The book is well-written, but in some areas it is poorly researched and argued. The biggest problem with the book is Dawkins' failure to grapple withThe book is well-written, but in some areas it is poorly researched and argued. The biggest problem with the book is Dawkins' failure to grapple with sophisticated issues in the philosophy of religion. When he attempts to refute the arguments for the existence of God, he spends all of three pages explaining and responding to some arguments he attributes to Thomas Aquinas. He spends a bit more time on Anselm's ontological argument, though he does not treat it seriously at all, and mostly derides it childishly. In taking this route, Dawkins simply by-passes many of the arguments for the existence of God that are popular among philosophers today. Furthermore, Dawkins' own argument for the non-existence of God is fatally flawed. For a more thorough discussion of these problems, see William Lane Craig's treatment of both issues: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/N... and http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/N...
NOTE: You might have to create a free account and log into it in order to see the articles. The material from the first article is available in the first chapter of "God is Great, God is Good," and the material in the second article is available in the first chapter of "Contending With Christianity's Critics," both co-edited by Craig.
Other than that failing, I think Dawkins' book is pretty good and worth reading. Daniel Dennett's "Breaking the Spell," I think, is a better book--though it covers a lot of different material, so a comparison is hard to make. Probably my favorite New Atheist book is Sam Harris' "The End of Faith."...more
I just finished reading this book for the second time. The first time I read it was during the winter break after my first semester of (Intro to) philI just finished reading this book for the second time. The first time I read it was during the winter break after my first semester of (Intro to) philosophy, so I was able to appreciate much more of the book this time around, especially since it has some well thought-out philosophical sections.
The book, which is easily five stars, documents Harris' case against religious faith. The very notion of 'faith' as 'belief without sufficient evidence' is the target here, and Harris unleashes an admirable attack. Part of what makes this book so good is that Harris makes several valid points that we never really pause to make ourselves, even though we agree with them. Another part of what makes it good is that he has insightful things to say about various issues that will help us decide the issues for ourselves (e.g. his section on the war on drugs is well worth reading, as is the section on the ethics of torture and modern warfare and the ethics of pacifism). The chapter about ethics as a whole can be seen as a primer for his forthcoming book, due out this October, titled "The Moral Landscape." It will be interesting to see how he expands that discussion into a 300 page book. The chapter on the nature of belief is somewhat interesting, but even for me it tended to get a bit boring. For somebody who is not as interested in the technical issues Harris explores there, that chapter might make you put the book back on the shelf. Take my advice: continue reading, it'll be worth it. The chapter about the problem with Islam is a must-read. Harris makes a convincing case (to those of us who know very little about the topic, admittedly) that there are serious ideological problems with the faith system of Islam itself. Some scholars criticize Harris on this point, arguing that it is not the tenets of Islam that lead to, for example, suicide bombers. It's various socio-political factors that are the problem. Harris takes on their claims and makes at least a plausible case for his own position. That's as much as I can say about the chapter authoritatively, since I'm no expert on the issue and I haven't really read the other side of the argument. In any case, Harris' overall argument about the dangers of faith (Islam in particular, but faith in general) is chilling. The scary realization you should come to is this: if a radical Muslim is willing to fly an airplane into a tower full of innocent civilians or strap on a dynamite vest and blow himself up in a crowded marketplace, why think he would hesitate to detonate a nuclear weapon in a major American city if he had the opportunity? Of course, Harris also talks about the various other problems with faith, and has a nice section on the Inquisition as well. The final chapter was pretty interesting; in it, Harris argues that there is something important we can learn about spiritual experience (i.e. overcoming the object-subject dichotomy that our minds construct in our everyday experience of the world). Here Harris insists that eastern mystics have, for thousands of years, been discovering important things about self-transcendence, meditation, etc.
Another good aspect of the book is the section of end notes. Many of them expand on a point Harris makes only briefly in the main text, and are worth reading. Some of them are longer and might bore the average reader. (One of them, as I recall, was several pages long. I skipped it.) Nevertheless, skipping all of the long end notes would be a mistake. Some were well worth reading.
