Reviewed by Thomas Howard
Perhaps the principal thing which impresses the reader of Fr. Crean's reply to Professor Dawkins's The God Delusion is the urbane, even irenic, note which the good Dominican strikes. A less courteous respondent might well have brought into play Touchstone's Reply Churlish or his Countercheck Quarrelsome with perfect impunity. But we have here, always, the Retort Courteous and the Quip Modest.
This is worth noting, actually, since Professor Dawkins's book is astonishing, coming as it does not from a man unaccustomed to discourse (at least one would have thought not) but from a don— astonishing that is, in the petulance, and even frivolity, to which it resorts altogether too frequently. For example, in connection with the language of the Council of Nicaea about the relation of the Father and the Son, we find, "What on earth could that possibly mean? . . . 'Very little' seems the only reasonable reply." This, surely, sounds like the effusion of a truculent schoolboy nettled over an equation and in a hurry to get out. Or again, what are we to make of his attributing "polytheistic hankerings" to John Paul II in the light of that pontiff's accrediting his survival from the bullet wound to the Virgin? Are we to admire the mind of this celebrated don?
But Fr. Crean never gives way to the pique that is clearly afflicting this reviewer. His rejoinders, while recognizing Dr. Dawkins's special peeves, always carry through with all that a cogent Catholic answer would require.
I say a Catholic answer. Here we come upon a rum point in Dawkins's case. He claims that religion itself is a blight on the human race and should be extirpated—all religion, that is. But significantly, he spares Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, and Protestantism his vitriol. "For all sorts of reasons I dislike the Roman Catholic Church" (316, The God Delusion). Upon brief reflection, it seems to me, Catholics will not find this attitude at all odd. After all, what single presence in the modern world does, in fact, stand so massively and unapologetically over against virtually every single moral and cultural change that your Dawkinses would like to bring to pass?
Fr. Crean gives us a systematic canvass of the entirety of Dawkins's book. First we have the outline of Dawkins's argument. I speak as a reader who is neither a philosopher nor a scientist; but I was able to follow every paragraph, not only with understanding, but, I may say, with pleasure. Fr. Crean is an excellent tutor. These pages took me back to my university classes in philosophy. Questions, examples, objections, definitions, qualifications, expositions of absurdities—it is all here, with splendid lucidity.
In the two chapters on Aquinas and miracles, once again, Fr. Crean presses Dawkins remorselessly with questions that either expose ruinously pulpy areas in Dawkins's "case" (one begins to need those inverted commas, since the supposititious case looks increasingly pulpy) , or demonstrate that Dawkins simply has not done his prep at all. And, alas, in the chapter on the Gospels, it becomes clear that Dawkins really hasn't done his prep. He has consulted (embarrassingly) the work of one single school of New Testament critics, namely those whose agenda it is to discredit both the documents and Our Lord's claim to be God Incarnate. In a further chapter, when it comes to Dawkins's, effort to discover the origins of morality in evolutionary mists, we find ourselves agog at inventions that dwarf the fairy tales in sheer fantasy—protohistoric associations of baboons exhibiting inchoate tendencies later to flower in human consciousness. It's all very droll coming from a man who insists upon "evidence" so long as he is belaboring the Catholics. But once again, Fr. Crean tucks in and with unwearying aplomb articulates the classic Catholic case for the origin of the moral law in the God who is Himself, not merely the arbiter of a good law, but Goodness itself. (And again, it must be urged that one finds none of the acerbity in Fr. Crean's work that has crept into this review.)
And so it goes, with all the shopworn canards: the horror stories about how monstrous the God of the Old Testament is, and about how bloody the Catholic Church has been down through the centuries. If there are Catholics about who have let their grip on good old Catholic apologetics loosen, or worse, who have never got a grip to begin with; or if there are Protestants believers about who wonder what this serene thing is—this ancient and indestructible Catholic assurance of the truth; and, most especially, if there are secularists about who have relished the spectacle of what seemed to be Dr. Dawkins's triumphant closing forever of the case against God—I would say anyone in any of the above categories is in for a jolly good read.
Thomas Howard is a popular author of numerous books. The Night is Far Spent: A Treasury of Thomas Howard has recently been published by Ignatius Press.
Version: 10th April 2009