The God Delusion - an Appraisal  - Chapter 1

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This is the Chapter 1 Page for the appraisal of the contents of Richard Dawkins' book, The God Delusion.



Page Contents:







Chapter 1 Overview 

"A deeply religious non-believer"

      Chapter 1 is divided into:

  • Deserved respect (p.31-41)
    • scientists can have feelings of wonder without being religious
    • defining God as a supernatural creator
    • Einstein made religious noises without believing in God
  • Undeserved Respect (p.41-50)
    • why should religion receive special respect?
    • examples from America
    • examples of Islam


Chapter 1 - Content & Comments


Part 1:  “Deserved Respect”



Quote 1: p.32


Quote 2: p.33


A quasi-mystical response to nature and the universe is common among scientists and rationalists. It has no connection with supernatural belief.


All Sagan's books touch the nerve endings of transcendent wonder that religion monopolised in past centuries. My own books have the same aspiration.



AWE AND WONDER: The point Richard seeks to make here, and through this first chapter, is that it is possible for scientists to have a sense of awe and wonder in response to what they find in scientific discovery. No problem – apart from the fact that philosophically that is quite irrational if you hold an atheists viewpoint.

Why should the product of chemical and electrical interactions (dress it up and call it ‘biology' if you will, but that's what it is from a godless, reductionist perspective) have any sense of wonder at these things. They are merely chemical reactions!


Richard confessed at the beginning of his book Unweaving the Rainbow that the result of his first book had been to create a sense of life being empty and purposeless. Indeed he quotes his friend Peter Atkins who is equally pessimistic. Having realised that this logical outcome of atheism was not producing a popular response, he then wrote Unweaving the Rainbow with the express intention of trying to show that it is possible to be an atheistic scientist and still have a sense of wonder and awe when examining Creation.

To achieve this he makes the tremendous ‘leap of faith' that early existentialist Soren Kierkegaard spoke about. His whole writing fights against the nihilism which is the logical outcome of atheism, and the only way he can do it is by this leap of faith into ‘meaningful atheism'. Sadly he doesn't appear to be able to see that yet.

I have to confess, as I have come back to these notes and reread them after a few months, I realise that I have let Richard off easily here.  Like other atheists he uses language in a casual way. Here, for instance, he speaks of "a quasi-mystical response to nature." The least religious shine on mystical you can have is simply mysterious, but usually mystical has a certain religious connotation to it. So it's semi-religious or semi-mysterious. But why should a scientist have even this feeling when he is simply measuring or finding out information.

The whole point is that he is making it less and less mysterious. No, be honest, the truth is that, as I've indicated in some measure above, Richard and others find themselves with an awesome feeling when they find out some of the details of Creation. But why should it be awesome from their perspective, because it's all purely by chance, purely accident, according to their doctrine. We don't feel awe about anything else that we encounter that is pure chance.

No, the truth is that there is something inside them that they are struggling with. In his letter to the church at Rome, in the New Testament, the apostle Paul wrote:

"For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." (Rom 1;20).

In other words, that intelligent man considered that everyone has this sense when they study Creation, that there is a Creator behind it. They are condemned because they overcome their inner feeling because they realise that if there is a God they will be answerable to Him. They 'refuse to see' not on logical grounds, but on the grounds that they want to NOT be answerable to anyone else. That is what Richard and others like him struggle with!



Quote 3: p.32,33

Carl Sagan in Pale Blue Dot, wrote:


How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, ‘This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant'? Instead they say, ‘No, no no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.' A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.

(NB. I have added the underlining simply to identify below the portions being referred to.)



ABSURDITY: Here I am looking for wisdom from scientists and Richard comes out with this most absurd of quotes. Let's look at this more carefully:


1. bigger than our prophets said


All my comments need to be in respect of Christianity for I have no mandate to defend religions that I am not happy with. Who are the prophets Sagan was deriding? The only ‘prophets' that Judaism and Christianity uphold are those staggering men of the Old Testament who went out of their way to bring us the revelation of 'the God of an incredible world'. Read some of these passages that applaud God and His world.

