29 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful analysis that could be better
Reading many of the other reviews of this book, it's pretty clear that most had their minds made up before they ever opened it. I don't recognize in many of the hostile reviews the book that I read. This probably shows that both Dawkins and McGrath are inevitably preaching to the choir, to use a religious metaphor - that Dawkins (writing about religion) will persuade many...
Published on 7 Sep 2008 by Arquebusier1572
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Pretty watery and not very convincing
I was given this book as a gift as a good counter argument to The God Delusion. I have to say I almost gave up after 78 pages due to there not being one argument that gives any substance to the 'against Dawkins' motion.
McGrath does quote Dawkins an awful lot but tends to counter him with points-of-view or opinions and without any logical or considered...
Published 11 months ago by rachelcave.co.uk
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11 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent critique of Dawkins,
This review is from: Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life (Paperback)So what happened in 1859? Darwin's 'on the origin of species' de-bunked religion, by showing that the creatures on earth evolved by natural selection and so were not designed by God. The church were outraged, and the declining dregs of religion have stubbornly maintained that Darwin was wrong and creationism is true. Right??
No. This may be the Dawkinsian view of the impact of Darwin's theory of evolution, but it is quite foreign to Darwin. Mcgrath explains that the pre-darwinian victorian explanation of the apparent design of creatures (Paley's watch theory) was not accepted by many of the leading theologians of the time (e.g. Neuman) and so its demolition at the hands of Darwin took only a particular view of creation apart, not the notion of nature as God's creation itself.
Dawkins' God is superbly written. This book is a challenge to the portrayal of both science and religion that remains present in the writings of Richard Dawkins. It is important because Dawkins' view of science is triumphalistic, historically shaky and masks of the role of human thought processes and discursive practices in shaping how one does science. This is NOT an attack on science itself, but an unrealistic view of it, which seems to see science as a transparant account of the world in itself rather than a socially mediated picture of phenomena, understood in specific, contextually limited ways. Science is there to develop coherent accounts of phenomena, not to implant static facts about states of affairs.
Dawkins' portrayal of religion is exposed as rather feeble too. He sees God as a highly complex super-human, who crafted the world like a carpenter. No wonder he rejects this God's existence, and sees natural selection as his alternative. But is this really what theologians mean when they speak of God? No. It may be what some religious groups believe, but tackling this picture is hardly tackling theism at its most intellectually rigorous. Try reading Karen Armstrong, Martin Buber, Carl Jung or William James and it is quite clear that the God they believe in bares no relation to the God Dawkins rejects.
Mcgrath shows that science has much less say on the God question than Dawkins claims. True enough, but the fundamental difficulty in marrying God and natural selection is that natural selection is littered by a history of violence and wastefulness, where the best suited to the environment survive, not necessarily the nicest. Mcgrath doesn't address this problem adequately. This aside, Mcgrath's main point, that science doesn't necessitate atheism is correct as far as I can see. Many physicists in particular see theism as an intelligible account of the order and beauty of the physical world. But I don't see science as a good central ground to base theism or atheism, and neither does Mcgrath.
Mcgrath excellently exposes Dawkins' misleading definitions of terms such as 'faith', which he defines in a way completey foreign to christian theology, and yet treats his definition as if it were central to theology. He also challenges Dawkins notion of biological replicators that copy and transport facets of cultural practices and beliefs, named 'memes'.
Mcgrath's book displays a superb overview of the historical relationship between science and religion. If you are agnostic, or an atheist whom does not see Darwin as God's undertaker, then this book will not challenge you. I still don't know exactly why Mcgrath is a christian, and I've now read 4 of his books. But this book is a great critique of the 'science killed God' line of thinking. Well worth a read.
94 of 159 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb science, logic and theology,
This review is from: Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life (Paperback)This is one of those books which put the pieces in place.
Richard Dawkins' shallow and aggressive prejudices in matters of faith and religion have long been up for a serious treatment from someone well versed in science, logic and theology. And it is no surprise that biologist and theologian Alister E. McGrath succeeds marvellously.
Mark Ryan's peculiar review below proves McGrath's observations about some atheists being too dogmatic to even look at other's real arguments, when it goes against their own pet theories.
