I hate to come back to the same topic twice in a row, unless it is a hot news story. But I will make an exception here. I should have mentioned, in yesterday's post about Rowan Williams' Swansea lecture, that Nicholas Lash has written a trenchant article about Richard Dawkins' book The God Delusion, and its reception, in the August 2007 edition of the journal New Blackfriars (pictured). Lash, a theologian for whom I have immense respect and admiration, is both irenic and meticulous in his approach to intellectual matters. On this occasion, however, he can't hide his accompanying astonishment and outrage that this work is being taken seriously by thinking people, whatever their persuasion. I guess if you've spent 50 years of your life studying, reflecting and agonising over a subject at the highest level, it must be more than a little frustrating to contemplate a best-seller so woefully inadequate and tendentious in its assertions - which, Lash argues, with precision, is precisely the case here. The material on what it does and doesn't mean to "believe in God", and why 'religion' and 'science' as overarching categories are deeply misleading of careful and useful talk about the sciences and the faiths (plural), is very helpful. Here is the abstract:
While Richard Dawkins' polemic against religion scores easy points against Christian fundamentalisms, he supposes his target to be much vaster: "I am not attacking any particular version of God or gods. I am attacking God, all gods". Given The God Delusion's lack of extended argument, historical ignorance and unfamiliarity with the literature, the praise it has received from some distinguished scientists is troubling.
This essay seeks, first, to examine some of the book's chief weaknesses – its ignorance of the grammar of "God" and of "belief in God"; the crudeness of its account of how texts are best read; its lack of interest in ethics – and, second, to address the question of what it is about the climate of the times that enables so ill-informed and badly argued a tirade to be widely welcomed by many apparently well-educated people.
The latter issue is addressed, first, by considering the illusion, unique to the English-speaking world, that there is some single set of procedures which uniquely qualify as "scientific" and give privileged access to truth; second, by examining historical shifts in the senses of "religion"; thirdly, by locating Dawkins' presuppositions concerning both "science" and "religion", his paradoxical belief in progress, and the reception which the book has received, in relation to tensions in our culture signalled, fifty years ago, by C. P. Snow.The full article may be accessed as HTML or a *.PDF (Adobe) file here, in the top right hand corner, courtesy of Blackwells and the journal. The full citation: Nicholas Lash (2007)
Where Does The God Delusion Come from? New Blackfriars 88 (1017), 507–521.
I must admit that while I find Richard Skinner's injunction to Christians to take Dawkins seriously appealing and necessary in many respects, I share Lash's amazement at the good professor's lack of fairness and rigour. It is very sad. I hope that the trenchancy of Nicholas Lash's piece won't stop some people from entering into the important points it makes, though I suspect that will be the case. These contentions are more resonant of a war than a conversation, and the danger of that is that noise obliterates the harmonic quality essential to fruitful discussion. We live in an age that often disconnects the temptation of rhetoric from the love of reason. But that, Lash contends, is precisely what has happened in and around The God Delusion. And it is difficult but to conclude that it's author, on some levels, has willed it so through his summary dismissals.