Reflections on the tenth anniversary of The God Delusion

Over at The Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta has been collecting quotes from atheists about the significance of Richard Dawkins’s book The God Delusion, which was published ten years ago today. Hemant says this about the book, “. . . you could argue that The God Delusion has created more atheists than any other book in history… with the sole exception being the Bible.”

Probably true.  The people quoted include David Noise, Robyn Blumner, David Silverman, Roy Speckhardt, August Brunsman IV, me, Rabbi Adam Chalom, Herb Silverman, Jason Torpy, Dale McGowan, and Dan Dennett.

What can you say about a book like that? I’ll quote Dan Dennett’s take, which is a definitive response to the book’s critics:

Four books appeared with a few months of each other a decade ago: Sam Harris’s The End of Faith, my Breaking the Spell, Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, and Christopher Hitchens’ God is not Great. Although the authors knew, or knew of, each other, this near-simultaneous outburst was not planned, but we soon joined forces, informally, and somebody — not one of us — dubbed us the Four Horsemen of the New Atheism. Fame — or notoriety, take your pick — followed, and we were soon joined by a distinguished cadre of other authors who had decisive and well-evidenced cases to present about various problems and failures of religion. Many of these have been well received but The God Delusion has outsold them all, probably by an order of magnitude. Whatever twinges of envy that fact obliges me to experience (I’m only human), they are obliterated by my delight in the fact that his book has outsold all the “flea” books he mentions in his Foreword by even wider margins. Those frantically scribbled diatribes — none of which, so far as I know, has attracted favorable attention — are a well deserved measure of the size of Richard’s impact. And while “sophisticated theologians” and their friends wanted the world to believe that he failed to engage serious religion in his critique, those darn fleas tell a different story: he struck a nerve, and he struck it dead center.

Is he “angry”? Is he “shrill” and “arrogant”? Look closely, and you will see that these familiar charges are without foundation. What leads people to level them is the fact that they have been accustomed their entire lives to having their darling dogmas handled with kid gloves, never challenged, always “respected.” I put “respected” in scare-quotes because — a dirty little secret that I suspect everyone knows — hardly anybody truly respects the bizarre doctrines of any religion but their own. They just feel obliged to say (in public) that they do, a bit of lip service to ecumenicism. Do you really think that the archbishop respects the angel Gabriel who visited Muhammed in the cave, or the Angel Moroni with the golden plates, or that the imam respects the transubstantiation of the wafer and wine? As one very sophisticated Episcopalian priest once confided to me “When I found out what my Mormon relatives meant by “God” I rather wished that they didn’t believe in God!”

Thanks to the new world-wide transparency that has emerged from electronic media and especially the Internet, we are now all living in glass houses, and all the diplomatic posturing that concealed this mutual disrespect much of the time (except when fighting bloody wars of religion) is beginning to lose its efficacy, so perhaps it is time to retire the faitheists’ demand for lip service altogether and join Richard Dawkins in a candid exploration of the dreams from which the world is finally awakening.

Of course many of us have already abjured—or never engaged in—the “respect” for religion demanded by its adherents, and uncompromising antitheism is said to be one of the hallmarks of The New Atheism launched by these books. But as many have pointed out, antitheism is not new: it was part of the writings of “old” atheists like Ingersoll, H. L. Mencken, Mark Twain, and Walter Kauffmann (see Hitchens’s compilation in The Portable Atheist to read more).  My own take on what is “new” in new atheism is part of my short appreciation:

While the formal beginning of New Atheism — a form of antitheism that, taking a scientific approach, requires that religion produce evidence for its truth claims — dates from Sam Harris’s The End of Faith, the spread of the “movement” came largely from Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion. Dawkins’s fame as a writer and scientist, combined with his accessible and lyrical prose, made millions of people re-examine their beliefs in the supernatural — with many of them then rejecting it. . .

To me, what is “new” about New Atheism is its scientific aspect: the repeated and insistent demand for evidence, as instantiated in Hitchens’s statement (not original with him) that what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. Dawkins and Harris were trained as scientists, Dennett is a philosopher of science, and Hitchens had read a lot of science. Without evidence for your claims—and religion does make truth claims—you deserve no respect and no lip service.

Finally, one thing that these four books did, in combination with the internet spread of discussions about atheism, was to make atheism more respectable. Yes, it’s still demonized, but the need for mass meetings to reaffirm our nonbelief is dying off. That I think, explains why atheist conventions and meetings will slowly lose attendance and disappear over the years. The last Reason Rally was poorly attended, and I believe that’s why. Organizations with a secular rather than explicitly atheist agenda, like the Freedom From Religion Foundation, will continue to hold well-attended meetings, but expect to see atheist meetings die off, one by one, over the next decade.



  1. Posted October 2, 2016 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Great post and retrospective

    • rickflick
      Posted October 6, 2016 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

      It warms the cockles of my heart to reflect on Dawkins’ book. Great post.

  2. GBJames
    Posted October 2, 2016 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    I’d like to think that progress will be so rapid that atheist meetings will die off during the next decade. I fear it will take longer than that.

    • Alexander
      Posted October 2, 2016 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

      I think why atheist meetings won’t die off is this collusion between Christians and Islamic people in Europe. These Christians embrace the influx of Islamic people because they see their culture as a justification for their own beliefs and political attitudes. How do you explain Merkel’s actions unless you take into account she is a Christian, and a member of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in Germany. When you look at the web pages of the CDU, the first thing you read is that their political principles are based on “Christian principles and values,” whatever they mean (and where is the separation between church and state?). So what is better than to embrace the values of another religion that are viewed to be similar and supportive of Christian views?

      • Posted October 2, 2016 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

        I would have to disagree with that. The CDU is not overtly Christian in the way one would expect if a US party were called that. And their name is in English – a Christian in German is a “Christ” (rhymes with wrist, not Jesus). They are just not overtly religious in the way one would expect looking from the outside.

        Maybe Germans will weigh in and disagree, but in comparison to Australia, the US and UK, I find German Christians far more low key and largely secular.

        As a comparison, that Koran-burning idiot, Pastor Terry Jones lived for a year or two in Cologne and had a congregation. They noticed financial irregularities and ran him out of town (but not before the government fined him €4000 for calling himself “Dr” without having a proper PhD!).

        If German Christians wanted to protect the financial future of their churches they would be opposing taking in so many Muslims, but they aren’t. It’s more the latent Nazis who are doing that.

        • Posted October 3, 2016 at 4:52 am | Permalink

          But Merkel has been explicit in calling on her Christian values when explaining why she has had an open door policy. It’s a typical self-sacrificial Christian thing to do. Ignoring the threat of political Islam, the misogyny, the Islamic supremacism, is just part of that perspective, where the ills of Islam can be overlooked because some Muslims are victims of something or other (often of other Muslims).

          I agree it’s unlike much US Christianity, but that’s not the sole measure of Christianity.

          • Posted October 3, 2016 at 5:10 am | Permalink

            I’d say, her “so-called” Christian values.

