Friday, August 17, 2007

Alister McGrath on the Atheism of Richard Dawkins

There’s an interesting interview with Anglican theologian Alister McGrath up on the National Catholic Register website. McGrath wrote a book (coauthored by Joanna Collicut McGrath) in response to scientist Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion (Houghton Mifflin, 2006) that’s entitled The Dawkins Delusion?: Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine (InterVarsity Press, 2007).

In this interview, McGrath briefly summarizes some of his key objections to Dawkins’ militant atheism. Here are a few excerpts:

One of my concerns is that Dawkins seems very, very reluctant to concede radical theory-change in science. In other words, this is what scientists believe today but we realize that tomorrow they might think something quite different. He seems to think that science has got everything forced out and that’s it, whereas my point is that as we progress we often find ourselves abandoning earlier positions.

So my question, therefore, is: How on earth can Dawkins base his atheism on science when science itself so to speak is in motion, in transit?


… certainly I believe in the Nicene Creed, but I don’t believe it because someone has rammed it down my throat. I believe it because I’ve looked at it very closely and I believe it to be right. I am very happy to be challenged about that because I believe in being open and accountable.

But Dawkins seems to think that believing in God or believing in the Nicene Creed automatically means you’re a very dogmatic individual. I think one has to say that the process of questing for truth might actually arrive somewhere, and for me that’s a position where I’ve actually arrived.


Dawkins speaks to us as a man of faith, a man of conviction who’s very happy to critique other people’s convictions and show us what his are. So he really raises this question not of belief and unbelief but really of what convictions are right. And in this post modern age I think Dawkins is making a very important point: that all beliefs are not equally good, that we must have evidential basis, we must have rational defense. That, it seems to me, is an enormously important point to make, particularly in the Catholic tradition where you have Chesterton and, going back to Thomas Aquinas, a very strong tradition of a rational defense of faith.


Nobody can object to Christianity being critiqued, but I do object to it being misrepresented.

Read it all.


Tobias said...

Thanks for this. I sense that Dawkins is reacting to a form of religion very far from what I consider the mainstream of the faith. His descriptions of God might fit a popular or 19th c. fundamentalist concept, but there are many believers -- including not a few scientists -- who have a deeper understanding of the nature of God not as a kind of superhuman meddler, but as the source of all being.

Bryan+ said...

Well said, Tobias. You may also find this article by Christopher Hitchens - another militant atheist - interesting.