Wednesday, February 07, 2007

`Do stop behaving as if you are God, Professor Dawkins' - Alister McGrath

Other blogs (e.g. ID in the UK, Teleological Blog, Telic Thoughts and Uncommon Descent) have mentioned this, but some are referring to a link that no longer exists.

[Left: The Dawkins Delusion? by Alister McGrath & Joanna Collicutt McGrath, Amazon.co.uk]

Here, in case it also disappears, is an article in The Daily Mail by molecular biophysicist turned Oxford University Christian theologian Alister McGrath on Richard Dawkins' book The God Delusion and his BBC program based on it, The Root Of All Evil?



Do stop behaving as if you are God, Professor Dawkins, Daily Mail, By ALISTER McGRATH, 3rd February 2007 ... He is a 'psychotic delinquent', invented by mad, deluded people. And that's one of Dawkins's milder criticisms. Dawkins, Oxford University's Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, is on a crusade. His salvo of outrage and ridicule is meant to rid the world of its greatest evil: religion. "If this book works as I intend," he says, "religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down." But he admits such a result is unlikely. "Dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads" (that's people who believe in God) are "immune to argument", he says.

I have known Dawkins for more than 20 years; we are both Oxford professors. I believe if anyone is "immune to argument" it is him. He comes across as a dogmatic, aggressive propagandist. Of course, back in the Sixties, everyone who mattered was telling us that religion was dead. I was an atheist then. Growing up as a Protestant in Northern Ireland, I had come to believe religion was the cause of the Province's problems. While I loved studying the sciences at school, they were important for another reason: science disproved God. Believing in God was only for sad, mad and bad people who had yet to be enlightened by science. I went up to Oxford to study the sciences in 1971, expecting my atheism to be consolidated. In the event, my world was turned upside down. I gave up one belief, atheism, and embraced another, Christianity.

Why? There were many factors. For a start, I was alarmed by some atheist writings, which seemed more preoccupied with rubbishing religion than seeking the truth. Above all, I encountered something at Oxford that I had failed to meet in Northern Ireland - articulate Christians who were able to challenge my atheism. I soon discovered two life-changing things. First, Christianity made a lot of sense. It gave me a new way of seeing and understanding the world, above all, the natural sciences. Second, I discovered Christianity actually worked: it brought purpose and dignity to life. I kept studying the sciences, picking up a PhD for research in molecular biophysics. But my heart and mind had been seduced by theology. It still excites me today.

Dawkins and I both love the sciences; we both believe in evidence-based reasoning. So how do we make sense of our different ways of looking at the world? That is one of the issues about which I have often wished we might have a proper discussion. Our paths do cross on the television networks and we even managed to spar briefly across a BBC sofa a few months back. We were also filmed having a debate for Dawkins's recent Channel 4 programme, The Root Of All Evil? Dawkins outlined his main criticisms of God, and I offered answers to what were clearly exaggerations and misunderstandings. It was hardly rocket science.

For instance, Dawkins often compares belief in God to an infantile belief in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, saying it is something we should all outgrow. But the analogy is flawed. How many people do you know who started to believe in Santa Claus in adulthood? Many people discover God decades after they have ceased believing in the Tooth Fairy. Dawkins, of course, would just respond that people such as this are senile or mad, but that is not logical argument. Dawkins can no more 'prove' the non-existence of God than anyone else can prove He does exist. Most of us are aware that we hold many beliefs we cannot prove to be true. It reminds us that we need to treat those who disagree with us with intellectual respect, rather than dismissing them - as Dawkins does - as liars, knaves and charlatans.

But when I debated these points with him, Dawkins seemed uncomfortable. I was not surprised to be told that my contribution was to be cut. The Root Of All Evil? was subsequently panned for its blatant unfairness. Where, the critics asked, was a responsible, informed Christian response to Dawkins? The answer: on the cutting-room floor.

The God Delusion is similarly full of misunderstanding. Dawkins simply presents us with another dogmatic fundamentalism. Maybe that's why some of the fiercest attacks on The God Delusion are coming from other atheists, rather than religious believers. Michael Ruse, who describes himself as a 'hardline Darwinian' philosopher, confessed that The God Delusion made him 'embarrassed to be an atheist'. The dogmatism of the work has attracted wide criticism from the secularist community. Many who might be expected to support Dawkins are trying to distance themselves from what they see as an embarrassment. Aware of the moral obligation of a critic of religion to deal with this phenomenon at its best and most persuasive, many atheists have been disturbed by Dawkins's crude stereotypes and seemingly pathological hostility towards religion. In fact, The God Delusion might turn out to be a monumental own goal - persuading people that atheism is just as intolerant as the worst that religion can offer.

