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In Response to Outgrowing God by Richard Dawkins

Professor Richard Dawkins’s latest book is entitled Outgrowing God: A Beginner’s Guide. It is divided into two parts, the first being, after a fashion, theological, and the second claiming to be biological and scientific. In the theological section, the author presents his philosophical, theological, and moral arguments against the existence, justice, and goodness of God; in the second, he attempts to demonstrate that evolutionary theory — which he, without demonstration, labels “a fact” — has disproved God, or, which he seems to think is the same thing, has rendered the hypothesis of the existence of God unnecessary.

It is not easy to read through a work that is not only full of blasphemies, but also full of bad logic and sloppy thinking. Dawkins does not seem to recognize that, by our definition of God and not his — and our definition is the definition he needs to use if he is to argue against our God, rather than against a figment of his own imagination — there is a great deal of difference between the One God and the many supposed divinities of polytheistic religions. But Dawkins will not have that: in his mind, they are all the same. Which of the “gods” of polytheistic religions could conceivably be defined by any person as “the only being that cannot not exist,” I do not know; that is the definition we posit of the One God, but Dawkins does not argue against our definition. He endeavors to argue against our beliefs and our morals.

On page 8, Dawkins says he does not understand what “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost” means but says, “It sounds like a formula for squeezing polytheism into monotheism.” Has Dawkins taken the trouble to ask any competent theologian what “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost” might mean? Or has he just dismissed the question as unworthy of study and then decided to write a book about what he does not understand?

Our Lady, we are told, is, “for Roman Catholics, a goddess in all but name. They deny that she is a goddess, but they still pray to her.” Yes, Gentle Reader, that is the professor’s argument. We “pray to her,” to use his words, but how does it follow that we pray to her as a goddess? If I ask you to pray for Richard Dawkins, am I making you into a god? I don’t think so. But not only does Dawkins think we think Our Lady is a divinity, but he tells us we also think the angels and the saints are gods.

The second chapter of Dawkins’s book denies, among other things, that we can believe in, or trust, the events related in the Bible, particularly when those events are miraculous. Dawkins talks about the game known in England as Chinese Whispers and in America under the ghastly name of Telephone. He mentions this to inform us not to trust oral tradition. But he himself trusts in the oddest of traditions. For example, concerning the authorship of the Gospels, he tells us that “nobody has the faintest idea who wrote the gospels” (emphases mine —D.M.). “We have no convincing evidence in any of the four cases. Later Christians simply stuck a name on the top of each gospel for convenience.” Talk about assertion without evidence! On this page, 22, Dawkins places his faith in “a lost Greek document known as ‘Q.’” The fact that Dawkins believes in “Q,” for which there is no evidence because it does not exist, but that he will not believe in God, for which there is not merely evidence, but apodictic proof everywhere, speaks for itself.

On page 30, Dawkins tells us that the Hebrew word almah need not mean “virgin,” but that parthenos does always mean that. (He is wrong about that; parthenos can mean young woman, but not in this context.) These are the words used in the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Old Testament, respectively, in Isaiah 7:14, which says “a virgin shall conceive.” Almah can mean “young woman”; so, for that matter, can the Latin word virgo, which can also mean “virgin” and which St. Jerome uses in his Latin translation, the Vulgate, in this place. Dawkins tells us that rendering almah into Greek as parthenos was a “translation error,” which “spawned the entire worldwide myth of the Blessed Virgin Mary[.]” In fact, all three words bear both meanings. (So where is the “translation error”?) But the authority of the Catholic Church is sufficient to tell us which one is the correct one: the correct translation of almahparthenos, and virgo, in Isaiah 7:14, is “virgin.” So much for Dawkins’s comparative linguistics.

On page 44, Dawkins attempts to refute the miracle of the sun at Fatima. He does this by refuting — and refuting very well — something different from the miracle. This is similar to the way in which he tries to argue against God by arguing against an imaginary being that does not exist and conflating that imaginary being with God, and then drawing the magical conclusion that God does not exist. He tells us, or implies, that the miracle is that the sun moved, rather than that the sun appeared to move. Obviously, if the sun had actually moved, we would not be here. But the sun appeared to move to seventy thousand people. (Dawkins asks us how we know there were as many as seventy thousand. He does not ask how we do not know that there were more — only how we do not know that there were fewer.) Despite Dawkins’s own quotation, on page 43, of the words “The sun seemed to tear itself from the heavens,” Dawkins argues against something completely different: that the sun did tear itself from the heavens.

Despite Dawkins’ lack of logic — and occasional application of good logic to false premises, which leads to false conclusions — he nevertheless tells us, on page 27, “I’m sorry, but that’s the kind of ‘reasoning’ that passes for logic in theology.” What is this about?

It is about St. Irenaeus who, apparently — I mean, I have not read this elsewhere, as far as I can recall — says there have to be four gospels because of the four winds, because of the four corners of the Earth, because God’s throne is borne in the book of Revelation “by four creatures with four faces,” and so on. Obviously, there supposedly being four winds does not logically mean that there have to be four gospels. We know that — but Dawkins writes as though he does not think we do know that, and he writes as if we suppose there to be some syllogistic connection between there being four corners (or whatever) and there being four gospels. He then accuses us of bad logic, because we supposedly follow this reasoning. Is it not clear that the language of St. Irenaeus is mystical and not literal? It seems quite straightforward to me. In any case, if St. Irenaeus said it and meant it literally, it would not follow that we had to believe it just because St. Irenaeus said it. Does Professor Dawkins suppose that we have to believe everything St. Irenaeus happened to say?

