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6/11/09

Naysayers To Richard Dawkins

A reviewer (Terry Eagleton) on Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion:

  • Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be.

  • Dawkins, it appears, has sometimes been told by theologians that he sets up straw men only to bowl them over, a charge he rebuts in this book; but if The God Delusion is anything to go by, they are absolutely right. As far as theology goes, Dawkins has an enormous amount in common with Ian Paisley and American TV evangelists. Both parties agree pretty much on what religion is; it’s just that Dawkins rejects it while Oral Roberts and his unctuous tribe grow fat on it.

  • Even Richard Dawkins lives more by faith than by reason. We hold many beliefs that have no unimpeachably rational justification, but are nonetheless reasonable to entertain.

  • For Judeo-Christianity, God is not a person in the sense that Al Gore arguably is. Nor is he a principle, an entity, or ‘existent’: in one sense of that word it would be perfectly coherent for religious types to claim that God does not in fact exist. He is, rather, the condition of possibility of any entity whatsoever, including ourselves. He is the answer to why there is something rather than nothing. God and the universe do not add up to two, any more than my envy and my left foot constitute a pair of objects. More

    Then there is Alvin Plantinga. Among his comments, Plantinga says this in his review:

  • One shouldn’t look to this book for evenhanded and thoughtful commentary. In fact the proportion of insult, ridicule, mockery, spleen, and vitriol is astounding. (Could it be that his mother, while carrying him, was frightened by an Anglican clergyman on the rampage?

  • You might say that some of [Dawkins'] forays into philosophy are at best sophomoric, but that would be unfair to sophomores; the fact is (grade inflation aside), many of his arguments would receive a failing grade in a sophomore philosophy class.

  • Plantinga dances rings around Dawkins' thinking on matters theological. He points out a central flaw in Dawkins' reasoning, which I have phrased differently: We know of no irrefutable evidence that God exists. Therefore God does not exist. Correctly reasoned, Dawkins could only say that he thinks God is improbable and that materialism is probably true. In a book supposedly based on reason, he offers no compelling argument.

    As for probability, Stephen Hawking has observed that "fine-tuning" was needed for life to exist at all. The question arises, How probable was this fine-tuning to have occurred strictly by chance? More at Plantagina's Review, "The Dawkins Confusion."

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