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

Another Dawkins Review – the Mind Boggles


Google News Alerts brought to my attention this article by Kyle Lee in the Chicago Maroon, entitled Dawkins’s militant atheism delusional, in which he discusses some of his grievances with Dawkins and, in particular, his book The God Delusion. Unfortunately, Lee forgot to do one teeny, tiny thing that could have helped him out a bit. It’s really just a minor detail and I’m probably being pedantic, but actually reading a book before you criticise it is, in my opinion, helpful to one’s cause.

Not only did Lee not read the book, he told a big fat pork pie and said he had – hardly a very Christian thing to do! Well, here’s the smoking gun:

I have read his book The God Delusion

There is no ambiguity here, Lee is explicit in his claim. But, he later slips up, saying,

If he wants some rational arguments for faith, I would encourage Dawkins to read some St. Thomas Aquinas before vomiting up his next accusation against religion.

The accusation is quite clear here: Lee believes that Dawkins has not read any St. Thomas Aquinas, but anyone who has read The God Delusion knows that Dawkins devoted an entire section of his chapter Arguments for God’s Existence to Aquinas’ five proofs. By all means, say that he misunderstood Aquinas, or say that he did a poor job refuting him, but why would anyone who had read The God Delusion advise Dawkins to read Thomas Aquinas, knowing full well that he had?!

Unfortunately, Lee is not a one off. He is yet another in a long line of Christians writing about The God Delusion who have not read it, but other people’s reviews of it. Unfortunately, the writers of the reviews they have read probably haven’t read it either. Have any of them read it? My theory is that they’ve all just read The Dawkins Delusion? by Alister McGrath. Lee goes on to regurgitate all the classics:

For instance, instead of using evolution and natural selection as examples of a harsh, Godless reality, he should realize that the complexity, intricacy, and beauty of a living organism further reinforce the reality of the supernatural. It also leads someone with an open heart and mind to the unmistakable conclusion that the cell or molecule under observation had to have been designed before it ever evolved to its current state.

This is not even an argument, just assertion that is refuted in The God Delusion over and over again.

The tradition of atheism is certainly long-standing and stretches back at least as far as Western classical antiquity, but the modern trend of liberal, militantly atheist academics and of “scholars” who declare war on religion—or, more simply, a person’s belief in God—is vicious, disrespectful, and an abuse of the scholarly platform.

Liberal militancy?! I’m sorry Mr Lee, but calling your beliefs into question is not vicious or disrespectful, it is exactly what the scholarly platform is there for. It is on open discussion and freedom to criticise that both academia and a healthy society thrive, and knowledge grows.

Sarcastic attacks abound in both The God Delusion and Dawkins’s professional life. To be sure, he cherry-picks his facts, which leads him to fallacious conclusions and angry diatribe, but I pray that he finds some fulfillment in his life besides renouncing the ideas of the faithful and declaring religious beliefs a heresy against science and reason. I encourage the theists of this campus to stand up against this type of insidious “academic” persuasion and firmly assert the existence of God.

Angry Dawkins – that old chestnut! Even just reading the preface to the paperback edition could have saved him the time it took him to write his article. We also see religious terms thrown in, as is traditional when criticising atheists, like “heresy”. Christians never turn down an opportunity to make religion look scientific or science look religious, whenever they are not defending religion and criticising science, of course. Notice Lee’s closing words, “assert the existence of God”. Not “prove”, or “provide evidence for”, but “assert”. After presuming to criticise a book he hasn’t read on rational grounds, he all but concedes that there is not a rational case to be made.

My advice to Mr Lee is to read The God Delusion, and then, if he feels so inclined, to criticise the arguments that Dawkins actually made, rather than the usual straw men. I am sick to death of these online articles – and there must be literally hundreds of them – criticising atheist books without even having read them. I am always happy to scrutinise my beliefs, and I truly long for the day when an intelligent Christian will read The God Delusion and actually put a strong case forward against it. I’m not holding my breath though.

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17 Responses to “Another Dawkins Review – the Mind Boggles”

  1. tobe, you said:
    I truly long for the day when an intelligent Christian will read The God Delusion and actually put a strong case forward against it.

    And I truly long for the day when any Christian will read The God Delusion and say, “Aha. Now I get it.”

  2. I don’t know about a case against, but Christopher Heard is a remarkably smart (and intellectually honest) Old Testament theologian, who blogs here, and who has critiques of some of the earlier chapters:

    Chapter 3, Part 2

    Chapter 3, Part 1

    Chapter 2, Parts 4-8

    Chapter 2, Parts 1-3

    Introduction and Chapter 1

    Unfortunately, he seems to have stopped blogging responses after Chapter 3.

