The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins:  A Review


Richard Dawkins is arguably the best-known evolutionist and atheist today. He
has written a number of books explaining modern discoveries as they relate to
the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution. Some of his better-known works include The Selfi
sh Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, River out of Edenand Unweaving the Rainbow. These books,
as their titles suggest, offer a mixture of solid evolutionary science and polemic
against those who do not accept the full implications of the atheistic theory
of evolution. In using the phrase atheistic theory of evolution, I do not at
all mean to imply that all evolutionists are atheistic or that evolution is
necessarily even an atheistic theory.  I am applying this label to those who teach
two ideas:  1. It is a fact that all life on the earth today originated by random,
natural processes from inorganic matter to the original life form to all the
variety of life observable today.  2. This fact is evidence that there is no creative
or supernatural force as an underlying cause to what we observe in nature today.

With his latest addition to his resume as an author, Dawkins has thrown down
the gauntlet. The God Delusion is really not about evolution at all.  It is a bold attack
on the very spirit of religion itself. Dawkins is not trying to convince his
reader of the evidence supporting organic change by mutation and natural selection
(although there is some of this in the book). He is trying to stake the claim tha
t belief in God is the most dangerous and pernicious force in the world today.  I
t is the evil behind virtually everything bad which happens in human society.  Dawk
ins makes the point that religion is the natural enemy of all those who seek
for truth and human justice. It is no wonder that this book has aroused a significant
response.  In order to give the reader a flavor for the tone of this book, let us look
at the first sentence.  ?As a child, my wife hated her school and wished she could leave.? 
?This sentence gives us a hint of what is to come.  This book is laced with anger,
vitriol and hatred against religion on every page.  To summarize the book, the title
should have been, ?Why I hate religion and all religious people.?  Dawkins pretends
to be an unbiased observer, yet when one reads this angry diatribe, it becomes
immediately obvious that this can not be farther from the truth.  This is just about
the most biased, unfair attack I have ever read by any author.

A few more quotes and examples from the book will illustrate the bitter and
unbalanced tone of the book. On page one, he mentions the BBC documentary about
religion, The Root of All Evil? Dawkins says he does not believe religion is the
root of all evil, but he then proceeds to undermine that statement in the book
by basically stating that it is in fact the root of all evil?at least all the
evil he can think of.  Another quote he praises (p. 5) is as follows (taken from
Robert Pirsig) ?When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity.  Whe
n many people suffer from a delusion, it is called Religion.?  Dawkins claims that all
those who are religious are in a sense insane.  He believes they suffer delusions.  These are
fighting words.  They are not used by accident.  He calls religion a vice (p. 6)  ?The God of
the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.? (p.
31)  Is Dawkins speaking as a scientist here?  Is he speaking as a literary critic?  No, he
is speaking as a bitter opponent of belief in a Creator and in absolute moral
truth.  He calls belief in God silly (p. 36).  He calls the Christian God a psychotic
delinquent (p. 38) and a monster (p. 46)  Is this evidence of what Dawkins claims
to offer, which is carefully reasoned argument?  He calls believers weird (p. 53)  Agai
n and again in this book, he mentions how he is ?amused? by the things ?religionists?
do.  We see him ridiculing and laughing at his enemies.  He says that we should reject
Deuteronomy ?as all enlightened moderns do? (p. 57).  Well, by definition, anyone
who accepts the historical accuracy of Deuteronomy is not enlightened or modern. 
The list of those who do accept Deuteronomy will show the bias of this statement.  He
?calls his opponents (i.e. all believers) unworthy (p. 57)  He calls attempts to
test the viability of prayer pathetic (p. 61)  He calls those who believe in evolution
but also believe in God members of ?The Neville Chamberlain School of Evolutionists.? (p.
66).  You get the idea.  This is a sampling from the first 20% of the book.  Believe it or
not, the tone actually gets worse as the book proceeds.  To illustrate, on p.
321 he says that he regrets the doctrine of hell is not true, because part of
him wishes the nuns he knew when he grew up could go there.  He makes this point more
than once.  He argues (p. 317) that being influenced by the Catholic Church is more
harmful than being sexually abused.  I am not kidding! 

