Sticking up for Richard Dawkins

I know this blog is a bit late, coming on the back of comments made by Professor Richard Dawkins on Twitter on the 22nd December, but I've been a bit busy with Christmas and all. This is what started it all:


I do think it is worth returning to however, because I feel Richard gets a bit of a bad press to be honest. I have a lot to thank him for, it was his thinking in The God Delusion that led me to ask some very important questions for myself. Much of his work has provided the background to my own study, pushing me in new directions and making me think about things with a depth of perception I would otherwise have lacked, not having the scientific understanding he undoubtedly demonstrates.

In his books, Richard really does ask all the right questions. Even this, rather bellicose query, is worth making, isn't it? Does it not provide us with an opportunity to explain why it's not child abuse to bring up a child with a religious belief?

Professor Dawkins has been roundly criticised of late. It certainly seems true that he has lost his label as the hero of the new-atheists and many of them seem rather embarrassed by some of his statements.

He has, naturally, been slaughtered by the Catholic intelligentsia, and I do understand why. Perhaps it is best summed up by Terry Eagleton, English literary theorist and critic, widely regarded as the United Kingdom's most influential living literary critic. No academic slouch himself, Eagleton is currently Distinguished Professor of English Literature at Lancaster University; Professor of Cultural Theory at the National University of Ireland and Distinguished Visiting Professor of English Literature at The University of Notre Dame. He refers to Dawkins as "the least well-equipped to understand what he castigates", saying:
"Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology."
Unfortunately, I cannot disagree with what Eagleton says here. The thing about Dawkins is that there are really good answers to his questions, and genuinely he doesn't seem to know that. Yes, he may find himself flummoxed an odd time in debate with one leading theologian or another, but he does find a great deal of common ground with every day folk. And here is the most important point. Why do you think that is? It is all very well that Rabbi Sacks, or Rowan Williams, or Cardinal Pell, or John Lennox, can easily overcome Dawkins' simplistic understanding, but his arguments resonate deeply with many ordinary folk. Why? Simply, the same old problem; no one has been teaching the faith for the last forty years or so. With even a basic, Penny Catechism type catechesis, people would have a grasp on the sort of questions Dawkins asks. But we have been denied this for so long now, and the results are devastating for the faithful.

The reality of this is perhaps best demonstrated by recounting a story told by Scott Hahn:
One of my normally cheerful colleagues in the theology department at Franciscan University came into my office quite agitated one afternoon this last fall semester. As he reported it, a student had come to him, distressed because several of her fellow theology majors were losing their faith after reading Dawkins' God Delusion. My colleague considered the book to be so poorly argued that it was entirely without danger. But what he didn't count on—and what I didn't yet fully comprehend myself—was the power of Dawkins' rhetoric. As a result, they fell entirely under the spell of his words.
    Franciscan University of Steubenville is as faith-filled a Catholic college as you will find. If Dawkins' apology for atheism is creating causalities at Franciscan University, can you imagine what effect it's having at other colleges and universities?
    Upon talking over this bad news, Benjamin Wiker and I decided we had to do something. We felt that we have a moral burden of providing sufficient rebuttals to the kinds of arguments that atheists are now offering, especially those of Dawkins, the most popular. We had to write a book, and get it out near the time for the release of the paperback version of The God Delusion, an event sure to make Dawkins' book a bestseller twice over.
When I read The God Delusion, it didn't cause me to lose my faith—I would honestly have to say that my faith isn't a thesis so much as a relationship. The terms of that relationship may change; I am constantly trying to learn more, to be better, but the reality of that relationship cannot alter. What The God Delusion did do was prompt me to find out some answers. Once you realise that there are some pretty big flaws in Dawkins' argument, it acts like a vaccine against similar works. It attunes your mind to the logic of these arguments and you start to question their approach a little more deeply. Reading it has served me well in an apologetic sense as well. One discussion with an atheist friend in the pub led to him quoting The God Delusion verbatim at me like some magical incantation against faith. It served me very well that I had read the book, could recognise the formulation and dismiss it with ease. I think it made my friend think too, especially, having quoted Dawkins, to discovery that I had read him. Naturally when I ask if he had read Ratzinger, von Balthazar, de Lubac or Rahner, he didn't even know who I was talking about. Of course not, and for this reason adherents to the cult of Dawkins tend ultimately to be a real disappointment. Their approach mirrors Dawkins' own in that it is caustic and peevish rather than genuinely witty or insightful, full of self-conratulatory smugness appropriate to gala dinners thrown by people of the same tightly-wound intellectual circle who, after too much wine, trade in spiteful quips about the incomprehensible stupidity of anyone not sharing their own opinion. How enlightened.

In conclusion, I would encourage readers not to be too hard on Richard Dawkins. Be led by him; listen to his questions and do your best to find answers. Be willing to engage and don't be frightened if you don't know the answer right away. Apologise with confidence that there is an answer, then go away and do some work to find out what it is. Then, take a moment to thank God for Richard, for he has shown us the way.




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