The Dawkins Delusion? by Alister McGrath

This is a small book, merely 100 pages, written as a thiestic response to Richard Dawkins’s book The God Delusion. Alister McGrath, the primary author, studied chemistry and molecular biophysics at Oxford, and moved on to study Christian theology, specialising in issues of science and religion.

Naturally, I had already read Dawkins’s book (also reviewed in this blog) before coming to this one. To summarise, I was dissatisfied with his arguments against God, disappointed by the ranting, arrogant tone of the book, and unnerved by the deceptive tactic of bombarding the reader with vague negativity about theism (and by that I mean the way Dawkins constantly provides poor quotes from thiests, with the design of infusing the notion that we’re all idiots; persuasion by pressure of numbers rather than by rational argument).

The Dawkins Delusion?, however, was a joy to read. It offered clarification of many objections I had already formulated in my mind, highlighted others I hadn’t seen, and it presented everything in a respectful tone. Reading it was like having poison drawn out of my body.

My only objection is in the title of the volume. Okay, it’s perhaps the perfect title for eye-catchability, but it’s kind of cheeky – something that Dawkins has no problem being, but something the Christian opposition should rise above. The title will instantly raise the heckles of Dawkins’s supporters, when the real aim should be to win them over to a more rational point of view.

Other than that, superb. I happen to think Dawkins’s book is crafty and dangerous (again, consult my review for justification), so I recommend reading The Dawkins Delusion? as an essential companian. Read both and make up your own mind.

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7 thoughts on “The Dawkins Delusion? by Alister McGrath

  1. Kerry says:

    Today I heard bits of an amazing debate between Alister McGrath and Christopher Hitchens that was hosted at Georgetown University late last week. There is video of the event on the following site: http://www.eppc.org/conferences/eventid.121/conf_detail.asp

  2. Duncan says:

    Did you check any of Alister McGrath’s claims or did you take them all on faith?

    1) “Thomas Aquinas … Dawkins misunderstands an a posteriori demonstration of the coherence of faith and observation to be an a priori proof of faith…” p. 26

    Reference 14 – God Delusion pp. 77-79

    In truth Dawkins explicitly states “Thomas Aquinas’ five are a posteriori arguments, relying upon inspection of the world.” p. 80

    2) ‘… Dawkins then weakens his argument by suggesting that all religious people try to stop scientists from exploring those gaps: “one of the truly bad effects of religion is that it teaches us that it is a virtue to be satisfied with not understanding.”‘ pp. 29-30

    Reference 24 – God Delusion p. 126

    In truth Dawkins explicitly states “In this respect, science finds itself in alliance with sophisticated theologians like Bonhoeffer, united against the common enemies of naive, populist theology and the gap theology of intelligent design.” p. 127

    3) “When Dyson commented that he was a Christian who wasn’t particularly interested in the doctrine of the Trinity, Dawkins insisted that this meant that Dyson wasn’t a Christian at all.” pp. 44-45

    Reference 19 – God Delusion p. 152

    McGrath snipped off a rather important part of Dyson’s comment. According to Dawkins, Dyson said: “I … do not care much about the doctrine of the Trinity or the historical truth of the gospels.” p. 152

    In what way is someone who doesn’t care about the historical truth of the resurrection a Christian? (And why has McGrath hid that from his readers?)

    4) “… the TV series The Root of All Evil? … Dawkins sought out religious extremists who advocated violence in the name of religion, or were aggressively antiscientific in their outlook. No representative figures were included or considered.” p. 51

    Alister McGrath himself was not only considered but filmed for that TV series:
    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6474278760369344626

    Richard Harries, the former Bishop of Oxford, is included in that TV series.

    Dawkins has previously stated that leading UK religious figures were invited to take part:

    “We did invite the Archbishop of Canterbury – and the Chief Rabbi and the Archbishop of Westminster – to be interviewed. All declined, no doubt for good reasons.”
    “Diary – Richard Dawkins”, New Statesman, Published 30 January 2006
    http://www.newstatesman.com/200601300002

    If someone published a book of lies damning “The God Delusion” would the fact that it damned “The God Delusion” be enough to recommend it as “a joy to read” or would that make us complicit in dishonesty, however much we liked those lies?

  3. Darryl Sloan says:

    You appear to be slamming McGrath’s book on the grounds of some fringe errors. Major stretch to call it a “book of lies.”

