Earlier this year, I led a small group for Jr. High students. We studied the evidence and arguments for Christianity. A few of them knew an atheist who was challenging their faith. He frequently quoted from Richard Dawkins’s bestselling book, The God Delusion.
Richard Dawkins is a biologist. From 1995-2008, he was the professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. While all of his writings are well-known, The God Delusion is his most popular. It established him as our generation’s poster boy for hostile atheism.
I had owned a copy of The God Delusion since high school. This seemed like a good time to finally read it.
Summary of The God Delusion
Dawkins defines delusion as “a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence”. He attempts to show that “the God Hypothesis” – belief in a supernatural creator – is a delusion. He hopes that “religious readers who open [this book] will be atheists when they put it down” (5).
Dawkins begins by dismissing arguments for God’s existence. Then he develops his strongest argument against God – the argument from improbability. Having concluded “God almost certainly does not exist” (158), he suggests Darwinian origins for religion and morality.
In other words, he explains why God doesn’t exist and why we don’t need Him to.
It surprised me how much I enjoyed The God Delusion! It was fun reading the thoughts of an ardent atheist firsthand. The book was well-researched, well-reasoned, and well-written. Dawkins is remarkably familiar with Christian theology, church history, and the arguments for God’s existence. He is quite compelling!
But his case against God is not airtight. It pleases me to say I read the entire book and did not become an atheist. Maybe I’m one of those “dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads [who] are immune to argument” (5). Or maybe Dawkins is wrong.
Either way, I would like to respond to Dawkins on two significant points: the origins of the Bible, and the origins of the universe.
Origins of the Bible
Dawkins dismisses the Bible as fiction. It bothers him that “many unsophisticated Christians…take the Bible very seriously indeed as a literal and accurate record of history” (94). He claims, “Reputable biblical scholars do not in general regard the New Testament…as a reliable record of what actually happened in history” (97).
He refers to Bart Ehrman’s book Misquoting Jesus for support. Yet respectable conservative scholars argue that the Gospels are early, eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ ministry. They also argue that the early church was justified in its choices regarding which books belong in the Bible.
Dawkins is unconvincing on this point. He ignores evidence for the trustworthiness of the Bible, and thus sidesteps the question of its reliability.
Origins of the Universe
It must be asked how our universe is so finely tuned to support life. Dawkins invokes the “anthropic principle” for his answer. He suggests “there are many universes,” and “we have to be in one of those universes…whose by-laws happened to be propitious to our eventual evolution” (145).
Here is his argument in logical format:
- Life is highly improbable.
- This improbability can be overcome if there are multiple universes.
- Therefore, there are multiple universes.
Dawkins offers no evidence that other universes exist. But because they are necessary for his conclusion, he assumes their existence.
Dawkins is unconvincing on this point as well. His alternative “explanation” for the universe turns out to be no explanation at all.
There are many other points to which I could respond. But it would be better for you to read The God Delusion and form your own response. It is good and wholesome to let our faith be tested from time to time.
Dawkins primarily challenged my conception of atheism. I had assumed atheists simply didn’t know the arguments for God’s existence. He also caused me to question parts of my faith that hadn’t been questioned for a while.
So let your faith be tested. An intelligent, resilient faith is forged only through the fires of scrutiny.
Has your faith ever been tested by atheism? Share your experience with a comment below!
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