Home » Intelligent Design » Alister McGrath goes after Richard Dawkins – atheism is simpleminded narcissism?

Alister McGrath goes after Richard Dawkins – atheism is simpleminded narcissism?

Oxford historian Alister McGrath, author of Twilight of Atheism and formerly an atheist himself, reflects on his debates with Richard Dawkins, who seems to have retired from his science career to bash religion.
Simpleminded?

I am disappointed. I would have expected an Oxford professor to use a much more careful, scholarly approach, always trying to see an opponent at his best, and not using simplistic generalizations. I can entirely understand why Michael Ruse and many other atheists are embarrassed by The God Delusion. What concerns me most, however, is what this book shows us about today’s atheism. I think this book is being read primarily by atheists who want to bolster their faith, when all around them God is being taken more seriously than he has for many years. It is almost as if atheists want cheap, slick answers, and don’t want to face up to the big questions. Dawkins gives them a simple way of looking at life: people who believe in God are mad, bad and sad; atheists are bold, brilliant, and brave. You don’t need to think about things; you don’t need to read books by Christians. You can write them off in advance as the predictable rantings of deluded idiots. It’s very worrying, and shows how dogmatic and simplistic atheism has now become.

Narcissism? Interviewer Dinesh d’Souza offers,

Even more telling, during your opening statement you referenced Dr. Dawkins or his work ten times, yet he never made reference to you. At the end of the debate, after your final comment, he simply laughed. Given Freud’s characterization of narcissism, that all libido is invested in the self and no other objects exist, perhaps Dawkins’s fundamentalism is really narcissism. Since Dawkins is an atheist then only atheism is relevant. Neither the lives of billions of believers, nor the collective works of Augustine, nor Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, nor the countless acts of Christian charity over the last two thousand years seem to matter to Dawkins.

McGrath doesn’t dispute that.

Wow, things are really heating up in this area – and about time too.

Also more on ex-world famous atheist Antony Flew’s new book – “There IS a God” – wonderful cover! – but you have to go here and scroll down to see it.

More D’Souza? He also quotes Stanley Fish on shallow, dogmatic atheists and offers a post-mortem on secularism.

My series on the last-ditch anti-God crusade is here.

Also, get a load of the Sacred heart of Darwin tattoo. Someone please tell me this is a hoax.

  • Delicious
  • Facebook
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • RSS Feed

9 Responses to Alister McGrath goes after Richard Dawkins – atheism is simpleminded narcissism?

  1. Antony Flew’s book certainly puts to rest any arguments from third parties that he didn’t really abandon atheism. Chalk one up for intelligent design:

    Book Description

    In one of the biggest religion news stories of the new millennium, the Associated Press announced that Professor Antony Flew, the world’s leading atheist, now believes in God.

    Flew is a pioneer for modern atheism. His famous paper, Theology and Falsification, was first presented at a meeting of the Oxford Socratic Club chaired by C. S. Lewis and went on to become the most widely reprinted philosophical publication of the last five decades. Flew earned his fame by arguing that one should presuppose atheism until evidence of a God surfaces. He now believes that such evidence exists, and There Is a God chronicles his journey from staunch atheism to believer.

    For the first time, this book will present a detailed and fascinating account of Flew’s riveting decision to revoke his previous beliefs and argue for the existence of God. Ever since Flew’s announcement, there has been great debate among atheists and believers alike about what exactly this “conversion” means. There Is a God will finally put this debate to rest.

    This is a story of a brilliant mind and reasoned thinker, and where his lifelong intellectual pursuit eventually led him: belief in God as designer.

  2. Though I’m glad for Flew’s conversion to belief, I have to disagree with his philosophical presupposition that one should be a atheist until evidence for God surfaces. I believe the correct position would be for one to be an agnostic till evidence for God surfaces. I know many atheists, who absolutely believe there is no God and who will not believe in God no matter what the evidence points to. Whereas, at least, an agnostic admits he doesn’t know all the evidence and that sufficient evidence would convince or persuade him. In fact I think that Flew is actually arguing for agnosticism when I look at his argument more closely. For at least he presupposes the possibility of a God existing prior to investigation, whereas many atheist will not even concede that one point of possibility.
    But I want to point out there is a better witness than scientific evidence for belief in God.

    “Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even if you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.”

    (John 10:37-38 NIV)

  3. I think McGrath’s actually right: Dawkins’ book is shallow. So much so in fact that I’ve seen a roomful of religious studies scholars at a conference where Dawkins’ message was critiqued actually fall about laughing at it. This wasn’t defensive laughter, forced sneering at an intellectual opponent who’s too clever for comfort, but genuine, unfeigned, hearty laughter.

    However, I suspect it’s popular for that reason. It bolsters the atheist faith of the unsophisticated by presenting crude arguments against God from an apparently respectable authority. People trust scientists more than they trust religious scholars, and so because The God Delusion was written by a scientist, it’s taken as being true. All the evidence to the contrary, such as when you actually open it and start to read the thing not withstanding.