            A lot of “Christian” values are humanist values, and many specifically/endemically Christian values (as expressed in scripture) are anti-humanist.


            • HaggisForBrains
              Posted October 3, 2016 at 5:46 am | Permalink


    • Bill
      Posted October 2, 2016 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

      Despite the fact that religion seems to be dying in America, overall, religion has actually been increasing through out the world.

      Islam is the world’ fastest growing religion and that’s not a good thing.

      So i’m afraid that atheists meetings have barely begun.

      • somer
        Posted October 3, 2016 at 6:04 am | Permalink

        I think religion is a very deeply ingrained social adjustment mechanism in settled societies in traditional pre modern, pre modern science conditions – determining the family mode (e.g. an extended kin based society will be more honour shame oriented, and obsessively police the women to ensure purity of male lineage and clear male authority structures within the clan/tribe groups. Critically, it ensures high levels of reproduction and imposes strict adherence to marital fidelity/support for offspring. This is in the absence of a modern welfare state or comprehensive taxes to support society (as opposed to the rulers ambitions). When circumstances change – including medical advances that remove high levels of mortality ages 0=5, reduce disease generally, introduce reliable safe contraception to match births to support circumstances, food production done by tiny few, women become very valuable in economy etc, traditional religious norms resist change despite the change in cirumstances.

        Also in Australia I don’t feel that Dawkins et al have had the same impact that they have had in other (mainly) Anglo Celtic countries. I wonder if others disagree?

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted October 3, 2016 at 9:31 am | Permalink

        The only reason Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion is its birthrate.

        There’s an Arabic translation of ‘The God Delusion’ online, which is illegal and which Dawkins gets no royalties from, which has been downloaded tens of millions of times. I think it’s safe to say there’s a strong underbelly of atheism in the Muslim world which is simply too scared to express itself.

        Remember, atheism is a crime punishable by, variously, death, corporal punishment, long term imprisonment, “re-education”, and mental health treatment. At the very least it carries a strong negative social stigma to the extent of preventing employment, marriage, and housing.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted October 3, 2016 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

          “There’s an Arabic translation of ‘The God Delusion’ online, which is illegal and which Dawkins gets no royalties from, which has been downloaded tens of millions of times.”

          I’m guessing here, but I would imagine that’s one lot of illegal downloads that doesn’t cause Richard Dawkins too much anguish.


          • Heather Hastie
            Posted October 3, 2016 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

            No, he’s never complained about it.

  3. rom
    Posted October 2, 2016 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    If we want to eliminate “theism” what is the best method?

    A full frontal attack or a more subtle approach?

    Of course it will depend on the individual, but as a class I can’t help thinking these Sophisticated Theologies are a useful stepping stone to “freedom”. Bear in mind sheer rational thought is not going to cut it for the vast majority.

    Think Harm Reduction.

    • peepuk
      Posted October 2, 2016 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      A combination of both?

      • Alexander
        Posted October 2, 2016 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

        I watched some of Lawrence Kraus’ discussions with Islamists. The philosophical arguments of the Islamists are not really different from those of Catholics.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted October 2, 2016 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

          Why would they be? They’re talking about the same god. The god of the Jews, plus or minus several prophets (and I’d have to Wiki it to get a prophet count for the BuyBull – dozens, isn’t it?).

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted October 2, 2016 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

      The first step in reducing the harm caused by theism is not to eliminate it, but to deprive it of the automatic presumption that it’s immune from criticism. And the way to do that is by forthrightly and unapologetically criticizing it.

      • Posted October 2, 2016 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

        Yes, that is an important feature of New Atheism and the reason so many religious people hate it and hate Dawkins.

        • somer
          Posted October 3, 2016 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

          +1 In australia most of the left seem to associate overt criticism of religion with capitalist-reckless individualism

          • somer
            Posted October 3, 2016 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

            For such leftists its OK to criticise the very pro capitalist and nationalist evangelical protestant non mainline churches but not anything else

      • Posted October 2, 2016 at 7:30 pm | Permalink


    • Posted October 2, 2016 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

      I think the first step is getting people used to the idea that there is a plurality of opinions about religion and the question of god’s existence. Richard Dawkins has been doing that admirably.

      I also think it’s condescending to assume that religious people will feel hurt by encountering ideas they disagree with. (Not implying that you mean to advocate that.)

      • Posted October 2, 2016 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

        In my experience, most ARE offended by criticism.

        • Posted October 2, 2016 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

          I’m not denying that!

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted October 2, 2016 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

          Oh dear.
          What a pity.
          Never. Mind.
          I’d cry profusely if I didn’t have a crocodile blocking my tear ducts.

    • Bill
      Posted October 2, 2016 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

      Honestly, i would settle for getting rid of abrahamic religions (maybe monotheismas a whole).

      If the only people running around out there were shintoists, buddhists, hindus, wiccans etc i think that we would be living in a better world already.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted October 2, 2016 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

        I’d agree. Get rid of all the ‘one true god’ merchants. Monotheism encourages a “I’m right and you’re better off dead” mentality, IMO.

        It wouldn’t be perfect, there are still extremists of all stripes – but it would be a helluva lot better than what we’ve got.


  4. Posted October 2, 2016 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    I’m pleased to see you mentioned Twain. His Letters from the Earth was the initial eye opener on my journey to atheism. My father, who had agreed to raise me as a catholic in order for him to marry my mother in church, gave it to me after a particularly contentious argument following Sunday school one week when I was around 11. He told me to do something, and I told him he couldn’t tell me what to do because he wasn’t my “real” father, God was.

    I was for all intents, and purposes an atheist by the time I was 14, but may not have even known a word for it existed. It wasn’t until I read The God delusion that being an atheist became more than a secret that I was afraid to share with others. Thank you for that Richard.

    • GBJames
      Posted October 2, 2016 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      The equivalent “you need to be public about anti-theism” moment for me was with Sam’s The End of Faith, if only because it came out a bit earlier and I read it first. I had already been strongly influenced by Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, and his other books, but in terms of pure atheist “outness”, Sam’s book takes precedence for me.

      • Posted October 2, 2016 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

        Yeah I think The End of Faith had more to do with my anti-theism, when I read it after, but it was TGD that made me no longer feel embarrassed, or ashamed, or alone in my atheism.

        • GBJames
          Posted October 2, 2016 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

          I, of course, mean no disrespect for The God Delusion which is great. All four of those initial NA books were influential, each in a slightly different way.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted October 2, 2016 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

        The Blind Watchmaker, in my case. I was already effectively an atheist, though I couldn’t explain how life came about except by parrotting ‘evolution’*. But TBW convincingly removed any need for G*d.

        *I know technically evolution != biogenesis, but they tend to get lumped together.


        • keith cook +/-
          Posted October 2, 2016 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

          I read “Children of the Universe” Hoimar Von Ditfurth followed by The Blind Watchmaker, promptly dumped any residue of religion in the bin called lies… I duly thanked him for that (never heard back though) *-) it was such a relief.

