The God Delusion - an Appraisal  - Chapter Overview


This is the Chapter Overview Page for the appraisal of the contents

of Richard Dawkins' book, The God Delusion.

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The God Delusion:  An Overview, Chapter by Chapter



Chapter 1: A deeply religious non-believer


This chapter simply points out that various scientists you might have previously thought were Christians were probably (possibly?) not. There have been lots of arguments by all sides as to whether some of these famous men were atheists or theists. The jury is still out and will remain out.

The chapter goes on to demand that religion shouldn't warrant the respect that is so often given to it. As an opening round to suggest belief in God is delusional, it is a total non-event. It doesn't go anywhere near the subject. Perhaps he doesn't mean it to.


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Chapter 2: The God Hypothesis (a big chapter of 48 pages)


This starts out by insulting God, saying a few brief things about Polytheism, even less about Monotheism, then suggests that America wasn't founded on Christian faith, and says that agnosticism is a poor place to stop.

I cover that on one page and note a complete lack of understanding of historic Christian faith by Dawkins, an inappropriate use of quotes by others who are similarly uninformed, and observe that his only means of scoring points validly seems to be pointing fingers at the Catholic Church.

In the second half of the chapter he goes to great lengths to say that religion should be subject to the scrutiny of science. I haven't got a problem with that as far as it can go, so what's the point of it? He derides an experiment in prayer that shows you can't experiment with prayer, he chews up his colleagues who should be uniting against Creationists, and ends up speculating about advanced alien races.

Again as a second round to suggest belief in God is delusional, it is, again, a total non-event and again, it doesn't go anywhere near the subject. So far he has done nothing to show that belief in God is a delusion!


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Chapter 3: Arguments for God's Existence


Here Richard first fires at Thomas Aquinas and Anselm, both scholars in the church of an earlier age, neither of whom sought to provide proofs as Richard suggests, but merely show that orthodox Christian belief is reasonable in a philosophical way, so the first two parts of this chapter were missed shots. He then moves on to decry the argument that there must be a God because of beauty, but again misses the point that is one of the clear distinctions between atheism and faith. A further ‘missed shot'!

His next port of call is ‘Christian experience' which he puts down as mind games, and in no way explains the multitude or variety of experiences which he doesn't in any way even think about. Missed shot number four. He then moves on to deride Scripture but all he manages to do is reveal his dubious sources – Gnostic theologians – and his own paucity of knowledge of the Bible. A definite shot in the foot! From there he considers the variety of scientists, from believers to unbelievers, with little point, and concludes with two pointless and meaningless short parts, one of which he acknowledges is a bit of a joke and the other of no substance. Rather odd really.

Alister McGrath summarised this chapter by saying, “He is clearly out of his depth, and achieves little by his brief and superficial engagements with these great perennial debates, which often simply cannot be resolved empirically.” As a chapter that is supposed to form a serious part of an argument against a belief in God, it is rather like steam coming out of a kettle which quickly dissipates and is lost without effect.


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Chapter 4: Why there is almost certainly no God


McGrath describes this chapter as “a loosely collated series of assertions” and a “rambling pastiche” which is “poorly structured, making it quite difficult to follow the basic argument which seems to be an expansion of the ‘who made God, then?' question.” And that's an academic speaking!

It is a strange chapter that starts out with an enticing suggestion that he has a new theory to win our hearts, but it takes a while for him to tell us that it is about raising our consciousness in respect of natural selection. He ranges over the areas of intelligent design and the outdated idea of the 'God of the Gaps' and then ensues a long and convoluted argument whereby by the most illogical logic of statistics tries to (unsuccessfully) con us into believing in the staggering improbability of life coming into being from nowhere! He concludes with some recollections from Cambridge.

In this chapter it is the bizarre use of statistics that stands out. Not in a million years, sorry a billion, billion years does his argument go anywhere near proving the title of the chapter.

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Chapter 5: The Roots of Religion

This, intriguingly, is a chapter about anthropology from a biologist, which may be why it is so speculative. If you ever read this chapter, please note the absence of valid scientific evidence and the amazing amount of speculation. He takes us down a path to explain how mechanically natural selection created religious ideas. However 'ideas' have always seemed to me to be things that can change easily, so this argument held even less water than the previous chapter. (read Appendix 7 - Philosophy or Science)

He tries to show how the benefits of religion could get built in through our genes, which seems embarrassing for him as he has to acknowledge benefits. To offset that he goes through tortuous speculations that are quite unconvincing and which leads one to conclude a biologist should not venture into speculative anthropology.

