Dawkins Week at EvolutionBlog!

The reviews of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion are coming in, and they are mostly negative. That was predictable. Everyone knows, after all, that Dawkins is just one of those fanatical, frothing at the mouth atheists, who doesn’t understand that religion is a beautiful and complex thing, despite the excesses of many of its practitioners. He’s one of those silly people who believe logic and reason should be brought to bear on “The God Question,” despite the fact that sophisticated theologians gave up that approach long ago.

So I’m not surprised that the main reaction to Dawkins’ book has been that of condescension and annoyance. What does surprise me, however, is just how vacuous so mnay of these reviews are. Most of them either make little attempt to engage Dawkins’ arguments, or engage them only in the most superficial and caricatured way. So I will be devoting most of this week to a series of posts about the reactions to Dawkins’ book. I do this partly because I think Dawkins deserves better treatment than he’s getting, and partly because the issues raised by Dawkins and his critics are sufficiently interesting to merit serious discussion. Let me know what you think!

Comments

  1. #1 Corkscrew
    October 30, 2006

    What does surprise me, however, is just how vacuous so mnay of these reviews are.

    I’d noticed that too. Haven’t even read the book yet but, if the best rebuttal people can come up with is “that’s just simplistic” without particularly justifying said claim, it can’t be that bad.

  2. #2 Richard
    October 30, 2006

    I look forward to your take on the whole phenomenon. One good thing that’s come out of this is that we atheists have been exposed to a enormous dose of concentrated obfuscation from the theologically inclined, that, without Dawkins, would have taken us years to get. Think of the time we’ve saved! Now we know practically every argument that it’s possible to make for the possible existence of a higher-power-being-possibility-force-thingy, that we can’t disprove, so it could exist, really.

  3. #3 Orac
    October 30, 2006

    Ack. You may have just provided the prod that will get me off my lazy behind to write that review of Dawkins’ book that I’ve been meaning to write since I finished it about two weeks ago.

  4. #4 RBH
    October 30, 2006

    What does surprise me, however, is just how vacuous so many of these reviews are.

    A couple of days ago I left a (fairly contemptuous) comment at a blog “review” of TGD (I don’t now remember which blog it was), remarking that I found it interesting that neither the blogger nor the commenters in the thread had actually read the bloody book!

  5. #5 Tyler DiPietro
    October 30, 2006

    My sentiments exactly. “Vacuous” is one term I would apply to at least the vast majority of the negative reviews of TDS (that I’ve seen, at least). “Fatuous”, “obscuritanist”, and “incongruous” would be a handful of others. It’s mostly been the usual “OMG U FAGS U DONT NO NETHING ABOUT GOD SO STFU B4 OF PR4WN U N00B!!!11eleven” theist nonsense (see, e.g., Terry Eagleton’s review).

  6. #6 Scott Belyea
    October 30, 2006

    Everyone knows, after all, that Dawkins is just one of those fanatical, frothing at the mouth atheists, who doesn’t understand that religion is a beautiful and complex thing, despite the excesses of many of its practitioners. He’s one of those silly people who believe logic and reason should be brought to bear on �The God Question,� despite the fact that sophisticated theologians gave up that approach long ago.

    …snip…

    Let me know what you think!

    Well, right off the top, I think that the commentaries are bound to be better than that silly opening salvo. Even as sarcasm, it’s pretty weak …

  7. #7 Richard Blumberg
    October 30, 2006

    The reviews that really tick me off are the ones that dismiss Dawkins for what the reviewer perceives as a cavalier attitude toward theology. Those reviewers, and most of the reviewers for that matter, focus entirely on Dawkins’ rejection of religion as a sufficient explanation for anything, and fail completely to address his positively bracing demonstration of the power and rewards of rationality. It’s like criticizing a modern explanation of chemical theory because the author has not given sufficiently serious consideration to the phlogiston theorists.

    Richard

  8. #8 Jason Rosenhouse
    October 30, 2006

    Scott-

    A while back I saw an interview with George Foreman. He was asked about the fight he lost to Muhammad Ali. Foreman told about how he was hitting Ali over and over again, but Ali just kept taunting him wih, “Is that the best you got George? Is that the best you can do?”

    In the interview Foreman said that the main thing he was thinking was, “Yep. That’s the best I’ve got.”

    Likewise for my sarcasm. Sorry you weren’t amused.

    As for everyone else, thanks for the encouragement!