I teach a course on the history and philosophy of science. As part of this course,
we cover logical fallacies and marks of pseudoscience.  It is ironic, that Dawkins uses a
wide variety of those techniques which the scientific community have determined
to be absolutely unacceptable for scientific practice.  Marks of pseudoscience found
in The God Delusion include; 

1. Argument by analogy.  This is trying to prove one claim to be true (despite a lack
of evidence supporting it) simply because it is similar to another claim which
is known to be true.  Dawkins claims that Darwinism proves that complicated systems
can be created by natural forces.  Never mind whether this is proven or not, he then
proceeds to argue, by direct analogy, that there will certainly be a Darwinian
equivalent to explain how the universe was created.  This is simply not a scientific
argument, yet Dawkins uses it to explain away the fact that the universe was
created with laws unimaginably fine-tuned to allow life to exist. 

2. Claims of suppression.  Dawkins argues for atheism by constantly referring to how vigorously
he has been persecuted.  He makes the patently false statement that atheistic
scientists are persecuted for their beliefs.  I am a scientist myself.  I can testify that
in scientific circles it is the belief in God which is far more likely to be
subject to ridicule, to the point that there are a number of documented cases
of professors being fired or refused tenure for their religious beliefs.  Such never
happens to atheists, at least as far as I know.  If Dawkins gets persecuted, and
I believe he has received some unwarranted hate-filled attacks, it is at least
in part because of his own actions in making personal, vitriolic attacks on

3. Quoting other scientists out of context.  Dawkins complains, not without cause, that
many creationists abuse those they quote, making them say things which they
clearly do not believe in at all.  This is a standard technique of pseudoscientists.  The problem
with this is that Dawkins is a blatant perpetrator of this technique as well.  T
ime and time again in The God Delusion he abuses those from whom he quotes.

4. Bogus us
e of statistics to create a false case for an argument.  Dawkins tries to
imply cause and effect where there is mere correlation?a tactic unworthy of
those who use the scientific method.  He states (p. 229) that the more religious states
in the United Stateshave higher crime rates, implying that the greater amount of religion
in those states is what leads to their higher rate of violence. This is very
bad science indeed.  Bogus use of statistics is found in several places in
The God Delusion (p. 237, 255, 257 and others).

5.  Appeals to mysteries and myths.  A common technique of pseudoscientists is to
refer to as evidence obviously mythological beliefs of ancient peoples or unsolved
mysteries about the past.  Dawkins is blatantly guilty of this non-scientific argument.
For example, he tries to argue by analogy to the work of Julian Jayne, The Bica
meral Mind. Interestingly, this is one of the case studies I use in my section
on pseudoscience. The bicameral mind is a completely unsupported effort to explain
the (supposedly) sudden increase in human knowledge about 2000 BC as being due
to some sort of sudden change in human brain chemistry.  Dawkins uses this in his completely
unfounded attempts to explain how human beings acquired the universal tendency
toward believing in absolute moral truth and in a spiritual dimension to life.

This list is not comprehensive.  When I teach about pseudoscience, I tell the students that
if something quacks like a duck, it may not be a duck, but if it looks like
a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is probably a duck.  The point
is that if a scientific claim is accompanied by one or two marks of pseudoscience,
perhaps we ought to withhold judgment, but if one finds several, as is the case
with Dawkins? book, then the conclusion is straightforward.  The God Delusion is obvious pseudoscience.

Dawkins is guilty of blatantly poor reasoning on almost every page of this book.
  Some of the logical fallacies I teach about in my Intro to Scientific Thought
course include the following?used extensively by Dawkins.


