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Thought-provoking and concise, with unexpected depths,
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This review is from: Darwin's Angel: An Angelic Riposte to "The God Delusion" (Hardcover)
There are many ways of deconstructing Dawkins' arguments in "The God Delusion", and none of them require a terribly long book. Had Dawkins gone to the trouble of writing a serious scholarly work explaining why God almost certainly doesn't exist, a more substantive response might have been necessary. But he didn't.
Cornwell writes as though he were an angel addressing Dawkins - an outsider, looking on. The focus of his book is on highlighting particular areas of Dawkins' arguments that are flawed. So he picks up the uncritical deference to certain authorities - "I wondered about bringing in Russell from the outset, as if he were a self-evident expert on the matter [of intelligence]. Russell was surely an important figure in philosophy or mathematics, but didn't he also say some pernicious things outside his area of expertise...? For example: 'Women are on the average stupider than men.' Just because Bertrand Russell says something doesn't mean to say that it's true." - and his uncritical ignorance of other authorities - "Your book is as innocent of heavy scholarship as it is free of false modesty. I note that the author most often cited is yourself...." He also highlights some of the more over-the-top claims made by Dawkins - that religious education is child abuse, that he expects there to soon be a scientific "theory of everything", and that religious people are less clever than atheists - and shows how illconceived they are as notions.
At the end of the book, Cornwell makes his own case for the existence of God, in philosophical terms. Doubtless a dyed-in-the-wool empiricist would conclude that what Cornwell has done is unjustifiable - but as Cornwell points out, "The question 'Why is there anything rather than nothing?' is not a final bid for evidence but a quest for meaning or sense that has begun in a moment of wonder that there is anything at all. You ridicule the quest because you do not seem to understand it. If you understood it, you would not ridicule it even if you felt unable to go there yourself. That you do not understand it is shown by the fact that you actually think that this 'argument for God' is an argument for the ludicrous anthropomorphic deity that rightly appals you."
The book is eminently quotable, and yet it reaches surprising depths. Although I have already rejected Dawkins' arguments in TGD for various reasons (some of which I was pleased to see crop up in Cornwell's book), there were certain aspects of what Cornwell wrote which gave me pause for thought as well. I suspect that my own worldview has shifted somewhat as a consequence of reading this.
Doubtless some will regard this - along with other responses to Dawkins' book - as opportunistic publishing. Unfortunately, authors like Cornwell and McGrath (author of "The Dawkins Delusion?") are damned if they do, and damned if they don't - were such titles not published, then the general public would be left with the impression that Dawkins is actually unanswerable.