          • Posted October 3, 2016 at 7:40 am | Permalink

            “dumped any residue of religion in the bin called lies”

            Good one!

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted October 2, 2016 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

      My father, who had agreed to raise me as a catholic in order for him to marry my mother in church …

      I’m the product of the same type of “mixed marriage” myself. My dad cut a deal with my maternal grandfather (back in the bad old days when a guy would ask a woman’s father for her hand in marriage) that “the kids’ll be raised Catholic” (as my Irish-American maternal forebears would put it). In our case, that meant we kids would receive a parochial-school education.

      My old man, to his credit, stuck by the deal even after my grandfather died while we kids were little. He never made any bones about his own atheism, but he never openly criticized the Church to us either (not even when my siblings and I would try to bait him into it, after we’d had a particularly bad day with the nuns). He just said we’d talk about it when we got bigger.

      Turns out he didn’t need to; I walked out the back door of chapel at 14, after a parish priest delivered a particularly odious sermon (though my own non-belief had been building even before that) and haven’t been back inside except for weddings and christenings and funerals. My siblings followed me out of the Church at about the same age. And mom did, too, a couple years later, though most of her extended family remains members, at least nominally.

      • Claudia Baker
        Posted October 2, 2016 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

        Same story here. My Dad agreed to raise the kids Catholic so he could marry Mom. He stuck to the bargain, even driving us all to mass and coming back to pick us up every Sunday, as my Mom didn’t drive. We went to Catholic elementary school, and some of us high school too. Let’s just say all 8 kids were well and truly indoctrinated.

        By my late teens, I was not a believer anymore, but it took until well into adulthood and reading The End of Faith and then God is Not Great to really solidify it and enable me to “come out” and not feel alone, like someone said above.

        It seems incredible to me now, that I was ever a ‘believer’. Although, as a brainwashed child, one hardly had a choice. As Hitch said: child abuse. Even by parents who were loving and had the best of intentions.

  5. Posted October 2, 2016 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    I looked up ecumenicism. It appears to mean the effort to achieve harmony among the various Christian sects, not between Christianity and non-Christian religions, as Daniel Dennett implied.

    • Ralph
      Posted October 2, 2016 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      The extension of meaning is not uncommon, although perhaps more with the adjective ecumenical than with the -ism, since -ism tends to mean a more formally organized set of beliefs.

      I think it’s a useful word, because it connotes something stronger than just vague interdenominational/interfaith tolerance.

      Of course, in the current context the key element is this: when your in-group is shrinking to a minority and its privileged position is threatened, expand the membership of your in-group.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted October 2, 2016 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

      When John XXIII called forth the Second Ecumenical Council (aka “Vatican II”) he used the occasion to reach out to Jews and Muslims and the Eastern Orthodox (for the first time since the great schism of the 11th Century). “Ecumenical” has had a broader meaning at least since that time.

      I’ve got my differences with the Church, a whole lot of ’em, but Juan-2-3 is one of those religious figures, like MLK, that I hold in high esteem for having fought to make the world a better and more-peaceful place. The Jews hold him in high esteem, too, inasmuch as he’s been nominated for the honor of “Righteous Among the Nations,” due to all the souls (by which I mean flesh-and-blood human beings) he helped to escape the Holocaust.

      • Claudia Baker
        Posted October 2, 2016 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

        “Juan-2-3”. I’m so stealing that.

  6. Frank Bath
    Posted October 2, 2016 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    It’s my understanding Buddhism is a non-theistic religion. There are 500 million of them. Why is this so rarely mentioned by atheists when questioning the ‘there must be a god to keep people moral’ etc religions?

    • bric
      Posted October 2, 2016 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      Because Buddhism embraces the idea of Karma, inherited from it’s Hindu roots: instead of the all-seeing God who will punish or reward you there is a ‘spiritual principle of cause and effect’ which in effect does the same thing; you act morally because you will be caught if you don’t.

    • Sastra
      Posted October 2, 2016 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

      Whether Buddhism is or isn’t a ‘non-theistic religion’ depends on the form of Buddhism — and depends on the definition of “God.” Westernized versions often focus on good practices for living and internal harmony and are to all intents and purposes humanistic. The argument here is that this type of Buddhism isn’t a ‘religion.’

      As most atheists see it, religions may not require God, but they do require the supernatural.

      Nondualistic and mystical Buddhist philosophies imbue consciousness or subjectivity into existence itself. Existence = experience, subject/object require each other, etc. They often include the idea that Reality is somehow sensitive to good and evil, or seeks some sort of harmonic balance — neither of which makes any sense in an atheistic framework. They may outwardly deny that they have any ‘supernatural’ component or believe in “God” — but the metaphysics is suspiciously similar.

      And, of course, there are plenty of Buddhists who believe in spirits, reincarnation, miracles, etc.

      I have seen Buddhism used to counter the ‘no good without God’ claim — but I think it’s a bit dicey to do that, given that their Spirituality is pretty conventional, and the level pretty high.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted October 2, 2016 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

        There’s a relatively small movement called ‘secular Buddhism’ which has dialed down the supernatural element quite a bit. It absorbed an earlier movement called ‘skeptical Buddhism’.

        In much of America, I think there is an invisible rift between the skeptical Buddhists and the New Age Buddhists.

        Folks in the first group are looking for a ‘spiritual’ path compatible with science, and when not reading Buddhism are likely to be reading astronomy or Shakespeare (or even Sam Harris’s book “Waking Up”), but wouldn’t be caught dead reading Deepak Chopra.

        Folks in the 2nd group are far more woo-oriented.

        A friend of mine very much in group 1 leads a Buddhist group which has a few of group 2 in it.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted October 2, 2016 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

          It would seem likely there are as many flavours of Buddhism as there are of Christianity, Catholicism, Hinduism or Islam.

          So generalisations about any of those religions are quite likely to be inaccurate when applied to any particular sect.


    • Michael Fisher
      Posted October 2, 2016 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

      Frank I can’t grasp the direction of your comment, can you expand? Are you saying that the anti-theist type atheists are giving Buddhism too easy a ride? What is there to say about it negatively in comparison to the Abrahamic religions?

      Bear in mind that the people who embrace some branch or other of Buddhism [in full or in part] include atheists – there are atheist & agnostic Buddhists e.g. Stephen Batchelor a well known western secular Buddhist. There’s Sam Harris who employs Buddhist meditation, but scorns the supernatural elements.

      Hitchens has written of Buddhism as the sleep of reason, and of Buddhists as discarding their minds as well as their sandals & Dawkins has admitted he knows little about it – it’s not really a ‘hot’ topic is it compared with say how Christianity in Africa or America today is feeding an atmosphere of hatred/fear of gays?

      I can’t quite tell if you’re supportive of Buddhism or against it or what…

    • Posted October 2, 2016 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

      Sam Harris, (a practicing Buddhist) mentions it, and also Jainism quite often. It’s not such an easy pitch either, given the former theocracy in Tibet and the current Buddhist regime in Burma.