1. Ad Hominem.  When making some sort of an argument, if one has a relatively weak
case, it is common to resort to attacking, not the argument of your opponent,
but your opponent.  The quotes above are sufficient to show that Dawkins does this repeatedly. 
?He brazenly and unfairly attacks the character and motives of believers in
the book.  He calls Mother Theresa a sanctimonious hypocrite (p. 292).  Dawkins uses words
such as barking mad (p. 253), sado-masochistic (p. 253), viciously unpleasant
(p. 253), and infantile (363) to describe Christians? belief in God in general.  Th
is is not the sort of technique used by people who have a solid, convincing
argument to make.

2. No True Scotsman.  This fallacious argument goes something like this.  No true Scotsman
would do such and such.  Person A does such and such.  Therefore, person A is not a Scotsman. 
?Dawkins repeatedly states that no true scientist will accept even the possibility
that God?s finger somehow has intervened in the course of nature.  The implication
is that it is not scientific to believe in such things and that those who do
so are not true scientists.  If this is true, then Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Lord Kelvin
and an almost unlimited list of the most eminent scientists are not good scientists.

3. Begging the Question.  Begging the question involves assuming the answer to a question
as a precondition to asking the question. Dawkins reasons that anyone who believes
in a supernatural force is, by definition, not scientific, and therefore, science
proves that there is no supernatural force.

4. Straw Man Argument.  This involves creating a completely exaggerated and unrealistic
picture of what your opponent believes or stands for and then arguing against
the ?Straw Man? rather than against what your opponent is actually saying.  It is a
great way to avoid facing the actual questions at hand.   On almost every page of T
he God Delusion Dawkins describes the worst cases of Religious closed-mindedness and
hypocricy.  Admittedly, there are a good number of extremely bad things which have been
done in the name of religion.  Admittedly, there are some in the young earth creationist
camp whose ?science? is completely insupportable. Dawkins tries to paint all
believers as being either like this or one slippery slope step away from being
like this. He literally does not concede a single positive contribution to human society
or culture from religious people.  Even the most hardened enemy of Christianity, if
he or she is honest, will admit that people of faith have made positive contributions
to humanity as a result of their having faith.

I could continue, but hopefully the case is made.  As an atheist friend of mine admitted,
?Dawkins creates a lot more heat than light.? In fact, even the great majority
of famous atheists and agnostics have either distanced themselves from Dawkins
or outright repudiated him for his ungracious and unscientific attacks on faith.  For examp
le, Steven Weinberg, an avowed atheist and no friend of religion panned The
?God Delusion:,,25349-2552017,00.html  Atheist philosopher
Thomas Nagel is unimpressed as well if the quote from him below is any indication:

?Richard Dawkins, the most prominent and accomplished scientific writer of our
time, is convinced that religion is the enemy of science. Not just fundamentalist
or fanatical or extremist religion, but all religion that admits faith as a
ground of belief and asserts the existence of God. In his new book, he attacks
religion with all the weapons at his disposal, and as a result the book is a
very uneven collection of scriptural ridicule, amateur philosophy, historical
and contemporary horror stories, anthropological speculations, and cosmological scientific
argument…? – Thomas Nagel

Alister McGrath provides one of the most cogent critiques of The God Delusion.  He
is a former atheist who became an Anglican.

Andrew Brown, a British reviewer and sympathizer with the anti-religious movement
is unimpressed:

?Incurious and rambling, Richard Dawkins’s diatribe against religion doesn’t
come close to explaining how faith has survived the assault of Darwinism.? [1]

Having given the reader an idea of the tone of the book, I will now consider
the basic line of reasoning of The God Delusion.  Essentially, Dawkins? argument is
that Darwinism has provided solid, irrefutable evidence that the incredible
order, variety and complexity of life, which some have seen as evidence for
a Creator, can be explained, by a random, natural process.  It is not my intention in
this essay to disprove this contention (some material is found in my book I
s There a God?  Let us, for the sake of gracious argument, concede
the point (although I do not believe this for a moment).  To be honest, Dawkins has
provided some strong arguments against certain points made by the Intelligent
Design camp.  The man is a very accomplished scientist, whose grasp of the evidence
for evolution a serious Christian apologist ought to at least give good att

