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The Dawkins Delusion?: Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine [Hardcover]

Alister McGrath , Joanna Collicutt McGrath


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Amazon.com: 3.2 out of 5 stars  113 reviews
304 of 394 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Poor attempt 23 July 2007
By Michael Paul Bailey - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
At the beginning I felt this book had promise. It was nice to know that the author of the book had previously been an atheist, so I felt that he could at least bring some understanding to the table. I was also heartened by his generally positive treatment of Dawkins, especially in speaking of his previous book. For these reasons, I became interested immediately in the rebuttal McGrath would bring to the table. I was sorely disappointed.

As an over-arching theme of the entire book, McGrath claims that Dawkins fails to bring any sort of scientific rigor to the table. There is some (emphasis some) truth to that statement. But, as is generally the case with criticism, McGrath finds himself guilty of the same sin throughout. If the writing style of Dawkins is so polemic then it would be wise to take the high road and avoid it, rather than hiking up the pant legs and hopping right down into the muck.

The most frustrating thing about this book was how consistently McGrath claimed Dawkins holds certain views, then proves those views false. Unfortunately, a quick glance at the actual text shows over and again that Dawkins never claimed those arguments in the first place.

The place where this is most prevalent is in the middle 20 pages where McGrath attacks Dawkins views on where a belief in God came from. He says that Dawkins falls back on all sorts of arguments such as memes that are completely insubstantial. The funny thing is that if you read Dawkins's book, you see that he makes no claim to the authenticity of the ideas. In fact, he is quite careful to couch all of the claims as hypothesis, nothing more. Whereas McGrath claims that Dawkins is saying that these are true. It's even odd that so much space of this 100 page book was spent discussing this issue as it is completely ancillary to Dawkins's argument in the first place.

Next, McGrath seems to imply that Dawkins hates all religious people. He does not. In fact, he talks many times about how much he likes these people. It's not the people he hates, it's the belief systems. I felt that this was very clear throughout. I will admit that his tone can be quite sarcastic and condescending at times. He does not take that to the next level of hate, which is what McGrath seems to imply.

McGrath continually amazed me at the odd selection of talking points. He seemed to just be frustrated and not know where to go so he just went wherever the wind would take him. This is most evident in his refutation of Dawkins's discussion of infinite regress. He actually claims that scientists searching for the grand unification theory debunks the infinite regress argument. How ridiculous of an argument is that? I just couldn't believe that such an idea could possibly strike someone as even remotely cogent.

Another of his tactics is to counter claims made by Dawkins by saying, "I don't believe that." That's wonderful that he is a progressive person with regards to religion, but such is generally not the case. Dawkins never claims that beliefs he's countering are held by everyone. Just because some Christians realize the Earth is older than 6,000 years doesn't mean that it's not an important talking point, because the fact remains that many people do believe it.

And I have one more thing while I'm bashing the book. Why was he only able to come up with 96 large print pages against Dawkins's 400 page behemoth? I left the book feeling that McGrath hadn't really tried to respond to Dawkins. He feels like he just gave up half way through. The majority of "The God Delusion" remains completely unmentioned, unrefuted.

But now for the reason I gave the book two stars instead of just one. His last chapter made me think. Dawkins blames much of the world's problems on religion, especially violence. McGrath makes a good argument that it is really dogmaticism, not religion (though he stops short of saying it thusly). There have been dogmatic atheists that have caused untold horror just as there are dogmatic theists that have also caused untold horror. This last chapter really made me have to think a bit about where the problem of violence stems. If the book had simply been this chapter rather than the previous nonsense, I probably would have rated it four stars.

Ultimately, McGrath explains very well his purpose in writing this book. His purpose is not scholarly, his purpose is to supply people answers for when their friends come around. I think that's a shame. Is that what our public dialogue is? Are we simply looking for pre-written answers to throw at those with whom we disagree? Or are we honestly seeking for truth and answers?
446 of 627 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars "Might atheism be a delusion about God?" McGrath doesn't answer... 15 Jun 2007
By R S Cobblestone - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This slim book, The Dawkins Delusion, is confusing in many ways. It is written by husband and wife team Alister McGrath and Joanna Collicutt McGrath, but throughout it is written in the form of a personal narrative: "In my own case, I started out as an atheist who went on to become a Christian - precisely the reverse of Dawkin's intellectual journey" (p. 9). There is a brief notation that most of it was written by Alister McGrath, at one time a molecular biophysicist, but you can't tell when one person's narrative begins and the other one ends. This is irritating, not deadly. McGrath (I'll refer to McGrath as either author) reports that someone has to stand up for truth, and put the lies of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion to rest. Unfortunately, McGrath's 97 pages of text pale in comparison to the broader discussion in Dawkins' book (374 pages of text). I realize this is not a "word count" battle, but rather a battle of logic... Dawkins comes to certain conclusions and makes particular logical arguments, and McGrath selects a few of these and develops a "summary retort." Frankly, the best way to get a table to collapse is to knock out all its legs. A few kicks at one corner doesn't do it. McGrath's challenge was to deliver a knock-down punch. He, and she, didn't reach this threshold.

