The God of the Nicene Creed ISN'T the one Dawkins disbelieves in?
McGrath also claims that Dawkins description of religious faith is incorrect: Dawkins says faith, "means blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence." McGrath ridicules Dawkins' definition of faith: "But why should anyone accept this ludicrous definition?" and "So what is the evidence that anyone -- let alone religious people - defines "faith" in this absurd way." And "The simple fact is that Dawkins offers no defense of this definition, which bears little relation to any religious (or any other) sense of the word." (all on page 85.) Here are the definitions from my desk dictionaries at work and at home: Webster's New World Dictionary, 1965: "Unquestioning belief." Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, 1986: "Firm belief in something for which there is no proof." It is not generally required that a person defend a definition of a word found in the dictionary. Dawkins definition also fits the beliefs of most religious people I have known.
I quote the Catholic Dictionary (online - Google it): "Let us now take some concrete act of faith, e.g. `I believe in the Most Holy Trinity.' This mystery is the material or individual object upon which we are now exercising our faith, the formal object is its character as being a Divine truth, and this truth is clearly inevident as far as we are concerned; it in no way appeals to our intellect, on the contrary it rather repels it. And yet we assent to it by faith, consequently upon evidence which is extrinsic and not intrinsic to the truth we are accepting. But there can be no evidence commensurate with such a mystery save the Divine testimony itself, and this constitutes the motive for our assent to the mystery, and is, in scholastic language, the objectum formale quo of our assent. If then, we are asked why we believe with Divine faith any Divine truth, the only adequate answer must be because God has revealed it." This is the official doctrine of one of the largest Christian denominations.
And: "Blessed are those who have not seen, and have believed," John 20:29 (not seen: no evidence.)
The nearest that McGrath comes to giving his definition of the REAL faith is on page 86, where he appeals to the authority of W.H. Griffiths-Thomas who was (wait for it) a theologian: "[Faith] affects the whole of man's nature. It commences with the conviction of the mind based on adequate evidence; it continues in the confidence of the heart or emotions based on conviction, and it is crowned in the consent of the will, by means of which the conviction and confidence are expressed in conduct." The statement is a good example of theological words games and double-speak. McGrath emphasizes the phrase, "based on adequate evidence," repeatedly in the text. Too bad he didn't define that evidence or what the criterion "adequate" means in this case. Believers generally consider The Bible to be "adequate evidence." A skeptic does not.
One of the other points Mr. McGrath repeats over and over is that the non-existence of God cannot be proved by logic. (Nor can God's existence.) He makes the statement that God can't be disproved by logic on, at least, pages: 11, 12, 52, 53, 55, 56, 57, 58, 60, 92, 95, 111, 113, 129, 138, and 159. No person that has looked at the logical arguments would claim that non-existence of God can be proved by logic. Certainly Mr. Dawkins never claims this. Mr. McGrath does not provide a quotation where Mr. Dawkins claims otherwise. Naturally, since no such quote exists. So, the entire point of this repeated assertion is ... rather pointless.
Mr. McGrath devotes an entire chapter on a discussion of evidence: pages 82 - 118 (36 pages, 22% of the book.) I would think that Mr. McGrath would have taken this opportunity to introduce his adequate evidence. He does not. He simply asserts, without any evidence, that Mr. Dawkins does not base his work on evidence. A peculiar and circular argument. All McGrath is left with is casting aspersions against Mr. Dawkins.
One assertion he makes is rather comical: "a large number of people come to believe in God later in life," and [Dawkins believes in the false idea] "that belief in God is something forced upon children by tyrannical adults." (page 87) McGrath offers no evidence (consistently throughout the book). The data show that the vast majority of people are of the same religion as their parents.
Mr. McGrath appeals to authority on, at least, pages: 9, 16, 52, 53, 55, 59, 68, 69, 70, 73, 77, 79, 80, 83, 95, 101, 141, 144, 147, 149, 150, 152, 153, 154, 155, and 158. This is an appeal to authority on 26 pages of the total text of 159 pages or 16% of the pages of the book. I think we can safely say that Mr. McGrath relies heavily on appeals to authority. Too bad he didn't give evidence for God on those pages.
