‘Induction over the history of science suggests that the best theories we have today will prove more or less untrue at the latest by tomorrow afternoon.’ Fodor, J. ‘Why Pigs don’t have wings,’ London Review of Books, 18th Oct 2007

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Review of Richard Dawkins on The God Delusion

On Wednesday 25th August (More4, 9-11pm) I watched the second of Richard Dawkins' new series ('Age of Reason') The God Delusion.

If you missed it, don't worry: there really was nothing new. It transpired that the two-hour programme was not new, but put together from his two-part The Root of Evil? series (Channel 4, January 2006 – for an article by Dawkins on its theme see Dawkins, 2006). He did not take the opportunity to alter anything. All his crass statements were left intact: faith is 'belief without reason', a 'brain virus', 'process of non-thinking', 'strange distorted mindset', 'elephant in the room' 'profound contradiction of science', 'discourages independent thought, is divisive and dangerous', 'slippery slope that leads to young men with knapsacks on the Tube', 'a delusion', 'a crutch', 'betrayal of the Enlightenment', 'suspension of critical faculties'. And so it goes on and on.

Intelligent Design (ID) is defined and dismissed as "God helped evolution along". He still believes that a gradual grassy slope is to be found on the other side of the sheer cliffs of every Mount Improbable. For him, rejection of evolution = rejection of science.

In the programme Roman Catholicism is represented by pilgrims and church leaders at Lourdes, Judaism and Islam are represented by scenes of worhippers and by individuals who are interviewed, and Evangelical Christianity is represented by Ted Haggard of the New Life Church, Colorado Springs, USA. There was certainly footage here to make many Christians cringe, but, if you look for it, you can find such examples to use against any tradition, secular as well as religious. That kind of implicit ad hominem attack should have no place in serious scholarship – or programming. What a state we have come to when all the main Channels broadcast such insults to intelligence – and to common sense.

A freethinkers group in the US was interviewed. They feel on the defensive, saying that their jobs are under threat from Christian fascism. It is they who are the beleaguered minority. Many Christian academics will be very surprised (see Bergman, 2008)

As in the source series, there was no engagement with serious critics. For those programmes, professor Alister McGrath was interviewed by Dawkins about his book Dawkins' God and about faith in general. However the interview was not included in the final cut. After this was pointed out by McGrath, Dawkins, to his credit, did make the unedited footage available (Dawkins & McGrath, 2006)

In an article well worth reading in its entirety, Madeleine Bunting (2006) summed up the source series well: “By all means, let's have a serious debate about religious belief, one of the most complex and fascinating phenomena on the planet, but the suspicion is that it's not what this chorus wants. Behind unsubstantiated assertions, sweeping generalisations and random anecdotal evidence, there's the unmistakable whiff of panic; they fear religion is on the march again. …a piece of intellectually lazy polemic which is not worthy of a great scientist.”

As Bunting noted, “Sadly, there is no evolution of thought in Dawkins's position; he has been saying much the same thing about religion for a long time.” I really do not understand how he can be repeating the same tired old arguments in exactly the same terms over so many years. It is so contrary to my own experience and surely to that of any serious scholar? Your experience grows all the time, criticisms cause you to reframe arguments, revise them, or even give them up, because you are forced to conclude that you got the particular matter wrong. Your world view changes and develops, altering the way you present material. When it comes to science and religion, I see no such process with Dawkins. In particular, he just seems to completely ignore scholarly criticism.

Once you have decided that there is no God, and that all real knowledge is obtained through reason and science, then Dawkins’ conclusions are inevitable. This highlights that the debate is not simply a debate over logic or evidence, but rather much more over worldviews and presuppositions. It is therefore important to turn the tables, to hold Dawkins' feet to the fire, to put his materialism under the critical spotlight. (In this regard I would highly recommend Wilson, 2007 – actually a response to Sam Harris, but it applies to all the new atheists). If you reflect on the question, "If we are just complicated, deterministic, chemical machines in a godless universe, then what do we teach the children in school?", it puts the issue of faith schools in a very different light.

The naive worldview commitments of the ruling materialists in science should be exposed to critical scrutiny, as should the scientific absurdities of the arguments for materialistic evolution – especially the real ‘elephant in the room’, the origin of the specified information and the nano-machines that utilise it, which are so crucial to all biological functioning.

The ID movement has it precisely right when it follows that two-pronged strategy. Constructive debate is impossible unless all participants are willing to put their worldview commitments on the table and allow them, as well as their scientific arguments, to be exposed to rigorous critique.
Jerry Bergman, Slaughter of the Dissidents, Leafcutter Press, 2008
Madeleine Bunting, No wonder atheists are angry: they seem ready to believe anything, Guardian, Saturday 07 January 2006
accessed 29 August 2010)
Richard Dawkins, Is religion the root of all evil?, Belfast Telegraph, 06 January 2006
accessed 29 August 2010)
Richard Dawkins and Alister McGrath, 2006, Root of All Evil? Uncut Interviews:
accessed 29 August 2010 (takes you to the google video listed below)
accessed 29 August 2010
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxc0NpTZE18 , accessed 29 August 2010
Douglas Wilson, Letter from a Christian Citizen, American Vision, 2007
By Dr Arthur Jones

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