#21 Is theology convoluted? Dawkins quotes the 3rd Century theologian, Gregory the Miracle-Worker:
“There is therefore nothing created, nothing subject to another in the Trinity: nor is there anything that has been added as though it once had not existed, but had entered afterwards: therefore the Father has never been without the Son, nor the Son without the Spirit: and this same Trinity is immutable and unalterable forever.”
“Whatever miracles may have earned St. Gregory his nickname, they were not miracles of honest lucidity. His words convey the characteristically obscurantist flavour of theology, which — unlike science or most other branches of human scholarship — has not moved on in eighteen centuries.” (34)
The first error in this statement is (I think) his evaluation of the quotation. It seems perfectly lucid and clear to me (certainly more so than many social science texts I have read!), and it is hard to see anything obviously dishonest about it. Could it be that Dawkins simply means he doesn’t understand the quote?
While I understand the point of view that is trying to be conveyed about the Trinity I agree with Dawkins when I find the entire concept of the trinity to be absurd.
#22 Does theology progress? The more palpable error though is Dawkins’ claim that theology has “not moved on.” Of course there are different kinds of “moving on.” If he means that orthodox Christians are still orthodox, that’s true. But it would be as absurd to say, for example, that the physicist John Polkinghorne “has not moved on” in his book interpreting the Apostles Creed in the light of modern physics (The Faith of a Physicist), than to say the atheism of Richard Dawkins’ is indistinguishable from that of the ancient Greek thinker, Lucretius. In fact theology has always been an extremely dynamic discipline. Rodney Stark points out that the Trinity itself was a theological deduction, as was the wrongfulness of slavery. Dawkins should stroll a block down Woodstalk Road behind his house some time, and leaf through the stacks of doctoral dissertations at the Oxford Centre for Missions Studies. Every new scientific discovery, the discovery of every new culture, the emergence of every new school of thought, trend in philosophy or art or popular entertainment, involves fascinating lines.
Indeed, Dawkins himself approvingly cites theologians who have “moved on,” in the sense of coming to agree with him on various points, as we will see.
I believe by “moved on” Dawkins is referring to the fact that theology is still stuck in the past and does not embrace new (specifically scientific) discoveries, which could be true or false depending on how you interpret “discoveries” and your definition of “moved on.” Marshall would probably disagree and say that theology has embraced the sciences and most accept an old earth and evolution, though they still have to interpret everything through their ‘god glasses’ and they still believe their god is responsible for all that happens in the world, even when it contradicts their basic tenets and bible. An excellent example is evolution. Another example is Christian apologist William Lane Craig who argues against mainstream science by trying to discount other theories of the universe other than the standard big bang model since it contradicts his beliefs about god creating the world and the world having a beginning. See this post.
Oh…and by the way the abolition of slavery was not a “deduction” from theology, but just the opposite. 
#23 Is the Old Testament God consistently “nasty?” “It is childishly easy to overcome the problem of evil. Simply postulate a nasty god — such as the one who stalks every page of the Old Testament.” (108)
“Childishly easy” is felicitous here. While there are passages in the Old Testament in which God comes across as strange, even cruel to moderns, that is certainly not true of “every page,” or even “most pages” of the Old Testament. Dawkins appears to have missed MOST of the Old Testament, and to avoid the adult duty of thinking through complex texts in a serious and careful way.
As I argue in a chapter entitled, “Is the Good Book Bad?”, Dawkins’ biggest problem with the Bible seems to be that he refuses to read it as an adult. As C. S. Lewis pointed out, some people invent a version of Christianity fit for children, so as to refute it more easily. Lewis (in Reflections on the Psalms) and the philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff (in Divine Discourse) offer a more sophisticated and adult understanding of how the Bible is inspired. Surely as a professor at one of the world’s greatest universities, Richard Dawkins has a duty to confront a version of Christianity held by thoughtful adults.
