Steven Weinberg reviews The God Delusion. It’s almost entirely positive—one exception is that he takes Dawkins to task for being too even-handed and well-intentioned towards Islam. I particularly enjoyed his criticisms of the critics. Here’s a familiar argument:
The reviews of The God Delusion in the New York Times and the New Republic took Dawkins to task for his contemptuous rejection of the classic “proofs” of the existence of God. I agree with Dawkins in his rejection of these proofs, but I would have answered them a little differently. The “ontological proof” of St Anselm asks us first to agree that it is possible to conceive of something than which nothing greater can be conceived. Once that agreement is obtained, the sly philosopher points out that the thing conceived of must exist, since if it did not then something just like it that actually exists would thereby be greater. And what could this greatest actually existing thing be, but God? QED. From the monk Gaunilo in Anselm’s time to philosophers in our own such as J. L. Mackie and Alvin Plantinga, there is general agreement that Anselm’s proof is flawed, though they disagree about what the flaw is. My own view is that the proof is circular: it is not true that one can conceive of something than which nothing greater can be conceived unless one first assumes the existence of God. Anselm’s “proof” has reappeared and been refuted in many different forms, it is a little like an infectious disease that can be defeated by an antibiotic, but which then evolves so that it needs to be defeated all over again.
I’ve always felt that leap from a conception to reality was unwarranted and a cheat; but then, maybe that part isn’t in the modal logic version that gets touted now and then. I suspect that the modal logic business is like a variant coat protein to help the nonsense slip by the immune defenses.
He also jumps on the tired “amateur philosopher” line of attack.
I find it disturbing that Thomas Nagel in the New Republic dismisses Dawkins as an “amateur philosopher”, while Terry Eagleton in the London Review of Books sneers at Dawkins for his lack of theological training. Are we to conclude that opinions on matters of philosophy or religion are only to be expressed by experts, not mere scientists or other common folk? It is like saying that only political scientists are justified in expressing views on politics. Eagleton’s judgement is particularly inappropriate; it is like saying that no one is entitled to judge the validity of astrology who cannot cast a horoscope.
Weinberg is a little more sanguine about the evangelical threat in America, but then he doesn’t quite have the full-throated assault on his discipline in the schools that we biologists face…yet. He sees a sign of weakness in the degree of tolerance exhibited by Christianity—it’s a good thing, I agree, but I also think it means we should be rising up to finish the beast of faith off, not that we should relax our exertions.