Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Book Review: Deluded by Dawkins?

A friend of mine very kindly bought me this book while I was reading The God Delusion. To tell the truth I didn’t think much of it when I first saw it, given that it looked like one of those weird tract-book things and had nothing by way of a biography of the author. In the preface, Wilson says that he wrote this book while working at a church as an article for its website. This was, to the cynic within me, not compelling evidence to take him seriously.

I was pleasantly surprised on reading it, however, to find it an articulate, well thought out and relevant response to the infamous God Delusion. It was also nice and short (I read it in a couple of hours) which I quite liked, seeing as I’m such a slow reader. Though Wilson may not be a scientist, his arguments command respect and clearly show that he has thought and read extensively on this subject.

One of the most interesting aspects to this book, I found, is Wilson’s frequent references to the resurrection of Christ. He mentions it first in his introduction, making the observation that “the most definitive argument that Christians have used since AD30, the resurrection of Jesus, is not even discussed [in The God Delusion].” I missed this when I read Dawkins’ book, but Deluded by Dawkins makes a good case for why such an omission is a great shortfall in a book attacking Christianity. In a later section Wilson again expresses this point, using an analogy I quite enjoyed:

“From the earliest days of the church, the resurrection was central to Christian belief and practice. To make fun of the ontological argument while ignoring the resurrection, and to think that one has thereby removed the basis for belief in God, is to chase the mice out of the sitting-room, and thus announce that the house is free of animals, while there is an elephant grinning on the sofa.”

I found it refreshing to read that this truth, which is so central to my beliefs, is also one of its greatest proofs.

Given that Andrew Wilson is more of a church-man than a science-man, it makes sense that his critique of Dawkins’ treatment of scripture will be especially substantial. This is indeed the case, and he has devoted the longest chapter of the book to the subject. He categorically and effectively addresses the more significant problems in Dawkins’ book, correcting where he misreads, misapplies or outright fabricates parts of the Bible. Andrew Wilson fleshes out the context of some of Dawkins’ damning verses, and does so in a fair and objective manner which lends him far more credibility than the rhetoric laden equivalent in The God Delusion.

Wilson’s use of scripture is a common theme throughout this book, a quality I appreciate. Though his frequent allusions to biblical passages may not add much to his arguments, I find it gives the impression that the Bible applies to all of life, and that a biblical worldview is relevant in any situation. Certainly this book is a good example of writing that holds the Bible to be inspired, yet is still rational and reasonable, a position Dawkins’ seems to ignore.

At the beginning of the book, Andrew Wilson summarises Dawkins’ main arguments and propositions in a table, stating next to them whether he thinks it is agreeable, disagreeable, irrelevant or unsubstantiated. It turns out there are only eight aspects which Wilson disagrees with, and these he groups under the four categories of anti-supernaturalism, logic, scripture and improbability. These form the basis for the structure of the book, and herein lies the book’s biggest problem. Wilson expressly states: “it is still my categorisation, not Dawkins’, and I have over-simplified significantly to provide [the table].” Thus it seems that the book only attacks those things the author disagrees with in a self-confessedly over-simplified table. This means that the book does not specifically address the majority of Dawkins’ claims, and thus some readers may be left with questions outstanding after this book. However I think this problem is relatively minor, and does little to detract from the overall impact of the book.

Another review of Deluded by Dawkins says “Wilson goes out of his way to be fair to Dawkins,” however I would not quite put it that way. For the most part his writing does sound objective and polite, however he does on occasion indulge in the same cynical humour so characteristic of Dawkins’ book. Often this takes the form of a parody of Dawkins’ own joke used against him. I actually found this added to the book, just as I appreciated the humour in The God Delusion.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book, and found it helpful in clarifying some of the questions I had about The God Delusion, as well as resolving problems I didn’t notice. It is well written and understandable to amateur scientists such as myself, while still effectively refuting many of Dawkins’ main arguments. I probably wouldn’t have bought it for myself, however having read it I am immensely thankful to the friend that gave it to me. It is a worthy resource to have, especially by those often confronted by Dawkins fans.

By the way, I still plan on reading The Dawkins Delusion by Alister McGrath and his wife, but until then I cannot comment on similarities and differences between the two responses.

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