Peter Harrison is a former Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at the University of Oxford and is presently Research Professor and Director of the Centre for the History of European Discourses at the University of Queensland. He was the 2011 Gifford Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh and holds a Senior Research Fellowship in the Ian Ramsey Centre at Oxford.
The delusions of Richard Dawkins
Unfortunately, Dawkins has blundered into a field he knows very little about. He misunderstands the logic of the arguments and how they function in a religious context. His own naïve and plodding counter-arguments would make a philosophy undergraduate cringe, and a number of reviewers have mercifully dispatched them (the arguments, not the undergraduates).
Philosopher and self professed 'hard line Darwinian' Michael Ruse has remarked that Dawkins' efforts make him 'embarrassed to be an atheist'.
The second theme of the book is that religious folk– 'faith-heads', as Dawkins fondly calls them– are not only irrational, but plain dangerous. To support this proposition, Dawkins has compiled a catalogue of rabid fundamentalists and religious fanatics. These figures are presumed to be representative of the whole of the religious enterprise.
Here our author betrays a curious inability to distinguish between the suicide bomber and Mother Teresa.
The book contains more factual and logical blunders than can be dealt with here. However, it has two general weaknesses that are worth highlighting. First, the case presented violates a standard principle of academic debate– that the most powerful critiques are those that succeed against the strongest version of the opponent's position.
Dawkins has simply not bothered to familiarise himself with the vast literature on philosophy of religion and science and religion. He has not taken on the most sophisticated representatives of the religious viewpoint. Instead, he finds himself a few easy targets and scores cheap points.
On the same theme, as we have seen, his exemplars of religion are an assortment of religious extremists whom few persons of faith would recognise as fellow travellers.