Thank God for Richard Dawkins

I used to be (and still can be) a cheap reader. That means that I’ve had a tendency to “try out” books before I buy them. I’ve been the guy that sits in a Barnes and Noble reading a book, sometimes for hours on end (this literary screening process became legitimized with the advent of a coffee shop in virtually book store). This hobby became a routine when I spent time as a traveling electrical supply sales agent. I would have a good day, maybe even hit my quota, and go to the nearest book store. On a particularly strong day, I could even finish a book, in which case I became a free reader.

Anyway, sometime around ’06 or ’07, I was out and about and saw Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” on a best-seller rack. How could I resist such a sensational title like that?! So, I preceded to sit down with my small coffee and pretend to be a sincere customer.

Back around this time, I was aware of a moderate amount of theology, but rather philosophically illiterate. My readings were mostly limited to the works of C.S. Lewis, John Calvin, and St. Augustine. Yet as I turned page after page of Dawkin’s book, I often thought “Well that doesn’t sound right . . .”.

It was a bit annoying, actually. I remember reading his tirades against God, in which Dawkins described him as the most backwards and malevolent character in all of literature and asking myself, “How does that make Him a delusion?”

After stretching myself through one questionable inkling to another, I reached the “central argument” of his book in which he asked, “Who designed the designer?”, I was kind of bewildered. “No one, dumbass!”, I exclaimed to the pages of the book, startling my fellow reader next to me.

This was the moment when something changed in me.

I became really interested in philosophy and theology (which it turned out was something that I had never ceased thinking about). I started reading the New Atheists (Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and the late Christopher Hitchens) and was constantly disappointed by their atheological arguments. They were either missing the point entirely or mere adolescent diatribes against God, nothing more.

I wasn’t alone in my frustration. Professional philosophers of all stripes were appalled at the New Atheists and their sloppy logic.

Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga criticized Dawkins and “The God Delusion”, saying, “If Dawkins ever gets tired of his day job, a promising future awaits him as a writer of political attack ads. Now despite the fact that this book is mainly philosophy, Dawkins is not a philosopher (he’s a biologist). Even taking this into account, however, much of the philosophy he purveys is at best jejune. You might say that some of his forays into philosophy are at best sophomoric, but that would be unfair to sophomores; the fact is (grade inflation aside), many of his arguments would receive a failing grade in a sophomore philosophy class. This, combined with the arrogant, smarter-than-thou tone of the book, can be annoying.”[1]

Ouch.

Oxford chemist turned theologian Alister McGarth wrote, “It (The God Delusion) might appeal to die-hard atheists whose unbending faith does not permit them to operate outside of the ‘non-God’ box. But I hope that I’m right in suggesting that that such non-thinking dogmatists are not typical of atheism. Another answer to my question might be to repeat the same nonsense, this time applying to Dawkins.”[2]

And this isn’t limited only to religious philosophers. Writing for The Guardian, atheist philosopher Michael Ruse said, “ . . .unlike the new atheists, I take scholarship seriously. I have written that The God Delusion made me ashamed to be an atheist and I meant it . . . like a first-year undergraduate, he can happily go around asking loudly, “What caused God?” as though he had made some momentous philosophical discovery . . . In the God Delusion, we have a message as simplistic as in The Genesis Flood . . . Forgive me if I don’t sign on.”[3]

Regarding Dawkin’s infantile rhetoric, agnostic philosopher Martin Cohen writes, “It seems that Dawkins has designated himself as the apostle of a kind of anti-religion, in which it is his job, role and duty to tour the world tirelessly revealing his ‘message’ which is that God does not exist.”[4]

At the books release, New York Times reviewer Jim Holt wrote, “Shirking the intellectual hard work, Dawkins prefers to move on to parodic “proofs” that he has found on the Internet.”[5]

I could go on ad infinitum. I could crush each pitiful “argument” that Dawkins makes into pieces until it is as shattered as his “logic” itself. It’s not hard. “The God Delusion” is probably the worst atheistic inking since we monkeys developed writing utensils, challenged only by Lawrence Krauss’ “A Universe from Nothing”. I won’t impugn his character or ridicule him much further. He’s doing a fine job of that on his own via Twitter, challenged only by Republican candidate Donald Trump. I won’t twice mention his fall from grace as one of the world’s finest evolutionary biologists to the staple of belligerent ramblings from the most common village atheist. Or his whoring of philosophical rigor equal only to the vitriol of a youth group’s angriest adolescent dissenter. Or his march to the intellectual gallows of the “Atheist Experience” with Matt Dillahunty (who knew that “seminary dropout” could become such a powerful credential!). This paragraph has been fun, but I will now steer into more positive waters.

Instead, I will tell you why I, as a Christian, am thankful for Richard Dawkins.

