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162 of 225 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Dawkins, Darwin, and and some muddled sources, 17 May 2006
This review is from: Dawkins' God: Psychological Perspectives: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life (Paperback)
This book it is a prolonged attack on Dawkins and, indirectly through him, on Darwin. Nothing new in that. What did surprise me, however, was the selective way McGarth, an Oxford academic, treated his quoted sources, frequently dropping parts of them which do not support his argument. Another ploy is to constantly reiterate throughout the book that atheism is a sort of childish delusion, an adolescent phase intelligent people like McGarth grow out of.

McGrath says that "Darwin's 'Origin of Species' and later writings must be seen as a nineteenth-century refutation of of an early eighteenth-century idea [Paley's] - an idea already rejected by leading Christian writers of the age. He offers no evidence why they 'must' be seen in this light; far from being simply `an early eighteenth-century idea', Paley's `Natural Theology' wasn't published until 1802. Darwin was a prodigious letter writer, over 13,700 have survived, but in only one letter (Cambridge reference No. 2,532), dated 15 November 1859, did Darwin mention Paley. Hardly the actions of a man obsessed with him. The reason why a few Christian theologians dropped Paley's approach was that Natural Theology was eventually seen as counter-productive in promoting Christian dogma, having nothing to say about Christ and his miracles. Paley's `watchmaker' argument logically led to theism, little better than atheism in the eyes of some 19th century theologians. McGarth fails to say that Newman, and every other theologian, in all other respects was in full agreement with Paley and with his `demonstration' that man and the universe had been created by God.

But there are further distortions and half-truths in this book. We are told that Augustine of Hippo "stressed the importance of respecting the conclusions of the sciences in relation to biblical exegesis", but not a word is said about Augustine's authoritative dictum regarding science that "Nothing is to be accepted save on the authority of Scripture, since greater is that authority than all the powers of the human mind", a stern pronouncement which set scientific enquiry back by centuries.

McGrath says that, "On the rare occasion when [Dawkins] cites classic theologians, he tends to do so at second hand, often with alarming results. ... Dawkins [he continues] singles out the early Christian writer Tertullian for particular acerbic comment, on account of two quotations from his writings: 'it is certain because it is impossible' and 'it is by all means to be believed because it is absurd'. McGrath tells us that Tertullian never wrote the words. It is, he tells us, a misattribution and from this concludes "So at least we can reasonably assume that Dawkins has not read Tertullian himself, but has taken this citation from an unreliable secondary source". Quite, this is a translation. The `unreliable secondary source' used by Dawkins is the Oehler text, the standard Victorian critical edition of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, a highly respected work of Christian theology still in print.

He then tries to justify Tertullian's absurd reasoning by telling us it was all probably meant as a joke. We are told, in terms, that the joke was not detected for several hundred years until it was happily discovered by James Moffat in 1916. But Moffat says only that "The odd thing is, however, that consciously or unconsciously he [Tertullian] was following in the footsteps of that cool philosopher Aristotle." From this, McGrath draws the conclusion that "it was probably meant as a rhetorical joke, for those who knew their Aristotle". But nowhere does Moffatt even tentatively suggest it was a joke. McGrath should know that the very last thing Tertullian, or any of the early Church Fathers, would do is crack jokes while discussing the mystical body of Christ. McGrath concludes his discussion on Tertullian with "Dawkins' views on the nature of faith are best regarded as an embarrassment to anyone concerned with scholarly accuracy". Scholarly accuracy? McGrath gives the source of the quotation as "Tertullian, de paenitentia (sic, for `poenitentia', a repeated McGrath misspelling), v, 4"; but do not waste time looking for it there - it is in another work and place, Tertullian, de carne Christi, v, 25. An astonishing misattribution, especially when berating another academic for faulty scholarship.

McGrath may hold a PhD in molecular biology, but his grasp of physics is startlingly limited. He seems to believe, for he repeats it several times, that the discovery that light did not consist purely of waves was made in the 1920s. He also implies that the wave theory of light was then dropped. Neither of these assertions is true. Light is still defined as electromagnetic waves in the visible spectrum. McGraw also seems to think that 'big bang' cosmology dates back to 1920 - even the expression wasn't used before 1950. Again and again McGrath hammers away at the notion that scientific theories are not to be trusted. He says " History simply makes fools of those who argue that every aspect of the current theoretical situation is true for all time." But no scientist has ever claimed this, Dawkins certainly hasn't.

