Friday, June 19, 2009

The Dawkins Disappointment

Perhaps I ought to have known better, but for some reason I was expecting that The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins would present a clear, well thought out argument in favor of atheism. It does no such thing. It's pretty much just a long anti-religious rant which briefly alludes to some of the basic ideas atheist apologists have used in the past, but without fleshing them out and without seeming to realize religious people have heard it all before and come up with responses already.

I was going to refer to the book's "attempt at scholarship" but it's really not even an attempt. It's a pretense of scholarship. Examples: Dawkins quotes some things Martin Luther said on faith and reason completely out of context (p. 190)--and it's no wonder he didn't put the statements in context, he didn't actually read the essays from which the quotations are taken, he just found a list of quotations, taken out of context, on the internet (footnote 85)!

On page 239 Dawkins states that Pat Robertson "was reported as blaming [Hurricane Katrina] on a lesbian comedian who happened to live in New Orleans." Wow, thinks the reader. That's pretty wacky. But if one looks at the footnote, one discovers Dawkins is not sure if Robertson actually said that, since it is just an unverified story from and its accuracy has been denied elsewhere. But Dawkins defends himself for putting it in because it is "entirely typical of utterances by evangelical clergy." Hm. If utterances of that type are so abundant, why didn't he choose one that can actually be verified?

Anyway, you get the idea. It's not a serious work of atheist apology. It's just an excuse to make vicious, petty comments about religious people. And I'm not just saying that because I'm religious--his statements about Christianity, Judaism and Islam go beyond mere disagreement, well into ridicule and unabashed contempt. I suppose he is rather a novelty for his hatred of all religions, not just Christianity.

So, after The God Delusion, I read The Dawkins Delusion by Alister McGrath. He does a nice job of exposing The God Delusion for the unscholarly jumble of half-arguments that it is. McGrath's clarity of thought and calm, even tone provide a soothing contrast after one has endured Dawkins' venomous ramblings. But other than that, McGrath's response seems superfluous to anyone familiar with the history of serious debate between Christians and atheists. But I suppose his effortless refutation of Dawkins' accusations would be helpful to someone who has only been introduced to the atheist/theist debate through Dawkins.


Miranda said...

There is nothing that annoys me more than people arguing against God on the basis of distaste (to put it mildly) towards religion or Christians or the Church. If you want to be an atheist at least do it for intellectually satisfying reasons. If you aren't makeing a clearly reasoned argument that is free of vitriolic ad hominems I've not use for your opinion. So thanks, Virgie, for convincing me that I don't need to be famiiar with Dawkins' work.

Virgie P. said...

Yes, certainly *The God Delusion* is not worth reading. But McGrath did imply that Dawkins' earlier works are better. Maybe someday I'll look into that ...