A Load of Bright
An atheist's views on religion and the supernatural

Book Review: The Dawkins Delusion, by Alister McGrath


I read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins when it was released last year. I enjoyed it immensely, it is a wonderfully comprehensive critique of religion from a great intellect. The most prevailing thought I had while reading it and particularly as I finished it was, ‘I’d love to see a Christian apologist try to write a response to this’. Well, my wish was granted earlier this year when Alister McGrath released his critique of The God Delusion, creatively named The Dawkins Delusion.

McGrath is Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University, and used to be an atheist, achieving a PhD in molecular biophysics before turning to Christian studies. With this in mind, I was genuinely looking forward to a real challenge to Dawkins’ analysis. I was left disappointed. The Dawkins Delusion is a light-weight collection of recycled apologist fallacies, which fails to even remotely impose on the carefully constructed arguments presented by Dawkins, despite the target he sets at the beginning.

It [The Dawkins Delusion] sets out to do one thing, and one thing only – assess the reliability of Dawkins’ critique of faith in God. (Introduction, xiii)

McGrath structures his response within four chapters, the first of which is entitled “Deluded about God?”, where he tries to refute Dawkins’ arguments against the existence of God. The book is littered with straw man arguments and this chapter is no exception. He repeats his ritual misunderstanding of the Santa Claus analogy (about which I have previously written), before discussing, among other things, Dawkins’ critique of Thomas Aquinas’ thirteenth century arguments for God’s existence. Instead of trying to defend them, however, he retreats with a claim that they were never intended to prove anything anyway.

The general consensus among philosophers of religion is that, while such arguments cast interesting light on the questions, they settle nothing. Although traditionally referred to as ‘arguments for God’s existence’, this is not an accurate description. All they do is show the inner consistency of belief in God . . . (p7)

Leaving aside the ridiculous claim to “inner consistency”, this doesn’t really say anything at all. Far from claiming that the Aquinas proofs are still heavily defended, Dawkins states in the God Delusion “the argument from design is the only one still in regular use today” (The God Delusion, p79). So, what point exactly is McGrath arguing against here, if not one that was never actually made? The chapter in The God Delusion this is taken from is called “Arguments for God’s existence”. No such chapter would be complete without referring and responding to Aquinas famous proofs, and its omission would have provoked criticism from many, including, I’m sure, McGrath.

If ‘delusion’ is the major theme of The God Delusion, ‘illusion’ is the major them of The Dawkins Delusion. One such example, is that McGrath constantly tries to give the impression that religious beliefs are founded upon the same principles as science, as if they were contemporaries. He compares religious belief systems to scientific theories, as if they were tentatively held beliefs.

…most of us are aware that we hold many beliefs that we cannot prove to be true, but are nonetheless perfectly reasonable to entertain . . . Philosophers of science have long made the point that there are many scientific theories that are presently believed to be true – but may have to be discarded in the future, as additional evidence emerges or new theoretical interpretations develop. (p8)

This implies that any belief that can’t be proven true is equal in its probability of being correct to any other belief that can’t be conclusively proven. Scientific theories are upgraded and replaced, but it is always on the basis of evidence, as McGrath recognises. This does not apply to religious beliefs though. As Dawkins demonstrates throughout The God Delusion, religious beliefs are often formed through tradition, authority and revelation. Far from engaging with Dawkins’ arguments, McGrath is skirting around them and making rash, unsupported assertions. Comparing a religious belief, such as the divinity of Christ to a scientific theory like evolution, with a wealth of data to support it, is a weak argument, to say the least.

The second chapter, “has science disproved God” is a straw man fallacy in itself. It responds to a claim that Dawkins never makes. It is interesting that McGrath introduces this chapter, not with a quote, but his own distorted interpretation, “underlying the agenda of The God Delusion is a pervasive belief that science has disproved God.” (p13). You would think that if Dawkins had said anything like that, McGrath would have quoted it. But Dawkins didn’t say it and didn’t claim it, which is why McGrath is left with nothing to quote and another straw man of his own creation to refute. McGrath wrote in an article recently about his beliefs when he was an atheist.

While I loved studying the sciences at school, they were important for another reason: science disproved God.

Well, this may have been what McGrath believed, but he was in a minority, and perhaps was always better suited to theism. He constantly accuses Dawkins of stereotyping theists, and yet tries to impose the beliefs he once held as an atheist on to all atheists, including Dawkins, who, when discussing the seven point spectrum of belief, places himself on number six.

Very low probability, but short of zero. De facto atheist. ‘I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.’ (The God Delusion, p50-51)

Does that sound like someone who thinks God has been disproved? Having set up his straw man, McGrath simply displays a lack of understanding of science. He tries to question the value of science using a reference to Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene (please forgive me quoting at length, but it is necessary for the context to maintain).

To explore this question, let’s consider a statement made by Dawkins in his first work, The Selfish Gene.

[Genes] swarm in huge colonies, safe inside gigantic lumbering robots, sealed off from the outside world, communicating with it by tortuous indirect routes, manipulating it by remote control. They are in you and me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence.

We see here a powerful and influential interpretation of a basic scientific concept. But are these strongly interpretive statements themselves actually scientific?

To appreciate the issue, consider the following rewriting of this paragraph by the celebrated Oxford physiologist and systems biologist Denis Noble. What is proven empirical fact is retained; what is interpretative has been changed, this time offering a somewhat different interpretation.

[Genes] are trapped in huge colonies, locked inside highly intelligent beings, moulded by the outside world, communicating with it by complex processes, through which, blindly, as if by magic, function emerges. They are in you and me; we are the system that allows their code to be read; and their preservation is totally dependent on the joy that we experience in reproducing ourselves. We are the ultimate rationale for their existence.

Dawkins and Noble see things in completely different ways. (I recommend reading both statements slowly and carefully to appreciate the difference.) They cannot both be right. (p15-16)

No, they can’t. Quoting each paragraph in isolation, McGrath tries to argue that science is a flip of a coin, vague and open to interpretation. The minor point he overlooks, is that The Selfish Gene was an entire, 200 page book that Dawkins wrote giving evidence that his interpretation was the correct one! And that’s how science works. This chapter is, again, McGrath not engaging with Dawkins but avoiding him, and mustering an illusion that religion is scientific and science is religious. Notably absent is a response to comments Dawkins makes in The God Delusion about McGrath’s work Dawkins’ God: Genes, Memes and the Origin of life.

. . . it seems to be the only point in rebuttal that he has to offer: the undeniable but ignominiously weak point that you cannot disprove the existence of God. On page after page as I read McGrath, I found myself scribbling ‘teapot’ in the margin. (The God Delusion, p54)

Which brings us nicely onto chapter three, “What are the origins of religion?”, which opens with yet another recycled misunderstanding of the Santa Claus analogy (I’ve seriously lost count), this time applied to Russell’s orbiting teapot.

For Dawkins, this [belief in God] is an utterly irrational belief – like believing in a teapot orbiting the sun. Sure, this is a flawed analogy. Nobody that I know believes such nonsense. But that’s what Dawkins wants his readers to think – that believing in God is on the same level as cosmic teapots. (p28)

I almost wonder if McGrath read the entire book. He can’t have been paying much attention when he read this.

We would not waste time saying so [that the celestial teapot doesn’t exist] because nobody, so far as I know, worships teapots; but, if pressed, we would not hesitate to declare our strong belief that there is positively no orbiting teapot. (The God Delusion, p52).