Alister McGrath is professor of theology at Oxford University. His new book The Dawkins Delusion?, co-authored by Joanna Collicutt McGrath, is published by SPCK at £7.99. [...] ©2007 Associated Newspapers Ltd [...]



For other critical reviews of The God Delusion see: ABC, Daily Telegraph, London Review of Books, New Republic (subscription), NY Review of Books, Prospect, The Age; The Australian, The Times & The Sunday Times. Also by Christians: Albert Mohler & Peter S. Williams.

Stephen E. Jones, BSc. (Biology).


Exodus 4:1-9. 1Moses answered, "What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, 'The LORD did not appear to you'?" 2Then the LORD said to him, "What is that in your hand?" "A staff," he replied. 3The LORD said, "Throw it on the ground." Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it. 4Then the LORD said to him, "Reach out your hand and take it by the tail." So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand. 5"This," said the LORD, "is so that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers-the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob-has appeared to you." 6Then the LORD said, "Put your hand inside your cloak." So Moses put his hand into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was leprous, like snow. 7"Now put it back into your cloak," he said. So Moses put his hand back into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was restored, like the rest of his flesh. 8Then the LORD said, "If they do not believe you or pay attention to the first miraculous sign, they may believe the second. 9But if they do not believe these two signs or listen to you, take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground. The water you take from the river will become blood on the ground."

4 comments:

icelander said...

If you think "The God Delusion" is intolerant, I hope you never read "God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" by Christopher Hitchens. He makes Richard Dawkins look like C.S. Lewis.

All any of these books ask is why we give such deference to religious beliefs in discussions of issues. Why can someone say "You need to teach this history of the world because upon it I base all my faith" and not be shouted down? Would you teach the Soviet belief that a Russian invented the airplane along with the history of the Wright Brothers?

Also, even the most kind Christian will consider an atheist like me, however generous or decent, to be damned to writhe in agony for eternity. All those not "saved" are inherently second-class humans who need your help. If that's not intolerant, I don't know what is.

If you want a response to anything a prominent atheist like Dawkins, Hitchens or Harris says, you have your chance to respond by producing your own documentary. And, in fact, you have far more resources than the atheist community.

Stephen E. Jones said...

icelander

>If you think "The God Delusion" is intolerant, I hope you never read "God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" by Christopher Hitchens. He makes Richard Dawkins look like C.S. Lewis.

From what I have read about Hitchens' book, it would not be a high priority for me to buy it. However, it is now widely available in bookstores, so if I see it in on special or in secondhand bookstores, I will probably buy it. Although even then it would have to wait in the queue of all the other books (including "The God Delusion") that I own but have not yet had the time to read from cover to cover.

>All any of these books ask is why we give such deference to religious beliefs in discussions of issues.

Then they are based on a false premise. Having been a Christian for over 40 years, I have not noticed any particular "deference to religious beliefs in discussions of issues." Rather the opposite!

>Why can someone say "You need to teach this history of the world because upon it I base all my faith" and not be shouted down?
Most people (including me) would say that no view should be "shouted down". That is just a variation of the fallacy of the argument argumentum ad baculum, or appeal to force:

"Argumentum ad baculum (Latin: argument to the cudgel or appeal to the stick), also known as appeal to force, is an argument where force, coercion, or the threat of force, is given as a justification for a conclusion." (Wikipedia).

But that some atheists feel the need to "shout... down" religion in general and Christianity in particular tells me that deep down they know that it is (or at least could be) true!

>Would you teach the Soviet belief that a Russian invented the airplane along with the history of the Wright Brothers?

That depends on what is the truth. Since Christianity is true (irrespective of whether you, Dawkins, Hitchens, or anyone) believes it or not), then those (like you) who teach that it is not true, are doing the equivalent of teaching that "a Russian invented the airplane."

>Also, even the most kind Christian will consider an atheist like me, however generous or decent, to be damned to writhe in agony for eternity.

This is a fallacy too. That Christians believe that all those (atheists and theists) who reject God's gracious offer of salvation in the sacrifice of His own Son, Jesus Christ, for their sins, will receive the just punishment that their sins deserve (including the ultimate sin of rejecting God's Son):

John 3:16-18 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son."

has nothing to do with whether those Christians are "kind" or not. Christians believe it because it is true. The vast majority of Christians (including me) don't personally like the idea of eternal punishment, but if they believe it, it is because the Bible seems to teach it.

