Thursday, September 06, 2007

The God Delusion #30: McGrath #2 - "Delusion"

The McGraths' Dawkins Delusion examines Dawkins' core claim that religious belief is "infantile" and, thus, a "delusion" or "illusion." For Dawkins, belief in God is like belief in the "Tooth Fairy" or "Santa Claus." "These are childish beliefs that are abandoned as soon as we are capable of evidence-based thinking. And so is God. It's obvious, isn't it?" (DD, 19)
As Dawkins once said on BBC radio in 2003, humanity "can leave the crybaby phase, and finally come of age."

I've had some atheists tell me this as an objection to my God-belief. It's an internet atheistic urban legend that gets proliferated. What can we say to this? The McGraths' reason as follows.

1. Dawkins' analogy is flawed. Because: "How many people do you know who began to believe in Santa Claus in adulthood? Or who found belief in the Tooth Fairy consoling in old age?" Alister McGrath notes that he gave up belief in Santa Claus at age five, and began to believe in God as a young adult in the university.

"Those who use this infantile argument have to explain why so many people discover God in later life and certainly do not regard this as representing any kind of regression, perversion or degeneration." (DD, 20) Consider, e.g., former atheist Antony Flew who began to believe in God in his eighties.

2. Dawkins "argues that the biological process of natural selection builds child brains with a tendency to believe whatever their parents or elders tell them. This... makes them prone to trust whatever a parent says - like Santa Claus." (DD, 20) It's here that Dawkins makes the stunning claim that "bringing up children within a religious tradition... is a form of child abuse." (DD, 20-21)

There is a reasonable point here, but it cuts both ways. On this way of thinking, if children are force-fed "Dawkins's flavored dogmas and distortions" would not that also be child abuse?

3. The McGraths' agree with Terry Eagelton's "withering review" of GD: "Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology." (DD, 21-22)

In other words, so much of Dawkins' book betrays his real ignorance of the issues at hand. Straw-men-building abounds.

Finally, Freud's theory of God-belief as an illusion is itself grounded in Feuerbach's "projection theory," a view which has been largely discounted in philosophy, since it cuts both ways. One can as easily imagine someone projecting a universe without God out of their need to disbelieve as one can imagine someone projecting a Father God onto the heavens out of their need to be helped.