Russell’s celestial teapot is about the burden of proof, which is always on the claimant. I find it hard to believe that McGrath does not understand this, that Dawkins is comparing God to a celestial teapot only insofar as no evidence has been offered for either by the claimants.

McGrath continues to obfuscate throughout the chapter, culminating in a rather uncomfortable critique of memes, including the usual, long answered complaints.

Yet has anyone actually seen these things, whether leaping from brain to brain, or just hanging out? (p43)

It’s almost embarrassing to have to point out that no-one has ever claimed that memes have physical matter, but are abstract. His real misunderstanding shows here though.

The meme is essentially a biological notion, arising from Dawkins’ core belief in ‘universal Darwinism’, which leads him to discount economic, cultural or learning-theory accounts of religion. (p43)

Firstly, the meme theory is a ‘cultural’ account of religion. Secondly, it is not a ‘biological notion’. Consider this extract from Dawkins’ essay Chinese junk and Chinese whispers from his collection of essays, A Devil’s Chaplain.

[Referring to The Selfish Gene] There was a risk that my readers would misunderstand the message as being necessarily about genes in the sense of DNA molecules. On the contrary, DNA was incidental. The real unit was any kind of replicator . . . Could it be that a new kind of Darwinian replicator was even now staring us in the face? This was where the meme came in. (A Devil’s Chaplain, p149)

So, the very reason that Dawkins introduced the meme theory was specifically to illustrate that natural selection is not a biological concept, but a universal one. Could McGrath possibly have got it more wrong?!

The fourth and final chapter, “Is religion evil?”, again fails to meet McGrath’s objective of engaging with Dawkins’ arguments. Among other weak, non-responses, he reacts to Dawkins’ highlighting of the atrocities in the Old Testament by tamely drawing attention to the nice bits.

The passages that Dawkins finds so shocking appear alongside other material in the Pentateuch which he ignores, dealing with forgiveness and compassion . . . (p58)

Yet another straw man argument. Dawkins doesn’t claim that the Old Testament has atrocities in every verse. He simply demonstrates that the morality we have today is not drawn from the Old Testament. And McGrath’s point does not alter the fact that the atrocities that are committed in the Old Testament are not consistent with a benevolent deity.

In his conclusion to the chapter, and the book, McGrath tries to turn the tables.

The God Delusion seems more designed to reassure atheists whose faith is faltering than to engage fairly or rigorously with religious believers and others seeking the truth. (One wonders if this is because the writer is himself an atheist whose faith is faltering.) (p63)

This is another fantasy interpretation of Dawkins’ work, and includes two aspects of The Dawkins Delusion that are present on every page, in fact, nearly every paragraph of the book.

Firstly, an infuriatingly patronising, condescending tone towards Dawkins, especially for one who joins in the same criticism of Dawkins himself. No opportunity for a snide, unnecessary dig is passed up, as in the quote above. This simply creates a mood of pomposity and pretentiousness.

Secondly, McGrath uses the following words and phrases at every single point in which he thinks he can conceivable wedge them in: atheist fundamentalist, faith (of Dawkins and atheism), core beliefs (of Dawkins and atheists), dogma (of atheism), indoctrination (of atheism). All of these terms are used incorrectly, for the simple reason that they all apply to beliefs that are not based on evidence. Atheism, when reached through rational processes, can not, by definition, be any of the things that McGrath describes it as.

Both of these techniques are used to try to bias the reader against Dawkins. And this is where my point about the illusion comes in. The illusion is that McGrath has serious, intellectual objections to The God Delusion, when in fact he doesn’t present any at all. He simply bluffs his way through, talking as if he’s right, as if he knows better, and constantly throwing mud, in the form of terminology, in the hope that some of it may stick. Whether you agree with The God Delusion or not, whether you think Dawkins is right or not, The Dawkins Delusion does not refute anything Dawkins has said.

McGrath had often boasted that Dawkins would not debate with him publicly. Recently, they did have a public debate. What amazed me, was that after reading The Dawkins Delusion, I was expecting a harsh offensive from McGrath. After the tone of his criticism, I had imagined he would really try to grill Dawkins. On the contrary, he was tame, timid even. He didn’t make the same accusations he makes in his book, and didn’t really try to tackle Dawkins on any of the topics. It was as if he was just trying to get through the debate without too much damage. To me, this reinforced my idea of the illusion he tries to create in his book. If he really believed it, why not make more of an effort when he got the chance he had apparently craved for so long?

My only concern is that some liberal theists may skip The God Delusion and go straight to the considerably slimmer volume, The Dawkins Delusion. The only way I could see McGrath’s illusion working is if his readers have not read The God Delusion, and continue not to read it afterwards. I urge anyone who has not read either book, not to bypass Dawkins and go straight to McGrath. And, if you have bypassed Dawkins for McGrath, please go and read The God Delusion. Of course, if you have read The God Delusion but not The Dawkins Delusion, read McGrath’s work, by all means. Personally, I did not find it compelling and cannot offer my recommendation. Not that any atheist has anything to fear from it, I simply think there are better things to do with your time and money.

On a final note: I have had to be very selective in choosing which of McGrath’s arguments to discuss (and I have still run to greater length than I planned!). I want to be clear about this, McGrath does not score one, single, valid point against The God Delusion. Any readers who have read The Dawkins Delusion and suspect that I may have omitted a section because it can’t be debunked, please raise it in the comments or email me, and I will be happy to discuss it.

66 Responses to “Book Review: The Dawkins Delusion, by Alister McGrath”

  1. I’m not at all surprised that McGrath, despite his public tough talk, shies away from Dawkins’ actual arguments and drags out the usual straw men instead. It’s sadly typical for religious apologists to rely on bluster rather than evidence.

    • Dawkins is practically illiterate on the matters he burps about and his only fans are even more seriously illiterate as Thomas Crean and Edward Feser can show any intelligent person. Atheism is literally too dumb for words, but that is another sophisticated argument involving universals and the possibility of knowledge under materialist assumptions. The more you value Dawkins, unfortunately, the dumber you are. He could not even recognize the arguments of Aristotle and Aquinas… true thinkers.

      • McGrath doesn’t agree with you and he’s a Christian. Aquinas is at best weak, and is usually for Catholics peeved that no-one else is as impressed with him.

      • McGrath is not a philosopher. The cosmological arguments which Dawkins cannot even recognize as he demonstrates to anyone familiar with them in TGD, are perfectly good arguments. Dawkins other claims just highlite his illiteracy. He only appeals to other ignorami.

      • If they were “perfectly good” arguments they would be perfectly convincing. But they are not. It is possible to study them (as I did many years ago) and come to conclusions similar to Dawkins. Yes TGD could have gone into greater detail on the counter arguments etc but it would not leave much room in his book for much else. I suspect many Thomists are peeved (some conceitedly so), that their arguments were so easily dismissed by Dawkins. Let people like Feser address this rebuttal. Personally I find Feser very unconvincing, but others are welcome to draw their own conclusions.

        On a positive note, I for one welcome theists who feel strongly about the cosmological argument to repudiate their particular religious beliefs (for example the nicene creed), and become generic deists or theists, where there is an undefined concept of god, who may not still exists, with no scriptures, absolute morality, etc. Imagine what a peaceful world we would have if there were no longer any muslims, jews or christians if they all did that.

