The God Delusion Notes

Chapter One: A Deeply Religious Non-Believer

p. 33: “Weinberg is surely right that, if the word God is not to become completely useless, it should be used in the way people have generally understood it: to denote a supernatural creator that is ‘appropriate for us to worship’.”

p. 37: Discussing Einstein’s relationship with religion, “The notion that religion is a proper field, in which one might claim expertise, is one that should not go unquestioned.”

p. 39: “Let’s remind ourselves of the terminology. A theist believes in a supernatural intelligence who, in addition to his main work of creating the universe in the first place, is still around to oversee and influence the subsequent fate of his initial creation… A deist, too, believes in a supernatural intelligence, but one whose activities were confined to setting up the laws that govern the universe in the first place. The deist God never intervenes thereafter, and certainly has no specific interest in human affairs. Pantheists don’t believe in a supernatural God at all, but use the word God as a non-supernatural synonym for Nature, or the Universe, or for the lawfulness that governs its workings.”

p. 40: “Pantheism is sexed-up atheism. Deism is watered-down theism.”

p. 41: “The metaphorical or pantheistic God of the physicists is light years away from the interventionist, miracle-wreaking, thought-reading, sin-punishing, prayer-answering God of the Bible, of priests, mullahs and rabbis, and of ordinary language. Deliberately to confuse the two is, in my opinion, an act of intellectual high treason."

p. 50: “It is in light of the unparalleled presumption of respect for religion that I make my own disclaimer for this book. I shall not go out of my way to offend but nor shall I don kid gloves to handle religion any more gently that I would handle anything else.”

Chapter Two: The God Hypothesis

p. 52: The God Hypothesis: “there exists a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us.

p. 52: This book will advocate an alternative view: any creative intelligence of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product if an extended process of gradual evolution. Creative intelligences, being evolved, necessarily evolve late in the universe, and therefore cannot be responsible for designing it. God, in the sense defined, is a delusion…”

p. 54: “Splitting Christendom by splitting hairs – such has ever been the way of theology.”

p. 55: After discussing the various partisans of heaven: “What impresses me about Catholic theology is partly its tasteless kitsch but mostly the airy nonchalance with which these people make up details as they go along. It is just shamelessly invented.”

p. 57: “…what, after all, is the difference between a non-existent female and a non-existent male? I suppose that, in the ditzily unreal intersection of theology and feminism, existence might indeed be a less salient attribute than gender.”

p. 57: “I decry supernaturalism in all its forms, and the most effective way to proceed will be to concentrate on the form most likely to be familiar to my readers – the form that impinges most threateningly on all our societies [referring to the Abrahamic traditions].”

p. 57: “I am not attacking any particular version of God or gods. I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented.”

p. 70: Dawkins describes the difference between Temporary Agnosticism in Practice (TAP) from Permanent Agnosticism in Principle (PAP). Discussing the proper stance towards the question of whether or not God exists, Dawkins states: “The view that I shall defend is very different: agnosticism about the existence of God belongs firmly in the temporary or TAP category. Either he exists or he doesn’t. It is a scientific question; one day we may know the answer, and meanwhile we can say something pretty strong about the probability.”

p. 72: “The fact that we can prove nor disprove the existence of something does not put existence and non-existence on an even footing.”

p. 74: “…it is a common error…to leap from the premise that the question of God’s existence is in principle unanswerable to the conclusion that his existence and his non-existence are equiprobable.”

p. 77: “What matters is not whether God is disprovable (he isn’t) but whether his existence if probable.”

p. 80: “I have yet to see any good reason to suppose theology (as opposed to biblical history, literature, etc.) is a subject at all.”

p. 94: “…anyone seeking to understand the published statements of scientists on religious matters would do well not to forget the political context: the surreal culture wards now rending America.”

The second half of this chapter seeks to undermine the idea that the question of whether or not a god exists is beyond scientific analysis. He brushes aside the notion that principled agnosticism is the appropriate stance to hold; he dismisses the notion of Non-Overlapping Magisterium; and he briefly discusses scientific attempts to in/validate certain religious practices (particularly the efficacy of prayer). 

