouldn’t extend such consideration to a member of a rival political party.
    Were Richard Dawkins to claim that ‘Buddha is a big fat pig’ I might agree with you. As it is, I find that his manner of expression keeps itself well within the limits of reasonable discourse and is actually less patronising towards the religious than the softly softly approach you advocate. He, at least, treats these people as equals who might be amenable to sense, given a good enough shaking. I prefer this attitude to the psychiatrist – mental patient relationship you subscribe to.

  • hyrax

    I’ve just finished reading the book and, suprise suprise, thought it was fantastic. The review is spot on, I’ve been scanning the web for reviews (good and bad) to try and discern the reaction to it and this review mostly closely correlates with my own ideas.

    Incidentally I’ve struggled to find many strongly negative reviews which is quite remarkeable and leads me to two possible conclusions, first those with strong religious convictions have simply avoided reading and commenting on the book or, more likely, I’m rubbish at searching the web.

    Ps. Congrats on the cameo!

  • jim

    Excellent review. However, when you quote (or paraphrase) Dawkins as decrying the idea of a “vast complex being existing with no prior causes” I am led to wonder if there is a real difference between the religious doctrine of “ex nihilo” and the notion in modern physics of a quantum fluctuation. Neither, as I understand it, require any “prior cause” and the latter, in the form of the big bang, led to the creation of the universe as we see it today.

  • Mark Waldman

    Keith, my response to your critique of my taking a gentle approach to religious practitioners, and my reason for being very critical of Dawkins is complicated. I’ll try to summarize: Within authoritarian organizations, in which many (but not all) fundamentalist Christians belong, there is a growing hostility that I believe leads to acts of racism and violence. This must be stopped, but I’m concerned that firing hostility back at these people just increases the tensions. In this sense, Dawkins and Harris throw fuel on the flames. Authors like Dennett, Wilson, and Shermer do not insult their competition; they use greater kindness in their reasonable attacks. But I don’t have an answer for you on how to deal with back-stabbing manipulators who bend the rules of politics (and get their agendas snuck in through the back door). Clearly religious and political violence is increasing, but if I start throwing stones like the rest of them (and believe me, I feel like it at times), then I’m part of the problem. However, I want to point out that huge numbers of religious organizations feel as strongly as you and I do that this fundamentalistic hostility must be eradicated. For all their weaknesses in belief, a lot of these groups do great humanitarian good (look at Pres. Carter, for example). Then there are the Unitarians, who don’t believe in god. The problem, as I see it, is not god-belief, but the belief that one person has the right to inflict his belief on another. Mixing politics and religion is, to me, like mixing gasoline and the fires from hell.

  • Chris

    Well, only Dawkins can really answer the question of why he wrote the way he did, but I think one possiblity is that there’s no need to rewrite The Demon-Haunted World or Breaking the Spell because they’ve already been written. The God Delusion is more confrontational than some other books, but it’s precisely that willingness to take the bull by the horns that breaks new ground.

    Half-sarcastic comment: maybe he wrote it the way he did because he liked the beginning of The End of Faith but was disappointed with the end and wanted to rewrite it the way it should have been.

    Mark Waldman: there is a large and important difference between throwing insults and throwing stones. Members of any free society ought not permit that line to be blurred, accidentally or deliberately. However, I don’t think the hostility of authoritarian organizations is “growing”; authoritarian organizations have always been highly hostile. It’s part of their nature and how they perpetuate themselves and always has been. Rather, the size, power and visibility of such organizations has been growing recently. Most religions are inherently authoritarian organizations under their gods or those who claim to speak for them. There’s a reason they don’t call it the Republic of Heaven.

  • Eddie

    Hi there. I’ve been lurking around for the last few days and just wanted to say I’m pretty impressed by the blog’s content and high level of the comments. I pretend to be a regular until I get kicked off by too many typos and misspellings (and general grammatical chaos), for English is not my mother language – not even a distant aunt. I still have a huge backlog of essays – I intend to read them all.

    Congratulations on the Dawkins quote. I would be euphoric. I don’t know about you, but Dawkins’ Selfish Gene, together with Sagan’s “The Demon-Haunted World”, were the two books that really converted me, although I had been an official “agnostic” for a long time before it.

  • Shawn Smith

    Eddie, judging from the post you just made, you have no reason to be concerned. Heck, if Christopher can continue posting here, there’s no reason you can’t. (Sorry, Christopher, I just couldn’t resist. I’m weak, that way.)

  • Alex Weaver

    Eddie: Perhaps if you gave us some way to contact you, some of us could email you corrections of typos when we found them and help you learn that way? Just a thought… *shrugs* And so far, the only people who’ve been banned, to my knowledge, are the occasional spammer, and that one guy who came on here ranting about James Randi cheating him and lashed out at people, particularly me, in a homophobic and hateful fashion, *after* being warned that personal attacks and other uncivil behavior were not acceptable.

  • Alex Weaver

    PS: Adam…just out of curiousity, how much of a difference in site traffic have you noticed since the book was published? ^.^

  • Michael J. Hewitt, MD

    Great review. I heard Alan Colmes interview Prof Dawkins, and I could not remember his name or the title. A google search got me to your review. Well done. Now I can get Prof Dawkin’s book! I enjoyed his answers to Alan’s questions. M Hewitt

  • Mark Dodd

    Hello people,

    Just thought I might show you some critical responses. Here is Terry Eagleton’s review;


  • James Bradbury


    That review looks like a classic example of playing the man, not the ball.

    He makes personal insults against Dawkins in general without discussing much of the content of the book.

    I agree that Dawkins is frequently too close to insulting towards theists, but I think Terry Eagleton’s response is even worse.

    Not especially surprising, but still, thanks for sharing. :)

  • Schmeer Gerhard

    I am a german medical man, gynecologist, (I studied literature too)of 68 years.
    I often thought about the good denomination of atheism. This word is really to negative.
    I learned to explain to some of my friends(a little bit believing in god or an upper spirit, as it does the majority)

    ) that I am trying to live a life without drugs and also without psychic, spiritual ones.
    That is : atheism is life without psychic drugs.
    I will acknowledge, that the psychic drug of religion sometimes gave a wonderful help
    to suffering people, like it does the injection of morphine.

  • Alex Weaver

    That’s actually a really good analogy (just a minor quibble, though; “psychological” might be a better translation than “psychic”, given that the latter is a term used mainly in English for various forms of ridiculous pseudoscience).

  • Jim McDonald

    Hello Everyone
    I am in the process of reading The God Delusion and I am enjoying it. For years I knew I was an atheist, but kept it to myself. I thought about the bible and the concepts of god, afterlife, heaven, and so on – but they seemed like fairy stories. Over ten years ago, as my brother, a Jehovah’s Witness, and I sat by my dying father’s hospital bed, the topic of god arose. He had so much information, so many arguments at his disposal, that I was powerless against his onslaught. “If you haven’t even read the bible,” he said. “How can you criticize it?” I left the hospital feeling very depressed. He made me feel like my life was a total waste. I had no ammunition against the arguments he had been amassing for the many years he had been a JW. Soon after, I made it a point to seek out literature concerning atheism. First it was Bertrand Russell’s “Why I am Not a Christian,” and so on. Then recently I found Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Michel Onfray, and Richard Dawkins. I seldom see my brother because of our religious differences, and I don’t want to talk to him about religion. To be honest, I am reluctant to bring up the subject. But at least I have some concepts under my belt now. My brother did win the argument that day because I was defenseless. But rather than converting me, he made me determined to research atheism, to get for myself a reservoir of knowledge about a way of life I knew had merit.
    By the way, one of the arguments for god – that I had never heard before – was the “watchmaker” story. I had no good response. But now I do. Who made the watchmaker?
    Also – there’s an article in last month’s National Geographic about Francis Collins – “The Scientist As Believer.” I wrote them a letter concerning my criticisms of the subject, and of the article itself. I maintain National Geographic was kow-towing to the religious right in giving Collins a forum to preach christian dogma. Perhaps some of you out there can read the article, and send National Geographic your opinion.
    That’s it for now. I’m going to return to reading the God Delusion. As I read, I jot down authors and titles mentioned by Dawkins. Now I have a list of books for the future. My arsenal is growing.
    Bye4Now — Jim McDonald

  • Jim McDonald

    Hello Everyone
    I am in the process of reading The God Delusion and I am enjoying it. For years I knew I was an atheist, but kept it to myself. I thought about the bible and the concepts of god, afterlife, heaven, and so on – but they seemed like fairy stories. Over ten years ago, as my brother, a Jehovah’s Witness, and I sat by my dying father’s hospital bed, the topic of god arose. He had so much information, so many arguments at his disposal, that I was powerless against his onslaught. “If you haven’t even read the bible,” he said. “How can you criticize it?” I left the hospital feeling very depressed. He made me feel like my life was a total waste. I had no ammunition against the arguments he had been amassing for the many years he had been a JW. Soon after, I made it a point to seek out literature concerning atheism. First it was Bertrand Russell’s “Why I am Not a Christian,” and so on. Then recently I found Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Michel Onfray, and Richard Dawkins. I seldom see my brother because of our religious differences, and I don’t want to talk to him about religion. To be honest, I am reluctant to bring up the subject. But at least I have some concepts under my belt now. My brother did win the argument that day because I was defenseless. But rather than converting me, he made me determined to research atheism, to get for myself a reservoir of knowledge about a way of life I knew had merit.
    By the way, one of the arguments for god – that I had never heard before – was the “watchmaker” story. I had no good response. But now I do. Who made the watchmaker?
    Also – there’s an article in last month’s National Geographic about Francis Collins – “The Scientist As Believer.” I wrote them a letter concerning my criticisms of the subject, and of the article itself. I maintain National Geographic was kow-towing to the religious right in giving Collins a forum to preach christian dogma. Perhaps some of you out there can read the article, and send National Geographic your opinion.
    That’s it for now. I’m going to return to reading the God Delusion. As I read, I jot down authors and titles mentioned by Dawkins. Now I have a list of books for the future. My arsenal is growing.
    Bye4Now — Jim McDonald