With his PhD in molecular biology McGrath does not argue against the theory of evolution. In stead he provides an excellent beginners course in it, setting up the proper background to understand what Dawkins is talking about (page 15-48).
McGrath then shows how Dawkins fails at so many points in providing evidence for his allegations about issues like "faith" (which to Dawkins for some reason always is seen as "blind"), "proof" (which Dawkins for some reason think is what atheism is about) and the "warfare" between science and religion (which Dawkins has been misled to believe is intrinsical and typical).
McGrath demonstrates also how Dawkins is attacking a strawman in his "Blind Watchmaker" analogy, as the God-as-Watchmaker-populariser William Paley (1743-1805) was a hangover from an 18th century debate on the proper relation between science and natural theology. Hence he was discredited by mainstream theologicans (e.g. Newman) years before Darwin. Dawkins is not attacking Christianity, he is attacking a mainly 18th century view long left by serious theologians, and rarely held prior to the 1600's.
McGrath is through it all polite and charitable to Dawkins as a wonderfull writer on science, without hesitating to show where Dawkins takes his leaps of faith when it comes to his negative views on Christianity and positive view on atheism.
In short Dawkins has embarrasingly failed to do his homework.
Can't wait to hear his response. Hopefully he reads the book first, unlike Mr. Ryan.
28 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Better than Dawkins Delusion,
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This review is from: Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life (Paperback)Despite the dismissive tone of some of the atheists below (now there's a surprise!) this book is brilliant! It is a much better and far deeper expose of Dawkins views than McGrath's other work on the subject - The Dawkins Delusion. The latter suffers from being too short and is too easily dismissed as a lightweight response seeking to cash in on the Dawkins publishing phenomena (although I think it is a great deal more substantive than that). However it is in this earlier work than McGrath brilliantly deconstructs Dawkins atheist fundamentalism.
'Alaistairs review below is typical of those who will not see the wood for the trees. It is deliciously ironic that he for example criticises McGrath for using other people's arguments and not making his own intelligent points- anyone who has read The God Delusion will not find a single original point in the whole book - it is a rehash of atheist myths - which McGarth graciously and intelligently exposes.
Sadly Alaistair's review only goes to show how fundamentalism of all types (including atheist) is unable to see the opposite side. Witness his dismissal of McGrath's persistent objection that faith is not blind and not opposed to evidence. Again the irony is if McGrath quotes the Bible he is caricatured as a fundamentalist bible thumper, if not, he is a cherry picking pantheist! If you want to get beyond the name calling then read this book and you will realise that there is a whole lot more to the God debate than 'God does not exist..nah, nah, nah, nah , nah'!
David A. Robertson (author of The Dawkins Letters - Challenging Atheist Myths)
78 of 136 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Another badly flawed defence of faith,
This review is from: Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life (Paperback)I'll start off stating that I am a big fan of Dawkins. However, I still went into this book looking forward to see if there were any fresh, solid arguments that would get me thinking further about the subject and give Dawkins a few things to think about. I was painfully disappointed. The arguments are wooly, vague and often don't tackle the points they start out claiming to tackle. The only thing I agreed with McGrath on is the old "you can't totally disprove the existance of God" which of course Dawkins concedes (see Russell's teapot in orbit around the sun analogy).
I've no doubt that people who are religious will see this as a valuable tool in the defense of their faith, while non-believers will not find anything solid to change their mind and the stalemate won't shift an inch.
In summary, this book is a collection of logically flawed arguments surrounded by deliberately confusing, vague vocabulary which I found more irritating than interesting.
70 of 123 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Time for Dawkins to get his brain in gear?,
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This review is from: Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life (Paperback)Firstly, I'd like to correct a misconception propounded by two of the previous "reviewers" - this book is not about evolutionism vs. creationism. On the contrary it is specifically a response to the kind of arguments Dawkins uses in his claims that Darwinism allows no belief but unbelief (atheism) and that even agnosticism is a "cop out."
It is about how to hold a rational discussion about religion and science rather than an attempt to predict what the outcome of that discussion should be.