More nitpicking and Marshall fails to respond with any form of rebuttal at all. I don’t have much to say here. But, is the god of the old testament always a jerk, and on every page? No, but I think Dawkins was just exaggerating for effect, though the god of the old testament is surely a vengeful and angry guy as anyone can see if they actually read the bible and not listen to those silly apologists who desperately try to sweep YHWH’s evil actions under the rug. I must also say that I completely refute each argument Marshall puts forward in chapter six of his book. If anyone needs to reexamine their views of the bible and learn to read it and properly understand it, it’s Marshall.
#24 Is God good by definition? “Goodness is no part of the definition of the God Hypothesis, merely a desirable add-on.” (108)
In fact goodness is an essential part of the definition of God, not only in developed theism, but also among believers in the “Sky God” around the world. “The characteristics of this personage are fundamentally the same everywhere,” Emile Durkheim said of God among Australian tribes . . . “He is the benefactor of humanity.” Mircea Eliade notes that the Supreme God as known among African tribes “is too distant or too good to need worship properly so called, and they invoke him only in cases of extreme need.” (Patterns in Comparative Religion, 47, emphasis added.)
In Judaism, God says “It is good” after the stages of Creation, and blesses mankind. Chinese worshipped a Supreme God — “Huang Tian Shang Di, or Shang Di — to whom prayers were offered: “The vault of heaven was spread out like a curtain, and the square earth supported on it, and all creatures were happy . . . It is Thou alone, O Lord, who art the true parent of all things.”
The fundamental goodness of God is especially clear in Christianity, in which there is room within the Triune God for love.
While the work of God is often mysterious, to the ancients as to us, I know of no culture in which the Supreme God was thought to be evil or morally neutral — His basic goodness is generally assumed.
This all depends on which god you’re referring to since history knows of gods who were believed to be evil. One example is Marcion who was an early christian who believed in two gods: the evil god of the old testament, and the ‘loving’ and ‘merciful’ god in Jesus. 
Marshall says, “ I know of no culture in which the Supreme God was thought to be evil […]”
I think Marshall may want to do some more reading…
I find this to be more pointless nitpicking by Marshall…
#25 Is the crucifixion nuts? “So, in order to impress himself, Jesus had himself tortured and executed, in vicarious punishment for a symbolic sin committed by a non-existent individual? As I said, barking mad, as well as viciously unpleasant.” (253)
At times, Dr. Dawkins seems to describe himself.
Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever should believe in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
No doubt this story of the self-sacrificial love of God brings up many questions. No doubt no Christian can fully answer them all. But is it really so evil to think that God loves us so much, that He would suffer on our behalf? I think Lao Zi would have understood it: “The sage puts himself behind, and comes out ahead.” The story of Jesus has, in any case, changed millions of lives for the better. It is also a device, as Rene Girard shows, for subverting scapegoating: the victim is shown to be innocent, and thereby condemns oppression.
I wouldn’t even call this an error. I’d call it entirely accurate depending upon which verses about Jesus that you read.
#26 Are Mormons monotheists? “Most of my readers will have been reared in one or another of today’s three ‘great’ monotheistic religions (four if you count Mormonism).”
Mormonism is not monotheistic; it posits the existence of multiple gods. “As man is, God once was; as God is, man can become.”
Does Marshall even site a source for his assertion? Of course not. However, from the Mormons themselves they believe in only one god. Their first statement of faith states, “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.”  Perhaps Marshall would like to argue that the Trinity doesn’t count as one god but then he’d accuse himself of polytheism as well!
In section 132 of their Doctrine and Covenants it says they believe in only one god. Verse 24 makes this clear: “This is eternal lives—to know the only wise and true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent. I am he. Receive ye, therefore, my law.” (emphasis mine) 
To get further confirmation about the Mormons’ beliefs I contacted a Mormon and chatted with them live at Mormon.org. She was very nice and understanding. During our discussion she explained that, just like your earthly, biological father, you will become like your spiritual, heavenly father, however, they will become gods, but they themselves only believe in one.
On the other hand, I’ve also read otherwise, that they are polytheistic. There may be some dispute in the church about whether or not they are a mono or a polytheistic religion, but the Mormon I spoke with, their statement of faith, and doctrines say they only believe in one god so their religion seems to be monotheistic. Despite the apparent confusion about their beliefs, because of the fact that the majority of sources I consulted confirm Mormonism is a monotheistic religion I will count this as another error of Marshall’s.
