In the last six months, Oxford University biologist Richard Dawkins' latest book, The God Delusion has been near the top of the non-fiction best seller lists. I haven't read it, but you can read Richard's summary of his ideas here.
Dawkins' strong anti-God views have generated much comment. The atheists love it and the theists criticise it, as you might expect - Wikipedia has a summary of comments. I won't quote the obvious for and against responses, but there are a few interesting ones - believers who give Dawkins some credit or non-believers who find his views simplistic and erroneous. Here is a sample:
- "[if discussions about disagreements between science and religion] are to be worthwhile, they will have to take place at a far higher level of sophistication than Richard Dawkins seems either willing or able to muster." H. Allen Orr, Professor of Biology, University of Rochester.
- "11/2 cheers for Richard Dawkins. There's so much to applaud in Richard Dawkins. Such as his rage against bad religion. But he's out of his depth in his new book, The God Delusion, when he attacks all forms of faith." Stephen Tomkins, Ship of Fools website.
- "The more they [card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins] detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be." Terry Eagleton, Marxist and Professor of English Literature at Manchester University in "Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching".
Now Dawkins' fellow Oxford academic and long time critic, Alister McGrath, has co-authored a response to "The God Delusion", a book titled (you guessed it!) "The Dawkins Delusion". McGrath has previously published "Dawkins' God", which critiques Dawkins' views on religion (read a summary of his views here) and "The Twilight of Atheism" which charts what McGrath sees as the rise and decline of atheism over the past 200 years from a historical perspective. Predictably, his new book has been greeted with scorn by atheists and approval by believers.
The critics say that McGrath does not offer any argument to support his belief in God, but this appears to miss the point. McGrath has already attempted that elsewhere. In this book, rather than discussing reasons to believe in God, McGrath appears to be analysing Dawkins' thought, and discussing whether religion is really the source of so much evil and whether its elimination would make the world a better place - read McGrath's own summary here.
While Dawkins seems to me to be more comfortable as a writer than as a debater, McGrath seems to be the type who would relish a full-on debate. I'm only aware of one occasion when the two have discussed their very different views, during the TV program "The Root of All Evil?", but unfortunately the discussion was not included in the final program.
In recent times, it seems that atheism has become much more militant, and the belief-unbelief debate seems to have become much more polarised. Both believers and unbelievers can read about science and religion from experts writing from their own perspective and which don't necessarily represent their opponents' views fairly. Each side can have firmly held views on the falsity of the opposing view, when in fact they lack any real understanding of it. Writers are viewed as authoritative, not because of their learning, but because their views are known in advance to be "acceptable". It seems to me to be a pity.
So, granted the criticism of Dawkins' lack of understanding and scholarship even by those who otherwise agree with him, I can't help feeling it would be a pity if people who read Dawkins uncritically don't read McGrath as well.