Every now and then, a writer emerges with the rhetoric and credentials to capture the imagination of a generation. Their ideas slowly percolate into the intellect of the laity, taking root and mobilizing a movement whose perceptions impact the very culture of their day. These are the writers whose pens drip more than ink, they drip change.
Sometimes, this impact is beautiful. When St. Augustine etched out his City of God, the arguments it contained spread like penicillin, innoculating a collapsing empire from the bitterness and rage it felt towards those Christians whose doctrines of compassion and mercy “weakened” what was once the military powerhouse of the known world. Instead, these virtues were preserved, shaping innumerable future civilizations including our own.
Sometimes, however, an author draws out his quill and sketches a compelling argument that challenges the mind and engages the imagination, yet is so factually inaccurate and patently dishonest that one wonders if he even knows what he is talking about. Thankfully, most of these pieces are so transparent that they quickly fade into obscurity. Occasionally, however, a wordsmith arises who can make even the meaningless seem profound. Occasionally, there comes a scholar who can do just enough research to make his fabrications appear believable. As Christians, we’ve seen them in cult leaders and televangelists.
Atheists now have their version in Richard Dawkins.
“The God Delusion makes me embarassed to be an atheist.” – Michael Ruse, Professor of Philosophy at Florida State University
Let me pause for a moment. Lest I seem like some petty zealot embittered by the idea that Dawkins would dare write some heretical rant attacking the concept of God and labeling believers as little more than delusional, let me set the record straight. It is not Dawkins’ stance that I draw issue with. After all, I heartily respect Sam Harris, whose polemics against religion are mired with philosophical inconsistencies, yet whose tone is respectful and his scholarship honest. I can further appreciate Christopher Hitchens, who labels religious belief a poison and employs rhetorical slight-of-hand as a matter of principle, yet whose passion is scarcely rivaled by any contemporary. I will openly express my honor for Carl Sagan, whose theological understanding was a bit myopic and his grasp of history jaded, yet whose science was nothing short of inspiring. Admittedly, I am deeply humbled by Stephen Hawking, whose philosophy leaves much to be desired, but whose scientific mind is nothing short of extraordinary. All these people challenge and inspire me, despite our wildly divergent worldviews. I had hoped to be similarly challenged as I cracked open the cover of The God Delusion and began wading through its pages. I was woefully disappointed.
As it turns out, I’m not alone in this. Michael Ruse, Professor of Philosophy at Florida State University, responded to Dawkins’ publication with the shame-infused confession that “The God Delusion makes me embarassed to be an atheist.” Criticisms of his work abound, with Dr. Dawkins repeatedly lambasted for failing to research his topic, for misrepresenting Christian theology, and for creating an elaborate “straw man” which he then proceeds to decimate. What I find most startling, however, is that, rather than deny the charge of slovenly scholarship, he accepts and even defends it! Regarding this very criticism leveled at him by Alister McGrath, Dawkins simply responded with the question, “do you have to read up on leprechology before disbelieving in leprechauns?”
If you want to speak out against leprechauns, then speak out against the leprechauns people believe in. If you want to speak out against God, at least take the time to research basic theology.
It is this, not his anti-religious stance, that is my great source of ire. Yes, Richard, you DO have to research “leprechology” if you are writing an anti-leprechaun polemic. It would hardly do to make an argument that leprechauns cannot exist because the laws of aerodynamics do not allow for flying horses. If you want to speak out against leprechauns, then speak out against the leprechauns people believe in. If you want to speak out against God, at least take the time to research basic theology.
This is the hypocrisy which runs like a colorful thread throughout the tapestry of his text. On the one hand, he rails against what he perceives as a Christian assault against reason. On the other, he openly advocates ignorance as a virtue both in the penning and defense of his book. And yet, in spite of this, The God Delusion has become a best-seller, and Dawkins even named Author of the Year at the British Book Awards. Like it or not, his ideas are taking root.
So, with this in mind, I am dedicating a series of four articles towards expounding the principle issues I have with his book, and demonstrating key examples of each. These are:
- Dawkins’ failure to grasp basic Christian theology.
- Dawkins’ openly dishonest reporting of Christian thinkers.
- Dawkins’ failure to utilize even rudimentary levels of academic scholarship.
- Dawkins’ pitiful employ of philosophy.
These four pillars form the basic framework upon which nearly all of The God Delusion rests. As the articles for each are published, I will be turning the corresponding list number into a link. One by one, I hope to pull the pillars out, until we are left with a book aptly named – not for its central thesis, but as the delusional anti-God rantings of a skillful wordsmith.
What do you think? Have you encountered Dawkins’ arguments before? Am I being too harsh in my criticism of his book and of him as an author?
Image Credit: Rob Boudon