This is the second book-length response to Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. Like the other volume by Alister McGrath, this one is also penned by an Englishman. And like the other volume, it is relatively brief (112 pages). That is because both authors found Dawkins’ book to be quite thin as to its actual arguments against the existence of God.
Indeed, Wilson finds only three chapters in the Dawkins’ book which actually deal with this question. And he is rightly perplexed as to why there is not a single mention of the most central Christian apologetic: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That, notes Wilson, is the real heart of the Christian case for the existence of God, much more so than the older so-called arguments for the existence of God (cosmological, ontological, etc.)
Thus the most crucial piece of evidence for the Christian theist is not even once discussed by Dawkins. This is the linchpin of the Christian worldview, and “despite seventeen centuries of sceptics from Celsus to Crossan, no plausible alternative explanation has ever been articulated”.
Perhaps there is a good reason why Dawkins will not even touch it. Says Wilson, “a historical minefield awaits those who try to explain the resurrection in rationalist terms”. Indeed, the resurrection “is to materialists what satellite photos are to the Flat Earth Society”.
Wilson briefly canvasses the various criticisms made by Dawkins against miracles and the supernatural in general. Because Dawkins is still locked into an antiquated Enlightenment rationalism, he continues to push the furphy that people in Jesus’ day may have been gullible enough to believe in miracles, but we know better today.
Never mind that the New Testament itself records plenty of scepticism over the miraculous, and over the grand miracle: the resurrection. Says Wilson, “It seems that the nineteenth-century Europeans were not the first to discover that dead people stayed dead”.
The truth is, Dawkins is simply a philosophical naturalist, so he rules out the possibility of miracles a priori, not on the basis of evidence. It is just a faith commitment for him. Indeed, in a somewhat unguarded moment, Dawkins admits as much, at least about natural selection. He says so in a 2005 interview: “Natural selection – well, I suppose that is a sort of matter of faith on my part since the theory is so coherent, and so powerful.”
Exactly. It is all about faith and presuppositions. Thus as Wilson shows, his whole argument against the existence of God really is just a house of cards. Much of the argumentation in The God Delusion rests on “an anti-supernatural premiss, and it is a premiss that is never established. We have plenty of rhetoric, but not much substance”.
The rest of the Dawkins’ book is mainly crude caricatures, straw men, ad hominems, red herrings and non-sequiturs. Wilson highlights many of these, as have many other critics of the book. And many of these critics have been fellow atheists and neo-Darwinists.
Indeed, there are some real howlers in Dawkins’ anti-theistic rant. Consider his claim that Thomas Jefferson, who lived in the nineteenth century, told his nephew in a letter about the Gospels of Thomas, Peter and so on. Only trouble is, no one even knew these existed until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1945.
Dawkins is just so far out of his depth in so many sections of this book, that it is a wonder that any should take him seriously. If this is the best the king of atheism can come up with, then it is time for atheists to take up another hobby: perhaps stamp collecting.
And even in areas where he should be a bit more sophisticated, Dawkins still continues to make schoolboy mistakes. He spends a good part of chapter four arguing for the improbability of God’s existence. One of the three main points he uses to make his case is that the anthropic principle provides an alternative to a creator or designer.
The anthropic principle simply states that the earth is very finely-tuned to support life. It seems statistically impossible that life should have arisen on planet earth, yet conditions seem just right for it to have happened. So it is simply an explanation of events that we find, not an alternative to creation.
As Wilson reminds us, there are only three possibilities here concerning the anthropic principle: A) There is an intelligent designer (God); B) this is all just a coincidence; or C) a multiplicity of universes theory is needed. But B strains all credibility, and C is just a wild, faith-based hypothesis without solid evidence. Thus A is a very possible explanation. So how can Dawkins say the anthropic principle is an alternative to intelligent design, when ID and the God hypothesis are in fact one of three options available for explaining it?
All in all, as Wilson shows, Dawkins mostly resorts to convoluted logic, sloppy argumentation, and plenty of red herrings and straw men to attempt to make his case. The whole thing comes off rather poorly. But for those with a pre-commitment to atheism, it will seem attractive.
Wilson goes out of his way to be fair to Dawkins. He certainly does not resort to the name-calling, heated polemical style, and nasty rhetoric that so characterises The God Delusion. This sensibly and politely argued volume – along with that of McGrath – makes it clear that Emperor Dawkins indeed seems to have little, if any, clothing on.
Wilson concludes by noting that someone even more nasty, aggressive and belligerent than Dawkins – Saul of Tarsus – in the end bowed his knee to the risen Christ. It is hoped that the same outcome awaits Professor Dawkins.