The God Delusion

The God Delusion
The God Delusion  
The God Delusion UK.jpg
Author(s) Richard Dawkins
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Subject(s) Criticism of religion
Genre(s) Science, philosophy
Publisher Bantam Books
Publication date 2 October 2006
Media type Hardcover, Paperback, Audio book, E-Book at Google Books
ISBN 0-618-68000-4
OCLC Number 68965666
Dewey Decimal 211/.8 22
LC Classification BL2775.3 .D39 2006
Preceded by The Ancestor's Tale
Followed by The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution

The God Delusion is a 2006 bestselling[1] non-fiction book by British biologist Richard Dawkins, professorial fellow of New College, Oxford,[2][3] and inaugural holder of the Charles Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford.

In The God Delusion, Dawkins contends that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that belief in a personal god qualifies as a delusion, which he defines as a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence. He is sympathetic to Robert Pirsig's statement in Lila that "when one person suffers from a delusion it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called religion."[4]

As of January 2010, the English version of The God Delusion had sold over 2 million copies.[5] It was ranked No.2 on the bestsellers' list in November 2006.[6][7] In early December 2006, it reached No.4 in the New York Times Hardcover Nonfiction Best Seller list after nine weeks on the list.[8] It remained on the list for 51 weeks until 30 September 2007.[9] The German version, entitled Der Gotteswahn, had sold over 260,000 copies as of 28 January 2010.[10]

The book has attracted widespread commentary, with many books written in response.



Dawkins has argued against all creationist explanations of life in his previous works on evolution. The theme of The Blind Watchmaker, published in 1986, is that evolution can explain the apparent design in nature. In The God Delusion he focuses directly on a wider range of arguments used for and against belief in the existence of a god (or gods).

Dawkins had long wanted to write a book openly criticising religion, but his publisher had advised against it. By the year 2006, his publisher had warmed to the idea. Dawkins attributes this change of mind to "four years of Bush".[11] By that time, a number of authors, including Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, who together with Dawkins were labelled "The Unholy Trinity" by Robert Weitzel, had already written books openly attacking religion.[12] According to the website, the book led to a 50% growth in their sales of books on religion and spirituality (including anti-religious books such as The God Delusion and God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything) and a 120% increase in the sales of the Bible.[13]


Dawkins dedicates the book to Douglas Adams and quotes the novelist: "Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?" The book contains ten chapters. The first few chapters make a case that there is almost certainly no God, while the rest discuss religion and morality.

Dawkins writes that The God Delusion contains four "consciousness-raising" messages:

  1. Atheists can be happy, balanced, moral, and intellectually fulfilled.
  2. Natural selection and similar scientific theories are superior to a "God hypothesis" —the illusion of intelligent design— in explaining the living world and the cosmos.
  3. Children should not be labelled by their parents' religion. Terms like "Catholic child" or "Muslim child" should make people cringe.
  4. Atheists should be proud, not apologetic, because atheism is evidence of a healthy, independent mind.[4]

The God hypothesis

Since there are a number of different theistic ideas relating to the nature of God(s), Dawkins defines the concept of God that he wishes to address early in the book. Dawkins distinguishes between an abstract, impersonal god (such as found in pantheism, or as promoted by Spinoza or Einstein[14]) from a personal God who is the creator of the universe, who is interested in human affairs, and who should be worshipped.[15] This latter type of God, the existence of which Dawkins calls the "God Hypothesis", becomes an important theme in the book.[16] He maintains that this existence of such a God would have effects in the physical universe and – like any other hypothesis – can be tested and falsified.[17]

Dawkins surveys briefly the main philosophical arguments in favour of God's existence. Of the various philosophical proofs that he discusses, he singles out the Argument from design for longer consideration. Dawkins concludes that evolution by natural selection can explain apparent design in nature.[4]

He writes that one of the greatest challenges to the human intellect has been to explain "how the complex, improbable design in the universe arises", and suggests that there are two competing explanations:

  1. A hypothesis involving a designer, that is, a complex being to account for the complexity that we see.
  2. A hypothesis, with supporting theories, that explains how, from simple origins and principles, something more complex can emerge.

This is the basic set-up of his argument against the existence of God, the Ultimate Boeing 747 gambit,[18] where he argues that the first attempt is self-refuting, and the second approach is the way forward.[19]

At the end of chapter 4, Why there almost certainly is no God, Dawkins sums up his argument and states, "The temptation [to attribute the appearance of a design to actual design itself] is a false one, because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer. The whole problem we started out with was the problem of explaining statistical improbability. It is obviously no solution to postulate something even more improbable."[20] In addition, chapter 4 asserts that the alternative to the designer hypothesis is not chance, but natural selection.