      As I (vaguely) understand it, historically speaking, Buddhism would have been a branch of Hinduism had Gautama not been rejected by Hindus. In other words, the Karma and reincarnation stuff is embedded in it.

      • carl
        Posted October 2, 2016 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

        Whoah – Sam Harris is not a practicing Buddhist!

        • Posted October 2, 2016 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

          Fair point — let me correct that: he practices Buddhist meditation.

        • JonLynnHarvey
          Posted October 2, 2016 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

          Indeed in his intro to “Waking Up”, Harris admits that he cribbed most of his beliefs about the spiritual life from Buddhism, but he finds the idea of any ecclesiastical establishment so odious that he declines to identify as Buddhist.

          • Carl
            Posted October 2, 2016 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

            It goes far beyond any clerical establishment that Buddhism has. Harris objects to all the associated dogmas and supernatural beliefs. It is only the meditation techniques – shorn of all religious trappings – that he takes from Buddhism.

            • JonLynnHarvey
              Posted October 2, 2016 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

              That’s not really true. In “Waking Up” Harris makes clear that he believes several schools of Buddhism have both a profound philosophy about the nature of consciousness and are already relatively free of irrational supernaturalism. (p.30-32)

              He spends a modest amount of time in a very friendly rebuttal of Hitchens’ view of Buddhism in GinG.

              It isn’t just meditation techniques SH takes from Buddhism.

              • Carl
                Posted October 3, 2016 at 12:18 am | Permalink

                This sounds like another way of saying:

                Harris objects to all the associated dogmas and supernatural beliefs. It is only the meditation techniques – shorn of all religious trappings – that he takes from Buddhism.

                You are right that he also thinks some Buddhists may have superior ideas concerning human consciousness, but he explicitly divorces this from the dogmas. In his own words:

                “The teachings of Buddhism and Advaita are best viewed as lab manuals and explorers’ logs detailing the results of empirical research on the nature of human consciousness.”

                Harris, Sam. Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion (p. 32). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

              • JonLynnHarvey
                Posted October 3, 2016 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

                This may be semantic, but while classical Asian Buddhism practice has belief in superstitions and miracles in the mix, Buddhism doesn’t really have “dogmas” in the sense that Roman Catholicism has dogmas. Buddhism proceeds on the basis of what seems to be true, albeit often processed very naively without all the tools of Western critical thinking.

                Much of the philosophy of mind of Buddhism IS its main primary teaching, whereas one would not identify the philosophy of Aquinas with Roman Catholicism.

                So the phrase “divorce from dogma” doesn’t seem quite right from me. Sam Harris does talk this way when talking about the mystical/spiritual experiences of Christian, Jewish, and Islamic mystics like Meister Eckhart or the Sufis, but it doesn’t quite gel when talking about Buddhism.

                “Separation from superstition” instead of “divorce from dogma” seems the more accurate phrase.

              • somer
                Posted October 3, 2016 at 10:28 pm | Permalink


              • somer
                Posted October 3, 2016 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

                My +1 is agreeing with Carl’s comment

  7. Damien McLeod
    Posted October 2, 2016 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    “requires that religion produce (Rational)(Scientific) evidence for its truth claims” Why does that simple statement fly right over the religious persons head?
    The words “rational” and “scientific” inserted by me—Personal Revelation and Faith in the Lord don’t count as Rational or Scientific, christian science and the teachings of the Mullah’s not withstanding.

  8. Nell Whiteside
    Posted October 2, 2016 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for these valuable reflections.

    TGD gave me such a sense of relief – that somebody, at last, was voicing (superbly) what I had felt vaguely since I was a teenager. It gave me fodder for my cannon. I also enjoyed the humour – “such bandwidth” re g*d listening to the multitude’s prayers.

    Those four New Atheist books are perhaps indicators that humanity is tending towards rationality – but still has a very long way to go.

  9. Historian
    Posted October 2, 2016 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    We should be aware of yet another attack on New Atheists by a supposed atheist, Donald McCarthy, posting on the AlterNet site. He claims that the New Atheists made a tactical error by unwittingly aligning themselves with Christian fundamentalists in criticizing Islam and supporting imperialism, i.e., the war in Iraq. They should have focused more on criticizing Christianity. Here are two quotes from the article.

    “Many of the prominent New Atheists did not end up focusing their attention on fundamentalism in America; instead, their attention became set on Islam and its spread. In essence, the New Atheists began to align with the very forces that they were reacting against: Christian imperialists aka neoconservatives.”

    “But instead of trying to combat religious extremism at home, the New Atheists chose a target that aligned them with imperialists and resulted in a catastrophic destabilizing of the Middle East that has only increased the number of Islamic terrorists.”


    McCarthy is wrong in two respects. First, not all New Atheists supported the Iraq War, even though a few prominent ones may have. New Atheists have in common a disdain for religion, but they hardly think alike on the wide spectrum of other issues. Second, New Atheists did not and do not neglect to point out with the greatest vigor the absurdities of Christianity. For New Atheists all religions are fair game.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted October 2, 2016 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

      Now that fellow is delusional. He almost sounds like being an atheist is a religion and he knows what the beliefs should be but these others guys, like Dawkins and Harris, missed the boat. If, at this time in history, Islam is not the most dangerous religious problem facing all mankind what does he think it is? Maybe Hindu? Methodist?

      • Zado
        Posted October 3, 2016 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

        Well, he may not care about “all mankind.”

        Political discourse in the U.S. is extremely introverted, and the provincialism it generates spans both sides of the political spectrum. Thus, it is quite common for liberals here to think that the only religion fit for secular criticism is evangelical Christianity. Many of these people will even insinuate that the only effective difference between evangelical Christians and jihadists is that the former get to vote for the president. You know, because “All religions have their extremists!”

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted October 2, 2016 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

      Yes, this is surely bonkers. Hitch was in favour of military action in Iraq, but for very specific political reasons. Richard, IIRC, was opposed to the invasion. Harris is more focused on Islam but surely cannot conceivably be labelled as a neocon. And I am not aware that Daniel Dennett has made any comment that could align him with ‘Christian imperialism/neocolonialism’.

      And saddling them with responsibility, even in part, for a ‘catastrophic destabilisation of the Middle East’ is grotesque.

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 2, 2016 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

      “He claims that the New Atheists made a tactical error by unwittingly aligning themselves with Christian fundamentalists in criticizing Islam and supporting imperialism, i.e., the war in Iraq.

      Can he name just one other prominent atheist besides Hitchens who favored that war? Hell, most atheists disagreed strongly with Hitch in that particular area.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted October 2, 2016 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

        That was my impression too.


