The God Delusion , by the atheist writer Richard Dawkins, is remarkable in the first place for having achieved some sort of record by selling more than a million copies. But what is much more remarkable than the economic achievement is that the contents”or rather lack of contents”show Dawkins himself to have become what he and his fellow secularists typically believe to be an impossibility: a secularist bigot. (Helpfully, my copy of the Oxford English Dictionary defines a bigot as an obstinate or intolerant adherent of a point of view.)
The fault of Dawkins as an academic (which he still was during the period he composed this book, although he has since retired) was his scandalous and apparently deliberate refusal to present the doctrine that he appears to think he has refuted in its strongest form.
Thus, we find in his index four references to Einstein. But I find it hard to write with restraint about the obscurantist refusal on the part of Dawkins to make any mention of Einstein’s most relevant report”that there must be a Divine Intelligence behind the physical world. (I myself think it obvious that if this argument is applicable to the world of physics then it must be hugely more powerful if it is applied to the immeasurably more complicated world of biology.)
Of course, many physicists with the highest reputations do not agree with Einstein on this matter. But an academic attacking some ideological position that he believes to be mistaken must, of course, attack that position in its strongest form. This Dawkins does not do in the case of Einstein, and his failure is the crucial index of his insincerity of academic purpose”and therefore warrants me to charge him with having become what he has probably believed to be an impossibility: a secularist bigot.
On page 82 of The God Delusion is a remarkable note. It reads, We might be seeing something similar today in the over-publicized tergiversations of the philosopher Antony Flew, who announced in his old age that he had been converted to belief in some sort of deity, triggering a frenzy of eager repetition around the Internet.
What is important about this passage is not what Dawkins is saying about Flew but what he is showing here about Dawkins. For if he had any interest in the truth of the matter of which he was making so much, he would surely have brought himself to write me a letter of enquiry. (When I received a torrent of enquiries after an account of my conversion to deism had been published in the quarterly of the Royal Institute of Philosophy, I managed”I believe”to reply eventually to every letter.)
This whole business makes all too clear that Dawkins is not interested in the truth as such. He is primarily concerned to discredit an ideological opponent by any available means. That would itself constitute sufficient reason for suspecting that the whole enterprise of The God Delusion was not, as it at least pretended to be, an attempt to discover and spread knowledge of the existence or nonexistence of God but rather an attempt”an extremely successful one”to spread the author’s own convictions in this area.
A less important point that needs to be made in this place is that although the index of The God Delusion notes six references to deism, it provides no definition of the word. This enables Dawkins to suggest that deists are a miscellany of believers in this and that. The truth, which Dawkins ought to have learnt before this book went to the printers, is that deists believe in the existence of a God but not the God of any revelation. In fact, the first notable public appearance of the notion of deism was during the American Revolution. Thomas Jefferson, the young man who drafted the Declaration of Independence and later became president, was a deist, as were several of the other Founding Fathers of that abidingly important institution, the United States.
In a monster footnote to what I am inclined to describe as a monster book” The God Delusion ”Dawkins reproaches me for what he calls my ignominious decision to accept, in 2006, the Philip E. Johnson Award for Liberty and Truth. The awarding institution is Biola University in Los Angeles. Dawkins does not say outright that his objection to my decision is that Biola is a specifically Christian institution. He obviously assumes (but refrains from actually saying) that this is incompatible with producing first-class academic work”not a thesis that would be acceptable in either my own university of Oxford or in Harvard.
In my time at Oxford, in the years immediately succeeding the Second World War, Gilbert Ryle (then Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy) published a hugely influential book, The Concept of Mind . This book revealed, by implication, that minds are not entities of a sort that could coherently be said to survive the death of those whose minds they were. Ryle felt responsible for the smooth pursuit of philosophical teaching and the publication of the findings of philosophical research in the University of Oxford, and he knew that, at that time, there would have been an uproar if he had published his own conclusion that the idea of a second life after death was self-contradictory and incoherent.
He was content for me to do this at a later time and in another place. I promised him that my subject would be the logic of mortality, if I were ever invited to give the Gifford Lectures (a series of lectures, first given in 1888, for promoting, advancing and diffusing natural theology, in the widest sense of that term, in other words the knowledge of God and of the foundation of ethics). When I was invited, I did speak on this topic, and these lectures were first published in 1987. They are still in print.
Finally, as to the suggestion that I have been used by Biola University: If the way I was welcomed by the students and the members of the faculty whom I met on my short stay in Biola amounted to being used, then I can only express my regret that at my age of eighty-five I cannot reasonably hope for another visit to this institution.
Antony Flew is a British philosopher and author of such books as A New Approach to Psychical Research (1953) and Thinking About Thinking (1975). Well known as an atheist, he announced in 2004 that he now holds a deistical form of theism, which led Richard Dawkins to attack Flew in his book The God Delusion. In reply, Flew wrote this note, published here for the first time.
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