#27 Are Christianity and Islam opposed to humanity? (Quoting Gore Vidal) “Three anti-human religions have evolved — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.” (37)
If Christianity and Islam are “anti-human,” it is a wonder nearly three billion people on the planet call themselves Christian or Muslim. Most theists acquire faith, along with life, through their parents – who are not so “anti-human” that we mind making more humans. (Secularists are far less likely to have
But of course Dawkins meant to refer to the effect these religions have on the quality of human life, not necessarily its quantity. At least in regard to Christianity, he’s even more mistaken about that, as I argue in detail on pages 135-188 of The Truth Behind the New Atheism.
How about Marshall actually argue a main point in Dawkins’ book because up to this point he’s been doing almost nothing but nitpicking the book to death. As far as Marshall’s supposed rebuttal in his book I handily refute many of his claims in my review of chapters 8, 9, and 10.
#28 Is theism especially harmful to women? (Still quoting Vidal) “. . . the loathing of women for 2,000 years in those countries afflicted by the sky-god . . . ”
The truth, as I argue at different places in three recent books, is just the opposite: the Gospel of Jesus has done more to liberate women than anything else. To limit myself to just one particularly powerful piece of contrary evidence, in 1988 the United Nations took a survey of the status of women in 99 countries around the world. The survey revealed that the countries where the status of women is highest almost uniformly had a Christian heritage. By contrast, none of the countries where the status of women is lowest had a Christian heritage.
India and Nepal, where the “Sky God” has been overshadowed by millions of local deities, ranked not too far ahead of Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Nigeria, and Libya, as among the countries with the highest “gender gap.” Before Christian missions began to influence South Asia – educating girls, combating the burning of widows and sexual slavery, freeing women from confinement – the status of women was far lower than it is today. (See Vishal and Ruth Mangalwadi, The Legacy of William Carey, also J. N. Farquhar, Modern Religious Movements in India, chapter 6, Social Reform and Service, 1828-1913.)
I cover these arguments in detail in my review of his book (Chapter 8), but here is a brief rebuttal. I would mostly agree with him about the betterment of women in India, however, that’s really the only argument that holds water. His UN study is from 1988, which is very outdated if you ask me, and there is much evidence that contradicts his assertion. After looking at an updated survey of equality of the sexes in various countries, and to give an idea of how off Marshall’s claim is, the U.S. – one of the most Christian countries – ranks at number 18 on the list for gender equality. The number 1 country on the list? That’s right, it’s secularized Sweden.
#29 Who favors NOMA? “NOMA (the “non-overlapping magisteria” principle that science and religion belong to different categories, and do not therefore conflict) is popular only because there is no evidence to favor the God Hypothesis. The moment there was the smallest suggestion of any evidence in favor of religious belief, religious apologists would lose no time in throwing NOMA out of the window.” (59)
This misrepresents the situation. In fact, NOMA was invented by Steven Jay Gould, a biologist and an agnostic – not a Christian. From the religious side, most apologists DID throw NOMA out the window a long time ago. Christian apologists have almost always maintained that there is in fact empirical evidence for faith in the world of facts and events — thanks but no thanks, to Gould’s kind offer of special protection.
First of all, I don’t see Marshall’s point in explaining that Gould is an agnostic, not a Christian. This appears to have nothing to do with what Dawkins said. Second, I believe this passage Marshall has quoted was taken out of context. On page 58 Dawkins quotes Richard Swineburne as not accepting NOMA so he is well aware of the fact that not all theologians accept this separation of science and religion. Dawkins’ point, which Marshall left out, was that those theists who do subscribe to NOMA would throw it out in a heartbeat should any scientific evidence turn up that undoubtedly proved their beliefs true.
With this objection Marshall would do well to more calmly read a book he is critiquing next time. He didn’t get anything correct here.