  2. All too typical. When I started to look at the evolution debate in order to strengthen my faith, I imagined I could learn the “true” facts about biology and thus educate my brethren in the faith. Well, something happened on the way. I got really discouraged. The fact was, evolution scored far more points. I backed off the subject and consoled myself with the hope that future discoveries might turn the tables.
    Yet, there are plenty of creationist apologist sites still out there and they are pretty arrogant about it too. They make bold claims about the imminent demise of evolution. I was almost convinced, but their arguments are refuted over and over again. In the end that’s all that matters. When an argument can’t be won by logic, they resort to bullying. Like when I asked about the OT atrocities, a co-pastor at church got really impatient. I never got answers to the hard questions!
    They push the same tired old arguments, make a brave showing, condescend, condescend, & condescend and those who already are believers go home at peace and assured that the sun will rise in the East tomorrow morning to shine its heavenly light upon a steadfast, immovable Earth.
    I think these apologists subconsciously feel their own faith threatened and try to salve their doubt-plagued psyches with the drool from their own bluster.

    • I have not read either book yet, but I just have read Karen Armstrong’s ‘The Case for God’. Armstrong is a religious historian. She has very sound theological knowledge and I find she speaks from careful self reflection and deliberation. I suspect she has a better grasp on issues of religion and faith (they are different constructs by the way) than either Dawkins or McGrath. She was given an award from TED, and you can read her statement on line, it is a very powerful appeal for compassionate activism.
      I would like to add that academic arguments are not likely to influence ordinary people’s loyalty to their belief systems or particular denomination, on either side of the debate. Belief and value systems are too intricately tied to cultural identity, civic freedoms, community and aescetic sensibilities, to which atheists are not very attuned. It seems to me that time would be better spent on respectful, peaceful co-existence rather than this violent discourse between the two camps. The tension should be taken down a notch or two . In fact, I would issue a challenge to opposing parties, henceforth to speak respectfully, calmly and peacefully with each other as an example of what both camps claim they envision for the world. I believe that any author writing on sensitive subject matter, has a social responsibilty not to incite reactionary feelings or behaviours, if it can be avoided. Authers should carefully study methods of non violent communication . Authors should consider how their readers are influenced by what they read, and what kind of behaviour and attitudes are being modeled for them, by high status, high profile figures.
      In fact I challenge everyone from both sides of the religious debates, henceforth to speak and write in a way that does not mock the other, does not attack the person, has no perjoritive undertones, and which does not incite reactionary anger or distress to the other party. If peaceful dialogue can be accomplished on micro social levels , then it can be accomplised between communities and nations.

    • NAH ! Dawkins is a self serving fool who is wasting his ONLY life (Dawkins et al ) trying to PROVE what we all know to be true: You cannot catch the wind
      Jesus was right and will always be right and you cannot argue with certainty! Over320 prohecies about His life and they ALL came true! That is astronomical odds against. One chance in (320 to the power 320)

  3. Nice review. I linked it on my blog (hope you don’t mind). I was plannin to get this book with The God Delusion when I pick it up this weekend or next week, but looks like it may be a waste of money and time.

    Any recommendations for better theistic books? I’m trying to branch out a bit to make sure I’m solid in my arguments.

    • Yes , other books?
      Karen Armstrong, History of God, The Case for God. In Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life , she gleans the positive, pro social aspects of diverse faiths -which is the key to why people actually stay involved in a religion. If it weren’t for the many life affirming , yet challenging , narratives in scriptual text, there would be no religions.
      If anyone wants to dismantle religion they will have to find equally apealing narratives to draw people away from traditional loyalties to their various denominations.

      I’m very impressed by Armstrong’s writing style, she is highly intellectual, but her writing is vivid, passionate and transparant. It is not difficult to read.
      There is also an older book by Peter Berger called The Sacred Canopy, evoking the image of a Jewish wedding. I love the title. It covers history , function and meaning of diverse religions. Also Problems of Suffering in Religions of the World is an interesting read, but tangential at times, it is by John Bowker. Robert Wright has written The Evolution of God, but I’m not sure how authoritative it is compared with those others. There is also Breaking the Spell by Daniel Dennet, which as a non scientist, I found tangential. There is no suspense and it takes him a long time to make his point . By that time, I had lost his train of thought. Good luck with your read.

  4. I’ve had a few Christian trolls mention this book on my blog. I’d heard of it but didn’t know much about it. After reading your review, I’m not inclined to bother with it. Thanks for the helpful info.

  5. Great review. I’ve been putting off reading this book until it’s either in the local library (I’ve yet to check) or it’s available second-hand for a “pahnd” (/hattip to the Carry On films) in the local book dump: I’m not inclinded to give McGrath whatever his fraction of eight quid is.

    What I don’t understand is why McGrath has this compulsion of one-upmanship with Dawkins. If he wants to be taken seriously, he should publish something that isn’t simply another ad-hom titled tirade, but explain why he believes what he believes. If he wants people to belief in his god as he does, then shouldn’t he simply present the evidence that converted him? Surely this would be a much stronger argument than just going “lalalala Dawkins is wrong!”

    When I listened to the Oxford debate with Dawkins, I got the distinct impression, when he trotted out his old line about “used to be an atheist”, that he was no such thing. It seemed quite clear to me that in his youth in NI he was simply rejecting the traditional catholic/protestant ideas of the christian religion, distancing himself from the “troubles”, rather than rejecting any particular god-concept itself.

    And I completely agree with your analysis of that debate, he presented nothing against Dawkins, he was simply, and weakly, covering his arse.

    I’ll get around to reading it one day, but I’m not going out of my way to do so.

  6. Yet, there are plenty of creationist apologist sites still out there and they are pretty arrogant about it too. They make bold claims about the imminent demise of evolution.

    Darwinism is quite possibly the only thing I’ve ever heard of whose demise has been imminent for nearly 150 years.

  7. Thanks for a great review! I’ll keep it in mind when some theistic friend of mine suggests it.

    McGrath’s book sounds one internet review of the God Delusion “Flailing Mis-punching..?” which basically amounted to a personal attack on Dawkins, showing only that they were very annoyed about TGD, not that there was anything to quibble over in it.

  8. Great review. I’d heard about the book, but I haven’t had the time to actually check it out for myself yet. At least now I know that I’ll be checking this book out from the library rather than purchasing it. By the way, have you read Douglas Wilson’s Letter from a Christian Citizen? It’s a response to Sam Harris’ book Letter to a Christian Nation. Theist aren’t particularly creative with their book titles it seems. Wilson’s book is yet another book I would suggest people not buy. If you’ve got to read it, check it out at the library or pull the old geeky college trick and read it in the bookstore.

  9. Thanks to everyone for the feedback.

    AtheistOne said:

    I linked it on my blog (hope you don’t mind).

    Not at all! On the contrary, I’m very grateful. I don’t ever mind anyone linking to my blog for any reason. 🙂

    Nullifidian said:

    What I don’t understand is why McGrath has this compulsion of one-upmanship with Dawkins. If he wants to be taken seriously, he should publish something that isn’t simply another ad-hom titled tirade, but explain why he believes what he believes. If he wants people to belief in his god as he does, then shouldn’t he simply present the evidence that converted him? Surely this would be a much stronger argument than just going “lalalala Dawkins is wrong!”