As for God, we are given a long lecture on what McGrath claims is the illogicality of Dawkins' position and attributes to Dawkins the mistake of believing that 'since A hasn't been proven, A is false'. There is no proof that either the god Mars nor the goddess Venus exists or ever existed, although there is ample proof that for over 2,000 years to around 500 AD they had many sincere believers. As the Roman poet Horace said 'Caelo tonantem credidimus Jovem regnare' (The sound of thunder is evidence for our belief that Jove reigns in Heaven), a belief which made sense before the true cause of thunderstorms was known, but according to McGrath we should simply suspend our judgement on Jove's existence, since we cannot disprove nor prove it.

For me, the one good thing about this book is that it might lead curious and fair-minded readers to Richard Dawkins' work.
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Tracked by 2 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 11 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 19 Feb 2008 19:07:32 GMT
oldandrew says:
Can I ask where Augustine said: "Nothing is to be accepted save on the authority of Scripture, since greater is that authority than all the powers of the human mind"? I have searched for it online but none of the people who quote it seem to be able to locate where it's from.

Posted on 23 Feb 2008 18:38:05 GMT
oldandrew says:
I've managed to answer my own question. He never said the first part of it, but was quoted as such by White in 1896 and this has been repeated by atheists (and sometimes fundamentalists) ever since. You might want to stop quoting it in your reviews.

Posted on 14 Apr 2008 14:03:38 BDT
Copley Hill says:
When an author parades such an extensive knowledge base (and bibliography) the reader has a right to expect accuracy.

This reviewer exposes fundamental failings by McGrath, which reveal him as a charlattan and a position that is entirely untenable.

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Apr 2008 17:41:42 BDT
M. Price says:
I have to ask if you have even read the book. McGrath provides clear and accurate links to his sources, even quoting extensively. To call McGrath a charlattan is quite frankly offensive. He is a respected Oxford-based academic and his work reflects that of an incredibly articulate and well-thought out man. If your only response to a book which clearly addresses and dispels a lot of atheist propaganda is an ad hominem attack , then there is nothing more to say.

Posted on 25 Apr 2008 07:05:26 BDT
"This book it is a prolonged attack on Dawkins and, indirectly through him, on Darwin."

These statements are simply untrue. McGrath argues consistently against the proposition that "Darwinism" necessarily entails an atheist world view. He (and others) assert that science cannot adjudicate on whether or not God exists and to enlist science on either side of the debate is a rhetorical not a logical strategy.

Some of the more negative reviews suggest that this book is anti-science and possibly even pro-creationist. McGrath touches on the philosophy of science, specifically on the possibility of Evolutionary Theory being displaced at some time in the future. This is an argument for humility and can't in any way be represented as any kind of case for Creationism.

Posted on 28 Apr 2008 17:25:21 BDT
oldandrew says:
"McGrath says that "Darwin's 'Origin of Species' and later writings must be seen as a nineteenth-century refutation of of an early eighteenth-century idea [Paley's] - an idea already rejected by leading Christian writers of the age. He offers no evidence why they 'must' be seen in this light;"

I counted three pieces of evidence mentioned. A quote from Darwin about Paley, a reference from an academic about Darwin and Paley, and Darwin's use of Paley's term "contrivance". Now maybe you aren't convinced by this evidence, but clearly it is just not true to say there is no evidence offered. That's two factual inaccuracies I've counted in your review and I'm not even halfway through the book.

Posted on 31 May 2009 21:37:59 BDT
Francis, A says:
"For me, the one good thing about this book is that it might lead curious and fair-minded readers to Richard Dawkins' work."

I have talked to many atheists who find him cringe-worthy. Dawkins rants, wanders from one subject to the next, commits numerous logical fallacies, and persists in miss-information, particularly labeling all Christians as ID supporters and calling us fanatics. If anything it will be people unsatisfied by his book who search out this one.

