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Book Corner July 2007
The Dawkins Delusion?  Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine

by Alister McGrath and Joanna Collicut McGrath
IVP Books: Downers Grove, Illinois, 2007.  Pp. 118

            Reviewed by Dr. Susan K. Hedahl

Last year a book, which has garnered much attention, made the bestseller list:  The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.  McGraths' book addresses Dawkins's work and does so in a lucid and well-argued fashion.  Both books are the products of significant British intellectual circles that focus on the related topics of science, religion, theology and psychology. A. McGrath describes the authors: " We are both Oxford academics who love the natural sciences.  Both of us believe passionately in evidence-based thinking and are critical of those who hold passionate beliefs for inadequate reasons." (9)

 While most of the book is authored by Alister McGrath, the couple base their analysis of Dawkins on his flawed scientific reasoning.  One major problem is Dawkins's failure of definitional clarity throughout - both in terms of words and an array of concepts - which typify discussions historically in the area of the nature of God and faith.  McGraths note:  "Dawkins's failure to distinguish between "belief in God" and "religion" makes it difficult for him to understand one of the most important themes of both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Gospels - the critique of religion." (88). 

 Even more embarrassing (one would think) for Dawkins is that the McGraths claims he bases his definitions of religion "by evading it, choosing not to engage with the issues that have famously destroyed previous attempts to generalize about the roots of religion.  His analysis rests on the 'general principles' of religion he finds in James Frazer's Golden Bough - a highly impressionist early work of anthropology first published in 1890." (59)

The McGraths' tone throughout the book is academic, carefully reasoned and often regretful.   "One of the most melancholy aspects of The God Delusion is how its author appears to have made the transition from a scientist with a passionate concern for truth to a crude antireligious propagandist who shows a disregard for evidence." (51).   The McGraths maintain the viability of science throughout this book as part of their discussion on religion, faith and God.   As a scientist A. McGrath says:  "The fundamental issue confronting the sciences is how to make sense of a highly complex, multifaceted, multilayered reality." ( 34)

 Overall, A. McGrath's description of one section of the book seems to characterize the rantings of Dawkins's book throughout:  "...I felt I was being bludgeoned into submission to his ideas by the sheer force of his assertions rather than led willingly on account of the weight of evidence on the one hand and Dawkins's skill in presenting it on the other." (56)

             McGraths cover Dawkins's thinking, including his views on a "god virus," and "memes," and one will find the names and movements associated with the topic of Dawkins's and McGraths' works: Darwin, Freud, and a whole array of theologians and philosophers.  McGraths' own assertion of the role of his faith in his life as a scientist and thinker does not come until

near the end of the book:  "I write as a Christian who holds that the face, will and character of God are fully disclosed in Jesus of Nazareth." (76).

            Why did I so thoroughly enjoy this book?  I love a discussion among educated Brits who know how to use the English language.  There is much to aesthetically delight the observant reader in this respect.  But even more so, the McGraths do an excellent job of charting out what looks like some version of a theological panic attack and asking, if indeed, Mr. Dawkins is not in the throes of one as evidenced by his work.

            For a Pennsylvanian who lives around discussions of the Amish community who forgave the horrific killings of some of their children last year and the on-going "intelligent design" debates in Dover, PA, this book is an essential reflection and participant in those conversations.