  • Jarrod

    Hello people of this site,
    I ran across this review while trying to find opposing views on Dawkins’ book. I’ve read most of the book, and a few of Dawkins’ other books. I agree with the author of this review and several of the commentators that Dawkins is right on in his criticism of certain fundamentalist strains of religion. However, I think his analysis and criticism of both religion in general and the philosophical arguments for God are rather pathetic; I’ve taken only a year of philo in school and his arguments make me cringe. Furthermore, I think he goes too far in declaring all religion to be evil; both myself and several of my friends are deeply religious, and aren’t anything near the fanatics he enjoys ridiculing.
    Also, his grasp of theology is dearly lacking. I know that some people here might reply, as Dawkins believes, that theology isn’t worth knowing or is essentially a pile of nonsense, but if you bother to look into it enough, you’ll find that there is actually a rich, sensical intellectual tradition behind most theology. Furthermore, Dawkins ought to at least know what he is bashing before he tries; the god he so often ridicules is, at least according Christian theology, nothing more than a straw man. If he’d bother to do an ounce of research on real theology, he’d find that Christians (at least not all of them)don’t believe anything close to what he thinks we do.
    While it’s admirable that he’s trying to persuade all of us Christians to believe what he does(ironically, this is exactly what a lot of Christians would like to do to atheists), and that he at least tries to offer some arguments, most of them fail miserably simply because he has no grasp of what he’s critiquing.
    Thanks for listening!

  • James Bradbury


    I think part of what Dawkins wants to get across to the reader (some of whom will be morderate, reasonable Christians) is that not all theists are moderate and reasonable. He therefore points out a lot of extreme views which may be a world away from the reader’s cosy church but nonetheless are prevalent in large parts of the world.

    Many of the more general moderate arguments he addresses are those which have been asked of him in interviews and public lectures. Perhaps the theists who challenged him were not as well-educated as you.

    Can you be specific about which of Dawkins arguments you disagreed with and why?


  • Jarrod

    Thanks for the reply. I’m going to have to disagree with you, however. Dawkins may cite several extremists as his examples, but his objective is not “to get across that not all theists are moderate and reasonable.” His objective is to demolish religion and supposedly ‘convert’ those still under its ‘delusion.’ He uses the extremes to bash religion as a whole.
    As a moderate Christian, I know that many strains of fundamentalist religion exist. In fact, having lived and traveled to numerous countries overseas and visited nearly every state in the U.S., I’ve seen many of these strains firsthand. I’ve not been simply sitting around in a cozy church, and I condemn fundamentalism as much as anyone. But Dawkins point isn’t just to highlight the dangerous strains, it is to implicate all of them on the basis of a few; moderation enables extremism, in his view. Nevermind that this is nothing more than an unsupported assumption and in many cases entirely untrue. Perhaps Dawkins ought to start evaluating his own ideals through the basis of his beloved logic, rather than making unfounded assumptions.
    As for specific arguments, I’ll have to get back to you on that one with specific citations later; ironically, I have a theo class to go to.
    Thanks again for the reply.

  • Ebonmuse

    But Dawkins point isn’t just to highlight the dangerous strains, it is to implicate all of them on the basis of a few; moderation enables extremism, in his view. Nevermind that this is nothing more than an unsupported assumption and in many cases entirely untrue.

    On the contrary: that is not an unsupported assertion, and far too often it is entirely true. Sam Harris makes the same point – even through religious moderates don’t directly cause harm to anyone, they nevertheless encourage ideas such as that faith alone is an acceptable basis for decision-making, that ancient scriptures can be a reliable guide to morality in the present, and that one’s choice of religion is a highly personal and private decision that others should not presume to criticize. And these ideas, when widely adopted, create an atmosphere in which the more dangerous and virulent brands of fundamentalism can thrive. In this way, moderates indirectly enable the existence of fundamentalism. I have seen examples of this many times myself.

    Moderates may criticize the excesses of people like Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson, but at the same time they are doing things like promoting the Bible, one of the most vicious and barbaric books ever written, as a highly esteemed and praiseworthy source of morality. Such actions are bound to give rise to more Falwells and Robertsons in the future. As Sam Harris has written, scripture is very much an “engine of extremism”. The only effective way to stop the crimes of fundamentalists is to cut off their beliefs at the source and spread the word that reason and conscience, not faith and obedience, are the true hallmarks of a moral and virtuous person.

  • Jarrod

    Allright, James, I’ll get started with the issues I have with Dawkins. You’ll have to forgive me for only dealing with a section of the book; it’s been a while since I’ve really read it, so I had to go out and buy a copy to highlight and take notes in (this on top of midterms, haha). However, there is most certainly ample material in the first few chapters to begin with. I’ve been at this for an hour and my book won’t close properly from all the notes sticking out.
    First off, lose the idea that Dawkins is out to merely inform moderates. Page 5 has Dawkins declaring his hope that those religious people who read it will be atheists by the time they are done. His intentions couldn’t be more obvious.
    The main issue that I have with Dawkins, however, is his faulty logic when dealing with God and his incredibly shallow grasp of faith and religion, specifically Christianity, since that is what he prefers to bash. Starting off, on page 2 Dawkins highlights the six reasons he seems to think the faithful believe in God: Atheism is dogmatic too, the philosophical arguments are good, the necessity of a ‘designer,’ the historical prevalence of religion, the necessity of religion for morality, or religion as a good thing even if false. Each and every one of these betrays Dawkins incredibly ignorant view that people believe simply because they need some sort of comforting explanation for things, or because they are too intellectually lazy to move toward any other belief. In case you doubt this assertion, look at page 6, where Dawkins declares that the religious are brainwashed and too stupid to overcome it. Not only is this blatantly false, I find it personally insulting as a religious person consistently ranked in the top tier of intelligence on every test I’ve taken. People who talk to me and argue with me have no doubts about my intellect, yet according to Dawkins my faith automatically renders me an idiot.
    On a side note, all of this comes even as Dawkins asserts on page 27 that he does not intend to offend for the sake of it. He then proceeds to cast the faithful as brainwashed fools. Funny, I don’t see any evidence backing that up, either.
    Also, Dawkins’s claims as to the harms of religions are clearly based in ignorance. He declares that many modern problems, such as the Israel/Palestine Conflict, the sectarian conflict in Iraq, and the fighting in Ireland, to name a few, are all rooted in religion. I’ve lived in the middle east, and it’s wonderfully obvious that these are not religious problems, and a cursory understanding of Ireland will reveal that it isn’t one either. Dawkins is clearly out of his element here, and even shows us again his ignorance of politics etc. when he declares on page 23 that ‘hate speech’ is not protected under freedom of speech in America. Anyone who has seen Nazis marching knows that this is false. If Dawkins is going to comment on these things, he ought to at least know what he is talking about.
    Finally, since this post is getting excessively long, Dawkins has no idea what God actually is according to Christianity. On page 31, at the beginning of Ch. 2, Dawkins defines God along physical, evolutionary terms. He seems to view the Christian God as some incredibly advanced superbeing, a big man in the sky who has evolved beyond our understanding. However, according to Christian theology, this is nothing near what God is. God is a transecendent entity beyond the bounds of time and space; he is not an evolved being, nor is he ‘complex’ in the way Dawkins assumes he is. He does not have organs or parts, like something of this universe. Dawkins sees God as something within the bounds of the Universe; this is entirely the opposite of Christian belief. Dawkins has no idea what he actually talking about. The God he defines, the God he assumes we believe in, is nothing more than a straw man.
    Is that enough for starters?