Posted on 19 Jan 2010 14:49:50 GMT
[Deleted by the author on 6 Sep 2013 23:39:49 BDT]

In reply to an earlier post on 14 May 2012 20:45:29 BDT
Last edited by the author on 15 May 2012 07:03:03 BDT
The attitudes/comments displayed in these creation v evolution 'debates' are remarkably similar to pre-Darwin religious doctrinal discussions. Two deeply hostile, equally backward looking groups of determined 'believers' attempt to pointscore amongst their fellows by repeating the old mandras plus ridicule/insult of the opposing viewpoint.

Charles Darwin presented his evolutionary theory to a shocked world on Nov. 24, 1859 BUT, rather than rationally considering his ideas in the light of scientific knowledge as it was then, the rival factions simply redirected their narrow-minded bigotry against him! Well in similar fashion, I'm going to play 'Devil's Advocate' by mentioning a few 21'st Century scientific/genetic facts which seem to be doing to traditional Darwinism what that doctrine did to traditional Victorian Christianity. Hopefully today's 'thinking' establishment will behave more rationally than their Victorian fore-fathers.

1. Although the evolutionary process can indisputably be seen to have occured on this planet, the 'evolution' of human intelligence is still THE major stumbling block; despite searching the world for almost two hundred years, numerous false claims and even blatant frauds/falsifications etc... such as 'Piltdown Man' the missing link has never been found. Thus, however unwelcome this fact may be to 'committed' believers; Darwin's Theory remains just that. Theory not fact.

2. Under the heading:- 'First study hints at insights to come from genes unique to humans' is a truly cutting-edge Wikipedia article explaining that at least fifty genes discovered to date are unique to humanity. Quote:- Among the approximately 23,000 genes found in human DNA, scientists currently estimate that there may be as few as 50 to 100 that have no counterparts in other species. Expand that comparison to include the primate family known as hominoids, and there may be several hundred unique genes. Despite the distinctive contributions these genes likely make to our species, little is known about the roles they play. Now scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have produced the first detailed analysis of the cellular functions of a hominoid-only gene, TBC1D3. They affirmed earlier evidence linking the gene to cancer, showing that TBC1D3's protein can keep cellular growth factors active and helps turn on RAS, a protein that is active in a third of all human cancers. "I was astounded at how little attention has been given to human-specific genes, which make us what we are and could potentially offer a great deal of insight into human physiology," says senior author Philip D. Stahl, Ph.D., the Edward Mallinckrodt Jr. Professor and head of Cell Biology and Physiology."

3. In Part 2 Born Equal? of his excellent series:- Darwin's Dangerous Idea [DVD] Andrew Marr mentions at length a young Chinese genetics student Bruce Lahn. Forced to flee his Chinese homeland following Tianamann Square, Bruce Lahn continued his studies in America. On Friday 9'th September 2005 Dr Lahn of Chicago University shocked the world when he announced the discovery of gene varient's ASPM & MCPH 1, which bless their bearers with 'bigger and smarter brains'. A horrified commentator said of this momentous discovery that it's:- "the moment the anti-racists and egalitarians have been dreading!" Why? Because the MCPH 1 gene originated amongst Europeans 'only' 225 generations (approx 6,000yrs) ago, and although now widespread amongst those of European descent, is far rarer in non-Europeans, being almost totally absent from the sub-Saharan African gene pool. Thus modern scientific research now incontrovertibly links intelligence levels to racial inheritance. You can verify the scientific detail on Wikipedia, which contains a long article by Bruce Lahn himself.

