So I have decided to give up on Dawkins’ book “The God Delusion” on page 122. If anyone can convince me that there is anything actually worth reading in the rest of the book I might give it a go. It really is the kind of book that once you’ve put it down, you find it very hard to pick up again.
It is hard to believe that someone with a professorship can produce something so utterly mindless, (perhaps it was just really rushed). It is badly researched, but it’s the lack of plain thinking that really gets to me.
His initial observations on agnosticism are obvious, but fine, as are his collection of quotes leading to an opinion of religion and the religious mind. Both topics are handled in an unoriginal way, but I have nothing further to say about his understanding of either of them. But, as I said, it is the lack of plain thinking that really irks me. I’ll give you some examples:
In the footnote on page 122 (where I have decided to give my reading time to something a little more worthwhile; Job for instance, which is at least real speculation) “… the mistranslation of Isaiah’s Hebrew for young woman (almah) into the Greek for virgin (parthenos). An easy mistake to make (think of the English words ‘maid’ and ‘maiden’ to see how it might have happened), this one translator’s slip was to be wildly inflated and give rise to the whole preposterous legend of Jesus’ mother being a virgin!”
Now, laying aside the bad exegesis for a moment, let’s think what would have happened if the dear Professor had bothered to actually look up, read and (heaven forbid) THINK about the verse which causes him such offence this is what he would have found:
Isaiah 7:14 “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”
Now I would love to know how it is that Isaiah would have expected that his readers could think that a pregnant young girl who has actually lost her virginity to be a sign from God? How many pregnant young girls who are not virgins, have there been since Isaiah? Which one of them could have been the sign?
Obviously Isaiah means that she is to be a virgin, because a pregnant virgin would be a very obvious sign from God… hello?
Then, in terms of his research, if he had done just the briefest of Hebrew studies he would discover that there is actually no instance where ‘almah’ is used in the Old Testament where it does not mean ‘virgin’, but in each case it also means ‘young woman of marriageable age’ ; ie. not a spinster who is a virgin, and also not a man who is a virgin; ie. ‘alma’ always means a young virgin girl and so we may make sense of Isaiah’s prophecy – I have not proved it to be true, I have just made sense of it, just with a bit of research and a bit of thinking, the kind of stuff Dawkins did for a living before he started writing books.
Dawkins’ thinking on this point is a little like this: Imagine the writers of a major spy movie working on the part where the hero is going to break in and steal a secret code. In the story his team needs to wait for a sign from him after he has the codes. So as they are planning the story the writers of the movie have him say this, “OK, as soon as I have the plans I will make sure that nothing out of the ordinary happens… OK? Any questions?” Obviously no one would write such a thing, a sign must be out of the ordinary, or else it’s not a sign… It’s just plain thinking professor.
Another example is this: Dawkins suggests that there is a 4th option to the “liar, lunatic or Lord” option of who Jesus is. The apologetics goes something like this: Jesus must have been one of three things, a liar, a lunatic or Lord, as he claimed to be. Dawkins’ suggestion that a 4th option is this; that Jesus could have simply be mistaken.
I’m not sure how he came to that startlingly stupid suggestion, but he makes as if it is so simple that no Christian has ever thought of it before, presumably blinded by the ignorance of their religiosity. I think that very few people (let alone psychologists) would call a man who claims to be God, but is not, merely ‘mistaken’.
People are put in the crazy house if they claim to be Napoleon; let alone God.
If Jesus was mistaken, would than not make him a lunatic?
Dawkins does seem to agree with Sam Harris that all people of faith are actually lunatics, it’s just that there are too many of them to lock away. It seems odd then (besides the un-reasoned 4th option argument) to commit all his disciples to lunacy but to let the instigator of the faith off the hook, calling him merely ‘mistaken’.
I don’t know about you but I find that kind of thing disappointing in a book. If someone just said it off the top of their head that is one thing, but presumably someone edited this thing?
I would hate to think, but am lead to conclude, that this is the way Dawkins does his research. Perhaps he commands such academic awe that he feel he is in some untouchable league and can walk into a sphere he clearly knows nothing about and in one quick step, with no need for research of any kind, point out the obvious errors that no Christian could possibly have the wits to see (being the ignorant ‘faith’ people that they are). It is to me a picture of the state of science-academia that Dawkins gets to publish on a subject he has neither knowledge nor credibility and has clearly done less than enough research.
Dawkins has a brief glance at the gospels of Matthew and Luke and keeps repeating that they have these glaring and obvious contradictions. Yet he mentions not one of them. He tries, I think, to get Matthew, Luke and John to be contradictory with regard to Jesus’ birth place. The attempts are pitiful, and show that if he (and his editor) have actually read the gospels, they have certainly made absolutely no attempt to actually think about them. The whole thing is glaringly preconceived.
Only one issue of supposed contradiction, is worth an answer; that is Robin Fox’s (equally un-researched) suggestion that Luke’s record of Quirineus’ census was a weak, but understandable, attempt to put Jesus in Bethlehem for his birth.