I say "if" and "seems" above because someone the other day sent me a private message about Hell which I intend to respond to publicly on my blog, when I can find my book, Crockett, W.V., ed., "Crockett, W.V., ed., "Four Views on Hell," Zondervan: Grand Rapids MI, 1996, which sets out the case for the four major Biblical interpretations: 1. Literal; 2. Metaphorical; 3. Purgatorial; and 4. Conditional (i.e. period of suffering then destruction).

>All those not "saved" are inherently second-class humans who need your help. If that's not intolerant, I don't know what is.

Christianity does claim that non-Christians are "second-class humans." Indeed it claims that all "humans" are sinners and therefore need "help."

And your (and Dawkins' and Hitchens') argument confuses tolerance with truth. That Christians believe it to be true that all those who reject God's gracious offer of salvation will receive the punishment that fits their crime (no more and no less), does not thereby make them "intolerant". Tolerance is by definition believing that another person's view is wrong:

"tolerance ... sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one's own" (Merriam-Webster dictionary)

but nevertheless treating them with kindness and courtesy.

And that is in fact the central ethical teaching of Christianity:

Matthew 5:44: "But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,"

>If you want a response to anything a prominent atheist like Dawkins, Hitchens or Harris says, you have your chance to respond by producing your own documentary. And, in fact, you have far more resources than the atheist community

There have been Christian responses to "prominent atheists like Dawkins, Hitchens or Harris." For example, the very book "The Dawkins' Delusion" by Alister McGrath that you are responding to one of my posts about.

As for me, at the moment I am more interested in exploring and presenting further positive evidence that Christianity is true, in particular The Shroud of Turin in my new blog, TheShroudofTurin.

In the final analysis, as C.S. Lewis (who you mentioned above) pointed out, those like Dawkins, Hitchens and yourself who complain about God punishing them for eternity, will in fact just be getting what they most want, for " God to ... leave them alone" (which in the final analysis is what Hell is):

"I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside. .... They enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded, and are therefore self- enslaved: just as the blessed, forever submitting to obedience, become through all eternity more and more free. In the long run the answer to all those who object to the doctrine of hell, is itself a question: `what are you asking God to do?' To wipe out their past sins and, at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? But He has done so, on Calvary. To forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, I am afraid that is what He does." (Lewis, C.S., "The Problem of Pain," [1940], Fount: London, 1977, reprint, pp.101-102. Emphasis original)

The choice is yours. If you find out too late that Christianity was true after all, then you will have no one else to blame in eternity but yourself.

Stephen E. Jones

radar said...

"But that some atheists feel the need to "shout... down" religion in general and Christianity in particular tells me that deep down they know that it is (or at least could be) true!"

I teach math. If a student insists that 1+1 = 3, according to your logic my insistence on "shouting down" that incorrect answer being expressed in my classroom can only stem from my deep down fear that he may be correct? Can you not consider the alternate possibility that it is my responsibility to ensure that the other students in the room not mistakenly believe that a wrong answer is somehow equally worthy of respect as a correct one?

Stephen E. Jones said...

Radar

Thanks for your comment.

>I teach math. If a student insists that 1+1 = 3, according to your logic my insistence on "shouting down" that incorrect answer being expressed in my classroom can only stem from my deep down fear that he may be correct?

First, this begs the question that atheism is true and Christianity is false. If however, Christianity is true (which it is) and atheism is false, then it is the atheists who are teaching the equivalent of 1+1 = 3!

Second, if you really "shouted down" incorrect answers to math questions, rather than calmly demonstrate why the answer was wrong and what the correct answer was and why, then you would not be a good teacher.

>Can you not consider the alternate possibility that it is my responsibility to ensure that the other students in the room not mistakenly believe that a wrong answer is somehow equally worthy of respect as a correct one?

See above on begging the question that Christianity is the "wrong answer" and atheism is the "correct" answer.

Third, this confuses "respect" for an "incorrect answer" itself and "respect" for the persons making that answer. Atheism (or at least the militant, anti-Christian atheists like Dawkins, et al) show a lack of "respect" (bordering on hatred) not just of what they consider to be the "wrong answer," Christianity, but to those who believe that answer to be true.

Therefore this example of yours supports my point that the reason "some atheists feel the need to `shout... down' religion in general and Christianity in particular" is that "deep down they know that" Christianity "is (or at least could be) true"!

Stephen E. Jones