Book Review: Robertson – Dawkins Letters

Dawkins Letters

David Robertson is a Scottish Presbyterian who ministers in Dundee. Having read Dawkins ‘God Delusion’ he decided to respond with a series of letters addressing the major themes of the book. These include letters addressing: the notion that atheists are the truly enlightened, intelligent ones; the impossibility of true beauty without God; the myth of atheist tolerance and rationality; the myth of a cruel Old Testament God; the false dichotomy Dawkins creates between science and religion; the “who made God?” argument; the nonsense that all religion is inherently evil; the myth of morality within an atheistic worldview; the myth of an immoral bible, and; the charge of child abuse.

Where to start? The first half of the book is definitely less persuasive than the latter. One might conjecture that Robertson’s understandable irritation with Dawkins slides off into sarcasm and thus dents the force of his presentation. Seriously critiquing Dawkins view of “multiverses” could have been achieved without mockery. Even if, especially at this point, one does think that Dawkins might deserve a dose of his own medicine. Further, the brevity he must deal with each topic to fit his chosen format (short letters), inevitably leads to some shortcuts in his arguments. For example, Robertson doesn’t really address some of the real moral problems from reading the Old Testament. This is an area he really should have spent considerably more time on, as it’s something one hears more and more often. His letter on this, frankly, comes across as assertion rather than explanation for how Christians view this problematic material. It lacks substance and wanders off into preaching/proclamation rather than tackling the difficulties. This was the most disappointing chapter in the book.

Nonetheless, things pick up considerably in the second half of the book. The tone changes, becoming less polemical, and far more compellingly argued. Indeed, the strongest letters cover the basis for morality without God and whether religion is really the source of all evil. Here Robertson takes Dawkins to task for his continual oversimplification, ad hominem polemics, failure to express what Christians actually believe rather than his straw-man caricatures, and his genuine failure to engage informed and erudite Christian tradition. To say one does not need to know about spaghetti monsters is surely effective and clever rhetoric, but is simply a strategy of evasion, an utter cop-out to avoid being challenged by the best of Christian thought. The latter half of the book also pushes Dawkins to consider the outcome of his polemics and where it might lead, especially in view of the irresponsible charge of child abuse.

Overall, Robertson’s book is well worth reading, if only for the latter half of the book, which is passionately expressed, critically on target, and better representative of the concerns about the underlying philosophy Dawkins holds. Moral relativity and the drive of the selfish gene unchecked by the good, loving, and holy God revealed in the face of Jesus, are more likely to lead to ‘might is right’ and ‘the ends justify the means’ than ‘care for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger in your midst’ and ‘love your neighbour’.

Perhaps some day, when the heat has gone out of the current polemics, Robertson will write a much more lengthy and detailed response. If he does, I’d be glad to read it.

I.C. Rating 7/10

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