November 15, 2006

Alister McGrath and his lecture on Dawkins God

Posted in Books, Life at 11:53 am by pmatos

[Sorry for the late post. I really wanted to post this some days ago but it has been very hard to find some free time.]

Well, as I have posted previously, last Thursday by 19.30 I went to see the lecture by Alister McGrath with the same title of his 2004 book : “Dawkins God”.
Alister McGrath was an invited speaker of the “Christians in Science Society” of the University of Southampton. I have not read Dawkins God and I only know Dawkins point of view on God through his latest book “The God Delusion” [although his opinion has been widely published in his previous numerous books]. Curiously, Alister McGrath is also from Oxford [Dawkins from Oxford].

First I’ll let you know all about the presentation, then I’ll comment on it.
Incredibly the lecture room [a huge one] was completely full, people were standing up and you could just find people of every age in the seats. The Christians in Science Society presented Alister CV for 5 minutes, explaining this time would be needed since people should know Alister background. Briefly [from memory], he was educated atheist, he got graduated in Chemistry and then did a PhD in Theology, has been Professor of Historical Theology and his Director of many things, has a lot of acronyms before and after his name, etc. Well, to end up saying that he knows very well both sides of the issue, the scientific and religious one.

Initially he talked about who was Richard Dawkins, which took about 15 seconds and showed a funny-looking photograph which he left on-screen for some time while explaining he was there to destroy the link Dawkins put up between science and religion. Dawkins says a real scientist ought to be atheist. McGrath says religion and science are completely different thing and one cannot mess with the other. So McGrath, set up the 5 grounds for the criticism of religion in The God Delusion and talked about some religion myths Dawkins set up during the book. So, he says, the lecture would be about answering to Dawkins on what he said about religion.
So he goes through each of the 5 grounds for the criticism of religion:

1. Does Science lead to atheism?

His main argument stands that the nature interpretation is consistent with all belief systems, being it atheism [which he says it is like any other belief system] and that’s why Huxley invented the word agnosticism. Moreover, evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould, an atheist, said that scientist cannot comment on religion and that those who are atheist are surely not for scientific reasons.

2. Dawkins on Faith

McGrath quotes a bunch of theologist which say that the best explanation for some things is definitely not science and that then faith comes up to explain things. That Christians should not let think that religion fills in the gaps of science, since then they would be killing themselves in a sense that these gaps get narrower and narrower. What Christians should understand is that religion by itself has its own field of action and that is fields which cannot have materialist views, like, what’s our purpose on earth, why thinks happen the way they do, why equations of the universe really work, why science works, etc.

3. Is God a virus of the mind [a meme]?

Well, McGrath doesn’t spend much time on these. It says Dawkins uses memes incorrectly and that for a long time, memes are no longer an explanation for anything because they are obsolete so this chapter on The God Delusion is automatically discredited.

4. Religion impoverishes theists view of the Universe.

McGrath goes on to explain that obviously that is not true since, when theists look at nature, they do not stand thinking that God creating everything and that’s it. The fact that we know that God created everything is more a motivation of learning how it works. To learn how great can our God be, so that he created such a marvelous Universe.

5. Religion is a bad thing.

And McGrath says… “Ah, but there were already many atheists doing bad things.” And that the world could not survive without religion. However, it accepts that religion can also bring a lot of problems… but so as atheism.

After this, he presented his next book to be out on Fev. 2007 : “The Dawkins Delusion?” but him and co-authored with his wife.
In the time for questions and answers there were some nice things he said that is worth quoting.

So, he starts by pointing out that Atheism is very vulnerable because: is reductionsist of science, only believes what is proven [unable to discuss other problems], and it has problems with meaning questions.

Interpretation of the bible depends on science, so sometimes is interpreted wrongly, but that’s because of science, it’s not a problem with the bible. Oh and evolution? That’s not a threat to science… that just explains a bit of Gods rules.

The God Delusion is a book for people who dislike religion and know no science.

Dawkins makes no difference between God and Religion.

Oh, religion is not harmful. Most people know evil just by looking at it and that’s a very christian way of looking at things.

Dawkins runs away from good things religion did!

God just helps one love science in another way. Not just as a bunch of non-sensic rules but as the rules of God.

Then he goes on to tell a story… When he was an atheist kid, he looked at the sky and though that the light we were seeing from the stars left them a huge number of years ago. Now, they probably don’t exist but he won’t know… he’ll die long before the light which is now leaving the star, reaches the Earth. Now, as a Christian, he looks at the sky and he sees Gods creation. So, he’s no longer sad like when he was an atheist.

Well, everything ended up, a lot of books were being sold [as a big marketing plan] and they even had the courage to ask for a donation!