As McGrath observes, it is a favourite ploy of certain pro-Darwinists - Dawkins, Dennett, Wilson et al - that anyone who fails to agree with their views is either stupid, nuts or deliberately malicious (or any combination thereof) and is therefore unworthy of serious consideration. It is a childish attempt to avoid having to engage in meaningful debate that harks back to the kind of "village atheist" mentality of Clarence Darrow in the 1920s. And worst of all, it is arguably a barrier to progress in our understanding of the world and the universe in which we live.
One of the main reasons why such a crude ploy is successful, it must be said, is because the media - especially TV and radio - seem to be terrified to air anything at all which might be seen as going against the party line. Only this year, for example, Channel4 viewers in the UK were treated to a double helping of Dawkins' rant against religion under the appropriately ludicrous title "Root of All Evil". No problem there. Dawkins is welcome to free expression of his beliefs. The shame is that not one TV channel has seen fit to screen a response to Dawkins' polemic.
Previous reviewers have commented on the respectful tone of McGrath's book. Personally I'd go even further. I believe McGrath bends over backwards all the way through the book in an attempt to allow Dawkins to "save face".
And he certainly needs all the help he can get.
It seems to me that what McGrath addresses in this book, from several angles, is a "fatal paradox" in Dawkins' attempts to justify his attacks on religion, and on Christianity in particular, and the paradox is simply this:
The lines of attack Dawkins uses in his attempts to discount religion apply equally to atheism - which Dawkins claims as the only honest response to Darwinism (even agnosticism is treated as a "cop out").
In other words, Dawkins is sitting on the very branch that he is sawing through, and moreover he's sitting on the "terminal" side of the cut. The astounding thing is that Dawkins apparently either cannot, or will not, face up to the logical consequences of his line of argument:
- If we are to dismiss religion, based on these arguments, then we must abandon atheism, too, and admit to a state of total unknowing (the agnosticism which Dawkins rejects);
- If we are to hang on to atheism, despite Dawkins' arguments, then they cannot, with any honesty, be used to justify the abandonment of any religious beliefs either.
As McGrath says at the end of his book, he is looking to promote the debate, not to end it:
"I have opened up some questions for further discussion, and have not settled anything - except that the issues raised in this book are important and interesting, and that further discussion is needed."
To understand exactly how and why McGrath justifies the need for that further discussion, and to see whether you agree, you'll want to read the book for yourself. It's not big - but even Dawkins admits that it's clever.
11 of 21 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars poor,
This review is from: Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life (Paperback)very, very disappointing. As someone who is having difficulties between God or no God, well I found his arguments weak at best. I really wanted McGrath to "blow Dawkins' theory out of the water" but alas for me Dawkins has come out well on top. No where in the book did he fight his corner only to say God exists, so there! Having read both books, and being someone that has been sitting on the fence since 9/11, Dawkins', for me, comes out a clear winner!
32 of 59 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Never tackles the real issue,
This review is from: Dawkins' God (Hardcover)Firstly I must declare that I am an atheist.
An overarching critique of McGrath's book is that he seems unable to grasp what an atheist actually is. This is highlighted clearly midway through the book where McGrath states " In fact, it [atheism] is itself a belief, which requires explanation". As all thinking atheists will confirm, atheism is the absence of a belief in God. It is not a belief that God doesn't exist. The distinction is critical because the burden of proof for the existence of God is on the theist. Atheism is merely the position that there is not adequate evidence for the belief in god. The net effect of this confusion is that McGrath repeatedly accuses Dawkins of hypocrisy. According to McGrath, Dawkins fails to offer evidence for his belief system while simultaneously criticising theists for not offering adequate evidence for their beliefs. Well guess what Alister, that's the way it is! The existence of God needs to be adequately proven before anyone is required to prove a counter argument. Ironically McGrath produces a withering assault on the Dawkins gene analogy for cultural evolution known as memes. The assault is based on the fact that McGrath does not accept that there is valid empirical evidence for the existence of memes, ergo memes cannot exist. Did he, I wonder, realise what he was writing!
McGrath does not offer up any evidence for consideration by the reader in this book that supports the existence of God. My personal assessment of Dawkins writing is that he never seeks to disprove the existence of God, he merely points out that the arguments thus far in favour of God's existence are bogus. In the absence of compelling evidence in favour of God, Dawkins asserts that the only logical position is atheism: the absence of a belief in God.
