January 26, 2007


The Dawkins Delusion (Alister McGrath, January 26, 2007, AlterNet)

Every worldview, whether religious or not, has its point of vulnerability. There is a tension between theory and experience, raising questions over the coherence and trustworthiness of the worldview itself. In the case of Christianity, many locate that point of weakness in the existence of suffering within the world. In the case of atheism, it is the persistence of belief in God, when there is supposedly no God in which to believe.

Until recently, western atheism had waited patiently, believing that belief in God would simply die out. But now, a whiff of panic is evident. Far from dying out, belief in God has rebounded, and seems set to exercise still greater influence in both the public and private spheres. The God Delusion expresses this deep anxiety, partly reflecting an intense distaste for religion. Yet there is something deeper here, often overlooked in the heat of debate. The anxiety is that the coherence of atheism itself is at stake. Might the unexpected resurgence of religion persuade many that atheism itself is fatally flawed as a worldview?

That's what Dawkins is worried about. The shrill, aggressive rhetoric of his God Delusion masks a deep insecurity about the public credibility of atheism. The God Delusion seems more designed to reassure atheists whose faith is faltering than to engage fairly or rigorously with religious believers, and others seeking for truth. (Might this be because the writer is himself an atheist whose faith is faltering?) Religious believers will be dismayed by its ritual stereotyping of religion, and will find its manifest lack of fairness a significant disincentive to take its arguments and concerns seriously. Seekers after truth who would not consider themselves religious may also find themselves shocked by Dawkins' aggressive rhetoric, his substitution of personal creedal statements for objective engagement with evidence, his hectoring and bullying tone towards "dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads," and his utter determination to find nothing but fault with religion of any kind.

It is this deep, unsettling anxiety about the future of atheism which explains the high degree of dogmatism and aggressive rhetorical style of this new secular fundamentalism. The dogmatism of the work has been the subject of intense criticism in the secular press, reflecting growing alarm within the secularist community about the damage that Dawkins is doing to their public reputation. Many of those who might be expected to support Dawkins are running for cover, trying to distance themselves from this embarrassment.

Pity the poor Darwinists, it's just one embarrassment after another.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 26, 2007 9:46 AM

In the case of Christianity, many locate that point of weakness in the existence of suffering within the world.

When I read drivel like this, though, it makes me question the author's competence on the rest of the article. Christianity is about suffering. What the heck was the point about Jesus being up on that wooden thingy?

Posted by: Dreadnought at January 26, 2007 10:40 AM

Duh? He's a Christian. He's not the one troubled by it. But it was the reason that Darwin cooked up his theory and the most common complaint you hear from the Brights.

Posted by: oj at January 26, 2007 10:52 AM

I think the people who are surprised by Evil are unable to accept that other people have free will too. There is no Evil free from the hand of Man.

Posted by: Robert Mitchell Jr. at January 26, 2007 11:19 AM

"In the case of Christianity, many locate that point of weakness in the existence of suffering within the world."

Personally, I'd be more impressed with the intellect of Dawkins & the "brights" if they could come up with an argument against God that wasn't already several thousand years old.

Posted by: b at January 26, 2007 11:22 AM

Perhaps I was being too hard on Mr. McGrath, but I guess I've read too much crap from theologians who don't actually seem to know much about religions.

Posted by: Dreadnought at January 26, 2007 11:53 AM

Read McGrath's book--it's a hoot.

Posted by: oj at January 26, 2007 3:15 PM

Theologians are the computer scientists of religion.

Posted by: Mike Beversluis at January 26, 2007 4:39 PM

Everybody ought to read the blurbs on Dawkins' book about how this hysterical, overwrought rant is a "trumpet blast for reason" and a meaningful challenge to religious faith. Are all the reviewers actually that bonkers?

Posted by: Matt Murphy at January 26, 2007 10:08 PM


You know how blurbs work? New Republic used to run a hilarious feature showing how authors cross blurbed each others books.

Posted by: oj at January 26, 2007 10:36 PM

"...his substitution of personal creedal statements for objective engagement with evidence,....

IMHO the above expresses the fallacious reasoning, supposedly the scientific method, for denying the existence of God. If you can't show evidence, it doesn't exist. A "bright" cannot accept not knowing, for they must believe they know all. Yet many conceptual scientific theories have been accepted as concepts ... without evidence.

Posted by: Genecis at January 27, 2007 11:24 AM

Indeed, Brightness begins with the scientifically unsupportable claim that one exists at all.

Posted by: oj at January 27, 2007 3:12 PM