• David Marshall’s 144 Errors, Gross Exaggerations, Highly Dubious Claims, and Lack of Comprehension in Critiquing The God Delusion, Part 1


    I would consider the author of this essay, David Marshall, to be a bottom feeder in the world of Christian apologetics. He is the founder of the Kuai Mu Institute for Christianity and World Cultures. While not very well-known, he has written what he feels is a devastating response to The New Atheism (and Richard Dawkins in particular) with his 2007 book The Truth Behind the New Atheism.

    This appears to be one of his main essays, which he has titled, The God Delusion: 160 Errors, Gross Exaggerations, and Highly Dubious Claims, and he has touted this essay at Amazon.com (also here), though did not get the positive feedback he seemed to be expecting.

    I’m going to go through this entire list of 160 supposed ‘errors, gross exaggerations, and highly dubious claims’ that Marshall claims to have found and see if they have merit. If they do not, I will expose Marshall’s errors and I will tally up the results at the end.

    Marshall’s original document can currently be found here.

    Before I begin, I’d like to note something Marshall mentions in his Introduction. After reading The God Delusion, Marshall mentions what he did afterwards:

    Neglecting my studies, in nine days I furiously wrote ninety pages of response.

    Well, that would surely explain several of the errors in his response! I don’t see how anyone could write an effective rebuttal while their head was clouded by their ‘furious’ mindset.

    I have formatted the post so that Marshall’s criticisms of Dawkins will appear in blockquotes with my comments immediately following.

    #1 Is faith irrational? “The whole point of religious faith, its strength and chief glory, is that it does not depend on rational justification.” (23)

    Note that Dawkins is not just saying that there is no evidence for religious faith, or that the evidence is bad. Those of course would be highly disputable claims, but not obviously wrong.

    Dawkins makes it clear that he means the MEANING of faith for Christians and people of other religions is to “believe not only without evidence, but in the teeth of evidence,” as he put it in The Selfish Gene.

    This is one of the main themes of The God Delusion. I devote a chapter of The Truth Behind the New Atheism to refuting it, and to describe the role reason plays in Christianity, and faith plays in science. For quotes on the rationality of faith from great Christian thinkers down through the centuries, see the anthology, “Faith and Reason” on my website, christthetao.com.

    Dawkins made this claim in earlier books as well. Alister McGrath, his colleague at Oxford and a scientist himself, wrote a book in which he responded resoundingly:

    “As a professional historical theologian, I have no hesitation in asserting that the classic Christian tradition has always valued rationality, and does not hold that faith involves the complete abandonment of reason or believing in the teeth of the evidence. Indeed, the Christian tradition is so consistent on this matter that it is difficult to understand where Dawkins has got the idea of faith as ‘blind trust’ . . . ” Dawkins’ God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life, 99

    Dawkins read the book, but paid no attention, either by amending his view, or by attempting (somehow) to refute McGrath. (I say “somehow,” both because McGrath is an expert on what Christians believe, and Dawkins is not, and because in fact McGrath is right, as my anthology shows.) Dawkins’ unwillingness to grapple with the facts in this case truly can be described as “believing in the teeth of the evidence.”

    I have already written a detailed rebuttal to Marshall’s arguments on this topic in my review of his book so you can click the link above and read my response. I will, however, note three problems with his argument about the definition of faith: 1) There are many Christians who do view faith in the way Dawkins describes. 2) There are several studies which demonstrate that Christians believe for emotional reasons, not rational ones. 3) Marshall fails to present a single example of any Christian using faith in the way he describes.

    In the version of his essay I am critiquing Marshall has edited his essay to respond to an individual from the Amazon.com Discussion forums.

    Feedback: Dr. Greg Janzen, who teaches philosophy at the University of Calgary, attempted to rescue Dawkins on point one as follows:

    “You claim that Dawkins is wrong to suppose that faith doesn’t depend on rational justification. But you define faith in the orthodox Christian sense, according to which faith means “holding firmly to and acting on what you have good reason to be is true . . . But, of course, when Dawkins says faith doesn’t depend on rational justification, he’s referring to the ordinary or garden variety conception of faith, according to which (roughly) having faith in x means believing x where reason is neutral with respect to x. On this sense of faith–which has been championed by, among others, James, Kierkegaard, Plantinga, and literally millions of lay Christians–faith DOESN’T depend on rational justification.”

    Janzen added:

    ”I want to say this, though: I think you’ve completely abandoned the principle of charity . . . on your website and in your published works, you have to give your opponents’ arguments the best possible run for their money. Can you honestly say you’ve done this? It certainly seems as though you haven’t.”

    My response: Dawkins’ main arguments about faith (see below) are that (1) Christians and other “religious” people have no good evidence for belief; (2) They use the word “faith” to make a virtue of believing without evidence, even “in the teeth of the evidence;” (3) This is precisely what makes religion so dangerous; (4) Even liberal faiths “make the world safe for fundamentalism” by teaching children that belief without evidence is a virtue.