    And yes, Dawkins does seem to be incredibly narcissistic. During an interview on Ulster Television, Dawkins told the presenter that his purpose was to write excellent books. Now this sounds like Dawkins is heading off towards Nietzsche territory. One of the great antichrist’s works was Why I Write Such Excellent Books . Trouble is, Nietzsche also said that ‘Only mediocre Englishmen believe in evolution’. Guess that’s not a comment Dawkins would like mooted about next time he starts to sound like Wilhelminian Germany’s prophet of Nihilism.

    There are other stories about Dawkins which also sound like a severe dose of narcissism as well. A few months ago, the British satirical magazine Private Eye reported how Dawkins’ colleagues at Oxford were amusing themselves with tales about how he relaxes in bed at night by having his wife read passages from his own books aloud to him in bed. Scurrilous gossip, surely, but you do wonder …

    So no, I don’t think we’re dealing with an atheist superman in the shape of Dawkins here, just humanity, mere humanity.

  4. But see I’m sure Dawkins is treated with such credulity not just because he’s a scientist but because of his job title. The fact that Dawkins understands ‘the public understanding of science’ to mean ‘the public promulgation of atheism’ is going to carry an awful lot of people along with him if, as you say, they don’t or can’t critically analyse his arguments. That’s why McGrath’s work is so important – I only pray he doesn’t lose his temper.

  5. I must take exception to the title of this post:

    Alister McGrath goes after Richard Dawkins – atheism is simpleminded narcissism?

    First, the implied quote “atheism is simpleminded narcissism?” is D’Souza’s, not McGrath’s. Second, it’s not even an accurate quote, which is “perhaps Dawkins’s fundamentalism is really narcissism”.

    If you can supply a quote from Alister McGrath in which he makes a blanket statement about all atheism being simpleminded narcissism, then fine, but otherwise you should resist the urge to twist a comment said explicitly about Dawkins into something more general.

    In fact, by paraphrasing the quote in this way you are engaging in exactly the same tactics McGrath was accusing Dawkins of — a simple dismissal of people whose religious beliefs do not comport with yours.

    Maybe some atheists are happy with simple answers, and there is nothing wrong with that, millions of Christians, Jews, and Muslims do the same thing. But many atheists I know have thought long and hard about questions of faith and religion (including those who have read the Bible much more than many Christians) and to dismiss them all as narcissistic simpletons is simply ridiculous.

  6. The title does not purport to be a quote, tyke.

  7. For the record, McGrath weighed in on the simple-minded part and d’Souza on the narcissism, McGrath not dissenting. Read the interview, it’s worth it.

  8. Personally, I think McGrath is giving a caricature of what Dawkins writes (and I have read a fair bit of Dawkins myself) and the views of atheists – and I write as one.

    “I think this book is being read primarily by atheists who want to bolster their faith”

    This is quite simply wrong. The atheists I know didn’t need their position bolstered. Most of us came to it after a long and considered debate, both internal and external. Nor is it a faith as such – I personally do not know a single atheist who wouldn’t change their position if there was any credible and objective evidence for the existence of a God. All we are interested in is what the evidence points to.

    “when all around them God is being taken more seriously than he has for many years”

    No, this too is wrong. I have been married to a practising Christian for many years, so God (whether or not he/she/it exists) has always been taken seriously here! I think what’s really triggered these latest atheist outpourings has not been God being taken seriously – it’s always been dominant in Western societies, even the nominally secular US – but that fundamentalism has been taken more seriously and its consequences now impinge on the rest of society – such as 9/11.

    “It is almost as if atheists want cheap, slick answers”

    No, that isn’t correct either. We just want as accurate a picture of what’s going on as we can get. That’s why we are so keen on objective evidence.

    “and don’t want to face up to the big questions.”

    Not true either. I’m happy to face up to any question. The difference is that we recognize there may not be any answers – for example, the question “why are we here” may (repeat, may) not have an answer. It’s probably more accurate to say that most theists can’t face up to some possible answers to the big questions.

    “Dawkins gives them a simple way of looking at life: people who believe in God are mad, bad and sad; atheists are bold, brilliant, and brave.”

    Not my view of my Christian wife at all. Or of atheist me. Probably unfair on Dawkins too. His writings have expressed a liking for a Bishop of Oxford and fondeness for the Church of England, to name but two.

    “You don’t need to think about things; you don’t need to read books by Christians.”

    Completely unfair. Most atheists arrive at their position by thinking deeply, and not a few have a greater knowledge of Christian works than many Christians – Hitchens has read extensively from the Bible, for instance.

    On d’Souza’s comment:

    “Since Dawkins is an atheist then only atheism is relevant. Neither the lives of billions of believers, nor the collective works of Augustine, nor Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, nor the countless acts of Christian charity over the last two thousand years seem to matter to Dawkins.”

    I don’t think that’s the point. The point is, it’s the evidence that counts on the question of whether a God exists, not the numbers of believers nor their works.

Leave a Reply