If you want them to say more than they do in terms of scientific detail, you are revealing your staggering ignorance and your frightening refusal to think about this. These prophets were writing three thousand years ago!  If God had communicated to them in terms of the things that modern science is discovering it would have been utterly meaningless to them at that point of history.

LINK to the Revelation of God explaining gradual understanding by mankind


2. my god is a little god


Who on earth is Sagan kidding!!!! For goodness sake read the Old Testament and see the incredible descriptions of all-mighty and all-powerful God. This is just silly, childish writing, revealing a writer with little or no knowledge of what he purports to comment upon!


3. draw forth reserves of reverence


Where I come from, that is exactly what they do. When I have heard preachers speaking on the greatness and wonder of God and of His creation, I hear them (and I do myself) refer to the revelations of modern science.


4. Conclusion?


If Richard can only draw on such childishly futile quotes as this one to support his thesis he is indeed on weak ground. Sadly this seems to happen again and again in this book.   



Quote 4: p.33


.. like any other word, the word ‘God' can be give any meaning we like.



BE CLEAR ABOUT GOD: This comes from a larger quote by Steven Weinberg and is a point well made and with which we would wholeheartedly agree, which is why Christian writer John Blanchard spends a whole page simply defining ‘God' as revealed in the Bible in his book, Does God Believe in Atheists?

Richard wants to make the point that scientists such as Einstein can make religious sounding noises without it meaning ‘God-belief' noises. No problem. I agree. I think many Christians may have perhaps been mistaken in attributing religious belief to a number of quoted scientists.

However I don't believe it has always been an open and shut case and so I would suggest that perhaps Richard might be wrong in removing belief from all of them. As I have commented on the Introduction page, I believe the jury is still out and will remain out, whatever Richard may wish to the contrary. 

LINK to Characteristics of God found in the Bible



Quote 5: p.34

Julian Baggini explains in ‘Atheism: A Very Short Introduction' the meaning of an atheist's commitment to naturalism: ‘What most atheists do believe is that although there is only one kind of stuff in the universe and it is physical, out of this stuff comes minds, beauty, emotions, moral values – in short the full gamut of phenomena that gives richness to human life.



1. …most atheists do believe…


MORE THAN MATERIAL: While many (and it would be pure picky to debate ‘most') clearly believe what is stated here, there is a growing body of scientific belief – often derided by the materialists – that looks at the spectrum of experience across the whole world and accepts that there does seem to be experience that goes beyond anything explainable by materialistic understanding today. Go to the archives of the main news-sheets to the year 2006-7, and you will find a number of reports of these scientists  and the argument they cause.

If one day ‘spirit' is found to be some form of (presently unknown and unrecognised) electrical energy, if one day that energy is found to have a specific personality and attributes as described within the Bible, then maybe then the atheistic scientist might concede that for a number of centuries they had been limited in understanding – which is what many of them of the more humble kind do today.

LINK to evolution quotes showing 'naturalists' illogically rejecting God at outset


2. …one kind of stuff…


MATERIAL LIMITATIONS: As previously noted, there is an inability of atheistic scientists to understand that a world of mere matter must logically refuse to use the language of ‘beauty' for instance, which must be reduced to a purely chemical reaction – yet everything in us, as Richard admits, cries out to accept there is something more. To do this they use the existentialists ‘leap of faith', as noted above, but that has always been a form of dishonesty. (I'm afraid this comment is going to come up a number of times.)

Back in the middle of last century, Dr. Francis Schaeffer encouraged his Christian students to press those who argued against them to follow the logical consequences of their beliefs.

If, as a scientific atheist, you insist on telling the rest of us that we are the result of random chance interactions of chemicals and electrical charges, you can talk as much as you like (as has happened twice already in this opening chapter) about the things that "give richness to human life" but they are still merely chemical reactions, as wonderful as the rest of us believe them to be. They are still meaningless, according to your philosophy, and you need to have the courage to face up to that, or abandon it and face the truth that the Bible reveals - that all life is the result of the activity of an all-supreme Being and because He has a purpose behind it all, it truly is wonderful!