    In other words, Dawkins’ case against faith depends largely on this first point, that faith in the Christian sense means believing without or in the teeth of the evidence. He never softens or modifies this in any way. He never says, “Some religious people, like some atheists, believe things for which there is no evidence, or think that they don’t need any evidence.” This is because his argument depends on marking a stark, almost Manichean contrast between the “children of light” (literally “brights” as Hitchens puts it) and the “children of darkness” (religious believers.) Point (2) is therefore essential to points (3) and (4). (Sam Harris expands on this point.)

    So Janzen is wrong, both about the meaning of the quote above, and on what Dawkins is using it for. Dawkins is not just arguing against blind faith – if he were, most Christian thinkers would be happy to agree with him. He is claiming that religion requires blind faith, which is precisely why it is so harmful. That is an essential part of his argument against religion.

    It is hardly “uncharitable” to accurately quote a false claim, which a well-known scholar has vocally made for more than thirty years (at least since the 1976 printing of The Selfish Gene), and show why it is false.

    Kierkegaard probably was guilty of assuming faith does not require evidence. I am inclined to dispute Janzen’s interpretation of Plantinga and James (and also Aquinas, whom he brings up in the same discussion), though I won’t chase that nut further here. (On Aquinas, see quotes and analysis from the “Faith and Reason” anthology.)

    My dispute with Janzen can be read on the Amazon.com site for The God Delusion.

    Once again, as I’ve explained above (and in much more detail in my review of his book), Marshall is the one who has his definitions confused. Furthermore, his appeal to authority by bringing up his list of theologians who supposedly clung to his definition of faith is an irrational argument because I’ve read that essay. The same problems with the quotes he uses in his book plague that essay. He takes those he quotes out of context. He also ignores the facts I lay out in my review and the fact that many theologians have accepted Dawkins’ view of “blind faith” that Dawkins asserts in The God Delusion.

    #2 Just how touchy are believers, anyway? “The rest of us are expected to defend our prejudices. But ask a religious person to justify their faith and you infringe ‘religious liberty.'” (23)

    This is not in fact the response Dawkins’ attacks have met with from Christian thinkers. I do not recall having ever heard a Christian make such a complaint. The implication that an appeal to religious freedom is the usual response a request for evidence is met with, is unbelievable.

    What’s unbelievable is that Marshall completely disregards the two pages before this statement where Dawkins gives a few specific examples of religious individuals getting a “pass” in society just because of their beliefs. One example given was a 2006 supreme court ruling which held that a religious group would be allowed the use of hallucinogenic drugs, even though for everyone else it was illegal. This was sought because the believers claimed it enhanced their understanding of god. They didn’t even need to explain why or how this drug would help. Simply by proclaiming themselves religious they were given a free pass to do what for others was illegal.

    Something Dawkins also touches upon is the fact that religious belief is (or at least was, before the rise of the New Atheism) given much respect. It was an unspoken rule that you weren’t allowed to criticize anyone’s beliefs if they were based upon religious dogma. I’ve personally experienced this and it’s hard to put into words. I think of it as this feeling you get when you feel as if you want to object to what someone says about their religious beliefs, but something stops you from saying anything because you would feel badly about offending them. I agree with Dawkins. It’s only logical to allow criticism of religious beliefs, especially when those beliefs affect many other people. When religious individuals come out in droves to vote to ban stem cell research or ban gay marriage this creates many problems, the least of which is the targeted individuals’ freedoms.

    #3 “Atheists do not have faith.” (51)

    As we have seen, by “faith” Dawkins means “belief not only without evidence, but in the teeth of the evidence.”

    The best way to cast this sweeping generalization in doubt may be to simply name a few of the most influential modern atheists. Karl Marx. Friedrich Nietzsche. Friedrich Engels. Sigmund Freud. Ayn Rand. Madalyn Murray O’Hair. Edward Said. Mao Zedong. Joseph Stalin.

    Is it really true that none of these people, or their hundreds of millions of followers, ever believed things like the wisdom of the North Korean community party, without evidence, or in the teeth of the evidence? The evidence, I think, shows that atheists often DO have faith, in Dawkins own rather skewed sense – as of course, do other kinds of people. (A bit like what Judeo-Christians call “idolatry.”)

    I argue that the more orthodox Christian sense of faith means, “holding firmly to and acting on what you have good reason to be is true.” In that sense, I think we all live by faith.

    I’m confused by Marshall’s interpretation of Dawkins’ statement. Dawkins was not implying that atheists have never relied on faith in their lives. The topic under discussion was the idea of belief in god. Dawkins was explaining his belief/non-belief scale and said that reasonable atheists do not hold a “conviction that anything definitely does not exist.” [1] To put another way, Dawkins is arguing that no logical atheist would believe that god absolutely, positively, can’t and doesn’t exist when there is no way to have 100% certainty. That was the faith Dawkins was referring to. Marshall completely misunderstood Dawkins’ point here.

    #4 Did McGrath rebut Dawkins? Responding to Alister McGrath: “It seems to be the only point in rebuttal that he has to offer: the undeniable but ignominiously weak point that you cannot disprove the existence of God.” (54)

    That may be the only point that registered with Dawkins; it certainly is not the only point McGrath made. In Dawkins’ God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life, the book Dawkins is referring to, McGrath questioned Dawkins’ use of the term “faith.” He argued that the idea that science and religion are “at war” has been abandoned by serious historians. He showed that Dawkins misquotes Tertullian, and was sloppy in many of his arguments.

