Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Williams questions Dawkins' critical thinking about religion | Ekklesia

Williams questions Dawkins' critical thinking about religion | Ekklesia:
"Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has said that Richard Dawkins and other apostles of anti-religious sentiment are oversimplifying complex issues and often missing the point. His comments came in a weekend lecture on ‘misunderstanding religion’ at the University of Swansea. ..."

"... Dr Williams stressed that his intention was not to defend religion but to uphold the principles of serious intellectual discussion. The archbishop said that proper thought about religion, as in any field of enquiry, was marked by self-criticism.

When asked by a member of the audience “whose fault is Dawkins?”, Dr Williams replied that religious believers themselves were partly to blame, adding that in the past the understanding of God had often been reduced “to the kind of target Dawkins and others too easily fire at”.

The lecture, entitled ‘How To Misunderstand Religion’, opened a series of theological addresses at Swansea organised by the university chaplain, the Rev Nigel John. It was Dr Williams’ first visit there since he became the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Dr Williams said that while Richard Dawkins was undoubtedly a “lively and attractive writer” his actual arguments in The God Delusion failed to engage with where a lot of religious people actually were and with the deepest intellectual accounts of the relationship between faith and reason. ..."

Rowan Williams makes some good points in this article, couched in incisive language. He correctly places part of the blame for the current proliferation of anti-religion books to the believers themselves for providing fodder for attacks.

The main issue for Williams is the failure of certain atheists to engage religion on an intellectual basis. The Archbishop of Canterbury points out that not all atheists follow the lead of Richard Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett, or Christopher Hitchens; some feel these outspoken individuals do far more damage to fellow atheists than to religious adherents. He quotes Michael Ruse as saying in a letter to Daniel Dennett that "[N]either of you are willing to study Christianity seriously and to engage with the ideas… it is just plain silly and grotesquely immoral to claim that Christianity is simply a force for evil, as Richard claims…"

Some of the people with whom I have come into contact over the years are atheists or agnostics. Civil discourse is possible as long as people listen and speak respectfully. I can't claim to have converted any atheists, but I can claim that the challenges I have received over the years have spurred me to look things up for myself, and as a result my faith has been strengthened.

What we are dealing with here is the "straw man fallacy" -- by misrepresenting or exaggerating religion, such atheists as Dawkins, Dennett, and Hitchens can only demolish their own image of religion. Yet religion remains a vital part of people's lives. The "straw man" should be a caution to religious apologists -- it does no good if we respond in kind to the attacks of a few (and there is ample Biblical support for that point). Characterizing all Christians by the excesses of a small number of people is no different than characterizing all atheists by the emotional excesses of a very few.

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