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The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

The God Delusion (original 2006; edition 2008)

by Richard Dawkins

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11,970282216 (4)1 / 345
Title:The God Delusion
Authors:Richard Dawkins
Info:Mariner Books (2008), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 464 pages
Tags:to be read

Work details

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (2006)

  1. 213
    Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects by Bertrand Russell (BGP, yakov.perelman)
  2. 162
    God Is Not Great : How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens (hnn, BGP)
  3. 70
    Misquoting Jesus by Bart D. Ehrman (robertf)
    robertf: Dawkins is passionately trying to refute an undefined hypothesis - this is perhaps one of his least succesful works. Ehrman's book does not have conversion to atheism as its aim - it is a description of the scholarly analysis of texts. The reason it is devastating to religion is that it undermines any claim to biblical authenticity by exposing contradictions between different manuscripts. It achieves what Dawkins aims to much more subtly and scientifically.… (more)
  4. 61
    Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam by Michel Onfray (gust)
  5. 51
    Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by Daniel C. Dennett (ljessen)
  6. 41
    Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity by John W. Loftus (Percevan)
  7. 31
    Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don't Add Up by John Allen Paulos (infiniteletters)
  8. 31
    The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails by John W. Loftus (Percevan)
  9. 10
    The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (yakov.perelman)
  10. 32
    Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief by Andrew Newberg (bertilak)
  11. 21
    God and the State by Michael Bakunin (BGP)
  12. 32
    What Is Good?: The Search for the Best Way to Live by A. C. Grayling (chrisharpe)
  13. 21
    Atheism Advanced: Further Thoughts of a Freethinker by David Eller (hnn)
  14. 22
    Talking With God: The Many Faces of Religious Delusion by Robert A. Clark (bertilak)
  15. 22
    Why Gods Persist: A Scientific Approach to Religion by Robert A. Hinde (bertilak)
  16. 00
    The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins (yakov.perelman)
  17. 23
    God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? by John Lennox (bfrost)
  18. 34
    The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener by Martin Gardner (ehines)
    ehines: While I agree with Dawkins and disagree with Gardner about the existence of God, Gardner's open-mindedness judicious and friendly tone, even in error, serves as a rebuke to Dawkins' inability to understand or respect his intellectual opponents.
  19. 313
    The Dawkins Letters: Challenging Atheist Myths by David Robertson (OwenGriffiths)
    OwenGriffiths: The God Delusion offers some of the most popular, if not the most reasoned or effective, arguments "against faith". Robertson attempts to dispel a few perceived misconceptions. This is a good place to start if you wish to understand why a lot of people of (any) faith disregard Dawkins argument in this book. Robertson does not provide a total response to atheism itself, nor does he set out to do so. The God Delusion repays careful reading, because even if one may disagree with them, or argue that they do not represent the best of Atheistic philosophy, one can not deny that Dawkins represents some of the most common critiques of faith, which people of faith are forced to respond to.… (more)
  20. 212
    The Selfish Genius: How Richard Dawkins Rewrote Darwin's Legacy by Fern Elsdon-Baker (Gavin_Hardcastle)
    Gavin_Hardcastle: Interesting Read

(see all 23 recommendations)


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The God Delusion addresses several questions about religion from the perspective of a biologist and atheist, including: Can religion be true? If it isn't true, why it is so pervasive? Does religion serve a purpose even if it isn't true? And, is it harmful? Dawkins focuses primarily on Christianity, but with plenty of references to Islam and Judaism. Though he is English, he probably spends more time talking about religion in the United States because it both more prevalent and more powerful there than in Europe. I won't go through his arguments question by question, but will instead share some of his key points and more controversial opinions.

One point which Dawkins makes very early is that we must evaluate a religion based on what it's scriptures actually say, and not what we wish they said. As he observes, "The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive , bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic , racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully." This god is most accurately represented, not by the harmless Christian who goes to church once a year on Easter, but by the zealot who sees AIDS as punishment from god and wants to teach our children that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. Liberals can't just adopt a live-and-let-live attitude toward the moderates in the hope that the fundamentalists will just somehow fade away, for it is the fundamentalists who are the essence of the religion, be it Christianity, Islam or Judaism.

