I have met and found myself discussing faith with two atheists in the last month. Both of them were young men, who, after learning that I was devoutly Catholic, asked if I had ever read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. I had read it but not for years, so I went back to it.
Israel is Hebrew for “he struggles with God” so I pursue the struggle. I was born into an Irish Catholic family and I now look in the mirror and see an adult Catholic. The scientist in me takes great issue with the objective validity of this set of circumstances. If I were born in Saudi Arabia, would I be equally convinced of Islam? If in India, Hinduism? I like to think that if introduced to the Bible and cogent, Christian thought under these circumstances, I would convert. Francis Collins, for instance, is a leading geneticist and devout Christian, who was raised in a religiously apathetic home and only converted in his twenties after taking stock of the major religious traditions and finding based on his research and his life experience that Christianity offers the most truth. His story cannot be mine, however. I must be satisfied with reading atheist literature as well as Buddhist, Hindu, and other disparate literature to glean what truth I can from it, test the cultural dependence of my own faith, and reaffirm its veracity. I also read Christian literature voraciously with a rigorous eye for weak arguments. My two favorite Christian apologetic works are Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and The Reason for God by Timothy Keller. Even within these two works, I find parts that could be more convincing.
I provide such context in the hopes of defending my disappointment with The God Delusion as the result of my character as a thoughtful person rather than as a theist. At one point Dawkins describes the idea that the Christian God exists outside space and time and snubs it with a, “whatever that means.” From the get go he reveals that his mindset is not subject to honest inquiry – if it were, he would not casually dismiss esoteric ideas like this. When Isaac Newton posited that bodies were attracted to each other simply by virtue of having mass, people thought he was a mystic. Gravity? You say it’s an invisible force? Surely not!
One of Dawkins’ favorite arguments is Bertrand Russell’s Teapot: if a man claimed that a teapot orbits the Sun somewhere in space between the Earth and Mars, it is nonsensical for him to expect others to believe him on the grounds that they cannot prove him wrong. This argument is meant to place the burden of proof on believers in a god than nonbelievers. It is untenable because the idea of an orbiting teapot was not found in every single ancient civilization independent of one another. Though the nearly ubiquitous human inclination to believe in God is not rock solid proof itself, it does exculpate theism from this attack. Too many rational, educated, benevolent, and (importantly) iconoclastic people have been independently convinced of the existence of a higher power to make the defense of God’s existence a one-sided affair.
The rudest claim is that of a correlation between intelligence (or lack thereof) and faith. I recently read What is the What by Valentino Achak Deng, a Sudanese refugee living in the United States, and it sprang to mind as I read Dawkins’ narrow-minded insult. Dawkins supposes that a person who knows how to code in C++ or perform open heart surgery does not have a great deal to learn from someone who fled the horrors of the Sudanese civil war because that refugee has not finished community college. Outside of faith, there is much that people who have little in the way of education and material goods know that people who have both do not. Perhaps they might also have light to shed on spirituality. Dawkins’ argument is feeble as well as rude.
The God Delusion is littered with breaks from honest thinking. This forum restricts the length of my rebuttals perhaps lending them more weakness than I would like. I am interested in talking again with either of the two young men who referenced the book to me. I would like to hear their responses and see if better perspective improved my opinion of the book as a whole. I do not regret the exercise of reading Dawkins regardless. Reading atheist and other non-Christian literature is one of the most worthwhile endeavors. I fortunately followed The God Delustion with the best atheist(ish) book I have ever read called The Bonobo and the Atheist by Frans de Waal. I hope to begin my next post with an encounter in which a young atheist asked me, “have you ever read The Bonobo and the Atheist?” The book’s argument is far more cogent and invites further discussion.