Friday, November 13, 2015

The Dawkins Delusion by Alister and Joanna McGrath

This book came recommended as a rebuttal to Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. It’s called, fittingly, The Dawkins Delusion. Clever, huh? Written by Alister and Joanna McGrath, “its primary focus is simple and consistent; a critical engagement with the arguments set out in The God Delusion.” They believe that, “Dawkins is correct — unquestionably correct — when he demands that we should not base our lives on delusions. We all need to examine our beliefs — especially if we are naive enough to think that we don’t have any in the first place.” But, they ask, who “is really deluded about God?”

They start off by looking at Dawkins’ assertion that children are being brainwashed into Christianity. However, they make a compelling point that Dawkins has a dogma of his own he seeks to indoctrinate children into. They state, “no case can be made for [children] to be force-fed Dawkins’s favored dogmas and distortion. They need to be told, fairly and accurately, what Christianity actually teaches — rather than to be subjected to the derisory misrepresentations of the Christian theology that litter this piece of propaganda.”

Dawkins’ favorite quip, and the one he thinks stumps all, is, “Who created God?” Serious theologians and new-believers alike look a little incredulously on this question. He’s God. If He was created, He wouldn’t be God. It seems self-explanatory. But this is precisely what troubles Dawkins. To have an explanation that needs no explanation seems like cheating. Yet the McGraths point out that science has its own Holy Grail. Scientists seek what is known as “the theory of everything.” Is this any different than saying God ends the infinite regression? They just want their explanation that requires no explanation to be God-free. 

Next they tackle Dawkins’ denunciation of those who proclaim a “God of the gaps.” Where knowledge fails us, believes answer, because… God. He makes good points about how simplistic this is, and shows that as knowledge grows larger, the God of the gaps grows smaller. But apologist Richard Swinburne turns the God of the gaps theory on its head. He rather asserts that it is “the intelligibility of the universe itself [that] needs [an] explanation.” We don’t need to explain the gaps, we need to explain what we KNOW! Why is the universe intelligible at all? Science has no answer for that.

Part of the problem in Dawkins thinking is his certainty that science can answer all the great questions of life, and that, in fact, science has disproved God. However, many famous scientists acknowledge the limits of science, much to Dawkins’ chagrin. The fact is, “the natural sciences depend on inductive inference, which is a matter of ‘weighing evidence and judging probability, not of proof…. This means that the great questions of life (some of which are also scientific questions) cannot be answered with any degree of certainty.” Yet, even as Dawkins believes science will and can ultimately answer any question, some questions, such as, “is there purpose within nature?” are quickly dismissed as illegitimate. Apparently he believes in the tautology that science can answer any question and those it cannot are not questions deserving of answers in the first place. How convenient. And, although Dawkins believes all real scientists must be atheists, the fact that there are many religious scientists shows that the evidence provided by nature must be open to interpretation. It seems that Dawkins broad-brush belligerence on the matter is actually driving religious people to abandon science rather than vice versa.

It’s interesting that Dawkins is puzzled by the origins of religion. He believes in Natural Selection the way an Islamist believes in Allah. It is all-knowing, all-powerful, and ultimately all-good. Natural Selection, through one random event after another, purposefully moves from one stage to a better stage. So how did religion sneak in there? Dawkins calls it an “accidental by-product” or a “misfiring of something useful.” Again, how convenient. Natural Selection accidentally selected a “mystical” gene that programs us to believe in a God that doesn’t exist. “Where,” the McGraths ask, “is the science?” Dawkins offers no serious evidence to back up this theory. His circular argument is, There is no God, only Natural Selection. If you believe there is a God, it must be because of Natural Selection. Hmmmm.

Another argument Dawkins makes is that religion is violent. He makes this as a huge blanket statement, assuming all religions say essentially the same thing. Yet he ignores the question of whether violence is necessary to religion? Or is it only a part of some religions? If so, which ones? What about Jesus’ statements to “love your enemy and turn the other cheek?” No answer. He conveniently overlooks the unbelievable good done by the religious just as he overlooks the tremendous damage done by atheists. The authors call this “a significant blind spot.” I suppose you could call it that. I think it’s willful disregard. They state, “Dawkins’s naive view that atheists would never carry out crimes in the name of atheism simply founders on the cruel rocks of reality.” I think Dawkins gets tripped up on the phrase, “in the name of atheism.” It’s true that no one yells “Allahu Atheism!” before sentencing millions to the gulag, but nevertheless, it IS done in the defense of an atheistic worldview. 

In seeing religion as the source of all evil, rather than human nature itself, Dawkins does not acknowledge that, “it is well established that prejudice and discrimination are shaped by perception and group identities. Gross simplifications about religion, exclusion and violence will simply delay and defer a solution of humanity’s real problems… There is a real need to deal with the ultimate causes of social division and exclusion.” Ironically, religion may be just the thing to do that! A religion like Christianity preaches love, acceptance, inclusion, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, free nor slave.” Where else is that kind of equality and lack of division promulgated?

In conclusion, they state, “The God Delusion seems more designed to reassure atheists whose faith is faltering than to engage fairly or rigorously with religious believers and others seeking for truth.” Amen.

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