Malaysian Atheist

An avowed atheist living in Malaysia.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Alistair McGrath

Thanks to a few readers who pointed me to Alistair McGrath as the Christian answer to Richard Dawkins. I wonder if there is an Islam answer, a Buddhist answer or a Hindu answer out there?

Alistair McGrath is an Oxford professor, scientist and theologian, was an atheist but is now a Christian, as opposed to Dawkins, who's also an Oxford professor, also a scientist but was raised a Christian and is now an atheist. Isn't it funny that somewhere out there, there is always someone whose situation is opposite to yours? For example, if the discussion is between Christianity and Islam, the Christian can always point to someone who was a Muslim but converted to Christianity, while the other side can also point to someone who was a Christion but became a Muslim. Despite this diversity, the important thing is that we've all got to live together so it is important to hear and respect other people's views.

One of the points I remember, after listening to McGrath is that he highlighted the atrocities of the Soviet government towards religous people in the name of atheism. Similarly, in this region, we've heard of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, where they exterminated many intellectuals as well as religious people because the regime abolished all religion. McGrath is correct in his observation that it is a tendency for people to sometimes lose the plot or turn mad, irrespective of the cause - either religious or not. We even see it in stock market bubbles, the Dutch tulip mania and etc as evidence of the madness of crowds. This, I think, is part of an even more interesting subject which is a study of crowds and social networks. For further reading, try James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds and Duncan Watts' Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age.

McGrath, of course, criticized Dawkins' bipolar stance on science and religion. He says that is not the case, as there are many in-betweens. But then he tells of a man in the audience at the end of one of his talks, who having heard McGrath, says that he no longer know what to believe. Clearly, that man's thinking is bipolar (if Dawkins is wrong, then McGrath must be right) yet McGrath never explained to him that this is not the case. Atheists do not agree 100% with Dawkins, and we don't need to. My stance for example, is probably 80% Dawkins and 40% McGrath. Their views are not mutually exclusive.

McGrath also claimed that he was interviewed for Dawkins' documentary, the Root of All Evil, but was edited out. I think this is just a dirty low blow. I mean, what is McGrath trying to imply here? During the canonization of the Bible, the church applied some measure for including some books and excluding others in the Bible. In either cases, they're just gathering and publishing supporting views. I think this statement is totally unnecessary.

There was a point about the resurgence of religion in the 90s especially in America, implying that this had something to do with God's will. Hence, the Christians there believe that God has a plan for America (such as defending Israel). Is that really the case? I think it is the separation of church and state in America (their first amendment) that has led to this resurgence, mainly in the red states. This is unlike Europe where there isn't a separation. This separation has really led American churches to be creative and to work harder to attract members. This has led to them introducing livelier music, for example, to attract youths. This article from Businessweek talks about churches borrowing tactics from the business world like conducting market surveys, offer free counseling, do niche marketing and packaging self-help programs to make sure members keep coming back. As a result, they end up with mega-churches.

So, in short, McGrath raised some good points, but that doesn't mean he has dismissed Dawkins' arguments altogether. It's unfortunate that Dawkins chose to stick his neck out by taking one end of the spectrum. He's bound to draw the most criticisms from the religious lot. Still, I encourage everyone to read both sides and form your own opinions about the subject. Don't just read other people's reviews and opinions, because I know how religious people are reluctant to criticise their own kind. But remember, it is important to hear and respect everyone's views.

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At 12:30 PM, November 11, 2006, Blogger The Hedonese said...

Nice to see your blog growing with nice posters of "Elvis"! He's alive! hehe... Look forward to see a future post on another celebrity like Antony Flew :)

Just a lil' comment abt McGrath and 'in betweens' and something about mutual exclusivity.

You are right to point out that there is no 'in between' as far as atheism versus theism is concerned. If there is no God, (of course assuming we agree on wat we mean by tat) then theism is wrong and nothing in between. Simple as that.

what is not mutually exclusive as McGrath points out however is: Science versus Theism. Ah... here's the rub. It is possible to have some forms of theism which incorporate varying theories of evolution theory for example. And many credible scientists who made it big like Collins in fact do

Now, if i am an theist whose whole worldview is dependent on the notion that science trumps theism, and theists are murderous bigots, i wud be pretty depressed b'cos if its true tat there can be in betweens like theistic evolutions and like u said, all people inc atheists do get cranky sometimes, my pillars suddenly look wobbly.

So the inbetweens is not "atheism/theism" as u rightly said, but McGrath was talking about "science/theism"... this distinction is hard to detect if we have been conditioned to equate science = atheism, which is historically and philosophically arguable in the extreme

At 8:48 PM, August 13, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To be honest I do detect a hint of bias in your response.

If Richard Dawkins is right then he didn't need to interview McGrath and the edit him out of it. Its only when people have something to hide or they don't want to present any contradictory evidence to their main thesis that they resort to such tactics. Hence you have so much censorship in the american media.

McGrath makes a good point about extremes. Evolution does not disprove God. Science is not atheism.

Another interesting point that I would like to raise is the dependence on western science. Since western science cannot present an argument for God it is the only paradigm that militant atheists assign themselves.

My main critcism of Richard Dawkins is that he is an evolutionary biologist and ethnologist. So why does he get to be an expert on God and the universe? Doesn't he need degrees in cosmology, other similar sciences, not to mention theology to debate God's existence? Nowadays it seems anyone in a lab coat can talk about any matter and have their words recieved as gospel.

At 4:52 AM, August 18, 2007, Blogger Meursault said...

Personally, I don't care if McGrath was edited out of the documentary. It could be for a multitude of reasons for all we know. If he really did make some good points, then let's hear those points. Let's focus on the points rather than on the 'editing'.

It is indeed true that evolution doesn't disprove God/gods. It just makes it very difficult to believe in one. Also, remember, the onus is on the believers to prove that God exists, not on the disbelievers to disprove God. And simply saying "Because the Bible says so" doesn't prove a thing.

Now my question to you is, why do you need a degree in cosmology and/or theology to be an expert in God? As if cosmology and theology have already found the answer for God's existence? Why should the subject of God be applicable only in the realm of cosmology and theology? I think Richard Dawkins did address this question in the first chapter of the God Delusion. Do read it.


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