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The God Delusion: A Source Criticism

By Bruce Alderman, published Nov 29, 2007
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Earlier this year I read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, and it has made a skeptic of me. Specifically, I'm skeptical that such an uneven, self-contradictory book could really be the product of one person. In fact, I've detected two separate sources within the text, each with its own distinct purpose and theology. (Or should that be atheology?) The first source is opposed to what he or she calls the "God Hypothesis." For this reason, I will label this source "H". This hypothesis is stated by H to be:

"There exists a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us." (p. 31)

The second source is opposed to the very idea of a deity:

"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. 36)

I will label this source "A" because he or she is opposed to all gods. These sources were brought together sometime in the early 21st century by a redactor "R", possibly Richard Dawkins himself, although the existence of "Richard Dawkins" is not universally accepted. R's intent is this:

"I suspect -- well, I am sure -- that there are lots of people out there who have been brought up in some religion or other, are unhappy in it, don't believe it, or are worried about the evils that are done in its name; people who feel vague yearnings to leave their parents' religion and wish they could, but just don't realize that leaving is an option. If you are one of them, this book is for you." (p. 1)

R's task is extremely difficult: He (or possibly she, if R is not actually Richard Dawkins) must blend the thoughtful, tolerant, often conciliatory H source with the venomous, factually-challenged A source. R seems to recognize that most of the best material is found in H, but R's sympathies clearly lie with A. In places, as I will show later, R embeds A-like lines into H material. To see the tension between the two sources, take a look at these two passages from chapter 3, found within a discussion of religious scientists in history. The first quote is from H:

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