The problem with his argument is that Dawkins proceeds to conclude that he has
thus, by analogy, proven that science can explain all the order in nature, as
well as the admittedly (even by Dawkins) amazing coincidence of all the important
constants of nature being perfectly tuned so that life can exist.  As all atheists
do, he argues for the infinite universe theory, hoping that some sort of Darwinism
of universes has acted to produce such a finely tuned universe for us to live
in.  I am not exaggerating.  Dawkins proposes some sort of Darwinian natural-selection-like
theory of how our universe was created.  One thing is clear.  He is outside his area of expertise. 
?Another thing is clear.  Dawkins is out on a very long speculative limb here.  His argume
nts against the Strong Anthropic Principle (the idea that the universe we live
in shows strong evidence that it was designed so that advanced life forms can
exist) are rambling, speculative and completely unconvincing, at least in my

It is interesting that Dawkins proposes an analogy to Darwinism for cosmology,
but he chooses to absolutely ignore what is probably the strongest argument
of all for a Creator, which is the existence of life.  His silence on how life itself
came about by random chemical events is deafening.  There is a reason for this.  To propose
a theory that natural selection of chemicals might have the ability to produce
a living thing is nothing short of ludicrous.  Even Dawkins does not have the audacity
to propose an analogy to Darwinism as a means to create life from inorganic
matter.  Because he cannot mount a workable argument, he simply ignores the issue of
the creation of life.  I can only suppose that he hoped we would not notice this
gaping hole.

After providing what is, at least for me, an unsatisfactory explanation of the
fine tuned universe and completely ignoring the creation of life, Dawkins simply
declares his job done.  God does not exist, and anyone who does not agree is deluded,
infantile, unenlightened and so forth.  This leads him to his second thesis, which
is clearly why he has written the book.  Dawkins argues that not only is religion
wrong on the existence of God, it is the single most destructive element ever
introduced into human culture.  It is an unfortunate by-product of the evolution of
the human brain.  He proposes that the tendency to believe in a purposeful life, in
a higher power, in an absolute moral good, is simply the by-product of evolutionary
forces in human brain development.  At this point, Dawkins brings to bear a number of dubious
pseudoscientific explanations of brain evolution.  He concludes that the idea of belief
in an absolute moral standard (such as it is wrong to lie or evil to kill another
human) is just an artifact, and a dangerous one at that.  He argues that the only
way to arrive at a correct ethic is to use the scientific method.  He also contradicts
himself again and again, because he calls religionists evil.  There is no absolute
moral law, except the one that belief in an absolute moral law is immoral.

Dawkins lives in a Pollyanna world in which scientists will make us better and
better.  Human beings are slowly but steadily evolving to a more enlightened state
in which they will reject all ideas of good and evil, yet will treat one another
more and more humanely.  As evidence, he provides a litany of the evils perpetrated by
religion.  He reserves a particular vitriol for Roman Catholicism.  To be honest, his list of the
evils done in the name of religion include a number of examples of some of the
worst of human behavior, which has indeed been motivated by religion.  What he does,
though, is completely ignore even the possibility that human belief in God has
produced any good in the world.  He has the gall to imply that anyone who does not
completely disavow God is part and parcel with Hitler (who he claims, by the
way, was a Christian), the Taliban and Al Qaeda.   This absolutely irresponsible hate-mongering
on the part of Dawkins is what made it extremely difficult to even read the
book to the end.

To summarize, I have always been an advocate of people reading works by those
with whom they do not agree.  I am not in accord at all with those who would impose
a sort of spiritual censorship.  In fact, I believe that it may even be worthwhile for
people to read some of Dawkins? other works.  The God Delusion is a book which a lot
of people are reading.  It has been a huge success in Europe and is making its way to
the United States.  Normally, I would therefore suggest that believers acquaint themselves
with the book so that they can make a reasoned defense.  However in this case I make
an exception to my own personal rule.  This book is so poorly argued; it is so full
of hatred and bitterness, that I suggest we not even read this book.

John Oakes, PhD

[1] Thanks to Dan Condor for research into the scholarly response to the book.

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