Chapter Three: Arguments for God’s Existence

pp. 100-101: After dismissing the first three of Thomas Aquinas’ proofs for the existence of God, Dawkins notes that: “All three of these arguments rely upon the idea of a regress and invoke God to terminate it. They make the entirely unwarranted assumption that God himself is immune to the regress. Even if we allow the dubious luxury of arbitrarily conjuring up a terminator to an infinite regress and giving it a name, simply because we need one, there is absolutely no reason to endow that terminator with any of the properties normally ascribed to God…”

p. 107: Discussing the difference in his way of approaching problems to those of philosophers, “I mean it as a compliment when I say that you could almost define a philosopher as someone who won’t take common sense for an answer.”

p. 112: Discussing the argument from personal experience: “You say you have experienced God directly? Well, some people have experienced a pink elephant, but that probably doesn’t impress you.”

p. 126: “After discussing the “argument from admired religious scientists”, Dawkins notes that, “The efforts of apologists to find genuinely distinguished modern scientists who are religious have an air of desperation, generating the unmistakably hollow sound of bottoms of barrels being scraped.”

p. 130: “Pascal’s Wager could only ever be an argument for feigning belief in God. And the God that you claim to believe in had better not be of the omniscient kind or he’d see through the deception.”

p. 131: “Would you bet on God’s valuing dishonestly faked belief (or even honest belief) over honest skepticism?”

p. 135: Discussing the problem of evil and the fact that an evil god does not run into the conundrum a good god and the existence of evil poses, “…people of a theological bent are often chronically incapable of distinguishing what is true from what they’d like to be true.”

p. 136: “A designer God cannot be used to explain organized complexity because any God capable of designing anything would have to be complex enough to demand the same kind of explanation in his own right. God presents an infinite regress from which he cannot help us escape.”

Chapter Four: Why There Almost Certainly Is No God

p. 139: “The argument from improbability states that complex things could not have come about by chance. But many people define ‘come about by chance’ as a synonym for ‘come about in the absence of deliberate design’.”

p. 139: “The illusion of design is a trap that has caught us before, and Darwin should have immunized us by raising our consciousness. Would that he had succeeded with all of us.”

p. 147: “Chance and design both fail as solutions to the problem of statistical improbability, because one of them is the problem, and the other one regress to it. Natural selection is a real solution. It is the only workable solution that has ever been suggested. And it is not only a workable solution, it is a solution of stunning elegance and power.”

p. 147: “…natural selection is a cumulative process, which breaks the problem of improbability up into smaller pieces.”

p. 152: “…one of the truly bad effects of religion is that it teaches us that it is a virtue to be satisfied with not understanding.”

p. 155: “Those people who leap from personal bafflement at a natural phenomenon straight to a hasty invocation of the supernatural are no better than the fools who see a conjuror bending a spoon and leap to the conclusion that it is ‘paranormal’.”

p. 162: Contrasting evolution with the origin of life, “The origin of life only had to happen once. We there can allow it to have been an extremely improbable event, many orders of magnitude more improbable than most people realize…”

p. 164: “The anthropic principle, like natural selection, is an alternative to the design hypothesis. It provides a rational, design-free explanation for the fact that we find ourselves in a situation propitious to our existence.”

p. 167: “The evolution of life is a completely different case from the origin of life because, to repeat, the origin of life was (or could have been) a unique event which had to happen only once. The adaptive fit of species to their separate environments, on the other hand, is millionfold, and ongoing.”

p. 180: “The theory of natural selection is genuinely simple. So is the origin from which it starts. That which it explains, on the other hand, is complex almost beyond telling: more complex than anything we can imagine, save a God capable of designing it.”

p. 187: “The nineteenth century is the last time when it was possible for an educated person to admit to believing in miracles like the virgin birth without embarrassment. When pressed, many educated Christians today are too loyal to deny the virgin birth and the resurrection. But it embarrasses them because their rational minds know it is absurd, so they would much rather not be asked.”

