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The God Delusion  
The God Delusion UK.jpg
Author Dawkins, Richard
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Subject(s) Religion
Genre(s) Science, philosophy
Publisher Bantam Books
Publication date October 2, 2006
Media type Hardcover, Paperback, Audio book
ISBN 0-618-68000-4
OCLC Number 68965666
Dewey Decimal 211/.8 22
LC Classification BL2775.3 .D39 2006
Preceded by The Ancestor's Tale
Followed by The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution

The God Delusion is a 2006 bestselling[1] non-fiction book by British biologist Richard Dawkins, professorial fellow of New College, Oxford,[2][3] and inaugural holder of the Charles Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford.

In The God Delusion, Dawkins contends that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that belief in a personal god qualifies as a delusion, which he defines as a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence. He is sympathetic to Robert Pirsig's observation in Lila that "when one person suffers from a delusion it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called religion."[4]

As of January 2010, the English version of The God Delusion had sold over 2 million copies.[5] It was ranked #2 on the Amazon.com bestsellers' list in November 2006.[6][7] In early December 2006, it reached #4 in the New York Times Hardcover Nonfiction Best Seller list after nine weeks on the list.[8] It remained on the list for 51 weeks until 30 September 2007.[9] .The German version, entitled Der Gotteswahn, had sold over 260,000 copies as of January 28, 2010.[10]

It has attracted widespread commentary, with many books written in response.

Contents

Background

Dawkins has argued against all creationist explanations of life in his previous works on evolution. The theme of The Blind Watchmaker, published in 1986, is that evolution can explain the apparent design in nature. In The God Delusion he focuses directly on a wider range of arguments used for and against belief in the existence of God (or gods).

Dawkins had long wanted to write a book openly criticising religion, but his publisher had advised against it. By the year 2006, his publisher had warmed to the idea. Dawkins attributes this change of mind to "four years of Bush".[11] By that time, a number of authors, including Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, who together with Dawkins were labelled "The Unholy Trinity" by Robert Weitzel, had already written books openly attacking religion.[12] According to the Amazon.co.uk website, the book led to a 50% growth in their sales of books on religion and spirituality (including anti-religious books such as The God Delusion and God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything) and a 120% increase in the sales of the Bible.[13]

Synopsis

The book contains ten chapters. The first few build a case that there is almost certainly no God, while the rest discuss religion and morality. In dedicating the book to his late friend Douglas Adams,[14] Dawkins quotes Adams' Last Chance to See: "Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?".

Dawkins writes that The God Delusion contains four "consciousness-raising" messages:

  1. Atheists can be happy, balanced, moral, and intellectually fulfilled.
  2. Natural selection and similar scientific theories are superior to a "God hypothesis"—the illusion of intelligent design—in explaining the living world and the cosmos.
  3. Children should not be labelled by their parents' religion. Terms like "Catholic child" or "Muslim child" should make people cringe.
  4. Atheists should be proud, not apologetic, because atheism is evidence of a healthy, independent mind.[4]

The God hypothesis

Since there are a number of different theistic ideas relating to the nature of God(s), Dawkins defines the concept of God that he wishes to address early in the book. He coins the term "Einsteinian religion", referring to Einstein's use of "God", as a metaphor for nature or the mysteries of the universe.[15] He makes a distinction between this "Einsteinian religion" and the general theistic idea of God as the creator of the universe who should be worshipped.[16] This becomes an important theme in the book, which he calls the God Hypothesis.[17] He maintains that this idea of God is a valid hypothesis, having effects in the physical universe, and like any other hypothesis can be tested and falsified.[18]

Dawkins surveys briefly the main philosophical arguments in favour of God's existence. Of the various philosophical proofs that he discusses, he singles out the Argument from design for longer consideration. Dawkins concludes that evolution by natural selection can explain apparent design in nature.[4]

He writes that one of the greatest challenges to the human intellect has been to explain "how the complex, improbable design in the universe arises", and suggests that there are two competing explanations:

  1. A hypothesis involving a designer, that is, a complex being to account for the complexity that we see.
  2. A hypothesis, with supporting theories, that explains how, from simple origins and principles, something more complex can emerge.

This is the basic set-up of his argument against the existence of God, the Ultimate Boeing 747 gambit,[19] where he argues that the first attempt is self-refuting, and the second approach is the way forward.[20]

At the end of chapter 4, Why there almost certainly is no God, Dawkins sums up his argument and states, "The temptation [to attribute the appearance of a design to actual design itself] is a false one, because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer. The whole problem we started out with was the problem of explaining statistical improbability. It is obviously no solution to postulate something even more improbable."[21] In addition, chapter 4 asserts that the alternative to the designer hypothesis is not chance, but natural selection.