  9. #9 Adrian
    October 30, 2006

    Jason,

    I’ve been noticing the same thing in print and in forums. It seems to confirm what Daniel Dennet was saying about “belief in belief,” and how even atheists seem to succumb to this. I wonder too, if people agree with what he says but are embarrassed to do so in public for fear of being tarred by the same brush. Meh, it all comes across as cowardice.

    I’m looking forward to reading what you come up with. It’s nice to read someone with the courage of conviction. Keep up the good work.

  10. #10 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    October 30, 2006

    Rich Barlow weighs in with a mixed review at the Boston Globe:
    ‘Delusion ‘ asks worthwhile questions

  11. #11 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    October 30, 2006

    Scienceblogs posts by people who have not read the book can be found at The World’s Unfair and Uncertain Principal. Razib over at Gene Expression has some worthwhile things to say, and has actually read the book.

  12. #12 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    October 30, 2006

    Another “haven’t read it but here’s my opinion anyway” post can be found over at Thoughts from Kansas, and Pure Pedantry went one step further by labeling the Uncertain Principles “haven’t read it” review as a “Must Read,” thus qualifying as a third-hand negative review.

  13. #13 Scott Eric Kaufman
    October 30, 2006

    There have been some fine reviews of his reviews shuttling around these past few weeks. (Granted, the comment thread leaves a little to be desired.) That said–and I say this as a staunch supporter of Dawkins’ position–I found the book a little too vehement, too virulent, like how I feel about the comedian Bill Hicks:

    I agree with 99.99% of what he says, but I don’t find it funny. Or compelling, even, when it’s aimed at me. What we need is a Larry David of evolutionary defense; you know, someone with Huxley’s wit and the manners of a bulldozer…

  14. #14 Dave
    October 30, 2006

    I consider myself to be some sort of weak atheist, but, after having read about the first 100 page or so of The God Delusion, I must admit to being fairly unimpressed with what I’ve seen so far. One can easily find critiques of religious belief that, in my opinion, are more well reasoned and clearly expressed than Dawkins’ simply by regularly perusing the the Internet Infidels Message Board. At this point (and again, I haven’t finished the book, so I may have to change my mind after I do), I’d have to say that I agree with many of Dawkins’ conclusions, but remain unconvinced by his argumentation.

  15. #15 Blake Stacey
    October 30, 2006

    My lack of inclination to review books I have not read is probably a big reason I haven’t started my own blog by now. When I do read such remarks — my love of procrastination sometimes drives me to extremes — I find I cannot shake from my head the phrase sound and fury, signifying nothing.

  16. #16 Phil
    October 30, 2006

    Here’s a highly tendentious review from the Philadelphia Inquirer that prefers Francis Collins’ and Owen Gingerich’s books because they claim that science and religion are not in conflict.

    http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/entertainment/books/15873291.htm

    The tone of the review should be no shock to Inky readers as the paper has a well-earned reputation for being very cozy with religion (particularly Roman Catholicism) and being no friend of non-believers.

    In typical relgious apologist form, the reviewer invokes arguments of personal incredulity on his own part:

    “For many, an intentional act of creation seems more plausible than the purest of flukes.”

    to dismiss Dawkins’ argument that the origin of life was more likely an accident than the result of fine tuning the physical constants of the universe by a divine creator (anyone have an Occam’s razor handy?)

    and Collins’ part:

    “…this near-infinite number of unobservable universes strains credulity.”

    to dismiss the multiverse counter to the fine tuning argument.

    The reviewer finally descends into sleaze, taking a cheap shot at Dawkins for not having the stature of Collins and Gingerich as an experimental scientist. That may be true but the last time I looked, Dawkins’ title was Professor of the Public Understanding of Science and I think he’s doing a masterful job in that arena even if his message may be unwelcomed by those determined to cling to their Iron Age superstitions irrespective of the evidence.

  17. #17 Tyler DiPietrantonio
    October 30, 2006

    It seems to confirm what Daniel Dennet was saying about “belief in belief,” and how even atheists seem to succumb to this. I wonder too, if people agree with what he says but are embarrassed to do so in public for fear of being tarred by the same brush. Meh, it all comes across as cowardice.

    To me it comes across as a sort of self-loathing and guilt among atheists who feel some sort of need to make wiggle room for fantasy in spite of their rational world-view out of the desire not to offend others. I’ve noticed that literally none of the negative reviewers of Dawkins’ have actually given a reason why beliefs unfounded in evidence and/or held despite the unambiguous availability of contrary evidence warrant respect. It’s all been metaphysical obscuritanism and ramblings about his supposed “dogmatism”. It may be cowardice, but I think a lack of confidence and self-hatred are a better explanation.