    I agree though that McGrath’s book was not meaty enough — which is one reason I wrote a response of my own. But Dawkins’ own book might be stronger if he had read McGrath more carefully, and either tried to show why McGrath was wrong, or adjusted his own views accordingly.

    First of all, Marshall is nitpicking Dawkins’ book and failing so far to refute any major claims.  Second, Dawkins was discussing McGrath’s treatment of NOMA and the relationship between science and religion. This he covers at some length for the next seven pages in The God Delusion. Simply taking that one sentence and disregarding what Dawkins was actually discussing is disingenuous. I see no point in addressing this point further.

    #5 “Martin Luther was well aware that reason was religion’s arch-enemy, and he frequently warned of its dangers: ‘Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but more frequently than not struggles against the divine Word . . .’ ” (190)

    Dawkins apparently borrowed this quote from a website that failed to cite its source. What view of Luther would he have offered if he had read the following quote from him instead?

    “And it is certainly true that reason is the most important and the highest in rank among all things and, in comparison with other things of this life, the best and something divine. It is the inventor and mentor of all the arts, medicines, laws, and of whatever wisdom, power, virtue, and glory men possess in this life. By virtue of this fact it ought to be named the essential difference by which man is distinguished from the animals and other things (Luther, Disputation Concerning Man, Theses 4-6, citied in Gonzales, p. 45).”

    Chris Marlin-Warfield offers further response to the quality of Dawkins’ research on Martin Luther: http://www.faithfullyliberal.com/?p=879

    Marshall is wrong. He has taken Luther out of context. Like many other Christians throughout history, such as Justin Martyr, Luther believed that reason was very useful, and was a gift from god. However, this “gift” was only useful for material, every day things. This view did not apply to religious matters. When it came to religious issues, reason has it’s limits, and reason can only take you so far. This is where faith must take over. “On all these properly theological issues – the path to salvation, the true nature of God, God’s attitude toward us – reason is blind. This kind of knowledge can only come to us through revelation. And what comes to us through revelation cannot be made subject to reason.” [2]

    #6 Quoting Oscar Wilde approvingly: “Truth, in matters of religion, is simply the opinion that has survived.” (191)

    This is either a tautology, or false. On the one hand, it may mean, “Religious opinions that are believed true, are the ones that people continue to believe true – and thus ‘survive.'” In that case, it is a tautology: to be believed is what it means for an opinion to “survive.” In the same way, the theory of evolution “survives” because people continue to see as true.

    But if Dawkins means that religions DEFINE truth as “those beliefs that survive,” then that’s clearly false. On the contrary, the Bible prophecies that in the last days “ignorant scoffers” will appear (II Peter 3), showing that when it comes to ideas, the Bible does not predict the fit alone will survive.

    Dawkins used this quote because he was discussing memes, ideas and beliefs and he explained how they pass from one person to another so I think the quote fits the subject well. Even more than that, in some cases this is also true. Throughout Christianity there are beliefs that are considered doctrine that cannot be found in the bible.

    #7 What’s wrong with memes? A meme, as Dawkins described it in his 1976 work The Selfish Gene, is a “unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation . . . Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches.” (The Selfish Gene, 192)

    Even in The Selfish Gene, a pejorative meaning began to attach to the idea of “memes,” especially in reference to religion. Dawkins also accepted the suggestion that memes are “living structures, not just metaphorically but technically.” A religious meme is a pernicious idea or custom that replicates for its own selfish purposes – in the context of a book about “selfish genes,” it was a natural step for the little critters to become sentient.

    In later years, writers like Susan Blackmore and Daniel Dennett took the new “science” of “memetics” with great seriousness. However, Dawkins’ rival, Steven Jay Gould, called it a “meaningless metaphor,” and McGrath (among others) subjected it to withering criticism.

    In The God Delusion Dawkins shows he remains attached to the idea, however:

    “The exact physical nature of genes is now known . . . whereas that of memes is not . . . These alleged problems of memes are exaggerated. The most important objection is the allegation that memes are copied with insufficiently high fidelity to function as Darwinian replicators.” (192)

    No, the most important objection to memes has to be that they don’t exist. An idea is not a physical object of unknown nature, it is not a physical object at all. (If it is, it apparently lives on paper, because that is where I found Dawkins’ idea of memes.) (See The Truth Behind the New Atheism, 85-88, for further discussion of “meme theory.”)

    This criticism confuses me. Marshall doesn’t seem to understand memes at all. Memes are nothing more than ideas, beliefs, fads, etc. and is the study of how they are passed from one person to another. No, ideas are not physical things, but that criticism seems to tell me that Marshall doesn’t truly understand what a meme is in the first place. In addition, Dawkins never said (to my knowledge) that memes were a physical anything, so that criticism is pointless.

    #8 “It is not obviously silly to speak of a meme pool.” (192)

    It is. The image of a “pool” adds an extra layer of confusing poetic license to the idea of memes, which already seem a “meaningless metaphor” to many observers. What Dawkins really seems to mean, in plain English, is that we get ideas from other people. Why not just say so?

    This is a pointless objection and requires no comment. This isn’t even an error, just Marshall’s opinion.

