License

I have written an e-book, Does the Bible Really Say That?, which is free to anyone. To download that book, in several formats, go here.
Creative Commons License
The posts in this blog are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. In other words, you can copy and use this material, as long as you aren't making money from it, and as long as you give me credit.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Alister McGrath on Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins is an important writer, with solid scientific credentials. He is the author of a number of books (see the link in the previous sentence). He happens to be an outspoken atheist. One of his books is The God Delusion. The title apparently describes Dawkins' belief and message. (I haven't read the book, although I have read some other books by Dawkins, and found them worthwhile.)

The first book I finished reading in 2010 was The Dawkins Delusion: Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine, by Alister McGrath, with some assistance from his wife, Joan McGrath. It is a short book (96 pages plus additional scholarly apparatus), easy to read, and focused, from InterVarsity Press. The focus is to show that Dawkins, a scientist, is an atheist fundamentalist, relying not on evidence, but on his own beliefs, in his passion to show that there is no God. McGrath has a doctorate in science from Oxford University, so knows a little something about that field.

Dawkins, says McGrath, has confused his presuppositions with his conclusions, and is acting much like, say, Muslim fundamentalists, who are not willing to even listen to any doctrine that does not agree with their own. Based on McGrath's evidence, and my previous knowledge of Dawkins, I agree. The most damaging item cited by McGrath is Dawkins' reaction to Rocks of Ages, by the late Stephen Jay Gould, a well-credentialed scientist who was also a splendid popularizer of science. In Rocks of Ages, Gould proposed that science and Christianity did not need to be in conflict -- they examine phenomena that don't interact. (I think Gould was wrong about the non-interacting part, but correct that science and Christianity do not need to be in conflict, and I'm not the only one who thinks so.) But Dawkins says, according to McGrath: "I simply do not believe that Gould could possibly have meant much of what he wrote in Rocks of Ages." (p. 34 of McGrath, quoting p. 57 of The God Delusion.) I can just imagine Dawkins' reaction to, say, Billy Graham writing that he simply does not believe that Dawkins could possibly meant it when he said that God didn't exist.

McGrath has also written Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life. It is a longer book, with the same purpose. Currently, I have no plans to read it, nor The God Delusion. I will quote from the Wikipedia article on the book, which gives part of Dawkins' response to it, in particular to the charge that Dawkins doesn't know very much about Christianity:
Yes, I have, of course, met this point before. It sounds superficially fair. But it presupposes that there is something in Christian theology to be ignorant about. The entire thrust of my position is that Christian theology is a non-subject. It is empty. Vacuous. Devoid of coherence or content. I imagine that McGrath would join me in expressing disbelief in fairies, astrology and Thor's hammer. How would he respond if a fairyologist, astrologer or Viking accused him of ignorance of their respective subjects?

In The Dawkins Delusion, McGrath has met that criticism, saying, approximately, that, for example, you may believe astrology to be totally false, but that if you were writing a 400+ page book denouncing it, you should have most of your facts right.

McGrath is not totally anti-Dawkins, by any means. He says that he considers Dawkins' The Selfish Gene to be a fine book. (I agree.)

God cannot be proved, or disproved, in anybody's laboratory. He is apprehended by faith (See Hebrews 11:3) and then, as a result of this faith, we can see Him, or at least His work, in molecules and mountains, gnats and galaxies.

Thanks for reading.

11 comments:

Dave Rattigan said...

God cannot be proved, or disproved, in anybody's laboratory.

Isn't that precisely Dawkins's point?

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Dave Rattigan. I don't think so. Dawkins' point seems to be that God does not exist, in spite of the inability of scientific endeavors to disprove His existence. Dawkins believes that anyone who believes that God does exist is a fool, regardless of the scientific credentials of the believer.

Dave Rattigan said...

I think Dawkins would say that God's existence cannot be disproved in the same way you can't disprove the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (or the Chocolate Teapot - take your pick).

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Dave Rattigan. Perhaps he would. But I think he goes further.

Here's a quote from the Wikipedia article on his _The God Delusion_:
"In The God Delusion, Dawkins contends that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that belief in a personal god qualifies as a delusion, which he defines as a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence." (emphasis added)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_God_Delusion

I haven't read the book, but the Wikipedia is usually fair. If it is in this case, Dawkins believes that God's existence has been disproved.

RBH said...

I'm fascinated by how in one comment Martin LaBar manages to elide an important qualifier used by Dawkins. He quotes Wikipedia as saying

"In The God Delusion, Dawkins contends that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that belief in a personal god qualifies as a delusion, which he defines as a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence." (Italics added, bolding original)."

Note the "almost certainly" which is from the title of a chapter in The God Delusion. In the very next paragraph, LaBar says

I haven't read the book, but the Wikipedia is usually fair. If it is in this case, Dawkins believes that God's existence has been disproved.

Note the loss of the "almost certainly."

In addition, since LaBar hasn't read the book but rather depends on a secondary source, he's apparently unaware that Dawkins was quite specific about what "God" he was talking about, and it isn't the ineffable deity of the deists or some liberal theists to whom the Courtier's Reply is the appropriate response. It's the down and dirty hands-on deity who intervenes in the world at whim, orders the slaughter of men, women, children and livestock of non-Israelite tribes (saving the virgin girls for the Israelite army), and who says he loves us and whom we are to love under threat of eternal damnation if we don't. That has all the moral force of an abusive boyfriend who tells his girlfriend she's free to date other boys, but if she does he'll beat her to a bloody pulp.

LaBar wrote

Dawkins believes that anyone who believes that God does exist is a fool, regardless of the scientific credentials of the believer.

How about using the word Dawkins actually used -- "deluded." It's easy for even very smart people with impressive scientific credentials to fool themselves and thus be deluded. See, for example, Newton's theological musings, on which he expended more paper and ink than he did on his science.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, RBH, whoever you may be.

I give up. I will read The God Delusion before making any more comments on that book's contents.

Martin LaBar said...

P. S. I agree with your statement on Newton.

RBH said...

Re "RBH": See the Panda's Thumb (which seems to be down at the moment; sorry). Search on "Freshwater" for most of my recent posts.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks again, RBH. I have now read The God Delusion for myself, and, although I have some problems with the book, you are correct. Dawkins does not say that he has absolutely disproved the existence of God. I'm sorry.

See here for a subsequent post which deals with that matter.

RBH said...

Thank you for that, Martin. I've read your new post once (too rapidly) and will come back to it later.

Glass Agencies (INDIA) said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.