"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Friday, September 15, 2006

The God Delusion

If ever a book was aptly named to reflect the personality of its author....

Richard Dawkins is trumpeted on the cover of his new book as "the world's most prominent atheist," a title he presumably inherits now that Madalyn Murray O'Hair is dead (honestly, I didn't even know there was a ranking in this field). Neither a theologian nor a philosopher of religion, he spends 80+ pages on the arguments for the existence of the God of Abraham (the Hindu pantheon and other gods of other world religions need not apply, apparently). Neither an anthropologist nor a psychiatrist, he devotes 70 pages to the "roots of religion" and a discussion of whether morality is possible outside of religion (I'll save you the money: yes. That's me. Ignore Dawkins.). Not trained as a scriptural scholar (not all of whom are either religious nor Christian), he devotes another 40 pages to scriptural criticism. The rest of the book is devoted to making clear his straw man is actually a version of Christian fundamentalism, one that exists largely in his fevered perceptions.

Skimming the index, I find no reference to any philosopher of religion outside of Immanuel Kant (and he merits only a page; thus does Mr. Dawkins apparently dispose of both Kant's Idealism and Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone). The chapter on the proofs of God references Aquinas (whom Dawkins deigns to declare a thinker with an "eminent" reputation. Yeah, and Shakespeare was a pretty good writer, too.) and Pascal. The index betrays no reference anywhere in the book to St. Anselm (creator of what Kant later labelled the "ontological proof"), nor to modern philosophers like Charles Hartshorne (The Logic of Perfection, his updating of Anselm's argument) or Alvin Plantinga. If you want to read a thorough discussion of all the important proofs of the God of Abraham that have been considered in Western culture, you'd do better to turn to Richard M. Gale's On the Nature and Existence of God. So would Mr. Dawkins, who obviously didn't.

Nowhere in his index, indeed, does Mr. Dawkins reference any important philosophers of religion or even of phenomenology. Kierkegaard's argument against proving existence (from the Philosophical Fragments) is not even considered. Mr. Dawkins gleefully sets up his straw men, and proceeds to knock them over, for several hundred pages.

He does, I noted, give ample space to Daniel C. Dennett. Birds of a feather, and all that, I suppose. This is all too familiar.

It isn't that I object to Mr. Dawkins' conclusions. What he believes or doesn't is of no importance to me whatsoever. I must admit a weakness, though: I do not suffer fools gladly. I know more about the arguments against the arguments for the existence of God than Mr. Dawkins has, apparently, imagined. The arguments from free will; omincscience-immutablity; ontology; religious experience; even the pragmatic arguments of Pascal and William James. A very long book can be devoted to this issue alone, if not several books. Mr. Dawkins jumps from an elementary school version of Aquinas' five proofs to Pascal, with just a passing reference to Anselm's argument and no mention of either the Saint or his modern-day defender, Mr. Hartshorne. (Hartshorne's argument is so complex that even Mr. Gale declines to include it in his book, saying it needs separate consideration). What Mr. Dawkins clearly goes after is a caricature of religious faith drawn from his impressions of fundamentalist Christians and, like Mr. Dennett, Mr. Dawkins imagines that all the religions of the world are basically Christianity, of this peculiar and very narrow nature (and one that doesn't even resemble most of the doctrines of fundamentalist Christianity). Small wonder then there are no references in the index to Huston Smith, Jaroslav Pelikan, or even Martin Marty (Fundamentalisms Observed). Mr. Dawkins has so clearly failed to do his homework that, were this thesis to be presented to me as a completed research paper, I'd fail the student for failing to do any real investigation of the subject.

Were I as ignorant of science as Mr. Dawkins is of theology and philosophy of religion (as well as psychology, sociology, anthropology, to name a few fields), I'd be embarassed to write a book about the philosophy of science and put my ignorance between hard covers and then ask people to pay good money for it.

But perhaps that's why I'm not a prominent anything.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did you do anything other than skim the index? You make several claims about the book that are false. He in fact does discuss St. Anselm on several pages.

What an awful review. And I am a theist.

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