Chapter Five: The Roots of Religion

p. 190: “Nature is a miserly accountant, grudging the pennies, watching the clock, punishing the smallest extravagance.”

p. 192: Discussing the wasteful extravagance of religion, Dawkins asks, “What is it all for? What is the benefit of religion?”

p. 197: “The Darwinian still wants to know why people are vulnerable to the charms of religion and therefore open to exploitation by priest, politicians and kings.”

p. 200: “I am one of an increasing number of biologists who see religion as a by-product of something else.”

p. 202: “The religious behaviour may be a misfiring, an unfortunate by-product of an underlying psychological propensity which in other circumstances is, or once was, useful.”

 p. 214: “Justin Barrett coined the acronym HADD, for hyperactive agent detection device. We hyperactively detect agents where there are none, and this makes us suspect malice or benignity where, in fact, nature is only indifferent.”

p. 218: “The general theory of religion as an accidental by-product – a misfiring of something useful – is the one I wish to advocate. The details are various, complicated and disputable.”

p. 221: “Even though conventional Darwinian selection of genes might have favoured psychological predispositions that produce religion as a by-product, it is unlikely to have shaped the details.”

p. 223: Discussing memes and their relationship to genes, “A gene’s fate is normally bound up with the bodies in which it successively sits. To the extent that it influences those bodies, it affects its own chances of surviving in the gene pool. As the generations go by, genes increase or decrease in frequency in the gene pool by virtue of their phenotypic proxies.”

p. 224: “The most important objection is the allegation that memes are copied with insufficiently high fidelity to function as Darwinian replicators… The details may wander idiosyncratically, but the essence passes down unmutated, and that is all that is needed for the analogy of memes with genes to work.”

p. 225: “The fact that … a teachable skill can spread like an epidemic tells us something important about the high fidelity of memetic transmission.”

p. 227: “The fact that memes can sometimes display very high fidelity, due to self-normalizing processes… is enough to answer some of the commonest objections that are raised to the meme/gene analogy.”

p. 229: “Genes ‘collaborate’ with hundreds of other genes in programming the developmental processes that culminate in a body, in the same kind of way as the words of a recipe collaborate in a cookery process that culminates in a dish. It is not the case that each word of the recipe corresponds to a different morsel of the dish.”

Chapter Six: The Roots of Morality: Why Are We Good?

p. 241: “A great deal of the opposition to the teaching of evolution has no connection with evolution itself, or with anything scientific, but is spurred on by moral outrage.”

p. 246: Discussing the seemingly counter-intuitive appearance of altruism, Dawkins notes that, “The Logic of Darwinism concludes that the unit in the hierarchy of life which survives and passes through the filter of natural selection will tend to be selfish… The question is, what is the level of the action?”

p. 264” “Even if it were true that we need God to be moral, it would of course not make God’s existence more likely, merely more desirable (many people cannot tell the difference).”

p. 265: “Moral philosophers are the professionals when it comes to thinking about right and wrong. As Robert Hinde succinctly put it, they agree that ‘moral precepts, while not necessarily constructed by reason, should be defensible by reason’.”

Chapter Seven: The ‘Good Book’ and the Changing Moral Zeitgeist

p. 268: “To be fair, much of the Bible is not systematically evil, but just plain weird, as you would expect of a chaotically cobbled-together anthology of disjointed documents, composed, revised, translated, distorted and ‘improved’ by hundreds of anonymous authors, editors and copyists, unknown to us and mostly unknown to each other, spanning nine centuries.”

p. 269: “…picking and choosing is a matter of personal decision, just as much, or as little, as the atheist’s decision to follow this moral precept or that was a personal decision, without an absolute foundation. If one of these is ‘morality flying by the seat of its pants’, so is the other.”

p. 279: After discussing various immoral incidents throughout the Old Testament, Dawkins notes that, “All I am establishing is that modern morality, wherever it comes from, does not come from the Bible.”

p. 284: Driving home the point that we do not derive our morals from religion, Dawkins notes that, “…the moral superiority of Jesus precisely bears out my point. Jesus was not content to derive his ethics from the scriptures of his upbringing.”

p. 287: “I have described atonement, the central doctrine of Christianity, as vicious, sado-masochistic and repellent. We should also dismiss it as barking mad, but for its ubiquitous familiarity which has dulled our objectivity.”

p. 287: “Oh, but of course, the story of Adam and Eve was only ever p. 287: “Oh, but of course, the story of Adam and Eve was only ever symbolic, wasn’t it? Symbolic? So, in order to impress himself, Jesus has himself tortured and executed, in vicarious punishment for a symbolic sin committed by a non-existent individual?”

