Sunday, July 01, 2007


Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University and former senior molecular biophysicist Alister McGrath gave a talk earlier in 2007 called "The Dawkins Delusion", which is also the title of his recent book - one I will be reviewing at some point. The lecture is available for download here (sound file), and is copyright St Ebbe’s Church, Oxford (copying talks is prohibited).

As a former atheist, McGrath is respectful yet critical of the movement. In recent years, he has been especially interested in the emergence of what claims to be "scientific atheism", and has researched the distinctive approach to atheist apologetics found in the writings of the Oxford zoologist and scientific popularizer Richard Dawkins. A video of an extended discussion between Dawkins and McGrath on science and faith now available, courtesy of Dawkins' website, here (mov. file)

At present, McGrath is researching the iconic role played by Charles Darwin in atheist apologetics, and the appeal to the controversial concept of the "meme" in recent atheist accounts of the origins of belief in God.

I have a number of differences with McGrath at certain points, but he has made some thoughtful and important criticisms of Dawkins on religion in his recent two books.


TJ said...

I've read "Dawkins God", McGraths recentish book on atheism, and also have his text book on theology, as well as pretty much all Dawkins' books, so I was very keen to watch this. It's interesting to see how polite Dawkins is face-to-face with people he's been rather more rude about in print!

I have watched it so far up to the point where they are discussing probabilistic arguments, and this is where I felt McGrath was struggling a bit. He never seemed to really deal with the argument about the complexity of God; not that I think Dawkins argument disproves God at all, although I think it knocks the argument from design on the head. I wonder why McGrath couldn't just say "well, yes, the argument from design is seriously flawed" - what he seemed to do was simply waffle.

However I haven't watched it all and am looking forward to watching the rest tonight.

Simon Barrow said...

You are right, TJ. McGrath's failure to nail the complexity question (Keith Ward is much better on this in 'Rational Theology and the Creativity of God' onwards) and to be forthright about the collapse of design arguments is, I think, a function of the fact that he is way too dependent upon metaphysical speculation in his theological construction. Lash would point out that to talk of God 'creating' is not to posit an ex machina manufacturer, but the 'gifting' of a self-generating universe beyond design hypotheses. The doctrine of creation tells us how to relate to the world as an unconditioned gift, and as an overall good; it isn't a theory of origins or a description of process.

TJ said...

I've read one of Ward's books, I think it was "God - a guide for the perplexed" or something. I must try and get hold of more. I'm waiting for my library to provide "Re-thinking Christianity" - they bought a copy a month or two ago, I reserved it, and they promptly lost it and are having to buy another.

Looking him up on wikipedia there are quite a few titles there that look very interesting; no doubt I'll be unable to get them from my local library, which seems to hold virtually no theological titles whatsoever.