The God Delusion Review

FINALLY, the post you’ve all been waiting for!

Well, I don’t know if you’ve been on the edge of your seat waiting for me to talk about The God Delusion, but I’ve been ready for a long time. I’ve been reading this book on and off for over a year, and I finally actually finished it yesterday. So let’s talk about it!

Before I get into any criticism, I want to explain why this book is so important to me. I first heard of Richard Dawkins in a class with a teacher who absolutely loathed him. He gave me the impression that Dawkins can’t be taken seriously and he believes in “scientism” (which I feel was made up by theists who hate the New Atheists’ love for science). I hated that teacher, and I knew that I shouldn’t trust what he said about atheists, but I still had a slightly skewed perception of Dawkins before I really learned how highly regarded he typically is among atheists like me.

The cover design of my book.

I found The God Delusion when I started writing this paper (yeah, that’s how long ago it was), and soon after school let out I found my own copy in a used book store for $10. Since I was home for the summer, I took the cover off, making my fiance keep that, and hid the book at the bottom of a shopping bag so that my mom would never see it. For the next year and a half I would read it on and off, and I would keep the cover of a tween fiction book on it so no one knew what I was reading. This book was my first secret act of rebellion as an atheist, and it was my only physical proof that I was a real bona fide nonbeliever.

Anyways, I know that my review of The God Delusion is bound to be a long one, so I’ll get to it. First of all, I think that when reading the book, it’s clear what Dawkins is an expert on and what he’s not. He’s an evolutionary biologist, but not a theologian, historian, politician, or anything of the sort. With such a broad book topic (why belief in God is wrong), there is a lot of ground to cover, and he hit a lot of it, including different beliefs, arguments for and against God’s existence, where religion came from, morality, why we shouldn’t follow the Bible, the evils of religion, child abuse, and a conclusion dealing with how science has allowed us to learn more about the universe we live in.

Possibly my favorite thing in this entire book occurs on the very first page. Dawkins explains that coming out as atheist is an achievable and noble goal to have. He says that atheists can be “happy, balanced, moral, and intellectually fulfilled.” He starts off the book by reassuring readers that they should be anything but ashamed of being atheists, and if you happen to have doubts about religion, you’re certainly not alone.

Soon after this were Dawkins’ responses to arguments for God’s existence and his own arguments against it, which I really appreciated. Although he (obviously) didn’t disprove God, I think he did a thorough job of eliminating a need for God to explain anything. I suppose this was the first time I got a good, simple explanation of how natural selection guides evolution, and how it’s not as crazy as it sound. A lot can happen over millions of years.

I think that Dawkins’ topics toward the beginning of the book are more up his alley, dealing with things like the anthropic principle and how evolution allows for the diversity of life that we see. Since he’s an expert in evolution, though, he also applied that to things like where morality and religion; they may have a Darwinian origin, but it seems as though he goes back to Darwin’s theory time and time again when you wouldn’t expect it. This is all well and good, but it seems to start off a pattern of Dawkins sort of dodging questions.

Towards the end of The God Delusion, there are many times that Dawkins discusses how religion has caused death and destruction for homosexuals and others as well as abuse of children in its indoctrinating tendencies. When he shows this, he often uses examples of different horrors that have occurred in the name of religion, although I’m wary of his use of examples, because there are plenty of examples of a lot of things, including things that religion has done for the better.

Probably my greatest criticism of this book is that I don’t think Dawkins achieves his ultimate goal. He states in the preface that he aims to deconvert religious readers to atheists; each chapter is supposed to address a different reason why atheism is the way to go. Of course I agree that atheism is correct, but if I had been reading as a theist, I don’t know if this book would convince me. Some of the chapters deconstructing a need for God may have made me question my belief, but I would have taken offense at a lot of what Dawkins said in regard to unbelievers.

Of course, one of the most obvious examples of this is the title of the book, which implies that belief in God is a delusion, but throughout the book, he shows religion as being evil and completely unfounded, which wouldn’t make me want to jump out of my seat and join his side of the God debate. When I saw The God Delusion in my church in their creationism library, I was taken aback at the fact that members of my family’s congregation were reading it without deconverting. Now I see why.

In the chapter on the roots of religion, Dawkins mused, “The religious behavior may be a misfiring, an unfortunate by-product of an underlying psychological propensity which in other circumstances is, or once was, useful.” He makes a lot of similar remarks throughout the chapter, baffled at how religion came to be, suggesting that it must have been some cultural accident that resulted in this peculiar and useless custom.