Dawkins does not claim to disprove God with absolute certainty. Instead, he suggests as a general principle that simpler explanations are preferable (see Occam's razor), and that an omniscient and omnipotent God must be extremely complex. As such he argues that the theory of a universe without a God is preferable to the theory of a universe with a God.[22]

Religion and morality

The second half of the book begins by exploring the roots of religion and seeking an explanation for its ubiquity across human cultures. Dawkins advocates the "theory of religion as an accidental by-product – a misfiring of something useful"[23] as for example the mind's employment of intentional stance. Dawkins suggests that the theory of memes, and human susceptibility to religious memes in particular, can explain how religions might spread like "mind viruses" across societies.[24]

He then turns to the subject of morality, maintaining that we do not need religion to be good. Instead, our morality has a Darwinian explanation: altruistic genes, selected through the process of evolution, give people natural empathy. He asks, "would you commit murder, rape or robbery if you knew that no God existed?" He argues that very few people would answer "yes", undermining the claim that religion is needed to make us behave morally. In support of this view, he surveys the history of morality, arguing that there is a moral Zeitgeist that continually evolves in society, generally progressing toward liberalism. As it progresses, this moral consensus influences how religious leaders interpret their holy writings. Thus, Dawkins states, morality does not originate from the Bible, rather our moral progress informs what part of the Bible Christians accept and what they now dismiss.[25]

The God Delusion is not just a defence of atheism, but also goes on the offensive against religion. Dawkins sees religion as subverting science, fostering fanaticism, encouraging bigotry against homosexuals, and influencing society in other negative ways.[26] He is most outraged about the teaching of religion in schools, which he considers to be an indoctrination process. He equates the religious teaching of children by parents and teachers in faith schools to a form of mental abuse. Dawkins considers the labels "Muslim child" or a "Catholic child" equally misapplied as the descriptions "Marxist child" or a "Tory child", as he wonders how a young child can be considered developed enough to have such independent views on the cosmos and humanity's place within it.

The book concludes with the question whether religion, despite its alleged problems, fills a "much needed gap", giving consolation and inspiration to people who need it. According to Dawkins, these needs are much better filled by non-religious means such as philosophy and science. He suggests that an atheistic worldview is life-affirming in a way that religion, with its unsatisfying "answers" to life's mysteries, could never be. An appendix gives addresses for those "needing support in escaping religion".

Critical reception

The book provoked an immediate response, both positive and critical, and was published with endorsements from certain intellectuals, such as Nobel laureate and co-discoverer of the structure of DNA James D. Watson, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, as well as popular writers of fiction and the illusionists Penn and Teller.[27] Nevertheless, the book received mixed reviews from critics: Metacritic reported the book had an average score of 59 out of 100,[28] while London Review of Books criticized Richard Dawkins for not doing a proper research into the topic of his work, religion, and setting up a straw man to make his arguments against theism valid [29]. The book was nominated for Best Book at the British Book Awards, where Richard Dawkins was named Author of the Year.[30] The God Delusion provoked responses from both religious and atheist commentators.[31][32]

Reviews and responses

Alvin Plantinga The Dawkins Confusion [33]

Anthony Kenny Knowledge Belief and Faith[34]

Thomas Nagel The Fear of Religion[35]

Michael Ruse Chicago Journals Review[36]

Richard Swinburne Response to Richard Dawkins[37]

John Cornwell A Question of Respect[38]

Alister McGrath The Dawkins Delusion[39]

H. Allen Orr A Mission to Convert[40]

Terry Eagleton London Review of Books Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching:[41]

Antony Flew The God Delusion Review[42] - Dawkins response [43]

Murrough O'Brien of The Independent Our Teapot which art in heaven[44] Dawkins responds:[45]

Responding books

Christians have reacted strongly to Dawkins' arguments, and many books have been written in response to The God Delusion.[46] These include

