Monday, May 14, 2007

Dawkins Book Accidentally Proves God's Existence*

(*I probably should point out that that is supposed to be a joke).

I ordered The God Delusion from Amazon Marketplace, where it turns out to be very cheap. Later that day, my friend said he wanted a copy, and had just been let down by someone who said he'd get one for him.

The next day, two copies arrived from the Amazon trader. How do you explain a coincidence like that? It proves there must be some kind of providence, surely!

But wait a minute, if I now get away without paying for the second copy, it proves there is no justice in the Universe and God doesn't exist.

Unless God is doing it as a double bluff (which, as we all know, ends up with him disappearing in a puff of logic).

Anyway, sent by God or not, this book is irritating. There's good stuff here, but Dawkins is, well a bit bumptious. He's so sure of himself, you begin to wonder whose God Delusion he's talking about. Which is strange. In the Blind Watchmaker and his other science books, on his home territory, you're faced with his awe and wonder. He wants to know more, and he's keen to explore.

When he steps into someone else's world, he's just not interested to know or see more than what he considers obvious.

"Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology," says Terry Eagleton in his review (I found it through Wikipedia).

Dawkins lays out the most obvious reasons we know the stories of the Virgin Birth must have been invented later. Well, yes. Father Christmas wasn't there either.

Meanwhile, in the real world of scholarship, you have John Dominic Crossan. With my limited reading, he's a very random example, but his Jesus: a Revolutionary Biography got plaudits from senior Catholics and goes much further. "How many years was Easter Sunday?" asks Crossan. How long did it take after Jesus' death for the resurrection narrative to emerge? Crossan is far too sophisticated to say the stories were made up, but he's not talking of a literal resurrection.

What Dawkins says from the outside, falls well short of things that are being said on the inside - at least of the kind of church I'd have anything to do with.

There are fundamentalists out there ignoring the facts, and they are easy targets for him. And there are way too many liberals not standing up for the facts as we can know them. Dawkins has a lot of common ground with liberals - and uses it to good effect when he joins with the former Bishop of Oxford to campaign against a school which is teaching creationism in this country.

But liberals almost irritate him more than the evangelicals. They're scarcely recognisable as Christians at all, he says.

So instead of really engaging with any of them, he steps back into his comfort zone, quoting people he likes, and who he agrees with (they are always "devastating", or "penetrating" because they agree with him), and going off on lengthy footnotes that are supposed to amuse us into liking him. And the whole thing is wrapped up with back-slapping quotes on the jacket from Derren Brown and Brian Eno who are experts on, what exactly?


J. K. Jones said...

Dawkins is annoying because he has not adequately proven that the traditional arguments for God’s existence, especially the cosmological and teleological arguments, do not work. God’s existence has been proven. The arguments are out there ( There is no doubt.

Peter Judge said...

Thank you for your contribution. Of course, there's no need to prove God's existence, now Bill Oddie is back on BBC TV's Springwatch.

As I said last year, he's a bearded chap who cares about every sparrow. He's God.

Seriously, I'm sorry to say the actual consensus out there is that the proofs of God don't work. He's unproven and unprovable.

Dawkins' contention is that God isn't even a very useful hypothesis if you want to explain the universe. The theory doesn't explain where the creator comes from, so it doesn't actually "explain" anything. God simply isn't a good scientific theory.

I never thought God WAS a scientific theory, and I think people who try to treat God that way deserve all the discomfort Dawkins can provide.

I "feel" there's another role for God that isn't a failed scientific theory. I'm aware that I'm open to accusations of holding the "separate magisterium" position, and maybe I do.