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Showing 1-10 of 13 reviews(1 star). See all 63 reviews
on 17 May 2006
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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on 27 March 2008
The book starts with a 48-page overly polite introduction to Dawkins- the literary equivalent of the much deprecated "with all due respect..." of Radio 4 political interviews. In an attempt to convey intellectual rigour there is also an additional 40 pages of reference, bibliography and index. That leaves 110 pages out of 202 for poor argument.

The flaws in the arguments are too numerous to mention but typical is McGrath's berating of Dawkins for saying in answers after a debate: "The fact that religion may console you doesn't of course make it true. It's a moot point whether one wishes to be consoled by a falsehood." but then defending Tertullian for writing "He was buried, and rose again: it is certain, because it is impossible". The defence of Tertullian is that the context of the writing makes it immediately obvious that he is not discussing the evidential basis of Christianity.

Particularly disappointing is the dismissal of memes. Susan Blackmore's outstanding work, "The Meme Machine" is referenced just once against "Dawkins' work [on memes] has generated considerable popular discussion", although McGrath does deign to mention the work in fleeting terms another twice.

The cover of the book declares, "Alister McGrath ... disarms the master". Not so by any measure.
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on 3 September 2006
If you are expecting any new insights, don't bother. The author is preoccupied with belittling Richard Dawkins - who undoubtedly has an outspoken and adversarial style in his published work and broadcasts, but that much is obvious. I purchased this book with an open mind, but find it tedious in the extreme. The author is condescending and asymmetric in his application of critique, while maintaining the pretence of even-handedness and academic rigour. I wonder why a Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University is published in U.S. English. Perhaps a UK agnostic is the wrong target market. Is atheism really a belief system which needs to be somehow verified? I would have thought it was the absence of a belief system. The book is fairly repetitive and has some logical errors, which is remiss given the high-handed academic style.
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on 29 September 2006
Having looked forward to reading this I found McGrath's obsession with belittling the logical arguments and facts Dawkins presents prevented him from understanding The God Delusion to successfully argue against it. What's more, in the process he has (sadly) belittled himself. Yes, I can see this book appealing to fundamentalist markets in the mid-western belts of the USA where education is limited - and this is probably why it was written in American English - but surely he could have put something together for the intelligent and educated section of the spiritual market? Or is that an Oxymoron? To date nothing challenges Dawkins that is as lucid, logical and well written and this is yet another sad example. Perhaps therein lies the answer? Anyway, yet another one for the charity shop...
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on 30 August 2008
I'm still in the "decision" phase over my own beliefs, and over the many "facts" thrown around at the moment. I'll admit I'm leaning towards Atheism..I say this so it's clear where my review comes from.

I have recently read Dawkins' "The God Delusion" along with books by Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens on a similar theme. So some rebuttals to balance out seemed required. (Although 38 years as a Christian with all the Religious Instruction, Sunday school, Christmas and Easter Stories probably should have weighted the effort far in theist corner anyway).

Alistair McGrath was new to me, and I read the first 30 pages of the book nodding at agreement. His opening discourse on belief rang very true to me. The "healthy" nature of questioning is stressed. Very good. Now for the dénouement.

The rebuttal.

Did Mgrath read the same book? I read above that he wrote this before Dawkins published "Delusion" and then added specific notes about "Delusion" after the event.
I can believe that (a cynical cash in springs to mind) But it's the tone that really is all wrong.

Dawkins is accused (often rightly) of being brusque and offish. My feeling is (to paraphrase Bill Hicks)

'He's sorry if he comes across as not caring a jot about your beliefs and thinking you ever so slightly naive for having them...but he does think that, so that's why he seems that way - sorry'

That rubs people up the wrong way. It maybe loses as many sympathizers as it gains (but then subjectivity in this regard is what he seems to be railing against anyway).

But McGrath.... "I come not to praise Caesar .... " "Brair Rabbit" "Wolf in sheep's clothing" ..

After being given the idea that it was a thoughtful book by the opening chapters - I realised that I had been set up for the "sucker punch"

From 30 pages on, the book plunges into nay saying, repetition and "my dad's bigger than yours" obstrepousousness.

I'll cite one example.

Arguing that Dawkins treats religion as a virus (which he does - the Bill Hicks quote could be played again here) McGrath argues that "It isn't"...


Why Mr. McGrath ?

Because it's obvious..And 77% of people say so (an exact percentage quoted in the book)

77% eh impressive ...can you give me a source for this tidbit? Oh no..You've moved on and started another unsubstantiated swipe.

Now I realise that "unsubstantiated" doesn't mean "unsubstatiatable" (apologies to the English language there) but to plough through, either cited unsourced data (oh there are some - but not many), nay saying (the added bits after Dawkins published I bet - one nights work it would seem) or simply re-hashing the arguments already made seems a waste.

Theism has a case. It has a case based in logic not anger and spite. It is thoughtful and sympathetic not relying mainly on the arguments of;

"It's hallowed by history so it must be right" or

"1.8 billion people can't be wrong"

Those aren't arguments; they are facts in apropos of nothing, proving nothing. Serving simply to make Atheist rhetoric all the more pronounced.

I would like to read a book that explains man's right to pick and choose beliefs from whatever holy book they cherish. Points out the fragility of ecumenical pact declarations and what right each God allows them.
Unifies thought to explain the (literally) thousands of religions and gods that exist.

The problem is, a book that attacks an argument whilst largely ignoring the common point of reference (i.e. what the original argument was about), stands to lose direction.

It needs focus, it needs to substantiate it's own claims to authority based on the beliefs of the author before it can launch an assault on the aggressor.

McGrath fails in this regard in just about every respect.

But I really want to read a book that DOES address those issues.

Where is THAT book? - This certainly isn't it.

Could someone pick up McGrath's dropped baton and see where it is please?
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on 8 November 2006
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.
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on 5 February 2013
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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on 30 November 2007
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!
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on 21 July 2012
What more can be said? For people who still believe in fairies, spirits and cruel vindictive spiteful gods that demand murder, enjoy gang rape of virgins etc then this is the book for them. Ignorance is bliss - an ideal epithet for those 'beleivers' who are chuffed if the find more than one brain cell in their heads to rub together. Religion and the Christian's god os a scourge on humanity and the source of evil on our planet
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on 3 January 2006
This is a terrible book that I had the misfortune to buy and read over xmas. The clues are there for all to see: an American publisher (the land of intelligent design) and rave reviews on the back from people who contributed to the book - hardly objective.
All the author does throughout the book is make statements without ever justifying them. He totally misunderstands evolution and the scientific method (presumably why he is no longer a scientist). He takes as equivalent the ideas that there is no need for god in explaining the universe and, as there's no need, god might just as well exist. Utter rubbish and this is repeated on and on in various ill written guises.
And he's also incredibly rude - this does nothing to help his foundering argument.
To misquote Douglas Adams, the existence of this book would prove god doesn't exist as he would not have created anyone so stupid as to have written it (I am being rude simply to echo the author's style).
If I could have awared "null point", I would have!
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