  • Dawkins' Dilemmas, by Michael Austin
  • The Devil's Delusion, by David Berlinski
  • Darwin's Angel by John Cornwell
  • God is No Delusion, by Thomas Crean
  • The Irrational Atheist: Dissecting the Unholy Trinity of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens by Vox Day
  • Answering the New Atheism: Dismantling Dawkins' Case Against God by Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker.
  • Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, by David Bentley Hart
  • John Lennox, God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? (Oxford: Lion, 2009)
  • The Dawkins Delusion?, by Alister McGrath and Joanna Collicutt McGrath
  • William J O'Malley, Help My Unbelief (Baker & Taylor)
  • Is God a Delusion? A Reply to Religion's Cultured Despisers, by Eric Reitan
  • David Robertson, The Dawkins Letters: Challenging Atheist Myths (Fearn: Christian Focus, 2007)
  • God, Doubt and Dawkins: Reform Rabbis Respond to the God Delusion, by Jonathan A Romain
  • Keith Ward, Why There Almost Certainly Is a God: Doubting Dawkins (Oxford: Lion, 2008)
  • Roy Williams, God, Actually (Sydney: ABC Books, 2008)
  • Andrew Wilson, Deluded by Dawkins? A Christian Response to The God Delusion (Eastbourne: Kingsway, 2007)
  • The Deluded Atheist: A Response to Richard Dawkins, by Douglas Wilson

The God Delusion debate

On 3 October 2007, Professor of Mathematics, John Lennox of Oxford University publicly debated Richard Dawkins at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in Birmingham, Alabama on Dawkins' views as expressed in The God Delusion, and their validity over and against the idea of God.[47][48][49] This "God Delusion Debate" marked Dawkins' first visit to the Old South and the first significant discussion on this issue in the "Bible Belt".[50] The event was sold out, and the Wall Street Journal called it "a revelation: in Alabama, a civil debate over God's existence."[51][52] Dawkins debated Lennox for the second time at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History in October 2008. The debate was titled "Has Science Buried God?", in which Dawkins allowed for the possibility of a deistic God but nevertheless held fast to most of his positions [53][54][55][56].

Legal repercussions in Turkey

In Turkey, where the book has sold at least 6000 copies,[57] a prosecutor launched a probe into whether The God Delusion is "an attack on holy values" following a complaint in November 2007. The Turkish publisher and translator, Erol Karaaslan, faced a prison sentence if convicted of inciting religious hatred and insulting religious values.[58]

In April 2008, the court acquitted the defendant. In ruling out the need to confiscate copies of the book, the presiding judge stated that banning it "would fundamentally limit the freedom of thought".[59] However, Dawkins' website was banned in Turkey later that year after complaints from the creationist Adnan Oktar.[60]

