Alister and Joanna Collicut McGrath wrote The Dawkins Delusion in 2007 and I’ve just borrowed a copy from my library. Here’s a couple of snippets from the introduction:
Although I was passionately and totally persuaded of the truth and relevance of atheism as a young man, I subsequently found myself persuaded that Christianity was a much more interesting and intellectually exciting world view than atheism.
Yes, it may well be a more interesting worldview than atheism – but does that make it truer or more relevant? A worldview that held the Earth to be populated by unicorns, spirits and goblins or even a worldview that held that “man is a spiritual being whose existence spans more than one life and who is endowed with abilities well beyond those which he normally considers he possesses” might also be considered more interesting or more intellectually exciting than atheism – but what does the capacity for an idea to excite have to do with its truth and relevance? McGrath seems to have given up on truth and relevance and swapped them for excitement.
I get excited by all kinds of fiction and ideas – but I don’t start to consider them truthful or relevant just because I find them interesting. McGrath choosing to believe in God seems to me as much a case of wishful thinking as anything. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a God who looked down on us benevolently from the heavens? Yes, probably. It would also be nice if crystal healing could cure all cancers – but it can’t. It would be nice if we all had spirit guides who were forever with us during our time on this planet – but I don’t seem to have ever heard from mine and I’m not sure that anyone who claims they have heard from their spirit guide is correct in their belief. Untruthful or deluded would be two options that sprang to mind before I thought “yes, spirit guides – that sounds a plausible idea”.
I have always valued free thinking and being able to rebel against the orthodoxies of an age. Yet I never suspected where my free thinking would take me. […] Both of us [i.e., McGrath and Dawkins] believe passionately in evidence-based thinking, and are critical of those who hold passionate beliefs for inadequate reasons.
Oh good – he’s alternative. An open-minded free thinker.
He claims to believe passionately in evidence-based thinking and is critical of those who hold passionate beliefs for inadequate reasons. But he has faith in God – belief without evidence. So, er, no contradiction there at all.
There are some other quotes later on in the book where McGrath talks about atheism as a faith and claims atheism might be a delusion about God. No, atheism is simply a lack of belief in God. Atheism isn’t faith in anything or anyone – it is a lack of faith in God.
Another quote near the end of the book relates to “material in the pentateuch […] dealing with forgiveness and compassion”. This material relates to forgiveness and compassion according to McGrath and it “sets limits on acts of revenge” and “forbids infant sacrifice”. How compassionate – we let the children live. And how forgiving – we limit revenge. That isn’t forgiving – it’s taking revenge. I don’t consider the two to be the same and I’m a little surprised that McGrath seems to.
The book also contains quotes about the evil done by man in the name of atheism. Let’s see – “Lenin regarded the elimination of religion as central to the socialist revolution”. So it was a socialist revolution rather than an atheist revolution. Removing religion seemed to Lenin to be important for his socialist revolution.
Atheism was not the ethos that drove the revolution – socialism was. There is another historical figure who is often called upon when atheism is being bashed in defence of religion. McGrath doesn’t mention him. Possibly for fear of some idiot shouting “Godwin’s Law!” at him. Earlier on in the book, Nietzsche was referred to as stating “God is dead”. Nietzsche, of course, repudiated liberal values as well as religious ones – as did Hitler. Both men are claimed to have been atheists and Hitler was supposedly inspired by Nietzsche.
I just wanted to make the point that it seems to be repudiation of liberal ideas rather than repudiation of religious* ideas that leads to despotism and Hitler and Lenin happen to illustrate this quite nicely in my view. Some people, of course, maintain that Hitler wasn’t an atheist anyway (something Dawkins mentioned in the God Delusion) – or that he approved of Nietzsche.
* For some reason I originally wrote ‘liberal’ rather than ‘religious’ here. Thanks to TimW for spotting.