    Excellent point, I completely agree.

  10. Here’s a page compiling McGrath’s mistakes and misinterpretations of Dawkins. McGrath is keen to attack others’ accuracy, but when his own work is subjected to close scrutiny it is usually found to be full of errors.

    Deluding who about what?


  11. Dan,

    Big, big thank you for that link. A brilliant resource – you’ve put it a hell of a lot more work in to that than I did in to this review. Well done! 🙂

  12. pull the old geeky college trick and read it in the bookstore.

    LOL! So, I’m not the only one who does that!

  13. Darwinism is quite possibly the only thing I’ve ever heard of whose demise has been imminent for nearly 150 years.

    Alex – May 4th, 2007 at 10:26 pm

    Come on Alex, critics have procalimed the demise of Christ ‘s followers for over 2000 years, time is on their side.

  14. I happened to stumble upon this page by accident. I have not read either of these books and most likely will not. I have been studying the Bible for ten years and the one thing I do know is that the truth has no bearing on how well Mr. Dawkins or Mr McGrath can debate.

    Every person has a choice “Do I believe God?”, or “Do I not Beleive him?”. As far as proof that he exists, look around. If you wanted to, you could devote an entire lifetime cataloging all the evidence that we were created along the world around us. In the Bible, God says he made the world and created man in his own image. Once again does a person take God at his word? Or does he use a bunch of people’s opinions to form a conclusion.

    Arguing about whether or not God exists and/or if we are the result of his doing, is like arguing whether the earth is round or flat. Its a moot point. The real issue is his promise for right now. In the old testament, God pointed out that there was an issue between God and man. And that issue was sin. God also promises a solution to sin, his Son Jesus Christ. In the new testament, God points out that Christ died for our sins 2000 years ago according to the old testament. And that he was buried and rose again on the third day according to the old testament. And because of this the sin issue has been taken care of. Now comes the issue of belief. Do we accept what God has offered us? Or do we think we know better? That is a decision each one of us has to make.

    Charlie Strantz (similar name, different person)

    • @ Charlie Strantz

      Please seriously take on this comment because other people think like this and you need to grasp other people’s ideas as it will help you understand other views. I used to be a Christian (now atheist). With regard to your comment “As far as proof that he exists, look around.” – seriously, even as a Christian when we are told that the heavens display his wonder (or something like that!), I have never ever ever looked at the world around me and thought it is obviously evidence of a creator. Ever. Even as a Christian, I accepted it was true, but the sheer vastness of the universe, always made me think about other lifeforms and how God was going to save them too. The unknowable God/Force concept did not seem ridiculous but in this galaxy alone (forget the rest of the universe!), 200 billion stars and innumerable planets existing just for decoration around planet earth (?), not even a significant pin prick in our galaxy. Seriously, come on! I’m not opposed to there being a God at all but I’m an atheist because I look around and see no evidence. I’m up for meeting God, he just has to say “Hello”, He is God, that’s very easy for Him to do 🙂

  15. @ Charlie Strantz

    Your entire comment commits a logical fallacy called begging the question, which means that you are assuming what you should be trying to prove.

    As far as I can tell, you’re basically saying, don’t debate whether or not God exists, just accept that he does, because it says so in the book he wrote.

    Evolution explains the diversity of life on Earth far better than an appeal to a creator, so I do not accept “all the evidence that we were created along the world around us”.

    You also present the Bible as if no evidence were required for its authenticity. I don’t accept that the Bible is the word of God, you have to prove it to me. Sorry for being so stubborn, but I won’t just accept the conclusion of a circular argument. Watch:

    God exists. How do I know? Because the Bible says he does, and that was written by God. How do I know I know it was written by God? Because it says so in the Bible. Therefore God must exist.

    Do you see what I’m getting at?

    This thread is not the place to discuss the existence of God or evolution and creationism. I suggest you take your views to the Internet Infidels Discussion Board, sign up and start a thread there.

    • If you need independant evidence of the accuracy embedded in the Bible and theerfore a steer as to it’s authenticity, and therfore it’s claims, do what Ralph O’Muncaster did and devoye several years to an in depth study of the independant and verifiable evidence present in the Bible. I can’t offhand remebr the numbers but ‘A Skeptics Search for God’ provides (in one of it’s cahpters) more than enough evidence of the Bible’s apparent authenticity. don’t believe me or R O’Muncaster, do the research yourself. After all it doesn’t matter what I or anyone else says, no amount of statement from Christians will ever suffice to make you believe in God, it’s a personal journey that only you can make, and only if you’re willing to take the challenge to examine propoerly. It really doesn’t matter whether Dawkins or McGrath (or any one of the literally hundreds of writers who have taken up Richard Dawkins gauntlet) present a better case, or understand the other view best or write more eloquently. In the end God either exists or not and neither Dawkins, McGrath, O’Muncaster, the Pope, or you or I can change that fact.

      I don’t understand much of what I read about current scientific theory e.g. dark matterand string theory still confuses me, but that doesn’t mean I debunk all science. Similarly I don’t understand much of God’s message, if I did I would be God ! but again that doesn’t mean I reject all of God’s word.

      Quite simply I believe because God has entered my life in a real way, and following that I researched what God and Christianity is all about, and for any Engineer / Scienmtis that means open-minded examination of the proof, evidence, theories, and opinion. So far no ‘evidence’ has sufficiently challenged by belief, including all of Dawkins arguments, and yes I have read his book, and I found it mildy entertaining (much like the DaVinci Code or ‘Holy Blood and the Holy Grail)

      Love to all

  16. Tobe38,

    Do you really believe you are void of design?

    I am not interested in sparing with you. My instincts tell me it will get us nowhere.

    If you ever change your mind, let me know.

    Charlie Strantz

  17. @ Charlie

    If by design you mean intelligent design by a concsious creator, than yes, I passionately believe that I am devoid of design. That belief, though, is based on evidence and would be quickly rescinded if sufficient new evidence came to light to show otherwise.

    No offence, but most Christians reject evolution because they don’t really know what it is. In the interest of open mindedness, if you’re interested, I recommend The Evolution Pages at Ebon Musings and Talk Origins. Feel free to email me if you want to discuss anything else. Thanks for your comments.

  18. Those interested in the in-print debate between Dawkins and McGrath (no relation) will presumably want to see the video footage that has been made available of an interview Dawkins made of McGrath for one of his programs, but that was not included in the broadcast in the end. Here is a link:


  19. Great review – I have actually just finished reading The God Delusion followed by The Dawkins Delusion – it saddens me that for every intelligent clear-thinker like Dawkins there are a dozen “theologians” who appear to be incredibly talented at avoiding the real issues.

    Firstly of course the core one that “theology” itself, meaning “knowledge of God”, is something of a misnomer. In order to have such knowledge, first we must assume that there is a God.

    Dawkins (and other authors such as Sam Harris) challenge this first assumption and until one of these “theologians” genuinely lives up to the name and provides empirical evidence for the existence of God then the non-theistic or atheistic approach is the only rational position to take.

    Alistair McGrath, as a scientist should be truly ashamed of himself.