#30 Would it be obvious had the universe been created? Dawkins quotes Christian philosopher (and Oxford colleague) Richard Swinburne:
“What the theist claims about God is that He does have a power to create, conserve, or annihilate anything, big or small. And he can also make objects move or do anything else . . . He can make the planets move in the way Kepler discovered that they move, or make gunpowder explode when we set a match to it; or he can make planets move in quite different ways, and chemical substances explode or not explode . . . ”
“Those scientists who subscribe to the ‘separate magisteria’ school of thought should concede that a universe with a supernaturally intelligent creator is a very different kind of universe from one without. The difference between the two hypothetical universes could hardly be more fundamental in principle, even if it is not always easy to test in practice.” (58)
But Swinburne’s comment was not about the universe; it was about God. Swinburne didn’t say God cannot or would not make a universe that acts like ours; obviously he thinks God did! So this argument is not effective against NOMA, at least as it might be held by someone who agrees with Swinburne.
What Dawkins was discussing was whether or not the “God Hypothesis” is a scientifically valid one, which it is in his opinion. He was simply using Swinburne as an example of a theist who believes that god intervenes in the world and can do what he wants. Dawkins was not criticizing the quote itself, but the view that many scientists hold about NOMA. This explains why the quote from Dawkins that Marshall cites says, “Those scientists who subscribe to the ‘separate magisteria’ school of thought […]” Dawkins was not referring to theologians at all.
#31 Darwinian evolution . . . shatters the illusion of design within the domain of biology . . .” (118)
This is not a demonstrable error, but it is, I think, at least premature. (For reasons I give in chapter 3, Some Riddles of Evolution. See also Mike Gene, The Design Matrix, for an eyeopening glimpse at just how far biology is from “shattering the illusion of design,” and John Lennox, God’s Undertaker.)
As I show in my review of his book Marshall does nothing but make use of long discredited arguments from intelligent design proponents and “god of the gap” nonsense that answers nothing. That’s all I have to say about this.
# 32 What is Irreducible Complexity? “Creationists who attempt to deploy the argument from improbability in their favor always assume that biological adaptation is a question of the jackpot or nothing. Another name for the `jackpot or nothing’ fallacy is `irreducible complexity’ (IC). Either the eye sees or it doesn’t. Either the wing flies or it doesn’t. There are assumed to be no useful intermediates.” (122)
In fact Michael Behe, who popularized the term “irreducible complexity,” and who is Dawkins’ main target, does not make that assumption. Behe does, in fact, consider the possibility of intermediates, so isn’t true to say he “always assumes” there are none. He argues (not assumes) that in some cases (not all), there appear to be no workable intermediatesfor some biological systems. (See Darwin’s Black Box, also Irreducible Complexity: Obstacle to Darwinian Evolution, in Debating Design: From Darwin to DNA.)
Either way, this doesn’t even answer Dawkins’ argument. So, maybe Behe does or doesn’t believe all systems are irreducibly complex. The point is that Behe has been proven wrong on a number of instances and every one of his examples of supposed “irreducible complexity” have been shown to be false. 
#33 Did Darwin say it all? “Darwin devoted an entire chapter of The Origin of Species to `Difficulties on the theory of descent with modification,’ and it is fair to say that this brief chapter anticipated and disposed of every single one of the alleged difficulties that have since been proposed.”
In fact, some vital elements of modern evolutionary theory, such as the central role mutations are thought to play, were unknown in Darwin’s day. Lee Spetner (Not By Chance) and Michael Behe (The Edge of Evolution) attack Darwinism precisely at this point, arguing that mutations are incapable of producing complex innovations. (Also see my discussion of this problem, p. 69-74.) Charles Darwin was undoubtedly a great scientist, but he did not have the gift of prophecy.
More intelligent design nonsense…and more nitpicking. I’ve refuted each of Marshall’s arguments against evolution in his fourth chapter, including the one that is referenced.
# 34 What is “Irreducible Complexity?” “‘What is the use of half an eye?’ and `What is the use of half a wing?’ are both instances of the argument from `irreducible complexity.’ A functioning unit is said to be irreducible complex if the removal of one of its parts causes the whole to cease functioning. This has been assumed to be self-evident for both eyes and wings. But as soon as we give these assumptions a moment’s thought, we immediately see the fallacy. A cataract patient with the lens of her eye surgically removed can’t see clear images without glasses, but can see enough not to bump into a tree or fall over a cliff. Half a wing is indeed not as good as a whole wing, but it is certainly better than no wing at all. Half a wing could save your life by easing your fall from a tree of a certain height.” (125)
First of all, the term “irreducible complexity” was coined by Michael Behe. Behe does not usually talk about eyes and wings, but about microscopic cellular systems, which he knows more about.