  • Jarrod

    Wow, I suppose I might be making something of a wave here, if the head of the site is posting in response to me. Or perhaps that’s just my ego talking, haha.
    Ebonmuse, while I do see the points you’re trying to make in response, I still don’t agree with them. I’ll address each in turn.
    First of all, your view that religion has ‘faith alone’ as the sole reason for believing something or making a decision is not entirely true in my experience. Yes, emphasis is put on faith, but there is very much reason and individual thought involved in real religion (a distinction I’ll clear up later). We aren’t simply sheep following a creed because we were told to.
    Secondly, why can’t ancient scripture be a guide for morality? There are plenty of passages in the Bible, and especially the New Testament, that quite obviously advocate tolerance, forgiveness, love for your fellow man and one’s moral responsibility to help others. How is this not a good guide? Because it’s old? Because people wrote it two thousand years ago? It seems to me that if one were to adopt that attitude, nearly anything that is ‘old’ should be abandoned in favor of newer things, no matter the merits.
    Thirdly, I understand that many view religious views to be above reproach, but this is not the case all the time. In fact, through my many years in Catholicism, in its many forms, very rarely have I found religious views to be above criticism. On the contrary, the majority of Catholics that I know at least strive to undertstand the basic tenets of their faith, and those who believe simply because they are told to are not looked upon highly. Different views are debated and discussed, and people come to their own conclusions. I myself have gotten into several debates with my priest. I know that this does not occur in several places around the world, but I offer it as an example that relgious beliefs are not above criticism, even from those who hold to them.
    As for moderation giving rise, or least providing foundation for, extremism, I have seen many examples showing otherwise. Both myself and most of the Catholics I know don’t simply ‘criticize’ fundamentalism; we condemn it properly as a dangerous perversion of scripture. All too often fundamentalists are people who like to read the Bible in an incredibly selective manner, picking all the verses condemning things and ignoring the rest. As such they ignore the vast wealth of Christian tradition and belief.
    Why must we ‘cut off the source’ of belief? What’s the problem with simply changing the beliefs? Here’s where my rant about ‘real’ Christianity comes in. Sadly, a great many Christians in America today have little to no clue what their religion actually professes. Were they to dig just a little, they would find that Christianity is in truth a very radical religion that demands much of its followers. We are tasked by Christ with loving everyone without regard to class, race, sex, or beliefs. We are instructed to help all of those around us, to treat them with the same respect and love of Christ himself, without reservations about what they believe or where they are from. We are asked to reject the idea that wealth, material goods, and in some instances our own happiness are the most important things in life; instead, we are to be completely selfless, concerned first and foremost with the welfare of others. No where is this more vividly shown than in our God, who gave of himself on the cross for the sake of those who betrayed him. It is also a very human religion; it does not deny the essence of our humanity nor comdemn it as entirely evil. Christ was a man, was a human like us, and it’s obvious in the Gospels that he acknowledges and understands this. Christianity calls us to be everything that we can as people, while still acknowledging our fundamental humanity. Sadly, many Christians today refuse to understand much of this, choosing instead to selectively create a Christian God who is little more than a great Judge in the Sky. However, that does not discount religion that truly does hold to its tenets and embraces everything that they are (Christianity specifically).
    Finally, you assert that reason and conscience are mutually exclusive with faith and obedience. Why? In my experience with people and my study of theology these virtues are not exclusive, but rather are to be embraced together. Simply because we have faith in God does not mean we abandon reason; rather, we accept it as a valid means of understanding. They are not exclusive.
    Thanks again for listening and responding. I very much appreciate it.

  • Ebonmuse

    Yes, emphasis is put on faith, but there is very much reason and individual thought involved in real religion (a distinction I’ll clear up later). We aren’t simply sheep following a creed because we were told to.

    That is only true if one adopts a “No True Scotsman” definition of “real religion”. A vast number of religious creeds and authorities do indeed rely on the word of some sacred authority as the sole reason for belief, and go out of their way to deny or denigrate thinking for yourself. The Bible itself harshly condemns individual thought, with teachings like “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Proverbs 16:25); or “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). See my essay “Thoughts in Captivity” for more examples.

    Secondly, why can’t ancient scripture be a guide for morality? There are plenty of passages in the Bible, and especially the New Testament, that quite obviously advocate tolerance, forgiveness, love for your fellow man and one’s moral responsibility to help others. How is this not a good guide?

    Because they are thoroughly intermingled with other verses advocating intolerance, hatred, division, eternal condemnation, and other evils which any ethical person should condemn. A book that so completely mixes the good with the bad cannot serve as a reliable moral guide. I suggest reading my essay on Ebon Musings, “The Great Sage’s Visit“, which makes this point allegorically.

    Both myself and most of the Catholics I know don’t simply ‘criticize’ fundamentalism; we condemn it properly as a dangerous perversion of scripture. All too often fundamentalists are people who like to read the Bible in an incredibly selective manner, picking all the verses condemning things and ignoring the rest.

    All sects do this, not just the fundamentalists. The only difference is in which verses they choose to follow and which ones they choose to disregard. Some emphasize the verses about love and forgiveness and disregard the verses about hatred and intolerance; others do the opposite. There is a verse in the Bible that explicitly and harshly condemns priestly celibacy (1 Timothy 4:1-3), but Catholicism seems not to be overly concerned about that one.

    Why must we ‘cut off the source’ of belief? What’s the problem with simply changing the beliefs?

    Because replacing one irrational belief set with a different irrational belief set is only relocating the problem, not solving it. The real problem (and this addresses your other question about the mutual exclusivity of conscience and faith) is that if your beliefs are not grounded, first, foremost and always, in human needs and human concerns, there will inevitably come a point when dogma collides with the happiness of real people; and far too often, the dogma wins out.

    As I wrote in a recent post:

    The problem with religious morality, even when it causes people to treat others well, is that religious morality is grounded in an idea – obeying the supposed will of God – that is orthogonal to human concerns. We should not be caring for the poor and the sick because it is what God wants; we should be caring for them because it is the right thing to do, and because these others are human beings who need our compassion. A morality not grounded in human concerns can still produce good results, when what the believer is taught to be God’s will lines up with what their fellow humans need; but it can also produce dreadful results when the alleged will of God does not align with human desires and needs… An atheist morality of compassion would produce good results consistently, not just by happenstance.

  • Jarrod

    You make several interesting comments both here and in the two articles you provided links to in your last post, and I’d very much like to address as many as I can. I can’t do that quite yet (darn midterms), but will as soon as I can. However, said replies will no doubt be rather long, and I was wondering if you had a limit on how much one can post here or if there is a limit to how much one can put in a single post.
    Again, thanks for the replies; I intially came to this site simply to learn about views opposite my own, rather than start a debate. However, this debate has turned out to be very informative and intellectually stimulating, something I’m quite thankful for.

  • Rando

    Well at forty four years of age, twenty nine away from the indoctrinators, having wandered and questioned and read widely, including Sagan and Dawkins; “The God Delusion”, finished an hour ago, has given me a rush of freedom and excitement. My folk’s sect is pretty extreme, but my dad wanted me to learn to think, which saved me. Now I’d love him to read Dawkins, but he doesn’t want to hurt my mum.
    I guess I just wanted to tell some people who care, how refreshing it is to get the truth laid out in chapter after chapter, and lay the ghosts of childhood inculcation for ever, it seems.
    I can’t help but fear there will be a fatwa laid on Dawkins for his honesty.

  • Ebonmuse

    Hello Jarrod,

    There’s no hard limit on the length of a comment, other than what’s reasonable. If you’d prefer, whenever you’re ready to resume this discussion, I can create an open comment thread that would be a good place for debate without pulling this thread too far off-topic. And thank you for coming by as well – I always appreciate the chance to hear from someone who’s civil and sincere.

    And welcome, Rando! I couldn’t agree more: it truly is refreshing to slay the ghosts of indoctrination once and for all, and to see someone else fearlessly speaking the truth we might not have dared to voice ourselves. Atheism is still a new movement in terms of political organization, but we’re making ourselves known rapidly. Daylight Atheism will always be a place for people who’ve discovered the freedom that doubt brings to express their views in an open and supportive atmosphere. Here’s hoping you decide to stick around.

  • lpetrich

    Jarrod, what in Richard Dawkins’s arguments is dependent on the premise that God lives in the sky and looks like an old man with a big white beard?

    And are you willing to explain to the vast majority of believers how wrong they are about the god they profess to believe in?

    I’m not impressed with your Bible-thumping. It seems to me that you are cherry-picking from the Bible what you think that we will like, rather than acting as if you are only following the Bible’s orders.

    And is there anything in the Bible that it praises but that you consider wicked? Or that it finds fault with that you consider good?

  • James Bradbury


    At last a moment to get back to you, hope this doesn’t interfere with your work.

    First off, lose the idea that Dawkins is out to merely inform moderates. Page 5 has Dawkins declaring his hope that those religious people who read it will be atheists by the time they are done. His intentions couldn’t be more obvious.

    I actually said, “I think part of what Dawkins wants to get across to the reader (some of whom will be morderate, reasonable Christians) is that not all theists are moderate and reasonable.”

    There’s no secret that he wishes to convince people of his point of view. Isn’t that what most non-fictional authors try to do? He’s saying this is what I believe and this is why. Should atheists not be allowed to “evangelize”?

    You seem to be taking the whole thing very personally. I don’t remember him ever using the words “Stupid” or “Idiot”.

    He declares that many modern problems, such as the Israel/Palestine Conflict, the sectarian conflict in Iraq, and the fighting in Ireland, to name a few, are all rooted in religion. I’ve lived in the middle east, and it’s wonderfully obvious that these are not religious problems, and a cursory understanding of Ireland will reveal that it isn’t one either.

    I don’t think this is an unreasonable claim. Looking at the most religious parts of the world and the most religious governments in the world should make that fairly obvious. Certainly the problems and individual conflicts spread beyond religion, but the origins of division are religious and sectarian. It seems that sometimes for the religious, the very existance of people who do not share their conviction is an insult. In much of the world people are able to hide from those who don’t share their beliefs.

    IIRC (I only have the audiobook version), Dawkins says he does not believe in a “Superhuman, supernatural creator” or similar. That he then goes on to say that any being capable of designing the universe would have to be very complex and that complex intelligent beings evolve gradually over a period of time is his argument, not what he thinks Chritians believe of God.

    This is because he is countering the teleological argument (cosmological version), which goes something like:
    1. The universe is very complex and seems improbable.
    2. Anything that complex must have been designed.
    3. Therefore something/one must have designed it. (from which most theists are likely to leap to their favourite god/gods.)