As to the threat posed by religion in the modern world, this is one section where I was disappointed in the book. Dawkins spends most of his time talking about a single issue, abortion rights. Education, environmental protection, civil rights, freedom of speech, artistic freedom, health care, scientific research, public welfare, sexual freedom, and foreign relations are all mentioned, but the threat to abortion rights is given more treatment than all these other issues combined. (Birth control isn't mentioned at all, but it is a battleground that has only recently been reopened.)

The most chilling chapter, and probably the most controversial, is the one about children. There is no such thing, Dawkins maintains, as a "Catholic child," or a "Muslim child," only children with parents who practice those faiths. Labeling children with faiths they haven't chosen is one crime, indoctrinating them with dogmas they can't understand is another. Ideally children should be taught by their parents to keep an open mind until they are old enough to evaluate the claims of religious and secular thinkers on their own just as they are allowed to evaluate political ideas. But what parent will be open-minded enough to do this, especially a parent who thinks the child's soul is in jeopardy? Instead all too often parents and ministers threaten children with hellfire and eternal damnation even before they are old enough to understand the concept. One of the most telling quotes in the book comes from a woman who was sexually abused by a priest as a child and who later escaped Christianity and became an atheist. She said the sexual abuse, while it wasn't a pleasant memory, was almost inconsequential compared with the mental abuse of having been raised a Catholic.

Of course there is no way to control what parents teach their children, but government does have some control over their formal education. Religious schools where children are taught theology instead of science and myth instead of history are a legal alternative to public school in most countries. Should they be tolerated? Dawkins maintains that Western society has an unfortunate hands-off attitude toward even extreme religious groups in the name of cultural diversity almost as if we were protecting an endangered species. "A widespread assumption, which nearly everybody in our society accepts— the non-religious included— is that religious faith is especially vulnerable to offence and should be protected by an abnormally thick wall of respect...."

Aside from the fact that Dawkins seems rather preoccupied at times with his own reputation, The God Delusion is very well-written and enlightening book. There are numerous URL's in the footnotes and appendix for those wishing to read the papers and studies he mentions or do further reading. His no-holds-barred approach is likely to be polarizing, but there are theists who have escaped (to use his term) religion after reading the book. For those already comfortable with atheism The God Delusion provides a better understanding of the phenomenon of religion and arms them with facts and arguments to use in debate. ( )
2 vote StevenTX | Nov 20, 2014 |
This 2006 best-seller by Richard Dawkins wouldn’t have made it on my reading list under normal circumstances. I carried around a bag dislikes about Dawkins, some of which were holdovers from my old creationist mindset. My friend suggested reading it for our next “book club” meeting so I obliged. I went into it expecting to have my biases confirmed and find the entirety of the book annoying. While there were moments of frustration and confirmation of biases, I found much of this book not only enjoyable, but agreeable. I picked the book up with an attitude and put it down humble and with a greater respect for Dawkins.

The main premise of the book is that the existence of God is a scientifically testable hypothesis. Therefore a person can come to the reasonable conclusion, based on evidence, that God does not exist. It also seeks to show that religion is undesirable because of the physical and psychological damage that is can and has caused. Finally Dawkins attempts to fill the “God shaped void” by showing that belief in a deity is not necessary to be happy, act morally, or be fulfilled intellectually.

The first section of the book was by far the weakest and most frustrating section for me. Dawkins completely rejects the notion that God’s existence is a philosophical or theological question. Instead he insists that God’s existence can be scientifically accepted or rejected. To prove his point he shows how particular aspects of God’s nature or actions fail scientific testing. In one example he asserts that God answers prayer. After testing that assertion through “clinical” blind tests he concludes that most prayers are not answered, there God does not exist. He also tackles many well-known medieval and modern proofs for God’s existence including those of Thomas Aquinas.