  20. You’ll probably also be interested in the critical assessment of the other McGrath at http://blog.peterwall.net/2007/09/02/the-mcgrath-illusion-part-2/

  21. I was disappointed in the book review of the Dawkins Delusion by Alastair McGrath. In my opinion book reviews would be better if the reviewer could his ego out of the way and read both the Dawkins Delusion and The God Delusion dispassionately and without the confirmation bias of the atheist.

    What seems to have been missed is that Dawkins says that Christians believe in things they do not believe in. He has been told this many times and yet persists in the same old rhetoric. He has also publicly stated that he loathes religion. Why should anyone trust anything Dawkins has to say on the subject of religion.

  22. @ Heidi

    In my opinion book reviews would be better if the reviewer could his ego out of the way and read both the Dawkins Delusion and The God Delusion dispassionately and without the confirmation bias of the atheist.

    I am an atheist because I approach the subject of religion objectively and without bias, and that is the same position from which I read both books, and from which I reviewed McGrath’s. My views are based on evidence, and it is on the presentation of evidence that I have judged Dawkins and McGrath.

    What seems to have been missed is that Dawkins says that Christians believe in things they do not believe in. He has been told this many times and yet persists in the same old rhetoric. He has also publicly stated that he loathes religion.

    Very vague references. Can we have some quotes and sources please?

    Why should anyone trust anything Dawkins has to say on the subject of religion.

    Because he presents evidence and reasoned arguments. Arguments which, I believe I have shown, McGrath has utterly failed to refute.

    Are there any specific parts of my review that you would like to dispute in detail?

    • Sorry I must take exception.

      Wikipedia defines Atheism as :-

      Atheism can be either the rejection of theism,[1] or the position that deities do not exist.[2] In the broadest sense, it is the absence of belief in the existence of deities.[3]

      The term atheism originated from the Greek ἄθεος (atheos), meaning “without gods”,

      You are an Atheist becasue you reject a belief in God (or as I understand it any supreme being) that precludes you as much as me (I am a Christin) from “.. approach(ing) the subject of religion objectively and without bias… ” As an Atheist that cannot be your view, any more than mine. We both come to this debate with a world view that colurs how we interpret the presented arguments. Unless of course you’re really an agnostic ?

      Love the website by the way, it provides a good vehicle to present these debates.


  23. Refuting Dawkins is harder than people think. They keep trying anyway, so he must have really struck a nerve with a lot of believers.

    I suspect that the only way to really refute “God Delusion” would be to show that it’s reasonable to believe something when there is no evidence for it. That argument has not been attempted as far as I know.

  24. I enjoyed seeing your comments on here. I am a Christian clergyman, and enjoy reading clear, complete argumentation. Please keep me posted on your work here.

  25. As a person who has been a christian (even the spell checker seems to want me to use a capital – how biased! I can write atheist without any pre judgement requesting a capital) for nearly 49 years, I have read with appreciation the comments on this page. I too read the books in order, but was very annoyed by Dawkin’s failure to give any credence to long held christian beliefs. For example the majority of thoughtful christians give full weight to the overwhelming evidence for evolution (apart from a minority of noisy American fundamentalists). Dawkins refuses to note this. Dawkins completely fails to interact with the thousands of important scientists (not supporters of NOMA) who are also believers. I (and they) do not appreciate the complete failure of Dawkins to interact with “our” position. I fundamentally and strongly believe that there is a better explanation of what is (including my own experience of my life) than that Dawkin’s materialist option. If Dawkins was intending to interact with modern arguments for God, he would not have wasted space on Aquinas. What theology written in the last century even considers these valid? None! All McGrath does is confirm that at least they show an inner consistency that Dawkin’s argument for the non existence of a designing Deity does not. For me the argument comes down to which position in relation to what is, is more likely to be correct. Clearly Dawkins appreciates the “wonder” of creation (don’t worry I deliberately chose the word), but I think he is wrong to think that this is best explained without any teleology. In addition, when I add my own experience of human (and divine) love and relationships I firmly believe (faith based on evidence!) in “design” (note NOT creationism masqurading as ID). However, this belief can never be proven because, by definition, evidence from the contingent can never reach beyond to the non contingent. Dawkins seems clearly to believe that religious belief is not only unreasonable and irrational, but damaging. McGrath is not trying to prove Dawkins wrong about God (he knows he could not do that) but instead wrong about reason and religious faith. I’m backing Mc Grath. Dawkins arguments entirely bypassed my beliefs and certainly didn’t add anything to the tired old atheistic tirade (but certainly put in modern entertaining clothing). Copernicus discovered something new about the universe, and advanced both the knowledge of what is to the glory of God. Dawkins, at least in “God Delusion”, seems to think he could advance science by denigrating and eliminating its mixture with religion. I think he comprehensively failed.

    • Its a weak retort to say Dawkins is wrong because he does not respect your hunch that there maybe a god, and thus you believe in one. Its not a compelling argument. Re teleology – We have no right whatsoever to assume that the universe complies with our intellectual preferences for causal order. We can only work with brute facts.

  26. Fundamentalism is a form of mental illness wherever you find it. Whether it is amongst football fanatics, atheists or religious zealots. Whether you worship science, God, Money, sex or whatever you are still worshipping. Whether you have blind faith in science or blind faith in God, you are operating on faith. A scientist will say but ‘ah here’s the proof’ but to be fair, so will someone who believes in God (a different kind of proof). You can be spiritually arrogant regardless of whether you believe in God or are an atheist. Man down the ages has pondered this question, and surely we can calmly and respectfully ponder without resorting to insults.

    A philosopher, a scientist, a therapist, a theologian will all give you a different opinion. Vive la difference I say.

    I’m all for the eradication of fundamentalism but attacking it with fundamentalism isn’t the answer. I think this debate is getting scary. There is room for everyone isn’t there. Whether you believe God designed the universe or not (and from the philosophical reading I’ve done as well as the scientific, there are some interesting ways of thinking about ‘created’) surely there’s room for everyone?

    I’m deeply suspicious of ANYONE who tells me that I ‘must’ believe anything and then calling me mad / sick / stupid / deluded if I don’t happen to agree with them. I don’t care what side of the debate you are on, I respect your right to be there and I just hope everyone will do the same.

    PS I’d recommend reading both books, and some others besides, and then making your own mind up!

  27. First of all, several of your supporters think you’ve written a great review, but admit that they haven’t read it yet. Nothing against you, but your readers might want to read the book on their own. I’m sorry, but I’m going to introduce some scepticism here. You end your review with these words: “McGrath does not score one, single, valid point against The God Delusion.” That’s quite a sweeping and unlikely claim. I’ve read both books. And was actually more impressed with McGrath’s book (and before your readers go on an “ad-hom” attack against me, I’m no religious zealot, and I majored in Analytic Philosophy, and did well if I don’t say so myself). He makes several good points. He doesn’t “win” every point, but he doesn’t “lose” every point either. I was particularly impressed with his reasoned response to Dawkins claim that religion is largely responsible for international warfare and violence. Seems to me that it’s fairly reasonable to claim that violence and warfare are a far too normal part of our human nature. Is it particularly religious? No. And McGrath demonstrates as much (and backs it up with evidence).

    And this central moral thrust of Dawkins book. That religion is dangerous. If he’s wrong, then who cares about the rest of the book.