    Naturally, upon seeing an intelligent theist, I am curious as to his reasons for believing in God in the first place. Regrettably this information seems to be only obliquely alluded to on his blog…

  3. OK, I’m a Christian and I’ve read The God Delusion. I found it to be uneven at best, and in places the research is very shoddy. I wrote a (sort of) review at my blog, if you’re interested.

  4. Tobe wrote: “Have any of them read it?”

    It’s a good question, though I’m certain some did. So I guess a better point to ponder is – why would SO MANY write a review of a book they either didn’t read or, more likely, merely browsed? I think its unlikely that this hardly ever happens on other books, so its very telling that it would on this particular book.

    I think the reason is easy enough for many of us to fathom. Theists don’t really want to hear clear answers as to why it makes perfect sense to begin from the default position of “no god”. There is no true defense of their own position – and they know it, going in.

  5. @ Ex

    And I truly long for the day when any Christian will read The God Delusion and say, “Aha. Now I get it.”

    Me too!

    @ Lynet

    Thanks, I will check this out.

    @ Bruce

    Thanks, I will check that out too.

    @ John B

    <blockquoteTheists don’t really want to hear clear answers as to why it makes perfect sense to begin from the default position of “no god”. There is no true defense of their own position – and they know it, going in.

    Bang on the money, well done!

  6. I read it.

    Dawkins himself admits that he has not read much theology and dismisses doing so as useless. Just because Dawkins wrote a brief summary of some of Aquinas points does not mean that he has actually read Aquinas, any more than most readers of The God Delusion have.

    Have you read Aquinas? Probably not. And yet from Dawkins work there are probably many people claiming to have a complete understanding of the main points of Aquinas’ work and theology based on Dawkins second-hand analysis.

  7. @ Liza

    Just because Dawkins wrote a brief summary of some of Aquinas points does not mean that he has actually read Aquinas, any more than most readers of The God Delusion have.

    Fair point, but that’s not what Lee was saying. The implication is clear that he believes Dawkins has not even encountered Aquinas, not just that he hasn’t read it properly. Are you saying you think Lee had read all of TGD when he wrote this article?

    Have you read Aquinas? Probably not. And yet from Dawkins work there are probably many people claiming to have a complete understanding of the main points of Aquinas’ work and theology based on Dawkins second-hand analysis.

    You’re correct that I have not read Aquinas in the original. I’m only speculating, but I’d be willing to bet money that Dawkins has. I do happen to think I understand the outline at least of Aquinas’ logical proofs of God’s existence, and that I can demonstrate how they are false. But, if I were going to write a book about Aquinas, or even just a review of his work, I would read the original texts in full.

  8. Fair point, but that’s not what Lee was saying. The implication is clear that he believes Dawkins has not even encountered Aquinas, not just that he hasn’t read it properly. Are you saying you think Lee had read all of TGD when he wrote this article?

    I am not sure I understand your point. You say that Lee didn’t read TGD because he says that Dawkins needs to read Aquinas. I said that Dawkins, in all likelihood, didn’t read Aquinas even though he refers to Aquinas’ five points. Dawkins has said repeatedly, in TGD and elsewhere, that he sees no value in learning about or reading about theology. You have changed the meaning by saying that Dawkins has “encountered” Aquinas, implying that that’s close enough to “reading” Aquinas.

    So, I guess I’m just trying to say that maybe your conclusion is wrong about Lee. I didn’t read the article at his site. Is there something other than this reference that convinces you that Lee didn’t read TGD?

    My thought would be that he did read it, but simply disagrees with what he read, or knows that Dawkins has encountered Aquinas, but believes he missed the finer points of Aquinas because Dawkins didn’t educate himself by actually reading the source material.

  9. OK…I went to Lee’s article, and I see why maybe you would think he didn’t read TGD. After all, why refer to Wikipedia as opposed to simply refuting what Dawkins says in his own words in TGD?

    hmmmm…..well I don’t know if he read it or not. But, considering myself a semi-intelligent Christian–if it’s a good day–I can say that many of us have read the book and can do a much better job of laying out the problems with it than Lee does. Although, I do hope you didn’t cherry-pick this poor soul as an example of a well-thought out Christian response, that would be stacking the deck with a lightweight.

  10. Wow. I can’t believe how hateful this blog entry is. As a Christian myself, I am amazed by the rabid anger of some atheists. How do you know that this guy didn’t read the book? You point to two main facts to support this supposition: (1) He cited a Wikipedia article; and (2) You misunderstood one of his points.