More importantly, the question is not what happens when half of a complete structure is missing. The question is what happens when half the PARTS are gone. What good is an eye, for example, without an optic nerve? Or a wing without tendons? In some cases, the mechanism may still work, in others not. But whether Intelligent Design arguments (like a bird with no tendons) will fly or not, Dawkins has sketched them inaccurately. A wing without a tendon could NOT save your life by easing your fall, anymore than a toaster without a cord will heat bread half as much.
By linking a series of three mutations, scientists have been able to produce a fruit fly with an extra pair of wings. But these wings are useless, because they lack muscles. Whether or not this sort of conundrum is an impediment to evolution, Dawkins has explained the problem inaccurately.
Yes, of course, Behe doesn’t discuss eyes or wings. Dawkins is simply giving an example of how a “half” of a wing could still be useful for survival in order to counter the “all or nothing” arguments of irreducible complexity. An animal does not need the entirety of all its parts for that part to still have a value, unlike what the intelligent design proponents argue. I’ve covered this in my review of Marshall’s book as well.
#35 Dawkins vs. Dawkins
A: “The creationists are right that, if genuinely irreducible complexity could be properly demonstrated, it would wreck Darwin’s theory. Darwin himself said as much: `If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.” (125)
B: “Searching for particular examples of irreducible complexity is a fundamentally unscientific way to proceed: a special case of arguing from present ignorance. It appeals to the same faulty logic as `the God of the Gaps’ strategy condemned by the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.” (125)
Which is it? Is the search for the evidence Darwin and Dawkins both say would destroy evolution scientific, or unscientific? If it is scientific for Darwin to issue the challenge, why is it unscientific for “creationists” to try to answer it?
In this case, Marshall has badly misread Dawkins. I’ve covered this nonsense in my review of his book.
#36 No evidence claimed for Intelligent Design? “ID has no evidence of its own, but thrives like a weed in gaps left by scientific knowledge (127) . . . Behe simply proclaims the bacterial flagellar motor to be irreducibly complex. Since he offers no argument in favor of his assertion, we may begin by suspecting a failure of his imagination.”
Again, whether good or bad, Behe does offer evidence. Behe’s point is that “specified complexity” is itself evidence for design. In his more recent book, The Edge of Evolution, he argues from decades of empirical study of HIV and malaria that favorable mutations do not occur often enough for evolution to produce complex new organs.
This is evidence, whether or not it makes Behe’s case.
No, I’m sorry but every alleged problem that has been proposed for evolution has been shown to be false. It’s asinine that Marshall actually pretends that these intelligent design ID’iots actually have a point. I cover his enormous blunders about evolution in the fourth chapter of my review, but in brief, the argument that mutations do not occur enough to produce organs is false. 
#37 How easy was it for evolution to get started? “Once the vital ingredient – some kind of genetic molecule – is in place, true Darwinian natural selection can follow.” (137)
Modern cells require a lot more than just a “genetic molecule.” They need a permeable cell wall, a source of energy, and some 300 proteins, including a variety of machines (sometimes specific and complex proteins) for dealing with all nitty-gritty of making a living and passing on one’s genetic blueprints on to the next generation. The assumption that the first “life” could thrive and reproduce with nothing more than a genetic molecule, has at least not yet been demonstrated.