  10. Randall Schenck
    Posted October 2, 2016 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for that post and reminding us why we are here to continue the discussion of the four and more, specifically Faith v Fact. If hard science was the total discussion, folks like me would be listing but saying very little. By including the religion and several other thing at this site, others can be more apart of it. Although I do not get the added special feeling from Dawkins by having switched from the religious and have always been a solid atheist, it is nice to have so much more company, thanks to him and all the others. I am just smarter for having read their work and keep them handing to go back and read again.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted October 2, 2016 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

      that’s handy, not handing

  11. Carl
    Posted October 2, 2016 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    I love and honor the New Atheists. I own all of their books. I have to disagree that what is new with this group is the scientific aspect. That aspect is a by product of the age we live in – where science has been able to advance so much in the world created by Old Atheists.

    New is the respectability these four horsemen have brought to atheism. Atheists now feel free to speak openly. Poll numbers have risen significantly. “Atheist” is not a pejorative, but a badge of honor. This is what’s new.

    But the decisive blows in the war against supernatural religion were delivered long ago. Jerry and fellow readers, have you read “Nature’s God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic” by Matthew Stewart? It’s a brilliant, lively history of atheism focused on the American founding. You will appreciate the New Atheists all the more when you see how they are continuing the work of the great radical philosophers who came before.

    • GBJames
      Posted October 2, 2016 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

      I’m not so sure it has brought respectability to atheists. I think the Gnu Atheists brought courage. I was an atheist pretty much my whole life, certainly my whole adult life. But it wasn’t until I saw Harris, et al, standing up against religion that I felt empowered to also be visibly atheist.

      That’s why I have no time for the argument that a “softer” approach is better. We had decade upon decade of “soft” atheism. It is only by being clear and “strident” that progress gets made. As the past ten years have demonstrated.

      • Claudia Baker
        Posted October 2, 2016 at 4:02 pm | Permalink


      • Posted October 2, 2016 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

        It is worth mentioning that this courageous attitude was alive and well when I was growing up in the 1970s. Long before the Four Horseman there was Madalyn Murray O’Hair, with her radio program (on a normal radio channel) and TV appearances (on normal TV) that pulled no punches and minced no words. She was more than a writer/speaker, too—- she was a real political activist,going all the way to the Supreme Court to make sure US kids don’t get indoctrinated in public schools. She was the one who gave me courage to go public.

        • Carl
          Posted October 2, 2016 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

          Thanks, for this excellent reminder.

        • Diane G.
          Posted October 2, 2016 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

          I was aware of O’Hair but too distracted with all the other causes of the late 60s thru the 70s to pay much attention to her at the time. (Regrettably.) In the 80’s I started looking around for outspoken atheists and discovered Paul Kurtz’s CODESH (I’d been aware of PSICOP much earlier). This was a quite the going concern at the time and I was delighted to find the likes of Carl Sagan, E.O. Wilson, Murray Gell-Mann, Richard Dawkins, James Randi, et al, all frequently featured and/or published in Free Inquiry. Kurtz tirelessly promulgated secular humanism and a non-theistic scientific world view in his publications, conventions, appearances wherever they’d have him (and by him, I really mean all the well-known names who were a part of CODESH/PSICOP), even founding Prometheus publishing which offered a great number of atheist/freethinking/secular volumes. I often wonder what he’d have been able to accomplish had he overlapped more with the internet age.

          Also active in “the old days” was the FFRF, of course, which likewise published books, sought and received publicity and fought significant legal battles for the cause.

          And like infiniteimprobabilit mentions above, The Blind Watchmaker far preceded The God Delusion.

          Guess my point is that there’s been a significant atheist movement for much longer than many people realize. (And much earlier than O’Hair/Kurtz/FFRF.) In fact, what I don’t remember from the old days was much if any of an accomodationist voice!

          Which isn’t to say that it wasn’t delightful to see the rise of the Four Horsemen (and all the subsequent Horsepeople, our host prominently amongst them). I bought 4 copies of TGD right off the bat; one for me and the others as gifts for young people I knew who were beginning to ask all the right questions…

          Whew, sorry for the tl,dr outpouring!

  12. Sastra
    Posted October 2, 2016 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    I think what’s “new” about New Atheism is that it applied the old anti-accomodationist strategy historically used by many atheists to the more recent forms of accomodationism, which had been undergoing a kind of golden period. That’s basically it. New atheism isn’t defined against “old” atheism, but against accomodationism (no conflict between science and religion; religion is on the whole good for people; attack only extremists, and do it by claiming they’re not really religious.)

    A lot of people want to relabel it now — which could have been predicted upfront. 10 years is old to the young. I’ve considered Silverman’s term “Firebrand Atheism,” but the fact that one can be a mild, slow-moving, self-effacing ‘Firebrand Atheist’ does make the term problematic.

    • Posted October 2, 2016 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      “Smouldering Atheist”?


      • Sastra
        Posted October 2, 2016 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, I thought of that — but what would be the general reaction to answering “So, what religion are you?” with “I’m a Smoldering Atheist.”

        Tread lightly.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted October 2, 2016 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

      Hasn’t this sort of relabeling been tried before? How’d that work out?

      • Sastra
        Posted October 2, 2016 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

        Ironically, The Brights movement is pretty much accomodationist.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted October 2, 2016 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

        The ‘brights’ – Dawkins’ biggest mistake, IMO. Just the name. It sounds so smug, vain, conceited and arrogant. I would cringe to call myself one.

        Which is not to say I could suggest a better one, because I can’t. I might settle for ‘unbeliever’. (It’s probably telling that I prefer a negative attribute rather than a positive one).


        • Diane G.
          Posted October 2, 2016 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

          Not, of course, that it was Dawkin’s idea in the first place; he & Dennett just signed on. Most people who cringe at the Brights know very little about what they actually do.

          Surely you remember how ludicrous the term gays sounded when it first came out (came out–heh).

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted October 2, 2016 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

            It’s not what they do that makes me cringe. Just, as I said above, the name.

            Gays weren’t in quite the same situation. Every name for them at the time (homos, queers, and worse) was derogatory – ‘gay’ could only be an improvement. Not the same IMO for atheists – atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, unbelievers – I’d even settle happily for ‘heathens’. 😉


            • Diane G.
              Posted October 3, 2016 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

              Last thing I want to get into is a rehash of everyone’s reasons for hating “Brights.” It’s not a fave of mine, either, but I used to think “gay” for homosexuals was absurd; I even remember that just “black” sounded strange back when we’d been using Negro and colored people.

              My ONLY point (and it wasn’t directed at you, of course) was that in no way was it Dawkin’s idea originally, and that hoping for a successful roll out was not unprecedented at the time.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted October 3, 2016 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

                I was pretty sure it wasn’t originated by Dawkins, though the first I heard of it was either in TGD or something else he wrote. I do recall him working up to it, making the point that atheists needed a more positive word, and being slightly dismayed when he announced the choice.

                By the way, I never thought ‘black’ sounded strange, I think it was always a term for ‘colored’ people, though of course there was much controversy over whether it was derogatory or not.