What does this book state?

"Religion has made a comeback" (p. 8).

"Not only is God not 'dead,' ...he never seems to have been more alive" (p. 8-9).

"...I hope I am right in suggesting that such nonthinking dogmatists [such as Dawkins] are not typical of atheism" (p. 10).

"Curiously, there is surprising little scientific analysis in The God Delusion" (p. 11).

"The book is often little more than an aggregation of convenient factoids suitably overstated to achieve maximum impact and loosely arranged to suggest that they constitute an argument" (p. 13).

"Dawkins clearly has little interest in engaging religious believers..." (p. 13).

After this introduction, McGrath attempts to destroy Dawkins' arguments. I think he is saying:

- Many more scientists believe in God than Dawkins claims. Therefore, there is a God.
- We are here, however improbable, so the improbable is not impossible. Therefore, there is a God.
- Dawkins fails to prove the nonexistence of God. Therefore, there is a God.
- Believing in God is good for society. Therefore, there is a God.

McGrath ends with these questions:

"Might The God Delusion actually backfire and end up persuading people that atheism is just as intolerant, doctrinative and disagreeable as the worst that religion can offer? (p. 97).

"Might atheism be a delusion about God?" (p. 97).

I grant that McGrath read Dawkins' book. I suspect that most readers of The Dawkins Delusion will not, and that these same readers will not have read The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, God is Not Great, or a number of other current and critical books. Therefore, the challenge is on McGrath to represent Dawkin's arguments completely and fairly. This was not done.

I wanted to return to Chapter 1: "In my own case, I started out as an atheist who went on to become a Christian - precisely the reverse of Dawkin's intellectual journey" (p. 9). If McGrath professed to believing in Zeus, or was a follower of Jainism, or confessed to wishing for an opportunity for martyrdom, would you look at this book in the same way? Dawkins, and Harris, and others argue that there is no more reason to believe those in the Olympus camp as those in the WWJD camp.

Bottom line... if you are waiting for a critical dissection of The God Delusion, no matter what your beliefs, this is not it.
92 of 130 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing...even for a Christian 11 Feb 2008
By C. Whitsett - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
As a Christian who takes this debate seriously I am almost insulted at the level of argument that is presented by the McGraths. Since reading the God Delusion I had been hoping someone would take on Dawkins. I was extremely disappointed to find that this book falls far short of its claim to do exactly that. I can't say that every one of Dawkins' points are well founded...but at least they are presented clearly and directly. Time after time the McGraths avoid, ignore, side-step, misunderstand or manipulate what seem like fairly straightforward points from Dawkins. Instead of countering Dawkins' arguments, their consistently poor reasoning seems to add weight to his stance. I can't help but ask why they have such a hard time addressing Dawkins' points directly. Is it naivety or inability? Either way, the believer's side of the debate is weakened by such a lackluster book.
89 of 129 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Admirably civil, but still imprecise 30 Sep 2007
By Todd I. Stark - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
So far, I've found the McGrath books to be largely an exercise in "preaching to the choir." People who agree with them from the start will be impressed here by their magnamimous treatment of Dawkins and persuaded by their gentle deconstruction of his claims. Even though I disagree with a lot of what they say, I too was impressed by that aspect. However, like most critics of Dawkins, they find it neccessary to address his somewhat extreme mixture of anti-religionism and naturalist explanation as a package, and I think this severely limits the value of the critique.

While Dawkins is a great writer and 1st rate conceptualist of biology, worthy of the highest honors we can bestow in those areas, he is in my opinion also a 2nd rate philosopher and 3rd rate social and psychological scientist. Ok, I realize that his idea of "memes" has a lot to commend it, but for the most part it is a narrow conception of human mind and human nature, and his pointed attacks on religion require a broader foundation I think.

I believe the very reason Dawkins remains an intellectual touchstone and people are so obsessed with Dawkins (whether pro or con) is his own obsession with attacking religion rather than acknowledging its ambivalent role in human history and its central role in human culture and the origin of the modern mind. This is the part that the McGraths could reasonably attack. Disappointingly, it is only a small part of their critique, in what turns out to be an essay more than a book.

Dawkins has uncharacteristically little sophistication or patience when it comes to analyzing the real cognitive, social, and cultural role of religious ideas, the nuances of the mind of the believer, and the rationality (even if not neccessarily correctness) of some apologetics.

Ultimately this McGrath essay published as a book will appeal to many of those who already find the Dawkins anti-religionism tiresome, and justly irritate not only those who are admirers of that aspect of Dawkins' work, but those like me who make a clear distinction between his brilliant biology and his seemingly less sophisticated grasp of the social, cultural, and historical mind. I would like to have read a better critique, this one is civil and reasonable but not very persuasive unless you already agree with their views on religion, which seem more rich than Dawkins' own, but not by enough of a margin to make this a really good book.

Just as with Dawkins (at least in The God Delusion), the McGraths can't seem to get past their agenda vis a vis religion for long enough to address other aspects of the dialog clearly. If anything, Dawkins is actually *better* at separating out his biology and his anti-religionism in most cases than the McGraths are at separating out their religionism from the rest of their argument, if that's even remotely a goal to them.

