11 of 19 people found the following review helpful
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.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 28 Sep 2012 17:23:24 BDT
If you don't agree with something I say in my review, by all means leave a comment so I can see where you feel I am mistaken about this text. Simply voting it down because you don't agree isn't productive if you're not going to say why you feel it's an unhelpful review. I still think I covered the main points in the text and what I thought it's strengths/weaknesses were. If you don't find it helpful, say why and if necessary I can edit it so it covers the text more fully if there is something I've missed or left unclear.
In reply to an earlier post on 30 Jan 2013 15:10:25 GMT
george scott says:
The definition of faith derided by McGrath as Dawkins own invention is effectively identical to those given by all the mainstream dictionaries - Oxford, Collins , Longmans etc. and reveals the level of McGraths much talked about - at least by McGrath - scholarly research, which does not extend to consulting a dictionary - or perhaps it did. I am referring to the rejection of Paley's watchmaker by Newman, not because of any inherent failings, but because it would lead men's minds away from Christianity. I am surprised at Mcgrath quoting this as he does bang on a lot about 'evidence led thinking' of which this is manifestly the antithesis.
I am not surprised that he can claim that his definition - again, not found in any mainstream dictionary - is that used by theologians - but then turkeys do not usually vote for Christmas. It also makes another of the accusations he makes against Dawkins - that of preaching to the choir - look like a self-inflicted wound.
I may be wrong, if so it should be easy to prove - just find a major mainstream dictionary that agrees with McGrath.
In reply to an earlier post on 31 Jan 2013 06:27:17 GMT
Last edited by the author on 31 Jan 2013 06:41:44 GMT
Thanks for your reply.
1) Dawkins' definition of faith as belief without *evidence*, or belief even in the teeth of evidence, is not a dictionary definition.
See, for example, the 5 definitions on dictionary.com,
1. confidence or trust in a person or thing: faith in another's ability.
2. belief that is not based on proof: He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact.
3. belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion: the firm faith of the Pilgrims.
4. belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards of merit, etc.: to be of the same faith with someone concerning honesty.
5. a system of religious belief: the Christian faith; the Jewish faith.
The only one barely resembling Dawkins' definition is (2), but that states it is belief without *proof*, and NOT believe without *evidence*, which is a crucial difference.
2) How a dictionary defines it is actually irrelevant to Mcgrath's point. The point is, what do Christians mean when they say they have faith? That's the topic under discussion, not what a dictionary means by the term. I've never met a Christian who means they believe things despite all the evidence being on the contrary, when they say they have faith. It is always essential to understand the *useage* of language in order to critique it properly, and words mean different things in different contexts. This is a central feature of all good social science.
Thanks for an interesting post though :)
In reply to an earlier post on 2 Feb 2013 16:45:53 GMT
Last edited by the author on 3 Feb 2013 00:13:10 GMT
george scott says:
Thank you Bde for your reply
I mentioned the Collins dictionary, which lists as its first -and therefore principal meaning - strong or unshakeable belief in something, esp. without proof or evidence. I take unshakeable to mean that it does not matter what you show or tell me, I will not change my mind, which is as close to blind and against the evidence as you could ask for.
McGrath was perhaps foolish to be so emphatic, never mind discourteous, when he asks "What is the evidence that anyone - let alone religious people - defines "faith" in this absurd way?" and ..."
little relation to any religious (or any other) sense of the word."
He also claims - twice - that the definition was invented by Dawkins "constructed with his own agenda in mind".
So that takes care of the *evidence* and also extends it beyond the restrictions of religion.
I note that even your chosen dictionary fails to fit McGraths chosen definition "...It commences with the conviction of the mind based on adequate evidence; ......." so I still have not found a mainstream definition that agrees with McGrath.
I have several Christian friends, including one or two that I have the highest regard for, who are everything you could wish for as role models. Some time ago, one gave me a book to read (The Heavenly Man), urging me to read it with an open mind. When I suggested that she (obviously she) could read one or two of mine, she refused point blank - even though I told her that if she wanted me to move towards her position, she should know where I was starting from, and this after the open mind comment. I quite agree with you about Christians not believing things despite the evidence being on the contrary, but equally, many Christians exist in a bubble which ensures as far as possible that they never encounter such evidence. You can see this in some of the reviews of the anti-Dawkins books - comments such as X shows that Dawkins fails to prove the non-existence of God, (when Dawkins accepts that such a proof is impossible) - indicate that the reviewer has not even looked at The God Delusion.
I accept that not all dictionaries include evidence in their definition - for example the Oxford doesn't , which I mentioned (I do try to be fair), But McGrath did say any. He also extended it beyond religion.
I first became wary of taking McGrath at his word when he wrote in The Dawkins Delusion that Leviticus 25 prohibited slavery on compassionate grounds, as I remembered that Paul (?) admonished slaves to obey their masters.Sure enough, Lev 25 prohibits taking fellow tribesmen, but allows anyone else as slaves. I cannot understand why he did it - its such a small gain, but such a huge loss. I cannot think of a good reason.
If we are not going to use dictionary definitions as a starting point, communication becomes ever more problematical.
In reply to an earlier post on 17 Feb 2013 00:35:16 GMT
Last edited by the author on 17 Feb 2013 00:46:07 GMT
"If we are not going to use dictionary definitions as a starting point, communication becomes ever more problematical."
Yes, it does become more problematical, but its nevertheless correct to do so. If Christians do not mean by faith what the dictionary does, then you don't go with the dictionary over their own account of what they mean. Dictionaries are there to reflect common useage of words, not dictate it. If it were the other way around, dictionaries would never need updating. Unless Dawkins can present some social scientific evidence or written accounts by Christians where THEY define faith in his way, then he is applying meanings to them that may be quite foreign to what they genuinely mean.
So McGrath, by giving an example of a Christian meaning of the term from a Christian writer, is still more in the right than Dawkins in that respect as far as I can see. Think about it.. imagine a person writing about youth culture, and one youth described something as "bad". Now, a dictionary may define this as something dislikeable etc. But we all know young people sometimes refer to things as "bad", "sick" etc to mean they really like them. So knowing what they mean doesnt involve looking in a dictionary, but asking them. Its the same principle, you dont ask a dictionary what a youth means by "bad" or "sick" - you ask them. And you dont critique a Christian value like faith by consulting a dictionary what faith means - you have to ask Christians what they mean by it and begin your critique there.
I am interested to see that you found a dictionary which supports Dawkins' definition. I am left wandering what the difference between faith and blind faith would be when faith is defined in this way?
Thanks for posting again :)
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