June 2007


To Love and Cherish

Doing Apologetics

Christianity: The Basics

What is Wrong with Social Justice

Christianity and Secularism

Evidence for the Bible

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 to 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 of 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 use 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.

3 Responses to “A Review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part I”

  1. A Review of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion - Summary Says:

    […] Part I – Chapter One Three major problems with Dawkins’ approach […]

  2. stuart easton Says:

    Oh dear. You seem to have only read one half of the The God Delusion. Dawkins actually explores TWO main themes; is belief in God irrational? and is religion a Bad Thing that should be discouraged? Your opening statement about the book concerns the first question. Your three arguments, however, seem to concern only the second question. Does this mean that you agree with Dawkins that belied in God is irrational?

    You highlight three main “problems” with Dawkins’ arguments. Let’s consider whether or not any of them has any relevance to the debate about the existance, or non-existance, of God. The debate on whether or not religion is positively dangerous is a healthy one and I welcome it.

    – You argue that Dawkins focuses only on the negative aspects of religion and we all see religeous people doing good deeds, ergo Dawkins is wrong. Given your opening paragraph, I wonder if you even think this is an argument for the existence of God. The goodness of many religous people is a point well-made BY DAWKINS himself. In the book, his argument is more that you don’t NEED religion to do good deeds and in that he is quite correct. Since religion is clearly intertwined with many very negative aspects of life, and since you don’t NEED religion in order to live a moral life, Dawkins simply suggests that, in the absence of religion, the World would be a better place. You can agree or disagree with his OPINION here, but it in no way affects whether or not God exists. The fact that you may think God is desirable in no way makes him more likely to exist.
    – Your second point is that Dawkins tars all religions with the same brush. In terms of their “delusion” about God, you’re right, he does. I see no reason, and you give no argument, to disagree with him in this – all religions that believe in a “personal God” are equally deluded. In terms of the “behaviour” of religions, you’re right to note some differences. You seem to be making the point, however, that Islam is The Problem and Chritians must be closer to Truth because they preach love. Yet plenty of history’s killing has gone on in the name of Christ. In fact, Christians have killed, burned and tortured other Christians over fine-points of dogma. Hmmmm perhaps we should all become Buddhist. There’s a system of belief that seems to understand peace better than most.
    – Your third point is interesting. You could say the same thing about your list of “religion’s accomplishments” and so your argument rather falls flat. It’s neither an argument for nor against religion. Rather, you should make the general point that nobody really knows the degree of influence that religion has – but it clearly does have SOME influence for good and for bad. And of course, whether or not you agree with Dawkins on the precise causal relationship between religion and action (for good or for bad), this link has nothing to do with whether or not God exists.

    You’re entitled to question Dawkins’ arguments for or against a belief in God, but you haven’t. Can this mean you don’t HAVE any rational arguments in favour of God? If so, Dawkins wins that one on points. I have never heard anything approaching a rational defence of belief in God, by the way. There is no scientific defense for creationism nor is there for any similar creation myth, for example. None. Period. Anyone who puts forth such “evidence” either doesn’t understand the science or is being misleading.

    As to your differing opinion on the desirability of religion (as opposed to its validity as a rational belief system), keep fighting the fight. I figured out early in life, and quite on my own, that it was very unlikely that God exists. Despite this, and despite my own 10-year-old observations about the suffering caused by religion, I have always felt that you should live and let-live. Dawkins makes quite a case for non-believers like me to become more vocal, more assertive. If that happens, it can only be a matter of time before belief in a God will become the exception rather than the norm and I believe we can build a world where this results in “less bad” in the world. Having said that, the part of me that loves cultural diversity, the “me” that has visited and stood in awe of the Blue Mosque, the Buddha of Leshan and of York Minster cathederal, that part of me hopes you survive.

    Good luck.

  3. Elgin Hushbeck Says:

    Mr Easton,
    As is demonstrated by the other 16 parts of this review I did read the entire book. In this review I responded to the arguments Dawkins makes. For example, you wrote, “in the absence of religion, the World would be a better place. You can agree or disagree with his OPINION here, but it in no way affects whether or not God exists.” True, but again I was responding to Dawkins. This review was not meant to be a systematic defense of the existence of God but a detail analysis of Dawkins’ arguments, which as I believe I have demonstrated are seriously flawed. Thus your complaint is more with Dawkins for including the argument in the first place, not with me for pointing out problems with what he said in my response.
    As to your individual points, Actually what I was arguing was that to evaluate the impact of something by only considering the negatives, (or the positives) is irrational. As for your second, it is just a fact that not all religions are the same. You may not see stating a fact that is contrary a premise of an argument as a argument against, but it means that his premises are flawed and thus his reasoning is unsound. As for your assumptions about what I might have been seeming to arguing, I was arguing that Dawkins argument was unsound and that “Religions have to be judged individually on their own merits.” l while I do believe that Christianity is true, I did not make the argument there and would not make it on the ground you state. I think I have written enough in these 17 parts that you do not have to assume argument that you can respond to.
    As for your third point, you would be correct if that had been the totality of my argument. But again I was not making an independent argument, but a response to counter-balance Dawkins’ argument. I would point out that when I do make an independent argument in my book Christianity and Secularism, it do discuss both the negative and positive evidence.