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Chapter 6: The Roots of Morality. Why we are Good

This chapter starts off with hate mail but soon moves on to speculations about why we should be good, and Richard isn't too sure!  He gives us four reasons from watching animals, why for self-serving purposes we may be good, but that doesn't leave a very good taste in the mouth. He goes on to show good examples of how people deliberate over moral issues and concludes that you don't have to believe in God to be moral, to which I ask, who said you did? The Christian (Biblical) idea of us all being moral beings made in the image of God means we wonder why he wasted his time writing this chapter. It seems because he wanted to convince himself you could be moral without God. We could have reassured him if he had asked.

In his last part he reveals again his lack of understanding about Christianity as he wonders if Christians are always trying to please God. He naively thinks that mankind doesn't need policing but does give illustrations of how lawlessness broke out when law was removed. When he speaks about absolutes he accepts that there can't be absolutes without God, so his (not so scientific) logic says well there can't be absolutes. He is left with fluctuating standards, usually on a downward spiral. Most unsatisfactory. Along the way he gets into a complete twist trying to be an economic-sociologist, and fails because he is a biologist in foreign fields! Again a very messy, unclear and confused set of thinking that produces a very unsatisfactory chapter for anyone who will bother to think about the issues raised.

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Chapter 7: The 'Good' Book

Have you ever watched someone trying to sing in public who clearly cannot sing? You sit there squirming thinking, "You really shouldn't be doing that!"  I'm afraid that's what I'm left feeling about this chapter. If your knowledge of the Bible is sketchy you might think what he says is wonderful - but it's not, it's tragic. In a long Part on the Old Testament he gives a series of examples of people who totally got it wrong and a number who he just didn't understand, with the aim of showing that we don't get our morals from them. To which I answer, "So?" No one studying the Bible does that, so I'm afraid I've had to spend a lot of time explaining this. If you are unsure of your Bible, then please read these pages (it stretches over two pages) carefully. He then displays either his ignorance or his lack of understanding in the New Testament. It is a painful experience. (For basic genuine Christian beliefs you might like to go to Appendix 2)

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Chapter 8: What's Wrong with Religion? Why be so Hostile?

At the outset Richard seeks to excuse his rudeness by comparing himself favourably with religious bombers. It doesn't make him less rude! He feels strongly that believers in the Bible will reject the evidence of science in favour of the book and cites a confused American scientist to support his thesis. He doesn't understand that there isn't a conflict. He makes sweeping and derogatory statements about such believers. He cites extremes of religion in Islam and in America to bolster his argument but ignores the vast middle ground of Christianity. A very poor way of arguing.

He starts a discussion on homosexuality that is one-sided and biased. He moves on to talk about abortion and euthanasia and makes a number of points that those in the Christian world would do well to consider as the 'think-through' to intelligent assessments of the subjects. He shows how the stories about Beethoven used to bolster the sanctity of life position, are urban legend. Finally he declares he will show how even moderation leads to fanaticism but all he can quote meaningfully are the Islamic bombers of Britain.

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Chapter 9: Childhood abuse and escape from religion

Starting from an account of a nineteenth century abduction, he moves into a discussion about protecting children from the mental abuse of religion, cites bad examples of over-zealous religious extremists, berates a Christian school in England for having a science department that dares to mention an alternative to evolution, declares against labelling children and ignoring their cultural upbringing but concludes with a desire for the Bible to be taught as literature without realising that it is all about God and that some will see the truth if they read it. A messy and scrappy chapter that uses extremists to make his point and shows that he will brook no challengers to his beloved 'evolution'.

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Chapter 10: A much needed gap

He ponders on whether religion fills a gap and wonders if something else would do it as well. He suggests that belief in God may have come about by the desire children have for an imaginary friend but fails to realise that such friends tend to be like us, whereas God is staggeringly different.  He acknowledges that religion does console people in need and talks optimistically about death without realising its significance.

He speaks about euthanasia again and talks about Christians who fear death, and that group who believe in purgatory. In these he doesn't see the significance behind such fear or the fact that purgatory is only an add-on belief for Catholics only. He goes to speak about inspiration without religion but really has nothing to say. He finishes the book with a picture of reality as being much much bigger than any of us realise. Yet really none of this has anything to say about the belief in God being a delusion. A very weak and disappointing chapter to conclude the book.



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