Review of "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins

This is an important book for people of faith, as well as atheists, to read.  It is written for people who do not believe in atheism, in an attempt to convert them.  Dawkins has become a voice for atheists, who are often left out when discussing faith and related issues, and as such it is important to listen to him. His books are easy to read, and they accurately express some of the frustrations that many atheists feel when people talk about religion and God.

My biggest criticism of the book is that Dawkins seems to think that by attacking religion, he is somehow undermining belief in God. He doesn't acknolwledge that many people of faith are the harshest critics of religion. I found myself agreeing with much of what Dawkins said, but thinking "This doesn't mean that God is a delusion!"

Dawkins talks about 'the religious' as though all religious people justify their beliefs in the same way - accepting what we've been told, no matter how unlikely or how little evidence there is. Isn't he noticing something about humanity - the tendency to believe something without question? Not all people do this - atheist or religious - but I think he'd be surprised by the number of non-religious people who believe things that can be easily shown to be false simply because 'everyone knows it's true'. Take the colours of the rainbow. There are obviously countless shades in every rainbow, but how many bands of colour would a person count if they hadn't been indoctrinated into ROYGBIV? It is so easy to count the colours in a rainbow (even easier if you split light using a prism) but how many of us have actually checked? No, there aren't seven colours in the rainbow. Check for yourself.

Dawkins starts by redefining atheism, which I had previously believed meant, roughly speaking, ‘a belief that God does not exist’.  However, for Dawkins, belief in the ‘God of Einstein’ does not stop one from being an atheist -  he distinguishes between theism, deism and pantheism.  The God Delusion is intended as an attack on theism, the belief in a personal, 'supernatural' God. So are deists atheists?

Atheism somehow seems to come out as 'believing in what is actually true', 'believing in rigorous investigation and careful analysis', or even 'courageously standing up for what you believe in the face of deadly religious fanaticism' (these are not quotes - Dawkins doesn't define atheism).

I remember watching Dead Man Walking – I will paraphrase one conversation. Sonnier, a death-row inmate, tells Sister Helen that he hates blacks.  “Why?” she asks.  “Because they don’t work and scrounge off the state.”  “But some white people do that too.”  “Well,” Sonnier says, “I hate them too.”  “Some black folk have jobs, do you hate them?”  Sister Helen suggests that it’s not black people, but scroungers that Sonnier hates.  Sonnier quickly changes the subject.

I feel the same misunderstanding whenever I hear Dawkins speak.  He doesn’t like belief in God.  “Why?”  “Because people believe in God fanatically - believing unquestioningly in the face of convincing evidence to the contrary.”  “Not all religious belief is unquestioning, and some atheists believe things unquestioningly – do you hate them too?”  I would suggest to Dawkins that he hates fanaticism – which I once heard brilliantly defined as “Strongly holding that what you believe is actually the whole truth, and therefore refusing to consider any other points of view”.  I can see Dawkins quickly changing the subject at that point.  Why?  I think he might recognise his own approach (with regard to religion) defined there.

Dawkins seems to want religious believers to open their eyes and look honestly at their faith through the eyes of science.  I understand exactly how he feels.  I think Dawkins needs to open his eyes and look honestly at his faith through the eyes of philosophy. 

In his first chapter, Dawkins quotes Carl Sagan:  “…if by ‘God’ one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God.”  Really? Why is it so clear that the universe is governed by physical laws?  How do we know that the world will behave in the future as it did in the past?  How can we be sure that just because event A always precedes event B, that event B is ‘caused’ by event A?  How do we know that the laws we have observed in our tiny part of the universe over an even smaller time period will hold in other parts of the universe at all times?  Is inductive reasoning all he has – if you see it happening enough times, there must be a link? 

Dawkins is a man full of faith, but he doesn’t seem to realise it because he deals in ‘fact’.  At least many religious people I know are aware that their faith is based on suppositions (and not merely superstitions, as Dawkins would have it).  Dawkins seems blissfully unaware of the assumptions on which his faith rests.

When I first picked up the book, I quickly turned to the chapter on morality. My question - without God, what basis can there be for objective morality? It isn't enough to explain how a tendency to altruism can be genetically inherited. Was Hitler objectively wrong to murder 6,000,000 Jews? Dawkins needs to give a straight answer to that question. If he says 'Yes', then he needs to explain where this objectivity comes from. If, as his book merely suggests, he says 'No', his world-view becomes less appealing. Sadly, his book commits him to neither.

Teachers may be interested in the 'alternative Ten Commandments' that Dawkins includes, which can be used in a discussion on science, religion and morality. They can be found at:

So did Dawkins convert me?  Well, I’m definitely an atheist – one of the courageous free-thinkers that Dawkins describes so well.  However, we may need to redefine atheism to incorporate my belief in God…

Paul Emecz, February 2007