Dawkins’ atheistic arguments are weak, Oxford prof says

by Marilyn Stewart, posted Thursday, March 08, 2007 (12 years ago)

NEW ORLEANS (BP)--The latest book by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, “The God Delusion,” is an attempt to shore up the faith of atheists, Oxford theologian Alister McGrath said at a meeting of the Evangelical Philosophical Society at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

The event was co-sponsored by the seminary’s theological and historical studies division and held in tandem with the Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum.

“I believe Dawkins’ book was really written to persuade atheists that their faith is still valid,” McGrath, professor of historical theology and senior research fellow at Oxford University’s Harris Manchester College, said Feb. 23.

Dawkins, whose other well-known writings include “The Selfish Gene” and “The Blind Watchmaker,” promotes an evolutionary view of nature that excludes any notion of God. McGrath said Dawkins’ work has become increasingly crusading and anti-religious.

McGrath read a portion of The God Delusion in which Dawkins says he hopes “religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.”

“Dawkins’ assertion that science disproves God is not right. The evidence isn’t there and his argument is weak,” said McGrath, who holds doctorates in molecular biophysics and Christian theology.

A former atheist, McGrath has written extensively on the subjects of theology and science and on atheism grounded in the natural sciences. McGrath’s response to Dawkins, titled “The Dawkins Delusion: Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine,” soon will be released in the United States.

McGrath said Dawkins attempts to build a case on five points: belief in God is irrational; science disproves God; faith can be explained on scientific grounds; religion gives an impoverished view of the universe; and belief in God leads to violence.

Dawkins dismisses belief in God as infantile and akin to believing in the tooth fairy, but McGrath noted that people do not begin believing in the tooth fairy in adulthood whereas many people have come to faith in God as adults.

Atheism and theism are both faiths and neither can prove their position with 100 percent certainty through the natural sciences, McGrath said. Science does not necessitate atheism or theism, and the question of God’s existence must be resolved through other means, he said.

McGrath cited the late C.S. Lewis, a renowned apologist who pondered which worldview makes the most sense of what can be observed and experienced in the world.

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else,” Lewis wrote in “The Weight of Glory.”

Dawkins’ claim that science proves there is no God is implausible in light of the significant number of Christian scientists, McGrath said, adding that even Dawkins admits Darwinian evolution is subject to revision as new facts come to light. This shows the provisional nature of scientific knowledge, McGrath said.

“If the sciences are inferential in their methodology and hence provisional in their conclusions, how can Dawkins present atheism as the certain outcome of the scientific project?” McGrath asked.

To Dawkins, belief in God is a projection of human longings and a type of wish-fulfillment, McGrath said. Such an argument works against atheism as well, he added, since an atheist wishes there is no God and therefore believes there is no God.

Dawkins concludes that belief in God is caused by “a virus of the mind,” McGrath said. With no observational evidence for mind viruses, McGrath countered that atheism also could be attributed to a virus of the mind.

“Dawkins ends up making the totally subjective, unscientific argument that his own beliefs are not viruses, but those he dislikes are,” McGrath said.

Rather than the puny, medieval universe Dawkins claims Christians embrace, McGrath said Christians see a majestic creation pointing to a majestic Creator. Christians can appreciate both the beauty of the earth and the mathematical models that describe it, McGrath said.

As a native of Northern Ireland, McGrath acknowledged the violence carried out in God’s name but also pointed to the crimes against humanity committed by the atheist Joseph Stalin. Violence is not a religious issue but a human nature issue and shows the need for redemption and transformation, McGrath said.

“As Christians, we can respond with confidence to The God Delusion that Dawkins’ arguments are weak, unsupported by evidence, and tell us more about the condition of present-day atheism than about faith in God,” McGrath said.

Download Story