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A Presbyterian Internet Journal


Reformed Literature

The Dawkins Delusion

Atheist fundamentalism and the denial of the divine

Alister McGrath & Joanna C. McGrath


A few weeks ago I was involved at school in a discussion on Evolution and Atheism. After various turns the debate turned to a recent production by Richard Dawkins, entitled 'The God Delusion'. Since university, I have read Dawkins books as they have tumbled from the press and found them well-argued but ill founded rallying cries for the evolutionist. While I have disagreed on a basic fundamental level with all of his presuppositions, at the same time I had a kind of regard for the clarity with which he expressed his views. When I read 'The God Delusion', I was profoundly saddened that he had moved from the status of an intellectual critic to someone whose views were so immature and pathetic. The arguments against Christianity would have disgraced one of the 6th form philosophy classes that I have so often debated with - and indeed, at times so basic as they failed to engage with what were obvious counters from a Christian. I knew I was not going to find 'The God Delusion' an easy read when it begins with the dedication "Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?" - and you sit and think that the Christian is not arguing for fairies, he is arguing for a gardener.

After I had read Dawkins book I then read the excellent small paperback by David Robertson entitled 'The Dawkins Letters - Challenging Atheist myths', which stemmed from an open letter he wrote to Dawkins on the evolutionist's website. The paperback then contains that and subsequent letters and forms a useful companion to the God Delusion as he breaks it down chapter by chapter.

The reviewed book for this month, I obtained in the SPCK bookshop in York. It is written by Alister McGrath and Joanna Collicutt McGrath. He is the Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford and she lectures on Religion at the University of London. The book has apparently sold 50,000 copies and has the rather intriguing quote on the front that 'The God Delusion makes me embarrased to be an atheist and the McGraths show why' from a Professor at Florida State University. The book is a very mixed blessing, on the one hand it shows many flaws in Dawkins and the rather empty nature of much of his research. He includes a misquote from Tertullian which he has corrected with his Oxford colleague and at other times shows that some of his 'research' has just been culled from internet websites with very little fact checking. He is quite right to point out that Dawkins recitation of the mantra that religion has been at the core of most wars, does not really do justice to the Great conflicts of the last 100 years. Convieniently ignoring the ignoble work of Atheist Germany in the mass murder of the Jews and later the efforts of both Stalin and Pol Pot.

Yet, he quotes with disdain Dawkins assertion that he would rather deal with an 'honest fundamentalist' than the Pope. Saying of himself, 'I have already criticised the Intelligent Design movement, a conservative, Christian anti-evolutionary movement whose ideas are lambasted in the God Delusion.' Rather than working with the Christian view, it is a bit rich to be criticising an evolutionist if you are soft on Creation. Again, I was stunned to see later that one of his criticisms included Dawkins referring to Paul as the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews - he writes, 'It has been accepted for several centuries that the author of this letter is not Paul.' As you can imagine - I am inclined to ask 'by whom'. It is difficult to believe that a Christian commentator is getting me to side with an Evangelical Atheist but at times he is!

Overall, if you want a single book to counteract the God Delusion - then I would start with David Robertson. If you want extra arsenal that will need a more careful sifting through then go to McGrath but, keep your mind in gear as you read what he has to say.