    Dawkins’ point is that any designer/creator must be at least as complex and improbable so we’re no closer to dissolving that improbability, which was the basis of the first argument. In short, “Who designed the designer?”

    Of course there are nearly as many views of religion out there as there are religious people, so Dawkins couldn’t hope to describe each god exactly as each individual imagines him/her/it, which is why he says, “All gods”.

  • Jarrod

    Alright, thanks for getting back to me James. First off, I’d like to point out that I first commented on this review not to defend dogma, as I believe an earlier poster asserted, but rather to point out that Dawkins’ book make not be as foolproof as he and many others seem to think it is. It’s more along the lines of constructive criticism than irrationally lashing out.
    First, I have no problem with Dawkins’ trying to ‘convert’ believers; I applauded him for doing so in my first post. If someone believes that they have the right answer(s) to an issue, it would seem to be their moral/ethical imperative to persuade others to their view, and that’s exactly what Dawkins is doing. Bravo to him for that. However, that seems to be the only thing he wants to do with this book, rather than just ‘inform.’
    James, you’re right, I do take a bit of this personally, because I am extraordinarily frustrated that Dawkins and his ilk utterly refuse to see past their own arguments and even consider what others say. No, he does not directly call us idiots (as far as I have seen), but he does assert that believers are effectively brainwashed, and then declares on page 6 that those who are actually open-minded are either a)not sufficiently brainwashed or b)smart enough to overcome the brainwashing. It can be reasonably inferred from this statement that religious individuals are effectively idiots, too stupid to overcome their inherent delusions.
    James, simply because a claim is reasonable does not make it true. Yes, Dawkins can claim that several regional conflicts are religiously derived, but does that make it fact? No. Having personally met and spoken with Iraqis and studied up quite a bit on the area, I can say, along with many others, that the conflict is not religious. The Shiites are unhappy with being oppressed for so long by the Sunnis that they are striking back. The Sunnis respond in turn. These same groups live relatively peacefully in other Arab countries. It is a local, political, and tribal problem, not a religious one. Simply because religion is present does not mean it is the cause.
    If Dawkins wants to refute the teleological argument, that’s fine. I myself am not a big fan of it, simply because it is so easy to explain away. However, doing away with this argument does not refute the existence of God. Furthermore, Dawkins is in one sense fundamentally misunderstanding what God necessarily is and even possibly what it means to ‘create.’ He is obssessed with this anthropomorphic God, a god that is little more than a very smart human ‘out there.’ At least in my Catholic tradition, and certainly in some others, this is not what God is. I believe a poster above put in a link to Terry Eagleton’s review. While this review has its deficiencies, it does a relatively good job pointing out just how shallow Dawkins’ grasp of theology really is. If Dawkins’ really wants to effectively ‘disprove’ God, my point is that he ought to address the real theological notion of what that is.
    First off, I can’t honestly recall when Dawkins says God is a big man in the sky, although he does use the phrase ‘sky god religion’ in another book. Furthermore, the idea is simply implicit in his arguments. I’ll elaborate if you need me to.
    Yes, I’d be willing to tell people that they have a very shallow grasp of religion. Why wouldn’t I want to? Oh, and if you really want some bible-thumping, something which I actually never did in my previous posts, Christ did say that the way was straight and narrow. Perhaps a great many people really are mistaken in their religious assumptions. And what is this assertion about me ‘following the Bible’s orders’? Please explain.
    Ebonmuse: An open topic thread would be much appreciated, thank you.
    Again, thanks to you, James and Ebon, for the civil dialogue, something that I’ve found to be sorely lacking in other atheists I’ve talked to. I appreciate it very much.

  • lpetrich

    “I don’t believe in that kind of god” is a common criticism of The God Delusion, and PZ Myers has satirized it in The Courtier’s Reply. And Jarrod, how is the big-man-in-the-sky sort of God implicit in Richard Dawkins’s arguments? I don’t see the connection. And anyway, how is God supposed to be something other than a “big man in the sky”? The God the the Bible certainly looks like that sort of God, unless you wish to unterpret away every bit of it that says that.

  • Jarrod

    The “I don’t believe in that sort of God” objection would seem relevant to me, if I was the only one who believed in this particular sort of God. However, in my experience, this is not the case. While it’s true that myself and many other believers argue about the details, we still all believe in a certain type of God, and he is not a sky god. Yes, many Christians hold in their minds the image of God as some sort of heavenly, ‘up there’ father, but they do not take this image literally. The vast majority of those I’ve met realize the limitations of the analogy and know that God easily surpasses such simple notions.
    Well, first off, in the Devil’s Chaplain, Dawkins specifically refers to Christianity as a ‘sky god religion’ (like the Greeks and their Zeus), so I’m assuming that unless he’s changed his mind recently, he’s still running off that assumption. And as I said before, while he never directly says (as far as I’ve seen) that God is a great big man in the sky who micromanages everything, it shows in his views. Whether it’s his views on the nature of prayer, his ideas about God and creation, or his references to teapots and fairies, it’s rather obvious that he has a very narrow, shallow conception of what many people believe God to be.
    As for the Bible, a very great bit of it does not definitively declare God to be a great big man in the sky (would you mind pointing out which passages you have in mind that do?) and often instead points to something a bit more…I hesitate to use words like ‘complex’ or ‘mystical’ for fear that they will be promptly taken out of context and used against me…perhaps the words ‘greater than our conceptions’ will suffice for now.
    That said, I appreciate the lack of ad hominem attacks present in your latest post, rather than those previous ‘bible-thumping’ accusations.
    Furthermore, while I thoroughly enjoy these back and forth comments, I sincerely doubt that either one of us is ever going to convince the other of anything. I’m going to assume that it’s because we have two different ways of looking at the world: you assume that only things that can be backed by evidence can possibly be true, and refuse to even consider otherwise, simply because the other ways of thinking ‘don’t have evidence,’ while I on the other hand (I know I’m going to get skewered for this) believe that evidence and science are not the only ways of knowing things. Oh well, such is life sometimes.
    Ebon, just tell me where that open thread is at, and I’d be happy to move the conversation there. Thanks again.

  • lpetrich

    Jarrod, you still have not explained how Richard Dawkins’s arguments are affected by your claim that God is not some big man who lives in the sky. Like his discussions of:

    The Ontological Argument
    The First Cause Argument
    The Argument from Design
    Thomas Aquinas’s Five Ways

    I’ve read The God Delusion, and RD nowhere says that if there is a God, then that entity must be a big man who lives in the sky. In fact, he says very little in that book on what God is supposed to look like.

  • Jarrod

    I’m going to start by thanking you. Your stubborn refusal to answer anything I bother bringing up that makes an ounce of sense can only mean that you’re conceding the arguments, something no other atheist on this site has done. Perhaps you’re a bit more open-minded than I thought.
    You also seem to be in the habit of blatantly ignoring nearly everything I say, which might also explain the above phenomenon. I never said that Dawkins explicitly states in the GD (wow, what a funny shortening) that God must be a big man in the sky. I said that exact thing in my last post. You must have missed it. He does, however, effectively give that description in a previous book, and since his views never seem to change much, I’m assuming he holds to the same belief in the GD. Furthermore, he has all these nice ideas about God being equivalent to a teapot or a fairy, or that God is simply someone who (in theory)exists for little more than to answer the prayers of faithful believers. My issues with his argument and God characterization lie within these ideas, not any of the traditional arguments you cited. Anyone with half a brain and cursory knowledge of philosophy would know that such arguments offer proof only of a supreme being, rather than a specifically Christian God. My objections to his definition of God has nothing to do with those arguments, nor did I ever say they did.
    What I’m arguing is that his views fall short in examples such as the teapot one simply because he is trying to disprove an utterly simplistic God that a great many people don’t actually believe in. Take the teapot argument. Yes, it’s perfectly reasonable to say someone claiming there is a teapot orbiting the sun is a bit of a loon. That’s because a teapot is a physical object existing within the universe that can actually be proven or disproven. But this doesn’t apply to traditional notions of God, simply because he exists outside of time and space. He is not a teapot. And please don’t tell me, like Dawkins essentially does, that the idea of something existing outside of time etc., is nonsensical. Time and space as we know them are both just aspects of our physical universe; before the universe existed, it’s fairly reasonable to assume that time and space did not exist. Why can’t something be outside them?
    Or take his view on prayer. To Dawkins, the nature of prayer and the nature of God are tied together very closely. Believers make prayers, and God, like the good guy in the sky that he is, exists to answer them. If he doesn’t, there must not be a God. This reflects an astoundingly shallow view of God and prayer. Prayer, as most good Christians either already know or implicitly realize, does not exist simply to get what we want. Even I, as a child raised in a very conservative protestant background, knew that. Prayer exists for the faithful to thank God, praise his glory, and acknowledge his presence. Even when we do ask God for something, there is always the knowledge that we might not get it. Take the Lord’s prayer, a common one. In order, it praises God (hallowed be thy name), acknowledges God’s supremacy and ultimate control of the events of life (thy will be done), asks for basic necessities (give us this day our daily bread), acknowledges our sin and need to repent and forgive others (forgive us our trespasses), and finally asks for the grace to avoid sin and live good lives (lead us not into temptation…). Only once in the whole prayer is anything material asked for.
    Dawkins refuses to acknowledge any of this. For him, this belief is nothing more than cosmic begging, which as I have shown is very, very wrong. I’m not asking Dawkins or you or anyone to believe these things, but if he wants to persuade the faithful to abandon belief, he ought to at least know what he is asking them to abandon, lest he be simply laughed off as an ignoramus.

