This year, my good friend, and fellow ACL author, Logan Judy wrote a post called, “5 New Year’s Resolutions for Christian Apologists”. One of his resolutions was to, “read more from both sides”. Well, Mr. Judy, challenge accepted. My first book from the ‘other side’, is The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. A ton of articles reference the book. I even saw a bold little tot flaunt its brilliance on a YouTube channel. This book is a commonly used source text for a lot of atheists.
Here’s the bottom line: I think Dawkins failed atheism with this book. In order to support my contention, I have two distinctly different options available to me.
Approach Number One
First, I could treat Dawkins’ book with the same respect he treats the Bible:
“To be fair, much of the Bible is not systematically evil but just plain weird, as you would expect of a chaotically cobbled-together anthology of disjointed documents, composed, revised, translated, distorted and ‘improved’ by hundreds of anonymous authors, editors and copyists, unknown to us and mostly unknown to each other spanning nine centuries” (Ch 7)
I could talk about how Dawkins’ own book has been “composed” and how I’m currently reading the Kindle edition, slightly revised for my viewing needs. Or, about a how at least a handful of editors have translated this book for many languages. I could go on and on about this double-standard and why preserving a book requires edits and “improvements” but none of those necessitate changing the message, context, or understanding of the book. Never mind the fact every book goes through revisions.
There is a big difference between why Dawkins’ book is revised and the Bible is revised: The reason the Bible is “revised” is because we are constantly learning more about the original. The modern revisions are all an honest attempt to go back to the very first edition. But science books go the other way. Science books, like The God Delusion, are edited to keep up with changes. The things that have been falsified must be removed and the things that are discovered must be added. (Aren’t we all glad to not be reading of flat-earth science books anymore?)
Approach Number Two
I could take a systematic look at the message Dawkins is conveying and apply a different perspective. Grab hold of the pieces that make sense—the really good parts that contain a thoughtful perspective. I could hold it up to the Light and see where I share the same view, see where my views differ, and evaluate how to reconcile those differences. That’s the approach I want to take. That’s the approach I will take–later.
In order to do that, I have to address the foundation of the book. In other words, I may have to revert back to my first approach. But that will be intentional. That might mean that this post will seem insulting at times, but this is a one-time jab. This is the stone in the shoe that should make fans of The God Delusion uncomfortable. I’m taking this approach because if Richard Dawkins is going to begin his book with the line,
“…this book is for you. It is intended to raise consciousness – raise consciousness to the fact that to be an atheist is a realistic aspiration, and a brave and splendid one. You can be an atheist who is happy, balanced, moral, and intellectually fulfilled.”
then he is inviting folks to call him out for his intellectual dishonesty. Let’s zoom in on three points from this particular quote:
1. This book is intended to raise consciousness
You do realize consciousness is not physical right; it doesn’t come about naturally. At the very least, it doesn’t come about routinely. It’s not repeatable; it’s not testable; you don’t find it in a lab. It is, for all intents and purposes, beyond natural. Or, as some would say: the rise of consciousness is, in and of itself, super-natural. Oh the irony.
2. To be an atheist is a realistic aspiration
You want to know why this point is in my list of quibbles against the book? It’s because atheism isn’t a “choice” (at least according to atheists). To illustrate my point, let’s start with a psychology today article, “Disbelief is not a choice” by David Niose. In his article, he uses Dawkins’ own understanding to help his conclusion. He writes,
“we can see that personal secularity is primarily the result of brain function combined with access to knowledge, information, and a social setting allowing disbelief. Given the right conditions, the result will be an individual who does not accept supernatural explanations.”
In other words, the mind is nothing more than a series of chemicals reacting to external influences. From this position, raising an atheist, or a theist, is merely a matter of adding the right amount of data to produce a desired result. The irony is: if this is true, then Dawkins is wrong. And if it is false, Dawkins is wrong. In fact, the only way for atheism to be a “realistic aspiration” is if God exists.
In other words, if Dawkins and Niose are right, we have no reason to believe them. For all we know, they are merely conditioned to present their opinion. More conditioning from the ‘other side’ could change the way Dawkins and Niose see the question of atheism. It’s one of the reasons science changes so much; there is no foundation to the view.
Moreover, if Dawkins and Niose are wrong and we do have the ability to choose our answer to the God question, then atheism is a belief system. It is a positive choice to a negative answer. More on this in the next point.
3. You can be an atheist and…intellectually fulfilled.
Nope. To illustrate this, let’s look back at the first point, the rise of consciousness. Consciousness is a problem for atheism in much the same way that the Trinity is a problem for Christians. We don’t have, in our present state, a way to explain it. But it definitely exists. The difference is, Christians will use analogies and tell stories to help understand the Triune nature of God, but atheists pass off the problem of consciousness to someone else to figure out. But it’s far bigger than just consciousness. It’s ontology, epistemology, cosmology, biology. It’s literally everything that atheism cannot explain…and doesn’t even try.
Think about it, atheists are okay acknowledging a “Big Bang” while rejecting a Big Banger. Atheists are okay acknowledging that life came from non-life while rejecting the super-natural nature of such a thing. Why? Because atheism is intellectually dishonest. Atheism only concerns itself with the answers available. In fact, the only way to be literally, intellectually “full” “fill” ed (fulfilled), is to stop pursuing intellect altogether. Maybe I’m being a little harsh (I said I might be), but this is the foundation of Dawkins’ book.
Before I conclude, there’s one last point to make. It is obvious from the start that this book is an appeal to emotion. Dawkins begins by writing, “Imagine…a world with no religion. Imagine…no Israeli/Palestinian wars. Imagine…”. Well Mr. Dawkins, I’d love to. But there is too much evidence that your view is wrong. There are too many scientific discoveries that make life, without a Creator, impossible. There are too many documents supporting my view to be dismissed by a rhetorically persuasive speaker. Mr. Dawkins, your words must hold up to scrutiny. So far I’m not impressed. But I will say this, I very much agree with at least one piece of “The God Delusion”. Dawkins writes, “I shall not go out of my way to offend, but nor shall I don kid gloves to handle religion any more gently than I would handle anything else.“ Neither should we don kid gloves to handle Dawkins any more gently.