LINK to 'ISM's in the modern world



Quote 6: p.35


Great scientists of our time who sound religious usually turn out not to be so when you examine their beliefs more deeply.



1. Great scientists….


NON-RELIGIOUS SCIENTISTS: All Richard does in the following pages is make a case that men, such as Einstein, Hawking, Martin Rees and Robert Winston, may appear religious but are in fact, not.  I don't have a problem with that. What is it though, I wonder, that makes such men either use the language of religion or even give an appearance of religion? They cannot be so averse to religion if they attach themselves, even if it is by association only. Richard's assertion that in the past such scientists were afraid of the religious authorities, certainly won't wash today, so why do they keep on doing it?????


2. …turn out not to be so….


So these men are not believers? Whatever has that got to do with the case against God? A man can be brilliant in one area but largely ignorant in another. Finding even clever men who do not believe, does little or nothing to build a case against the evidence of Christianity!



Quote 7: p.39


The president of a historical society in New Jersey wrote…..



UNSURE BELIEFS: Richard then quotes from this gentleman who clearly is a man unsure of his beliefs. All the quote does is expose this man to ridicule for his uncertainty.


His quote that “religion is based on Faith not knowledge” simply indicates that he is a man uneducated in the ways of Biblical faith which are indeed based upon knowledge. Yet again Richard seeks to build his case from those who, if they purport to be on the side of belief, clearly indicate they are on the side of unbelief.


All this does is indicate that there are people of lots of different levels of belief which does nothing to build his case.



Quote 8: p.40


Einstein was using ‘God' in a purely metaphorical, poetic sense. So is Stephen Hawking, and so are most of those physicists who occasionally slip into the language of religious metaphor.



SCIENTISTS USE RELIGIOUS LANGUAGE: To repeat the question asked earlier, why on earth should these men use the language of religious metaphor if they are so against it? If as Richard maintains, religion is only for the faint minded, surely he and all his atheistic colleagues would do everything they could to avoid any association with it!  All is not quite as clear as he would like it to be!



Quote 9: p.41


I wish that physicists would refrain from using the word in their special metaphorical sense.  



UNCERTAINTY: So do I, but perhaps it is actually a sign of their uncertainty.

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Part 2:  “Undeserved Respect”



Quote 10: p.45


The whole point of religious faith, it's strength and chief glory, is that it does not depend on rational justification




NOTHING IS SACRED: This comes part way through an argument that religious faith really doesn't warrant the special respect that is so often accorded to it. I guess this is the standpoint of the atheist who holds nothing ‘sacred' and for whom little is really meaningful. Having said that, we will see that Richard defends and exalts science like an idol of old, and feels he is on secure ground when it comes to debate, which probably only shows that he doesn't realise he lives in a glasshouse.


RATIONAL JUSTIFICATION: The quote indicates the sad lack of understanding that Richard has of living Biblical faith found in many parts of the church (but admittedly not in all!). Rational justification is, contrary to much public belief, right at the heart of Biblical faith.


To use an illustration as far back as in Exodus ch.3 we find God, answering Moses' question about who he should tell his people has sent him, saying:

the God of your fathers--the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob”. 

          In other words, the same God who Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had encountered.

This reference says to Moses, look at what these men learnt by their encounters with God, and this is the God with whom you are having dealings today. Within the Bible there are constant references to historical incidents, and indeed the whole of Christianity is based upon historical incidents and, when examined in a critical but open-minded way, is found to be quite rational. This is something that Richard cannot believe.