Lastly, my favorite thing about this book is Harris' writing style. Off the top of my head I cannot think of anybody whose nonfiction books I have read and have considered better written. This time around I decided to write down many of the quotes that I liked. So the remainder of this post will consist of those quotes I thought were the best. (Note: don't read them if you are planning on reading the book and want to come across these passages naturally as Harris presents them, with context):
----- “As long as a Christian believes that only his baptized brethren will be saved on the Day of Judgment, he cannot possibly “respect” the beliefs of others, for he knows that the flames of hell have been stoked by these very ideas and await their adherents even now. Muslims and Jews generally take the same arrogant view of their own enterprises and have spent millennia passionately reiterating the errors of other faiths. It should go without saying that these rival belief systems are all equally uncontaminated by evidence.” (15)
----- “The idea that any one of our religions represents the infallible word of the One True God requires an encyclopedic ignorance of history, mythology, and art even to be entertained…” (16)
----- “[T:]here is no more evidence to justify a belief in the literal existence of Yahweh and Satan than there was to keep Zeus perched upon his mountain throne or Poseidon churning the seas.” (16)
----- “Some 46 percent of Americans take a literalist view of creation…. This means that 120 million of us place the big bang 2,500 years after the Babylonians and Sumerians learned to brew beer.” (17)
----- “Imagine that we could revive a well-educated Christian of the fourteenth century. The man would prove to be a total ignoramus, except on matters of faith. His beliefs about geography, astronomy, and medicine would embarrass even a child, but he would know more or less everything there is to know about God. Though he would be considered a fool to think that the earth is the center of the cosmos, or that trepanning constitutes a wise medical intervention, his religious ideas would still be beyond reproach. There are two explanations for this: either we perfected our religious understanding of the world a millennium ago—while our knowledge on all other fronts was still hopelessly inchoate—or religion, being the mere maintenance of dogma, is one area of discourse that does not admit of progress.” (23)
----- “It is time we admitted, from kings and presidents on down, that there is no evidence that any of our books was authored by the Creator of the universe. The Bible, it seems certain, was the work of sand-strewn men and women who thought the earth was flat and for whom a wheelbarrow would have been a breathtaking example of emerging technology.” (45)
----- “It is time we recognized just how maladaptive this Balkanization of our discourse has become. All pretensions to theological knowledge should now be seen from the perspective of a man who was just beginning his day on the one hundredth floor of the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001, only to find his meandering thoughts—of family and friends, of errands run and unrun, of coffee in need of sweetener—inexplicably usurped by a choice of terrible starkness and simplicity: between being burned alive by jet fuel or leaping one thousand feet to the concrete below. In fact, we should take the perspective of thousands of such men, women, and children who were robbed of life, far sooner than they imagined possible, in absolute terror and confusion. The men who committed the atrocities of September 11 were certainly not “cowards,” as they were repeatedly described in the Western media, nor were they lunatics in any ordinary sense. They were men of faith—perfect faith, as it turns out—and this, it must finally be acknowledged, is a terrible thing to be.” (67)
----- “But what is the difference between a man who believes that God will reward him with seventy-two virgins if he kills a score of Jewish teenagers, and one who believes that creatures from Alpha Centauri are beaming him messages of world peace through his hair dryer? There is a difference, to be sure, but it is not one that places religious faith in a flattering light.” (72)
----- “Clearly there is sanity in numbers. And yet, it is merely an accident of history that the Creator of the universe can hear your thoughts, while it is demonstrative of mental illness to believe that he is communicating with you by having the rain tap in Morse code on your bedroom window. And so, while religious people are not generally mad, their core beliefs absolutely are.” (72)
----- “Jesus Christ—who, as it turns out, was born of a virgin, cheated death, and rose bodily into the heavens—can now be eaten in the form of a cracker. A few Latin words spoken over your favorite Burgundy, and you can drink his blood as well. Is there any doubt that a long subscriber to these beliefs would be considered mad? Rather, is there any doubt that he would be mad? The danger of religious faith is that it allows otherwise normal human beings to reap the fruits of madness and consider them holy. Because each new generation of children is taught that religious propositions need not be justified in the way that all others must, civilization is still besieged by the armies of the preposterous. We are, even now, killing ourselves over ancient literature. Who would have thought something so tragically absurd could be possible?” (73)
----- “We know that no evidence would be sufficient to authenticate many of the pope’s core beliefs. How could anyone born in the twentieth century come to know that Jesus was actually born of a virgin? What process of ratiocination, mystical or otherwise, will deliver the necessary facts about a Galilean woman’s sexual history (facts that run entirely counter to well-known facts of human biology)? There is no such process. Even a time machine could not help us, unless we were willing to keep watch over Mary twenty-four hours a day for the months surrounding the probable time of Jesus’ conception.” (76)
----- “It is a truism to say that people of faith have created almost everything of value in our world, because nearly every person who has ever swung a hammer or trimmed a sail has been a devout member of one or another religious culture. There has been simply no one else to do the job. We can also say that every human achievement prior to the twentieth century was accomplished by men and women who were perfectly ignorant of the molecular basis of life. Does this suggest that a nineteenth-century view of biology would have been worth maintaining? There is no telling what our world would now be like had some great kingdom of Reason emerged at the time of the Crusades and pacified the credulous multitudes of Europe and the Middle East. We might have had modern democracy and the Internet by the year 1600.” (108-109)