    #9 Does Pascal think God only wants us to believe? “In my discussion of Pascal’s Wager I mentioned the odd assumption that the one thing God really wants of us is belief.” (199)

    Pascal makes no such assumption. That is not the point of his Wager. Faith meant not just a series of assertions about God, but a life oriented correctly to the true nature of things:

    “Follow the way by which they began.” This involves going to mass and saying prayers, but also:

    “Now what harm will come to you from choosing this course? You will be faithful, honest, humble, grateful, full of good works, a sincere, true friend . . . It is true you will not enjoy noxious pleasures, glory and good living, but will you not have others?”

    Clearly, “belief” for Pascal was shorthand, not just for ideas affirmed, but for a particular course of life lived. (See also Truth Behind the New Atheism, p. 25-6)

    More nitpicking, though Marshall does seem to be correct. However he misses Dawkins’ main objection of the Wager: Why believe just to avoid the slight chance that you’re wrong? There are several problems with this idea and Dawkins covers some of them.

    #10 Does thought damage theology? “There are some weird things (such as the Trinity, transubstantiation, incarnation) that we are not meant to understand. Don’t even try to understand one of these, for the attempt might destroy it. Learn how to gain fulfillment in calling it a mystery.” (200)

    In fact, as physicist-turned-theologian John Polkinghorne has pointed out, Christian “dogmas” are a lot like theories in science. Far from assuming that critical thought will destroy them, theologians have subjected these theories to hard thinking, and tried to explain what they mean, for thousands of years. (Whether or not Dawkins takes the time to understand their explanations.)

    Like scientific theory, not all religious truth is immediately comprehensible to the imagination, but that does not render it irrational.

    But in his debate with Francis Collins, sponsored by Time Magazine, Dawkins complains that the God of the Bible is too “comprehensible” to be real: “If there is a God, it’s going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed.”

    Which is it? Is the Christian God false because we understand Him, or because we don’t? Dawkins tries out both arguments, as if throwing mud and stones against a church wall, to see which knocks it over. Perhaps what is really happening is that the “incomprehensible” God Dawkins demands has shown up, and Dawkins has decided that, after all, he’d prefer one he can figure out. (Without the trouble of reading theologians who try to explain him!)

    Religious explanations are nothing like theories in science. In science, a theory must explain certain facts and a scientist must gather evidence that their theory is true, or else it is discarded or reworked. In religion, dogma is mostly immutable and is rarely, if ever, changed when evidence comes to light refuting it. A related issue is that in science facts come first and scientists seek a theory to explain the facts. In religion, their dogma comes first, and then they seek facts to support it. This is the complete opposite of science.

    It seems Marshall did catch Dawkins in a bit of a contradiction, though I’d hardly consider this damaging to Dawkins’ overall argument in The God Delusion. Besides, I’ve found a contradiction between Marshall’s book The Truth Behind the New Atheism and the document I’m now critiquing. In Marshall’s book he attempts to distance the bible from the fact that it teaches an “in-group” morality, but in this document he admits that “[t]hey cared mostly for the “in-group” […] Once again, another example of nitpicking.

    #11 Why do “fundamentalists” believe? “Fundamentalists know they are right because they have read the truth in a holy book and they know, in advance, that nothing will budge them from their belief. The truth of the holy book is an axiom, not the end product of a process of reasoning. The book is true, and if the evidence seems to contradict it, it is the evidence that must be thrown out, not the book.” (282)

    Like many people, Darwin uses the term “fundamentalist” without defining it. Generally he has a modified Manichean view of religion as a mixture not of light and dark, but of dark and murky grey. “Grey” religion is modernized, liberalized, watered-down religious faith, cut loose from the moorings of its original barbaric teachings. The closer to its roots a religion is, the more faithful to Scripture, the more harmful. “Fundamentalism” is religion close to its source – in its starkest North American incarnation, the “American Taliban.” But evangelicals in general, and everyone who believes in the “literal truth” of central Christian doctrines, would seem to qualify as “fundamentalists” as Dawkins uses the term.

    How does Dawkins know that “fundamentalists,” whatever they are, (a) Believe purely or primarily because they assume the truth of Scripture, rather than for some other reason; (2) see the truth of Scripture as axiomatic, rather than the “product of a process of reasoning;” or (3) would throw out the evidence, rather the book, if the two conflicted? He offers no evidence for any of these propositions.

    I surveyed mostly conservative Christians on these issues. In fact, most respondents did not just believe “for the Bible says.” A majority agreed to each of the following statements: (a) “Faith in God helps make sense of life,” (b) “The evidence seems good” (checking “philosophical,” “scientific,” “historical,” and “moral” evidence about equally), and (c) “I have had supernatural experience that taught me the reality of the spiritual world.”

    The skeptic Michael Shermer took a broader survey of the general population that generally agrees with my results. (Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design, 34-38)

    Dawkins and his allies know that the depiction of “fundamentalists” Dawkins offers here is, at least, grossly exaggerated. After all, Dennett calls himself a “godless professor,” and brags of how education enlightens young minds. Both Dawkins and Dennett seek, through their writing, to change the minds of believers. In other words, they assume that believers CAN be reasoned with. Of course, it’s another question whether their arguments are really persuasive – but their goal is to persuade.