And now… comes a few comments on this. First, this all lecture was obviously very well prepared it seemed as if everything he said was to its audience pleasure, the large majority were students and lecturers who were Christians (remember, he was invited by the Christians in Science Society of the University of Southampton). Most have not read The God Delusion, so he managed to say that:

The God Delusion is a book for people who dislike religion and know no science.

and most of the lecture was supposed to diminish Richard Dawkins capabilities by throwing theological arguments, empty of content and full of decieve. I just wonder how can I man spend so much time circulating the globe just to talk bad of another one. Never in Dawkins The God Delusion he was rude as McGrath was to Dawkins in any context or to any author, even McGrath.

Although everyone was quite excited with the presence of such character (McGrath), I find it rather disconforting to think that most of there were there not to learn from McGrath but to throw words of despise against Dawkins. Apart from that, in a Programming context I would say that this lecture is still far from beta and has a lot of bugs which would crash any system (crashed mine…).

Sometimes I even wonder if he read The God Delusion as he should. Dawkins spends the whole first chapter explaining what will the word God mean during the context of the book and setting up the difference between God and Religion. Please, Mr. McGrath (or Reverend, if you wish) read the first chapter.

Again, McGrath says he Science cannot lead to Atheism. Still, again, read the book. I’m quite certain that Dawkins puts it in the following way: “There surely are many scientists which are theists. Many good scientists, even. However, if a scientist is to put is scientist vein in all facts about his life he cannot possibly be a theist. The fact about being a scientist is that you only believe [not just what you can prove] but what you have evidence for. There are near-zero evidence for the existence of God, and a lot more for its non-existence. A scientist would say that even though a certain theory cannot be established for Gods non-existence, that’s surely the way science might take if wishes to pursue further research.”

Science, for obvious reasons, will not answer you what’s the meaning of life. Nor it will tell you what your mum is doing right about now. The fact that science will not answer you this answers doesn’t mean religion can. Moreover, being an atheist, does that mean I will not ever be able to answer them? NO! I can answer them due to what I know, to what I feel, due to my subjective opinions. Each life as a meaning of its own. There’s no [in my opinion] a meaning for Life unless you really want to believe that. I might say the meaning of my life is to be happy, raise wonderful kids and contribute something to science and that my mother is now sleeping but really, this answer depends on the person who is responding to it, no on an absolute answer. So, really, right now I really feel religion feels that gap most people need to be filled because they are suffering, or because they had some problem in their lives, or because they cannot explain something. The problem is that most of us will [no matter how much one knows] known near zero percent of what there is to know. So really, one has a lot of place for God.

Being Dawkins a scientist and by writing a book for the general public, it is obvious that he needed to use an easy to grasp concept for people to understand what he meant to say about virus of the mind. He could not refer to the latest article on evolutionary biology for some weird concept to explain things. Still, he takes a couple of pages what a meme is. His idea is not to establish a scientific ground here, but to give people a way to think about what he is telling us. Please, Mr. McGrath, do not misinterpret Dawkins.

It is quite hard for me to understand what McGrath told about his view of the universe. Does he reeeeeeeeaally think he is learning the rules of God? I also have a giant invisible dinossaur which leaves inside my garage and only talks to me… do you believe that?

One horrible thing you said, Mr McGrath, not about Dawkins, was that when we look at a poor child, or a sick person we feel sorry and pity and when we look to hitler or some other bad guy we feel evil in the person and that’s a Christian way to look at things. But now I ask you? A Christian way? Why not a Muslim way? Why not a Jewish way? Muslim people or jewish people do not recognize evil, do not feel pity? Would you change that sentence if you were invited for a talk by the Muslims in Science Society?

Well, and now Mr McGrath is going to publish Dawkins Delusion… I question myself, why? Do you think it really matters, will you pursue Dawkins for the rest of his life. Since you’re both from the same University I do think that what you’re doing is just a personal vendetta. Have you been bullied by him when you were kids?

1 Comment »

  1. luispedro said,

    I haven’t read Dawkins’s book yet, but I have read interviews and opinion pieces both about and by him. I also consider myself an agnotheist, i.e. i believe P(God) to be small, but greater than zero. I think the problem is that Dawkins spends too much time debating christians and not enough time debating reasonable atheists (or even agnotheists [which he claims to be], or agnostics).

    The problem with Dawkins’s thesis is that it is a thesis of intolerance. Not the fact that he argues that god doesn’t exist, but the fact that he is intolerant towards others is the problem.

    Even in secular Europe, superstitions are rampant and people would protest heavily against being forced out of them (try arguing in Germany for genetic modification of foods, or outlawing “alternative medicine” as the junk-medicine it is: you will get violence in the streets).

    Fortunately, no one pays any attention to activist atheists anymore.


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