4. Turning to the Biblical 'creation' story, we now know that the Pentarch (first five books of the Bible) written by Moses were actually memories of far more complex/detailed stories brought by Abraham from his original Sumerian home city of Ur. How do we know this? Because since mid-Victorian times some 60,000+ clay tablets have been unearthed amidst the ruins of Ur. Huge numbers of these clearly contain proto-Biblical tales, speaking of Eden, the 'creation', the Flood etc.... The biblical tale of Lot's wife, turned by God into a pillar of salt, for looking back on the destruction of Sodom is a perfect example. Even in Sunday school, I found the tale both interesting but strangely perplexing; God seemed to treat Lot's wife very unfairly, and why change her to salt? In his book:- Genesis Revisited: Is Modern Science Catching Up with Ancient Knowledge? Zecharia Sitchin explains that the Sumerian word 'nimur' had two meanings; the first being salt, and the second mist/vapour. Thus a simple mistranslation by Moses had resulted in the story being unintelligible for several millenia. The Sumerian original makes clear that Lot's wife was turned to a column of vapour by the awesome power the God's used to incinerate Sodom, Gohmorrah and the cities of the plain; while Lot himself worried for months that he was also cursed to sicken and die! To the modern eye this makes perfect sense. The cities themselves were destroyed by some sort of intense, possibly nuclear blast, Lot's unfortunate wife was vaporized by the searing heat of the flash; and Lot was worried about the after effects of exposure to radioactive fallout! The Sumerian creation story is also subtly different, in that the Gods create thinking humanity by inplanting free-will/reason within a lower but related earthly species (Neanderthal apes?).

5. The Bible is but one part of history's record however. Worldwide mythology/legends exist containing within them medical/scientific knowledge, descriptions of machines/weaponry, information on the planets etc.... which seems to indicate that an advanced society existed, prior to the massive sea-level rises that accompanied the ending of the Ice Age. Everywhere the same story is told. At the dawn of time 'Gods' from the Heavens came down to Earth. Wise and powerful beyond human understanding, these Gods roamed the skies atop fiery chariots, hurled thunderbolts when angered, created civilization, cities etc... and by creating (genetically engineering?) lower earthly creatures, created mankind as a labour force to work the mines, farms, harems etc... which maintained that first 'Sacred' World. Eventually war between the Gods and/or Men destroyed this ancient world and triggered the flood which swept all away, leaving a devastated world in which humanity was now master.

Classical Greek/Roman myth is particularly rich in these ancient memories but the Immortal God's they remember so well are not the mystical spirit creatures of modernday religious belief; they are flesh and blood beings like ourselves, capable of fathering children on 'the daughters of men'. They also possessed incredibly advanced scientific/medical knowledge which endowed them with immense lifespans. The quest's of Gilgamesh, Hercules, Tantalus etc.... desperately searching for the secret of eternal life; thus make perfect sense if, as God/man hybrids themselves, they knew death to be simply a genetic flaw inherited from their human mothers. A flaw which could be removed genetically, as easily as the God's had originally implanted it.

During the last decade so many revelations/discoveries in both genetic science and archeology have been made:- electric batteries in Babylon, model aircraft in Eygpt and South America etc... that the scientific community has been forced to create a new theory:- 'Intelligent Design' simply to accomodate the rapidly increasing numbers of these 'anomalies'.

Time and human 'wisdom' move ever onward and in a strange/subtle way, the latest genetic/scientific revelations now seem to be strengthening rather than demolishinging the ancient 'religious' beliefs. Rather than demonstrate the same unreasoning 'faith' which held back our forefathers so severely, I suggest we all widen our viewpoints just a little. A good start is:- Evolution: A Theory in Crisis by Michael Denton, another worthwhile read is:- The Naked Emperor: Darwinism Exposed by Antony Latham. I am not advising anyone to abandon their beliefs, I am simply suggesting that a genuine understanding of today's knowledge rather than yesterday's dogma can be helpfull in a changing world.

In reply to an earlier post on 25 Jun 2012 22:36:11 BDT
Dear, dear, Mr Banks. Did you not read oldandrew's comments?

In fact this review looks, to me, to have been written by someone who has genuinely read a substantiakl portion of the book (maybe the whole thing) but has used the information for no better purpose than to accuse McGrath of doing the self-same things that McGrath finds fault with in Dawkins' work.

Far from exposing fundamentalist failings by McGrath, the reviewer ignores the many highly complimentary comments by McGrath, who basically says that Dawkins' genuinely scientific writing is of very high quality and that it is only a handful of books and papers where he become aggressively anti-religious that his trolley comes off the rails.

By the way, how many (Christian) fundamentalists - in the sense *I think* you meant the term, do you know who would concede the value of research into evolution?
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