    Except that I do. It’s true that Dawkins focuses on old, out of date religious arguments from 2000 years ago. Most modern christians do not believe in this fairy tale god of a guy in the clouds (and all the rest). SOME DO. But not me. And neither do millions of progressive christians and muslims and jews and hindus and buddhists and sikhs around the world. My participation in a christian community is not predicated on some silly non-thing. It is predicated on a useful metaphor that is God, which stands for the goodness and wonder in this universe that is plain to atheists and the religious alike. My participation is about my response to the wonder that is this universe, and the goodness in it, and about encouraging and stewarding it in any way I can. Don’t you see? Arguing about the reality and unreality of substances entirely misses the point. Just like Dawkins does.

    I remember thinking I was so very cunning coming up with reasoned arguments against God in my Philosophy days. But I wasn’t so smart. What’s so smart about proving that silly make-believe things don’t exist?

    • That’s ok by me. I am with Dawkins, but if you want a concession on the point that not all violence is caused by religion, and that god is simply a metaphor (and not real), that’s real progress. I wish all Christians would abandon their religious beliefs this way.

  28. Mark Munn:

    Your thoughts are well considered. However, I disagree with a number of them, especailly the critical ones.

    1) I thought McGrath’s argument against religion being “largely responsible for international warfare and violence” was the only discusion that had some reasonable points to make, but nonetheless were incorrect. He claims Hitler was not religious and did not have relgious intent with his violence, never apparently checking this out ahead of time. Just one point. As you say “it’s fairly reasonable to claim that violence and warfare are a far too normal part of our human nature” yet that does not deny that religion has played an major role in much of that expression.

    2) You say “most modern christians [I notice the lower case here] do not believe in this fairy tale god….” When you say “most modern christians” it is not clear whether you mean “christians living today” or “christians with a modern point of view (your progressive christians)”. The latter meaning is pretty limited, because all the surveys show that fundamentalist beliefs (whether a person is truly fundamentalist or not) are predominant in the U.S society. For example: Two-thirds in a USA Today/Gallup poll said creationism, the idea that God created humans in their present form within the past 10,000 years, is definitely or probably true. Source: http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2007-06-07-evolution-debate_N.htm). A more revealing Baylor University poll shows a broader view of the U.S. population’s thougthts about a god in particular: choice selections of data – 75% believe in miracles, 70% believe in the resurrection of Jesus, 61% believe in virgin birth (Source: http://www.truthbook.com/news/labels/angels.cfm). My conclusion is that your position concerning the christian community is commendable but a minority one. You say “Arguing about the reality and unreality of substances entirely misses the point.” Not for the majority of Americans of the christian faith, not to mention the rest of the world. Your point that God is a useful metaphor is not something that most would welcome. Although I think it is of value to you and others.

    We are daily reminded of the negatives that religious thought brings to this world. It is good you are working toward correcting those. As an atheist, I can do the same about world problems.

    Jim Cronburg

  29. If science is somehow akin to atheism then some of the giants of science were themselves greatly deluded. Can we really claim that Newton, a Bible believer, was a pseudo-scientist because of his belief that the God of the Bible is both the Creator of the universe and the Savior of world.

    There are many men and women of science who today reject Darwinism as a fairytale for grown-ups. Does that mean they are also deluded?

    The more I read the more the words of the Apostle Paul ring true, “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.”

  30. Hi Jim,

    Thanks for your reasoned response to my post. You were good to note the small c! You mention a number of studies that I have no reason to doubt, except that they focus on the US. With due respect to the US, your US Christians hardly represent the diversity of religious people the world over. There is a significant cultural difference between the religious in the US and the religious elsewhere, even in Canada. I don’t dislike Dawkins because he attacks violent religious fanatics. I dislike him because he puts all kinds of progressive and thoughtful religious allies in the same line of fire.

    You are right that religion has played a major role in violent expression. But so has music. And film. And literature. And television. And politics. (I watched on television the US Congress, in near consensus, cheering as Bush addressed them about going to War). And economics. And science. Each have been used for evil ends. Religion deserves to be reprimanded when it supports violence (which is antithetical to my beliefs about the nature of God – that useful metaphor about the wonder and preciousness of the universe and the sometimes good things in it). So does science (it was not religious nuts that created the atomic bomb). So do all the rest. But what is good in each needs to be affirmed and supported as well. This is the core problem with Dawkins; he refuses to see the diversity of the religious. Instead progressives are called collaborators. Could I not use the same logic to call all Americans collaborators with Bush in his violence? In some ways this argument makes sense. The majority of you voted for him. The majority of you supported him when he was at his very worst. But I would never write a book about America and not mention the war resisters, the protesters, the few members of Congress that sat while the huge majority cheered on violence around them. I could call them collaborators, because they are “Americans”, which I could decide to define in a particular way so as to make Americans sound like irrational and blood-thirsty people. But I choose not to. Because reality is far more complex. Dawkins has a great way of making complex things simple. It is one of the great strengths in his science writing. But it is also his fatal weakness in writing about people and politics and religion, to the point that it becomes prejudiced.

    Imagine if I ended my post with this: “I am daily reminded of the negatives that American thought brings to this world. I hope you are working toward correcting these.” This is your duty, as much as it is mine to work within my own communities. But note the variety of negative assumptions being made in that statement. From my perspective, I am daily reminded of the good that religious thought brings to the world. Think of Archbishop Tutu. Ghandi. Martin Luther King Jr. As I am of atheist thought. And scientific thought. And Muslim thought.

    I hope that you can try to think of the best that religion has to offer when comparing us. I do for you as an American, and as an atheist, as someone who wants to engage and share thoughts, and probably as someone who appreciates the accomplishments of science.


    Mark Munn

  31. Theists after thousands of years and reems of paper have not given and will not give any reason to accept God: to beileve is to take on faith, the we just say so of credulity; thus, it is no argument from ignorance to maintain that here absence of evidence is indeed evidence of absence in accord with Moore’s auto-epistemic rule. Theists merely put old garbafg into new cans that we empty; just as patent officiers will not give patents for perpetual motion machines, we naturalists give no patent for Him!
    Face it theists: God is only imaginary and not as real as imaginary numbers!
    Faith begs the question of its subject for which theists can give no evidence or explanation. Science is acquired knowledge, as Sydney Hook notes, while faith begs the question of being knowledge. Reason can move the mountains of iignorance while faith embodies invincible ignorance!
    The ignostic challeng reveals that God is meaningless mush. Please do google the ignostic-Ockham. Google sleptic griggsy to see how he flays the god-notion. Selah.

  32. Sorry for the typos. I forgot to use spell review. My fingers are dyslexic!
    Faith cannot instantiate Him! Faith begs the question of its subject.

  33. I don’t really thing its wise to have a debate about the existance of God. I would fully agree with Stephen Jay Gould that science cannot prove or disprove Faith and God. I personally don’t agree with religion but I’m in favour of people having a relationship with God though the Lord Jesus Christ and this is because I personally feel whole through such relationship. I’ve tried various religious beliefs which although they give some inner peace, still leave me feeling empty and frustrated with life. Science and Religion are not meant to give fulfillment because they are man made. However, a personal relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ is the only way to for me and I suspect everybody since I’m human to be totally filled with comfort and peace which is needed to overcome all of Life’s bitter challenges and tradgedies.

  34. I am a late comer to the review and I only read the Dawkins Delusion yesterday.

    Overall I would agree with the original review that the book was extremely weak and relied more on mud-slinging than argument. The idea that because Professor Dawkins has made factual mistakes or misjudgments this somehow validates a view that an unproven diety exists (presumably only the christian version though) cannot be held as an argument.