    And yes, I am using my full name from now on (not that anyone cares).

  18. #18 G. Tingey
    October 31, 2006

    What is completely obvious is that most of the negative reviewers have NOT READ THE BOOK AT ALL….
    I have, incidentally.
    I was disappointed, as it did not deliver the knock-out blow I was hoping for.
    Nonetheless, it is very well-witten (suprise!) and very good.
    But not quite up to the standard of “The Ancestors Tale” or “The Blind Watchmaker” nor even “climbing Mount Improbable” – and yes, I’ve got copies of, and have real all of them.

    I still think that “Scientific methodological naturalism” is the route to go, with the testable proposition that:
    No god is detectable.
    And therfore, any god is irrelevant, unless detected.

  19. #19 Simon
    October 31, 2006

    People Dawkins is hateful and his stance has set back the “cause” of atheism by decades (suggesting Atheism is spreading – which it isn’t). I never found him anything other than very reasonable.

    But it’s because he has stepped over the line where we have to treat people’s beliefs with “respect”, no matter how absurd or offensive they are. Who invented that idea – that religious beliefs were untouchable? Wasn’t Nazism a kind of religion? I don’t see many people saying Nazis’ beliefs are their own private affair.

  20. #20 Ethyl
    October 31, 2006

    Simon,
    Then you haven’t spent enough time in the humanities, I guess. I don’t know where it stands now, but I remember reading a lot about extreme cultural relativism, where people can and do defend practices like FGM. Just saying.

  21. #21 Ophelia Benson
    October 31, 2006

    RBH, it was the Valve – that was the blog you couldn’t remember. Good comment.

  22. #22 Scott Eric Kaufman
    October 31, 2006

    Ophelia, I tried to link to that thread, but I believe I may’ve been mistaken for, um, a creationist troll? I’m not sure why my comment never showed up, actually–but I can respond to what I linked to a bit here:

    What is completely obvious is that most of the negative reviewers have NOT READ THE BOOK AT ALL…

    This may be the first time anyone’s ever accused Terry Eagleton of not reading something. It’s obvious from his review that he’s read the book–which, I admit, I’ve yet to finish–but that’s what made Adam Roberts’ dismantling of his Guardian review on the Valve (“Terry Eagleton’s traditional theology”) so effective: Adam demonstrated that Eagleton’s review was excessively and unnecessarily idiosyncratic, too much the product of a very particular line of study…while simultaneously pointing out some of the weaknesses of Dawkins’ book.

    Foremost among them, to my mind, is that it will only ever appeal to current atheists. It’s a feel-good book designed to transform its readers into cheerleaders–we came to the game because we already support the team, but by halftime, we’re down on the field exhorting other people who already support the team to do so louder…and with a “D”! “A”! “R”! &c. I think Eagleton’s right to question the utility of such a tract. (In my original post I compared this to my feelings about the late comedian Bill Hicks. I agree with everything he’s saying, but I don’t find him funny.)

  23. #23 Greg Peterson
    October 31, 2006

    I love Richard Dawkins. He is brave, brilliant, and hilarious. There is much to admire and recommend in “The God Delusion.” Where Dawkins goes wrong–and sometimes rather seriously so–is in not understanding religion and religious people. When I’ve stated that on other blogs I’ve been met with comments about how great that is that he doesn’t know more about theology, because it’s a complete waste of time anyway. Fair enough, but then don’t write about it. How much respect would Dawkins have for someone who wrote a biology book on the basis of an interview with a park ranger, a walk around a pond, and a few articles in National Geographic? That is essentially what he’s doing with some of his comments on theology. I am an atheist. Hell, I am a MILITANT atheist. I agree with every single point Dawkins makes about how pointless and even destructive religion is. I also agree with Sam Harris, and love his strident approach. I just wish such amazing allies in this cause that many of us share–trying to pull back humanity, and perhaps especially America, from the brink of religious lunacy–would turn for help to atheists who understand religion better. There is a world of difference between someone like, say, Michael Shermer, who came out of a religious background, or Bart Ehrman, whose religious skepticism was FUELED by his Bible study, and someone who never was devout. And unfortunately it shows, in a way that will make faith-heads say, “He doesn’t get me and none of this applies to me.” This is only tragic because with a littel better understanding, many of those same people can be reclaimed. They don’t have to piss away their one and only life in the pursuit of disapproving phantoms.