        • DiscoveredJoys
          Posted October 3, 2016 at 3:53 am | Permalink

          I prefer ‘god free’ for several of reasons.

          Firstly I acknowledge that the existence of a god is highly improbable but I cannot say that the probability is zero. The probability is low enough that I happily live my life as if there were no god.

          Secondly it is a more positive statement than being ‘against’ something like a-theist or un-believer.

          Thirdly, although I am humanist in outlook, I don’t choose to align myself with another ‘world view’ with organisations and meetings and principles. I guess I’m not a joiner.

          Finally my preference is not to ‘fight’ religion (for that generates resistance) but to live as a secular example. I’m fortunate to live in a society where this is feasible. If people want to believe daft things that’s fine with me, but their ‘freedom’ to do so stops when it affects others – just as my ‘freedom’ does.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted October 3, 2016 at 4:12 am | Permalink

            Just to split a hair – a-theist and un-believer technically don’t mean ‘against’, they just mean ‘free from’ – like your preferred designation. But I do agree, in practice they often imply anti.

            But god-free is OK in my book – it doesn’t have the smug sound of ‘bright’.

            (Oh, and my other objection to ‘bright’ – it is an arbitrary designation with no particular connection to atheism. A religious revival group could have chosen to call themselves ‘brights’ with just as much justification).


        • Saul Sorrell-Till
          Posted October 3, 2016 at 5:48 am | Permalink

          I like ‘materialist’. I don’t know why, but there’s something pugnacious and defiant about it.
          The more general, consumerist meaning of ‘materialism’ has such negative connotations and the word’s been tainted as a result so it feels slightly seditious to use it as a label.

          ‘Naturalist’ is also good.
          I’ve no idea whether someone’s already thought of it and used it, but “100% Natural – No Supernatural Ingredients” would make a good atheist t-shirt slogan.

          • Posted October 3, 2016 at 6:43 am | Permalink

            That slogan – at least, the last three words – has already been used. By the Brights.


            • Saul Sorrell-Till
              Posted October 3, 2016 at 8:18 am | Permalink

              It did seem a bit too neat not to have been used before. Oh well. I was hoping I might one day TM it and make a minute amount of money selling t-shirts to one of the smallest sections of society.

            • Diane G.
              Posted October 3, 2016 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

              Beat me to it. 🙂 (I’d thought the first part showed up in some of their merchandise, too…I’m too lazy to check now.)

            • Posted October 4, 2016 at 7:05 am | Permalink


          • Posted October 3, 2016 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

            Problem is that there are materialist theists (Epicureans) and idealist atheists (Gautama, Hume/Mill/Russell [for a while], etc.) So “materialist” is good, but to subsume atheism under it blurs distinctions.

    • Carl
      Posted October 2, 2016 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

      Excellent points, but I think there is a category mistake (which doesn’t diminish the force of your argument).

      Personally, I don’t think about “New Atheism” – only “New Atheists” – four specific people. The atheism of Spinoza (1632-1677) would be hard to differentiate in substance from that of Dawkins, Harris, or Hitchens. Even in style: if Spinoza wasn’t a firebrand, there never was one.

      • Carl
        Posted October 2, 2016 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

        Maybe the difference is this. The effect of Spinoza’s work has permeated and changed what was an almost universally theistic world. Spinoza didn’t think very much of mankind could be convinced his views were salutary. Now the ground is prepared for further progress.

      • Sastra
        Posted October 2, 2016 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

        I don’t see the category mistake, since I specifically pointed out that the “new” in New Atheism didn’t indicate new tactics, approaches, and attitudes, but simply a modern day, popular re-application of old substance.

        • Diane G.
          Posted October 2, 2016 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

          Exactly, and, as you also said, in reaction to the rise of the accomodationists.

    • Posted October 2, 2016 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

      I think that’s the right distinction — nailed it!

  13. Sastra
    Posted October 2, 2016 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    I understand that the post at Friendly Atheist was supposed to be a brief, friendly retrospective — which is fine — but I think it might have been a better, more complete set of reflections if it had included an atheist who first embraced, then under reflection became disenchanted, with The God Delusion and/or the New Atheist movement. Keep shaking things up.

    It’s fun.

    • John Harshman
      Posted October 2, 2016 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

      You need to drop the other shoe. Who are some of these disenchanted atheists, and why did they become disenchanted?

      • Sastra
        Posted October 2, 2016 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

        Who? Well, PZ Myers, Ophelia Benson, and Rebecca Watson come to mind first — and for the ‘why’ you’ll have to go to their sites and search topic, I think their reasons are rather exhaustive.

        • John Harshman
          Posted October 2, 2016 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

          The book or Dawkins personally?

          • Posted October 2, 2016 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

            “The book or Dawkins personally?”

            Good question. Maybe I’m out of touch, but what problems they have with Dawkins, that I’m aware of, have nothing to do with the book, or his atheism.

            • John Harshman
              Posted October 2, 2016 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

              That was my impression. So nobody’s disenchanted with the God Delusion, that we know of.

              • GBJames
                Posted October 3, 2016 at 6:54 am | Permalink

                Oh, there’s been plenty of accomodationist-inclined atheists who have cried “strident”, “scientism”, and so forth regarding both the book and the author. Our former WEITian and honorary uncle Eric MacDonald comes to mind.

          • Sastra
            Posted October 3, 2016 at 7:45 am | Permalink

            The long term effect of the book, and the ‘New Atheism’ movement in general, I think. The short opinion essays weren’t reviewing The God Delusion, they were talking about how it helped move public atheism in a more positive direction. It might have been interesting then to see a little something from someone who first expected it was, but now thinks it didn’t. But you could be right, the book itself might be tangential to the issue.

            • John Harshman
              Posted October 3, 2016 at 10:40 am | Permalink

              The only criticism of Dawkins I’ve seen from anyone who initially like the book has been of his tweets and related public utterances. I have never seen anyone pull back from the book itself. And that’s what I was asking about.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted October 2, 2016 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

          Are they disenchanted atheists, or disenchanted feminists?


          • Sastra
            Posted October 3, 2016 at 7:54 am | Permalink

            Both. Just as Sean Carroll would be a disappointed atheist and a disappointed scientist if Dawkins came out endorsing Intelligent Design, say. They shared the view that an atheism worth having connects the two, and does it well.

  14. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted October 2, 2016 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    I attribute much of the success of the New Atheism to the experience many Americans had in the 2000s of being caught in the crossfire of the malignant fundamentalism of Islamic terrorism and the stupid fundamentalism of the Bush administration.

    I really like the accompanying BBC documentary of the same name, earlier released as “The Root of All Evil?”. The interviews are priceless.

    My favorite bits of the book were the discussion of the Founding Fathers, and the tale of the Jewish boy taken from his parents in Italy. I don’t remember if his description of 9/11 as using a “faith-based missile system” in from GdDl or not, but it’s a line I really really like.
    Dawkins also has a punchy, snappy prose style.