  • lpetrich

    Jarrod, that’s absolutely, totally beside the point, for these reasons:

    As far as I can tell, all of RD’s arguments are independent of whether God is an inhabitant of our Universe or outside it.

    And that includes his teapot comparison. That argument he got from Bertrand Russell, who used it to illustrate where the burden of proof lies. It would be VERY hard to prove that there is no interplanetary teapot, but is there any positive reason to suppose that one exists? Does one say “I can’t prove that there is no interplanetary teapot, therefore an interplanetary teapot exists”?

    Your discussion of prayer makes it seem like Jesus Christ was wrong when he stated “Ask, and you shall receive”, and compared non-delivery of requests to someone giving a stone instead of a loaf of bread and a snake instead of a fish, as if God would not do anything like that.

    The idea that God is outside of time has interesting consequences. This would mean that, relative to our Universe, God is totally fixed, like the laws of physics.

    That does not describe the God of the Bible very well, because that God seems subject to time; in fact, that GOd sometimes seems as anthropomorphic as a pagan god. Let’s see…

    In the first Genesis creation story, God creates the Universe in a step-by-step sequence over 6 days and rests on the 7th.
    1: celestial environments: day and night
    2: far-terrestrial environments: sea and sky
    3: near-terrestrial environments: land and plants
    4: celestial inhabitants: Sun (day) and Moon (night)
    5: far-terrestrial inhabitants: Aquatic animals (sea) and flying animals (sky)
    6: near-terrestrial inhabitants: Land animals and humanity (land) and “You may eat these” (plants)
    This story is not as anthropomorphic as some parts of the Bible; God creates by commanding.

    In the second one, God fixes his creation as he goes. God creates Adam. Adam is lonely. God tries to fix that by creating animals for him. Adam is still not quite satisfied. Adam creates Eve for him. Adam is happier now. But a certain snake leads this primprdial couple to do something that God disapproves of, and God gets pissed at all three of them. There is lots of anthropomorphism in this story, like God creating Adam from “dust of the Earth”, Eve from Adam’s rib, and him walking in the Garden of Eden.

    In the story of Noah’s Flood, God regrets having created humanity, and decides to destroy all but 8 of the human race. And when Noah, his family, and all those animals board the Ark, God closes its door for him. After that flood, God creates a rainbow to illustrate his promise never to go on such a destructive rampage ever again.

    In the Tower of Babel story, God gets pissed that people are building a tower to try to reach Heaven so they can escape possible future big floods, so he made them speak different languages so they could not coordinate their efforts.

    Etc. etc. etc.

    A god that exists out of time would be something like Spinoza’s and Einstein’s god, which the Church had declared heretical.

  • Nes

    (Sorry for the messed up font sizes (or colors…) in this post, assuming they carry over from the preview, I’m not sure how it happened or if I can do any HTML to fix them.)

    As for the Bible, a very great bit of it does not definitively declare God to be a great big man in the sky (would you mind pointing out which passages you have in mind that do?)

    Sorry, this isn’t really my argument, but lpetrich seems to have missed this, so I thought that I’d provide some:
    Several verses that give God body parts.
    Several more that talk about meeting God, sometimes even face to face, which seems like an odd thing to say if God doesn’t have a face.
    Here’s a mention of body parts again, with a contradiction (contained within the same chapter, about 20 verses apart, no less!) as a bonus.
    Genesis 1:26: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…”

    Unless these read very differently in the original language(s) (and how would your average church goer know that?), they would certainly seem to imply that God has a body.

    All that said, I will admit that while I had pictured God as a bearded guy in the sky, I hadn’t taken it literally.

  • Jarrod

    Wooo, it’s been a while, but I’m back, here to provide a contrasting and generally scorned (here at least) view. Thanks again for the replies. Here it goes!
    Ipetrich: Last I checked, RD’s arguments depended almost entirely on God being something within the Universe. You seem to be misunderstanding my point about the teapot example. The thing with the teapot is, it would be scientifically possible to prove the existence of a teapot, even if it would be very difficult. However, since God exists outside the bounds of the universe as we think about it, he cannot be scientifically proven this way. That’s the problem with the teapot example. The teapot can be found, and measured, etc., etc. God cannot, as he does not exist within the bounds of our universe.
    And I’m wondering, how, pray tell, did you come to this conclusion that God being outside of time would render him a static God? As far as I’ve read, simply because something exists outside of our definition of time does not make it static. And I read that in physics articles, not theology ones. Time as we know it is merely a property of our universe.
    As for all your scripture quoting, this is where it would come in handy for atheists to understand a little theology. You aren’t dealing with a fundamentalist here, Ipetrich. I don’t take the bible completely literally, and neither have any theologians I’ve met. Then again, I’m Catholic, not protestant, and there’s a difference in the intellectual traditions of these two branches. To make a long story short, God is rather anthropomorphic in Genesis because a decent portion of the book is essentially a (Sumerian?) creation myth revised by the Israelites to convey a particular theology. Hence the human-like God, along with all that other jazz about God moving over the waters, the two different accounts of man’s creation, etc. If you want me to explain more, I will.
    Nes: Thanks for the response. Always fun to have new material to answer to.
    Yes, those passages would seem to imply that God has a body. Does that mean that he does? No. It’s called thinking metaphorically. As humans, we’re rather visually oriented creatures who like to think of abstract things in concrete terms. People do this sort of thing with poetry, with stories, with just about anything. So, God is often cast in that metaphorical light, to help a bit with comprehension. Even you said it yourself: you pictured God as a big man in the sky (why? it’s a helpful metaphor or frame of reference), but didn’t actually take it literally. It’s the same with most believers I’ve encountered. As for the quote about making man in God’s image, that’s generally taken to mean in God’s spiritual image (free will, reason, etc.). In fact, if you look at the surrounding verses, nowhere does it literally say the physical image of God; in fact, it leaves a degree of ambiguity about such things.
    Thanks again for listening, sorry if the post rambled a bit, it’s been a long week.

  • Jimi

    Hello Jarrod and other christians
    I try to read what you’ve written, but find it rambling.
    All of this talk boils down to one question: Where is the evidence that a god exists? Without this evidence, you have no basis to use the word god.

  • Jarrod

    Hello, Jimi, and other atheists. I’m not sure there’s too many other Christians running around here, but whatever.
    As I said, I apologize for the rambling. It was late and I was tired.
    As for my “having no basis to use the word god,” I’m not sure what you mean by that. Unicorns don’t exist, but I can still use the word, no? In fact, I just did.
    I think it boils down to another question: Is science the only way to derive truth? If the answer is no, then that leaves open the possibility for God. And if it’s yes, well then, you can’t really disprove God, can you, since science isn’t in the business of proving negatives.

  • Reed Ulvestad

    And if it’s yes, well then, you can’t really disprove God, can you, since science isn’t in the business of proving negatives.

    I agree that science can’t prove a negative. So, no you can’t prove that “God does not exist”. However, it can disprove positive claims. That is, a single contradictory fact requires a hypothesis to be revised at the least and often abandoned completely. Now, the hypothesis, “God exists” is probably a little vague, since “God” can be defined all kinds of ways, but I think, for example, you could work with the hypothesis, “God, as described literally in the bible, exists.”

    It’s really not hard at all to find lots of facts that contradict that claim. So, while science can’t definitively prove that no god exists, it seems that it can disprove the positive claim that some particular god exists.

  • Jarrod

    Allright, I’ll grant you that God, as literally described in the Bible (i.e. every word in the Bible, taken exactly as it is, is a ‘real’ description of God), does not exist. Perhaps you ought to read my earlier post to Ipetrich; I’m certainly not a fundamentalist, and don’t believe the literal interpretation of the Bible to be ‘true.’ It’s rather obvious that God didn’t create the world in six days, rest on the seventh, etc. Does that mean something along the lines of the Christian God doesn’t exist? Don’t think so.
    But regardless, this really wasn’t meant to be a purely theological debate; just trying to point out flaws I see in Dawkins book. Thanks for the reply.

  • Reed Ulvestad

    Hi Jarrod,

    Thanks for the reply.

    I was just using the literal god of the bible as a starting point or one example. Glad we agree that character is clearly fake. Beyond that, though, you can continue to adjust the “hypothesis” until it fits whomever’s (your’s for example) definition of god at which point you can look for factual contradictions to that definition. If you find any, then “science” has disproven the existence of that god as well and the hypothesis must be further adjusted or abandoned.

    My point is that any definition of a personal god that interacts with the material world can be tested and potentially disproven. Furthermore, I would say that any that has actually been proposed (i.e. “believed in”) can easily be disproven in this manner.

    I read your point above that god is outside the material world (“universe”) and therefore not subject to Dawkins’ type of scientific inquiry. However, even if god is outside of the universe, we are not, so any effect that god has on the material world (including people) should be testable and subject to the scientific “way of knowing.”

  • lpetrich

    Jarrod, have you read RD’s arguments? None of them depend on where God is supposed to live, as far as I can tell. And that includes the teapot argument. In fact, there is a whole atheist bestiary of such imaginary entities:

    The Flying Spaghetti Monster
    The Invisible Pink Unicorn
    Bertrand Russell’s Interplanetary Teapot
    Carl Sagan’s Invisible Dragon in a Garage
    Sam Harris’s Refrigerator-Sized Diamond Buried in a Backyard

    I think that they are to illustrate where the burden of proof will fall.