I think his premise that God’s existence is a scientific hypothesis is fundamentally flawed. To test these assertions Dawkins has to rely on the work and statements of philosophers and theologians. Despite Dawkins insistence otherwise, God is a philosophical/theological concept. Without philosophy or theology nothing testable can be said about God’s actions or nature. I agree with Dawkins that it is irritating when theologians make ignorant claims about science. Unfortunately he jumps headfirst into the same swamp and begins lobbing mud balls. This opening section unfortunately confirmed some of my biases against him. Mainly that he can be arrogant, rude, and a zealot.

After offering his rebuttal to the various “proofs” of God’s existence, Dawkins turns his attention to Darwinian evolution. This was where my attitude towards Dawkins took a turn for the better. In this section he shows how Darwinian evolution can offer an explanation for not only creation, but morality as well. Dawkins is a brilliant and engaging biologist. His explanations of evolution were absolutely beautiful and as a reader I could sense Dawkins own wonder, joy, and humility in sharing this. He left me with an increased sense of awe and wonder for the world. While I was familiar with evolution, his explanations stretched me beyond what I knew.

Unfortunately during the explanation of cosmological Darwinism he made the same ‘priori’ mistake he had previously scolded believers for making. Evolution provides a solid explanation for biological diversity. However for evolution to begin, reproducing biological life is required. Dawkins tries to explain how this might have happened by offering different possible evolutionary paths of the cosmos itself (planets, stars, galaxies). Eventually he admits that the odds of a reproducing life forms arising from the primordial goo are billions and billions to one. Not to be deterred, he concludes that since humans exist and are the product Darwinian evolution, then it must have happened…..besides it only had to happen once!

I found the evolutionary explanations of morality very interesting and believable. It did a fine job of explaining the base morality we share as humans as well as the moral distinctives across cultures. But while I found it wholly believable, I found it’s morality lacking. Darwinian evolution only seems to create a morality that is self-centered and competitive. Even things that appeared selfless on the surface were at the core selfishly motivated. Darwinian morality doesn’t hold a candle to the morality expressed by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount. I believe that evolutionary morality has gotten us to a point, but I believe in a God calling beyond evolutions competitive and selfish morality. I believe that God is evolving my morality into something better than it would be otherwise. All in all the experience of this section was consciousness expanding (as Dawkins said he hoped it would be).

Finally Dawkins asked if the ‘Good Book’ is really all that good. Biblical interpretation has been an area of interest for me as I’ve shed my own fundamentalist assumptions about religion and the bible. I’ve increasingly found the literalist interpretation of scripture to be inconsistent, souless, mindless, and even dangerous. He points out many of the inconsistencies inherent in a literal reading of the biblical texts and also how it almost inevitably lead to a violent God and violent followers. While he does give a slight nod to more progressive and literary interpretations, his point is clear, to read the bible as the fundamentalists do is untenable and unsafe. He and I found much to agree about in this area.

The book closes with a chapter entitled The Mother of all Burkas. Dawkins takes the burka, a symbol of religious oppression, and (in a very Jewish prophetic way) redeems it for the beauty of something greater. He says:

“Our eyes see the world through a narrow slit in the electromagnetic spectrum. Visible light is a chink of brightness in the vast dark spectrum, from radio waves at the long end to gamma rays at the short end. Quite how narrow is hard to appreciate and a challenge to convey. Imagine a gigantic black burka, with a vision slit of approximately the standard width, say about one inch. If the length of black cloth above the slit represents the short-wave end of the invisible spectrum, and if the length of black cloth below the slit represents the long-wave portion of the invisible spectrum, how long would the burka have to be in order to accommodate a one-inch slit to the same scale? It is hard to represent it sensibly without invoking logarithmic scales, so huge are the lengths we derisorily tiny compared with the miles and miles of black cloth representing the invisible part of the spectrum, from radio waves at the hem of the skirt to gamma rays at the top of the head. What science does for us is widen the window. It opens up so wide that the imprisoning black garment drops away almost completely, exposing our senses to airy and exhilarating freedom.”

