Friday, June 11, 2010

Delusion Confusion

For the next little while, I'm going to be responding to Richard Dawkins best-selling book The God Delusion. Dawkins is one of the world's most famous atheists and this 400+ page book is considered his strongest argument to date against religion of all kinds (but especially focused on Christianity).

Preface to the Paperback Edition
In this section, Dawkins deals with common objections to his book.

1. You can't criticize religion w/o theological training
Dawkins responds by saying that he has no interest or obligation to respond to theologians who take God's existence for granted. He claims to deal only with those who "take seriously the possibility that God does not exist and argue that he does" (14). I think this is a fair point on Dawkins' part, but I don't think he came through. When the subject comes up later in the book, I don't see very much dialogue with the best arguments of theism. A bit of the straw-man fallacy is present, which leads us to objection 2.

2. You always attack the worst of religion
Dawkins responds by saying that subtle/nuanced religion is "numerically negligible" in comparison to bad religion. I find this point to be at odds with reality. Of those who claim to be religious in our world (most people), I don't find the vast majority of them to be illustrations of the evils of religion. And if Dawkins is directing his attack against bad religion, I'll join in! But what is that to me?

3. You are too mean!
Dawkins uses comparison to show that he's not really very mean. Having read the book, I would tend to agree with him. He has strong opinions and he's blunt with them, but I wouldn't say he is mean in any sense that would drive me away from reading his book.

4. You are preaching to the choir
This point assumes that The God Delusion will only be read by atheists who already agree with Dawkins. I think this objection is weak. I'm a Christian and I was very interested to read the book.

5. You are just as much a fundamentalist as they are
Dawkins responds to this by saying there is a big difference b/w someone who is passionate against evidence (a fundamentalist) and passionate about the evidence (in his view, a naturalist). He states bluntly that "all available evidence (and there is a vast amount of it) favours evolution" (19). I find both components of that statement to be vastly overstated. Plus, Christianity does not stand or fall on whether Darwin was right! After reading the book, I would say Dawkins is so committed to naturalism that he would qualify as an equal though opposite fundamentalist.

6. Religion is here to stay, so live with it
Dawkins basically says that if something is false we should do everything possible to get rid of it. I agree with him in principle.

7. Religion is false, but people need it
This objection basically speaks down to the common man who doesn't know enough to become an atheist. Such unlearned people need religion to help them through life. But Dawkins thinks this is arrogant and I agree. However, Dawkins feels that most people are religious b/c they simply don't know there is a solid alternative (a point he gets into more in the regular preface). I find this point ridiculous (I'll get into this in the next post).

So, after reading the book, what objections do I think stick? I would say 1, 2 & 5 are strong points against what Dawkins has written. He hasn't dealt thoroughly with the strongest theistic arguments. He definitely avoids dealing with the strengths of his opponents (basically ZERO discussion of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ) or the weaknesses of his own view (very little worthwhile discussion of true origins, unpersuasive discussion of morality w/o theistic foundations). And he's clearly assuming his naturalist position in making most of his arguments.


Elizabeth said...

I'm looking forward to this series. I've tried reading his book a few times but it was slow going and it would be due back at the library before I ever finished.

So, yay Matthew for having the patience to read and wisdom to share thoughts.

Glo said...

I read this book while taking a class called systematic apologetics, i found his book hard to read because he kept beating up straw men expecting me to cower at my faith being ripped at the seams. his arguments often are full of logical fallacies and show a misunderstanding of Christianity and religion.

matthew said...

I didn't find the book TOO slow. But I'm kinda weird. Maybe it helped that I had no deadline and just read a couple dozen pages a day for a long while.

He does use a lot of logical fallacies. I think his book would have only been effective (in the sense he intended it to be) with uninformed fragile Christians and those who are already atheists.