More nitpicking. “Modern cells” did not just all of a sudden pop out of nowhere. That is a very common strawman argument. Nothing about our bodies just came into existence fully formed, they evolved from ever simpler organisms. Dawkins also knows this is the case and is simply being brief since he has discussed this issue in his other books
#38 How improbable was the origin of life? “Now, suppose the origin of life, the spontaneous arising of something equivalent to DNA, really was a quite staggeringly improbable event. Suppose it was so improbable as to occur on only one in a billion planets. A grant-giving body would laugh at any chemist who admitted that the chance of his proposed research succeeding was only one in a hundred . . . And yet . . . even with such absurdly long odds, life will still have arisen on a billion planets – of which Earth, of course, is one (138) . . . Even accepting the most pessimistic estimate of the probability that life might spontaneously originate, this statistical argument completely demolishes any suggestion that we should postulate design to fill the gap.” (139)
It is not clear where Dawkins gets the idea that the “most pessimistic estimate” of the odds of life arising on a given planet are “one in a billion.” He used the same number some twenty years earlier, in a similarly glib discussion. He certainly didn’t get it from “the most pessimistic” origin of life researchers. Hubert Yockey, one such researcher, remarked caustically, “People who do not understand probability often say that extremely improbable events occur frequently,” citing this very idea from Dawkins as his example. (Information Theory, Evolution, and the Origin of Life, 117) Yockey is but one of many accomplished scientists who have said either that it is impossible to calculate the probability of the origin of life (even Dawkins admits this elsewhere), or that the probability is so low it would not likely happen even once, anywhere in the universe. Richard Dawkins is blowing smoke. (See The Truth Behind the New Atheism, 66-69)
I cover this argument in my review of Marshall’s book.
#39 Is there a legitimate mathematical basis for the “oscillating universe” model? “Some big crunch models have the universe then bouncing back into expansion, and so on indefinitely with, say, a 20-billion-year cycle time.” (145)
Astronomer Hugh Ross argues this is not possible; entropy would doom the system. The consensus seems to be that the “oscillating universe” hypothesis is no longer viable. It is, at any rate, a dubious solution.
I would have to tentatively agree that it seems an oscillating universe may not be likely based on the current data we have (though the evidence may change in the future). However, the reasoning for this is not due to entropy. 
Wow, I’m amazed! Marshall has actually gotten something partially correct for a change! This raises the tally to two genuine errors now! Unfortunately for Marshall none of them do much to refute Dawkins’ overall case in The God Delusion. Regardless of this fact, however, there are viable theories that tell us that the universe is eternal and also take into account all we know about the laws of physics. 
#40 How many British scientists are Christian? “Another theologian-scientist, the biochemist Arthur Peacocke (the third member of my trio of British religious scientists) . . . “ (150)
Tongue in cheek, Dawkins pictures John Polkinghorne, Arthur Peacocke, and Russell Stannard as the three constituent members of a “Dickensonian law firm.” His point is that serious scientists who are also serious believers in God are few and far between in the United Kingdom.
He’s being inconsistent, though. First of all, Dawkins mentions Alister McGrath repeatedly, without drawing attention to the fact that like Dawkins himself, McGrath obtained a doctorate in science (molecular biophysics) from Oxford. Dawkins also mentions Freeman Dyson, an eminent physicist, and an un-named “very distinguished” geologist at Cambridge who argued for the resurrection. So that’s two trios at least, by Dawkins own tally.
One of Dawkins’ colleagues on the Oxford science faculty tells me that in the physics department alone, he knows ten scientists who are evangelical Christians, including himself. That probably represents a higher percentage than the population at large in the United Kingdom. Dawkins is not being entirely candid with his readers.
Marshall seems to make a big deal out of such a trivial point. Sure, it seems Dawkins may have overstated his case a bit, though several studies show that scientists are overwhelmingly non-religious. 
4. Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Ethics of Biblical Scholarship, by Hector Avalos, Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2011
5. Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew, by Bart D. Ehrman, Oxford University Press, 2003; 104-105
6. Mormon.org – Articles of Faith – accessed 4-10-12
7. LDS.org – The Doctrine and Covenants – accessed 4-10-12
8. See Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution, by Kenneth R. Miller, Harper Perennial, 2007; also, Index to Creationist Claims – Claim CB200 – accessed 4-10-12
10. See my discussion with physicist Alexander Vilenkin on this issue at Arizona Atheist: William Lane Craig’s Arguments for God Refuted
11. The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: Why the Universe Is Not Designed for Us, by Victor J. Stenger,
Prometheus Books, 2011; 115