Book Review

Dawkins' Delusional Dogma Defeated

This is a review of 'The Dawkins Delusion' by Alister McGrath, with Joanna Collicutt McGrath. Paperback, published by SPCK, 2007. (ISBN 978-0-281-05927-0).


"..Dawkins' aligning of himself with 'science' against 'religion' is effectively blown out of the water by the McGraths, as it has been by other writers, and is revealed to be a wholly artificial and unsustainable position. Dawkins only gains a platform by lumping together all the religions, especially the major ones, then looking for extreme and often unrepresentative things to poke fun at, but it is high time that his very selective appraisal of just what "religion" is was called into question..."


In his 2006 book, 'The God Delusion,' major atheist propagandist preacher Richard Dawkins has departed from his earlier scientific approach of outlining the various evolutionary principles which he sees as explaining and underpinning the complexity of life, in order to go on a fully venomous, and sometimes quite incoherent, tirade against religion in general. He has done so, however, without giving much thought as to just what truly constitutes "religion" and, in his resultant myopic, highly selective and prejudicial approach, he frequently makes comments which are quite ludicrous and which may often be equally applied to his own religion of aggressive, fundamentalist atheism.

Dawkins' fellow Oxford Professor Alister McGrath, one of Britain's most senior evangelical Christian theologians, has often taken it upon himself to respond to various Dawkins' inconsistencies; this time, he has sensibly confined his response to a book of only 78 pages. Some have questioned this, but it really makes very good sense and reflects the fact that 'The God Delusion' is not serious science or carefully developed and finely-tuned argument but simply an angry rant! Why waste paper on distinguishing such an unstructured, and frequently poorly researched, outburst?

As Andrew Rilstone, very amusingly, has stated,

"It ('The God Delusion') doesn't contain anything which I can recognise as a point of view or train of thought: it just fires off a random series of nasty remarks about Christianity and anything else which happens to come into the author's line of fire. I felt that I had spent the afternoon sipping latte in the company of one of those terribly sophisticated sixth-formers who is planning to leave home while he still knows everything. 'Then there's Wagner, but chaps like us know he's awful; and of course, there's modern French philosophy, but chaps like us know that's rubbish; then there's Descartes, but chaps like us are much too clever to read him.' Or perhaps, with a very, very clever but mildly autistic child, who spouts out an endless stream of non-linear free association: 'There's a big red truck. We had baked beans for tea. That makes me think of Hindus. Catholics are silly, aren't they? That makes me think of Vikings. We don't like Wagner, do we? Or Muslims. Or Jews. Or Post-Structuralists.'"


“Some may have previously been a little intellectually frightened and intimidated by Dawkins but much within his most recent book falls down at a very basic and elementary level and these failings are absolutely manifest and assessible to all - bus driver and biologist alike”

Rilstone's brief but very witty review highlights the fact that too much of 'The God Delusion' is unsequential, unstructured, incoherent and very poorly argued; this is why Christian fundamentalists have quickly come to really appreciate the latest Dawkins' offering: if this is the best that can be fired at them, why even take cover? Not surprisingly one or two well-known atheists have expressed embarrassment about the book. Already famously, Michael Ruse, Professor of Philosophy at Florida State University, has stated,

"The God Delusion makes me embarrassed to be an atheist, and the McGraths show why."

Less amusingly than Rilstone but probably more to the point, Alvin Plantinga has stated this,
"...Despite the fact that this book is mainly philosophy, Dawkins is not a philosopher (he's a biologist). Even taking this into account, however, much of the philosophy he purveys is at best jejune. You might say that some of his 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. This, combined with the arrogant, smarter-than-thou tone of the book, can be annoying." (From 'The Dawkins Confusion' by Alvin Plantinga, Books and Culture, March/April, 2007. The full review may be found here: http://www.christianitytoday.com/bc/2007/002/1.21.html).

So one of the biggest problems with Richard Dawkins is that he really knows absolutely nothing about religion at all and so many of his statements and assertions can be quickly countered by those who really know their subject at a more consistent and structured philosophical, doctrinal and theological level. Not surprising then that McGrath compares the Dawkins anti-religious polemics to "the anti-religious programmes built into the education of Soviet children during the 1950s, based on mantras such as 'Science has disproved religion!,' 'Religion is superstition' and the like." (page 4). The point is very well made; the communists knew nothing about religion even while attempting to depose it and to replace it with another one (communism). Richard Dawkins too attacks something which he appears to have very little knowledge of, while attempting to replace it with his brand of aggressive, fundamentalist atheism. A form of atheism, it should be added, that an increasing number of atheists have been separating themselves from since the 2006 publication of 'The God Delusion.'

The McGraths divide this book into just four chapters which respond to some of the main thrusts of the Dawkins tirade. The chapters are 'Deluded About God?' 'Has Science Disproved God?' 'What are the Origins of Religion?' and 'Is Religion Evil?'

