Thank God for Richard Dawkins

The title of today’s blog may strike those familiar with New Atheism and the current God debate as a little bizarre, so I guess I’d better explain myself.

A few years ago, in 2008 to be exact, while browsing through a local bookstore I came across a copy of Dawkins’ book The God Delusion laying in the discount bin next to God is Not Great.

Until that time I was blissfully unaware of New Atheism and the raging ‘God debate’. I’d never heard of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens or Sam Harris. Neither had I heard of any of the names on the other side of the debate, such as Alvin Plantinga, Alister McGrath, John Lennox, Timothy Keller, William Lane Craig and Francis Collins, to name a few.

Being a recent seminary grad the title immediately perked my interest and I picked it up. It was a hard cover edition with a dust jacket, and somewhere on the jacket I came across the following quote from Dawkins:

“If this book works as intended, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.”

I turned the book over in my hands and flipped through some pages, intrigued by what arguments he might have for his atheism.

I haven’t always been a believer, but then I don’t know if I was ever an atheist, at least not in the sense it has come to mean lately. I stood for several minutes debating with myself whether or not to buy it.

And I have to confess I was a little nervous. Here was a prominent scientist claiming to debunk religion and prove that God was a figment of my imagination. Might there not be contained in the pages of this book a devastatingly poignant argument against God that could demolish my faith? Some argument so water-tight, a weight of evidence so compelling that it would convince me that God was indeed a delusion and my faith would fall apart.

But the bold challenge also piqued my inner ten year old. It amounted, as far as I was concerned, to a double dog dare in its boldness. You can’t back down from a double dog dare without being a sissy. Although no one else was watching and no one would have ever been the wiser, if I backed down I would have known that I had chickened out and proved myself an intellectual sissy.

As I held his book I recalled the words of my seminary professor, Dr. Stan Fowler: Seek out the best arguments from those who take views opposite to yours. It will help you refine and perfect your position, or give you reason to change your mind.

I’d never heard of Dawkins before and didn’t know if he was the best representative for the atheist point of view, but the back cover said he was world renowned, so I thought: why not, I have to start somewhere. If my faith is founded on delusion, better to find out about it now.

In that spirit I decided to take up Mr. Dawkins challenge. And with some trepidation and a lot of curiosity I bought the book, took it home and sat down to read.

I finished reading his book a few days later, and, as I set it down my first thought was: ‘If this is the best atheists can do, then believers sure don’t have much to worry about.’

I was a bit disappointed, really. I had expected something better, more intellectually challenging from someone who supposedly spoke for atheists worldwide. So lacking in substance were his arguments that I even gave the book another read just to make sure I hadn’t missed something.

Dawkins relied heavily on sweeping, superficial statements and catchy phrases of great, swelling rhetoric. But when I brushed aside the blustering propaganda there wasn’t much substance to be found. Many of his claims were simply false, and his argumentation poorly thought through and riddled with faulty logic, his claims devoid of accurate facts.

But I won’t go into a detailed book review here. After all, I’d be a bit late to the party if that was my intention. The book has been out for several years now, going on ten to be exact, and there have been numerous reviews of this book.

For those interested, though, Joanna and Alister McGrath’s little book ‘The Dawkins Delusion’, is probably the best. And it’s short but to the point – a feature I like about books.

But I digress. Back to why I’m thankful.

Dawkins continuously made sweeping claims to the effect that science had so done away with God that no thinking person could rationally believe in him (or her). Atheism was the only alternative for thinking people, according to him.

And as I read his book, I kept waiting for him to drop the science bomb that would demolish God. I waited in vain. While he continually referred to the science that made faith impossible, he signally failed to provide any solid, detailed examples in his book.

This surprised me. If, as he said, science was so firmly in the atheist camp, wouldn’t it be a simple matter to produce a few solid, detailed examples.

I am a trained computer programmer with a twenty year career in the field, so I suppose it would be safe to consider myself a reasonably intelligent, thinking person. But I’m not a scientist and was not familiar with the science to which he referred.

So I started digging up examples for myself (thank you Mister Dawkins). And I was surprised to find out, as I discovered the many scientists contributing to the God debate, that there was more solid science with the theistic writers than in Dawkin’s book.

I will offer here as a few examples: Francis Collins, The Language of God. Alister McGrath, Why God Won’t Go Away. William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith. John Lennox, God’s Undertaker. Michael Behe, The Edge of Evolution and Darwin’s Black Box. Timothy Keller, The Reason for God. There are plenty more. Hugh Ross comes to mind, but this list is an excellent starting point for anyone wanting to check why many scientists think there is an abundance of proof for the theistic perspective.

In these books the reader will find an abundance of solid science, with plenty of specific, concrete examples of the evidence supporting their position. Dawkins doesn’t do anything like that.

One has to wonder why? Perhaps Dawkins was reticent to put forth solid examples and details because the science was not so much in his favor. Facts are stubborn things as someone once said, and when the details don’t add up in your favor the good propagandist will leave them alone and rely instead on bluster and vague, sweeping claims.

As badly written and thoughtless as it was, I’m glad I read his book. It forced me to look harder at the evidence for my own Christian faith, to dig into the science and philosophy and familiarize myself with the arguments for both sides. His book launched me on a journey in which I discovered the richness of my Christian heritage and the many brilliant scientists and philosophers currently writing in the field, many of which I’ve already named above. Until I came across Dawkins’ book I hadn’t heard of any of these great men and women.

As a result I’ve developed a passion for apologetics that continues to this day. After reading his book, not only was I not an atheist, but I was a more convinced Christian, stronger in my faith. Until I read his book I knew little if anything of apologetics and had no understanding of the science and arguments involved with the ‘God debate.’

Thank you Richard Dawkins. I am a more intellectually fulfilled believer now because of your book. I think all believers should read it.


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