Monday, October 23rd, 2006

Richard Dawkins’ latest book, The God Delusion, is a vitriolic polemic against religion. According to Dawkins religion is the root of all evil, and a pernicious delusion. One would think a book like this, written by the world’s foremost evolutionary biologist and ardent atheist, would be praised by the secularist community. You would be wrong.


Apparently the book is so poorly reasoned that even the New York Times won’t praise it. In Sunday’s book review section Jim Holt (no friend of conservative religion) didn’t have much good to say about it. He said such things as:


  • “The book fairly crackles with brio. Yet reading it can feel a little like watching a Michael Moore movie. There is lots of good, hard-hitting stuff about the imbecilities of religious fanatics and frauds of all stripes, but the tone is smug and the logic occasionally sloppy.”
  • “But Dawkins’s avowed hostility can make for scattershot reasoning as well as for rhetorical excess.”
  • “The least satisfying part of this book is Dawkins’s treatment of the traditional arguments for the existence of God. The ‘ontological argument’ says that God must exist by his very nature, since he possesses all perfections, and it is more perfect to exist than not to exist. The ‘cosmological argument’ says that the world must have an ultimate cause, and this cause could only be an eternal, God-like entity. The ‘design argument’ appeals to special features of the universe (such as its suitability for the emergence of intelligent life), submitting that such features make it more probable than not that the universe had a purposive cosmic designer.”These, in a nutshell, are the Big Three arguments. To Dawkins, they are simply ridiculous. He dismisses the ontological argument as ‘infantile’ and ‘dialectical prestidigitation’ without quite identifying the defect in its logic, and he is baffled that a philosopher like Russell —‘no fool’— could take it seriously. He seems unaware that this argument, though medieval in origin, comes in sophisticated modern versions that are not at all easy to refute. Shirking the intellectual hard work, Dawkins prefers to move on to parodic ‘proofs’ that he has found on the Internet….”

  • “Despite the many flashes of brilliance in this book, Dawkins’s failure to appreciate just how hard philosophical questions about religion can be makes reading it an intellectually frustrating experience.”


There’s more juicy tidbits in the review, but these alone are enough to make one feel for Mr. Dawkins. The man who believes rationality is opposed to religious belief is accused of not being very rational when writing a book about the irrationality of religious faith. Ouch!

In the October 9th 2006 edition of TIME magazine Andrew Sullivan wrote a cover piece titled “When Seeing is Not Believing.” It was the latest in fashionable attacks on conservative, “fundamentalistic” Christianity. Sullivan’s attacks were not limited to Christianity, but all religious believers who possess certainty about the ultimate questions of life. If you take your religious faith seriously, and think what you believe is a real description of reality, Sullivan is talking to you. Certainty is the enemy of our times according to Sullivan. To be doubtful is to be humble is to be tolerant is to have peace.


There were so many outlandish claims, and such an abuse of rationality that I will not even begin to dissect it for you here. I would suggest you read the piece for yourself.


What do you find to be his most outlandish claim? What logical fallacies and/or mistakes of reasoning were you able to spot? I’m interested to see if you walked away with some of the same observations I did.