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Dawkins's angel

Religious belief is currently under heavy fire, writes John Polkinghorne in the Times -

Books by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and others tell us that religion is a corrupting delusion. Despite their assertions of the rationality of atheism, the style of their onslaughts has been strongly polemical and rhetorical, rather than reasonably argued. Historical evidence is selectively surveyed. . .

Polkinghorne reviews a book by John Cornwell, which was written in the last six months in response to Dawkins. Cornwell examines Richard Dawkins’s book from the point of view of “Richard Dawkins’s guardian angel, a being, moreover, who had earlier stood in the same relationship to Charles Darwin”.

Cornwell begins by pointing out that Dawkins makes no serious attempt to engage with the academic discussion of religious thought and practice. His book is “as innocent of heavy scholarship as it is free from false modesty”. When it asserts that Jesus’ call to love our neighbour referred only to relations between Jews (despite this claim being in clear contradiction to the point of the parable of the Good Samaritan), the only support quoted for this highly questionable statement is a book written by an anaesthesiologist. . .

According to Polkinghorne, Cornwell dissects Dawkins's simplistic inventor-in-the-sky model of God with the wit, charm, and reasoned argument missing from Dawkins's book. Why Polkinghorne's review was subtitled "Substituting science for religion is like swapping a series of case-notes on senile dementia for King Lear" I don't know. Possibly an over-eager night editor. I doubt Polkinghorne thinks of science that way, or would want to swap either one. Anyway, at least in Britain, science was nurtured by Christianity in many ways.

The ways are beautiful, rational, profound, sometimes almost invisible, and practical. Newton, Joule, Kelvin, Boyle, Faraday, and Maxwell, great British giants of empirical science, believed in God. Their science was inspired by their Christian beliefs and a Christian society that valued reason, truth, and teamwork. (Even solitary Newton benefited from the fellowship and support of the Royal Society.)

But if you're Dawkins you easily dismiss their religious ideas because they lived decades if not centuries ago and he assumes their ideas are out of date. Oddly, their scientific ideas have not gone out of date - modern science has been built on them - but Dawkins is sure their religious ideas have.

Ah, well, Cornwell's book sounds inviting.