Dawkins does not claim to disprove God with absolute certainty. Instead, he suggests as a general principle that simpler explanations are preferable (see Occam's razor), and that an omniscient and omnipotent God must be extremely complex. As such he argues that the theory of a universe without a God is preferable to the theory of a universe with a God.[21]

Religion and morality

The second half of the book begins by exploring the roots of religion and seeking an explanation for its ubiquity across human cultures. Dawkins advocates the "theory of religion as an accidental by-product – a misfiring of something useful"[22] as for example the mind's employment of intentional stance. Dawkins suggests that the theory of memes, and human susceptibility to religious memes in particular, can explain how religions might spread like "mind viruses" across societies.[23]

He then turns to the subject of morality, maintaining that we do not need religion to be good. Instead, our morality has a Darwinian explanation: altruistic genes, selected through the process of evolution, give people natural empathy. He asks, "would you commit murder, rape or robbery if you knew that no God existed?" He argues that very few people would answer "yes", undermining the claim that religion is needed to make us behave morally. In support of this view, he surveys the history of morality, arguing that there is a moral Zeitgeist that continually evolves in society, generally progressing toward liberalism. As it progresses, this moral consensus influences how religious leaders interpret their holy writings. Thus, Dawkins states, morality does not originate from the Bible, rather our moral progress informs what part of the Bible Christians accept and what they now dismiss.[24]

The God Delusion is not just a defence of atheism, but also goes on the offensive against religion. Dawkins sees religion as subverting science, fostering fanaticism, encouraging bigotry against homosexuals, and influencing society in other negative ways.[25] He is most outraged about the teaching of religion in schools, which he considers to be an indoctrination process. He equates the religious teaching of children by parents and teachers in faith schools to a form of mental abuse. Dawkins considers the labels "Muslim child" or a "Catholic child" equally misapplied as the descriptions "Marxist child" or a "Tory child", as he wonders how a young child can be considered developed enough to have such independent views on the cosmos and humanity's place within it.

The book concludes with the question whether religion, despite its alleged problems, fills a "much needed gap", giving consolation and inspiration to people who need it. According to Dawkins, these needs are much better filled by non-religious means such as philosophy and science. He suggests that an atheistic worldview is life-affirming in a way that religion, with its unsatisfying "answers" to life's mysteries, could never be. An appendix gives addresses for those "needing support in escaping religion".

Critical reception

The book provoked an immediate response, both positive and negative, and was published with endorsements from scientists, such as Nobel laureate and co-discoverer of the structure of DNA James D. Watson, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, as well as popular writers of fiction and the illusionists Penn and Teller.[26] Nevertheless, the book received mixed reviews from critics: Metacritic reported the book had an average score of 59 out of 100,[27] while London Review of Books criticized Richard Dawkins for not doing a proper research into the topic of his work, religion, and setting up a straw man to make his arguments against theism valid.[28] The book was nominated for Best Book at the British Book Awards, where Richard Dawkins was named Author of the Year.[29] The God Delusion provoked responses from both religious and atheist commentators.[30][31]

Oxford theologian Alister McGrath (author of The Dawkins Delusion and Dawkins' God) maintains that Dawkins is ignorant of Christian theology, and therefore unable to engage religion and faith intelligently.[32] In reply, Dawkins asks "do you have to read up on leprechology before disbelieving in leprechauns?",[33] and—in the paperback edition of The God Delusion—he refers to the American biologist PZ Myers, who has satirised this line of argument as "The Courtier's Reply".[34] Dawkins had an extended debate with McGrath at the 2007 Sunday Times Literary Festival.[35]

Christian philosopher Keith Ward, in his 2006 book Is Religion Dangerous?, argues against the view of Dawkins and others that religion is socially dangerous. The ethicist Margaret Somerville,[36] suggested that Dawkins "overstates the case against religion",[37] particularly its role in human conflict. Many of Dawkins' defenders claim that critics generally misunderstand his real point. During a debate on Radio 3 Hong Kong, David Nicholls, writer and president of the Atheist Foundation of Australia, reiterated Dawkins' sentiments that religion is an "unnecessary" aspect of global problems.[38]

Dawkins argues that "the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like any other".[39] He disagrees with Stephen Jay Gould's principle of nonoverlapping magisteria (NOMA). In an interview with TIME magazine, Dawkins said:

