Why Christians should take Richard Dawkins seriously


It’s easy to get annoyed, but Christians really ought to listen to and take seriously what Richard Dawkins has to say. With his high profile books, articles, television programmes and general media coverage, he has become the number one scourge of religion and religious believers of all and every stripe. He is articulate, passionate, an excellent speaker and a formidable intelligence. He has made important contributions to his particular discipline of evolutionary biology, most famously with his first book The Selfish Gene, but no less impressively with the follow-up volume The Extended Phenotype, and a series of subsequent books. He is a major player in his discipline.

His book The God Delusion appeared in 2006. This isn’t about evolutionary biology with a few side-swipes at religion thrown in, this is a concentrated assault on religion. He launches a series of exocet missiles at religion, at the concept of God, the ‘supernatural’, faith-heads (which is his term for religious believers), theology – the whole bang-shoot, in fact. Inevitably he has triggered much response. The theologian Alister McGrath, an Oxford colleague of his, who had already written one book critiquing Dawkins’ views on religion, riposted rapidly with The Dawkins Delusion. Another Christian riposte has come from a more evangelical quarter in Andrew Wilson’s Deluded by Dawkins? Both authors demonstrate that many of Dawkins’ arguments are strewn with error and misunderstanding.

However, in response to the statement “theologians say that Dawkins is wrong” we can echo Mandy Rice-Davies: “Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?” It’s part of their job description. Perhaps more significant, then, is the response Dawkins has drawn from non-Christian – or non-religious – quarters. Don’t get me wrong: there are many who agree whole-heartedly with Dawkins. But consider the review of the book by Professor of English Terry Eagleton, a non-believer, which appeared in the London Review of Books (19 October 2006): it is a high octane demolition job.

Eagleton starts off “Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be.” He continues for another 3,500 words to elaborate on this.

Read the rest here.

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