Why Believers Should Take Richard Dawkins Seriously

Richard Skinner in Ekklesia:

Now I think the critics of Richard Dawkins are in the main quite right. I say ‘in the main’ because Dawkins does make a number of valid points, particularly relating to the role of religion, and Christianity in particular, in the life of this country; but I agree that a large proportion of his book is indeed based on error. However, I don’t think it right for us to say, “Ah, well, not only theologians but even atheists have demonstrated where Dawkins has gone wrong, therefore we don’t have to take his views seriously.”

We do have to take his views seriously, for more than one reason. Wilson suggests, and I agree with him, that Christians should be grateful to Dawkins, because “he has gathered together all of the best arguments against God’s existence in one place, with the intention of debating them publicly.” Quite so, but I think there’s another reason to listen to Dawkins. It’s this: theological writers and others can point out at length that what Dawkins does is to set up a straw man – or rather, a straw God – and then demolish it; they can show that Dawkins has not really got to grips at all with a true understanding of God and the religious dimension; but the straw God that Dawkins sets up and then demolishes is often uncomfortably close to the notion of God that we Christians all too frequently seem to talk about, pray to and worship.

What Dawkins demolishes in this book may well be a misrepresentation of God, but it is a misrepresentation, an idol, that we Christians all too have often set up and espoused as the real thing. We should listen to Dawkins because doing so can help us reflect on what we claim to believe, or think we believe, or imply that we believe. His views can act as an acid to eat away the false and phoney elements of our faith.