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A Catholic Replies to Professor Dawkins, by Thomas Crean OP
A convincing response to Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion
A CATHOLIC REPLIES TO PROFESSOR DAWKINS
(Family Publications, 2007, 160pp, soft cover, $25.50. Available from Freedom Publishing)
As long as there are men of faith, it seems there will also be men who are not merely sceptical of belief in the supernatural, but ardently opposed to the very notion of such, and in particular to any religion which professes belief in a God who would presume to dictate how one should live.
Surging beyond the boundaries of atheism, which generally connotes a measure of indifference to the existence of God, and a sense of scorn at those who would entertain such a fanciful belief, such men are perhaps better described as anti-theists, so zealously do they pursue their self-appointed ministry of relieving the faithful of their burdensome delusion.
Such men are as abundant today as ever. Late last month the French philosopher Michel Onfray was in Melbourne to promote his new book, The Atheist Manifesto. Meanwhile our very own Andrew Denton saw fit to ridicule Christianity as it manifests itself across America's famed bible-belt, in his discursive ABC television documentary, God On My Side.
Then there is Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist, and the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford. Explosive sales of his book The God Delusion, and the international success of his mini-series, The Root of All Evil, have earned Dawkins an anti-theistic reputation of messianic proportions.
With a formidable academic profile, and immense popularity among members of the academic establishment, the media, and the general public, Dawkins enjoys the rare privilege of being able to advance his criticism of religion (and the religious) to a broad and highly receptive audience with untempered vitriol.
It is not without trepidation that the faithful approach the work of such figures as Professor Dawkins, mindful of the damage that may be wrought by the indulgence of one's curiosity without adequate preparation or counsel. Thankfully, greater minds than ours, being alert to the problems posed by the current anti-theistic crusade, are producing concrete answers to the questions which are being hurled at believers by Dawkins and the like, and it is prudent to avail ourselves of their expertise.
To this end, Thomas Crean OP offers an excellent response to the argument set out by Dawkins in The God Delusion, with his recently published volume, A Catholic Replies to Professor Dawkins.
Demonstrating a mastery of traditional Catholic theology, Crean tackles Dawkins head-on, producing a measured and systematic analysis of his subject's thesis which is at once sophisticated, eminently accessible, and, overall, thoroughly convincing.
As the book's title suggests, Fr Crean is offering a distinctly Catholic response to Dawkins, making no claim to a general defence of religion, or of other specific religious beliefs or practices. Neither does the author propose to offer the reader a complete apology for Catholic doctrine, but rather limits his discussion to those issues raised by Dawkins in The God Delusion.
Generally, this discussion may be broken down into several general sections. The first deals with Dawkins' counter-argument against the 'proof for the existence of God by design', which forms the basis of his professed atheism.
Showing Dawkins' argument to be unsatisfactory, Crean reinstates the plausibility of the proofs for God's existence from design, as well as from contingency. This first part of the book, comprising the first two chapters, is drenched in Thomistic philosophy, and, as the author himself states, is essential to a debunking of Dawkins' atheistic philosophy, in spite of its challenging subject matter.
It is beyond the scope of this review (and the abilities of this reviewer) to delve into the philosophical maelstrom at the heart of the debate; suffice to say that Crean's treatment of such complex issues is both self-assured and reassuring to the inexpert reader. And while a broader familiarity with the writings of Aquinas (and to some degree, Dawkins for that matter) would undoubtedly facilitate a more thorough understanding of the author's arguments, a careful and patient reading will adequately compensate where such familiarity is lacking.
The second part of the book deals more specifically with several aspects of Catholic faith which Dawkins finds troubling. Thus we have a chapter on miracles, to which Dawkins' proclaims a vehement aversion. Crean shows that this aversion has less to do with the actual possibility that miracles can and do take place in the material world, and more to do with the prejudice which underlies much (if not all) of Dawkins' atheistic creed.
Similarly, a chapter devoted to the authenticity of the Gospel texts, an authenticity which Dawkins flatly denies, reveals the stubbornness required of one who determines to adopt such a sceptical point of view, given the vast weight of evidence verifying the Gospels' legitimacy as historical texts.
Our author goes on to assess Dawkins' claim that morality, rather than being reliant on God or religion, is a naturally occurring phenomenon, and one that, being a product of natural selection, has been beneficial to the survival of the human race.
Crean uses this argument to illustrate the inability of any materialist philosophy to impose on humanity an objective moral code. He shows how any moral duty which we might consider to be binding on all mankind (such as the duty to care for children, and to not boil them in oil) cannot originate from anything but a super-natural source. He goes on to demonstrate how the morality present in both the Old and New Testaments is consistent with a moral code which proceeds eternally from an infinite and perfect God.
Finally, Crean considers Dawkins' attack on various alleged peculiarities of the Catholic Church. Here Dawkins' main shortcoming is shown to be ignorance of his subject. How, Crean asks, can this eminent professor lament the Church's use of theological language (which he considers to be 'obscurantist') when it merely parallels the development of an appropriate lexicon which is not only common, but vital to the proper advancement of all academic disciplines (including Dawkins' own beloved discipline, biology)?
Throughout the book, Crean shows Dawkins to be contradictory, prejudiced, judgemental, and dogmatic in asserting the merits of atheism, and the evils of religious faith. As the author makes patently clear, Dawkins adds nothing new to the case against the existence of God, labouring only to re-state centuries-old arguments without showing the slightest awareness of how such arguments have been addressed in the time since.
Dawkins' arguments are shown to be disjointed and unsubstantiated, and unashamedly contemptuous of any reasoned argument to the contrary. This is confirmed by his scathing language and spiteful temperament, to which Crean makes reference on several occasions.
By contrast, Crean retains a measured poise for the bulk of his reply, broken only occasionally by a warranted sense of exasperation at his subject's slipshod and undisciplined manner.
Attractively laid out, and at an easily conquerable 160 pages, A Catholic Replies to Professor Dawkins is systematically argued and meticulously annotated, leading the reader carefully and courageously through a barrage of atheistic rage and a veritable minefield of sceptical non-sequiturs.
In light of this, it might be that we do ourselves (and our God) a disservice in devoting overmuch attention to the likes of Dawkins, who seems less interested in the truth than in being 'right'; and in being acknowledged and acclaimed by the multitudes for his wisdom and superiority.
This is nothing new. Ancient Greece had its Sophists, who revelled in fame and fortune while Socrates, that great disciple of Truth, faced execution; the Sadducees, the Chief Priest and Pontius Pilate thought so little of the Truth that they had Him nailed to a tree, in the hope of preserving their riches and power.
Today, amid the uproar emanating from Dawkins and his profit- mongering rabble of nay-saying disciples, Thomas Crean gently reminds us that in our search for Truth, we must turn to and not away from, its earthly gateway, Jesus Christ, and His mystical body, the Roman Catholic Church.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 20 No 6 (July 2007), p. 16
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