The God Delusion

The God DelusionIt has become so popular, so widely discussed, so much a feature of discussions on the Guardian’s Comment is Free site and Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science site (sites I visit a lot), that I have decided to take the plunge, and read Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. I plan on providing a running commentary on what I read here in my blog (even though it does not have a great deal to do with the blog’s initial aims).

A couple of preliminary comments before I start:

  1. I am not planning on reading through, organising my thoughts, and then writing an organised critique, theme by theme. Rather, I’ll comment on what I find, as I find it, not knowing quite where he or I will end up.
  2. I will, however, cheat to a certain extent: I’ve been scribbling notes to myself as I read, and my blog entries are worked up from those notes. At the time of writing, I’ve read (and scribbled) up to somewhere in ch.3, and have glanced ahead to the start of ch.4. So this isn’t quite pure ‘stream of consciousness’ reviewing.
  3. I’m reading the 2007 Black Swan paperback edition.
  4. I have read several newspaper articles and blog comment pieces about the book; I have also read an article by Nicholas Lash in the latest New Blackfriars, but I have not tried (and probably will not try) to read widely in the secondary literature that the book has already generated. So apologies if I flog here horses that have already died elsewhere.
  5. No-one, if they spend a moment to check who I am, is going to expect me to be a huge fan of the book. I hope, though, to be a generous, fair and open-minded reviewer, even (especially) when it annoys me. If anyone is reading this blog, I hope they’ll keep me to that in the comments.

4 Thoughts on “The God Delusion

  1. Isaac Gouy on March 14, 2008 at 3:26 am said:

    I’m enjoying reading your commentary, although there’s something about it which brings to mind dissection of the latest Tom Clancey as literature.

  2. Critiquing a Clancy novel because it lacked nuanced insight into the human condition, couched in finely honed poetic prose, would be a fool’s errand. Critiquing it because there were holes in its plot would make much more sense: they are plot-driven books. Dawkins’ book offers arguments and concepts that are supposed to provide insight into religion and into beliefs about God – so asking whether they are good arguments and concepts seems to make sense. And I am not trying to argue that there are subsidiary nuances or sophisticated epiphenomena that Dawkins’ popular presentation misses (which would be missing the kind of literature it is), but that his whole conceptual and argumentative structure is misbegotten.

    Of course, I do agree that the book in itself does not merit the level of attention I give it – it’s not very well argued, and I have yet to find an interesting insight in it. Nevertheless, its popularity or notoriety amongst my colleagues and students did seem to me to warrant a careful reading of he book.

  3. Isaac Gouy on March 19, 2008 at 3:49 pm said:

    > did seem to me to warrant a careful reading of the book

    As some of the criticism you are building up rests on assumptions about what will come in chapters you have not yet read, what are you going to do if your assumptions turn out to be wrong?

    Do you intend to go back through the blog entries and comments, red-lining the criticism that was based on incorrect assumptions or are you just going to leave misplaced criticism to confuse future readers?

    (Perhaps there is sense in actually reading a book before critiquing it.)

  4. I have skimmed through later chapters more than once, on the lookout for material that might call my earlier conclusions into question. I haven’t worked through those chapters in detail, though, so if I did miss something, and realise that I’m wrong, I will of course go back and edit the earlier entries (probably just to put an italicised comment at the start of the entry pointing forward to a later post for a correction). As it happens, I have yet to see anything (or be shown anything) that suggests my criticisms are misplaced, and I’m pretty sure that I’ve simply been expounding the plain sense of what Dawkins says, as he says it (though it’s true that I have allowed myself some comments already that point forward to what is coming in chapter four).

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