    First of all, I want to point out a typo by Marshall. In the second paragraph he wrote “Darwin” instead of Dawkins. Second, Marshall repeats the same error I exposed in his first “error” of Dawkins’ about faith and how Christians often begin to believe for emotional reasons. I also refuted Marshall’s use of Shermer to support his argument in my review of his book. He takes Shermer out of context.

    #12 Can a fundamentalist change his mind? Dawkins describes how a “respected elder statesman” in the Zoology Department of Oxford University went to hear a visiting lecturer on a controversial mechanism in the cell. Hearing the lecture, he decided he’d been wrong about the existence of this mechanism. He went to shake the hand of the visitor and said, “My dear fellow, I wish to thank you. I have been wrong these fifteen years.” Dawkins comments, “No fundamentalist would ever say that.” (284)

    But one of the fundamentals of Christianity is that we have all been wrong. “All we like sheep have gone astray.”

    Christians have developed a special term for such a discovery: “conversion.” Saul, a “fundamentalist” Jew on the road to Damascus, a member of the “Hebrew Taliban,” said little more or less to Jesus, when he met him on that road, “My dear fellow. I wish to thank you. I have been wrong these many years.”

    Nor are such changes of mind unusual for the already converted. John Wesley described his own experience as a “warming of the heart.”

    Dawkins adds that he is hostile to “fundamentalist religion” because it “teaches us not to change our minds, and not to want to know exciting things that are available to be known.”

    No one but a fool quickly abandons a belief that has long helped him understand life from a variety of perspectives. But the serious Christian life can and should be an exciting life of discovery. And “fundamentalists” (whatever they are) often do change their minds. It is reasonable to hope for Richard Dawkins.

    I think Richard Dawkins did paint Christians with a somewhat broad brush. However, at the same time, it’s clear he is not ignoring the liberal Christians, it’s just that he views fundamentalism as more of a threat so he spends more time discussing it. I would agree that there are some Christians who might change their mind but I know there are many who would not. Many Christians refuse to accept evolution no matter how much evidence you show them, like Ray Comfort. I also have experience with David Marshall not changing his mind, even when damning evidence is given against his claims that Richard Dawkins wishes to intrude into the lives of families.

    #13 How do scientists know evolution is true? “By contrast, what I, as a scientist, believe (for example, evolution) I believe not because of reading a holy book but because I have studied the evidence.” (282)

    Actually, too many of Dawkins’ “facts” are gleaned haphazardly from the Internet (as can be seen from his anemic bibliography) and turn out wrong, as we’ll see. But even when he gets his facts right, is this process accurately described as “studying the evidence” as opposed to “reading a holy book?”

    I open The Selfish Gene at random, to page 168. On that page, Dawkins writes about how he thinks bird calls evolved. He credits P. R. Marley for noticing that bird calls seem ideally formulated to be difficult to locate. He envisions unlucky early generations of birds who were found easily by predators, until surviving relatives got the correct modulation down and escaped. Did Dawkins get his facts about bird calls from books (holy or otherwise) and from other scientists? Or did he personally wait in blinds around the world with tape recorders, then test how which sounds hawks and coyotes can hear best? In fact, Dawkins’ works on evolution are based on reports from around the world, in many cases from people he has never met, often at the end of a long series of something very like what he calls “Chinese whispers” in another context – from bird to field researcher’s ear, from ear to nerves, from nerves to brain, from brain to finger to pen to paper to computer keyboard to screen to modum to Comcast and MSN employees to screens on the other side of the world, to the eye of a colleague, an editor, and so on until it finally catches the eye of Richard Dawkins and is established as Scientific Fact.

    The same is true of Origin of Species. Darwin did not believe in evolution because he “studied (all) the evidence (for himself),” but because he read reports by scientists and breeders and explorers and curators from around the world, each in contact with a few quanta of data. Darwin studied evidence directly, too, of course – maybe more than Dawkins has been able to — but whatever personal time he found for finches in the Galapagos or pigeons in England was only a minute fragment of the total evidence required to support his theory.

    I believe Jesus died and rose from the dead for much the same reason — because people I have reason to trust give credible reports that it really happened. This is what “studying the evidence” means in the context of both scientific and religious conversion.

    Dawkins does not rely on faith when he trusts what a fellow scientist says. First of all, the scientist in question has likely written peer-reviewed papers about his findings and has had them analyzed by other scientists. Dawkins could even look over the other scientist’s evidence if he so chose. Comparing this process with believing what anonymous people said about some man allegedly rising from the dead is hard to believe at best. At worst, this comparison is so horribly flawed my head hurts even trying to conceive how Marshall can believe himself to be making a rational argument here.

    If one compares a scientific paper with the bible there is a huge problem with Marshall’s argument. When it comes to scientific papers, those who wrote it explain their methodology, the experiments they conducted, the evidence they gathered, and their results. All of this is laid out for anyone who cares to read it. Anyone who cares to can also seek to replicate the scientists’ findings to ensure their methods were satisfactory. Countless scientific theories are borne out by exactly this rigorous process.