    I have read the subsequent debate with interest. One of the more polite debates I have seen on the subject! For what it is worth (and I am only one voice amogst billions) I think Professor Dawkins is right to lump all religionists together. It matters not if you accept part of a scripture or all of it. The point is if you believe it is divinely inspired and the word of your deity then you are absolving yourself of any responsibility for following those particular instructions. I would agree that the dangerous fanatics that take the whole scripture in its entirety and conduct anti-social activities as a result are more culpable than those that dip in and out as they see fit. But the “dippers”, if I may call them that, are providing a validation to the fanatics. For me it all comes back to the necessity of evidence. Yes, politics causes wars. Luckily politics changes over time and has become increasingly, though not exclusively, anti-war. However religions do not change over time. Their scriptures are fossilised into the time they were written and their commands and instructions are still held to be relevant today. You can only excuse religion it’s share of warmongering if you accept it is as manmade as politics. However you cannot excuse it’s steadfast refusal to change.

    The “dippers” may dislike being counted amongst the fanatics but sadly their timid avoidance of the underlying issue merely extends the agony for mankind.

  35. […] An hour or so ago I published Delusion delusion #3. The WordPress engine automatically threw up a link to Book Review: The Dawkins Delusion, by Alister McGrath. […]

  36. I find it interesting that Dawkins position is that evolution/science disproves the existence of God. There is no evidence that he, or anyone else I’ve ever read, that absolutely proves that God does not exist. Dawkins is admittedly brilliant, but this position is untenable. How do you absolutely prove the nonexistence of something? His position would be more accurate if it stated that, for him, science has not proven the existence of God. This would be the agnostic position (there is not [enough]evidence/knowledge to prove the existence of God). An atheist position (Greek: a=not, theos=god) is an extremely challenging position that I believe is unsustainable. I understand the position, but I really believe that the position is an agnostic position, which can be sustained.

    I personally believe that science has proven the existence of designed processes and, for me personally, that designer is God. I am not a radical fundamentalist. I have, like many others, reached my conclusion based on evidence. I personally believe there is more evidence for “a designer” than against designed processes. There are certainly great minds on both sides of the debate. Interestingly, the surveys have shown just about an even split among scientists, with a slightly higher percentage not believing in the existence of God.

    As to McGrath’s book: I found that it actually did address Dawkins positions, but in a very brief presentation. The brevity of his response may have been insufficient for some people to be an adequate response to Dawkins arguments. It is probably important to remember that 6.5-7.0 billion people hold to a theistic position and a great many of these people are quite brilliant. I’m not presenting this as proof for the theistic position, but I’m saying there is a lot more people to persuade especially when you are trying to prove an absolute negative. I do not see Dawkins book as reaching the critical threshhold of disproving the existence of God. He simply offered his position as to why there is not enough evidence for him.

  37. As we all know (at least those who took entry level informal logic) inductive reasoning cannot ever answer the question of Gods existence. Nor is it intended to. Dawkins himself admits this in his book he is quite clear that he is agnostic but does not think God exists. Well its not a very good book and if one wants to pursue a critique of belief in God there are better works to consider. McGrath is less strident but the same problem exists for him, though I think he is also less dogmatic in his ideas. To be intellectually honest we are all agnostics who lean to one side or the other.

    I have read with increasing pause the shrill and rather petty squeals that come out of the new atheist camp (Dawkins, Hitchins, et al) which do nothing more than lend credence to the notion that if belief is bad non-belief is even worse, the disgraceful attacks on Antony Flew are a good case in point. I have done charitable work with Christian, Hindu, and Jewish people and find the vast majority of them, far from being loonies to be thoughtful, kind, generous people merely trying to find a moral and ethical center. My background is in History and Law so despite my opening sentence I cannot quote Dennett at length or discuss the finer points of St Augustines “City of God” but though I have humanist leanings I also have theist (or deist) sympathy. So there.

  38. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Romans 1:21

    I cannot find a better characterization of Darwinian Theory anywhere else. Naturalism and materialism are just more “isms” and are devoid of spiritual truth. All religions falls into this category as well as the secular worldviews.

    There is good news for all and it is found in a personal relationship with the Living God through His Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. He is The Truth and rejection of Him sends you further into darkness as the treatise of Paul notes in the beginning of his letter to the believers in Rome.

  39. Steve, you’re not helping.

  40. Great review. Like most of the people willing to read TGD with the attention this debate deserves, and none of the fears from early indoctrination, I felt liberated. I dont feel the need to prove there is no God to other people anymore. I was arguing against my own science based approach with my absolutism. As well as taking on the burden of proof myself. I wont ad more arguments to the debate taking place here, but I would like to congratulate you for your excellent review.

    I know it is not a matter of atheists vs. believers, but when you are part of a minority that gets bullied and ignored, it is conforting to find that you are not the only one and that delusion CAN happen in a mass scale.

    • What are you talking about being bullied? Where the heck do you live? Religion is what is going away and atheists are the biggest part of it. You are either really shy or just arrogant. One example is atheists taking people to court and winning the decision to remove crosses from the side of the highway in Utah where officers list their lives because supposedly you automatically believe that person is Christian. I’m a Christian and the only thing I think about when I see a cross on the side of the road is that someone died, and believe that is the universal thought on the matter.

  41. Great review. A pity the McGrathists continue to fall short of making coherent arguments about the substance of your review and Dawkins case itself.

    To preserve my own sanity, when attempting put the theists straight on where their take on ‘life, the universe and everything’ comes from, I find the ‘argument from culture’ to be the most compelling. Put succinctly by Hermann Bondi (letter to Nature vol 365 October 1993):

    “In any discussion of religion, the following argument seems to me to be incontrovertible. There are many religions in the world, several of them (including almost all branches of Christianity and Islam) claiming to be valid for all people and all times. Each has adherents of the highest integrity and intellect. These faiths contradict each other, and so at most only one of them can be right. Accordingly, a huge number of believers must be wrong. Thus it is plain that the human mind is singularly liable to be mistaken on religious issues, whatever the depth of conviction, intelligence and conviction of the faithful. The past as well as the present can leave no doubt that the variety of religions is a calamitously divisive force in human affairs. The less this factor is brought in, the better for all. This is especially incumbent on those working in a universal and global enterprise as science is.”

    Thus, in ‘The God Delusion’, as you might expect, Dawkins quite properly has a real go at the crime of religious indoctrination of the young. He regards this an inexcusable invasion of children’s rights and an abdication of parents’ responsibilities to them. This is the deeply uncomfortable truth that believers never seem willing to confront.

    In a great contrast with any religious belief system , recognise that science is true for all observers at all times; faith and trust are not required for your lights to go on or for your fuse to blow. Every aspect of religious faith requires continuing suspensions of disbelief that are logically unsustainable in the real world. If religion was a matter of passing significance to the world – such as my personally being a fan of a specific football team or musical composer – it could be tolerated. But religion makes domineering claims to possess knowledge of the real nature of life, of human relationships, as well as dictating very practical aspects of living. It intrudes into the psychology of all who adhere to it and actively celebrates that fact.