I think that Gould's separate compartments was a purely political ploy to win middle-of-the-road religious people to the science camp. But it's a very empty idea. There are plenty of places where religion does not keep off the scientific turf. Any belief in miracles is flat contradictory not just to the facts of science but to the spirit of science.[40]

Astrophysicist Martin Rees has suggested that Dawkins' attack on mainstream religion is unhelpful.[41] Regarding Rees' claim in his book Our Cosmic Habitat that "such questions lie beyond science", Dawkins asks "what expertise can theologians bring to deep cosmological questions that scientists cannot?"[42][43] Elsewhere, Dawkins has written that "there's all the difference in the world between a belief that one is prepared to defend by quoting evidence and logic, and a belief that is supported by nothing more than tradition, authority or revelation."[44]

The God Delusion debate

On 3 October 2007, John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University, publicly debated Richard Dawkins at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in Birmingham, Alabama on Dawkins' views as expressed in The God Delusion, and their validity over and against the Christian faith.[45][46][47] "The God Delusion Debate" marked Dawkins' first visit to the Old South and the first significant discussion on this issue in the "Bible Belt".[48] The event was sold out, and the Wall Street Journal called it "a revelation: in Alabama, a civil debate over God's existence."[49][50] Dawkins debated Lennox for the second time at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History in October 2008. The debate was titled "Has Science Buried God?", in which Dawkins said that, while he would not accept it, a reasonably respectable case could be made for "a deistic god, a sort of god of the physicist, a god of somebody like Paul Davies, who devised the laws of physics, god the mathematician, god who put together the cosmos in the first place and then sat back and watched everything happen".[51][52][53][54]

Reviews and responses

Responding books

Theists have reacted strongly to Dawkins' arguments, and many books have been written in response to The God Delusion.[70] For example:

Legal repercussions in Turkey

In Turkey, where the book had sold at least 6000 copies,[71] a prosecutor launched a probe into whether The God Delusion was "an attack on holy values", following a complaint in November 2007. If convicted, the Turkish publisher and translator, Erol Karaaslan, would have faced a prison sentence of inciting religious hatred and insulting religious values.[72] In April 2008, the court acquitted the defendant. In ruling out the need to confiscate copies of the book, the presiding judge stated that banning it "would fundamentally limit the freedom of thought".[73]

Dawkins' website,, was banned in Turkey later that year after complaints from creationist Adnan Oktar (Harun Yahya) for alleged defamation.[74] By July 2011, the ban was lifted.[75]