Quote 11: p.45


campuses around the United States




USA MISDEMEANOURS: The United States is fertile ground for Richard to point out religious misdemeanours. Sadly he is often right. The States is a big country with no national framework for the church and therefore often anything goes – and the anything often embarrasses the rest of us. As the Encyclopaedia Britannica puts it: “The U.S. government has never supported an established church, and the diversity of the population has discouraged any tendency toward uniformity in worship


Citing the lawsuits being brought by Christians he touches a sore point – these are Christians of whatever weak persuasion, who feel frustrated at the lowering of moral standards (and that IS a rationally defensible statement to be made) and feel they have to use the same weapons as everyone else in the States. Poor, unbiblical logic, I agree!  However there are two valid points to be made here:


1. UNBALANCED REPORTING: If Richard seeks to use quotes about Christians' less than perfect responses then, if he is willing to be honest, he should also balance the reporting with reports of the many instances of the hostility in secular America against simple Christian activities, e.g. a Christian group being refused the hire of a room in an office suite where they could hold a prayer meeting.

The secular versus spiritual war in America is not always fought on logical grounds and at times both sides should be ashamed, but I wouldn't expect Richard to concede that.

LINK to Appendix 8 - Facts, Formulas & Freaky Behaviour


2. UNBALANCED 'TOLERANCE': Richard mentions the issues of homosexuals and Christians yet fails to observe the special and unique case given to homosexual pressure groups. His comments about special respect for Christians is, I suggest, way out of date. The cases of abuses of Christians are piling up. It is actually valid, according to many modern local authorities, government and media, to be derogatory and critical of Christian beliefs – quite openly. That is not permitted in respect of homosexuals. Similarly it is acceptable to be derogatory about politicians and their party beliefs, especially on the fringes, but not about homosexuals. The homosexual lobby has obtained a secure rock upon which to stand on, which few others have.



Quote 12: p.46-50


(Not a quote but a reference) Richard raises the issue of Islam versus the cartoon of the Prophet




ISLAM'S VULNERABILITY: There are probably very few of us outside Islam who would disagree with his comments about what has gone on. Around the world Islam lays itself open to the accusation that it is hostile to the rest of the (world) population, highly charged and often more linked with culture and politics than with spirituality. If the same charges can be brought against parts of the Church, it is time they brought their house in order.


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NB. In what follows Q stand for ‘Quote'


Part 1: Deserved Respect


With his general argument – that many scientists who the religious community have tried to identify as believers, are in fact not – I don't have a problem. That it in any way adds to his argument against Christianity is something else – it doesn't!


Along the way I have pointed out that:

  •  his cry for acceptance that atheists can feel wonder about Creation, is a leap of faith contrary to their intellectual propositions (Q.1 & 2)
  •  he uses quotes of other atheists that reveal a woeful ignorance (Q.3)
  •  he is right to call for tight definitions but may misunderstand some of his colleagues (Q.4)
  •  his talk about only material stuff comprising existence, is being challenged by some of his colleagues and annuls talk about ‘beauty' etc. (Q.5)   
  •  the use of religious language by some of his colleagues is strange if they don't believe, and perhaps reveals their doubts about their unbelief (Q,6,8,9)
  •  he uses quotes of ‘weak believers' who are in reality unbelievers to try to bolster his cause (Q.7)


Part 2: Undeserved Respect


Richard seeks to clear away the ground so that he can say what he likes by first asking why is it that religion is given special respect when politics etc. is wide open for questioning and comment.


As part of that thesis he cites the protection religion gets in the States and the incredible uproar when Islam is questioned. I have no problem with agreeing with both areas he presents.


Along the way I have pointed out that:

  •  I suspect that the ‘respect for religion' issue is because people feel particularly strongly about issues close to them – just as Richard does about science. (Q.10)
  •  He reveals lack of understanding about Biblical faith, in that it IS based on rational consideration (Q.10)
  •  While I have sympathy with him in that the States is not only home to the great and the glorious but also to the weird and the wonderful and when that comes to church, that does embarrass the rest of us as well. Yet if he is going to quote church misdemeanours he really should provide a balanced picture. (Q.11)
  •  When he speaks about the misdemeanours of Islam, I have to agree with the comments he makes in respect of the illustration he uses.
  •  Yet I have to comment that none of these things in any way build his case for atheism; they merely point out human foibles, which Christianity is probably the best at doing anyway! (Q.12)

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