I am periodically asked by my fellow Christians how Christians should respond to Richard Dawkins. I confess to being puzzled by the question of how I personally should respond to Dawkins. This is because a great many non-philosophical atheists take his word as Gospel, and a great many Christians are troubled by his arguments and assertions, but the fact of the matter is that, on the intellectual merits, Dawkins is simply not worth the effort of refuting. In philosophy, it is our practice, in arguing against positions, to target the best version of the view. This is why, for instance, (on a topic that has for some reason come up in several unrelated conversations recently) if I want to refute ethical egoism, I will target Thomas Hobbes, who was a philosophical genius, rather than Ayn Rand, who was not. Similary, if I am to argue against atheism or religious skepticism, there are targets out there like David Hume or J. L. Mackie who actually know what they are talking about and have some logical skills, unlike Dawkins who does not have either the knowledge or the skills to write competently about the philosophy of religion.
I am writing about this just now because there was recently an article in The Guardian which I think captures the sentiment that I have most often heard from philosophers who are atheists or religious skeptics. Philosopher Michael Ruse writes:
I have written that The God Delusion made me ashamed to be an atheist and I meant it. Trying to understand how God could need no cause, Christians claim that God exists necessarily. I have taken the effort to try to understand what that means. Dawkins and company are ignorant of such claims and positively contemptuous of those who even try to understand them, let alone believe them. Thus, like a first-year undergraduate, he can happily go around asking loudly, "What caused God?" as though he had made some momentous philosophical discovery.
It is true that over the last 150 years most of the leading atheist philosophers have not expended a great deal of effort on trying to refute theism. Honestly, I wish they would. Philosophy of religion today is actually dominated by Christians, and it is suffering as a result. I would love to see more philosophically sophisticated atheists expend the effort to defend their viewpoint.Posted by Kenny at November 5, 2009 5:54 PM
Return to blog.kennypearce.net