There are a great many highly-intelligent and well-educated people on this planet that retain a belief in a God. This fact has puzzled me for a long time. I have read many books by such people in the hope that an argument will emerge that explains why I, an averagely intelligent person, am in the minority with my atheistic stance. Alister McGrath certainly has the gravitas and credibility to offer such an argument. I was disappointed to find nothing more than philosophical arguments that were trained, not on a defence of the existence of God, but more on the way Dawkins chooses to express himself.
27 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dawkin's God,
This review is from: Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life (Paperback)This is an excellent and scholarly analysis of Richard's Dawkin's ideas. The tone is moderate, lucid and reasonable. Dr McGrath has produced a serious challenge to Dawkin's theories, whilst avoiding the evangelical style that Dawkins sometimes relies on to convince his readers. The chapter on 'Proof and Faith' alone make this book worth reading. Reading this book should help anyone interested in the origins of life to treat scientific theories like Evolution with caution, especially when presented forcefully but without suffient hard evidence, as is the style of Dawkins.
39 of 72 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A well written antidote to 'God Delusion',
This review is from: Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life (Paperback)Having just finished reading the 'God Delusion' by Dawkins, and having read all Dawkins other works, I was very keen to read 'Dawkins God' by Prof A.McGrath.
This book sets out to answer some of Dawkins main criticisms surrounding the relationship between Science and Religion. This book as with Dawkins work is going appeal to it's target audience, that would be a shame because by Dawkins own admission he 'enjoyed' this book and the arguments within are well thought through well presented, lucid and the theories and science is very well explained (it must be, I understood what was being said!)
There is no doubt that Richard Dawkins is an engaging academic that has done much to bring science out of the lecture halls and into the sitting rooms of every day folk, I am certainly grateful. However, what Professor McGrath does do in this book, I believe, is to highlight that perhaps the gap between religion and science is not as wide as some may believe in fact those that adhere to the natural sciences can still hold theological theories.
Personally the most engaging part of this book is McGrath's analysis of Dawkins 'Meme' theory set out is his (Dawkins) excellent 1977 work the Selfish Gene, and more recently taken up by Daniel Dennett. McGrath highlight problems with this theory explaining the differences namely Genes are selected not instructed.
If you enjoy the works of Richard Dawkins then why not give this book a try, you may not agree with all that is written, but that in my opinion is the beauty of reading both Dawkins and McGrath.
2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Talk is cheap,
This review is from: Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life (Paperback)In this book, and The Dawkins Delusion, Alister McGrath (AM) frequently refers to 'evidence based thinking' and 'scholarly research'. He also accuse Richard Dawkins (RD) of preaching to the choir, and using turbo-charged rhetoric.
A significant part of this book is devoted to the question of faith.
AM :- "Lets begin by looking at that definition of faith (used by RD) and ask where it comes from. Faith means"blind trust,in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence" But why should anyone accept this ludicrous definition?.....So what is the evidence that anyone - let alone religious people - defines "faith" in this ludicrous way? The simple fact is that Dawkins offers no defence of this definition, which bears little relation to any religious (or any other) sense of the word.........It is Dawkins own definition, constructed with his own agenda in mind.....This definition is itself a piece of rhetoric, devised to meet the needs of Dawkins' agenda.....His idiosyncratic definition is his own invention, created, it would seem, for purely polemical purposes."
Collins English Dictionary (1998) (most important entries first)
faith 1.strong or unshakeable belief in something, esp. without proof or evidence.
2. a specific system of religious beliefs: the Jewish faith
3. Christianity.trust in God and in his actions and promises.
4. a conviction of the truth of certain doctrines of religion,esp. when this is not based on reason.
5. complete confidence or trust in a person, remedy etc.
6. any set of firmly held principles or beliefs.
7. allegiance or loyalty as to a person or cause...
(I take unshakeable to mean - it does not matter what you tell or show me, I will not change my mind - as close to blind, against the evidence etc. as you could wish.
The other mainstream dictionaries are similar, although not all include evidence in 1.
It is clear, from context etc. that RD was using 1. - he frequently warns against taking someones word for anything, without supporting evidence - as does the motto of the Royal Society.