There are plenty of other times throughout The God Delusion when his unmasked disgust for religion shines through, although I suppose that he’s justified in occasionally allowing his emotions to cloud his reason. As far as I know, The God Delusion was one of the first books that unabashedly exposed everything wrong with religion all at once. Dawkins was one of the first to go out on a limb and say that religion is completely fabricated and should be abandoned immediately before it causes even more harm. In a way, it is as if Dawkins was taking one for the team, saying what we were all thinking but kept to ourselves in the interest of not offending anyone.

Even if I disagreed with some of the ways that Dawkins went about his arguments, I always found it refreshing to take time out of my day of people talking about how much they love Jesus to read from someone who didn’t. The God Delusion was a good “intro to atheism,” as it touched on so many topics. I’m glad to be done, though, because now I can explore so many other wonderful books by other authors from different fields giving their own reasons for disbelief. Next up I’ll be reading Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, which, as far as I’ve heard, may be even more highly regarded among atheists than The God Delusion is.

Have you read The God Delusion, and if so, what are your thoughts? How does it compare with God is Not Great? Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading!

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18 Replies to “The God Delusion Review”

  1. Great review. You might be interested in George H. Smith’s ‘Atheism: The Case Against God’, which is a much better reasoned and written book than this one. It’s a little headier, but it builds an extremely solid argument from the ground-up, beginning with a foundation that explains logic and abstract reasoning. As things come together, a very strong argument is also made for atheism over agnosticism.

    Really top notch site. Look forward to reading more.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. As a lifelong atheist, I’ll say The God Delusion made little impression on me; it was mainly “this is what I thought all along; religion is messed up and there’s no good explanation for it”.

    If I’d been a believer, I don’t know that it would have convinced me, as you said:

    “…if I had been reading as a theist, I don’t know if this book would convince me…”

    This is similar to what a friend of mine said when reviewing the same book in 2014 (here):

    “I am certain that if I’d read this book at the height of my religious fanaticism, it wouldn’t have made much of a dent in my faith. For someone on the fence, I suppose it could have an effect.”

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I really appreciated your honesty in this post. My favorite Atheists are Bertrand Russell and Molyneaux. I think the “old” atheists are truly terrible evangelists for their position and mostly out of their depth when discussing these issues. But I actually disagree with that professor that Dawkins is a scientismist. I would have lumped him in with Shermer in this regard but I guess I think Dawkins doesn’t really have any epistemology and he seems to be mostly an emotivist about ethics. So it’s hard to take him seriously from a philosophical perspective. In any case I just wanted to say I liked this post more than I thought I would. There’s a lot of idiotic atheists (and idiotic non atheists) blogging but I don’t think you’re one of them. And I would encourage you to just be honest about what you believe. Whatever it costs you will be worth it. In some sense I think you’re enabling the abusive environment, as a Christian who has experienced some forms of religious abuse I can say that for me silence and codependency did no good. That’s not meant as a judgment and I don’t understand your situation, I just want to encourage you to be honest. Total honesty 100% of the time is foolish but living a secret life is unhealthy. Also if you’re interested I’d like to interview you on our podcast. I understand why you wouldn’t want to, I think we could probably protect your anonymity through voice distortion. Something to think about.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Dawkins is simply the worst amongst the prominent atheists to argue against God. He can argue fairly well against religion but his arguments against well-cased God arguments fail and/or lack potency to refute them. In that respect my favourite atheists who did wager what I consider to be more weight arguments against God are atheists of the enlightenment or pre-enlightnement era. Thiry D’Holbah, Chapman Cohen, Jean Meslier etc

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Hitchens book, God is not Great, takes a different track altogether. He doesn’t really go into any argument for or against the existence of a god. What he does is totally smack down (Hitchslap) any notion that religion is necessary or needed for a society to be moral. It’s an incredible history lesson filled with very obscure references. Sure, he mentions science, but doesn’t use it since that’s not his forte. Hitch was an anti-theist. His purpose was to make sure people knew that religion is evil. Dawkins book was decent, but it does fall short on deconversion material. Religion needs to be challenged with both science and philosophy – arguments using logic and reason. There are still plenty of theists that believe in evolution and the Big Bang and an old earth, so what’s missing are the moral and faith based arguments. Dawkins doesn’t really handle those as well as Hitch or Sam Harris.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. when you view humanity objectively, you can see why a common belief among like minded people exists. We do have a kind of mind-meld, which may stem from those ancient times when we were more primate and less ‘human’, and hunting, traveling, etc. was done as much by a groupthink as by anything else.
      It still exists in crowd control, in group panic, in copycat behavior. Why not, after all, religious belief? And of course, it’s opposite, a ‘natural’ antipathy toward others who believe differently, if at all.
      You might say it’s one collective/mindset/belief system opposing another.

