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Book Reviews

Alister McGrath: Dawkin’s God: Genes, Memes, and the meaning of Life.

Book Review:

Dawkin’s God: Genes, Memes, and the meaning of Life.

Alister McGrath.  Blackwell Publishing 2005. ISBN 9781405125383

Richard Dawkins has, since 1996 been Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. He is the author of many books, among the best known are “The Selfish Gene” and “The Blind Watchmaker”.  His books are attempts to make science in general, and evolutionary theory in particular, understandable and attractive to lay audiences. However Christians who read his books recognise that there is another agenda – a religious one.

In this book Alistair McGrath discusses Dawkin’s science as well as his religion. McGrath is Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford who, before he majored in theology, gained a PhD in biophysics from the University of Oxford. So he is well qualified to discuss both the science and the religion of Dawkins.

Dawkins of course claims to be an atheist. The difficult aspect of his writing for Christians is that he makes evolutionary biology the basis for his atheism. McGrath says that, “The real issue for me is how Dawkins proceeds from a Darwinian theory of evolution to a confident atheistic world-view, which he preaches with messianic zeal and unassailable certainty.” (p10).

McGrath’s book is careful to underline all the way through the proper evidential basis for scientific statements. He takes issue especially with Dawkins unexamined and unsupported claims about the nature of Christian belief. He makes out a polite but clear cut case against the straw-man method that Dawkins uses, and refutes the central claim of Dawkins that faith is blind and based on a “total absence of supporting evidence” (see p89).

McGrath also takes issue with Dawkin’s idea of memetics and memes – on logical and scientific grounds. The book is an excellent critique and appreciation of Dawkin’s science – much of which McGrath admires. However its greatest merit is that it exposes the false basis for Dawkin’s atheism and challenges much of his later writing which many people now realise is merely a frontal attack on Christianity – disguised as science.

Those who have been troubled by Dawkin’s writings and haven’t been sure how to answer it will be helped greatly by this book. Those who would like some help in understanding the good science in Dawkin’s books will also benefit, as will those who want to find a way through the implications of evolutionary theory as it relates to faith.

Dale Appleby

11 December 2006

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