It is also clear that he did not invent it himself.
There is a response that I have encountered, namely "I know lots of Christians, and none of them would define faith in that way"...but how would they describe the Young Earth creationists who deny all the evidence that the Earth is more than 6000 years old, and explain the Grand Canyon as being carved out by water escaping from Noah's Flood, (it's true, they do) ignoring all the obvious questions, such as, if the flood was world-wide where was the water flowing, from and to, why does the Grand Canyon meander, even incorporating horseshoe bends, why are there so many layers or rock, which must according to them,pre-date the flood.
There is an interview between RD and Wendy Wright,(President of Concerned Women for America), shown on the C4 documentary 'The Genius of Charles Darwin', and written up in The Greatest Show on Earth', where she keeps asking Where is the evidence, where are these fossils, why are the the museums not full of them? and being told that that the museums are full of them does not, as anyone with any intellectual integrity surely would, respond with "Show me", but repeats (and repeats) her denial of their existence, and then eventually goes off in another direction.
How would AM and others describe such beliefs if not as faith?
Would AM and others deny that meaning 1 in the Collins is an accurate description of such a belief, as is Dawkins?
AM has described these as a lunatic fringe - if so almost half of the population of the USA fit this description - some fringe!
AM tried to sidetrack this by going to 3. but even then, he blew it with his references to non-religious people.
The use of ludicrous, absurd etc sounds like overblown rhetoric to me.
It would seem that scholarly research does not extend to consulting dictionaries.
So what is AM's definition of faith? He quotes W H Griffith Thomas "...It commences with conviction of the mind, based on adequate evidence......." AM states that this is consistent with other Christian writers over the years. Well, of course it is - turkeys don't vote for Christmas - but what was that about preaching to the choir?
Just as I cannot find a dictionary that does not agree with RD's ludicrous, made-up, idiosyncratic etc. definition, I cannot find a dictionary that includes evidence as part of faith.
Another example of AM's evidence based thinking occurs when, after praising RD's refutation of Paley's watchmaker he tries to relegate this to a straw man achievement, by pointing out that theologians had rejected Paley by the middle of the 19th century.
There are two problems with this.
1. Watchmaker was rejected, because, in the words of J H Newman, quoted by AM "Nay,more than this,I do not hesitate to say that, taking men as they are, this so-called science tends, if it occupies the mind, to dispose it against Christianity
In other words, Paley's watchmaker was rejected not because of any inherent flaws, but because it did not lead to where they wanted to go.
The very antithesis of evidence based thinking.
2. Theologians rejected watchmaker over 160 years ago, but he is alive and well, and is the basis of the I.D. movement.For all the difference theologians have made, they might as well be in an airtight room on a planet in a distant galaxy.
AM cannot resist taking little digs at RD, but as often as not, they rebound on him.
"Now perhaps Dawkins is too busy writing books against religion to allow him time to read works of religion."
RD has written perhaps 10 -20 books, depending how you count editions of the same work.
AM has written perhaps 100 -200, again depending etc. It is true that some are quite short and there is an element of 'cut and paste', but... "Now perhaps.....consult a dictionary."
AM misquotes Ingersoll, who predicted the end of orthodox Christianity (not Christianity itself,as AM pretends) or is AM suggesting that Christianity has not developed since then.
IN view of the above, I cannot take AM's little anecdotes seriously, especially the one where he was told about wave/particle duality in "hushed conspiratorial tones". This is where he is cynically trying to introduce an undue suspicion of science, especially evolution.
It is true that in principle, no scientific theory is regarded as fully proven, but the major ones are so solidly based that it almost certain that future changes will be of the nature of refinement, rather than wholesale abandonment.
I am not going to discuss memes, - anyone who objects to this should remember that AM took the same attitude in TDD.
I am writing a review, not a book, but just as it takes only one piece of evidence to refute a scientific theory, I hope that I've done enough to stop some taking AM simply at his word - or anyone else, including RD.
I cannot resist one cheap shot of my own. Apart from the recent census report, the most worrying thing the Christian community has encountered has been AM's The Twilight of Atheism.(I did say it was cheap)
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Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life by Alister E. McGrath (Paperback - 18 Oct 2004)