      And trying to convince or explain any of this to someone of an opposite discipline usually results in either hostility or hash. In a way it’s like trying to describe ‘blue’ to someone who is colorblind.

      I don’t read books on or about religion/atheism/etc, partly because Im not necessarily religious, nor do I wish to be. Nor does religion per se, or the lack of it, bother me all that much except as an exercise in language.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I quite liked the book. I was already an atheist when I read it, but I hadn’t started reading other atheists yet (this was my first one), so there were a lot of ideas I hadn’t encountered yet. There were also several points that felt belabored because I did already agree with him, but that made sense because I wasn’t his audience, and I appreciated the background.

    I kind of wonder if it’s fair to criticize him for not achieving his goal, since his goal is something that’s impossible—yet also something we have no choice but to attempt. No, this book wouldn’t have persuaded someone who wasn’t interested in being persuaded, because nothing ever could. But if, for example, I’d read it seven or eight years ago, when I was still religious but had just begun to have questions? Yes, he probably would have succeeded. True, he doesn’t mask his disgust for religion, but I think that just provides an excuse to people who would have found another one anyway, or who weren’t quite ready yet. As he points out (and as Hitchens does even more emphatically in God is Not Great), there are an awful lot of reasons religion deserves our disgust. This isn’t a perfect book, sure, but I got a lot out of it.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Like yourself and others who have commented already, I found The God Delusion to be good, but not quite great and a little disappointing for that. But I too was already an atheist when I read it. The problem every atheist book has is that there seems to be a dizzying amount of arguments that can be made against religion and ways they can be made. So, your task in writing one is a difficult one of trying and be concise or at least a pleasure to read. Being comprehensive is not an option, but that seems to be what those who are sympathetic want and those that who are not sympathetic will try to make any omission to be an unravelling of the whole thing. In comparison, the arguments for religion tend to be fewer; usually ‘It’s True!’ or ‘OK, it may not be true but it’s beneficial’ or ‘OK, it may be neither true nor beneficial, but it’s better than any alternative’. An advantage of Hitchens’ book is that his method is to say, ‘yes, there are many ways to attack this, but I am going right for the jugular, something that makes whatever I may miss seem trivial. But I found his writing a bit fast-and-loose and wished for the more organized structure of Dawkins. A mix of the two would be interesting.
    As far as being persuasive is concerned, I too did not find it to be strong in that regard either but, again, I did not need persuading. Yet, I don’t think it is correct to say that the book has failed to persuade. When first published, there was not much separating the books of the four horsemen, or the many others that followed. But, for whatever reason; maybe good marketing, maybe Dawkins’ infamy, maybe Hitchens’ death; The God Delusion, has risen above the rest. No one here may have found it terribly persuasive, but many people have testified that it has.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I wouldn’t dismiss concerns about scientism quite so easily With or without religious beliefs, there are legitimate questions about how much you can use science to resolve (as oppose to inform) questions of value. You can find inspiration for such questions in the old existentialist literature as easily as in the work of god-botherers.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I have read (most) of the God Delusion, but didn’t finish it because it was in high demand at my library. Someday I shall finish it too.
    Like yourself, I felt the first half of his book was pretty good. He is a science expert after all, so he makes some pretty good arguments which was ‘in his lane’.
    In the second half, his emotions somewhat cloud his judgement, and I felt he was a little bias here (almost falling into the same trap which Creationists fall into, but still not as bad). As an example, he happily mentions all the bad things religion does, but ignores any possible good things it has done for society. He almost makes it sound like religion is the root of all evil, conveniently ignoring many people who used religion to JUSTIFY their own evil acts.
    In summary, I thought it was a good book (at least the first half), but not the Atheist Bible that many people harp it out to be. I’m not religious myself anymore (as my name subtly implies), but I do strongly believe in being open minded and not conveniently ignoring certain facts to make a well rounded point (which is easy to do).

