Friday, 21 August 2009

News Talk

A shot in the dark - for anyone interested:

I am going to be on Premier Radio's News Talk tomorrow talking about this week's news stories with Audrey Skervin (MRDF), Paul Nicolson (Z2K) and Premier presenter Victoria Laurence at 11.30am.

In London digitally on DAB radio, or 1305, 1332, 1413 MW. In the UK on Sky Digital 0123, Freeview 725.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

The Dawkins Delusion

If you are looking for evidence of the existence of God, you won’t find it in Doctor Alister McGrath’s The Dawkins Delusion. You will need to look elsewhere for that. In fact, you would probably spend more time contemplating “the mind of God”, as Professor Stephen Hawking puts it, in A Brief History of Time.

The Dawkins Delusion… (I believe a question mark follows after “Delusion”, but because of the lopsided way it is plastered on the front cover, I am going to treat it as artistic licence. If McGrath intended "The Dawkins Delusion" to be a serious question, he would have put a question mark at the end of the word "Delusion" to avoid ambiguity, so I am going to leave it out in this post)…

…I’ll start again…

The Dawkins Delusion is an intellectual point scoring match played against The God Delusion. McGrath gives himself 65 pages to battle it out against The God Delusion’s 420 pages, and he isn’t going to waste an opportunity to imply that this leaves him with a disadvantage.

“Yet the fact that Dawkins has penned a 400-page book declaring that God is a delusion is itself highly significant,” McGrath writes on the first page of his introduction. “Why is such a book still necessary?” he screams in italics (pg vii). “Every one of Dawkins’ misrepresentations and overstatements can be challenged and corrected. Yet a book that merely offered such a litany of corrections would be catatonically boring,” he adds by way of a get out clause (pg xii). One of the first things Professor Steve Jones said at the mention of Richard Dawkins during the Theos “Did Darwin Kill God?” debate at Westminster Abbey in May was that Dawkins had sold over 1.5 million copies of The God Delusion. Jones admitted, humorously, a twinge of envy in the same breath as acknowledging Dawkins’ achievement. McGrath will do neither.

Instead, McGrath ends the introduction to his book by telling his readers why he thinks they have got round to reading it:

“This book, I suspect, will be read mainly by Christians who want to know what to say to their friends who have read The God Delusion, and are wondering if believers really are as perverted, degenerate and unthinking as the book makes them out to be.” (pg xiii)

If there was ever a sentence McGrath must regret having ever written, it is that one. WHY does he think that Christians will not read The God Delusion?! Does he think they are too lily-livered to make it through the 400 pages? Or does he think the majority of Christians do not have the intelligence to understand Dawkins’ arguments? I would like to ask him. As it is, McGrath begins his 65 pages by insulting the intelligence of his readers; a condescension that is difficult to shake off for the rest of his argument.

But that is not to say that McGrath doesn’t score any points. He does. This one is a classic example:

“I would place Dawkins (and Dennett) in the broad tradition of naturalist explanation of religion which includes Feuerbach, Marx and Freud. Whatever the benefits of religions might be, these writers believe that they arise entirely inside human minds. No spiritual realities exist outside us. Natural explanations may be given of the origins of belief in God. In the end, this is a circular argument, which presupposes its conclusions. It begins from the assumption that there is no God, and then proceeds to show that an explanation of God can be offered which is entirely consistent with this. In fact, it is basically an atheist reworking of Thomas Aquinas’ ‘Five Ways’, arguing that a consistent account of things may be offered without being obliged to propose the existence of God.” (pg 31)

Very good. A nice return, especially as McGrath takes on the mince meat that Dawkins makes of Thomas Aquinas’ ‘Five Ways’:

“For example, Dawkins takes issue with the approaches developed by Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century, traditionally known as the ‘Five Ways’. The general consensus among philosophers of religion is that, while such arguments cast interesting light on the questions, they settle nothing. Although traditionally referred to as ‘arguments for God’s existence’, this is not an accurate description. All they do is show the inner consistency of belief in God – in much the same way the classic arguments for atheism (such as Ludwig Feuerbach’s famous idea of the ‘projection’ of God: see pp.28-9) demonstrate its inner consistency, but not its evidential foundations.” (pg 7)

I would have liked to have read McGrath exploring the idea of the ‘projection’ of God much more than he does. At best, he offers an ontological response to the idea:

“There is no God.
But lots of people believe in God. Why?
Because they want consolation.
So they project or objectify their longings, and call this ‘God’.
So this non-existent ‘God’ is simply the projection of human longings.

