Critical Reviews of Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion"

I received a few emails in regards to my previous post about Richard Dawkins and his earlier work, The God Delusion. Several readers were interested in what I said about the book’s critical reception and so I’ve compiled a list of some of the reactions that have appeared in academic journals and in the media, from both skeptics and theists. There are many more out there (online responses from Peter Williams, Albert Mohler, Richard Swinburne, and Steve Hays are also worth investigating) but the following offer a pretty good assessment:

“Dawkins is perhaps the world’s most popular science writer; he is also an extremely gifted science writer. (For example, his account of bats and their ways in his earlier book The Blind Watchmaker is a brilliant and fascinating tour de force.) The God Delusion, however, contains little science; it is mainly philosophy and theology. . . Dawkins is not a philosopher (he’s a biologist). Even taking this into account, however, much of the philosophy he purveys is at best jejune. You might say that some of his forays into philosophy are at best sophomoric, but that would be unfair to sophomores; the fact is (grade inflation aside), many of his arguments would receive a failing grade in a sophomore philosophy class.”
Alvin Plantinga (Professor of Philosophy at Notre Dame) Books and Culture 3/01/2007

“Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Cardcarrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince.”
Terry Eagleton, Vol. 28 No. 20 · 19 October 2006 pages 32-34

Despite my admiration for much of Dawkins’s work, I’m afraid that I’m among those scientists who must part company with him here. Indeed, The God Delusion seems to me badly flawed. Though I once labeled Dawkins a professional atheist, I’m forced, after reading his new book, to conclude he’s actually more an amateur.
H. ALLEN ORR (Professor of Biology at the University of Rochester) The New York Review of Books, Volume 54, Number 1, January 11, 2007 (Also worth reading is Orr’s excellent reply to Daniel Dennett’s criticism of the review)

“The quality of Richard Dawkins’s polemic against classical supernaturalism is, for the vast most part, paradigmatically sophomoric. Moreover, while civility is not entirely absent from his deliberations, the tone of his discussion tends all too often to be surly, arrogant, and self-congratulatory.”
Robert Oakes (Professor of Philosophy at the University of Missouri) Faith and Philosophy vol. 25, no. 4, pages 447 – 451, 2008

“In his new book, he attacks religion with all the weapons at his disposal, and as a result the book is a very uneven collection of scriptural ridicule, amateur philosophy, historical and contemporary horror stories, anthropological speculations, and cosmological scientific argument. . . Since Dawkins is operating mostly outside the range of his scientific expertise, it is not surprising that The God Delusion lacks the superb instructive lucidity of his books on evolutionary theory, such as The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, and Climbing Mount Improbable.”
Thomas Nagel (professor of philosophy at New York University) The New Republic Online October 23, 2006

“Dawkins aims at a variety of arguments for God’s existence, but keeps missing the targets. He, amazingly, never addresses the kalam cosmological argument, one of the most powerful and most discussed theistic arguments of the past thirty years. Nor does he mention the much-discussed theistic interpretation of Big Bang cosmology. Pascal’s wager is summarily dismissed and badly botched…Dawkins confesses that the purpose of The God Delusion is to convert people to atheism. . . It nevertheless poses no serious threat to a well-informed and philosophically credible Christian faith”
Douglas R. Groothuis (Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary), Christian Research Journal, volume 30, number 6 (2007)

[Addressing the ‘central argument’ of Chapter 4: “Why There is Almost Certainly No God”] “Dawkins’ argument for atheism is a failure even if we concede, for the sake of argument, all its steps. But, in fact, several of these steps are plausibly false… his argument does nothing to undermine a design inference based on the universe’s complexity, not to speak of its serving as a justification of atheism.
William Lane Craig (Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology)

The least satisfying part of this book is Dawkins’s treatment of the traditional arguments for the existence of God . . . 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.”
Jim Holt, The New York Times, Published: October 22, 2006

“From an anthropological perspective, Richard Dawkins’ Darwinian critique of theism and religion is a fascinating read, though perhaps not always for the reasons the author would wish. In some respects, it makes a highly original contribution, bringing a new perspective to the scientific debate surrounding belief in God and other dimensions of the religious experience. But, at the same time, the arguments in relation to some aspects of religion are sometimes inconsistent and presented with a reliance on rhetoric rather than reason.”
Edward Croft Dutton (Oulu University in Finland) The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies. Washington: Fall 2007. Vol. 32, Iss. 3; pg. 385

Dawkins’s polemic against the need for religion is compelling, even if the arguments are not particularly new. Less persuasive is his attempt to explain what faith is and why people continue to believe. So great is his loathing for religion that it sometimes overwhelms his reasoned argument. . . Dawkins steamrollers over such complexities. The result, ironically, is that he ends up sounding as naive and unworldly as any happy clappy believer.
Kenan Malik, The Telegraph, 08 Oct 2006