    Being outside of time does mean static, for a simple reason. Being outside of time means being independent of time, and that’s what static means.

    And leaving aside the sheer anthropomorphic conceit of the claim that humanity was made “in the image of God”, it is blatantly contrary to many of the claims made about the Xian God. That entity is claimed to be very unlike us in many important ways: God is omnipotent, God is omniscient, God is omnibenevolent, God is by Its nature unable to commit sins, God is physically invulnerable, God is immortal and eternal, etc.

  • Jarrod

    I’m glad we can at least agree on something too; that seems to be more than what most atheists I’ve met will do, haha. First off, the idea that God is a ‘hypothesis’ in the scientific meaning, as Dawkins seems to think he is, is utterly ridiculous. I’m sorry if I’m a bit vague here, as I’m still trying to figure out how to explain it, but God is not, to most believers, simply a way of explaining things away. I’ll try and elaborate once I figure out how to.
    Yes, it would make sense that a God that interacts with the world can be tested. However, that might not be as simple as Dawkins and other atheists make it out to be. Take the prayer example. In The GD, Dawkins seems to think you can test prayer by doing blind clinical trials and seeing if those prayed for get better. However, as I bothered explaining in my previous posts, this reveals an extraordinarily shallow view of what prayer actually is. See the above post about prayer, and if more explanation is needed, I’ll give it. Thanks for the reply, it’s good to see an amicable atheist on here.
    I’m so happy you’re back to the ad hominem attacks, they’re much easier to deal with than real arguments. I’d have thought that my specific citations of Dawkins in previous posts would be enough proof that I’ve read the book. If that’s not enough, I took the liberty of buying a personal copy and have spent the last few weeks poring over it, highlighting everything of note and reading it over and over. This was a long and painful process, not because I felt like I was under attack, but because I felt exactly the opposite; that this Dawkins character was killing my precious neurons with his babbling. And I do value my neurons.
    As is your norm, you seem to be utterly missing my point. A teapot, even if it is flying around mars, is actually present in the universe, and therein lies the problem. God is not actually present in the Universe, and therefore is not provable in the traditional scientific way.
    As for your objections to the outside of time meaning static statement, I’m still rather confused as to how you’re asserting all this and where your evidence is coming from. Time is nothing more than an aspect of our universe. Since we’re immersed in it, we’re inherently unable to really imagine what it must be like to be ‘outside’ of time. I’m pretty sure Dawkins says this himself in another one of his books. To us, being outside of time may seem static, but that doesn’t mean it’s true. To use a very crude metaphor, it’s like a deep sea fish. This fish, immersed in water, cannot imagine what it’s like to be outside of water. Perhaps he imagines that being outside of water means that one must be dry. Is this true? No. But the fish can’t see that, because it knows nothing else but total immersion. No, it’s not a perfect metaphor, but it works for now.
    Oh, and I looked up static; it doesn’t mean ‘outside of time,’ it just means ‘unchanging.’ There’s a difference.
    As for your rant about ‘being made in the image of God,’ you seem to be missing the point all over again. THIS is why atheists ought to learn a little theology, so they don’t sounds like fools when discussing such things. ‘In the image of God’ does not mean we were made literally like him (as nearly anyone with an ounce of theological knowledge would know), but rather containing primal spiritual similarities, as I mentioned before. Funny that you should mention how He is unlike us though, because there is this one little branch of theological thought called ‘theosis’ that essentially says Christ came to Earth precisely to give us such attributes (immortality, purity, etc.) and fulfill our human potential. Ug, now I know I’m going to have that turned around on me, haha.
    One last little thing; well, two, actually. First off, if you’re going to try and assert things about God, please know what is actually associated with Him. God is physically invulnerable? That’s laughable; there’s nothing physical about him to hurt, unless you count Christ, who was crucified. Either way, yet another show of amazing ignorance. And would you please use the actual term for ‘us’: Christian? It won’t kill you to type five more letters, and we are certainly not ‘eckstians’ or ‘crosstians,’ we are Christians, and it would be appreciated if you’d use the right term. Thanks again.

  • lpetrich

    Jarrod, I will have to credit you with at least trying to understand what Richard Dawkins was talking about. But you keep on insisting on that red herring of an issue of whether or not God is an inhabitant of our Universe.

    As to being unable to imagine what it is like to be outside of time, I note that there are whole disciplines of thought that daily work with difficult-to-imagine things. For example, there is a mathematics of infinite quantities, even though there is an old saying that “a finite mind cannot comprehend the infinite”.

    And when I think of “created in the image of God”, I think “and pride is supposed to be one of the Seven Deadly Sins.”

  • Jimi

    You have skirted the question: Where is the evidence that a god exists?
    I noticed you didn’t even TRY to answer this crucial question.
    As to your unicorn statement – unicorns are fictitious characters.
    And since you’ve compared your god to a unicorn, you have admitted that your god is fictitious.
    Remember KISS !

  • Jarrod

    I’ve got a long post for you that I’m going to put up later. Until then, I’m not going to deal with your nonsense. Oh, and thank you, for finally conceding something: you’ve just effectively declared Dawkins to be wrong, which just supports my point that he can be such in this book. Glad to know that the first real concession comes from one of the most dogmatic of you.

    Sigh. It would seem you’re not all that different from everyone else. Is the best you can do merely conjuring up a hollow rhetorical victory? I stated earlier, in response to the question about evidence, that the real question is whether or not science is the only way of deriving truth. You seem to have skirted that question entirely. Feel free to give me an answer, and then you can start declaring me a question-skirter. Until then it’s little more than hypocrisy, and nowhere near anything resembling a proper argument.
    Haha, I compared my God to a unicorn? That’s hilarious. No, I used the unicorn comparison to show that a word can be used irrelevant to its context. Why? Because you made this bizarre argument that I can’t ‘use’ the word God, simply because you don’t believe there’s evidence. What that argument has anything to do with what’s been discussed so far on this board is simply beyond me, but I try not to leave things unanswered. Especially on this board, where a nice double standard applies: anything dropped by an atheist, like Ipetrich has shown numerous times, is irrelevant, yet the moment I forget an argument (whether I did or not), I have reflexive atheists like you jumping on my back screaming victory.
    I do remember KISS, Jimi, since I was involved with the military for a while, and they love that phrase. I suppose I’ll have to keep remembering it, not because I can’t deal with complex things, but because my audience here can’t. It’s funny, the things I can get you to concede. Please, remember to KISS, before you effectively declare yourself an idiot.
    Thanks for the reply. More later.

  • Reed Ulvestad

    First off, the idea that God is a ‘hypothesis’ in the scientific meaning, as Dawkins seems to think he is, is utterly ridiculous

    Why? Is it “utterly ridiculous” to posit your own existence as a hypothesis? If not, then how is god any different and why can’t those differences be incorporated into the hypothesis?

  • Jarrod

    Hmmm, perhaps I ought to have phrased that more clearly. I did not mean that to posit the existence of something (whether God, self, or a celestial teapot) as a hypothesis is ridiculous. That’s perfectly fine and fairly reasonable.
    What I meant by that is Dawkins’ utterly ridiculous ideas that Christians form the ‘God hypothesis’ as a sort of purely explanatory mechanism, and as such a simple dousing of evolutionary theory can extinguish it. Christians may use God to explain aspects of the world, yes, but that is not the only reason we believe in Him. As I said before, I’m honestly struggling as to how to explain this aspect of belief to the people here, as it is a profoundly spiritual thing, and as such cannot truly be described in ‘scientific’ terms.
    Can we hypothesize the existence of God? Sure, why not? Dawkins’ mistake, which is very much indicative of his shallow view of spirituality, is in assuming that the ‘God hypothesis’ exists merely to explain how we got here, etc. However, I don’t really think it’s the sort of hypothesis you and I, or any Christian and atheist, can ever really agree on, because of our different views on ‘evidence.’ I believe there are nonscientific ways of deriving truth, while the general agreement here seems to be that scientific truth is the only truth. So long as we each hold to those positions, we’re never going to agree about this ‘hypothesis.’

    As for you Ipetrich, if you’ve read this lately, I’ve got a page and half of typed material waiting for you. You’re not off the hook.

    Thanks for the reply Reed, sorry if I wasn’t clear enough the first time.

  • Reed Ulvestad

    Hi Jarrod,

    Without having some reasonable definition of what these “nonscientific ways of deriving truth” are, there is no way to have a rational discussion. If you agree that the existence of a particular, well-definied god can be tested scientifically, then there is no need for anything else. Dawkins doesn’t need to address any other details, when he can and does show that there is contradictory evidence to the hypothesis that a god exists who has any noticable effect upon the material world. The finer points of theology are meaningless if the thing they are addressing (god) isn’t shown to exist in the first place.