    When we look at the bible, a basis for Christianity, the bible is known to have been added to over time and from archeological digs we know much in the bible is historically inaccurate. Second, the gospel writers are all anonymous. How can we even know they are credible? Third, the supernatural has never been confirmed so to even grant that the witnesses may be telling what they believe to be the truth, the fact remains that the supernatural most likely didn’t occur then either, and people were naturally superstitious at that period of time.

    Trying to compare the two is highly illogical.

    Marshall has updated this section with his comments on some criticism.

    Challenge from Greg Janzen:

    “Well, regarding point 13, you do say this:

    “But even when [Dawkins] gets his facts right, is this process accurately described as ‘studying the evidence’ as opposed to ‘reading a holy book’?”

    ”You then go on to cite an example in which Dawkins draws on the work of a fellow scientist to support a scientific claim. So you seem to be suggesting that what Dawkins and his fellow scientists do isn’t accurately described as studying the evidence, but rather as reading a holy book. In any case, #13 is entirely opaque; it’s a mush of claims (I realize it’s a rough draft). If your point is merely that religionists study the evidence too, and don’t base their beliefs solely on a holy book, then fair enough. But then why suggest that doing science–i.e., getting the facts right by studying the evidence–can be compared to reading a holy book?

    “Did Dawkins get his facts about bird calls from books (holy or otherwise) and from other scientists? Or did he personally wait in blinds around the world with tape recorders, then test how which sounds hawks and coyotes can hear best?”

    ”Well, no, of course he didn’t. But getting facts about bird calls from an ornithology text is nowise akin to basing one’s beliefs on a sacred text. Science has no sacred texts, no ultimate authorities. All things you know.”

    My Response: Glad you’re disputing a new point, Greg; your challenge is helpful.

    First of all, I’m not exactly saying that what scientists do “isn’t accurately described as studying the evidence, but rather as reading a holy book.” Rather, I’m suggesting that reading a book, whether called “holy” or not, can be and often is a means by which to “study the evidence.” The dichotomy Dawkins poses is therefore not nearly as stark as he suggests.

    I think the word “holy” obscures the issue here. What Dawkins means by use of the word, is to suggest that religious believers buy “Holy Script” simply because they assume it to be holy. It is therefore above question, and is used as an oracle rather than a source of potential facts that can be evaluated.

    I admit that Christians often do this. My point is not that there is no contrast between a Christian reading the Bible, and Charles Darwin reading reports about hornbills in Africa. My point is that the contrast between the two is ameliorated in two ways: first because Christians ALSO see the books of the Bible as evidence (and here I was speaking for myself), and second because scientists ALSO make use of social faith — they commit themselves, at least tentatively, to facts they believe they have good reason to be true, derived from people they at least to some extent trust. Science, like Biblical interpretation, is a social enterprise.

    ”But to be short, the plain fact is Dawkins has NOT examined all the evidence on which he bases his theories. He gets most of them from books, or (unfortunately, when it comes to The God Delusion) off the Internet.

    ”I admit there is some distinction. My point is, Dawkins exaggerates it, and fails to fairly describe the epistemology of either theology or science.”

    Has Marshall himself traveled back in his time machine and talked with those who supposedly saw Jesus? Has he ever seen a man rise from the dead?

    The point is ultimately this: You must look at the source of your information. Is it trustworthy? Is the author known to exaggerate or get facts wrong? What are its sources? Does what it say jive with other evidence? These things can be done with both the bible and scientific publications and hands down the scientific publications win that debate. Why? Because the scientists writing these works have examined and tested their theories and put it all out there for anyone to view and fact check their findings. Often multiple tests confirm previous ones and puts a theory on ever sturdier ground.

    The bible fails in all categories miserably. It’s been shown to be largely unhistorical, the authors are anonymous so it’s impossible to know if they had an agenda and much of what they write cannot be confirmed, and miracles have not been proven. With science, theories have be confirmed with facts that have withstood close scrutiny. Not so with the bible and religious beliefs.

    #14 Is scientific belief in evidence a matter of faith? “Philosophers, especially amateurs with a little philosophical learning . . . may raise a tiresome red herring at this point: a scientist’s belief in evidence is itself a matter of fundamentalist faith . . . If I am accused of murder, and prosecuting counsel sternly asks me whether it is true that I was in Chicago on the night of the crime, I cannot get away with a philosophical evasion: ‘It depends on what you mean by ‘true.’ Nor with an anthropological, relativistic plea: ‘It is only in your Western scientific sense of ‘in’ that I was in Chicago. The Bongolese have a completely different concept of ‘in,” according to which you are only truly ‘in’ a place if you are an anointed elder entitled to take snuff from the dried scrotum of a goat.'”

    This is fun, but evades the point. In fact, the prosecuting counsel can only prove Dawkins was in Chicago by means of faith: “holding firmly to and acting on what you have good reason to believe is true.” He assumes faith in the intellectual capacity of jurors. He assumes their ears accurately transmit sound waves, and brains decode them and reconstruct them conceptually in juror’s brains. He assumes light transmitted from the murder weapon travels through optic pathways to brains capable of decoding the and comprehending the signals. He relies on witnesses who saw Dr. Dawkins bird-watching on Lake Michigan. He also places faith in police who describe how they found certain fingerprints on a switchblade buried in a deep dish pizza wrapper, and in fingerprint experts who explain why they think they belong to a particular Oxford don.