It has been obvious for years that Richard Dawkins had a fat book on religion in him, but who would have thought him capable of writing one this bad? Incurious, dogmatic, rambling and self-contradictory, it has none of the style or verve of his earlier works.
Andrew Brown, Prospect, 21st October 2006 — Issue 127

“Ultimately, a reader can get worn out by 400-odd pages of indignation… Early in “The God Delusion,” Dawkins quotes Sagan’s book ” Pale Blue Dot” and concludes: “All Sagan’s books touch the nerve-endings of transcendent wonder that religion monopolized in past centuries. My own books have the same aspiration.” Unfortunately, in “The God Delusion,” he doesn’t succeed. Dawkins is probably right that fundamentalist religion “actively debauches the scientific enterprise,” but I’ll take Sagan’s more reverent skepticism any day.
Anthony Doerr, The Boston Globe, November 19, 2006

“The religion that Dawkins demolishes, like the God he imagines as enthroned in its midst, deserves (and staggers under) practically all the blows he launches at it; but there’s a whole other world that he scarcely lays a glove on. That world isn’t necessarily immune to reason’s assaults, but they’ll have to be orchestrated more subtly and sensitively than they are here. Meanwhile, atheists, especially insecure or harried ones, will find in The God Delusion one hell of a hotline.”
Peter Heinegg, Cross Currents, Winter 2007, Vol. 56, Iss. 4; pg. 128

The most effective chapters are those in which Dawkins calms down, for instance, drawing on evolution to disprove the ideas behind intelligent design. In other chapters, he attempts to construct a scientific scaffolding for atheism, such as using evolution again to rebut the notion that without God there can be no morality. He insists that religion is a divisive and oppressive force, but he is less convincing in arguing that the world would be better and more peaceful without it.”
Review by Staff, Publishers Weekly, New York: Aug 21, 2006. Vol. 253, Iss. 33; pg. 58

Also, for those interested in getting a hold of books that have addressed Dawkins’ book and the New Atheism, here are a few options (HT: James at Analogical Thoughts):

David Berlinksi: The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions, April 2008.

Edited by Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, Contending with Christianity’s Critics: Answering New Atheists and Other Objectors , August 2009

Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker, Answering the New Atheism: Dismantling Dawkins’ Case Against God, May 2008

Eric Reitan, Is God A Delusion? A Reply to Religion’s Cultured Despisers, December 2008

David Robertson, The Dawkins Letters: Challenging Atheist Myths, June 2007

Keith Ward, Why There Almost Certainly Is a God: Doubting Dawkins, April 2009

4 replies
  1. Rob
    Rob says:

    Are you aware of the following lengthy review of Dawkin’s new book “The Greatest Show On Earth” at Apologetics 315?

    The review is summed up in the following:

    The Greatest Show on Earth is a well-written book. It is enjoyable on multiple levels. To be sure, the great majority of the content is completely unobjectionable to those who would doubt Darwinism as a comprehensive history of the development of life. Frankly, Dawkins presents the facts of microevolution very well.

    But does Dawkins accomplish his overall thesis to demonstrate macroevolution as a fact? This reviewer found Dawkins’ thesis to fall short on three points: His case was incomplete, inconsistent, and ultimately insufficient to reach the doubter. Each of these can be unpacked briefly.

  2. Hasnain mohammed
    Hasnain mohammed says:

    Although science does not explicitly and definitively reject every unknown thing simply because it can have no access to it by means of its tools and instruments, patiently awaiting instead the day when it should be discovered, materialists do not even approach the question of the existence of God with doubt and hesitation; on the basis of their erroneous and hasty prejudices, they pronounce their judgment that the Creator does not exist.

    Such persons establish certain criteria and standards for themselves and are not prepared to apply a different criterion established for a definite purpose in a given area. For example, they would never use the criteria applicable to a surface to measure a body, but when it comes to measuring the supra-sensory world, they try to measure God, the spirit, and inspiration, with the same tools they use to measure the material world. When they find themselves unable to gain any knowledge of the entities in ques- tion, they proceed to deny their existence.

    Now, if a person imprisoned in empirical logic desires to accept the reality of the universe only to the extent permitted him by sensory experience and to deny whatever lies beyond that, he must recognize that this is a path he has chosen for himself; it is not the result of scientific investigation and experiment. This kind of pseudo-intellectualism arises from intellectual rebellion and an abandonment of one’s original nature. The god that the natural scientist wishes vainly to “prove” with his tools and instruments is, in any event, no god at all in the view of those who worship God.

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