  • Jarrod

    *sigh* I’m not ever going to make any headway here, am I? You, like everyone on this site, seem utterly and completely convinced that you are already right. What’s the point in talking to a fundamentalist?
    As seems to be the norm, your use of terms, and apparent understanding of them, denotes a wonderful ignorance. What are some nonscientific ways of deriving truth? Well, you can stick under that category things like spiritual insight, divine revelation, sheer logic, various means of inspiration, etc., etc. None of these use the scientific method, but are viewed by many to be ways of driving some sort of truth. The list goes on and on. I’m sure you’re smart enough, and hopefully well-versed enough, to know some of them yourself.
    I never agreed that the existence of God can be tested scientifically, and specifically indicated otherwise in my last post when I spoke of finding truth through things other than science. Furthermore, your idea of a particular, well-defined God is strangely funny; you see, that’s kind of what theology is for. To discover the nature of God, because he is at times rather confusing and ill-defined. My point is that Dawkins’ ideas about ‘testing’ for God border on comedy, such as his theoretical prayer-measuring expermiment.
    As for Dawkins actually plopping out a bunch of evidence against God, would you mind citing the passages? Unless my brain has gone to pot between now and yesterday, Dawkins attempts to argue against God not with evidence but with probablities.
    What finer points of theology are you talking about here? All of the things I’ve talked about are all very basic, very simple theology. There’s nothing much of ‘finer points’ in there. Again, you prove that you, Dawkins, and most other atheists fail miserably at arguing these sorts of things simply because you have no idea what you are really arguing about.

  • Jarrod

    Allright, Ipetrich, after much debating with myself, here’s the last post I’m going to write to you for a while. I spent a little bit of time on it, so I hope you like!

    Honestly, I hope this is the last time I have to respond to your increasingly inane babbling. As much as I dislike such personal attacks, there seems to be no other way of dealing with you. I’ll address your idiotic comments one last time, and then stop responding to you; there’s no point in arguing with someone as blindly faithful in his beliefs and so utterly disdainful and egotistical as yourself.
    Thanks again for the unceasing ad hominem attacks. It’s good to know that in your wonderfully esteemed opinion that I’m merely trying to understand. No, Ipetrich, I do understand, and you apparently do not, which is why there is such a huge disconnect between your apparently limited intellect and what I’m trying to say. Please don’t bother insulting my intelligence with your insinuations of stupidity and horrible examples. You want intelligence? Fine, I’ll offer proof, since that’s what you seem to want so badly. I was reading college level biology books by third grade, gained a reasonable understanding of genetics by fourth, reading physics texts by fifth, and started teaching myself calculus by eighth. Every intelligence test I’ve taken has consistently ranked me at least in the top 5% of the population in terms of intellect. I’d venture to say I understand plenty about what Dawkins is saying. So go ahead, insult my intellect and understanding again, and keep on looking like the ignorant fool you are.
    The issue of God being in and out of the Universe is certainly not a red herring, since Dawkins consistently insists that God is a)Scientifically testable and b)is some sort of advanced being as bound by the laws of evolution as you and I. Whether or not God is within the universe as Dawkins understands it is crucial to both of these claims. It’s not my fault if your notably limited powers of understanding can’t grasp that simple fact.
    As for your assertions about people working with difficult to imagine things all the time, your example contains plenty of fatal flaws (as all of yours seem to do). Abstract mathematics may be utterly bizarre and nonsensical, but they do have real world applications. Calculus involves dividing by zero, something that is mathematically impossible, yet at the same time has applications all over the place. The mathematics involved in quantum theory state all sorts of illogical things, like the fact that if I bash myself against a wall enough times, I’ll go through it (quantum tunneling, if you don’t know). And while all these things are strange and hard to imagine, they have one crucial aspect that separates them from the ‘outside of time’ category: they are all things within our universe. Even mathematics that seemingly have no purpose are contained within our universe, and as such can be marginally understood through mathematical disciplines. Things outside of time, outside of physics, are completely different. We literally have no frame of reference whatsoever for such things. As I said, even Dawkins admitted this. Or is it suddenly possible for him to be wrong? And if it is, isn’t it then possible for him to be wrong in this book?
    As seems to be the norm for your particular brand of mediocrity, your insinuation that being ‘created in the image of God’ is merely an egotistical display of human pride cannot be any more wrong. Please, Ipetrich, go pick up a theology book and read it, before plaguing us with your drivel. That passage is meant to convey a certain theological truth about the relationship between God and man and God’s love for us. I’m not going to bother explaining further. If the only response you can give to anything is an insult, I sincerely doubt you’ll be able to comprehend any explanation I give.
    Ipetrich, when people fail to respond to one’s arguments, it is generally assumed that they have conceded them. So far, you’ve yet to really respond to any of mine. I’ve set forth examples, analogies, and explanations, and you’ve ignored them all. I’m going to have to assume that this means you really have no idea how to respond. I will have to credit you with at least trying to understand what I am talking about, but that is all you apparently can do: try. So go ‘raise your consciousness,’ to use a Dawkins phrase, learn a thing or two, and then feel free to come crawling back to have a real discussion. Until then, I’m done dealing with your ignorance.
    If there are any other atheists running around here who want to redeem your collective image after this imbecile has sullied it, I’d be happy to have a rational, reasonable discourse. But don’t insult me by coming to the table with nothing more than hollow talking points and personal attacks like this bumbler. I may not be the best, but I am certainly not your average theist. Write accordingly.
    Thank you.

  • Reed Ulvestad

    Jarrod, thank you for resorting to those ad hominem attacks yourself. I’m now satisfied that my point has been made and have no further need to discuss this topic with you. Good bye and good luck.

  • Jarrod

    What point, pray tell, has been made? As I said in my nice little post to Ipetrich, I used ad hominem attacks, although I prefer not to, because nearly everyone who bothers arguing with me seems to be limited almost completely to such attacks. Half my point in using them was to show how thoroughly idiotic it is. It’s good to see that my point has been made.
    Still though, what point has been made? You’ve still not addressed very much of what I said. Several of my so called ad hominem attacks were anything but; is it wrong to point out that you do not, in fact, have any idea what you’re talking about if it’s the truth? All I’ve seen so far is convenient sidestepping.
    Goodbye to you too, Reed, and good luck. Judging by your responses and way of thinking, you’ll need it.

  • Jimi

    Hello Jarrod
    I asked you a simple question – Where is the evidence that a god exists? – but you refuse to answer it. Your tactic of answering a question with a question is not evidence. When you come up with evidence, we’ll have something to talk about.
    Why are you so angry? Did you call me an idiot?
    What evidence has anyone ever had that a god exists?

  • Jacob R


    Please in form us as to what exactly ‘God’ is, its attributes, how it interacts with the world, and any basic ideas as to how to interact with it.

    Making clear exactly what we are arguing about will help us form our questions better.

    It doesn’t have to be detailed just the basics will do, and if we ask a silly question please enlighten us as to why.

  • lpetrich

    In response to Jarrod, I ask how I am supposed to be guilty of ad hominem attacks. And if he doesn’t like my arguments, then that is his right. Bragging about what a genius one is does not prove very much — I myself can do that, and with some justification, but I prefer not to pat myself on the back about what a genius I am. I don’t want to seem conceited.

    And there is nothing in the methodology of science that excludes consideration of entities outside our Universe. I’ve seen multiverse speculations, for instance. But if one cannot construct testable hypotheses, then it’s a meaningless subject, which is the point of the atheist bestiary I had mentioned earlier here. Bertrand Russell’s interplanetary teapot is clearly an inhabitant of our Universe, but he proposed that as an example of an untestable hypothesis that there is no reason to suppose to be true.

    As to mathematics being inside our Universe, does that mean that if there are realms outside of our Universe, it may be possible that 2 + 2 = 5 in such realms? Mathematics follows from logical consistency, and that happens in every possible Universe.

    Also, RD’s “Ultimate 747″ argument is a way of addressing the claim that complexity can only originate from greater complexity. It has nothing to do with God being “subject to the laws of evolution”, whatever those “laws” might be.

    As to “outside of time” being difficult to imagine, I have much less difficulty in imagining timeless things — everything static is timeless.

    I don’t see how claiming to have been “created in the image of God” is an expression of great humility. It’s like saying “The Creator and Ruler of this whole Universe looks exactly like me!” And if that is humility, then I don’t think I want to see pride.

    As to Jarrod’s argument that it is some sort of theological statement, that seems like some after-the-fact concoction. Just like the Trinity.

    In fact, it’s always the other way around, as Xenophanes had noted 2500 years ago; if horses and cows and lions imagined gods, they’d imagine gods that looked like horses and cows and lions, as the case may be.