    Christianity does not encourage philosophical or anthropological evasions when it speaks of faith. What it calls for is honest consideration of the evidence.

    This is nothing more than Marshall using semantics when dealing with the issue of faith and then goes hog wild explaining all the things we supposedly need faith to believe. This is nonsense. As far as our senses, in most cases they are good depictions of the world and we can also use science to help confirm (or refute) our beliefs, allowing us to fact check what our senses are telling us.

    When Marshall lists all these things we supposedly need faith in, he’s ignoring the fact that if one has a lot of evidence that seems to all point towards one conclusion then that conclusion is mostly likely the correct one. If all of the available evidence says Dawkins was on Lake Michigan (eye-witnesses, possible surveillance cameras, plane ticket stub, receipts, etc.) then most likely he was there. The fact is, in most cases there is evidence one can examine to determine what the truth is.

    #15 Would Dawkins abandon evolution overnight? “We believe in evolution because the evidence supports it, and we would abandon it overnight if new evidence arose to disprove it.” (283)

    That would be one way to shock the world.

    But as Thomas Kuhn argues in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, scientific paradigms do not, in fact, vanish overnight when evidence begins to undermine them. Often proponents need to die off before the new way of seeing things is widely accepted. And given the true history of science, rather than the fairy-tale story Dawkins is presenting here, I doubt even strong evidence against evolution – the fabled rabbit in Pre-Cambrian rocks, or even a herd of such rabbits – would quickly dissuade Richard Dawkins from the theory on which he has based career and fame.

    What sort of “error” is this? This is yet again another opinion of Marshall’s presented as fact. Does Marshall present any evidence that Dawkins would not abandon evolution should the evidence disprove it? Of course not. Theists seem to be fond of Thomas Kuhn but I believe his theories to be mostly off because we know from history that science changes and opinions change with the evidence. Sure, in some cases some scientists may do so grudgingly, but it does happen. This, unlike many theists who, despite the mountain of evidence against them, refuse to change their minds. Take Marshall for instance with the example of his refusal to see his errors regarding Richard Dawkins and “child abuse” that I spoke of earlier.

    #16 Does liberal religion “make the world safe for fundamentalism?” “Fundamentalist religion is hell-bent on ruining the scientific education of countless thousands of innocent, wellmeaning, eager young minds. Non-fundamentalist, ‘sensible’ religion may not be doing that. But it is making the world safe for fundamentalism by teaching children, from their earliest years, that unquestioning faith is a virtue.” (286)

    Of course Christianity does not teach that “unquestioning faith is a virtue.” In fact, it holds up people who had great doubts, like Job, Peter, and Thomas as saints, and even shows Jesus in a moment of “fear and trembling.”

    And how does Dawkins know that “sensible” religion (whatever that is) either teaches children that “unquestioning faith is a virtue,” or thereby makes the world “safe for fundamentalism” somehow? How is this supposed to happen? What is his evidence?

    On the contrary, early Christians did believe with the same sense of “unquestioning faith” that Dawkins describes. I go into much detail in my review of Marshall’s book on this issue, but here are a few examples.

    1 Timothy 6:3-4: “If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and the constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” (NIV)

    Even one of the early Christian theologians, Origen, said that, “We admit that we teach those men to believe without reasons.” [3]

    #17 Did God evolve? “Historians of religion recognize a progression from primitive tribal animisms, through polytheisms such as those of the Greeks, Romans and Norsemen, to monotheisms such as Judaism and its derivatives, Christianity and Islam.” (32)

    This is an old view of the evolution of religion, held for example by David Hume, and developed in detail by the pioneer anthropologist, Edward Tylor. It was one of the pillars of the communist view of religion. It is however false, as I argue in The Truth Behind the New Atheism. (p 88-92; Dennett’s longer discussion of the origin of religion is also on target). In fact, primitive tribes often held a remarkably coherent, widespread, and recognizable view of the Supreme God. (See also my Jesus and the Religions of Man, p. 183-208, also True Son of Heaven: How Jesus Fulfills the Chinese Culture, 15-24.)

    On the contrary, this is false. There are a wide variety of beliefs that people held about god. I go into this topic in my review of The Truth Behind the New Atheism.

    #18 Is religion a misfiring of the brain? “The general theory of religion as an accidental byproduct — a misfiring of something useful — is the one I wish to advance . . . This theory — that the child brain is, for good reasons, vulnerable to infection by mental ‘viruses’ . . . it doesn’t matter what particular style of nonsense infects the child brain. Once infected, the child will grow up and infect the next generation with the same nonsense, whatever it happens to be.” (188)

    Ideas are not “viruses,” nor is belief an “infection.” (As McGrath effectively responds, “What is the actual experimental evidence for such hypothetical ‘viruses of the mind?’ In the real world, viruses are not known solely by their symptoms; they can be detected, subjected to rigorous empirical investigation, and their genetic structure characterized minutely. IN contrast, the ‘virus of the mind’ is hypothetical; posited by a questionable analogical argument, not direct observation; and it is totally unwarranted conceptually on the basis of the behavior that Dawkins proposes for it.” (McGrath, 137)

    In short, Dawkins is allowing his own fertile poetic imagination to run riot. As with his concept of the “meme,” he mistakes metaphor for reality. He is guilty of a bad idea, not an infection or disease. People think, analyze, question, argue, change their minds — these are acts we do, choices we make, not physical agents that reproduce inside of our brains. And again, Dawkins’ talk of “misfiring” is fundamentally teleological – it assumes the brain has a true purpose, which defeats Dawkins argument “from the inside,” as it were.