Apart from historical records, which I will get to last, just think for a moment. Luke was obviously not writing for the purpose of manipulating 20th century mass ignorance (as both Dawkins and Fox seem to think). The people Luke was writing to had no need of historical research, they were actually there for the census. What possible benefit could Luke have had to to either make up a fictitious Augustus-issued census or to get the dates so horribly wrong by putting the Quirineus census too early? More importantly, how did Luke’s record make it through it’s eye witness critics, copied as many times as it was, if it was as badly put together as they presume?
He says that Robin Fox “sympathises with Luke’s plight and his desire to fulfill prophecy of Micah.” But what he fails to recognise is that Luke was making no attempt to fulfill any Hebrew prophecy, it’s doubtful if he even knew of the prophecy and he certainly was not writing to convince any Hebrews. A plain read of his gospel makes that a very obvious observation.
His readers were either Greek or Roman (probably both), and as well acquainted with recent history as they were unacquainted with Hebrew prophecy. Actually I go with the theory that Luke & Acts were written as a 2 volume pre-trial brief in Paul’s defence against Nero, no margin for eye witness error in these records.
Dawkin’s suggestion here would be like Jacob Zuma’s defence trying to claim that there was never actually any arms deal in South Africa… and then getting away with it! In 2000 years time that would be feasible because people would have forgotten, but how would his case survive the ridicule and the courts of today so that it would be around in 2000 years? It is a silly suggestion.
But, besides the obvious, that is what can be deduced by merely reading and thinking (preferably at, or almost at, the same time), here is the research:
Quirinius had more than one census. Luke says it plainly in verse 2 of the second chapter “(This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)“. His first census was under the orders of Augustus, it was empire wide and racial. Hence the men returning to their family towns. Joseph went to Bethlehem because that was where his family records were kept, obviously, it was not an ancient ancestor issue, as Dawkins again presumes.
Perhaps Dawkins does not realise that at that time there was no such thing as a centralised database and bar-coded ID books. Also if Dawkins & Fox had just bothered to read the text they would see that Acts 5:37 describes the second census under Quirineus that Dawkins mistakes for the first Augustus-issued census; I think he could do a bit better than that. It’s not even like it’s in a different book, Acts and Luke are both in the Bible.
Perhaps Dawkins doesn’t know that Luke was a Greek doctor, not at all familiar or interested in Jewish Messianic prophecy. But then what is he doing writing such an opinionated book?
It is John and Matthew who wrote about Jewish prophecies being fulfilled, not Luke. As I said Luke was most likely writing a brief in defense of Paul in Rome. He was certainly not trying to fulfill Messianic prophecy. Though he was being thorough. The prophecy lines up with Luke’s record simply because it was true.
Martin summarises the literary and archeological evidence for this:
“A sixth reason for placing the nativity of Jesus in 3 or 2 B.C. is the coincidence of this date with the New Testament account that Jesus was born at the time when a Roman census was being conducted: “There went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the Roman world should be registered” (Luke 2:1). Historians have not been able to find any empire-wide census or registration in the years 7-5 B.C., but there is a reference to such a registration of all the Roman people not long before 5 February 2 B.C. written by Caesar Augustus himself: “While I was administering my thirteenth consulship [2 B.C.] the senate and the equestrian order and the entire Roman people gave me the title Father of my Country” (Res Gestae 35). This award was given to Augustus on 5 February 2 B.C., therefore the registration of citizen approval must have taken place in 3 B.C. Orosius, in the fifth century, also said that Roman records of his time revealed that a census was indeed held when Augustus was made “the first of men”–an apt description of his award “Father of the Country”–at a time when all the great nations gave an oath of obedience to Augustus (6:22, 7:2). Orosius dated the census to 3 B.C. And besides that, Josephus substantiates that an oath of obedience to Augustus was required in Judea not long before the death of Herod (Antiquities I7:4I-45). This agrees nicely in a chronological sense with what Luke records. But more than that, an inscription found in Paphlagonia (eastern Turkey), also dated to 3 B.C., mentions an “oath sworn by all the people in the land at the altars of Augustus in the temples of Augustus in the various districts.” And dovetailing precisely with this inscription, the early (fifth century) Armenian historian, Moses of Khoren, said the census that brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem was conducted by Roman agents in Armenia where they set up “the image of Augustus Caesar in every temple.”. The similarity of this language is strikingly akin to the wording on the Paphlagonian inscription describing the oath taken in 3 B.C. These indications can allow us to reasonably conclude that the oath (of Josephus, the Paphlagonian inscription, and Orosius) and the census (mentioned by Luke, Orosius, and Moses of Khoren) were one and the same. All of these things happened in 3 B.C.”
The bit of The God Delusion that I have read leaves me with the distinct impression that Dawkins has approached the subject of God with some massively obnoxious preconceptions; preconceptions that he obviously enjoys the company of. Because if he just used a little of the thinking capacity he clearly has, he would be obliged to send his preconceptions on their way.