  • Jarrod

    Jimi: I’m trying to answer your question about what evidence there is for God, but before that can be properly answered the question of what necessarily constitutes evidence must be addressed. That’s why I brought up a question in response to your question. I believe ‘truth’ can be derived from nonscientific method, and as such my ‘evidence’ won’t hold any weight with someone who believes only science can reveal truth. I’m not dodging the question, I’m getting to the root of it.
    Jacob R: I’ve been trying very hard to ‘enlighten’ the people making silly statements; it’s not my fault if they refuse to see my answers as such. If you want to know what Christian thought on what God is entails, you ought to go pick up a book and educate yourself. I’m sure you know the basic ideas about the Christian God; if you want to find out any more of the details, go research them. This is too small a forum to explain every little thing. My point is that so many of the atheists attacking one thing or another really don’t know what they’re talking about because they’ve failed to acquaint themselves with the depth of what people actually believe.
    Ipetrich: *sigh*
    As much as I’d rather not deal with you, I’m a fan of fighting losing battles.
    You’re very much guilty of ad hominem attacks, whether it’s calling me a ‘bible-thumper’ when I haven’t quoted a single verse, implying that I’m a liar or an idiot, or calling me conceited. Is that good enough evidence for you?
    Oh, and by the way, I did not cite all those intellectual accomplishments because I’m full of myself; if that were the case, I would have mentioned them much earlier. I brought them up because you and several other people seem to think I’m an unthinking brain-dead loon, and since you insist on having ‘evidence’ for everything, I gave you some. It’s that simple.
    It’s so ironic that you would point out the multiverse idea as a response to the ‘outside the universe’ idea and then start ranting about how subjects are meaningless because they are not testable. By that standard, anything and everything associated with literature, etc., is meaningless, because it is not ‘testable,’ and so are a great many other ‘scientific’ things. Multiverse ideas are by that standard meaningless, as is most of string theory. I wonder what all the physicists working on that would say if you informed them their work is meaningless.
    Russel’s teapot IS inside our universe, as you said, and as such, it is testable. Sure, it may not be now, but at some sufficiently advanced time we’d be able to find that teapot if we wanted to, yes? That’s why that argument really has nothing to do with God. A teapot is ultimately scientifically testable, God is not.
    As to mathematics transcending our universe, do you have any evidence that that is true? Or is it merely speculation? Last I checked, neither you, nor any scientist alive, can say with any scientific or logical certainty what things are like outside our universe. Why? Because we have no frame of reference. As I keep saying, even Dawkins admitted to something along these lines.
    Hmm, I don’t think I ever mentioned the 747 argument, so I don’t know why you’re bringing it up. I don’t recall if Dawkins ever says directly that God is bound by evolution, but he certainly seems to imply it. He views God as complex in a structural sense, like some sort of amazing organism or computer, defines complexity in a biological sense, and then goes on to declare that such complexity can only have come from natural selection. If that’s not declaring God an organism bound by evolution, I don’t know what is. By the way, that’s all on page 150, for reference purposes.
    Since when were timeless things necessarily static? I looked up the word static, just to make sure, and you ought to as well, since nowhere did I see a definition that static means timeless, or vice versa. Static simply means unchanging. You can’t honestly state that something outside of time is necessarily static simply because you have no evidence or frame of reference. Have you ever seen anything outside of time? Has science? Didn’t think so. Your view that such a thing MUST be static is just a skewed view generated by your immersion in time. You simply can’t seem to see otherwise. I addressed this with my fish analogy, if you bothered to actually read it.
    One last bit of theology. Yes, that was an ‘after the fact’ statement, but not in the way you seem to think it is. If you knew any sort of historical criticism of the Bible, you would know that the ancient Israelites effectively took the creation story from another civilization, then modified it to express their theological views. This isn’t after any fact ‘concoction’ on my part. I didn’t make up any sort of truth and fit it onto the verses. They were written to convey that truth in the first place. As I keep telling you to do, please go research the subject before you talk about it.
    On a side note, why the heck are you quoting some ancient dead guy? I thought they were unreliable sources. Or is that only the ones that don’t conform to your viewpoint?
    You again haven’t really addressed anything I’ve said, beyond reiterating the same old talking points and attacks. Please, for the sake of discourse, learn what you are talking about and then come argue.
    On an off note, this whole thread is getting off track. Would anyone like to go back to dealing with Dawkins’ book rather then this bizarre offshoot?

  • Jacob R

    The problem Jarrod is that I have researched what ‘God’ is from the Christian viewpoint, I got tired after the 100th version. Which version of ‘God’ am I supposed to learn about: the Baptist, the Catholic, the Quaker, the Anglican, or any of the other myriad Christian sects? I get very tired of people telling me to research ‘God’ when there are so many versions. Of course this is without mentioning all the other various religions with all of their versions of ‘God’ or gods.

    On the whole “outside of time” thing; for ‘God’ to interact with our universe it would have to reenter time and our universe, as soon as it does we can test for it scientifically, we can learn how it does what it does. Saying something is outside our universe effectively renders it useless to everday activities, this also goes for the multiverse idea.

  • Jarrod

    Jacob R: The God I’m talking about here is the Catholic conception of God. Base whatever comments you have on that version. Hope that helps.
    In reply to your objection to this ongoing debate about time: Hmm, yes, I suppose we could test for it, in certain ways. This seems to be the idea that Dawkins was getting at, and as I mentioned earlier to Ipetrich, I believe, this is also where Dawkins falls flat on his face. And yes, it would seem that if something is outside of our universe all the time, it’s ‘useless,’ but that doesn’t mean it isn’t meaningful, or that it doesn’t exist. Our mutual friend Dawkins might even debate the ‘useless’ part, since he seems to think that the multiverse idea is quite useful. Which is again where he falls into problems, and this is where I have issues with the book. If the man wants to convince believers, he ought to at least apply his own creed to his analysis, and use things with evidence, rather then put forward sorry-ass arguments like ‘the X idea suggests that Y is true.’ Utterly unscientific and thus by Dawkins’ own standards pointless and ridiculous.

  • Jacob R

    What I meant by useless is that for us to interact with ‘God’ , such as prayer, it must be in our universe. An entity that lies outside our universe can not interact with things inside the universe nor can the entities within interact with anything outside. Thus any activity attempting to interact with ‘God’ would necessarily be pointless. It equates to the ignostic way of thinking about ‘God’. Ignosticism is the view that the question of the existence of ‘God’ is meaningless because it has no verifiable or testable consequences (it lies outside the universe) and should therefore be ignored.

    If your curious as to why i put God in (‘) take a look at this link.

  • Nes


    I’m sorry, as I don’t have the best memory in the world, and this thread has become very long, but I think you mentioned an other way of knowing besides science for the second or third time, without explaining what it is. Would you care to?

    I would be happy to consider it if it was independently verifiable. Subjective experiences can be rather fallible when it comes to describing reality (sleep paralysis being my favorite example).

  • Jarrod

    Hey, I did mention another way of knowing, yes, but I have yet to explain it simply because of posts like yours. The method(s) I’m referring to are not independently verifiable, so it figures that whether I explain them or not, it wouldn’t matter to you or anyone reading this. Yes, subjective experiences can be rather fallible. That does not mean they always are. Your entire way of looking at reality is indeed subjective, seen through the lenses of your senses and mind. Does that make it untrue?
    Jacob R:
    Yes, God is outside our universe, no, that doesn’t mean we can’t interact with him, or vice versa. The general conception of the Christian God is an omnipotent and omniscient being who is generally outside our realm of understanding. AS such, these sorts of things, as bizarre as they seem to us, can happen.
    As for your assertion that things with no verifiable or testable consequences are meaningless, perhaps you should tell this to plenty of theoretical scientists and even Dawkins himself. Dawkins frequently postulates things in his book that have no verifiable way of testing and uses them as answers to objections. He gives no evidence and no support for his assertions. Does that make them meaningless?
    You can extend that argument to plenty of fields of science. Theoretical physics like string theory and aspects of quantum theory are untestable, but does that render them meaningless? It’s the same for anything dealing with the past. Can we definitively say that man evolved from a given ape-like creature? Not really. We can speculate, and guess based off the evidence, but it can never be truly verified. Woops, there goes a ton of anthropology. Is that meaningless too?
    We’re getting off topic here. I didn’t start this whole discussion to debate theology or philosophy with people, I started it to point out that despite the stunning praise given by atheists for Dawkins’ book, it is inherently flawed. I’ve made assertions about such things along the way, and no one has really bothered to answer them. Can we please get back to the topic?

  • Jimi

    It seems all comments are either to or from “Jarrod.”
    Since “Jarrod” won’t answer basic questions, won’t take a rational stand , and insists on insulting people, I – and others I’ve let read his “answers” – suspect he is a plant to get arguments boiling, thus making this site more interesting. It already was interesting to me before this “Jarrod” character was introduced.

  • Jarrod

    I’m positively flattered that you believe, of all things, that I am a plant, and even acknowledge the possibility that I might make things more interesting. Bravo!
    That said, I am certainly not a plant. I think even the most patient of plants would have problems continuing this thread unless he were payed a decent sum of money to do so. All the comments are to and from me because it seems that people here enjoy arguing, and I enjoy seeing other viewpoints and challenging both them and my own.

    That all said, I do believe I have provided answers of some sort or another, which is why this thread has deviated from a book argument to a flat out theology/philosophy argument; people are busy answering my answers. I’ve answered with plain explanations, analogies, examples, and a bit of analysis. Whether or not you choose to critically look at and consider those answers is entirely up to you.
    Although, I’m wondering when I ‘insist on insulting people.’ With my long post to Ipetrich aside, which was done to make a point, I’ve been trying very hard to be civil and amicable; in fact, if you look far enough up the posts, you’ll find one from Ebonmuse thanking me for being ‘civil and sincere.’ I’m utterly failing to understand where these attacks of yours are coming from.
    But again, we’re getting off topic here. I didn’t start posting on this thread because I wanted to debate every little aspect of God with you all, as interesting as it is. I came here with some helpful criticism of Dawkins’ book, i.e., if you want to convert theists, X,Y, and Z arguments that Dawkins makes are not the way to go about it. I’m all for discussion and argumentation, I just think that Dawkins is doing it the wrong way, and disputing the amazing praise he seems to be getting from this site. So let’s go back to the subject matter, allright?

  • Nes

    Your entire way of looking at reality is indeed subjective, seen through the lenses of your senses and mind. Does that make it untrue?

    Maybe if I were a solipsist. I’m willing to drop this line of questioning though, to get this thread back on subject.

  • Ebonmuse

    Folks, I think this discussion has been off-topic for quite a while.