In the second edition of The God Delusion biologist Richard Dawkins defends himself against the charge that he is out of his depth as he opines magisterially on matters of theology and philosophy of religion. Alas, Dawkins’ response merely illustrates the problem. His reply is to insist that one need not study the canons of fairyology before dismissing fairies. Likewise, one need not study the canons of theology and philosophy of religion before dismissing God.
As I said, that juvenile retort merely illustrates the problem. It’s precisely because Dawkins has invested no effort in trying to move beyond his juvenile strawman caricatures of God that he can dismiss the concept as akin to a garden fairy.
A friend of mine recently sent me a link for Beyond the Theism/Atheism Divide: A Plea for Humility” in which Thatamanil nicely summarizes the problem:article “
What binds many atheists together is an unshakable conviction that they know everything there is to know about religion, namely that it is irrational bondage to immutable doctrine. No amount of counterevidence can convince such atheists otherwise. What irony! But where do they come by this knowledge about religion? Their expertise seems to be derived by virtue of sheer sentience alone.
By contrast, if a theologian were to broadcast her convictions about molecular or evolutionary biology without some years of careful reading and study, she would be met with jeering laughter and summarily dismissed. Why then are uninformed atheists who have never read in theology exempt from similar derision? Sadly, every pedant believes himself entitled to his unearned convictions about religion.
The only point at which I’d differ from Thatamanil is that I’d prefer to speak of a more specific domain than “religion” simpliciter. But the same point applies when folks ridicule concepts in academic theology or philosophy of religion without ever having invested serious mental energy in the discipline.
Thatamanil gives the example of Christians exercising unearned convictions about molecular or evolutionary biology. One might equally think of a person who dismisses global warming as a “hoax” based on the testimony of his favorite conservative talk radio host. As for the Christian dismissal of atheists, I can note an example I’ve talked about before. In the Focus on the Family produced curriculum The Truth Project, the
teacher indoctrinator Del Tackett notes that while Christians believe human persons were created in the image of God, atheists believe human persons were created in the image of “goo”.
Nicely played, Mr. Tackett, a base rejoinder on the same level as Dawkins’ fairyology retort.