Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Book Review: Dawkins' God

Richard Dawkins is probably the best-known atheist in the world today. In addition to his writings on science, Dawkins constantly speaks and writes against religion. Alister McGrath's book, Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes and the Meaning of Life, is the first book-length response to Dawkins' ideas. And McGrath is eminently suited to the task. He is a colleague of Dawkins, a world-renowned theologian, and has a PhD in molecular biophysics. Apparently, when McGrath had completed the manuscript of the book, he sent it to Dawkins to check that he had fairly represented Dawkins' ideas. Dawkins, who most certainly would disagree with McGrath's conclusion, gave his approval. In Dawkins' God, McGrath begins with a straightforward survey of Dawkins' view of Darwinism which Dawkins has elevated to a world view -- a metanarrative that, for Dawkins, provides his organising perspective on absolutely everything. McGrath then proceeds with a telling critique of Dawkins' naive, and often distorted, arguments against religion and, in particular, the Judeo-Christian understanding of God. McGrath demonstrates a deep respect for Dawkins when Dawkins sticks to science. But when he moves away from science, he is completely out of his depth and uses rhetorical tricks rather than substantial argument to bolster his fundamentalist atheism. In critiquing Dawkins' arguments, McGrath explains the nature of evidence in science and religion and demonstrates that science cannot come to any conclusion about the existence of God and, therefore, does not inevitably arrive at atheism. Dawkins is just plain wrong in his caricatures of religious belief and faith and argues against points of view that no Christian scholar holds, or ever has held. Dawkins' rhetoric is about point-scoring -- not substantial dialogue and argument. McGrath also shows that Dawkins' concept of the meme is completely unscientific, without any evidence for their existence, based on a flawed analogy with DNA. Dawkins describes belief in God as a virus of the mind. But, as McGrath demonstrates, atheism, which Dawkins believes is the truth, can itself be understood as a virus of the mind in Dawkins' memetic model. Dawkins construes the relationship between science and religion as warfare. But the warfare model has never been widely held by theologians or scientists but, instead, is a particular representation promoted by a minority of individuals, primarily evangelical fundamentalists. So Dawkins is not engaging with the best Christian scholarship available. If he did, he would have little to say! Dawkins' God is a brilliant critique. It is written in plain language and would be understood by anyone, even if they are not familiar with Dawkins' views. Michael Ruse, a philosopher at Florida State University, who favours the theory of evolution, has described Dawkins' God as '[a] wonderful book ... This is scholarship as it should be - informed, feisty, and terrific fun.' And David Livingstone, of Queen's University, Belfast, has praised the book as '[a] devastating critique.' These are apt descriptions of a compelling read. Don't miss reading this excellent, carefully reasoned, critique of Dawkins' superficial, naive attacks against religion. You won't be disappointed. Related Links

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