----- “I have just described a plausible scenario in which much of the world’s population could be annihilated on account of religious ideas that belong on the same shelf with Batman, the philosopher’s stone, and unicorns. That it would be a horrible absurdity for so many of us to die for the sake of myth does not mean, however, that it could not happen. Indeed, given the immunity to all reasonable intrusions that faith enjoys in our discourse, a catastrophe of this sort seems increasingly likely. We must come to terms with the possibility that men who are every bit as zealous to die as the nineteen hijackers may one day get their hands on long-range nuclear weaponry. The Muslim world in particular must anticipate this possibility and find some way to prevent it. Given the steady proliferation of technology, it is safe to say that time is not on our side.” (129)
----- “It is worth remembering that if God created the world and all things in it, he created smallpox, plague, and filariasis. Any person who intentionally loosed such horrors upon the earth would be ground to dust for his crimes.” (172)
----- “As in any other field, there will be room for intelligent dissent on questions of right and wrong, but intelligent dissent has its limits. People who believe that the earth is flat are not dissenting geographers; people who deny that the Holocaust ever occurred are not dissenting historians; people who think that God created the universe in 4004 BC are not dissenting cosmologists; and we will see that people who practice barbarisms like “honor killing” are not dissenting ethicists. The fact that good ideas are intuitively cashed does not make bad ideas any more respectable.” (184)
----- “It should be enough to note that a single sociopath, armed with nothing more than a knife, could exterminate a city full of pacifists. There is no doubt that such sociopaths exist, and they are generally better armed.” (199)
----- “People of faith naturally recognize the primacy of reasons and resort to reasoning whenever they possibly can. Faith is simply the license they give themselves to keep believing when reasons fail. When rational inquiry supports the creed it is championed; when it poses a threat, it is derided; sometimes in the same sentence. Faith is the mortar that fills the cracks in the evidence and the gaps in the logic, and thus it is faith that keeps the whole terrible edifice of religious certainty still looming dangerously over our world.” (232-233)...more
Atheism has felt a surge of popularity lately with the writings of Richard Dawkins ("The God Delusion), Sam Harris ("The End of Faith" and "Letter toAtheism has felt a surge of popularity lately with the writings of Richard Dawkins ("The God Delusion), Sam Harris ("The End of Faith" and "Letter to a Christian Nation"), Daniel Dennett ("Breaking the Spell"), and Christopher Hitchens ("god is Not Great"). These authors have catapulted the atheism into the spotlight as they challenge, criticize, and outright ridicule religious belief.
David Marshall is a lesser-known Christian apologist who wrote this book in an attempt to respond to these authors (but mostly to Dawkins). This book has some merits and some problems. One of the good things about it is that it correctly critiques the so-called "New Atheists" in places. But the problems with the book are a bit troubling. Marshall often infuses useless information and unnecessary metaphors into his writing, and they only tend to obscure the actual arguments. Also, Marshall appears to be wrong about many of the claims he makes, and some claims are made and simply unsubstantiated. I have documented some of this on my blog already, and may blog on some more in the future. Check out:
This book is a great introduction to the concept of "radical theology," and explains how one can be an atheist or naturalist and still be meaningfullyThis book is a great introduction to the concept of "radical theology," and explains how one can be an atheist or naturalist and still be meaningfully religious.
The book begins by arguing that the traditional idea of God (an intelligent and conscious being who created and sustains the universe) is no longer feasible to believe. Though his argument for this position will likely fail to convince, the rest of his book works from the premise that God as traditionally understood does not exist. And from this framework, Grigg attempts to elucidate a theological framework in which people can radically alter what they mean by the word "God" and what they think is ultimately sacred in life....more
This is perhaps the best introduction to Christian resurrection apologetics on the market (in other words, the best book to read to get a feel for theThis is perhaps the best introduction to Christian resurrection apologetics on the market (in other words, the best book to read to get a feel for the arguments for the truth of evangelical Christianity). Strobel is an investigative journalist who interviews several evangelical scholars about a variety of issues in his attempt to weave together an argument for the reliability of scripture and the historical fact of Jesus' resurrection.
The book's shortcomings are apparent to anyone who reads it. Whereas one would expect an unbiased journalist to deliver tough questions to the interviewees, Strobel often throws them easy questions disguised as difficult or challenging ones. The result is that if one only reads this book, he or she may be duped into thinking the arguments for Christianity are airtight. I would recommend Earl Doherty's book "Challenging the Verdict" to be read alongside this one, as it addresses this book chapter-by-chapter in a pretty effective manner. Though Doherty is not the greatest scholar out there countering the work of Christian apologists, his book is the best rebuttal of "The Case for Christ" that I know of, even if he's not right 100% of the time....more
This is the book that gave the intelligent design movement its life. Behe's classic argument is that at the biochemical level of the cell, scientistsThis is the book that gave the intelligent design movement its life. Behe's classic argument is that at the biochemical level of the cell, scientists are discovering that the machinery of life is incomprehensibly more complex than Darwin could have ever imagined. By looking at the various structures in biological life, Behe argues that some of the structures show signs of design.
His argument centers around the notion that these biological structures are "irreducibly complex." By this he means that some complex structure works to achieve a particular function (say, motion), and that if you remove just one part out of the system the function would no longer be achieved. He then argues that evolution by random mutation and natural selection cannot account for these structures arising randomly, all at once, so he challenges evolutionary biologists to provide a plausible evolutionary route for these structures. He argues that no plausible explanation can even be had with irreducibly complex structures, which leads him to infer that intelligent design is the best explanation.
Behe's argument has been criticized by a number of scientists and philosophers in the years since it was published, but he still maintains that the argument stands. I would not recommend this book to just anybody, but if you are interested in either the arguments for intelligent design or in the biochemical basis of life, you might give it a try....more