See also

References

  1. ^ Orr, H. Allen (11 January 2007). "A Mission to Convert". New York Review of Books (New York) 54 (1). http://www.nybooks.com/articles/19775. 
  2. ^ "The Third Culture: Richard Dawkins". Edge.org. http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/bios/dawkins.html. Retrieved 2008-03-08. 
  3. ^ Staff (2008). "(Clinton) Richard Dawkins". Who's Who. London: A & C Black. 
  4. ^ a b c Dawkins, Richard (2006). The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. p. 406. ISBN 0-618-68000-4. ; on-linePDF (101 KB)
  5. ^ "The God Delusion - back on the Times extended list at #24". Richard Dawkins at RichardDawkins.net. 27 January 2010. http://richarddawkins.net/articles/5000#455619. Retrieved 6 February 2010. 
  6. ^ "Amazon.com book page - search for sales rank for current position". http://www.amazon.com/dp/0618680004/. 
  7. ^ Jamie Doward (2006-10-29). "Atheists top book charts by deconstructing God". The Observer. http://books.guardian.co.uk/news/articles/0,,1934353,00.html. Retrieved 2006-11-25. 
  8. ^ "Hardcover Nonfiction - New York Times". http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/03/books/bestseller/1203besthardnonfiction.html?_r=1&oref=slogin. Retrieved 2006-12-02. 
  9. ^ "The God Delusion One-Year Countdown". RichardDawkins.net. http://richarddawkins.net/article,1599,The-God-Delusion-One-Year-Countdown,RichardDawkinsnet. Retrieved 2007-10-05. 
  10. ^ "The God Delusion One-Year Countdown". RichardDawkins.net. http://richarddawkins.net/articleComments,5000,The-God-Delusion---back-on-the-Times-extended-list-at-24,Richard-Dawkins,page1#455798,RichardDawkinsnet. Retrieved 2010-03-09. 
  11. ^ Dawkins, Richard. "Richard Dawkins explains his latest book". RichardDawkins.net. http://richarddawkins.net/mainPage.php?bodyPage=article_body.php&id=170. Retrieved 2007-09-14. 
  12. ^ Weitzel, Robert. "Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris: The Unholy Trinity... Thank God.". Atlantic Free Press. http://www.atlanticfreepress.com/content/view/2112/1/. Retrieved 2007-09-14. 
  13. ^ Smith, David. "Believe it or not: the sceptics beat God in bestseller battle". The Observer. http://books.guardian.co.uk/news/articles/0,,2147152,00.html. Retrieved 2007-10-05. 
  14. ^ “Douglas, I miss you. You are my cleverest, funniest, most open-minded, wittiest, tallest and possibly only convert. I hope this book might have made you laugh - though not as much as you made me.” (The God Delusion, p. 117)
  15. ^ Randerson, James (13 May 2008). "Childish superstition: Einstein's letter makes view of religion relatively clear". The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2008/may/12/peopleinscience.religion/print. Retrieved 2008-05-14. "In the letter, he states: "The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this."" 
  16. ^ The God Delusion, page 13
  17. ^ The God Delusion, page 31
  18. ^ The God Delusion, page 50.
  19. ^ The God Delusion, page 114
  20. ^ This interpretation of the argument is based on the reviews by Daniel Dennett and PZ Myers.
  21. ^ The God Delusion, page 158
  22. ^ The God Delusion, page 147-150
  23. ^ "The general theory of religion as an accidental by-product – a misfiring of something useful – is the one I wish to advocate" The God Delusion, p. 188
  24. ^ "the purpose of this section is to ask whether meme theory might work for the special case of religion" (italics in original, referring to one of the five sections of Chapter 5), The God Delusion, p. 191
  25. ^ Having given some examples of what he considers to be the brutish morality of the Old Testament, Dawkins writes, "Of course, irritated theologians will protest that we don't take the book of Genesis literally any more. But that is my whole point! We pick and choose which bits of scripture to believe, which bits to write off as symbols and allegories." The God Delusion, p. 238.
  26. ^ He gives examples of cases where blasphemy laws have been used to sentence people to death, and when funerals of gays or gay sympathisers have been picketed. Dawkins states preachers in the southern portions of the United States used the Bible to justify slavery by claiming Africans were descendants of Noah's sinful son Ham. During the Crusades, pagans and heretics who would not convert to Christianity were murdered. In an extreme example from modern times, he cites the case of Reverend Paul Hill, who revelled in his self-styled martyrdom: "I expect a great reward in heaven… I am looking forward to glory," he announced as he faced execution for murdering a doctor who performed abortions in Florida, USA.
  27. ^ "The God Delusion - Reviews". RichardDawkins.net. http://richarddawkins.net/godDelusionReviews. Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  28. ^ "The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins: Reviews". Metacritic. http://www.metacritic.com/books/authors/dawkinsrichard/goddelusion. Retrieved 2008-03-13. 
  29. ^ "Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching: The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins". http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n20/terry-eagleton/lunging-flailing-mispunching. 
  30. ^ "Winners & Shortlists 2007". Galaxy British Book Awards. http://web.archive.org/web/20080424105746/http://www.britishbookawards.co.uk/pnbb_winners2007.asp. Retrieved 2007-09-12. 
  31. ^ also (Wilson 2007 http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/07-07-04#feature). Dawkins called this latter kind of criticism, "I'm an atheist buttery"Dawkins, Richard. "I'm an atheist, BUT...". RichardDawkins.net. http://richarddawkins.net/article,318,Im-an-atheist-BUT---,Richard-Dawkins. Retrieved 2007-09-12. 
