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A Review of

Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part I

June 22, 2007, Wausau, WiRichard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion” is yet another in a long line of books which attempts to make the claim that believing in God is irrational.  As with the other attempts, Dawkins ultimately ends up only demonstrating his own lack of critical analysis.  There is a very simple rule in critical thinking that I teach all of my classes:  Anything can be accepted if you only consider the evidence in favor, and conversely anything can be rejected if you only consider the evidence against. While this is a pretty straight forward and simple rule, it is one that Dawkins runs afoul of from the very first page.

Dawkins, citing the John Lennon song “Imagine”  wonders, “Imagine no suicide bombers, no 9/11, no 7/7, no Crusades, no witch-hunts, no Gunpowder plot, no Indian partition, no Israeli/Palestinian  wars, no Serb/Croat/Muslim massacres, no Northern Ireland ‘troubles’, no ‘honour killings’, no shiny-suited bouffant-hair televangelists fleecing gullible people of their money (‘God wants you to give till it hurts.’) Imagine no Taliban to blow up ancient statues, no public beheading of blasphemers, no flogging of female skin for the crime of showing an inch of it.” (pp 1-2)

This one passage reveals three major problems with Dawkins’ approach.  The first we have already mentioned. This is a list that contains only negative items. What about the positive? What about the good that religion has done?  As I point out in my book, Christianity and Secularism, with Christianity’s rise to dominance after the fall of Rome, it brought for the first time an ethic of kindliness, obedience, humility, patience, mercy, purity, chastity, and tenderness. (p 101) Nor, without religion, would the church have been able to try to settle disputes between rulers during the middle ages so as to avoid war, nor limit the killing of civilians. Nor would Christians have been able to stress the equality of all people, nor lay the foundations of science and human rights, nor push for, and eventually achieve, the abolition of slavery.   Christians by no means have a perfect record in this area, and in fact have far too often failed o live up to the teaches of Jesus, but by no means is the record all negative as Dawkins “Imagines.”

Dawkins second major error is to treat all religions as the same.   They are not.  In fact of the 15 things Dawkins want to imagine the world without, 11 of the 15 involve Islam either exclusively or in conflict with others.  The simple fact is that, of all the major world religions, only Islam was founded by a military leader.  Through-out its history, Islam as been spread by force of arms, and there remains today a significant percentage of Islam who support the use force and coercion to maintain and spread their religion.  The issue is not one of religion or no religion and Dawkins would imagine and in fact, as I argue in Christianity and Secularism, it would be impossible to have no religion. Religions have to be judged individually on their own merits.  Dawkins’ approach is the equivalent of arguing for the rejection investigation in favor of blind faith by lumping legitimate sciences like chemistry in with alchemy and then pointing to the problems of alchemy as a reason to reject chemistry.  For Dawkins, the problems of one religion are reasons to reject all religions.

 Of the remaining four items in Dawkins’ list that do not involve Islam:  witch-hunts, the Gunpowder plot,  Northern Ireland, and corrupt televangelists I would argue that only the first two can really be attributed to Christianity, which brings us to Dawkins’ third major error, which confuses things that involve religion with things that are caused by religion. The conflict between England and Ireland goes back much farther than the England’s change to Protestantism. In fact, this conflict is much more a cause of the religious difference, than caused by religion.  As for the corrupt televangelists, con-artists can be found in most areas.  That some us science to fleece people, is not a reason to reject science, why should it be any different for religion.

As for the remaining two, these are legitimate objections.  (though the Gunpowder plot failed and thus had little actual impact beyond those who planned the plot, I take it to represent the religious conflict that did exist at the time).  Whereas Dawkins errs by only looking at the negative it would be equally erroneous to only consider the positive. Like most everything else that involves people there are pros and cons to religion in general and Christianity in particular.  A balance approach requires us to look and both the pros and the cons. As I argue in Christianity and Secularism, when this is done for Christianity, I believe that Christianity has had a strong net positive influence in the world. 

 Part II   Part III   Part IV   Part V 

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