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Never read “The God Delusion” but I did see the documentary based on the book on YouTube. IDK how different the documentary is from the book. The documentary kind of disappointed me since it felt less like strong compelling and logically thought arguments about religion and more so “Religion’s bad because extremists exists!”

    IDK if Dawkins was born into a religious family or not, but because I spent the first 16 years of my life as a Christian I do tend to harbor a lot of anger towards religion. I try to stay rational when I discuss religion but I can understand where a lot of people are coming from when they say they loathe it. Although personally I don’t mind people being religious so long as they don’t shove it down my throat.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. I think if anyone of us has been a committed atheist for any length of time, we all have formulated our own ideas, reasons, and arguments as to why we disbelieve or just plain NOT believe in anything. Personally I’ve never been one to read religious tracts, books, or arguments for or against religion in general or particular.
    Oh, one quick question: when did Christians stop calling themselves ‘Protestants” and begin defining themselves as Christians? And when did Catholics get shoved out the door into a kind of name limbo?

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I also read it many years after deconverting, and it was OK, but it didn’t include anything that I hadn’t already thought myself. It’s not going to change the mind of a solid believer, it’s just going to invoke the backfire effect and result in their clinging more solidly to their beliefs. I think it’s best for people who are already starting to have trouble with belief, and need to hear from somebody who is willing to go ahead and criticize religion. Daniel Dennett’s “Breaking the Spell” (another worthwhile book) discusses the idea that people are told to keep religion as something that’s off limits, something that may not be criticized in any way, and that we need to break that spell and make religion something that’s open for discussion. Dawkins’ book is often people’s first exposure to any writing of that type, and is valuable just for that. I have certainly heard people say that they were a theist when they started the book, and an atheist by the time they finished, so it has at least sometimes accomplished its goal. Hitch’s book is good, as is the fourth “Horseman’s” book, The End of Faith, by Sam Harris.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Interesting insights…I haven’t read the book. Your post made me aware that my posts where theology meets up with science rely more on letting readers see for themselves how naive it is to blindly follow a theological notion. When given a clearer picture of the undeniable truth about how it’s the ignorance about the unalterable principles that rule the outcomes of all behaviors patterned in this impermanent reality that causes the emotional suffering that religion promises afterlife relief from and how the knowledge to derive the wisdom to understand these ways of nature is available now while alive … without the middleman … the reader can feel naive with my suggesting it. Thanks … keep it up!

    Liked by 3 people

  14. I haven’t read The God Delusion and don’t really plan to.

    I’m not surprised that Dawkins fails to “deconvert” anyone. I’ve read a few Christian books that are supposed to convince non-Christians to convert (The Case for Christ being one) and they have the same problem Dawkins does: as a believer or nonbeliever, whatever the case may be, to have enough “faith” to want to write about it blinds the writer to the reasons why most people are “lukewarm”. What I mean is that they’re arguments are so clear and common sense to themselves that they have a really hard time understanding what they’re arguing against enough to create a credible argument.

    Us ” normal folks” who are still somewhere in the middle of the debate can still see how other people can buy one aspect or another even if were actually really comfortable being theist or atheist or somewhere in between. Because we can still see both sides as plausible we can actually formulate better arguments against or for a position because were willing to really think about the minute differences that are usually what really divide us.

    An atheist who does not take seriously the differences that exist that have created all the denominations of Christianity and then differences between other religions and their denominations cannot realistically convince anyone because most people will hear his description of Christianity (for example) and think “this doesn’t apply to me” and tune him out.

    Liked by 4 people

  15. I haven’t actually read “The God Delusion”. I did not have any interest in reading it.

    Probably my greatest criticism of this book is that I don’t think Dawkins achieves his ultimate goal.

    And that’s pretty much why I had no interest. Most people are not persuaded one way or the other. Their decision on religion are made on a different basis. So the kind of argument that Dawkins uses is unlikely to persuade many people.

    There’s a role for books on the pros and cons of religion. But I suspect that “The God Delusion” is too much of a polemic to really satisfy that need. So most of the readers of this book are probably people who have already turned against religion.

    Thanks for the review. Even though I probably won’t read the book, I do appreciate the kind of review you have provided.

    Liked by 5 people

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