A bit extra on McGrath’s response to Dawkins

One common criticism of Dawkins, that is central to Eagleton’s critique and reprised by McGrath, is that he is ignorant of theology.

This seems to me to be the silliest argument. If you don’t believe in a basic premise of alchemy, that base metal can be transformed to gold, it doen’t matter if you’ve read every obscure alchemical treatise. It’s still not possible, or it certainly wasn’t before we could mess with the nuclear structure of the universe. So, it doesn’t matter that alchemy created much of our knowledge about chemistry. It was still mistaken.

In the same way, some theologians may have developed deep philosophical insights. Their beliefs may even serve as if they are metaphorically “true”, in providing structures within which we can develop our thoughts about our place in the universe. (As in Einstein’s “God doesn’t play dice with the universe” – if he ever said it – you don’t have to believe in god to understand what he was saying.)

However, most believers are, almost by definition, not very deep thinkers. Faith has an immediate emotional appeal to people. They generally don’t care about theology, which even its best friends would have to admit was pretty dry. Few people are converted to a religion by reading a convincing theological argument, except in the case of the more-or-less godless religions like Buddhism or Taoism.

So Dawkins’ argument that belief in the Abrahamic God is a founded on a delusion doesn’t depend for its validity on his having read Biblical quantities of theology. He’s supposed to earn his living as a biologist. How many hours are there in a day?

I am sure that there are very sophisticated theologians who conceive of their deity as some underlying principle of the universe. These probably aren’t very different from the average non-believer. Consciousness and life and the nature of matter and space and time are indeed fantastic and engaing mysteries. I personally feel that our human mental capacity will never allow us to comprehend them adequately Nevertheless, we only have our capacity for thinking and understanding to go on. There is noone alive with certain knowledge of the existence of the Abrahamic god. So it doesn’t matter what theologians say. They know no more than I do.

I can’t believe that there is a superhuman being who knows all the answers, who planned every event in the infinite universe but somehow decided we were its chosen species. And decided to let us mess everything up for its own amusement, because it gave us Free Will. But only to test whether we would follow its commands. Who responds to personal pleas according to the degree of sycophancy its creations can muster….. The whole idea is genuinely ludicrous.

My life is too short to read the stuff written by theologians who believe in such a being, however sophisticatedly they express this belief. I am sure that Dawkins has seen enough of their works to have reached the same conclusion.

2 thoughts on “A bit extra on McGrath’s response to Dawkins

  1. One doesn’t need to be an authority on ancient Egyptian religion to question the existence of Isis, or an aficionado of Eastern European folklore to doubt the truth of vampire legends. By the same token, it isn’t necessary to be an expert in Judaeo-Christian mythology to disbelieve in the god of the bible. Theology is a phony field, akin to the study of fortune-telling by reading yak entrails. Yes, one could spend years studying the most arcane details and minuscule ramifications, but such a “scholar” still winds up with nothing of intellectual value to carry around in his or her empty head.

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