As with most religiously motivated authors, there is never a serious recognition by the McGraths, in spite of their civility, that "atheist fundamentalism" and "scientific naturalism" are two different agendas that just happen to overlap in Dawkins.
28 of 40 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The McGrath's on Real Delusions 20 May 2011
By Mike Robinson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Author Alister McGrath studied chemistry, theology, and molecular biophysics at Oxford, and earned doctorates in science and theology (author of Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life, and numerous other volumes). Likewise, Mrs. McGrath is also well-educated. The McGraths write: "The fact that Dawkins has penned a four-hundred-page book declaring that God is a delusion is itself highly significant." He compares Dawkins's "total dogmatic conviction of correctness" to "a religious fundamentalism which refuses to allow its ideas to be examined or challenged"(p.12).

McGrath and Mrs. McGrath on Dawkins' argument: "Anecdote is substituted for evidence; selective internet trawling for quotes displaces rigorous and comprehensive engagement with primary sources. The good doctor opines that Dawkins' "argument from improbability" is a poorly structured expansion of the child's 'Who made God?' query. He also contends that the capacity of science to explain itself requires explanation, and that the best account of this explanatory capacity lies in the notion of God.

McGrath argues that "Dawkins clearly has no mandate whatsoever to speak for the scientific community at this point or on this topic. There is a massive observational discrepancy between the number of scientists that Dawkins believes should be atheists, and those who are so in practice....Dawkins is clearly entrenched in his own peculiar version of a fundamentalist dualism."

Chapters include:

- Deluded about God?
- Has Science disproved God?
- Origins of Religion
- Is religion evil? (115 pages).

The Mcgrath's offer a volume that is short, breezy, yet engages the reader with the real difficulty of the atheistic worldview, and particularly Dawkins' weakness as a thinker.

No one has enough faith to believe that:

* Order came from disorder
* Uniformity came from the accidental
* Intelligence came from non-intelligence
* Love came from hard matter

The atheists overturn their materialistic worldview as they claim that they have a purpose in their science, lectures, and books. If the material universe is all there is, there is no foundation for purpose and no ultimate meaning. One reason the NAs seem so ornery and militant is their lack of spiritual sight and logical thought.

Atheist Ruse notes: "Let me say that I believe the new atheists do the side of science a grave disservice. I will defend to the death the right of them to say what they do--as one who is English-born one of the things I admire most about the USA is the First Amendment. But I think first that these people do a disservice to scholarship. Their [the New Atheists] treatment of the religious viewpoint is pathetic to the point of non-being. Richard Dawkins in "The God Delusion" would fail any introductory philosophy or religion course. Proudly he criticizes that whereof he knows nothing. As I have said elsewhere, for the first time in my life, I felt sorry for the ontological argument. If we criticized gene theory with as little knowledge as Dawkins has of religion and philosophy, he would be rightly indignant. ... I am indignant at the poor quality of the argumentation in Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and all of the others in that group. ... "The God Delusion" makes me ashamed to be an atheist. Let me say that again. Let me say also that I am proud to be the focus of the invective of the new atheists. They are a disaster and I want to be on the front line of those who say so" (Ruse: "Science and Spirituality").

If the atheist has a pre-commitment to wide metaphysical naturalism he dwells in a self-nullifying epistemic structure. Broad Naturalism is a philosophical system that asserts that the universe and everything in it are made up solely of matter and motion (the only things that exist are physical things in motion). Naturalistic skeptics have a nonphysical presupposition that assumes that only the physical reality exists. That is one of the reasons that the zealous evolutionist Dawkins begins his book "The Blind Watchmaker" with a confession: "Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose." An immense problem surfaces for the man who refuses to believe in God considering that he cannot find any foundation for purpose or meaning. He has no ultimate goal, direction, or purpose. In the anti-theistic worldview of strict naturalism, everything is heading for insensibleness and oblivion since the universe is winding down.

"An article of our secular faith: there is nothing exceptional about human life" (Tom Bethell).

"To expect to learn anything about important theological problems from Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett is like expecting to learn about medieval history from someone who had only read Robin Hood" (Rodney Stark).

Dawkins attempts to disprove theism through empiricism (truth is found through man's unchaperoned five senses). But the form of any worldview, including the NAs', requires a priori (something prior to or independent of observation and experience, which is assumed to be true) equipment. But a priori truths cannot be justified from observation. Universal norms (laws of logic and moral absolutes) must be taken for granted in forming any worldview, but empiricism cannot provide the conditions that are necessary for universal fixed norms. Resting one's worldview on observation, apart from the universal pre-essentials, can only result in nonsense and the unintelligibility of that which one observes. Interpreting and making sense of that which is observed cannot come from observation alone. There must be knowledge equipment already supplied that is not wholly justified by the five senses. God provides the a prior essentials for the intelligibility of observation that even empiricism requires. God is unavoidable for the construction of any worldview, including a faulty one that rests upon empiricism.
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