Further Critiques of the “God Delusion”

The God Delusion

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I’ve made reference to several fine critiques of the new atheists and their books (for example, here, here, and here), but I am always happy to add more—especially from those who are outside the evangelical fold, which hopefully serves to show that our own (similar) critiques aren’t simply payback in kind.  The one below comes from H. Allen Orr, a biology professor at the University of Rochester, in the New York Review of Books.

“Despite my admiration for much of Dawkins’s work, I’m afraid that I’m among those scientists who must part company with him here. Indeed, The God Delusion seems to me badly flawed. Though I once labeled Dawkins a professional atheist, I’m forced, after reading his new book, to conclude he’s actually more an amateur. I don’t pretend to know whether there’s more to the world than meets the eye and, for all I know, Dawkins’s general conclusion is right. But his book makes a far from convincing case.

The most disappointing feature of The God Delusion is Dawkins’s failure to engage religious thought in any serious way. This is, obviously, an odd thing to say about a book-length investigation into God. But the problem reflects Dawkins’s cavalier attitude about the quality of religious thinking. Dawkins tends to dismiss simple expressions of belief as base superstition. Having no patience with the faith of fundamentalists, he also tends to dismiss more sophisticated expressions of belief as sophistry (he cannot, for instance, tolerate the meticulous reasoning of theologians). But if simple religion is barbaric (and thus unworthy of serious thought) and sophisticated religion is logic-chopping (and thus equally unworthy of serious thought), the ineluctable conclusion is that all religion is unworthy of serious thought.

The result is The God Delusion, a book that never squarely faces its opponents. You will find no serious examination of Christian or Jewish theology in Dawkins’s book (does he know Augustine rejected biblical literalism in the early fifth century?), no attempt to follow philosophical debates about the nature of religious propositions (are they like ordinary claims about everyday matters?), no effort to appreciate the complex history of interaction between the Church and science (does he know the Church had an important part in the rise of non-Aristotelian science?), and no attempt to understand even the simplest of religious attitudes (does Dawkins really believe, as he says, that Christians should be thrilled to learn they’re terminally ill?).”

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7 thoughts on “Further Critiques of the “God Delusion”

  1. Pingback: Dawkins and Delusion, Still | Fellow Traveler

  2. Pingback: Dawkins and Delusion, Still « Fellow Traveler

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  4. Hey botogol,

    Thanks for your comment. How are things across the pond?

    As far as I can tell, Orr is an agnostic, so I don’t think he’s advocating for a particular view of God. I think he’s just saying what a good many other critics have said, which is that Dawkins’s treatment of religion is superficial and fairly crass. He focuses on only the most misguided aspects of religion (which are usually on the periphery of the mainstream) and acts like those are the norm.

    I think that’s why Dawkins and the gang are the most persuasive to those who know the least about religion. I’d wager that for the vast majority of people out there who aren’t very religious, but who grew up in a religious tradition, or have close religious family members of friends, that all of these horrible specters Dawkins raises about religion will seem completely foreign. The majority don’t see their religious family members or friends as wild-eyed fanatics who are liable to do something crazy at any moment. But that’s the picture Dawkins paints, and that’s why he’s so often criticized for treating religion superficially and stereotypically.

    Happy Holidays!

  5. Alan Orrs is saying that if only Dawkins would engage with his *particular* of God – a God wrapped in extra layers of sophistry… then he would be convinced…

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