    For instance, regarding your point 2, it’s clear from reading The God Delusion as a whole that Dawkins maintains that the religious mindset is anti-understanding. McGrath’s statement portrays Dawkins honestly.

    I stand by my reviews of both books.

  4. Duncan says:

    You appear to be slamming McGrath’s book on the grounds of some fringe errors.
    McGrath complains that Dawkins “throws normal scholarly conventions about scrupulous accuracy and fairness to the winds” – shouldn’t we ask that McGrath strives for scrupulous accuracy and fairness?

    Major stretch to call it a “book of lies.”
    Of course, I didn’t call it a “book of lies”. I am still curious about your answer to the hypothetical question I asked.

    I’m also curious to know if you think someone who doesn’t care about the historical truth of the resurrection could fairly be described as a Christian?

    … regarding your point 2 …
    McGrath’s statement is not about “The God Delusion” as a whole, it is about a single sentence taken out of context. (It is one of those “representative points” McGrath has chosen to challenge Dawkins on.)

  5. Darryl Sloan says:

    Duncan, your questions have a “baiting” quality about them that I don’t like. 🙂 Of course my answer to your hypothetical question is yes, like any reasonable person would answer.

    The points you make appear to be valid, but they really don’t change my view of McGrath’s book. That’s not me being stubborn. If any of the inaccuracies you raised were a misrepresentation of an important argument from The God Delusion, I would change my mind. I would always like to think that future editions of the book would address any inaccuracies.

    “I’m also curious to know if you think someone who doesn’t care about the historical truth of the resurrection could fairly be described as a Christian?” The criteria for determining whether a person is a true Christian or not is the quality of his moral life. To not care about the historical accuracy of the Bible is a very strange and disappointing view, but I would hesitate to damn a person on it.

    Over in my personal blog, I’ve written about some of my reasons for believing in God, if you care to read and/or comment …

    My 13-year war with doubt
    What I learned from being an agnostic
    All Christianity-related posts

  6. Duncan says:

    “If any of the inaccuracies you raised were a misrepresentation of an important argument…
    Here’s the problem – once we discover we cannot trust McGrath we have to cross-check everything he claims, we can no longer take his scholarship on trust.

    “To not care about the historical accuracy of the Bible is a very strange and disappointing view, but I would hesitate to damn a person on it.”
    I don’t think it’s very difficult to see why Dawkins opined that Dyson was not a Christian at all, I think that many Christians would also struggle to understand in what way Dyson could be described as a Christian.

    I think you comment on the quality of his moral life might stretch to “christian” but not to “Christian” – we may approve of his moral life without becoming confused about his beliefs.

    The mystery to me is that McGrath felt the need to distort what Dawkins wrote – wasn’t “The God Delusion” bad enough?

  7. Kyle Ain says:

    Duncan you are being contentious and you are stupid:

    You: “Did you check any of Alister McGrath’s claims or did you take them all on faith?”

    Duncan, a sarcastic question, an insult, is not evidence in and of itself. That is not scientific, or logical, it’s childish and arrogant. Your emotions, your faith, does not make something true. You are the one being a hypocrite. And though you said:

    “2) ‘… Dawkins then weakens his argument by suggesting that all religious people try to stop scientists from exploring those gaps: “one of the truly bad effects of religion is that it teaches us that it is a virtue to be satisfied with not understanding.”‘ pp. 29-30

    Reference 24 – God Delusion p. 126

    In truth Dawkins explicitly states “In this respect, science finds itself in alliance with sophisticated theologians like Bonhoeffer, united against the common enemies of naive, populist theology and the gap theology of intelligent design.” p. 127

    You are making the mistake that false Christians make when they cite a verse that appears to be in their favor. Instead of accepting the Bible for what it says, they take it out of context to make to say what suits their personal feelings, their opinions.

    The reality is that Dawkins contradicted himself. That is one of the problems with non-Christians, being man-praise lovers, panderers, fearful of total rejection, they try to play both sides of the card and in doing so, in making a complicated mess of lies, they end up contradicting themselves, endlessly. They never stop.

    Stare at what he said and burn it into your mind:

    “one of the truly bad effects of religion is that it teaches us that it is a virtue to be satisfied with not understanding.”

