Nicholas Lash on ‘The God Delusion’

by Richard on October 25, 2007

Cambridge theologian Nicholas Lash delivers an engaging and scholarly critique of Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion”. Take your time over it. It will be time well spent. Here’s a taster

Dawkins makes much of the fact that he is an academic: biologist, Fellow of the Royal Society, at present occupying Oxford’s chair in “the public understanding of science”. Now, it is a fundamental feature of good academic work in any field that it is undertaken with a passion for accurate description and disinterested respect for the materials with which one is working. Dawkins, the biologist, seems not to have acquired the mental discipline necessary for work in the humanities and social sciences. One cannot imagine a physicist holding an atomic particle, or a zoologist a yak, with the same sustained contempt and loathing, the same cavalier disregard for accurate description, the same ignorance of the literature, with which Dawkins treats all religious beliefs, ideas and practices. And, in one of the very few places in which a work of theology is mentioned, he devotes three pages to “Thomas Aquinas’s Proofs”. What, in fact, we are given is a shoddy misrepresentation of Aquinas’ arguments, with no indication of where they might be found, what others have made of them, or what purpose they were constructed to serve.

(With thanks to Craig)

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }


Kim 10.25.07 at 1:43 pm

Yes, it’s a great essay, Lash at his insightful and caustic best. As he suggests, basically Dawkins hasn’t done his homework (maybe the chimpanzee ate it). And what a brilliant table-turning ending: citing Michael Ruse - that evolutionism is “a religious commitment” - Lash suggests that “The irony of The God Delusion, then, is that its author is the high priest of a new religion.”

By the way, there is an an excellent critique over at “Faith and Theology”, posted almost simultaneously with this one, on Christopher Hitchens’ book God Is Not Great.


Richard 10.25.07 at 1:57 pm


Rich 10.25.07 at 2:32 pm


Thanks for this great pointer. However, there appears to be an issue with the way your link. I’ve never visited the Blackwell Synergy site before, and when I followed your link it complained that I was not allowing it to set a cookie. After verifying that I was allowing it to set a cookie, I modified your link by removing the “?cookieSet=1″ from the end. I could then visit with no problems.

So: Link for first-time visitors.


Richard 10.25.07 at 3:54 pm

Thanks for pointing that out, Rich. I’ve corrected the link in the post now.


Allan R. Bevere 10.25.07 at 9:55 pm


An excellent essay. Thanks for linking it.


paul 11.01.07 at 6:59 pm

ouch!well done lets deride other opinion but a clear disscussion would be be of benifit to all those people who are not of the intellectual bent(sic). And would appreciate guidence


Andrew 12.16.07 at 11:41 pm

I found his book to be excellent, for me it distilled into laymans terms why I have always felt so uncomfortable around strong religious faith, actually pretty much any ‘unshakable conviction’ starts ringing alarm bells. Why should we not examine religion from a rationalist standpoint. For me his assertion that religios beliefs should be held up to the same scrutiny as any other belief was (if you’ll excuse the pun) a revelation.

To be honest my real issue is with religion rather than belief, any belief system should be a personal one and shouldn’t require priests or indeed academics to legitimise it.

The outrage his book has caused in some quarters only serves to bring to mind the phrase ‘A hit, a palpable hit!”


adrian maxwell 05.27.13 at 8:23 am

I was surprised and disappointed at the puerile (read brittle and chippy) reaction of ‘beleivers’ to attacks on their belief…‘perhaps the chimpanzee ate it’ ho ho. I read TGD and looked for a critique. I found Theology for Pilgrims and battled through Nicholas Lash’s sub graduate prose (heavily footnoted, self referential, self congratulatory, obscurantist, full of arch phrases like I will return to this later and to which I now turn). I found nothing to persuade me that I should not assume the centre of the sun is hot. What I found particularly irritating was the thinly veiled adoption of the nastiness of other commentators. If this is an ‘engaging and scholarly critique’ why is chapter 1 sub titled ‘The Puzzling Success of a Deplorable Book’. I doubt NL is really puzzled by the success of TGD. And why call it ‘deplorable’? Is he grieving for the fact of the book, for its success or simply that he thinks it is very badly written? Such a telling sub title gives the impression NL thinks the book buying public are morons. This is the core of my disappointment with NL’s critique of TGD. Why doesn’t address falling church attendances, the perception that all religion is bonkers and causes more harm than good? Instead NL takes refuge in a laconic and easy stream of sarcasm and hyperbole. But I agree with Andrew’s point, this is more about ‘religion’. It is the nasty, tepid and polluted sea in which NL swims, rather than belief.
How many divisions has NL got?


Kim 05.28.13 at 7:09 pm

Five years on, as the New Atheism begins to experience death by implosion under the weight of its own truculence and guff — behold! — an epitaph of truculence and guff.

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