While his philosophic arguments frustrated me at times, Dawkin’s captured me with the beauty and humility he used to described the evolutionary process. He makes strong and valid claims against religion and strongly calls into the question the nature of belief in God. I think most believers, particularly fundamentalist ones, would do well to sit at the feet of Dawkins and listen to the charges he levels against their us and our faith. In my opinion his voice is a prophetic one. He is speaking back into the fundamentalist religions that have shape all of our worlds in various ways.

While he and I may disagree about the belief in God, we have much to agree about about religion. I think Dawkins would be okay with this disagree. He admits that there is no proof that will change the mind of someone claims a personal spiritual experience. His hostility towards religion lies with believers who rudely impress or forcefully oppress others. I imagine he and I might even be friends who could share some light-hearted ribbing about our world views over a beer. ( )
  erlenmeyer316 | Nov 4, 2014 |
Not half as dogmatic as everyone makes out and about twice as smart and clearly laid-out as most. Recommend (and will reread before forming an actual opinion). ( )
1 vote humblewomble | Oct 19, 2014 |
For me, it was a life-changing book. While I've almost always considered myself agnostic, it's primarily been out of a lack of caring about religion in general. But Dawkins proved to me that there is no god, and how beautiful life is because of that. ( )
  brianinseattle | Oct 1, 2014 |
It took a bit to slog through it at times, but in the end I'm glad I took the time to read it. ( )
  azrowan | Sep 13, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 265 (next | show all)
That was the first time I had ever considered, even in my own thoughts to myself, that I could be an atheist. I was 36. My husband was down with this—he told me he was an atheist, too. I felt it was weird we were finally having a conversation about this after being married for six years, but maybe we intrinsically knew all along.
added by paradoxosalpha | editDaily Kos, boofdah (Oct 28, 2011)
In The God Delusion, Dawkins argues that evolution has removed the need for a God hypothesis to explain life, and advances in physics may soon do the same for the universe. Further, the existence of God is a proper question for science, and the answer is no.
added by Taphophile13 | editThe Age, Barney Zwartz (Nov 24, 2006)
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.
Creationists and believers in God are right to see him as their arch-enemy. In The God Delusion he displays what a formidable adversary he is. It is a spirited and exhilarating read. In the current climate of papal/Islamic stand-off, it is timely too.
added by ghilbrae | editThe Guardian, Joan Bakewell (Sep 26, 2006)

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'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?'
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As a child, my wife hated her school and wished she could leave.
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The boy lay prone in the grass, his chin resting on his hands.
Pantheism is sexed-up atheism. Deism is watered-down theism.
But hate only has to prove it is religious, and it no longer counts as hate.
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
I am agnostic only to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden.
I am no more fundamentalist when I say evolution is true than when I say it is true that New Zealand is in the southern hemisphere.
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You believe in God.
I believe you've been deceived.
I will tell you why.

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0618918248, Paperback)

A preeminent scientist -- and the world's most prominent atheist -- asserts the irrationality of belief in God and the grievous harm religion has inflicted on society, from the Crusades to 9/11.

With rigor and wit, Dawkins examines God in all his forms, from the sex-obsessed tyrant of the Old Testament to the more benign (but still illogical) Celestial Watchmaker favored by some Enlightenment thinkers. He eviscerates the major arguments for religion and demonstrates the supreme improbability of a supreme being. He shows how religion fuels war, foments bigotry, and abuses children, buttressing his points with historical and contemporary evidence. The God Delusion makes a compelling case that belief in God is not just wrong but potentially deadly. It also offers exhilarating insight into the advantages of atheism to the individual and society, not the least of which is a clearer, truer appreciation of the universe's wonders than any faith could ever muster.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:35:39 -0400)

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Argues that belief in God is irrational, and describes examples of religion's negative influences on society throughout the centuries, such as war, bigotry, child abuse, and violence.

(summary from another edition)

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