    There are some of arguments in The GdDl that I don’t agree with. The chapter speculating on the possible origins of religion is IMO weak and at least 3 cultural anthropologists have balked at it, and I had quarrels with the discussion of Einstein.
    His critique of the Bible is confined to a moral criticism, and some discussion of the Four Source theory of the Torah would have been interesting. (God is consistently the most vindictive in the J & D passages moreso than in E and P.) So also would be some discussion of the blurry overlay of multiple religious points of view (virtually none of which are the same as modern evangelical Christianity) that constitutes the New Testament. Bart Ehrman is good on this.

    Re “Four books appeared with a few months of each other a decade ago:”
    Dan Dennett is a bit confused on his dates.
    End of Faith: August 2004
    God Delusion: October 2006
    Breaking the Spell: February 2007
    God is not Great: May 2007

    • Sastra
      Posted October 2, 2016 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

      Well, measured against the scale of evolution, less than 4 years isn’t even going to show up on the poster. “A few months” = less than 100,000,000 months. Iow, the four books all appeared in the same instant, technically.

      Creationists will think that’s magic because they don’t understand deep time.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted October 2, 2016 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

      Sam’s book registered in the public consciousness when it was released, and was still there two years later. But it was when the three other books showed up on best-seller lists within six months of each other, and then lingered there together, that New Atheism drew notices as a “movement.”

  15. rose
    Posted October 2, 2016 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    Atheists are still considered bad people i suppose.I’m reminded of a couple years ago.We were selling our house and having people come in to see it,very annoying.Well i had just bought Hichens book God is not Great and it was on the coffee table. My 23 yrold son seen it and hid it somewhere. I don’t think he believes in God maybe he does, but to think this is not how we want people to see us as against God. We didn’t sell the house refinanced and i guess God wanted us to stay.

  16. dabertini
    Posted October 2, 2016 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    The g*d DELUSION was my introduction to popular science writing. And i haven’t look back. Thank you sam harris, Richard dawkins, daniel Dennett, christopher hitchens, lawrence krauss and especially PCC (e) for all that you have done and continue to do.

    • stevenh
      Posted October 2, 2016 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

      I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I had read nothing of Richard Dawkins before The God Delusion. I have rectified that omission in the meantime and read, I think, all of his books. Pretty much likewise for the other three of the Four Horsemen, plus Ayaan Hirsi Ali who was meant to have been at the discussion but could not make it. And of course, PCC, Lawrence Krauss, A.C. Grayling, Steven Pinker and more.

      Nature’s God, as mentioned by Carl above, comes highly recommended by me also.

      • Carl
        Posted October 3, 2016 at 12:49 am | Permalink

        Thanks for seconding me on “Nature’s God.” Such a multi-layered and beautiful piece of writing.

        We’ve all (I hope) seen the debates with Harris and Hitchens against theists who raise Stalinism and Nazism as black marks on atheism. H&H give OK replies painting those evil ideologies as forms of religion, but I would like a more affirmative answer as well, such as this given and backed up in spades by Matthew Stewart:

        “Once upon a time it may have seemed reasonable to fear that the loss of religion would destroy everything in a bonfire of nihilism. But today we don’t really need to wonder what a society founded on the principles of atheism would look like. We just need to understand aright the history of the United States.”

        “Nature’s God” explains that history in exciting detail with the bonus that you will never hear the claim “America is a Christian Nation” without an inward smugness concerning the ignorance of the claimant.

        Stewart, Matthew. Nature’s God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic (p. 313). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

  17. Michael
    Posted October 2, 2016 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    Personally, I hope atheist meetings don’t just die out. They’re loads of fun and a great opportunity to meet some heroes and brilliant authors and scientists.

    Even if atheism becomes more widespread, surely not everyone will be interested in the meetings. But after all, many of us are gregarious beings and enjoy that type of thing.

    • Sastra
      Posted October 2, 2016 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

      I agree. It’s fun to go somewhere and ‘talk shop.’ I’ve been attending atheist conventions since the mid-90’s.

      Originally they were pretty small — maybe 50 or 60 people. Then the attendance grew to hundreds or even thousands. I suspect that the huge conventions will eventually be a thing of the past and it will go back to the ‘there must have been dozens of people’ level.

      That’s not a bad size at all, from an attendee standpoint. Big enough to meet new people, small enough to recognize all, be recognized by all, and sit down and eat with the speakers if you want.

  18. Posted October 2, 2016 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    “Organizations with a secular rather than explicitly atheist agenda…will continue to hold well-attended meetings, but expect to see atheist meetings die off…”

    I wonder if the sudden appearance of atheism a concept in public discourse has helped to make it clearer that secularism is distinct from atheism. I hope it has, or will.

  19. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted October 2, 2016 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    I had been hearing from time to time that the new atheists aren’t doing it differently from the old atheists, and that may be true. But the N.A. sell books on Amazon, hold meetings, and of course post to a wide audience on the internet. The new atheists are different in that their message can be heard everywhere.

  20. Saul Sorrell-Till
    Posted October 2, 2016 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    I understand a lot of people here will have been ‘out’ atheists long before TGD but for me this book really did change my entire way of thinking almost overnight. My dad got it for me for my 25th birthday, passed it on to me having read it himself, and I absolutely devoured it.

    It was like water in the desert, and my first introduction to a way of looking at the world that cohered. It wiped the slate clean for me, about religion of course, but also about how to think about things, and it did it with such clarity and economy. I’d never read anything so precise: writing that excised all the vagueness, all the laziness, all the pretense to certainty, that had been so endemic to my intellectual world up ’til then.
    As someone who had sat comatose through school science lessons and whose reading had centred upon music, fiction, English lit. crit….coming upon arguably the most brilliant modern exponent of scientific rationalism, and reading in TGD confirmation of all the doubts that had been humming away in the back of my head every time I’d ever had to sit through church or go to R.S., was an intellectual overload. I spent the next three or four years hunting down every book on the subject of atheism and religion, from the library, from Amazon, 2nd hand stores, before gradually broadening my tastes to evolutionary biology and then physics and philosophy. Finally I developed an inevitable interest in politics and liberalism in particular.

    It’s no exaggeration to say that I wouldn’t have read up on any of these subjects if my dad hadn’t bought me The God Delusion back then. I like to think I’d have got somewhere near where I am now but who knows?

    This is one of very few times in my life when a work of art has had a genuinely profound effect on me: I can count the instances on the thumbs of two hands… and whilst the idea of going around to Dawkins lectures and trying to meet him, or asking for his signature, or regarding him as some kind of celebrity, strikes me as a touch creepy, I absolutely admit to being a huge fan.
    I hear bien-pensant friends expound on the subject of religion and, inevitably, Dawkins, and I find myself stepping in to defend him regardless of his less attractive tweets and public statements not because I think he’s a wonderful human being but because I can’t help but enthuse about the way he writes, and the quality of thinking that is conveyed by said writing.