    It seems clear to me that Marshall is missing Dawkins’ point. Dawkins was discussing the survival advantages of religion and why it spreads, thus the ‘misfiring’ analogy. When Dawkins says the brain “misfires” he is simply describing that the human brain evolved to be “gullible” and this causes humans to often believe whatever someone in authority tells us since when you’re young you should often listen to your parents since they pass on important survival information, etc. However, not all of the information that gets passed on to the next generation is valuable, or true. The rest of Dawkins’ discussion is about how this takes place; how these ideas spread and change from one person or culture to another. Yes, some of these ideas are controversial but he admitted as much when beginning the discussion. There is nothing wrong with a writer explaining a theory that has been proposed, but has not been fully tested or accepted. It’s called knowledge and people can do more research on the topic and come to their own conclusions.

    #19 Is purpose visible in the universe? Note two rather different arguments Dawkins offers on this subject:

    (1) “Children are native teleologists, and many never grow out of it.” (181)

    (2) “We live not only on a friendly planet but also in a friendly universe.” (141)

    Dawkins seems here to both criticize children, and the child-like, who find purpose and design in the universe, and admit that the universe DOES reveal purpose and design. True, he believes the design is not God’s, it is of an evolutionary “blind watchmaker,” or an “Anthropic Principle” that guarantees environmental conditions will . In effect Dawkins teaches us to expect to find at least apparent purpose in the universe, because it is and must be a “friendly” place. So how does he know children, and the child-like, are wrong to assume the purpose – which is apparently visible to him as well – is only apparent, and not real? As philosophers of science have pointed out, even if evolution explains everything about biology, that does not remove this question.

    First of all, Dawkins was not criticizing children in any way. He was simply stating a fact about how children naturally see the world. He was, however, criticizing those adults who can’t seem to grow out of this child-like phase of naturally inferring design to nature. After reading the entire section where Marshall quotes Dawkins I’m dumbstruck as to how he inferred that he was trying to criticize children. Nowhere does Dawkins even imply such a thing. This is just one example out of several where Marshall would have done better had he not “furiously” did anything, but try to actually read and comprehend what Dawkins was saying. Instead you get accusations by Marshall of Dawkins wishing to intrude into their lives and criticizing children for something they have no control over in the first place. Dawkins also never said the universe has a purpose.

    Second, Dawkins believes the design is not real because of the countless examples of bad “design” seen in nature. No magnificent god would design humanity or nature in this way, with the breathing and eating pathways in humans that intersect and sometimes cause us to choke on food, as one example, which is a clue into our evolutionary past.

    #20 Does meme theory help explain God? About the “jealousy” of God: “It is easily enough understood in terms of the theory of memes, and the qualities that a deity needs in order to survive in the meme pool.” (246)

    If memetics explains why Yahweh is jealous, does it also explain why the gods are not? How did polytheism (which is almost universal, even in ancient Israel) manage to survive for so long? And why, as it seems, were primitive peoples in cultures around the world aware of one true, Supreme God — even though they went on worshipping other deities as well?

    Dawkins throws this suggestion out, hoping we’ll buy it on the strength of one bit of data that seems to support it, without noticing that most the data doesn’t.

    But suppose it were a valid critique of monotheism to say, “Of course this one idea of God survived – it has this quality of exclusivism that gives it a competitive advantage.”

    What would that mean for atheism? One could respond on the same level, “Of course the atheism gene is spreading – it has this inherent exclusivism that gives it a competitive advantage.” Both are forms of the genetic fallacy, that distracts us from the real issue – whether an idea is true – by imagining a sordid origin for it.

    This is another example of Marshall nitpicking and ignoring Dawkins’ overall point, which can be seen at the bottom of page 246 in The God Delusion:

    “All I am establishing is that modern morality, wherever else it comes from, does not come from the Bible.”

    I understand where Marshall is going with this but I just don’t see the point. It’s not even a main portion of Dawkins’ argument! Again, this isn’t even an error, but Marshall meandering on with his pointless and uninformed commentary.

    Let’s see where we’re at so far shall we? So far we’re up to alleged “error, gross exaggeration, and highly dubious claim” number 20 and how many actual errors has Marshall found? That’s right, only one and it wasn’t even central to his argument.

    1. The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins, Houghton Mifflin, 2006; 51

    2. Denis R. Janz. Whore or Handmaid? Luther and Aquinas on the Function of Reason in Theology. The Devil’s Whore: Reason and Philosophy in the Lutheran Tradition. Edited by Jennifer Hockenbery Dragseth. Fortress Press. 2011. 47-50

    3. Not the Impossible Faith:? ?Why Christianity Didn’t Need a Miracle to Succeed,? ?by Richard Carrier,? ?Lulu.com,? ?2009?; ?396

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    Article by: Arizona Atheist