    Something worth thinking about, I think, as we support the spirit of what Dawkins is accomplishing.

  24. #24 Tim B.
    October 31, 2006

    I agree with what Dawkins has to say up to a point.

    The tools of science must a priori give way to the mysterium of Being. Not the being of things that exist (poems, gravity, butterflies, numbers, laws of physics, cephalopods, neutrinos, doltish presidential jerks), but the metaphysical abyss or clearing in which things appear as existents. Parmenides and Heidegger were sensitive to this quasi-mystical millieu that affects human thought with a kind of vertigo and aphasia.

    How quaint it would be to suggest that Occam’s Razor neatly slices off such a necessary absence as Being.

    Gibberish? An exemplary application of reason? But Dawkins seems oblivious to the possibility that possibility itself might float in a sea deeper than any natural one.

  25. #25 Robert O'Brien
    October 31, 2006

    Dawkins is coming to my university to pimp his book and I intend to ask him some pointed questions when he does.

  26. #26 Robert O'Brien
    October 31, 2006

    No god is detectable.
    And therfore, any god is irrelevant, unless detected.

    Repeating something ad nauseam does not make it true.

  27. #27 Robert O'Brien
    October 31, 2006

    The reviewer…[takes] a cheap shot at Dawkins for not having the stature of Collins and Gingerich as an experimental scientist.

    It is a valid point.

  28. #28 Steve
    November 1, 2006

    I’m on the last chapter of the book, and I think it is a wonderful book. I just wish we could get more “religious” people reading it. I’ve read a few other of his books and I am a fan of Dawkins, Sam Harris, ffrf.org, secularhumanism.org, atheists.org, etc., so I guess when I read it, he’s preachin to the choir.
    Steve

  29. #29 Steve Tharp
    November 1, 2006

    What disturbs me is when atheists (or people in general) say we need to treat others’ religious beliefs with respect. That’s bull. I have NO RESPECT for ANYONE’S RELIGIOUS BELIEFS. What I DO have respect for is THEIR RIGHT TO THEIR RELIGIOUS BELIEFS. That is totally different that “respecting their religious beliefs”. It seems stupid to respect someone’s religious beliefs if you do not share those beliefs, but it seems correct and appropriate as people who respect personal freedoms to RESPECT THEIR RIGHT TO THEIR RELIGIOUS BELIEFS (so long as those beliefs don’t tread on others’ rights).

  30. #30 Normand R. Lavigne
    November 2, 2006

    I agree with you about religions. Every nation is the maker of its own god. (Deuteronomy 4:2;) The Archaic Hebrew Holy Scriptures is an information manuel to how this existance came to be. This is a wisdom beyond human’s knowledge; until religion tried to put their two cent worth in their theological explaination. The Archaic Hebrew Holy Scriptures identifies these men of the cloth as the Reptilian Babylonian Brotherhood of the seven world-wide kingdom empires of church and state religions. (Revelation 12:3; 13:1; 17:10.)

    I am an Author compiling these studies of these Archaic Hebrew Holy Scriptures with no influence of these world wide religions. My books, 666 “Biblical” Truth; Beyond the Grave, Tacoma, and The Book of Knowledge and Wisdom from the Archaic Hebrew Holy Scriptures are available to you by e-mail me and they are a gift to you.

    Normand

  31. #31 beepbeepitsme
    December 13, 2006

    I am sure you have seen this already, but some of your readers may have not.

    RE Dawkins

    Richard Dawkins – Speaks in Lynchberg Virginia
    http://beepbeepitsme.blogspot.com/2006/12/richard-dawkins-speaks-in-lynchberg.html

  32. #32 Brock
    December 10, 2007

    Is this considered a non-vacuous post and set of comments? Or where is your better stuff on Dawkins and his ideas?

  33. #33 Brock
    December 16, 2007

    Apparently “nowhere to be found” is the answer

  34. #34 MartinM
    December 16, 2007

    Given that Jason said that he would ‘be devoting most of this week to a series of posts about the reactions to Dawkins’ book,’ did you consider looking at the next few posts? I mean, the next post even has the word ‘Dawkins’ in the title. It’s not exactly hiding.

    I suppose that would have required you to actually engage with their content, rather than settling for vacuous sniping.

  35. #35 Brock
    December 23, 2007

    I asked for the “better stuff.” I didn’t find the post you point to or anything else I searched for here consisting of what I’d regard as “better stuff.” (Take note of the first comment in the thread you note, the very next post in this chain.) I’ll admit I searched for roughly ten or fifteen minutes only, but if you or anyone else can point to what you consider the best on offer here, the best of the best, then perhaps I’ll engage and join a discussion.

