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The God Delusion

Author: Richard Dawkins
Published By: Bantam
Pages: 406
Price: £20
ISBN: 059 305 5489

Reviewed by Charles Brewster.

It is unlikely that subscribers to the journal who practise in Ministry will find themselves recommending Richard Dawkins' latest volume to their congregations. In appraising such a book thought, it is important that a reviewer should attempt to adopt an objective stance. Professor Dawkins underpins a formidable intellect with an easy writing style and liberal deployment of pithy humour, although the strength of his views, and the passion with which he seeks to convey them, impel a polemic veneer which some readers might find offensive. Students and exponents of the philosophy of religion will find much here to engage and challenge, and it will be for theologians of all the monotheist traditions to address many of the detailed lines of thought presented. In Dawkins comprehensive treatment of the arguments for the existence of God I was surprised to find no reference to the 20th century logician Kurt Gödel's formal proof of Leibniz's formulation of the ontological argument. Perhaps he is unaware of it, since this proof was not published in Gödel's lifetime, but has been available for public scrutiny since its inclusion in 1995 in the 3rd volume of his collected works: the unpublished essays and lectures. (Kurt Gödel, 'Collected Works' Vol 3 (of 5); ed. Feferman et al., Oxford UP, 1995, pp 388-403). Dawkins is perhaps best known as a leading protagonist in the debate between supporters of Darwinian evolution and proponents of creationism and 'intelligent design'. Anyone keen to keep abreast of recent developments of the arguments will find much of interest here. As a reader might expect, Dawkins devotes space to putting his own side of the case, and also to offering detailed rebuttals of some criticisms of his earlier writings. Particularly interesting and sometimes amusing are his accounts of discussions with allies and antagonists encountered during lectures, live broadcasts, and in his university roles. As might also be expected, some of the research presented is meticulous in detail (albeit I was surprised to see him explicitly attribute the Epistle to the Hebrews to St Paul - p253). His section on the apparently spontaneous and independent emergence of Polynesian 'Cargo Cults' during the 20th century makes for fascinating reading. In the territory of morality and ethics, perhaps outside his area of particular academic expertise, he makes many interesting observations, and seems to offer a resonance of the evolutionary concept upon changes which have taken place in moral attitudes since biblical times. What seems to pass unremarked in the case Dawkins seeks to build against religions generally is the cohesion which shared spiritual values and respects can bring to communities whose members might otherwise feel they had little in common. The importance of a sense of empathy which religion can inspire with departed family members back through the generations is also left aside. Though the majority of subscribers to Ministry Today are likely to approach his subject matter from a diametrically opposing viewpoint, Dawkins nontheless offers a good read to anyone who enjoys intellectual engagement with the issues.

Charles Brewster

Charles Brewster is a mathematician, with a particular interest in the numerical and mathematical qualities of para-biblical literature.

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You are reading Issue 38 of Ministry Today, published in November 2006.

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