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Duking it out over The God Delusion

I’ve been reading reviews of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion over the last few days. There are a surprising number of them. Most of them, as is to be expected, no doubt, are written by religious believers, and are very negative, not to say contemptuous. Dawkins is called everything from lazy, to sloppy, poorly researched, sophomoric, careless, offensive and wrong. Quite astonishing is the vitriolic denunciation of a book that is accused, by so many who denounce it so vitriolically, of being itself vitriolic! Since I have decided to read the book once again, having read it only once when it first came out in 2006, I will consider, in a later post, whether The God Delusion is, as claimed, in poor taste, offensive, strident, or vitriolic. This book, after all, is the fons et origo of the New Atheist movement. Sam Harris’s book, The End of Faith, was the first major success of a book written from an atheist point of view and published by a mainstream publisher, but Richard Dawkins’ book provided the momentum for a movement which is now, because of its forthrightness, a major influence in the world. So important has the new atheism become that popes and archbishops are convinced that it is a danger to faith, and have established programmes to combat it. Despite the fact that many less bold and forthright atheists find the new atheism too confrontational and prefer to remain on friendly terms with religion, it is only since atheism hit the best seller lists that atheism itself has become almost a mainstream phenomenon. At the same time that Alister McGrath wrote and published his slight — and often inaccurate — study on what he thought was The Twilight of Atheism, the new atheism was already in gestation. Far from being in its death throes, as McGrath thought, atheism was preparing to become a major cultural phenomenon.

What I want to do, then, is to look more closely — possibly over a number of posts — at the book which lies at the heart of the new atheist phenomenon, The God Delusion. I will do this mainly by considering the book’s detractors, though, as I say, I am now in the process of reading it once again, and reading it, this time, more closely than I did before. But I want to look at it through the eyes of its critics, in the conviction that by the weaknesses or strengths of their arguments, we will be able best to judge what is most effective about the book itself. This may seem a strange way to go about it; however, it is important to see that the strength of the book — which was at the top of the best seller list for so long — does not lie primarily in whether or not Dawkins is a professional philosopher or theologian, or whether his research led him into the deepest and most arcane areas of either the philosophy of religion or Christian theology, but in the fact that it caught a cultural wave which drew a whole social-intellectual movement along in its train. So it will be important to note why, in fact, the criticisms of this book have not bit very deep into its continuing influence.

Read on



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