“The God Delusion”

Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” was disappointing.  Not because I’m a theist.  The book never came close to criticizing any of my theological ideas.  Rather, it was disappointing for at least four reasons: 1) There is little actual theology in the book so little substantive theological critique, 2) He’s attacking a silly caricature of religion using fundamentalists like Pat Robertson so again no substantial argument (it’s also hard to tell when he’s joking and when not), 3) He doesn’t address any type of revisionist theology (thus from the process theism point of view the book is irrelevant), and 4) He has a radical, dogmatic, unsophisticated, and uncompromising attitude and thus can’t truly engage his subject.

First, Dawkins has written a book ostensibly about theology and science, but clearly there is little theology in this book.  He quotes Luther, Aquinas, etc., but has NO CLUE of the context.  It’s as if he hasn’t even read the material he’s quoting.  Analogy: commission Benny Hill (I think he’s dead now, but never mind) to write a book on theology, and then read it.  You say, “But Benny Hill knows nothing about theology!”  Exactly.  The discussion that pushed me over the edge (in chapter seven) was one wherein Dawkins was relating how ignorant religion is because of Pat Robertson’s view that hurricane Katrina was caused by God because a lesbian comedian (Ellen DeGeneres) lives in New Orleans.  According to Roberts, God hates lesbians.  Dawkins then thinks this is a nail in the coffin of religion.  Dawkins is good at talking about science, but his arguments about theology are seriously uninformed.  Speaking of arguments, the book is light on actual arguments but heavy on rhetoric.

Second, he has a comedic writing style in this book, and yes it’s engaging, but it’s hard to tell when he is joking because sometimes when he’s clearly not joking he makes ludicrously funny statements.  In chapter two he claims theology isn’t even a discipline.  Anyone, a scientist, a gardener, a chef, can comment on theology just as authoritatively as any “theologian” because it’s all commentary about silliness anyway. He can’t be taken as a serious intellectual when he makes claims like this.  In chapter three a discussion of Pascal’s Wager shows Dawkins entirely misses the mark as he argues it’s better to bet God doesn’t exist, because then you don’t have to “squander your precious time on worshipping him, sacrificing to him, fighting and dying for him.”  The problem with this is, he’s serious.  Oh yes professor, the four or five billion religious persons on the planet are all deluded, running around sacrificing calves and virgins to God, and fighting in wars.  By the way, I’m pointing out specific chapters wherein he mentions these ludicrous ideas, but these same ideas infect the entire book.

Third, the book is shallow in that it addresses only classical theism and leaves revisionist and natural theology untouched.  The focus is clearly and exclusively on supernaturalism.  Take his definition of God from page 52: “A superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it including us.”  I almost fell off my chair.  From a process theology point of view, this definition is ludicrous.  Every idea in the definition, other than “intelligence,” is false.  Talk about the ULTIMATE straw man!  With a definition like this, it’s fairly easy to then go ahead and rip classical theology to shreds.  Dawkins’ entire book is directed at classical theism, and worse, at radical religious fundamentalist classical theism.  Why doesn’t he address more sophisticated revisionist theologies?  Because, he says on p. 15, they are “numerically negligible.”  Sorry professor, you can’t ignore an entire branch of scholarship which addresses the main points of your book and expect to be taken seriously.  Thus, from the point of view of any natural theology, and certainly from the viewpoint of process theology, his argument against religion is irrelevant.

Finally, throughout the whole book we see that Dawkins has a strange friendship with the radical religious fundamentalists he criticizes.  The commonality he shares with them is the same radical, dogmatic, unsophisticated, and uncompromising attitude.  The difference is he’s at the other end of the spectrum by promoting atheism rather than fundamentalist classical theism. For Dawkins, all of religion is simply “wishful thinking,” God is equated with an “orbiting teapot” (from Russell), a “tooth fairy,” and a “Flying Spaghetti Monster.”  Like the religious fundamentalists, Dawkins employs an unsophisticated and even crude approach that is quite disappointing.

Next Read:  “The Dawkins Delusion” by McGrath.

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