I’ll try not to write much here, since this book has already been written about way too much. Briefly, my opinion is that this book doesn’t break a whole lot of new ground, but it puts some common arguments for atheism in popular language and is an enjoyable read. For the most part, it’s well-argued and well-written, and I would recommend it to anyone remotely interested in religion.
Where I think some people may have a problem, however, is that Richard can be a real dick about it sometimes. He tries to remain respectful to religion, and does OK for the most part, but the book is still full of snarky little comments putting down religious folk. While these can be funny, it would have been nice to see someone argue a position without explicitly putting down the opposing position.
In addition, sometimes he can get a little too informal and end up undermining his own arguments. For example, in a section about the consolation that religion can provide, he mentions that there are both happy atheists and miserable atheists; happy Christians and miserable Christians; etc etc. Then he ponders whether, in general, atheists are less happy than religious people, and writes something like “there might be statistical evidence for this. I dunno! But I bet all religions would be about the same.” Dude. You’re a scientist. Look it up. Especially in a book relying on the idea that beliefs should be supported by hard evidence, the least he could do is look up some evidence rather than relying on his hunches. (Incidentally, I did look it up, and as with most things in science, the link between religion and happiness is complicated).
However, don’t take this to mean that Dawkins is some extremist atheist who relies on blind faith as much as many strict adherents to a religion do. The cores of his arguments are grounded in scientific evidence and valid reasoning. In other words, his beliefs are based on reality – the same reality that anyone else can observe, verify, and would likely draw the same beliefs from if they really thought about it. Because of this, most of what Dawkins concludes is almost certainly true.
“Almost” is a key word here. Dawkins himself never becomes so convinced in his own reasoning that he leaves no room to be proven wrong. When speaking of the existence of God, he admits the old cliche that “you can’t prove a negative”; i.e., you can’t conclusively disprove God’s existence. So, he explains why there almost certainly is no God.
[TANGENT] I’m no philosopher, but I have always been confused by the “can’t prove a negative” thing. If something’s existence entails definite, observable consequences, and those consequences are not observed, then that thing’s existence is disproven. It’s a valid argument of the form “If A then B…Not B…Therefore Not A”. So if I say my god is infallible, and she said she would appear to me on March 1st 2007 in the form of a talking polar bear sitting on my front lawn eating Cheetos, and I don’t see this polar bear (which, by the way, I don’t), then my god certainly does not exist. It’s proven. Of course, this only applies to my god, not all gods, which is perhaps what the “can’t prove a negative” rule is really talking about. And perhaps it does not apply to the Christian God, which, I think, has been intelligently designed to avoid positing many concrete observable consquences, and vaguely defined enough to wiggle out of any failures to observe the few that exist. [/TANGENT]
Dawkins provides some good arguements showing why there is no reason to believe that God exists, and perhaps more importantly, shooting down some of the popular arguments for His existence. It probably won’t convince anyone to change their mind, but perhaps atheists can clarify their reasons for believing what they do, and religious people can better understand why atheists disagree with them (and, if they care about justifying their beliefs with reason, try to prepare counterarguments to Dawkins’ in order to strengthen their reasoned faith).
I would recommend the book to atheists, religious people, and people like me who are less easily labeled. At the very least, it will make you think about your own beliefs, which, I believe, is always a good thing.