pp. 294-295: “From Kosovo to Palestine, from Iraq to Sudan, from Ulster to the Indian sub-continent, look carefully at any region of the world where you find intractable enmity and violence between rival groups today. I cannot guarantee that you’ll find religions as the dominant labels for in-groups and out-groups. But it’s a good bet.”

p. 297: “Even if religion did no other harm in itself, its wanton and carefully nurtured divisiveness – its deliberate and cultivated pandering to humanity’s natural tendency to favour in-groups and shun out-groups – would be enough to make it a significant force for evil in the world.”

p. 309: “What matters is not whether Hitler or Stalin were atheists, but whether atheism systematically influences people to do bad things. There is not the smallest evidence that it does.”

p. 315: After discussing the notion that Stalin and Hitler were vile because of their atheism, “Individual atheists may do evil things but they don’t do evil things in the name of atheism.”

Chapter Eight: What’s Wrong With Religion

p. 321: “As a scientist, I am hostile to fundamentalist religion because it actively debauches the scientific enterprise.”

p. 323: “Fundamentalist religion is hell-bent on ruining the scientific education of countless thousands of innocent, well-meaning, eager young minds. Non-fundamentalist, ‘sensible’ religion may not be doing that. But it is making the world safe for fundamentalism by teaching children, from their earliest years, that unquestioning faith is a virtue.”

p. 340: After discussing the violence that has been perpetrated by anti-abortionists, as well as the logical absurdities that stem from the (usually religiously inspired) absolutist views on the subject, Dawkins notes that, “The evolutionary point is very simple. The humanness of an embryo’s cells cannot confer upon it any absolutely discontinuous moral status.” He continues on, “…the gradual continuity that is an inescapable feature of biological evolution tells us that there must be some intermediate who would lie sufficiently close to the ‘borderline’ to blur the moral principle and destroy its absoluteness.”

p. 345: Discussing the motivational power of religion towards violence done in its name, Dawkins quotes Voltaire: “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” It is for this reason that Dawkins sees moderate religion as an enabler of religious extremists insofar as they foster and inculcate the beliefs necessary to inspire martyrdom.

p. 346: “There is one reason why I do everything in my power to warn people against faith itself, not just against so-called ‘extremist’ faith. The teachings of ‘moderate’ religion, though not extremist in themselves, are an open invitation to extremism.” He continues, after considering other beliefs like patriotism, “…religious faith is an especially potent silencer of rational calculation, which usually seems to trump all others … it discourages questioning, by its very nature.”

p. 346: “…how can there be a pervasion of faith, if faith, lacking objective justification, doesn’t have any demonstrable standard to pervert?”

p. 347: “Faith is an evil precisely because it requires no justification and brooks no arguments.”

p. 348: “Faith can be very, very dangerous, and deliberately to implant it into the vulnerable mind of an innocent child is a grievous wrong.”

Chapter Nine: Childhood, Abuse and the Escape from Religion

p. 358: “” I am persuaded that the phrase ‘child abuse’ is no exaggeration when used to describe what teachers and priests are doing to children whom they encourage to believe in something like the punishment of unshriven mortal sins in an eternal hell.”

p. 372: “There is something breathtakingly condescending, as well as inhumane, about the sacrificing of anyone, especially children, on the altar of ‘diversity’ and the virtue of preserving a variety of religious traditions.”

p. 381: “I think we should all wince when we hear a small child being labelled as belonging to some particular religion or another. Small children are too young to decide their views on the origins of the cosmos, of life and of morals. The very sound of the phrase ‘Christian child’ or ‘Muslim child’ should grate like fingernails on a blackboard.”

p. 381: “People who do not hesitate to brand children ‘Catholics’ or ‘Protestants’ stop short of applying those same religious labels – far more appropriately – to adult terrorists and mobs.”

Chapter Ten: A Much Needed Gap?

p. 394: “It is time to face up to the important role that God plays in consoling us; and the humanitarian challenge, if he does not exist, to put something in his place.”

p. 403: “There is something infantile in the presumption that somebody else (parents in the case of children, God in the case of adults) has a responsibility to give your life meaning and point.”

p. 405: “The atheists view is correspondingly life-affirming and life-enhancing, while at the same time never being tainted with self-delusion, wishful thinking, or the whingeing self-pity of those who feel that life owes them something.”