Tuesday, February 17, 2009


“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 2, line 242

I finally decided to read Richard Dawkins’ THE GOD DELUSION. I had wanted to read it for some time, but just didn’t feel right about plunking down the full amount, feeling that some of the money would go to causes which I disagreed with. I couldn’t check it out of the library because I need to scribble and color all over a book such as this. Finally, when I saw the paperback edition on the “Buy 2 get 3rd free” table, I caved in and bought it.

Richard Dawkins is the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. He has authored many books, especially on evolution, and is one of the leading spokesmen for Atheism today.

I know that many have written, or attempted to write reviews or rebuttals (Dawkins mentions many in his Preface to the Paperback Edition), but I had to write just to get his and my thoughts down clearly.

I have read none of his books or any others about him, though I have seen his name mentioned in many books and articles. My greatest exposure to him was in Ben Stein’s movie EXPELLED. He seems a likeable sort. I rather felt sorry for him. But then he feels sorry for himself, as part of a misunderstood minority. “Atheists and agnostics,” he says, "are not organized and therefore exert almost zero influence” (page 27). Of course their influence in the scientific and academic communities may have slipped his mind.

According to Dawkins I shouldn’t be reading this book. I don’t think I fit in either of his two categories. He seems to feel that every believer must fit into one of the two. He speaks of “dyed-in-the-wool-faith heads … immune to argument, their resistance built up over years of childhood indoctrination.” He apparently feels that this type wouldn’t even read his book anyway because they have been warned “to avoid even opening a book like this which is surely a work of Satan” (page 28). Apparently he includes professing former atheists in this group, as he feels that this claim “is one of the oldest tricks in the book” (page 13). He doesn’t seem to consider a conversion from Atheism as a possibility.

His second category is “open-minded people … whose childhood indoctrination was not too insidious, or for other reasons didn’t ‘take’ or whose native intelligence is strong enough to overcome it” (page 28). Apparently these are those for whom he writes. Elsewhere he speaks of “those theologians who take seriously the possibility that God does not exist and argue that He does” (page 14).

I consider myself a person with a reasonably strong “native intelligence,” but don’t see how or why that should convert me to atheism. I must confess that I have never been an atheist, but I certainly don’t attribute that to “years of childhood indoctrination.” (I won’t even mention here the work of the Spirit of God, as that would be arguing from a position that Dawkins would not recognize.)

Why am I reading this book? Certainly not to rebut Dawkins – persons much brighter and more astute than I have set their pens to that task. And certainly not because I am secretly seeking a rebuttal to my own shaky faith. Dawkins would probably call me a fundamentalist, one of those who “know what they believe and … know that nothing will change their minds” (page 19). Of course, he denies that he himself is one because his “passion is based on evidence”.

I suppose that, while I have many reasons for reading, the first would be that I am simply curious. I want to know what makes the author tick – why he believes the way he does.

A second reason would be to strengthen my faith, both by examining the weakness of the author’s arguments where he is wrong and by correcting my own thoughts where he is correct.

Thirdly, I would like to find points of agreement. Though I’ll probably never get to have a discussion with the author, perhaps I’ll be able to have a discussion with someone of a similar persuasion.

More later.

Bill Ball


Canadian Atheist said...

Well, just from our small amount of interaction so far (and I hope there is more in the future) I wouldn't consider you a fundamentalist in the crazy way. Those ones wouldn't bother to look for places of agreement and in most cases, wouldn't bother reading the book in the first place. Since I write another column, I've heard real fire and brimstone fundamentalists and have gotten quite a few hate mails from them in the past. You don't seem like that type, Bill.

On to part 2 for me.

Preach said...

I will have to post one of my favorite (discontinued), t-shirts on one of my post to share with you. I thought about getting or now making a few to give to some of my deserving friends after reading about you being a theologist. ;)