McGrath states that Dawkins writing is, "the world of a schoolboy debating society, relying on rather heated, enthusiastic overstatements, spiced up with some striking oversimplifications and more than an occasional misrepresentation (accidental I can only assume) to make some superficially plausible points ..." (page 9.) I've read all of Dawkins' books. I've never detected this quality in them. Strange. And it reminds me of a story about a pot and kettle ... McGrath: "[Dawkins'] plodding rhetoric and tired old clichés" [page 10, I suppose that why the books sell so well!] "intellectually deficient and half-baked ideas," (page 83) "A schoolboy argument has found its way into a grown-up discussion." (page 87) "Dawkins' views on the nature of faith are best regarded as an embarrassment to anyone concerned with scholarly accuracy. It does nothing for his credibility, especially his occasionally preachy statements like: `As a lover of truth, I am suspicious of strongly held beliefs that are unsupported by evidence.*' So let's just draw a line under this nonsense and pass on to something more interesting." (page 102) This last quote well exemplifies the scholarly accuracy of McGrath's screed and its patronizing, sneering tone. Interesting considering how horrifying he finds Dawkins' prose, "I am troubled by the ferocity with which he asserts his atheism." (page 95) [*This statement is just good sense.]
Dawkins strongly defends and publicly explains evolution by natural selection (EBNS): Darwinism. It's been a significant part of his life's work since the 1976 publishing of "The Selfish Gene." Therefore, McGrath attempts to discredit EBNS, comically. McGrath implies that there is something is wrong with EBNS because it may be overturned if better data are found in the future. He devotes a section to this idea with a phrase (I must assume of his own coinage): "The Problem of Radical Theory Change in Science." Because scientists are open to new data, that somehow makes their explanations suspect? EBNS has stood the test of time for almost 150 years now, during a period of the most detailed investigation of the natural world using the best instruments ever invented. All the data have simply increased confidence in the theory. McGrath also tries to imply (and again devotes an entire section to) that Charles Darwin was a Christian believer, mainly by selective quotation. No credible source asserts that Darwin was a believer at the end of his life, in spite of several hoaxes at the time.
The only positive things I can really say about this book are: obviously McGrath is an intelligent man and he does write in a finely flowing and polished way. Otherwise, there is no way I could have gotten through this book.
I recently listened to a 90+ minute interview between Richard Dawkins and Alister McGrath. McGrath is said to be a great modern Christian apologist and former atheist, often cited by believers. Mr. Dawkins was very polite and calm (as was Mr. McGrath) but persistent in pursuing his questions. Here's what happens when McGrath must confront the real Richard Dawkins, not the caricature he presents in this book:
Here I summarize McGrath's arguments in favor of his religion:
1. Religion is comforting
2. Christianity provides a viewpoint in which to make sense of the world
3. I believe in Christianity because it seems right to me
4. God normally doesn't act in the world, so we have to learn to live with that. But sometimes he does, when he chooses. He doesn't act directly, usually, but through other actors. He doesn't want evil; but that's just the way he made the world. He can act, but he doesn't sometimes save everyone from a disaster, only some few -- but these he does actually save, it's not luck. [sic -- the entire item and "logic". And how, I would ask, does he distinguish between this "God's action" and blind luck? There's no evidence for it being God's action. He's playing word games, defining things to suit his desires.]
5. Faith can be used to promote evil acts -- but so can atheism so it's just as bad as religion.
6. Atheism is fading away because of rising "interest in spirituality." [What spirituality? Crystal power?]
7. Therefore, religion is good and Christianity is the correct religion.
To say that Mr. McGrath was unconvincing is to put it very mildly.
Please listen yourself: Google: Alister McGrath and Richard Dawkins interview uncut video
All in all, McGrath doesn't get a glove on Dawkins. Interesting that McGrath feels the need to put Mr. Dawkins' name in the TITLES of two of his recent books. Coattails come to mind ...