It’s a fascinating argument, and has had a deep impact on western culture. It has problems, however. For a start, wanting something is no demonstration that it does not exist. Human thirst points to the need for water.” (pg 28)

Not so good. A poor return. The ontological argument really is pure armchair ratiocination, as Dawkins terms it, and it is a wonder that Camp Quest uses it to disprove God’s existence in the staple “Unicorn Game”( It’s fun, but that’s all.

A friend of mine recently tried to rib me by saying that I deify Dawkins. Me? Deify Dawkins?! I believe the misunderstanding occurred because I said that Dawkins had successfully challenged the existence of God. But “challenged” is not the same as “disproven”.

The last argument against the existence of God which I read (not from Dawkins) before writing this sentence was that "God cannot exist because He is a contradiction in terms". Right. And the only way to get out of double-think is to double-unthink it.

Note: page references to The Dawkins Delusion are from the 2007 paperback version.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Richard Dawkins "To Become A Christian"

I have just been sent an email promoting this book by Craig Borlase:


RICHARD DAWKINS to become a Christian
According to Craig Borlase, author of a new history of the Christian Church,
Richard Dawkins will join an Orthodox Christian Church, the Anglican
Communion will split, under the leadership of Abp Rowan Williams, over the
homosexuality issue and a new mutant strain of bird flu will kill 11million people
In 2159 AD, a serious study of church history told in an accessible and
lighthearted style, Borlase projects 150 years into the future – by imagining
himself as a writer in 2159AD – to see a hopeful vision of christianity
rediscovering its core values in the damaged and secular world of the future.
I just skimmed through your manuscript during a vacation at the Mars
Colony, and it really does look good!
Brian Maclaren, 2049
Our past, present and future – all Christians should read this book.
Martin Smith, Delirious?
2159AD lays a challenge at our door … the way we live out our faith now is
creating a spiritual legacy for future generations.
From the Foreword by Maggi Dawn.


This is one of the reasons I have never ever had my future told by a mystic. Why does the conversion of Professor Richard Dawkins matter so much to certain people? Would they sleep better at night knowing that a scientist, who has successfully challenged the existence of God, had turned around at the 11th hour and said – “But don’t worry, it was all a load of nonsense. You’re right.”

It’s not a tit for tat game.

There will be a forthcoming post on this blog on Dr Alister McGrath’s book The Dawkins Delusion. I wouldn’t put McGrath in the same category as Borlase, but some of his arguments did make me cringe.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Wasp Invasion Hits Britain

Zoe Bunter, development manager at insect conservation charity Buglife, sounds a bit like my landlord in today’s Telegraph.

"We have heard reports of lots of wasps about at the moment," Zoe is quoted as saying.
"We have had some rain but it has remained consistently mild throughout the spring and summer so wasps nests have done well.
"Although people see them as a nuisance, the wasps have been working away for months and months eating our garden pests, such as caterpillars and aphids so they do a fantastic job for us."

I tell you - as soon as it starts to get a bit colder, the party will be over for the wasps on the roof of our porch.

Thursday, 6 August 2009


If you are trawling through today’s papers looking for something to warm the soul, check out The Daily Telegraph’s special feature on page 18.

Telegraph photographer Paul Grover has taken a shot of children playing on a street in Salford, Manchester. It helps that the shot has been blown up to fill a double page spread of the last remaining broadsheet, drowning The Guardian’s centre page photo by comparison. But if you look at the picture online (you can see it here: you won’t get the same vivid effect that reaches out beyond the medium. For the discerning eye, this is another reason why we shouldn’t see all our media swallowed up by the web.

Paul writes: “That warren of solid, drab Victoriana is slowly disappearing, as in many other cities, thanks to architectural remodelling and modernisation projects.”

Except the way he has captured Salford in this picture, it looks anything but drab.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Older Women

An article by Hilary Mantel in The Guardian's G2 today demands to know why people aren't noticing older women. "Why have women over 50 become invisible?" storms the headline, "When I was a child they ran the world".

(Here is the article:

Since when did women over 50 become invisible?! That's news to me.