For Dawkins, apocryphal and canonical gospels are all one. The fact that the supposed miracles of some of the apocryphal gospels are ludicrous, and the fact that the gospels narrated in the canonical gospels are sublime, seems not to have occurred to him. For Dawkins, it is a “double standard” that four gospels and no others made it into the canon. The standard is not double; the standard is apostolicity. The canonical gospels are apostolic; the apocryphal gospels are not apostolic. It is an insult to Our Blessed Lord to say that, as a child, he cursed another boy in a fit of pique such that the boy’s body withered up — which Dawkins informs us one of the apocryphal gospels says. But Dawkins tells us Jesus was not very nice, anyhow, because He cursed a fig tree.

Dawkins concludes that because pretty much every culture everywhere has a story of a universal flood, therefore there was no universal flood. Perhaps, Dawkins suggests on page 68, the flood story is “a Jungian archetype?” Dawkins is unsure of himself here, which is why he ends that suggestion with a question mark.

The serpent in the Garden of Eden, Dawkins tells us on page 66, was not Satan, but “a talking snake.”

We are told that God is “not so sweet after all” since He drowned everyone barring Noah and his family, etc. No, Professor Dawkins, God is not sweet. Sugar is sweet. God is just, and justice is not, for the one who has offended, sweet. Nor is goodness nice. Observe that Professor Dawkins has fallen into the common modern error of conflating goodness with niceness. This is why Dawkins cannot reconcile God’s goodness with the sacrifice of Abraham. Emotionally, the story is excruciating. But God had every right to the life of Isaac, for the reason I stated above: that He is just.

A thought has just occurred to me, literally just now as I typed this essay: it is God’s justice that Dawkins does not, or cannot, or will not understand. It is for this reason, I think, that Dawkins detests the Atonement. Indeed, I think the sentence on page 89 sums up Professor Dawkins’s whole attitude: “The doctrine of atonement, which Christians take very seriously indeed, is so deeply, deeply nasty that it deserves to be savagely ridiculed.”

I shall not poison the reader’s mind by quoting the satanic parody of the Christian religion that Dawkins has provided in the just mentioned paragraph. It is obvious from the end of that paragraph that Dawkins is far out of his depth in talking about the Trinity, therefore anything he has to say about the Incarnation and the Atonement will almost certainly not make sense. But Dawkins is willing to deride what he does not understand, even — in fact, especially — that which is most sacred.

The fifth chapter is entitled “Do We Need God In Order To Be Good?” The answer is “yes.” I am sorry, but it is not possible to practice rightly ordered love of neighbor and rightly ordered love of self without the love of God. It is not possible. Professor Dawkins writes great nonsense about God as a Great Camera in the Sky. God is not a Great Camera. We can love God; we cannot love Big Brother. Does Professor Dawkins grasp the difference?

I do not have the space in this article to analyze Professor Dawkins’s commentary on the Ten Commandments. Suffice it to say that he does not like them, for the most part. He does think adultery is OK sometimes:

Seventh Commandment [actually, the Sixth —ed.]: Thou shalt not commit adultery.

That sounds straightforward enough. Don’t have sex with somebody if either of you is married to somebody else. But perhaps you can imagine circumstances where it should be relaxed. Like when somebody in an unhappy and long broken marriage falls deeply in love with somebody else. … Anyway, many people think that each individual’s love life is a private matter[.]

That is printed on page 112 of Dawkins’ book.

So Dawkins has just told us we don’t need God to be good, and then he justifies adultery.

As Dawkins does not believe in God, neither does he believe in Satan or the demons. He says it would have been “impressive if Jesus had said, ‘Verily I say unto you, there are no demons[.] … This man has an affliction in his head” (p. 121). The trouble is that there are demons, and in fact, most of our Lord’s miracles were exorcisms. Also, the demonic hatred — and that is not a metaphor — that the enemies of the Faith have for the true Church of Jesus Christ is one of the strongest evidences in favor of the Faith.

The last chapter of the first part is about morals. Moral values are fluid, according to Dawkins, which is to say that they change. Dawkins denies moral absolutes; indeed, he does not seem to provide a moral philosophy, though it seems he approves in general of the fuzzy morality of this time.

The first part of the book concludes with some thoughts on evolution, which, in Dawkins’s mind has replaced God. The second part of the book is concerned with evolution, which is a theory (and, in the judgment of the present writer, a theory that is demonstrably false on scientific grounds), though at no point is there any logical demonstration that evolution has disproved the existence of God.

To conclude, then: The purpose of the book is quite obvious. It is to destroy faith in God by asserting that science has done away with the need for Him. The author resorts to nineteenth-century junk pseudo-theology and nineteenth-century pseudoscience and neglects to examine the evidence against his own position. He essentially denies that there is any. He is consumed with a demonic hatred for God and for the Justice of God, and particularly for the doctrine of the Atonement, or, at any rate, his own strange idea of the Atonement. He has a puerile conception of what is meant by God’s forgiveness. He appears to deny that there are objective morals.

Dawkins’s logic and argumentation are, in general, extremely bad. He does not wish to believe, yet he does wish to assail with blasphemies the God whom he denies. Not only is his book obviously an insult to God, but it is also an insult to the intelligence of man.

Image: Steve Jurvetson via Flickr.

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