    I’m certainly NOT going to waste my time joining in a “discussion” that consists of circular reasoning and forms of abuse, both personal abuse and abuse of rational discourse.

  36. #36 Tyler DiPietro
    December 23, 2007

    Shorter Brock: “Waaaaaah! Do my work for me!”

  37. #37 windy
    December 23, 2007

    I’m certainly NOT going to waste my time joining in a “discussion” that consists of circular reasoning and forms of abuse

    Who’s asking you to? “Dawkins week” was almost two months ago.

  38. #38 Brock
    December 23, 2007

    Windy nobody asked me to do a thing but what does two months have to do with it. I found Jasons four or five posts to reflect a very simple level of reasoning. Iread enough comments to see they were worse. I am agnostic but am not stupid.

    Tyler that is exactly what I mean. Jasons posts were not so hot but the level of comments was even worse. Engaging that is not work it is masochism.

  39. #39 Tyler DiPietro
    December 23, 2007

    Brock, fuck off. No one here is interested in your chest-beating.

  40. #40 Brock
    December 23, 2007

    What no one here is interested in is plain enough but there is plenty of chest beating going on and yours is not the least of it. But your qwerty courage with the fuckoff comment is noted. Don’t worry I wont’ saty around. This is a pretty closed group.

  41. #41 Tyler DiPietro
    December 23, 2007

    Awwww, that’s cute.

  42. #42 Brock
    December 24, 2007

    Once again cannot muster a single intelligible thought. It’s as if you’re an inanimate object that fell and bounced around on the keyboard for a few moments. Or a lapdog since you even know when to bark and when to shutup. Here you can try some actual thought though that assumes you still know what thinking is.

    http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/07-07-04.html

    Or keep barking since it at least shows you know how to obey your preprogrammed orders. I asked for a pointer to the best of the best on what I got was typical which maybe is the best of the best here. Blogs are overrated if this is an indication.

  43. #43 Tyler DiPietro
    December 24, 2007

    Still being cute Brock. You’ve brought nothing to the table but bluster thus far and you expect us to take you on. You’re a funny, silly little man.

    (I doubt you are actually interested in seeing what people here thought of David Sloan Wilson’s review, but perchance you are, there’s a search bar up top. And there’s always Google’s “site” tag if that doesn’t suffice. Teach a man to fish…)

  44. #44 Brock
    December 25, 2007

    If you were genuinely concerned about people being cute you would not comment in the manner you do and you would reprimand plenty of others here, not merely yours truly. Potentially we are in a give and take here and this isn’t a student-teacher situation as if I have climbed the mountain and am now in the presence of sages. I do not expect a thing but you seem to expect respect and trust when the entire site is filled with the “cute” you are supposedly concerned with. If you want respect earn it.

    Earn it. Put that grey matter of yours on the line or continue to run and hide. (Saying “fuck off” is really only one more way to hide.) Those are really the only two choices and so far you have chosen the second. Otherwise I am merely talking with another member of another choir and congregation who exhibits their faith but who can not put some serious thought together. I did google but once again was not very impressed. it isn’t that I view David Sloan Wilson as the ultimate truth and in fact I do not but at least he does put some thought into his arguments.

  45. #45 Tyler DiPietro
    December 25, 2007

    *Snore*

    Bluster, bluster and more bluster. Wake me up when you have something substantive to offer, junior.

  46. #46 Brock
    December 26, 2007

    YOu have been snoring and asleep at the wheel from the beginning. You have failed to evidence any more than two cells of grey matter from the beginning. Yet you come back faithfully to reply with 14 year old name calling which may be giving you too much credit. That pretty well sums it up. I will leave you and your little sect and club of brave qwerty name callers alone. You desperately need to be left to yourselves huddling together and afraid of the larger world. However I take back my comment about blogs. I can see that not all blogs are so tired and silly as this one is. It’s like I have intruded on a group of 14 year old mouth breathers and insecure thumb suckers. And you do not even seem to recognize that what is occurring here.

  47. #47 Tyler DiPietro
    December 26, 2007

    It really is amusing that you put so much effort into all these posts, Brock. Just so you know, I was having a little fun with you because I was bored. I highly doubt that anyone here is losing sleep because you “weren’t impressed” by posts written a year ago. You didn’t bring anything to the table, so no one cares. Simple as that, bro.

  48. #48 D_E_R_M_A_N
    February 14, 2009

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