After finishing “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins earlier this week I decided that I should read the book that was written in response to Dawkins’s behemoth, so I could see what a theologian would say in response to such an argument as the one Dawkins presents. And it appears that maybe I had my expectations too high going into The Dawkins Delusion?. McGrath tried to address some of the points made in The God Delusion but falsely or incompletely represented Dawkins’s views and points before he tried to refute them. At several points in The Dawkins Delusion? I found myself asking if McGrath even read all of Dawkins’s book, because some of the conclusions McGrath come to simply show his misunderstanding of Dawkins’s standing on the topics at hand.
In this review I will try to address a few of the things that I found to be important points to discuss, however, I will not address everything simply because while reading this book I wrote 9-pages, front and back, on the points presented. Maybe at some point I will make them into a complete work explaining where McGrath was mistaken about Dawkins’s viewpoints and what I think about McGrath’s points made in this book. Whether or not I am to do this is still unclear.
Theologian and Apologist, Alister McGrath, penned the 97-page book, The Dawkins Delusion? (2007) in response to Richard Dawkins‘s The God Delusion (2006), and he starts by explaining why he decided to write this book:
“It is clear that a response of some sort is needed to The God Delusion, if only because the absence of one might persuade some that no answer could be given.” -Alister McGrath, The Dawkins Delusion?, page 13.
I would agree with McGrath’s point here, that if there is an answer to be given then by all means share it with us, and ultimately, I think that was the goal McGrath tried to accomplish, but to say that he reached this goal would be dishonest. When reading this book I felt like there was little substance at all to McGrath’s arguments, except there were some ideas that he presented that made sense but really didn’t defend his case well.
Throughout The Dawkins Delusion? McGrath consistently claims that Dawkins was misrepresenting Christianity, religion and abusing science through the majority of The God Delusion. However, McGrath fails to give hardly any specific examples of these injustices he claims Dawkins brought against Christianity, religion or examples of the abuse he brought on science. It is sad to say that McGrath’s best two arguments in this book for the existence of a God are at most, weak.
One of the first points that McGrath responds too is belief in God being infantile and childish, and mentions how Dawkins compares belief in God to the belief, in say, Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy.
“Like many of Dawkins’s analogies, this has been constructed with a specific agenda in mind – in this case, the ridiculing of religion. Yet the analogy is obviously flawed. How many people do you know who began to believe in Santa Claus in adulthood? Or who have found belief in the Tooth Fairy consoling in old age?” –The Dawkins Delusion?, Page 20
This being a serious point is just laughable, because every rational person would agree that just because an adult starts to believe something does not necessarily mean its true. For example, Hitler began to believe that ethnic cleansing was the right thing to do once he was into adulthood, and his belief was not at all justifiable by the age he began to believe it. Nor does the statement “consoling in old age” prove anything in the terms of God existing. Though it maybe true that some people find solace in the belief that heaven awaits after death, it does not make the existence of God a truth. For instance, I could easily say that I find solace in the idea that there is a massive being consisting of noodle like appendages and meat balls somewhere in the sky, and that he will watch after me in the afterlife, or that he created everything. Simply believing that does not make it true.
Over the course of the book McGrath paints the picture that Dawkins hates all religion and says all bad is caused by religion, which is simply false. In Dawkins book he never once says he hates religion, or for that matter, hates all religion. First off Dawkins states clearly in the beginning of his book, that he is mainly referring to the three major monotheistic religions, and more directly Christianity, because he is most familiar with it. As a matter of fact, Dawkins even says that other religions (i.e., Buddhism) present more direct and important moral teachings. However, Dawkins does acknowledge the great moral teachings of Jesus, or whoever penned the character of Jesus. (Dawkins leaves the existence of Jesus as an open question)
McGrath responds to the misinterpretation that Dawkins thinks all religion is evil by stating that atheists and the religious have both had their fair share of violent and malicious acts. Which is completely agreeable, both sides of the spectrum have been corrupted and have committed atrocities.
Later on in the book McGrath refutes some of Dawkins points by simply saying, “I don’t believe that.” while also acusing Dawkins of generalizing Christians. This may be a valid argument to a certain point, but Dawkins meant for his book to address the Christian majority, not the direct belief system of McGrath. McGrath holds a lot of views that do not run parallel to the majority of Christian believers. (Example: the majority of Christians do not accept evolution yet McGrath does.)
One important point that needs to be addressed is McGrath’s misinterpretation of atheism. From reading The Dawkins Delusion? the reader will often notice how he relates atheists and faith. For example terms like “godless faith”, “faltering faith” (when referring to atheists that are beginning to consider religion) and many other uses of the word “faith” when referring to atheistic beliefs. This is a misunderstanding, atheism does not have a system of “faith.” And often McGrath assumes that there are a set of systematic atheistic beliefs, which there are not. The only requirement to be an atheist is not believing in a god. Other than that there are no central beliefs that are attributed to all atheists.
McGrath has stated many times in his career that he was once an atheist and by stating this one would assume that he has a better understanding of what being an atheist means. I only bring up the whole point of misrepresenting atheism because of the numerous times that McGrath claims Dawkins to misrepresent Christianity and religion, while at the same time he misrepresents other peoples belief systems.
The last specific point I would like to address here is McGrath saying Dawkins has a cognitive bias when it comes to analyzing facts. For readers who do not know what cognitive bias is, it is essentially an evolved mental behavior in which a person begins to distort facts or give illogical judgement, often discrediting the facts and evidence that do not cohere to their belief or worldview. One can fully accept that people will often write books that only present the facts that work with their beliefs so they can try to sway readers one way or another. However, McGrath does not give a single example of evidence that Dawkins ignores when explaining ideas and processes in his book. So it is hard to take McGrath’s claim seriously here because he does not show readers what evidence he is talking about when arguing that Dawkins is being ignorant of scientific evidence for God.
In all reality it seems as though if McGrath had full intentions of trying to seriously analyze Dawkins’s book but quit about a third of the way through. The book itself seems to be an effort to release some of the frustration that The God Delusion caused to many believers, and I believe that if McGrath had been able to provide more specific examples of the ‘mistakes’ Dawkins made in his book it would be a more sufficient response to The God Delusion.
If you are looking for an argument to dismantle The God Delusion‘s ideas then I suggest you not waste your time with this book, and keep searching. However, if you are looking for a book that is written by an intelligent man, embarrassing himself by making false accusations and hypocritical observations of Dawkins then look no further.