    Yes, Dawkins made that dumb statement. He’s a dumb person. He did what you and all non-Christians are prone to doing, thinking their emotions makes a think true, they say it’s bad, then it must be bad. Neither you nor Dawkins are God. Get over it. And what a lie. Show me Duncan, show us Dawkins where the Bible says, “Be content in not understanding anything.” Wow, dumb liars. Dumb liars if the Bible says that why were are all or 99.9% of all the greatest scientists, Christians? Duh? DELIBERATELY IGNORANT ARROGANT LIE-LOVERS:

    Wisdom cries outside; she utters her voice in the streets; she cries in the chief place of gathering, in the openings of the gates; in the city she utters her words, saying, How long will you love simplicity, simple ones? And will scorners delight in their scorning? And will fools hate knowledge? Turn at my warning; behold, I will pour out my Spirit to you; I will make my words known to you. Because I called, and you refused; I stretched out my hand, and no one paid attention; but you have despised all my advice, and would have none of my warning. I also will laugh at your trouble; I will mock when your fear comes; when your fear comes as a wasting away, and your ruin comes like a tempest when trouble and pain come upon you. Then they shall call upon me, and I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me; instead they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of Yahweh. They would have none of my counsel; they despised all my correction, and they shall eat the fruit of their own way” – Proverbs 1:20-31

    Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
    and the one who gets understanding,
    for the gain from her is better than gain from silver
    and her profit better than gold.
    She is more precious than jewels,
    and nothing you desire can compare with her.
    Long life is in her right hand;
    in her left hand are riches and honor.
    Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
    and all her paths are peace.
    She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
    those who hold her fast are called blessed.
    Yahweh by wisdom founded the earth;
    by understanding he established the heavens;
    by his knowledge the deeps broke open,
    and the clouds drop down the dew.
    My son, do not lose sight of these–
    keep sound wisdom and discretion,
    and they will be life for your soul
    and adornment for your neck.
    Proverbs 3:13-22

    Be not like a horse or a mule,
    without understanding,
    which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
    or it will not stay near you.
    Psalm 32:9

    The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
    but a wise man listens to advice.
    Proverbs 12:15

    The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea,
    and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue.
    Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica;
    they received the word with all eagerness,
    examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.
    Acts 17:10-11

    The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge,
    ut the mouths of fools feed on folly.
    Proverbs 15:14

    Then Gideon said to God, ‘If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said, behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.’ And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water. Then Gideon said to God, ‘Let not your anger burn against me; let me speak just once more. Please let me test just once more with the fleece. Please let it be dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground let there be dew.’ And God did so that night; and it was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew. – Judges 6:36-40

    The simple believe everything,
    but the prudent gives thought
    o where he should step.
    Proverbs 14:15

    The heart of the righteous studies how to answer,
    but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.
    Proverbs 15:28

    A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,
    but only in expressing his opinion.
    Proverbs 18:2

    A scoffer does not like to be reproved;
    he will not go to the wise.
    Proverbs 15:12

    to what shall I compare to this generation? It is like little children sitting in the markets and calling to their playmates, saying, We played the flute to you, and you did not dance! We mourned to you, but you did not wail! For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon”. The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man who is a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom was justified by her children. Then He began to upbraid the cities in which most of His mighty works were done, because they did not repent. Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the powerful acts which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes! But I say to you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to the heaven, shall be brought down to hell. For if the mighty works which have been done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you, it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you. At that time Jesus answered and said, ‘I thank You, O Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the sophisticated and cunning, and revealed them to babes.’ – Matthew 11:16

    whoever shall exalt himself shall be abased,
    and he who shall humble himself shall be exalted.
    Matthew 23:12

    There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts,
    but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
    Proverbs 12:18

    A worthless person, a wicked man, goes about with crooked speech,
    winks with his eyes, signals with his feet, points with his finger,
    with perverted heart devises evil, continually sowing discord;
    therefore calamity will come upon him suddenly;
    in a moment he will be broken beyond healing.
    There are six things that Yahweh HATES,
    seven that are an abomination to him:
    haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
    and hands that shed innocent blood,
    a heart that devises wicked plans,
    feet that make haste to run to evil,
    A FALSE WITNESS who breathes out lies
    and sows discord among brothers.
    Proverbs 6:12-19

    Like Jesus said:

    wisdom was justified by her children.
    Matthew 11:19

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