The God Delusion: Methodology, Wed, Jan 30 2013 #(607)

Jan 30, 2013

Dear Dr Dawkins,

I’m afraid that I’m writing in the wrong section of your website as I haven’t found the section that lists the, no doubt, many negative and yet thought out responses to your book “the God delusion”.

Maybe we will soon see these responses posted in the interest of balance. It is easier I guess to post the outraged and the sensational, due to limited space if you are trying to show the other side as crazed and unbalanced, but to do so would be, to all intents and purposes, an extension of the “straw man” argument that people use to inhibit sensible discussion. So, apologies if this is out of place.

Dr Dawkins I am greatly concerned about the methodology and end result of your book. I myself am science trained, but I am in no way esteemed or celebrated, and yet even with my humble level of education I see many things that greatly trouble me especially when one so widely acclaimed and handsomely educated writes it.

Much that is written in this book seems to be inconsistent, badly researched, and phrased in such a way as to sway opinion rather than to present balanced facts — which is surely an affront to any real scientific endeavour. My great concern is that such errors reveal the author as either a poor scientist or worse as deceptive. I will cite only a few examples of the many I have already observed upon first reading, and will limit myself only to the first few chapters for the sake of brevity. I do have pages of comments written however, if you would be interested in thinking them through.

For now though, in your chapter on the argument from scripture there is this great problem. Page 93 “the Chinese whispers generations” — surely you are aware of biblical textual criticism and the degree of accuracy and reliability that we have with regard to the New Testament documents and yet your book examines none of this. This is surely a grievous oversight, and your language is far from balanced and scientific or academic. Such popularist phrasings suit the shock documentaries rather than the pen of a learned man.

Further, a dismissal of C.S. Lewis is extraordinary from a biologist who is speaking well out of his field and against a world expert in historical literature. It needs to be remembered and noted in your text that this man was indeed an atheist himself until he tested the scriptures — the fourth possibility noted on page 92 is not actually a fourth option at all, it would have to fall into the lunatic category given the radical nature of the claims made by Jesus.

I would love to write further but will wait until you ask for further details and data that might speak against your hypothesis here.

Another example of loose writing — page 96, a reference to King Arthur and the gospels — surely you are not so foolish as to put these two types of literature in the same category? Even school children recognise a massive difference even if only at the surface of historical anchoring and relevance to daily living. It is clumsy at best to write so.

And sadly the most unscientific of statements is made on the next page (97) “reputable biblical scholars do not in general regard the New Testament (and obviously not the Old Testament) as a reliable record of what actually happened in history and I shall not consider the Bible further as evidence for any kind of deity”. How can this be said by a “reputable” scholar? A scientist, at least where I studied, is obliged to examine the evidence pertaining to his subject and to do this exhaustively. To dismiss these complex and ancient documents without a thorough and detailed study would be paramount to the other side saying that genetics itself is not worth considering in the debate against evolution!

One last example that troubles me, although again I would be willing to at some stage send you my annotated copy of your book — I must say however, that on average so far I have two to three detailed comments per page. Data is of crucial importance in the scientific endeavour, and the misuse of it a grave concern. I note that on page 100, only 7% of NAS fellows believe in “a personal God” as against 90% of the general American population who believe in “some sort of supernatural being”. Surely you will see the error here and change it in future publications — perhaps even a public retraction would be in order for the sake of sciences’ good name. The two questions are massively different — “personal” verses “some sort”?

It may even be that on this data the scientists have a higher proportion of believers than the general population. As I understand it, belief in a “personal” God in the population may be as low as 2-5% or perhaps that is just an Australian figure and we are very different from our American cousins. What ever the case may be, the use of data and language here shows a looseness that should be of great concern. Again I ask you, are you making errors here? Or are you being deliberately deceptive? Either way the issues need to be addressed for the sake of your readers and the good name of science.

You will have no doubt guessed where my own bias lays. I am a Christian as well as a biologist, and an academically trained pastor. Again I am under no illusions about my own short comings in the studies of both areas, however, even my level of education leaves me with many questions and concerns about your book and your methods.

In the interest of good science and balanced engagement will you provide links to other worthwhile thinkers such as William Lane Craig, Dr Hugh Ross, Alvin Plantinga and others?

And also will you balance out tired arguments such as religion being responsible for all war and atrocity etc. since the greatest conflicts in terms of casualty and damage have had Atheism or token religious identification at their heart (WW1, WW2, Vietnam, Korea, Russian and Chinese internal bloodsheds). Religion equals the root of all violence just doesn’t hold up.

And please be careful of atheistic hagiography — Bertrand Russell may well have been gaoled for pacifism, but he was also a campaigner for women’s rights even as he beat his own. And David Hume may well be an ally against religion, but he was if anything even more severe on science — You will be well aware that Kant wrote in order to try and rescue science from the ravages of Hume’s scepticism far more passionately and urgently than he was trying to rescue religion.

Anyway thanks for your time.

I do look forward to an improvement in your methodology and language skills. May truth be our discovery.

C. Brennan

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