    To center on the ‘controversies’ is to miss the point – it’s not primarily what he’s written that’s had the most impact on me, rather it’s the way he wrote it and the complete intellectual honesty that it encourages in the reader. I don’t think any other writer or(whether or not you think TGD is his best work) any other book would have inspired the intellectual volte-face that took place nine years ago, and which lit a fire in me that’s still burning.

    • Sastra
      Posted October 2, 2016 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

      Bravo. I loved reading this.

      • Carl
        Posted October 2, 2016 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

        Me too. Redemption stories don’t have to lie within the religious tradition.

        • Kevin
          Posted October 2, 2016 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

          Neither do redemption songs (Bob Marley). 😀

      • Diane G.
        Posted October 2, 2016 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

        Me three!

    • Mark R.
      Posted October 2, 2016 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

      concur, concur!!! Well said Saul, thanks.

    • Posted October 3, 2016 at 7:14 am | Permalink

      Right on, brother!

  21. madscientist
    Posted October 2, 2016 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know if there’s anything new about asking for evidence, even Plato’s Socrates questioned how people could know the will of the gods. It’s still a valid question: how does the pope and his harem of bishops know what god thinks – indeed how do they know that there is only one god as opposed to many or none? The same goes for other popular superstitions.

  22. nwalsh
    Posted October 2, 2016 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    I also own all the books mentioned. Although not terribly appropriate. Happy retirement to Vin Scully from a Giant fan in Canada.

  23. Posted October 2, 2016 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    The faitheist response to The God Delusion is the best demonstration of its effectiveness. They seldom even attempted to dispute Dawkins’ clear, simple arguments against religious belief head on. That’s not surprising, because when they tried they invariably looked stupid, foolish, or both. Instead they resorted to ad hominem attacks. By attacking the messenger instead of the message they didn’t hurt Dawkins. They only revealed how threadbare their own arguments are.

    • Nicolas Perrault
      Posted October 2, 2016 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

      Very true!

  24. Mark R.
    Posted October 2, 2016 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    I love this book…I think I’m ready to read it for the 3rd time. After reading it the second time, I gleaned more insight. It has many layers.

    I’ve given one copy to an atheist friend who ‘loved it’ and another copy to a friend that is agnostic and believes in a lot of woo…he said it was ‘ok’.

    Does anyone have a 1st edition hard cover? I just looked it up on eBay, and they fetch a lot of dosh, especially the UK edition.

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 2, 2016 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

      Yes, of course I do! How interesting.

  25. Bill
    Posted October 2, 2016 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

    I’ll be honest, i still think that Hitchens and his book, God Is Not Great, is the best thing that came out from this whole “New Atheist” Movement.

    End Of Faith and The God Delusion are not nearly as convincing, or well argued, as that book.

    • Carl
      Posted October 3, 2016 at 1:10 am | Permalink

      I’m not sure I would agree or disagree. We are fortunate to have them all. And the body of work from all four horsemen that extends well beyond the four volumes under discussion.

      But Hitchens in debate or interview was truly remarkable. CSpan has old tapes of Hitchens with William F. Buckley and Brian Lamb that go way back. Even when I profoundly disagreed with him, in his earlier socialist days, he was a treat to watch, and still is.

  26. nicky
    Posted October 2, 2016 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    Of course we had ‘old atheists’, Voltaire, Marx, Russell, and many, many more.
    What was so powerful in TGD is that it so systematically took on -head on,for that matter- nearly every conceivable argument.

  27. Posted October 3, 2016 at 4:31 am | Permalink

    I was a young earth creationist Christian, I read those four books in a row. My path to questioning religion and then discarding it, started exactly there.

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 3, 2016 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

      Wow, that’s a helluva journey. Congrats!

  28. Posted October 3, 2016 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    For me, The God Delusion was a bit of a revelation (so to speak).

    I’d been a defacto atheist since going to university (maybe the one thing Rick Santorum has been correct about in his life). but I still had a soft spot for religion.

    After reading The God Delusion, that was all gone. I called myself an atheist and felt well-grounded in it, with excellent reasons for being an atheist.

    And the furor that the book generated was interesting as well. I participated in many online (mainly) discussions with theists and sharpening my reasons and reasoning in this area.

    So, it was very good all around.

    I suspect some other readers have had similar experiences.

  29. RPGNo1
    Posted October 3, 2016 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    Happy Birthday, “God Delusion”!
    I will be on holiday in a few weeks and then read the book again for recreation.

  30. sob1989
    Posted October 3, 2016 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Episyllogism and commented:
    On God . . .

  31. Vaal
    Posted October 3, 2016 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    What a nice retrospective on TGD!

    For me, Dawkins’ Blind Watchmaker sealed the deal. To borrow Dawkins’ phrase, at that point I had no religious beliefs, but TBW allowed me to be an “intellectually fulfilled” atheist, insofar as it gave me a deeper insight into explaining life, and what it looked like to keenly follow evidence over dogma.

    The other book for me, pre New Atheists, that had a big impact, and I think often doesn’t get enough mention, is Dan Barker’s
    book Losing Faith In Faith (from preacher to atheist). Barker was out there doing Oprah in the 80’s making the case against religion.
    And his early 90’s book on losing faith was a powerful captivating read. I remember discovering it in a book sale, thinking it sounded like such a fascinating story, and by the time I finished reading it I had a far stronger opinion regarding the status of religion than before, just as many experienced with the New Atheist books.

    I remember first encountering Sam Harris in an interview with The Infidel Guy, when he’d just begun promoting his book. I was mesmerized hearing Harris talk on the issue of atheism and religion: I’d never heard someone speak with such clarity of thought, the way one proposition led so inevitably to the next, it was like being helpless before a logic machine. Everything just made so much sense.

    ‘Course I disagree with some of Harris’ stuff now, not a lot of it, but he still has that wonderful quality of lucidly leading through the logic of an argument.

    • GBJames
      Posted October 3, 2016 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      That was my reaction when Sam’s book came out, too. So absolutely crystal clear. I still think so, although I disagree with his arguments about gun control.

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 3, 2016 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

      Omigosh, I wish I’d stumbled on Losing Faith in Faith back then! Barker’s a wonderful writer (not to mention speaker & musician and FFRF co-president and…) and I love godless! As you say, I wish both books got anywhere near the attention that the “big 4” do.

  32. Posted October 3, 2016 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    I must say although I have enjoyed Dawkins’ other work from time to time, I’ve not gotten around to this one. A dear friend and another friend of hers are reading this together. Maybe with that and the anniversary I might get around to it …

  33. Posted October 3, 2016 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    When I was in the process of extirpating myself from religion and faith, The God Delusion was like a a friendly hand pulling me out of the muck of abuse and needless pain. I remember being surprised by the tone of the book… It has been described as volatile and nasty, and I wondered if the people who’d said were referring to an entirely different book. Dawkins goes after religion and the damage it’s wrought, but he was gentle. I remember reading his kind words to people who were treated like sub-humans by friends and family after they became ex-believers; his comforting and downright tender advice made me cry.

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