Book sets up God as a straw man

Published March 1, 2007

Richard Dawkins is an eminent biologist and Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University; also, judging by media references, he is what one might call a professional atheist.

[pullquote]This is a big book but I think it not unfair to summarize its main thrust: the existence of God cannot be proved; evolution accounts for biological complexity and the origins of the human race; great harm has been done by religion; religion is anti-rational and faith is blind trust, in spite of the absence of evidence.

Personally I would accept the first three assertions; no one can prove the existence of God; I have never not believed in evolution and the fossil record; most if not all religions have blood on their hands. But it does not logically follow that there is no God.

Early in the book Dawkins tells us about the God in whom he does not believe: this God is a “supernatural creator” and when Dawkins writes of God it is “in the sense defined.” This definition, of course, saves Dawkins the trouble of reading any theologians who might not define God in this way and who would say that Dawkins’ God is in fact a straw man, an easy target. For Dawkins, anything we believe must be open to scientific proof and because we cannot prove God’s existence, God therefore does not exist.

Dawkins is fond of telling us what we believe – usually in order to set up another straw man. So we take literally the opening chapters of Genesis, Adam and Eve and the story of the forbidden fruit included; we are not allowed to believe in evolution or that the world is billions of years old; we must also accept the Mel Gibson version of redemption: “I am a sinner and deserve to die; Jesus has taken my place on the cross.” This saves Dawkins the trouble of looking into theories of the atonement.

Dawkins’ world-view is what one might call two dimensional: things are true or false; there is no room for myth or intuition, although scientists frequently make intuitive leaps and then test them for authenticity.

Actually, to give Dawkins his due, he is a man of faith: “any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution.” This is a faith statement; it is quite unscientific, as there is no possible way of testing this hypothesis in the laboratory. Which makes one think the emperor really has no clothes.

Canon Colin Proudman is a writer and retired priest in Toronto.


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