In quite a masterly manner, the McGrath's highlight the errors, inconsistencies and very weak arguments used by Dawkins, gradually building up a picture which clearly reveals that 'The God Delusion' is hardly worthy of taking seriously at any level at all. Some may have previously been a little intellectually frightened and intimidated by Dawkins but much within his most recent book falls down at a very basic and elementary level and these failings are absolutely manifest and assessible to all - bus driver and biologist alike.

In building up their case, Alister and Joanna McGrath do make a few points which not all Christians will support. The 'ID movement' ('Intelligent Design' movement), for example, is seemingly rejected as just another of the old 'God of the gaps' theories (pages 10-12). Many (including myself) will not support that conclusion. The old 'God of the gaps' theories were where Christians of an earlier age rather too quickly jumped in with 'explanations' for things that science (of that period) could not explain. As scientific knowledge increased, the theories were shown to be erroneous, and believers ended up with the proverbial 'egg on their faces.' However, Darwinism is - in itself - a 'God of the gaps' theory, and was an attempt to provide an 'explanation' for what science did not yet understand; the ID movement, on the other hand, is truly scientific, and not all supporters are even Christians. The 'ID' people are revealing that Darwinism was a 'God of the gaps' theory which is now, as scientific knowledge moves ahead, being revealed as being not only erroneous but actually religious in nature. In this case, the real 'religionists' were, and are, the devout Darwinists!

In the 'Has Science Disproved God?' section, the McGrath's wisely compare the Dawkinsian approach with that of the brilliant Sir Peter Medawar, the Oxford immunologist who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine. Medawar was not a believer yet he was completely clear about the limits of science and knew that religion was beyond its scope. Sir Peter said,

"That there is indeed a limit upon science is made very likely by the existence of questions that science cannot answer, and that no conceivable advance of science would empower it to answer...I have in mind such questions as:

How did everything begin?

What are we all here for?

What is the point of living?

Doctrinaire positivism - now something of a period piece - dismissed all such questions as nonquestions or pseudoquestions such as only simpletons ask and only charlatans profess to be able to answer." (page 66, The Limits of Science, Peter B. Medawar, Oxford University Press, 1985 - as quoted by the McGraths).

So Medawar dismissed the general Dawkins approach as already being a 'period piece' by 1985. Indeed, Richard Dawkins bases his whole approach on the old, so-called 'Logical Positivism' which is no longer taken seriously in any quarter. So the 'hot' anti-religious ire (only selectively 'anti-religious' of course, since a powerful case can obviously be made for Darwinism and militant atheism being religious), of Dawkinsianism is based on really old, and now widely rejected, philosophy - there is nothing new about it. Meanwhile, Dawkins' aligning of himself with 'science' against 'religion' is effectively blown out of the water by the McGraths, as it has been by other writers, and is revealed to be a wholly artificial and unsustainable position. Dawkins only gains a platform by lumping together all the religions, especially the major ones, then looking for extreme and often unrepresentative things to poke fun at, but it is high time that his very selective appraisal of just what "religion" is was called into question. The McGraths start to get into that, but there is a need to go much, much further; I am looking forward to a writer, hopefully an evangelical who is strong in the Philosophy of Religion, doing a thorough-going debunking of the Dawkins/Hitchens/Miller gross misrepresentations of Christianity and comprehensively labelling the new, aggressively fundamentalist atheism as being one of the more insidious religious cults of all.

The Dawkins method, then, is to demonize, misrepresent, utter gross perversions of points which may be freely looked up even on Google for a more accurate assessment, and to freely and quite widely insult. But is not this the manner of the dictatorial demagogue who simply wants to win followers to his cause and is quite willing that truth, logic and fairness should be compromised in the process? Surely this often amounts to a simple hate-mongering of a particular group, or groups, in a manner which would have done Joseph Goebbels proud.

I remain convinced that Richard Dawkins is an intelligent man. What a waste of such an intellect for such a man to now be pursuing a path of propaganda and hatred.

Alister and Joanna McGrath's brief but very insightful book, 'The Dawkins Delusion,' is published in the UK by SPCK. I highly recommend it. 78 pages is indeed quite sufficient to specifically respond to 'The God Delusion,' but one looks forward to a much fuller evangelical full frontal assault on the whole seriously flawed Hitchens/Dawkins worldview of fundamentalist atheism.

I will close this review with a quote from Alvin Plantinga,
"'The God Delusion' is full of bluster and bombast, but it really doesn't give even the slightest reason for thinking belief in God mistaken, let alone a "delusion."
The naturalism that Dawkins embraces, furthermore, in addition to its intrinsic unloveliness and its dispiriting conclusions about human beings and their place in the universe, is in deep self-referential trouble. There is no reason to believe it; and there is excellent reason to reject it."
(From 'The Dawkins Confusion' by Alvin Plantinga, Books and Culture, March/April, 2007, may be found here: http://www.christianitytoday.com/bc/2007/002/1.21.html).

Robin A. Brace, 2007.

UK APOLOGETICS