As he said he would, Richard Dawkins refused William Lane Craig’s invitation to debate him at the Sheldonian Theater in Oxford. So Craig went ahead and ripped his book apart without the distraction of having to respond to petulant ad hominem (entertaining as that would have been). The video is up; watch it below.
The Gospel Coalition have released the seventh article for their Christ on Campus Initiative, entitled “Five Arguments for God”. The essay is written by well-known apologist and Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, William Lane Craig. Weighing in at thirty pages, Craig’s article re-examines five arguments for the existence of God and particularly how these arguments hold up against the popular criticism of Dawkins’ The God Delusion. Craig writes:
“It’s perhaps something of a surprise that almost none of the so-called New Atheists has anything to say about arguments for God’s existence. Instead, they do tend to focus on the social effects of religion and question whether religious belief is good for society. One might justifiably doubt that the social impact of an idea for good or ill is an adequate measure of its truth, especially when there are reasons being offered to think that the idea in question really is true. Darwinism, for example, has certainly had at least some negative social influences, but that’s hardly grounds for thinking the theory to be false and simply ignoring the biological evidence in its favor.
Perhaps the New Atheists think that the traditional arguments for God’s existence are now passé and so no longer need refutation. If so, they are naïve. Over the last generation there has been a revival of interest among professional philosophers, whose business it is to think about difficult metaphysical questions, in arguments for the existence of God…
The New Atheists are blissfully ignorant of this ongoing revolution in Anglo-American philosophy. They are generally out of touch with cutting-edge work in this field. About the only New Atheist to interact with arguments for God’s existence is Richard Dawkins. In his book The God Delusion, which has become an international best-seller, Dawkins examines and offers refutations of many of the most important arguments for God. He deserves credit for taking the arguments seriously. But are his refutations cogent? Has Dawkins dealt a fatal blow to the arguments?
Well, let’s look at some of those arguments and see.”
The five arguments that Craig covers are:
1. the cosmological argument from contingency
2. the kalam cosmological argument based on the beginning of the universe
3. the moral argument based upon objective moral values and duties
4. the teleological argument from fine-tuning
5. the ontological argument from the possibility of God’s existence to his actuality
It is an excellent overview and along with the other articles (see our post on the CCI here) together offer valuable material for campus ministries (or anyone else).
I received a few emails in regards to my previous post about Richard Dawkins and his earlier work, The God Delusion. Several readers were interested in what I said about the book’s critical reception and so I’ve compiled a list of some of the reactions that have appeared in academic journals and in the media, from both skeptics and theists. There are many more out there (online responses from Peter Williams, Albert Mohler, Richard Swinburne, and Steve Hays are also worth investigating) but the following offer a pretty good assessment:
“Dawkins is perhaps the world’s most popular science writer; he is also an extremely gifted science writer. (For example, his account of bats and their ways in his earlier book The Blind Watchmaker is a brilliant and fascinating tour de force.) The God Delusion, however, contains little science; it is mainly philosophy and theology. . . Dawkins is not a philosopher (he’s a biologist). Even taking this into account, however, much of the philosophy he purveys is at best jejune. You might say that some of his forays into philosophy are at best sophomoric, but that would be unfair to sophomores; the fact is (grade inflation aside), many of his arguments would receive a failing grade in a sophomore philosophy class.”
Alvin Plantinga (Professor of Philosophy at Notre Dame) Books and Culture 3/01/2007
“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. Cardcarrying 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.”
Terry Eagleton, Vol. 28 No. 20 · 19 October 2006 pages 32-34
Despite my admiration for much of Dawkins’s work, I’m afraid that I’m among those scientists who must part company with him here. Indeed, The God Delusion seems to me badly flawed. Though I once labeled Dawkins a professional atheist, I’m forced, after reading his new book, to conclude he’s actually more an amateur.
