Dawkins vs. McGrath

ET staff writer
ET staff writer
01 March, 2007 3 min read

Is Oxford professor and atheist Richard Dawkins (author of The God delusion) being economical with the truth concerning his recent Channel 4 TV documentary ‘Root of all evil’? We reproduce here two interesting extracts from on-line newspapers that certainly give that impression.

Dawkins on McGrath and others

The first extract appeared in The Independent (on-line) on 4 December 2006 and is taken from a question and answer session in which readers e-mailed their questions to Richard Dawkins.

Q. ‘Why have you not engaged in public debate with Alister McGrath, Mary Midgley, Michael Ruse, Keith Ward, or indeed anyone else who would present you with a serious challenge?’ (James Radford, by e-mail).

A. ‘The producers of my Channel 4 documentary ‘Root of all evil?’ invited the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, and the Chief Rabbi to be interviewed by me. All declined, doubtless for good reasons.
‘I don’t enjoy the debate format, but I once had a public debate with the then Archbishop of York, and The Observer quoted the verdict of one disconsolate clergyman as he left the hall: ‘That was easy to sum up – Lions 10, Christians nil’.


McGrath on Dawkins

The second extract comes from an article by Alister McGrath in The Daily Mail (on-line) on 3 February 2007. McGrath, who is professor of theology at Oxford University, has written a new book The Dawkins delusion? co-authored by Joanna Collicutt McGrath (published by SPCK at £7.99).

‘I went up to Oxford to study the sciences in 1971, expecting my atheism to be consolidated. In the event, my world was turned upside down. I gave up one belief, atheism, and embraced another, Christianity …

‘I encountered … articulate Christians who were able to challenge my atheism. I soon discovered two life-changing things. First, Christianity made a lot of sense. It gave me a new way of seeing and understanding the world, above all, the natural sciences.

Second, I discovered Christianity actually worked: it brought purpose and dignity to life …

‘Dawkins and I both love the sciences; we both believe in evidence-based reasoning. So how do we make sense of our different ways of looking at the world? That is one of the issues about which I have often wished we might have a proper discussion.

‘Our paths do cross on the television networks and we even managed to spar briefly across a BBC sofa a few months back.

We were also filmed having a debate for Dawkins’ recent Channel 4 programme, ‘The root of all evil?’ Dawkins outlined his main criticisms of God, and I offered answers to what were clearly exaggerations and misunderstandings. It was hardly rocket science.

‘For instance, Dawkins often compares belief in God to an infantile belief in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, saying it is something we should all outgrow. But the analogy is flawed. How many people do you know who started to believe in Santa Claus in adulthood? … Dawkins can no more ‘prove’ the non-existence of God than anyone else can prove he does exist.

‘Most of us are aware that we hold many beliefs we cannot prove to be true. It reminds us that we need to treat those who disagree with us with intellectual respect, rather than dismissing them – as Dawkins does – as liars, knaves and charlatans.

But when I debated these points with him, Dawkins seemed uncomfortable. I was not surprised to be told that my contribution was to be cut.

‘The root of all evil?’ was subsequently panned for its blatant unfairness. Where, the critics asked, was a responsible, informed Christian response to Dawkins? The answer – on the cutting-room floor.

Footnote on The God delusion

McGrath continues, ‘The God delusion is similarly full of misunderstanding. Dawkins simply presents us with another dogmatic fundamentalism. Maybe that’s why some of the fiercest attacks on The God delusion are coming from other atheists, rather than religious believers. Michael Ruse, who describes himself as a ‘hardline Darwinian’ philosopher, confessed that The God delusion made him ’embarrassed to be an atheist’.

‘The dogmatism of the work has attracted wide criticism from the secularist community. Many who might be expected to support Dawkins are trying to distance themselves from what they see as an embarrassment.

‘Aware of the moral obligation of a critic of religion to deal with this phenomenon at its best and most persuasive, many atheists have been disturbed by Dawkins’ crude stereotypes and seemingly pathological hostility towards religion. In fact, The God delusion might turn out to be a monumental own goal – persuading people that atheism is just as intolerant as the worst that religion can offer.


ET staff writer
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