Bantam Press, 2006.
As mentioned in part one, a book this size really deserves a book-length response. Thus I can here only highlight some of what I regard as the book’s many shortcomings. A few more specific issues will here be addressed.
A New Morality
In one section of the book he speaks about the changing moral times, and the need to develop a more appropriate set of ten commandments. He approvingly lists one such atheistic version in his book.
Consider one of these commandments: “Treat your fellow human beings, your fellow living things, and the world in general with love, honesty, faithfulness and respect”. This is a bit rich coming from a guy who has just spent 400 pages attacking the overwhelming majority of mankind (those who do not share his reductionist atheism). And he has treated them with anything but love, respect and honesty.
He has even said at the beginning of this book that religious people do not deserve respect. He claims that religions have a “privileged” place in society, which they do not deserve. And it certainly shows in this volume. For 400 pages he seems to go out of his way to offend believers. Consider even the title of the book. Anyone who does not share his narrow atheism is simply deluded. End of story. He has just written off at least 95 per cent of mankind. They are simply engaged in delusion.
And one can ask where exactly this love and respect is supposed to come from in a dog-eat-dog Darwinist world. If species survival is the main point about life, how does such a concept as love fit in? Sure, Dawkins offers the usual Darwinian case for altruism, but one is left far from convinced.
Moreover, the most loving and sacrificial act in human history, the sacrificial death of Christ on our behalf, is dismissed by Dawkins as “morally obnoxious.” So we are supposed to buy his understanding of love? As exemplified in this book? Sorry, but I will take the biblical understanding of love any day over his warped take on it.
Dawkins’ use of the term delusion is worth looking at a bit further. Not only is this not much of an argument, but if every time I spoke about atheists, and simply dismissed their claims as mere delusion, they would not think I was advancing much of a case. And they would be right. So in a sense this book is one long exercise in the fallacy known as ad hominem. Simply attacking the person and thinking you have won the argument.
Of course by delusion he has certain ideas in mind. Dawkins holds to the standard worldview of the philosophical naturalist, which seeks to make a disjunction between faith and reason, religion and science. Science gives us truth, but faith is simply myth. But more sober minds on both sides of the debate recognise these to be false polarisations. Faith, at least in the Christian religion, is informed by reason. It may at times go beyond reason, but it does not run counter to it.
And the scientific enterprise is also characterised by faith commitment. There are all kinds of unproven assumptions and presuppositions which may or may not be testable. The myth of complete scientific neutrality and objectivity has been countered by many important thinkers.
But because of Dawkins’ pre-commitment to philosophical naturalism, he rules out a priori any possibility of the supernatural. And anyone who does seek to escape the narrow confines of such naturalism (the idea that only matter matters) is, according to Dawkins, simply deluded.
Thus by Dawkins’ chosen framework, anyone who disagrees with him must be living in delusion. But his worldview, which is born not of scientific evidence, but philosophical commitment, itself can be challenged. A good critique of Dawkins in this regard can be found in Alister McGrath’s recent book, Dawkins’ God. See my review: billmuehlenberg.com/2005/02/02/a-review-of-dawkins%e2%80%99-god-genes-memes-and-the-meaning-of-life-by-alister-mcgrath/
Child Abuse and Religion
Another strange way in which Dawkins seeks to make his case for atheism is in a section in which he recounts horror stories of kids abused in religious settings. Of course those cases, as tragic as they are, prove nothing. Plenty of abuse takes place in the homes of atheists, and in secular settings. Does that prove theism?
He then ties this in with another point he seeks to make, that children are simply being brainwashed by their religious parents. Of course he presumably has no problems with kids being raised in atheistic homes. But he would claim that what he really wants is for children to be taught to question everything, and not be weighed down with dogmatism.
Well, to equate all religious parents with some who may demand unquestioning acceptance of their religion is of course so characteristic of this book. He is forever throwing the baby out with the bathwater. He constantly seeks to turn exceptions into the rule. Sure, some religious education and training can border on indoctrination and zealotry. But so too can atheistic education. Dawkins simply refuses to make nuanced or careful distinctions. His hatred of religion is so strong that he is quite happy to generalise, stereotype and paint everyone with his broad brush.
I do agree however that we should be trained to “question everything”. And the first place we should begin is to question the many spurious and fanciful assumptions and claims made by Dawkins.
Many more areas of this book could be explored, but space does not permit it. Suffice it to say, it has left an unpleasant taste in this reader’s mouth. Its acerbic attack on the faith of billions of people comes across as just another fundamentalist crusade or jihad. It is just as intolerant and judgmental as any religious broadside can be.
The author’s over-reliance on ad hominem, name-calling, red herrings, straw men, and selective use of evidence makes this book unconvincing at best and repellent at worst. Indeed, if anything, this book has all the hallmarks of what it claims is wrong with religionists: it is just too doctrinaire, arrogant, intolerant, bigoted, narrow-minded, and full of pomposity and venom.
There certainly are more cogent and telling arguments that can be advanced against religious belief. But the reader will have to look elsewhere for them. This book succeeds in doing only one job well: showing us the arrogance and narrow-mindedness of militant atheism.
With the brisk sales of this book, its author should be making quite a few quid. However it is the reader who is being short-changed. For a book that is meant to be an intellectual “case” against God and belief, this book comes nowhere close to demonstrating the irrationality of religious belief. It seems instead to demonstrate the bitterness and paucity of thinking of at least one famous atheist.
(Note: There is much more in Dawkins’ book that deserves a response, so hopefully future posts will further examine other aspects of this controversial book.)
Part 1 of this article is found here: billmuehlenberg.com/2006/12/29/a-review-of-the-god-delusion-by-richard-dawkins-part-1/