    First, I have often cited Wikipedia articles and seen them cited in various informal writings. While perhaps not very scholarly for Lee to do, the entry for “The God Delusion” is well-written and extremely clear, so maybe Lee wanted to present a reliable, one-stop web source for people to read more. Looking at other op-ed entries in this publication, it seems that Lee’s is rather long, so maybe he had a word limit imposed? I think citing a Wikipedia article is perfectly fine, especially since it’s a public repository of knowledge to which users contribute.

    Second, Liza initally makes an excellent point about Lee’s use of St. Thomas Aquinas. Moreover, this seems less about a recommendation to Dawkins and more about a thinly veiled recommendation to his own readers that they pick up some Aquinas. A lot of people know and can recite (at least generally) the five famous proofs, but very few people have read Aquinas in any detail. Now, I don’t know if Lee has read Aquinas himself, but I have and Dawkin’s analysis of the philosopher’s works is superficial and incomplete.

    In conclusion, Lee produced a well-written op-ed in a campus newspaper that probably will not convert any atheists, but it certainly shows that Christianity on even the most liberal campuses is not dead: far from it. I suggest that the author of this blog quits nitpicking the work of some college student, especially when that work is well-done.

    -Matthew, San Francisco, CA

  11. @ Liza,

    Sorry it’s taken me so long to reply!

    I do hope you didn’t cherry-pick this poor soul as an example of a well-thought out Christian response, that would be stacking the deck with a lightweight.

    If only! Lee’s article is very much the norm.

    @ Matthew

    Thank you for your comment.

    Wow. I can’t believe how hateful this blog entry is.

    Do you really think it’s hateful? I don’t think it even comes close. Annoyed? Definitely. Hateful? No way.

    As a Christian myself, I am amazed by the rabid anger of some atheists.

    You think I’m bad? You should read some of things Christians have to say.

    How do you know that this guy didn’t read the book? You point to two main facts to support this supposition: (1) He cited a Wikipedia article; and (2) You misunderstood one of his points.

    Ok, don’t get defensive, but I have to ask: did you actually read my article? I never said anything about the Wikipedia reference, that was Liza in the comments.

    First, I have often cited Wikipedia articles and seen them cited in various informal writings. While perhaps not very scholarly for Lee to do, the entry for “The God Delusion” is well-written and extremely clear, so maybe Lee wanted to present a reliable, one-stop web source for people to read more. Looking at other op-ed entries in this publication, it seems that Lee’s is rather long, so maybe he had a word limit imposed? I think citing a Wikipedia article is perfectly fine, especially since it’s a public repository of knowledge to which users contribute.

    Liza, feel free to respond to this.

    Second, Liza initally makes an excellent point about Lee’s use of St. Thomas Aquinas. Moreover, this seems less about a recommendation to Dawkins and more about a thinly veiled recommendation to his own readers that they pick up some Aquinas. A lot of people know and can recite (at least generally) the five famous proofs, but very few people have read Aquinas in any detail. Now, I don’t know if Lee has read Aquinas himself, but I have and Dawkin’s analysis of the philosopher’s works is superficial and incomplete.

    Matthew, think about this. You’ve read The God Delusion. You’re writing a review. You’re not happy with Dawkins discussion of Aquinas (as you’ve just said). Would you choose these words?

    If he wants some rational arguments for faith, I would encourage Dawkins to read some St. Thomas Aquinas before vomiting up his next accusation against religion.

    Surely you wouldn’t? The (incorrect) implication that Dawkins has not even mentioned Aquinas is glaring. If Lee had read The God Delusion all the way through, he would not have said this.

    As for the “thinly veiled recommendation to his own readers that they pick up some Aquinas”, I think you’re trying to extract meaning from Lee’s words that isn’t there. He just made a flagrant faux pas.

    In conclusion, Lee produced a well-written op-ed in a campus newspaper

    You’re entitled to your opinion,

    that probably will not convert any atheists, but it certainly shows that Christianity on even the most liberal campuses is not dead: far from it. I suggest that the author of this blog quits nitpicking the work of some college student, especially when that work is well-done.

    If you want to call my appeal to Christians to read the books they’re reviewing “nitpicking”, go ahead. I think it’s more than reasonable.

    By the way, you say that Dawkins’ analysis of Aquinas was “superficial and incomplete”. If you want to email me and explain to me how Dawkins was wrong and Aquinas’s proofs actaully do prove the existence of God, I’ll be more than happy to discuss them with you.