H. ALLEN ORR (Professor of Biology at the University of Rochester) The New York Review of Books, Volume 54, Number 1, January 11, 2007 (Also worth reading is Orr’s excellent reply to Daniel Dennett’s criticism of the review)
“The quality of Richard Dawkins’s polemic against classical supernaturalism is, for the vast most part, paradigmatically sophomoric. Moreover, while civility is not entirely absent from his deliberations, the tone of his discussion tends all too often to be surly, arrogant, and self-congratulatory.”
Robert Oakes (Professor of Philosophy at the University of Missouri) Faith and Philosophy vol. 25, no. 4, pages 447 – 451, 2008
“In his new book, he attacks religion with all the weapons at his disposal, and as a result the book is a very uneven collection of scriptural ridicule, amateur philosophy, historical and contemporary horror stories, anthropological speculations, and cosmological scientific argument. . . Since Dawkins is operating mostly outside the range of his scientific expertise, it is not surprising that The God Delusion lacks the superb instructive lucidity of his books on evolutionary theory, such as The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, and Climbing Mount Improbable.”
Thomas Nagel (professor of philosophy at New York University) The New Republic Online October 23, 2006
“Dawkins aims at a variety of arguments for God’s existence, but keeps missing the targets. He, amazingly, never addresses the kalam cosmological argument, one of the most powerful and most discussed theistic arguments of the past thirty years. Nor does he mention the much-discussed theistic interpretation of Big Bang cosmology. Pascal’s wager is summarily dismissed and badly botched…Dawkins confesses that the purpose of The God Delusion is to convert people to atheism. . . It nevertheless poses no serious threat to a well-informed and philosophically credible Christian faith”
Douglas R. Groothuis (Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary), Christian Research Journal, volume 30, number 6 (2007)
[Addressing the ‘central argument’ of Chapter 4: “Why There is Almost Certainly No God”] “Dawkins’ argument for atheism is a failure even if we concede, for the sake of argument, all its steps. But, in fact, several of these steps are plausibly false… his argument does nothing to undermine a design inference based on the universe’s complexity, not to speak of its serving as a justification of atheism.
William Lane Craig (Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology)
The least satisfying part of this book is Dawkins’s treatment of the traditional arguments for the existence of God . . . Despite the many flashes of brilliance in this book, Dawkins’s failure to appreciate just how hard philosophical questions about religion can be makes reading it an intellectually frustrating experience.”
Jim Holt, The New York Times, Published: October 22, 2006
“From an anthropological perspective, Richard Dawkins’ Darwinian critique of theism and religion is a fascinating read, though perhaps not always for the reasons the author would wish. In some respects, it makes a highly original contribution, bringing a new perspective to the scientific debate surrounding belief in God and other dimensions of the religious experience. But, at the same time, the arguments in relation to some aspects of religion are sometimes inconsistent and presented with a reliance on rhetoric rather than reason.”
Edward Croft Dutton (Oulu University in Finland) The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies. Washington: Fall 2007. Vol. 32, Iss. 3; pg. 385
Dawkins’s polemic against the need for religion is compelling, even if the arguments are not particularly new. Less persuasive is his attempt to explain what faith is and why people continue to believe. So great is his loathing for religion that it sometimes overwhelms his reasoned argument. . . Dawkins steamrollers over such complexities. The result, ironically, is that he ends up sounding as naive and unworldly as any happy clappy believer.
Kenan Malik, The Telegraph, 08 Oct 2006
It has been obvious for years that Richard Dawkins had a fat book on religion in him, but who would have thought him capable of writing one this bad? Incurious, dogmatic, rambling and self-contradictory, it has none of the style or verve of his earlier works.
Andrew Brown, Prospect, 21st October 2006 — Issue 127
“Ultimately, a reader can get worn out by 400-odd pages of indignation… Early in “The God Delusion,” Dawkins quotes Sagan’s book ” Pale Blue Dot” and concludes: “All Sagan’s books touch the nerve-endings of transcendent wonder that religion monopolized in past centuries. My own books have the same aspiration.” Unfortunately, in “The God Delusion,” he doesn’t succeed. Dawkins is probably right that fundamentalist religion “actively debauches the scientific enterprise,” but I’ll take Sagan’s more reverent skepticism any day.