You see, if it weren’t for “The God Delusion”, I wouldn’t be where I am today. If it weren’t for Richard Dawkins, I wouldn’t have the faith that I have. As I read through each of the New Atheists works or watched them in debate, I became peculiarly infatuated with them. I later began to seek the writings of their opposites like William Lane Craig, Alvin Plantinga, J.P. Moreland, Francis Collins, Robin Collins, to name but a few.

As I studied these modern thinkers, my sparked interests found flame. I went on to Plato, Aristotle, St. Aquinas, Soren Kierkengaard and so on. I became lost not in my questions, but in how many different answers there were to them!

After I decided to hang up my hat as a traveling sales agent, and after a while in intensive theological studies and mission work, I eventually entered college as a business major. But I would rush through my homework just to get back to studying philosophy, science ,and theology. So one day, I said “screw it” and changed my major (I still recall an odd look from my advisor as I told them that I wanted to switch from business administration to philosophy). I took a leap of faith.

None of this would have happened without Richard Dawkins. Thank God for him.

But there’s another reason that I’m eternally grateful to Dr. Dawkins, but its a bittersweet reason, to say the least . . .

Young adults are leaving denominational Christianity in record numbers, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Non-denominational churches are growing rapidly and many of my post-churchgoing friends are actually more open to the concept of God than I’ve ever seen them. We’re not generally becoming atheists, but some are.

But there is a common element to those that are leaving the faith for atheism: Richard Dawkins or one of the New Atheists. Even after a decade of dismantling “The God Delusion” and other toilet works, I still hear this quite a bit. As theologically ignorant as those men are, it says something as equally strong about society and the Church.

Let’s keep it real, okay? Richard Dawkins has no excuse for his ignorance of the history of science or religion. He is the one that decided to write a book on atheism after an apparently brief glance at a Google search’s results on some of the arguments for God’s existence. He is the one that decided to write a book called “The God Delusion” without considering any of the evidence or arguments that might support or weaken his claim that God is, in fact, a delusion.

But the poor reader doesn’t have an obvious responsibility to do that. Quite frankly, if it weren’t for my prior understanding of some of C.S. Lewis’ work, I might have become prey to Dawkin’s sophistry. That responsibility is that of the pastor’s and other church leaders, and they fell asleep at the wheel.

The church was told to “always have a reason for the hope that is within you” (1 Peter 3:15), “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor. 10:5), and “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 1:3). But we didn’t.

This isn’t as commonplace now, thanks to Richard Dawkins. Many of our largest churches are now participants in standard apologetics, aimed toward a popular level. It came with a lot of grief, but many believers and their leaders in the faith have awoken from their slumber and taken up the task of defending their religion with confidence.

I think we should thank Richard Dawkins for that.

When someone tells me they’ve lost their faith reading the New Atheists, I am happy to guide them into a more logical direction (their one-liners masked as logical statements can usually be deconstructed in a few modest sentences).

It’s not always that easy, though. You can really begin to feel cheated by an institution that just advised you to “pray harder” or “keep the faith” for the whole span of your life. But that in no way makes you more informed than them.

Now, putting all this Dawkins-bashing aside, he, or any New Atheist for that matter, is in no way an accurate representation of atheistic thought. There are legitimate contenders out there. I’m still grappling with parts of J.L. Mackie’s “Miracle of Theism”, Quentin Smith’s objections to a first cause, and Baruch Spinoza’s humanist-friendly concept of God. These thinkers are (or were) formidable opponents to the logic of monotheistic belief and should be taken seriously.

But thanks to Richard Dawkins, the bar has been set pretty freaking low and the Church doesn’t have much to learn in order to answer the typical questions that one might have regarding God’s existence and nature.

So raise a glass to Dr. Dawkins, he earned it.

[1] Plantinga, Alvin. “The Dawkins Confusion: Naturalism Ad Absurdum.” Books and Culture: A Christian Review. Christianity Today International. March 2007, Vol. 13 , Num. 2, pg 21. Web. Ret. 7/20/16.

[2] McGrath, Alister. “The Dawkins Delusion”. Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. United Kingdom, 2007. Pg. 13. Print.

[3] Ruse, Michael. “Dawkins et al bring us into disrepute”, The Guardian. Nov. 2, 2009. Web. Ret. 7/20/16.

[4] Cohen, Martin. “The Delusion of Richard Dawkins, Prophet of Science”, The Philosopher. Web. Ret. 7/20/16.

[5] Holt, Jim. “Beyond Belief”, Sunday Book Review: The New York Times. Oct 22, 2006. Web. Ret. 7/20/16.

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One thought on “Thank God for Richard Dawkins

  1. This is true… we should move forward and not remain in the elementary and basic teachings, because as you have said, there are philosophies out there that contradict the Gospel we believe. Glad you made a switch from business to philosophy, we need more people to proclaim the Gospel in that field

    Like

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