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The Big Bad Wolf, Theism and the Foundations of Intelligent Design

A Review of Richard Dawkins', The God Delusion, (Bantam, 2006)

by Peter S. Williams (MA, MPhil)

The man described as "Darwin's Rotweiller" 1 (by supporter Charles Simonyi) has evolved to metaphorically resemble the big bad wolf of nursery rhyme fame, and he is on a mission to liberate the pigs (the analogy is mine, not his) from what he sees as their prisons of straw. Indeed, Zoologist Richard Dawkins is so intent on blowing down straw houses that he not only acknowledges the existence of firm foundations that might be used for permanent constructions, but he fails to notice that some of the pigs are building on just such a wolf-endorsed foundation with bricks and mortar more than adequate to the task of withstanding all his huffing and puffing. 2 Dawkins, who is Oxford University's Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, has been described as "materialistic, reductionist and overtly anti-religious." 3 Nevertheless, The God Delusion - which is descended by design from Dawkins' two-part television series The Root of all Evil? 4 - is Dawkins' first book to make a direct attack upon religion (especially theism, and most especially Christianity): "If this books works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down." 5

Dawkins thinks that if his book fails to have the desired effect, this can only be because "dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads are immune to argument, their resistance built up over years of childhood indoctrination using methods [such as issuing] a dire warning to avoid even opening a book like this, which is surely a work of Satan." 6 On the other hand, anyone who is "open-minded", whose "childhood indoctrination was not too insidious... or whose native intelligence is strong enough to overcome it", will "need only a little encouragement to break free of the vice of religion altogether." 7

The God Delusion is certainly the work of a passionate and rhetorically savvy writer capable of making good points against authoritarian religious fundamentalism. For example, I wholeheartedly agree with Dawkins about the hazards of illiberally encouraging an unbiblical blind faith:

Teaching children that unquestioned faith is a virtue primes them - given certain other ingredients that are not hard to come by - to grow up into potentially lethal weapons for the future jihads or crusades... If children were taught to question and think through their beliefs, instead of being taught the superior virtue of faith without question, it is a good bet that there would be no suicide bombers. 8

Likewise, I stand shoulder to shoulder with Dawkins in being appalled at the un-Christ-like attitude displayed by many people who profess to own the name of Christ. It is shameful that Dawkins can quote American writer Ann Coulter saying: "I defy any of my co-religionists to tell me they do not laugh at the idea of Dawkins burning in hell." 9 I for one do not laugh at the idea of Dawkins burning in hell (not that I think hell involves literal burning, and not that I would presume to forecast Dawkins' eternal destination). Coulter should attend to the following verses of scripture: James 3:9-10, 1 Peter 3:15-16 and Luke 5:27-36. Dawkins ends his first chapter with the following pledge: "I shall not go out of my way to offend, but nor shall I don kid gloves to handle religion more gently that I would handle anything else." 10 Critics should extend Dawkins the same courtesy.

However, it would be an instance of kid glove donning not to note that Dawkins simply doesn't recognize when he is out of his philosophical depth. Antony Latham is correct when he laments that "Dawkins clearly has an inflated idea of his competence in metaphysics." 11 And as Oxford theologian Alister McGrath comments:

Dawkins' engagement with theology is superficial and inaccurate, often amounting to little more than cheap point scoring... His tendency to misrepresent the views of his opponents is the least attractive aspect of his writings. It simply reinforces the perception that he inhabits a hermetically sealed conceptual world, impervious to a genuine engagement with religion. 12

Terry Eagleton passes similar comment in the London Review of Books:

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. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don't believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be. If they were asked to pass judgment on phenomenology or the geopolitics of South Asia, they would no doubt bone up on the question as assiduously as they could. When it comes to theology, however, any shoddy old travesty will pass muster...critics of the richest, most enduring form of popular culture in human history have a moral obligation to confront that case at its most persuasive, rather than grabbing themselves a victory on the cheap by savaging it as so much garbage and gobbledygook. 13

The God Delusion is liberally sprinkled with imaginary opponents ("Here is the message that an imaginary "intelligent design theorist" might broadcast..." 14 , "the following statement from an imaginary apologist..." 15 , "My imaginary religious apologist..." 16 , "Let's invent an imaginary quotation from a moral philosopher..." 17 ), as if Dawkins can't be bothered to engaging with the real opposition. Aside from an unfortunate determination to tackle straw men, the most noteworthy and controversial aspect of Dawkins' apologetic is his support for the theoretical underpinnings of Intelligent Design Theory. Most significantly, Dawkins makes it clear the intelligent design is a scientific theory.


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