Anthony Doerr, The Boston Globe, November 19, 2006
“The religion that Dawkins demolishes, like the God he imagines as enthroned in its midst, deserves (and staggers under) practically all the blows he launches at it; but there’s a whole other world that he scarcely lays a glove on. That world isn’t necessarily immune to reason’s assaults, but they’ll have to be orchestrated more subtly and sensitively than they are here. Meanwhile, atheists, especially insecure or harried ones, will find in The God Delusion one hell of a hotline.”
Peter Heinegg, Cross Currents, Winter 2007, Vol. 56, Iss. 4; pg. 128
The most effective chapters are those in which Dawkins calms down, for instance, drawing on evolution to disprove the ideas behind intelligent design. In other chapters, he attempts to construct a scientific scaffolding for atheism, such as using evolution again to rebut the notion that without God there can be no morality. He insists that religion is a divisive and oppressive force, but he is less convincing in arguing that the world would be better and more peaceful without it.”
Review by Staff, Publishers Weekly, New York: Aug 21, 2006. Vol. 253, Iss. 33; pg. 58
Also, for those interested in getting a hold of books that have addressed Dawkins’ book and the New Atheism, here are a few options (HT: James at Analogical Thoughts):
David Berlinksi: The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions, April 2008.
Edited by Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, Contending with Christianity’s Critics: Answering New Atheists and Other Objectors , August 2009
Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker, Answering the New Atheism: Dismantling Dawkins’ Case Against God, May 2008
Eric Reitan, Is God A Delusion? A Reply to Religion’s Cultured Despisers, December 2008
David Robertson, The Dawkins Letters: Challenging Atheist Myths, June 2007
Keith Ward, Why There Almost Certainly Is a God: Doubting Dawkins, April 2009
As a part of the New Zealand International Arts Festival, zoologist and popular atheist Richard Dawkins has been invited to speak in Wellington early next year. Dawkins is the author of many landmark books on evolution, including the recently published “The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution”. He will speaking at the Festival as apart of the Writers and Readers Week, along with influential philosopher and atheist Peter Singer.
Dawkins is no stranger to controversy, and indeed has invited it openly himself, with his polemical writing and often incendiary comments. He has been described as “Darwin’s Rottweiler” and a “fundamentalist” in the service of the evolutionary cause. Dawkins’ previous book, The God Delusion, sold more than 1.5 million copies but has been criticized as unsophisticated, prone to caricature and ultimately out of its depth, with even some atheists embarrassed and cringing at some of its claims. But if there’s one thing Dawkins is good at, it’s at stimulating debate. Let’s hope his arrival will encourage the right kind of debate, with more light than heat.
Michael Ruse, the atheist philosopher of biology, has written an interesting post about the extremism and intellectual failures of the “New Atheists”. Ruse teaches at the Florida State University and is himself an ardent critic of Creationism and Intelligent Design, authoring numerous books on the topic and in the philosophy of science (“Darwinism defended: a guide to the evolution controversies”, “Taking Darwin seriously: a naturalistic approach to philosophy”, “Biology and the foundation of ethics”, etc). But in his guest post on BeliefNet, Ruse argues that the New Atheists are doing “political damage to the cause of Creationism fighting” and even a “grave disservice” to science. In their campaign to keep Creationism out of schools, Ruse says “the new atheists have lamentably failed to prove their point, and excoriating people like me who show the failure is (again) not very helpful”.
Ruse is particularly critical of Richard Dawkins, proclaiming that “The God Delusion makes me ashamed to be an atheist”:
Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion would fail any introductory philosophy or religion course. Proudly he criticizes that whereof he knows nothing. As I have said elsewhere, for the first time in my life, I felt sorry for the ontological argument. If we criticized gene theory with as little knowledge as Dawkins has of religion and philosophy, he would be rightly indignant. (He was just this when, thirty years ago, Mary Midgeley went after the selfish gene concept without the slightest knowledge of genetics.) Conversely, I am indignant at the poor quality of the argumentation in Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and all of the others in that group.