See also


  1. ^ Orr, H. Allen (11 January 2007). "A Mission to Convert". New York Review of Books (New York) 54 (1). 
  2. ^ "The Third Culture: Richard Dawkins". Retrieved 8 March 2008. 
  3. ^ Staff (2008). "(Clinton) Richard Dawkins". Who's Who. London: A & C Black. 
  4. ^ a b c Dawkins, Richard (2006). The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. p. 406. ISBN 0-618-68000-4. ; on-linePDF (101 KB)
  5. ^ "The God Delusion – back on the Times extended list at No.24". Richard Dawkins at 27 January 2010. Retrieved 6 February 2010. 
  6. ^ " book page – search for sales rank for current position". ASIN 0618680004. 
  7. ^ Jamie Doward (29 October 2006). "Atheists top book charts by deconstructing God". The Observer (London).,,1934353,00.html. Retrieved 25 November 2006. 
  8. ^ "Hardcover Nonfiction – New York Times". The New York Times. 3 December 2006. Retrieved 2 December 2006. 
  9. ^ "The God Delusion One-Year Countdown".,1599,The-God-Delusion-One-Year-Countdown,RichardDawkinsnet. Retrieved 5 October 2007. [dead link]
  10. ^ "The God Delusion One-Year Countdown".,5000,The-God-Delusion---back-on-the-Times-extended-list-at-24,Richard-Dawkins,page1#455798,RichardDawkinsnet. Retrieved 9 March 2010. 
  11. ^ Dawkins, Richard. "Richard Dawkins explains his latest book". Archived from the original on 13 October 2007. Retrieved 14 September 2007. 
  12. ^ Weitzel, Robert. "Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris: The Unholy Trinity... Thank God". Atlantic Free Press. Retrieved 14 September 2007. 
  13. ^ Smith, David (12 August 2007). "Believe it or not: the sceptics beat God in bestseller battle". The Observer (London).,,2147152,00.html. Retrieved 5 October 2007. 
  14. ^ Randerson, James (13 May 2008). "Childish superstition: Einstein's letter makes view of religion relatively clear". The Guardian (UK). Retrieved 14 May 2008. "In the letter, he states: "The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this."" 
  15. ^ The God Delusion, page 13
  16. ^ The God Delusion, page 31
  17. ^ The God Delusion, page 50.
  18. ^ The God Delusion, page 114
  19. ^ This interpretation of the argument is based on the reviews by Daniel Dennett and PZ Myers.
  20. ^ The God Delusion, page 158
  21. ^ The God Delusion, page 147-150
  22. ^ "The general theory of religion as an accidental by-product – a misfiring of something useful – is the one I wish to advocate" The God Delusion, p. 188
  23. ^ "the purpose of this section is to ask whether meme theory might work for the special case of religion" (italics in original, referring to one of the five sections of Chapter 5), The God Delusion, p. 191
  24. ^ Having given some examples of what he considers to be the brutish morality of the Old Testament, Dawkins writes, "Of course, irritated theologians will protest that we don't take the book of Genesis literally any more. But that is my whole point! We pick and choose which bits of scripture to believe, which bits to write off as symbols and allegories." The God Delusion, p. 238.
  25. ^ He gives examples of cases where blasphemy laws have been used to sentence people to death, and when funerals of gays or gay sympathisers have been picketed. Dawkins states preachers in the southern portions of the United States used the Bible to justify slavery by claiming Africans were descendants of Noah's sinful son Ham. During the Crusades, pagans and heretics who would not convert to Christianity were murdered. In an extreme example from modern times, he cites the case of Reverend Paul Hill, who revelled in his self-styled martyrdom: "I expect a great reward in heaven… I am looking forward to glory," he announced as he faced execution for murdering a doctor who performed abortions in Florida, USA.
  26. ^ "The God Delusion – Reviews". Archived from the original on 1 April 2008. Retrieved 8 April 2008. 
  27. ^ "The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins: Reviews". Metacritic. Archived from the original on 18 February 2008. Retrieved 13 March 2008. 
  28. ^ "Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching: The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins". 
  29. ^ "Winners & Shortlists 2007". Galaxy British Book Awards. Archived from the original on 24 April 2008. Retrieved 12 September 2007. 
  30. ^ also (Wilson 2007 Dawkins called this latter kind of criticism, "I'm an atheist buttery"Dawkins, Richard. "I'm an atheist, BUT..".,318,Im-an-atheist-BUT---,Richard-Dawkins. Retrieved 12 September 2007. [dead link]
  31. ^ "Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies by David Bentley Hart". New Haven, CT: Yale University Press 2009. Retrieved 24 July 2009. 
  32. ^ McGrath, Alister (2004). Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life. Oxford, England: Blackwell Publishing. p. 81. ISBN 1-405-12538-1. 
  33. ^ Dawkins, Richard (17 September 2007). "Do you have to read up on leprechology before disbelieving in them?".,1647,Do-you-have-to-read-up-on-leprechology-before-disbelieving-in-them,Richard-Dawkins-The-Independent,page27. Retrieved 14 November 2007. 
  34. ^ Myers, PZ (24 December 2006). "The Courtier's Reply". Pharyngula. Retrieved 14 November 2007. 