  32. ^ "Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies by David Bentley Hart". New Haven, CT: Yale University Press 2009. http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/book.asp?isbn=9780300111903. Retrieved 2009-07-24. 
  33. ^ Alvin Plantinga (2007). "The Dawkins Confusion - Naturalism ad absurdum". Books & Culture, a Christian Review. http://www.christianitytoday.com/bc/2007/002/1.21.html. Retrieved 2007-03-02. 
  34. ^ Kenny, Anthony (July 2007). "Knowledge, Belief, and Faith". Philosophy 82 (03): 381–397. doi:10.1017/S0031819107000010. 
  35. ^ Nagel, Thomas (2006-10-23). "The Fear of Religion". The New Republic. http://www.tnr.com/article/the-fear-religion. Retrieved 2007-09-12. 
  36. ^ Michael Ruse (December 2007). "Richard Dawkins: The God Delusion". Chicago Journals. http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/529280. Retrieved 2008-05-31. 
  37. ^ Swinburne, Richard. "Response to Richard Dawkins' comments on my writings in his book The God Delusion" (PDF). http://users.ox.ac.uk/~orie0087/pdf_files/Responses%20to%20Controversies/Response%20to%20Dawkins%27%20The%20God%20Delusion%20(revised)_copy(1).pdf. Retrieved 2010-03-10. 
  38. ^ John Cornwell. "A question of respect.". Times Online. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2102-2375182.html. Retrieved 2006-11-06. 
  39. ^ McGrath, Alister (2007). The Dawkins Delusion?. SPCK. p. 20.  Also expressed in his review "The Dawkins Delusion".
  40. ^ H. Allen Orr (January 2007). "A Mission to Convert". New York Review of Books (54.1). http://www.nybooks.com/articles/19775. Retrieved 2007-03-03. 
  41. ^ Terry Eagleton (2006-10-19). "Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching". London Review of Books 28 (20). http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n20/eagl01_.html. Retrieved 2006-11-26. 
  42. ^ Anthony Flew. "Flew Speaks Out: Professor Antony Flew reviews The God Delusion". bethinking.org. http://www.bethinking.org/science-christianity/intermediate/flew-speaks-out-professor-antony-flew-reviews-the-god-delusion.htm. Retrieved 2008-12-25. 
  43. ^ Martin Beckford. "Richard Dawkins branded 'secularist bigot' by veteran philosopher". telegraph.co.uk. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/main.jhtml?xml=/earth/2008/08/01/scidawkin101.xml. Retrieved 2008-12-29. 
  44. ^ Murrough O'Brien, "Our Teapot, which art in heaven," The Independent, November 26, 2006
  45. ^ Dawkins, Richard (2007-09-17). "Do you have to read up on leprechology before disbelieving in them?". RichardDawkins.net. http://richarddawkins.net/articleComments,1647,Do-you-have-to-read-up-on-leprechology-before-disbelieving-in-them,Richard-Dawkins-The-Independent,page27. Retrieved 2007-11-14. 
  46. ^ "Flea of the week". RichardDawkins.net. http://richarddawkins.net/article,2482,Flea-of-the-week,RichardDawkinsnet. Retrieved 2008-08-12. 
  47. ^ "The God Delusion Debate (Dawkins-Lennox)". Fixed Point Foundation. http://fixed-point.org/index.php/video/35-full-length/164-the-dawkins-lennox-debate. Retrieved 2009-11-10. 
  48. ^ Joanna Sugden (2007-10-04). "Richard Dawkins Debates in the Bible Belt". Times Online. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article2588509.ece. Retrieved 2009-11-10. 
  49. ^ Kristen Record (2007-10-04). "Scholars match wits over God's existence". The Birmingham News. 
  50. ^ "Debate between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox". RichardDawkins.net. http://richarddawkins.net/article,1707,Debate-between-Richard-Dawkins-and-John-Lennox,Richard-Dawkins-John-Lennox. Retrieved 2009-11-10. 
  51. ^ Naomi Schaefer Riley (2007-10-12). "A Revelation: In Alabama, A Civil Debate Over God's Existence". The Wall Street Journal. http://www.opinionjournal.com/forms/printThis.html?id=110010724. Retrieved 2009-11-10. 
  52. ^ Video of The God Delusion Debate (Dawkins - Lennox).
  53. ^ "Has Science Buried God?". Fixed Point Foundation. http://fixed-point.org/index.php/events/1-latest/5-has-science-buried-god. Retrieved 2010-02-01. 
  54. ^ Melanie Phillips (2008-10-23). "Is Richard Dawkins Still Evolving?". The Spectator. http://www.spectator.co.uk/melaniephillips/2543431/is-richard-dawkins-still-evolving.thtml. Retrieved 2010-02-01. 
  55. ^ "'Has Science Buried God?'". BBC Oxford. 2008-10-15. http://www.bbc.co.uk/oxford/content/articles/2008/10/15/lennox_dawkins.shtml. Retrieved 2010-02-01. 
  56. ^ 11 minute Video of the "Has Science Buried God?" debate
  57. ^ Tiryaki, Sylvia (2007-12-03). "The God Delusion in Turkey". Turkish Daily News. http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/h.php?news=the-god-delusion-in-turkey-2007-12-03. Retrieved 2008-02-18. 
  58. ^ "Turkey probes atheist's 'God' book". AP, CNN. 28 November 2007. http://edition.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/europe/11/28/dawkins.turkey.ap/index.html. Retrieved 2007-11-28. 
  59. ^ "'Tanrı Yanılgısı' kitabı beraat etti" (in Turkish). AA. 2 April 2008. http://www.ntvmsnbc.com/news/441428.asp. Retrieved 2008-04-02. 
  60. ^ "Turkey bans biologist Richard Dawkins' website - Monsters and Critics". http://www.monstersandcritics.com/science/news/article_1431422.php/Turkey_bans_biologist_Richard_Dawkins_website. Retrieved 2009-10-27. 

Interviews

Further reading

Chronological order of publication (oldest first)

External links








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