Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Dawkins Delusion? Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine

By Alister McGrath and Joanna Collicutt McGrath, 118 pages, IVPress.

Scientist-theologians Alister McGrath and Joanna Collicutt McGrath turn the tables on British scientist Richard Dawkins. Dawkins has written a series of increasingly poisonous anti-religion books where he accuses religion and religious people of being backward simpletons who refuse to catch on to the inevitable post-religious direction of humanity.

The McGraths in turn accuse Dawkins of not catching on to certain things:

“Dawkins is clearly entrenched in his own peculiar version of a fundamentalist dualism. Yet many will feel that a reality check is appropriate, if not long overdue, here. Dawkins seems to view things from within a highly polarized worldview that is no less apocalyptic and warped than that of the religious fundamentalisms he wishes to eradicate....We are offered an atheist fundamentalism that is as deeply flawed and skewed as its religious counterparts.”

The McGraths offer the example of Dawkins' response to Pope John Paul II declaring that the Catholic Church sees nothing fundamentally wrong with a belief in evolution. Dawkins denounced the pope as a hypocrite and placed him below “honest” fundamentalists who oppose any belief in evolution.

Dawkins' intellectual inconsistency is the central argument of The Dawkins Delusion?.

The scientist fails to apply scientific rigor and consistency to his own beliefs about religion. The McGraths also point out that his statements on religion are actually creedal rather than scientific. Even other atheistic scientists, the authors point out, are embarrassed by him.

This angry atheism is setting back science-Christian dialogue a few notches. “One of the greatest disservices that Dawkins has done to the natural sciences is to portray them as relentlessly and inexorably atheistic. They are nothing of the sort.” This has led, the McGraths assert, to an upsurge in the belief in intelligent design.

Dawkins has added to the fundamentalist Christian unease and defensiveness over science, when today we need to show people that the idea that science and religion are competing against each other is incorrect. The authors make no bones in equating Dawkins' erroneous bigotry with that of the anti-Darwinian religious fundies.

“Until recently, Western atheism had waited patiently, believing that belief in God would simply die out. But now a whiff of panic is evident. Far from dying out, belief in God has rebounded and seems set to exercise still greater influence in both the public and private spheres. The God Delusion expresses this deep anxiety, partly reflecting an intense distaste for religion. Yet there is something deeper here, often overlooked in the heat of the debate. The anxiety is that the coherence of atheism itself is at stake. Might the unexpected resurgence of religion persuade many that atheism itself is fatally flawed as a worldview?”

But The Dawkins Delusion? is meant to put neither science nor even atheists on the defensive. Rather, it goes after aggressive atheists, who are setting things back just as effectively as religious fundamentalists are. In fact, a secondary but equally important achievement of the McGraths in The Dawkins Delusion? is to show how religion and science are complementary rather than antagonistic. “Scientific theories cannot be said to 'explain the world'--they only explain the phenomena that are observed within the world.”

Science will never be able to go beyond its basic framework, which is to understand and explain how the universe operates. This reality should be cause for mutual strengthening and complementarity between religion and science.

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