  35. ^ Cole, Judith (26 March 2007). "Richard Dawkins at The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival". The Times (London). Retrieved 4 March 2008. [dead link]
  36. ^ Huxley, John (24 May 2007). "Aiming for knockout blow in god wars". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 27 May 2007. 
  37. ^ Easterbrook, Gregg. "Does God Believe in Richard Dawkins?". Beliefnet. Retrieved 26 May 2007. 
  38. ^ "Is God a Delusion?". Radio 3, Hong Kong. 4 April 2007. 
  39. ^ Dawkins, Richard (2006). The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.. p. 50. ISBN 0-618-68000-4. 
  40. ^ Van Biema, David (5 November 2006). "God vs. Science (3)". Time.,9171,1555132-3,00.html. Retrieved 3 April 2008. 
  41. ^ Jha, Alok (29 May 2007). "Scientists divided over alliance with religion". The Guardian (UK).,,2089947,00.html. Retrieved 17 March 2008. 
  42. ^ Dawkins, Richard (2006). "When Religion Steps on Science's Turf". Free Inquiry magazine. Retrieved 3 April 2008. 
  43. ^ Dawkins, Richard (2006). The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.. pp. 55–56. ISBN 0-618-68000-4. 
  44. ^ Dawkins, Richard (January/February 1997). "Is Science a Religion?". American Humanist Association. Retrieved 15 March 2008. 
  45. ^ "The God Delusion Debate (Dawkins-Lennox)". Fixed Point Foundation. Retrieved 10 November 2009. 
  46. ^ Joanna Sugden (4 October 2007). "Richard Dawkins Debates in the Bible Belt". The Times (UK). Retrieved 10 November 2009. 
  47. ^ Kristen Record (4 October 2007). "Scholars match wits over God's existence". The Birmingham News. Retrieved 10 November 2009. 
  48. ^ "Debate between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox".,1707,Debate-between-Richard-Dawkins-and-John-Lennox,Richard-Dawkins-John-Lennox. Retrieved 10 November 2009. [dead link]
  49. ^ Naomi Schaefer Riley (12 October 2007). "A Revelation: In Alabama, A Civil Debate Over God's Existence". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 10 November 2009. 
  50. ^ Video of The God Delusion Debate (Dawkins – Lennox).
  51. ^ "Has Science Buried God?". Fixed Point Foundation. Retrieved 1 February 2010. 
  52. ^ Melanie Phillips (23 October 2008). "Is Richard Dawkins Still Evolving?". The Spectator. UK. Retrieved 1 February 2010. 
  53. ^ "'Has Science Buried God?'". BBC Oxford. 15 October 2008. Retrieved 1 February 2010. 
  54. ^ video of 11 minutes of the "Has Science Buried God?" debate
  55. ^ Alvin Plantinga (2007). "The Dawkins Confusion – Naturalism ad absurdum". Books & Culture, a Christian Review. Retrieved 2 March 2007. 
  56. ^ Kenny, Anthony (July 2007). "Knowledge, Belief, and Faith". Philosophy 82 (3): 381–397. doi:10.1017/S0031819107000010. 
  57. ^ Nagel, Thomas (23 October 2006). "The Fear of Religion". The New Republic. Retrieved 12 September 2007. 
  58. ^ Michael Ruse (December 2007). "Richard Dawkins: The God Delusion". Chicago Journals. Retrieved 31 May 2008. 
  59. ^ Swinburne, Richard. "Response to Richard Dawkins' comments on my writings in his book The God Delusion" (PDF). Retrieved 10 March 2010. 
  60. ^ John Cornwell (1 October 2006). "A question of respect". The Times (UK).,,2102-2375182.html. Retrieved 6 November 2006. 
  61. ^ McGrath, Alister (2007). The Dawkins Delusion?. SPCK. p. 20.  Also expressed in his review "The Dawkins Delusion".
  62. ^ H. Allen Orr (January 2007). "A Mission to Convert". New York Review of Books (54.1). Retrieved 3 March 2007. 
  63. ^ Terry Eagleton (19 October 2006). "Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching". London Review of Books 28 (20). Retrieved 26 November 2006. 
  64. ^ Anthony Flew. "Flew Speaks Out: Professor Antony Flew reviews The God Delusion". Retrieved 25 December 2008. 
  65. ^ Martin Beckford (2 August 2008). "Richard Dawkins branded 'secularist bigot' by veteran philosopher". The Daily Telegraph (UK). Retrieved 29 December 2008. 
  66. ^ Murrough O'Brien, "Our Teapot, which art in heaven," The Independent, November 26, 2006
  67. ^ Dawkins, Richard (17 September 2007). "Do you have to read up on leprechology before disbelieving in them?".,1647,Do-you-have-to-read-up-on-leprechology-before-disbelieving-in-them,Richard-Dawkins-The-Independent,page27. Retrieved 14 November 2007. 
  68. ^ Marilynne Robinson. "The God Delusion". Retrieved 4 April 2010. 
  69. ^ Simon Watson (Spring 2010). "Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion and Atheist Fundamentalism". Anthropoetics: The Journal of Generative Anthropology 15, no. 2. Retrieved 14 August 2010. 
  70. ^ "Flea of the week".,2482,Flea-of-the-week,RichardDawkinsnet. Retrieved 12 August 2008. 
  71. ^ Tiryaki, Sylvia (3 December 2007). "The God Delusion in Turkey". Turkish Daily News. Retrieved 18 February 2008. 
  72. ^ "Turkey probes atheist's 'God' book". AP, CNN. 28 November 2007. Archived from the original on 29 November 2007. Retrieved 28 November 2007. 
  73. ^ "'Tanrı Yanılgısı' kitabı beraat etti" (in Turkish). AA. 2 April 2008. Retrieved 2 April 2008. 
  74. ^ "Turkey bans biologist Richard Dawkins' website – Monsters and Critics". Retrieved 27 October 2009. 
  75. ^ " no longer banned in Turkey!". July 2011. Retrieved 6 August 2011. 


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