Alister McGrath Responds to Richard Dawkins


“tothesource: In your The Dawkins Delusion? you take atheist Richard Dawkins to task for sloppy, even embarrassing arguments against the existence of God.   You are not alone.  Dawkins’s fellow atheist Michael Ruse has said that Dawkins’s God Delusion “makes me embarrassed to be an atheist.”  As you make clear, you are a theist, yet you seem almost disappointed in the caliber of Dawkins’s arguments.  Is that so?

Alister McGrath: Yes, I am disappointed. I would have expected an Oxford professor to use a much more careful, scholarly approach, always trying to see an opponent at his best, and not using simplistic generalizations. I can entirely understand why Michael Ruse and many other atheists are embarrassed by The God Delusion. What concerns me most, however, is what this book shows us about today’s atheism. I think this book is being read primarily by atheists who want to bolster their faith, when all around them God is being taken more seriously than he has for many years. It is almost as if atheists want cheap, slick answers, and don’t want to face up to the big questions. Dawkins gives them a simple way of looking at life: people who believe in God are mad, bad and sad; atheists are bold, brilliant, and brave. You don’t need to think about things; you don’t need to read books by Christians. You can write them off in advance as the predictable rantings of deluded idiots. It’s very worrying, and shows how dogmatic and simplistic atheism has now become.

tts: You accuse Dawkins of atheist fundamentalism. When you debated Dawkins last March at Oxford he categorically denied the existence of God and miracles and dismissed any validity to theology, religion, religious morality, and faith.  Even more telling, during your opening statement you referenced Dr. Dawkins or his work ten times, yet he never made reference to you. At the end of the debate, after your final comment, he simply laughed.  Given Freud’s characterization of narcissism, that all libido is invested in the self and no other objects exist, perhaps Dawkins’s fundamentalism is really narcissism.  Since Dawkins is an atheist then only atheism is relevant.  Neither the lives of billions of believers, nor the collective works of Augustine, nor Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, nor the countless acts of Christian charity over the last two thousand years seem to matter to Dawkins.

McGrath: That’s how it looks to me. Fundamentalism is really a kind of mindset – an  absolute conviction that you are right, and that anyone who disagrees with you is a fool or a charlatan. Because he wants to portray religion as invariably evil or mad, he has to airbrush out of existence the many good sides of faith. This may well suit dogmatic atheists, but it doesn’t persuade anyone else. Terry Eagleton, a British professor of cultural studies, put it rather well: “Such is Dawkins’s unruffled scientific impartiality that in a book of almost four hundred pages, he can scarcely bring himself to concede that a single human benefit has flowed from religious faith, a view which is as a priori improbable as it is empirically false.”

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