Tag Archives: The God Delusion

On Fairies and Gardeners

I’ve been revisiting Richard Dawkins’ best-seller The God Delusion in preparation for an apologetics class I’ll be teaching next week. On opening it up, I fell upon the dedication “In Memoriam” to Douglas Adams, accompanied by the following quotation (presumably from Adams):

Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?

I suppose Dawkins considered this a pithy critique of theistic beliefs and in keeping with the thrust of his book. It does at least give us some insight into how Dawkins and his ilk think about theism, i.e., that it’s epistemically on a par with belief in fairies at the bottom of the garden. But it also reflects just how shallow that thinking is.

Flower Garden

Of course it’s enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it, because the former doesn’t depend on the latter in any plausible way. Fairies have no explanatory role to play in one’s appreciation of a beautiful garden. But theists have long contended that God has a significant explanatory role to play in our understanding of the world and our place in it; indeed, a necessary explanatory role.

So a more fitting question would be:

Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there is a gardener who made it beautiful?

To which the answer isn’t obviously a self-congratulatory “Yes!” but rather (at a minimum) “Well, it depends on exactly what we see in the garden.” If the garden we see is an orderly, cultivated one then the answer is clearly, “No, it’s not enough; a rational person ought to believe both.”

In fact, an even more probing question would be:

Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without considering not only whether there is a gardener who made it beautiful, but also how it is that we came to possess reliable cognitive faculties which allow us to see gardens, to conceive of them as gardens, and to make meaningful objective aesthetic judgments about them?

But that doesn’t sound nearly so witty, which I guess goes to show that cleverness and profundity don’t always coincide.

Responses to The God Delusion

A friend who teaches philosophy emailed me this week and asked whether I’d be interested in collaborating on a book-length, point-by-point response to The God Delusion. He thinks (as I do) that Dawkins’ case against theism is philosophically inept, but he wondered whether a response would be worthwhile because (i) The God Delusion is a New York Times bestseller and (ii) one of his colleagues had expressed concern over several reports of people “losing their faith” after reading the book.

In reply, I told him that while it would be a fun project, in terms of impact it probably wouldn’t add anything to the numerous critical reviews and other responses already available. In any case, these reports of people being ‘deconverted’ by The God Delusion arguably tell us more about those people than about the impact of this one book. Call me cynical, but my suspicion is that most of these were deconversions waiting to happen. Dawkins’ book was merely the final rhetorical shove over the precipice.

I suppose what surprises me most about these Dawkins-destroyed-my-faith stories is that in this day and age it takes practically no effort — at most, a few minutes with a good search engine — to turn up several scholarly responses to The God Delusion (reviews, articles, books, etc.) that should at least give a rational person significant pause before ordering his certificate of debaptism. However, I was also surprised to discover (after a few minutes with a good search engine) that no one has yet gathered links to these responses together in one place.

This post is designed to fill that gap. Consider it a one-stop shop for all your Dawkins-defusing needs. If you know of any (respectable) responses not listed below, please let me know and I’ll considering adding them.

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