    Religious belief also results in behaviours that affect non-believers, sometimes benign admittedly, but so often with distressing and even lethal consequences. The sum of human misery attributable to religion is certainly very high, even if some claim that solace and kindness can also be a result. On pragmatic terms alone, religion is surely a poor ‘buy’. Even the perceived benefits of religious faith are based on the self-deception of faith; that is hardly a sound basis for action.

    However, religion indeed has one form of reality. Some people do believe. But it is self-evidently a cultural phenomenon; what a specific religious believer believes is more than 99% identifiable from knowledge of their parents’ beliefs and where the believer happens to live in the world. This simple sociological observation surely undermines any claim by religions’ adherents to have ‘found’ their particular faith. In reality, it has been taught to them (or literally indoctrinated into them). Thus we reach the principle argument for dismissing all religions; 1) they can’t all be ‘right’ (or ‘true’), 2) there is no reasonable basis for accepting the claims of any one faith over any of the others. So, our only reasonable working hypothesis is to assume that they’re all wrong. Who brings us up and where is arbitrary (unless you believe in that god that goes in for ‘mysterious ways’ at the first sign of difficulty).

    What about the ‘liberal’ ( e.g. soft-core CofE) line that ‘all religions in some way approximating to the same core truth’. This is to dismiss as irrelevant all those very specific religious texts, the worshipping practices and other detailed hallmarks of each religion. Would that we could. And it still leaves the unwarranted belief in a god (gods) who (which?) – we are to believe – communicates with humans, requires worship, demands observances, specific behaviours and utter subservience of them. If all the mumbo-jumbo really is taken away, be honest you theists, what is left?

    There is no ghost in our wonderful machine, enjoy the splendour of it all, study or learn about it for what it really is. Put away the childish notions, the stone-age thinking that lives on in spirit worship. Be content that was are alone (possibly) in our corner of the universe but are (possibly) uniquely self-aware. Don’t fritter away your evolution-given gifts of rationality by arguing about angels on pin-heads.

    Once any of these points is acknowledged, there is surely no need to get bogged down in the details of any of the plethora of superstitions, holy books and life-demeaning rituals that the phantasmagoria of religion has imposed on the unwary for millenia. Since the Enlightenment, at least in ‘western’ thought, we’ve had no intellectual need to cling on to this stuff any longer. But the emotional side that still fires religious belief really does need to be catered for. Just enjoy your own preferred music, art, science, wildlife, work, play, friends and loved ones for what they are; wonder at all of that in proper awe … but not at the fairies at the bottom of the garden, church, mosque, synagogue, temple, ashram … they’re not real. Embrace atheism – its prayers do work.

  42. The one thing I’ve never understood is how atheists just assume that there better and smarter than anyone who believes in a higher power, though moreover Christians. as much evidence that is out there it seems that the only thing evolving is evolutionary theory itself. there are thousands of people doing there own research in their own fields trying to find that breakthrough find that just proves evolution is a fact. And more power to them, I’m for science, let’s just get some new discoveries that actually help out in some way. I’m tired of watching the discovery channel and they have three how the earth was formed back to back and each show is done by three different groups of scientists. Each show required longer and longer time for the earth and solar system to create itself, I mean we don’t even have consensus between top scientist on what actually happened. and you guys talk about that facts presented before you just absolutely make you believe in evolution. There have been a few supposedly missing link cases between man and beast and what happened to those, they get a ton a light for a day and then go away. This is science, everyone’s greed in wanting to be that one person who figured it out. All the time going by these guys give you theories that make since at the time and you run with it and in twenty years the theory changes. I’m not saying that organized religion is any better at what they try to get across but for Christians the bible is there it has been the same book since it was compiled. science on the other hand changes and will always change to best fit scientific theory until proven fact.

  43. First of all, coming into reading the God Delusion I was a wavering agnostic. I read it from the position of someone who felt a decent, honest inclination towards liberal, relativistic tolerance. As deeply positive as this particular ethical wellspring is, it is nevertheless the most potent inoculation against the remorseless logic of TGD’s arguments. The instinctive reaction to the central point of the book, which is NOT that religion is empirically, verifiably wrong, rather that it is inherently irrational, is one of decent left-wing unease at the breach of a central tenet of progressive, modern thought: that of respectful tolerance for other people’s beliefs, especially when they are as delicately predicated as the beliefs of religious people. This instinct is overwhelmingly positive, it’s just that it doesn’t work in every situation. It’s particularly good at clouding the judgement of the decent liberal progressive, whose instinct is to even-handedness in ALL situations. This foggy thinking can, however, be shaken out without losing the humane core of our liberal beliefs.

  44. Your book review mentions atrocities recorded in the Old Testament as being inconsistent with a benevolent God. Please recall that God is JUST as well as merciful and compassionate. The Creator of the Universe came to earth to pay THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICE, sending his own son to become man, so that these little specks of humanity, even the proud and super-intelligent specimens of humanity, also made in his image, can have their sins atoned for and be redeemed by faith and the power of the Holy Spirit and live forever with God.

  45. aluminum french press…

    […]Book Review: The Dawkins Delusion, by Alister McGrath « A Load of Bright[…]…

  46. Sorry but Dawkins doesn’t HAVE any arguments worth responding to.
    You’d know this if you weren’t so willfully ignorant of facts that Dawkins et al. persistently screw up just as badly as you do.

    Do your homework for petes sake!

  47. Violent, centuries old arguments, back and forth they go and it is amazing how forcefully someone tries to disprove something that ultimately has nothing to do with them…One side can’t disprove God, the other can’t prove God. Why do you atheist care so much what I, a Christian, choose to believe? Any atheist turned Christian will tell you God has proved His existence to them, there was an encounter, an experience on one on one level that has beyond shadow of a doubt made them believe. It is called faith for a reason, so let them publicly mock, it is biblical. A Christian has nothing to lose in the end…the proof will come.

  48. I’m about halfway through The God Delusion, and I have to admit I’m unimpressed with Dawkins. He’s good ay biology, hypocritical with his handwaving use of physics, and completely inept at abstract thought.

    There are many points of contention in his book (at least what of it I’ve read so far), but one that I find particularly annoying is his idea that a designer god would be at least as complex as the universe it created and would therefore need an explanation for its existence.

    I’m not religious by any means. However, the argument he uses against a designer god can easily be used to explain away the existence of, well…the universe.

    (a) The simplest state of existence is non-existence.

    (b) The universe exists and therefore possesses some level of complexity.

    (c) By Dawkins logic, the universe needs an equally complex cause.

    One might counter this by saying that it makes no sense to talk about time before the Big Bang because time–and causality–began after the Big Bang, so the universe needs no equally complex cause.

    Okay, but then the same can be said to defend the existence of a complex designer god.

    He literally invokes the multiverse idea to explain the cause of our universe. Unfortunately, the “multiverse” is merely one of several abstract models based on quantum mathematics. It’s literally the equivalent of what the ancients did to explain the world with mythology. It’s not a *serious* hypothesis anymore than the other seven or eight speculative imaginings of the reality beneath the equations are.

    Still, the argument against the existence of a complex god can be used to argue against the convoluted multiverse idea, and if causality is denied to explain the need for a first cause, then the same can be denied for a complex designer god. Ditto for infinite regress and ex nihilo generation.

    Ultimately, the argument against an uncaused designer god can just as easily be used against the existence of reality itself. Replace the phrase “designer god” with “reality” or “universe” or “existence” to see what I mean.

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