  12. “Liza, feel free to respond to this.”

    Well…my point is that if you’re going to critique Dawkins, and you’ve read the book, you don’t need to refer to Wikipedia. You can use your own examples from the book and Dawkins’ own words to prove your point.

    For instance, Lee could have given examples where Dawkins says very plainly that he has not studied theology in any depth and has no plans to, and then asked how Dawkins can so quickly dismiss theological explanations without really knowing much about them.

    Or

    Lee could have pointed out that Dawkins puts faith in the theory of memes as an explanation for passing on religious beliefs, quoting this person and that person about it without revealing in the book that the he is the originator of the theory of memetics. He uses it as one of his explanations for belief in God as if it were something separately posited by other thinkers…except it wasn’t. I think that’s somewhat deceptive.

    I think the point is that Lee may have written an article about what he believes and why he thinks Dawkins is wrong, but he didin’t give any examples for people to hang their hats on. If you want to show the lack of a particular work, you can’t just say it’s lacking. You have to show how it is lacking.

  13. aargh!…my long comment was eaten by the wordpress monster!!!

  14. can you fish it out of the nether-world?

  15. Tobe38,

    I guess I just feel that all angry diatribes against atheists and theists alike are uncalled for. That’s actually one of the things I didn’t appreciate about Lee’s co-ed: he could have tempered his language a bit. And you are correct, Christians themselves have said very hateful, hurtful things that are not excusable.

    However, some of the criticism of Lee’s op-ed stems from the belief that Christians need to “turn the other cheek,” when confronted with their perception of evil. (I would venture to say that Lee would consider this site as such.) I don’t think that degree of passivity is necessary all the time, though, and, if done respectfully, strong language can be used by theists to reinforce what they are saying. I think Lee toes the line here: his language is bold, but he might go overboard at times (“vomiting up his next accusation…”) In any case, he’s a a college student, angry that Dawkins was invited to spread his message to his campus, and he studies biology, not philosophy.

    Maybe that is one of the reasons why he cited the Wikipedia article. Now, Tobe38 I know you didn’t mention this, but perhaps his understanding of the philosophical implications of Dawkin’s beliefs is understandably limited. I was a chemistry major in undergrad and I certainly didn’t have time to educate myself on the finer points of rhetoric and the deep issues at work in the atheist/theist debate. Should I have made the time? Maybe. But I was too busy studying my own subject, trying to get into grad school. My point here? Give the guy a break. For all you know, he did read the book, but found the Wikipedia article a more condensed version of Dawkin’s arguments, suitable for review and mention in his “relatively” short op-ed.

    Should he have made his own arguments directly from the primary text? Of course: that is the ideal. But looking back to my undergrad days, I didn’t have the time to undertake a project like that, much less eat most of the time! Also, think about this: Wikipedia is becoming something like an information “god” on college campuses today. My daughter attends UC Santa Barbara and she tells me that Wikipedia is set as her home page. It seems natural to me that a college student would use Wikipedia to communicate with another college students. I doubt very much that Lee knew his article was going to make it onto this blog!

    Sorry for the length, but the last thing I’m going to say is that you still have no proof that Lee didn’t read the book. You claim that his one sentence about Aquinas is evidence enough for this, but as Liza was pointed out, this could be interpreted in several different ways. He definitely should have been more precise if this was his meaning, but you simply cannot infer that his reading did not occur because of this short snippet. That’s almost like you taking up the theistic position, isn’t it?! (At least your understanding of it.) That is, “I have little to no evidence for this claim, but I will make it anyway because it meshes with my version of reality.”

    Thank you for your respectful and diplomatic discussion. It has been very interesting for a Christian such as myself to read through this blog and understand how atheists think. To conclude, I think that instead of nitpicking and parsing a short op-ed in a campus newspaper, you should find other, more attractive battles to fight.

    Regards,

    Matthew, San Francisco, CA

  16. Oops, sorry, Tobe38. I guess there was some error and I submitted a portion of my whole post before finishing it. Can you delete the short one and keep the long one?

    Sorry about that… Thanks again for this forum.

  17. Actually, Dawkins has not read any Aquinas. Dawkins does write a section which he claims is devoted to Aquinas’ Five Proofs. The problem is that Dawkins is lying. What he presents as quotes from Aquinas are not actually quotes from Aquinas, but rather are some crap that Dawkins made up. They have no actual relationship to anything that Aquinas ever said. If you don’t believe me, read the actual words that Aquinas wrote, compare them to what Dawkins says that Aquinas wrote, and observe that there’s no relationship.


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