The book provoked an immediate response, both positive and negative, and was published with endorsements from scientists, such as Nobel laureate and co-discoverer of the structure of DNA James D. Watson, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, as well as popular writers of fiction and the illusionists Penn and Teller. Metacritic reported that the book had an average score of 59 out of 100. The book was nominated for Best Book at the British Book Awards, where Richard Dawkins was named Author of the Year. Nevertheless the book received mixed reviews from critics, including both religious and atheist commentators. In the London Review of Books, Terry Eagleton criticised Richard Dawkins for not doing proper research into the topic of his work, religion, and setting up a straw man to make his arguments against theism valid. Austin Cline responded by saying that Eagleton did not make his own religious disposition clear: "It would also have been more honest for the reviewers themselves to make it clear that they have a problem with anyone calling into question their treasured religious beliefs."
Oxford theologian Alister McGrath (author of The Dawkins Delusion? and Dawkins' God) argues that Dawkins is ignorant of Christian theology, and therefore unable to engage religion and faith intelligently. In reply, Dawkins asks "Do you have to read up on leprechology before disbelieving in leprechauns?", and—in the paperback edition of The God Delusion—he refers to the American biologist PZ Myers, who has satirised this line of argument as "The Courtier's Reply". Dawkins had an extended debate with McGrath at the 2007 Sunday Times Literary Festival. Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart says that Dawkins "devoted several pages of The God Delusion to a discussion of the 'Five Ways' of Thomas Aquinas but never thought to avail himself of the services of some scholar of ancient and mediaeval thought who might have explained them to him ... As a result, he not only mistook the Five Ways for Thomas's comprehensive statement on why we should believe in God, which they most definitely are not, but ended up completely misrepresenting the logic of every single one of them, and at the most basic levels."
Christian philosopher Keith Ward, in his 2006 book Is Religion Dangerous?, argues against the view of Dawkins and others that religion is socially dangerous. The ethicist Margaret Somerville, suggested that Dawkins "overstates the case against religion", particularly its role in human conflict.
Many of Dawkins' defenders claim that critics generally misunderstand his real point. During a debate on Radio 3 Hong Kong, David Nicholls, writer and president of the Atheist Foundation of Australia, reiterated Dawkins' sentiments that religion is an "unnecessary" aspect of global problems. Dawkins argues that "the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like any other". He disagrees with Stephen Jay Gould's principle of nonoverlapping magisteria (NOMA). In an interview with the Time magazine, Dawkins said:
I think that Gould's separate compartments was a purely political ploy to win middle-of-the-road religious people to the science camp. But it's a very empty idea. There are plenty of places where religion does not keep off the scientific turf. Any belief in miracles is flat contradictory not just to the facts of science but to the spirit of science.
Astrophysicist Martin Rees has suggested that Dawkins' attack on mainstream religion is unhelpful. Regarding Rees' claim in his book Our Cosmic Habitat that "such questions lie beyond science; however, they are the province of philosophers and theologians", Dawkins asks "what expertise can theologians bring to deep cosmological questions that scientists cannot?" Elsewhere, Dawkins has written that "there's all the difference in the world between a belief that one is prepared to defend by quoting evidence and logic, and a belief that is supported by nothing more than tradition, authority or revelation."
On 3 October 2007, John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, publicly debated Richard Dawkins at the University of Alabama at Birmingham on Dawkins' views as expressed in The God Delusion, and their validity over and against the Christian faith. "The God Delusion Debate" marked Dawkins' first visit to the Old South and the first significant discussion on this issue in the "Bible Belt". The event was sold out, and the Wall Street Journal called it "a revelation: in Alabama, a civil debate over God's existence." Dawkins debated Lennox for the second time at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History in October 2008. The debate was titled "Has Science Buried God?", in which Dawkins said that, although he would not accept it, a reasonably respectable case could be made for "a deistic god, a sort of god of the physicist, a god of somebody like Paul Davies, who devised the laws of physics, god the mathematician, god who put together the cosmos in the first place and then sat back and watched everything happen" but not for a theistic god.
Reviews and responses
- Alvin Plantinga: The Dawkins Confusion
- Anthony Kenny: Knowledge Belief and Faith
- Thomas Nagel: The Fear of Religion
- Michael Ruse: Chicago Journals Review
- Richard Swinburne: Response to Richard Dawkins
- Alister McGrath and Joanna Collicutt McGrath: The Dawkins Delusion?
- H. Allen Orr: A Mission to Convert
- Terry Eagleton: London Review of Books, Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching
- Antony Flew: The God Delusion Review – Dawkins response
- Murrough O'Brien of The Independent: Our Teapot which art in heaven - Dawkins responds: Do you have to read up on leprechology before disbelieving in them?
- Marilynne Robinson: The God Delusion Review, Harper's Magazine 2006
- Simon Watson: "Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion and Atheist Fundamentalism," in Anthropoetics: The Journal of Generative Anthropology (Spring 2010)
- The Pod Delusion, a weekly podcast edited by James O'Malley featuring monologues from amateur contributors who share Dawkins's viewpoint.
- William Lane Craig: "Dawkins' Delusion", web article excerpted from Contending with Christianity's Critics
Critics have reacted strongly to Dawkins' arguments, and many books have been written in response to The God Delusion. For example:
- The Devil's Delusion, by David Berlinski
- Darwin's Angel, by John Cornwell
- God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?, by John Lennox (Oxford: Lion, 2009)
- The Dawkins Delusion?, by Alister McGrath and Joanna Collicutt McGrath