Sorting by

×
Skip to main content

Richard Dawkins is a vocal atheist and prolific author. He penned many best-selling books such as The Selfish Gene (1976), The Blind Watchmaker (1986), and The God Delusion (2006) in which he promoted a gene-centered view of evolution in which reproduction, mutation, and selection are unguided by any sentient designer. He famously coined the word “meme,” to describe a unit of culture that can be passed from generation to generation, like the inheritance of genetic information in the form of genes. He is an outspoken critic of religion, calling it a source of conflict and a justification for belief without evidence. He considers faith as one of the world’s great evils. Dawkins is often referred to as one of the “Four Horsemen” of the New Atheism movement along with Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett.

As a Christian biologist who believes that God used evolution as the mechanism by which God created the diversity of life on earth, I have read much of what Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and Dennett have written. It is important for me to hear the criticisms they raise. Their criticisms are harsh and hard to read. So, when I saw a book entitled Coming to Faith Through Dawkins, I was immediately intrigued! Finding faith in God through Dawkins? How could this be? It was an immediate “must read” for me!

The book is a collection of twelve essays written by people who self-describe as part of the New Atheist movement but came to Christian faith because the arguments Dawkins and others were making to refute religion fell short. The twelve contributors are highly educated intellectuals who believed that religion was incompatible with an intellectual mind and were convinced that science and religion were opposed to one another. Their areas of expertise were diverse—biochemistry, philosophy, political science, ecology, and engineering. They represent several countries—the United States, Hungry, South Africa, and Egypt. They had all chosen science and dismissed religion. But all of them ultimately found the claims of the New Atheists to fall short and found their way to faith in Jesus Christ.

As I read the essays, I was intrigued by the common themes I read in each of them. The authors definitely shared some personality traits. They were self-described skeptics, questioners. They were curious. They loved science, valued evidence, and were critical thinkers.

Each author described their initial attraction to Dawkins and atheism which included some of these personality traits. For some, the attraction came after a crisis that caused them to ask questions about God’s goodness in light of suffering. For others, it was encountering scientific truths in the context of a church that dismissed the questions they raised. In all cases, they picked up one of the well-known New Atheist books, most often The God Delusion, and were quickly “converted” to atheism. For most, this worked…for a while…but all came to a point in which they expressed feeling an emptiness, a feeling that there must be more to life. They wondered about the meaning and purpose of life. Sometimes this was prompted by a life crisis—a divorce or the death of someone close. For others, this sense came as a result of working in an area of social justice, racial reconciliation efforts, or housing for the poor. Many times, this prompted them to go back and reread The God Delusion and when they read it again, they heard something quite different than they did when they read it the first time. They examined the arguments and found that the arguments fell short. They noticed the tone and described it as angry, disrespectful, and condescending. They noted that Dawkins criticized religion for objecting to further inquiry but then discouraged his readers from further inquiry.

Each author then described a path, often winding, to a church or a group of Christians. These Christians also had some common characteristics. They took engaging ideas seriously. They encouraged questions and took the questions seriously even when the questions were difficult. They valued evidence and logical argumentation. The churches were led by pastors who preached intellectually robust sermons. They often found or were encouraged to read C.S. Lewis who was profoundly influential in their journey to Christian faith. Most importantly, the Christians they found were kind and patient, illustrating that being Christ-like is the strongest apologetic (p. 178).

The testimonies of these twelve Christians reminded me of the importance of an intellectually robust faith. The stories reinforced the importance of engaging doubt and encouraging questions with the confidence that the gospel of Christ will not break under the weight of even our most difficult questions. They encouraged me to practice Christ-like patience and kindness. I learned that atheism is not the biggest threat to Christianity. Atheism is the beginning of a journey. The biggest threat to Christianity is apathy (p. 142).

I recommend this book to anyone who is intrigued by Dawkins and the New Atheists, for parents whose children are expressing doubts about their faith or who have doubts of their own, and for pastors and teachers who need encouragement to continue to shore up the intellectual foundations of their faith and do their work with kindness. I also recommend this book for all of us who need a reminder that the grace of God and God’s relentless pursuit of us can work even through authors, like Dawkins who are doing their best to keep God away.

Sara Sybesma Tolsma

Sara Sybesma Tolsma is a Professor of Biology at Northwestern College.

3 Comments

  • Thank you. As a Chaplain I often enjoyed contacts with atheists. The integrity and respect was often more vibrant than with simplistic piety. In fact, given the dynamics of hospital bed realities such conversations were almost brutally honest and transparent.

  • Marlin P Vis says:

    As a Campus Minister at Grand Valley State University from 2000-2005, I was part of a reading group formed by a mathematics professor. He was Christian, but the rest, about 12 other professors, were not. We read some deep stuff. I can’t remember the titles or the authors, but heavy and hard reading for me. The vocabulary was the biggest problem. But I did my best to understand and looked up a lot of words. What I found though, was that these professors — physics, mathematics, biology, philosophy — and everything other, were respectful, curious and very knowledgeable in their subject areas. But almost none of them had read the Bible, for example, or had any understanding of Christian theology. I added very little to the discussions, because they, the discussions, were well above my head. But when I did, they listened. It was a great experience. I thank you for the book recommendation. I’ll check it out myself, and if I can get through it, I know several others who could benefit as well.

  • David Landegent says:

    I’m glad my God-loving dad taught his children to never be afraid of questions. They are a well-worn path to faith. I’ll have to add this book to my reading list. I always enjoy seeing God take up unusual tools when working in our lives.

Leave a Reply