Off the Shelf: David Robertson on writing The Dawkins Letters

Off the Shelf Feature

The Dawkins Letters was not a deliberate book.  Towards the end of 2006 I had just finished reading Richard Dawkins The God Delusion.  I felt somewhat frustrated that a book, which was being lauded as the best anti-God book, was so weak in its arguments and ignorant in its history, philosophy and theology.  So I wrote an open letter to Dawkins on the Free Church website, commenting on his first chapter.  A few days later I started getting messages from atheists commenting on my open letter.  I was very impressed that they actually read the Free Church website (many Free Church people don’t bother!).  And then I got a letter from an atheist apologizing for all the things I was being called.  Somewhat surprised I wrote back and asked him what he was talking about.  He directed me to the Dawkins website where my article had been posted on the front page, and by the time I got to it, had almost 700 responses.

What amazed me about these responses was that one third of them were just vitriolic.  It was my first experience of the New Atheism motto ‘there is no God, and I hate him!”   Well I am Scottish and I am, in a good Scots word, ‘thrawn’.   So I decided to reply to some of them.  And I kept going.  Despite being banned more than five times (one of the pseudonyms I came back under was The Wee Flea – because Dawkins had called me a flea that was seeking to make a living off his back – he clearly has no knowledge of the limitations of Christian publishing!), I kept going.  And I decided that the best thing to do was write one chapter in answer to each chapter of The God Delusion.  Christian Focus Publications phoned and asked me if I would be willing to make a book of it and so The Dawkins Letters was born.   Because of the time sensitive nature of the subject I was given very little time – indeed I wrote the whole book in one month.

It was not easy.  Despite the fact I was drawing on over 20 years experience of debating, discussing, reading atheist and other secular material, it was difficult to get the tone of what I wanted.   I did not see The God Delusion as a threat to Christianity at all (indeed if my teenage daughter had not been able to answer it, I would have been disappointed!).  Instead I saw it as a great opportunity to present the good news of Jesus Christ.  Millions of people would read TGD – a book about God, Jesus, the Bible, humanity, truth, love etc.  It is a deeply flawed book, giving all the wrong answers in a sustained illogical rant, but it allowed me to present the opposite case.    I did not write the book for the Christian market, or to reassure Christians.  I wrote it for my non-Christian friends.   That’s why the sub-title of the book is ‘Challenging Atheist Myths’ – because in order to be able to present Christ to many people we first of all have to deconstruct and remove some of the ‘defeater beliefs’ that prevent them even considering Christ.

I found the month of writing (whilst I was still pastoring a growing congregation over the busy Christmas period) difficult and intense.  Spiritually there were times when I struggled and I soon became aware I was in a spiritual battle.  One night I woke up in a cold sweat with an acute sense of evil and darkness.  I went downstairs, prayed and read in my bible Ps 91 and some other psalms and received an assurance from the Lord that he would tell me what to say.  I am NOT claiming that The Dawkins Letters was divinely inspired, as thought the First Letter to Dawkins should be added to the canon!  But I do believe that the Lord assisted and aided me.

The letters are very personal and in my own style.  I was concerned that the humour, irony, passion and style would not be appreciated so I sent the manuscript out to 30 different people to assess – scientists, theologians, students, non-Christians, Europeans, Americans etc.  What amused me was that the atheists loved it, and some of the Christians (especially the Americans) were a bit more wary about the passion, humour and irony.  They were concerned that it would not come across as ‘nice’.   I was delighted with that!

The book was published in early 2007 and much to my surprise (and I think CFP’s) it became a best seller (at least in Christian terms).  I was (am) a nobody.  I am not a famous author/pastor/media personality and I did not want to be.  I just wanted to write something for my non-Christian friends that would help introduce them to Christ.    The Lord has blessed and used it in ways that are to me almost miraculous.   Eight years later it is still in print and (because I foolishly put my e-mail in the book) I am still getting e-mails asking about the contents and seeking to find out more.

Once I got the taste for it I thought I would like to try and take on two of the other New Atheists, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris.   I have since written a response to Hitchens God is not Great’ which is entitled Magnificent Obsession (2013).   How Magnificent Obsession came to be written is another story that is for another time.  I am currently working on a response to Sam Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation, entitled Letter to a Post-Christian Nation.   Prayer is appreciated.  Unlike Dawkins accusation, I don’t write to make money or to be famous.  I just simply want to use the opportunity to present the Gospel in contemporary form to the people in the societies in which we live.  May the Lord continue to use this wee book for his own Glory.

About The Author:

David RobertsonDavid Robertson is pastor of St Peter’s Free Church of Scotland and current Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland. David is a trustee of the Solas Centre for Public Christianity and works to fulfil the Centre’s mission to engage culture with the message of Christ.

Ebook Sale:

The Dawkins Letters, along with Magnificent Obsession and Why I Am Not An Atheist will be available on ebook special offer until December 9, 2015.

Magnificent Obsession Sale Price: $2.99/£1.99

 

The Dawkins Letters by David Robertson Sale Price: $2.99/£1.99

 

Why I Am Not An Atheist Sale Price: $2.99/£1.99

 

1 Comment

Filed under Christian Focus, E-Books, Off the Shelf

  • Linear C

    I received a copy of The God Delusion
    for Christmas in 2006. I found myself unable to put it down, and it
    was well into it’s second re-reading before Hogmanay was upon us. As a
    lifelong atheist, I had often felt just like the small boy in the
    Hans Christian Anderson story “The Emperors’ New Clothes”; was I
    really the only one who could see that faith in general was a failed
    epistemology, and that Christianity in particular nothing more than
    just another mythology?

    Reading The God Delusion, I found I was
    not alone in my rationality. But my curiosity in the phenomena of
    faith was truly aroused. Given The God Delusion, I could not see how
    religion could possibly survive – the cat was out of the bag –
    the emperor was truly naked! I was fascinated to know how Christians
    could possibly respond to this careful the thoughtful expose of their
    delusion. I can remember my excitement on hearing that Alistair
    McGrath would be on the radio one Sunday morning to refute Dawkins’
    book. I was genuinely enthralled to know what this response could be.
    To say I was disappointed is something of an understatement; McGrath
    didn’t address any of the points raised by the book, instead he
    simply claimed that Christianity enabled him to ‘make sense of the
    world’ but without ever saying how, or more importantly, how it
    could for anyone else. In fact, he didn’t even go as far at to reveal
    just what about out world didn’t make sense! – I felt sure I could
    have helped him, without recourse to the supernatural; perhaps
    McGrath was having trouble programming his VCR …….

    So much for my first encounter with
    Christian apologetics. My second, was reading an electronic version
    of Terry Eagleton’s review of TGD originally published I the Sunday
    Times. And for the second time, I was sorely disappointed. Eagleton
    also neglected to engage with any of the points in the book,
    defending a nebulous god in sneering tones. What struck at that point
    was that the sneering tone was actually one of the primary defence
    tactics of the apologist; religion has a privileged position and how
    dare anyone criticise it? Thankfully, the emergence of the internet,
    and with it the ability for all of us to make our views known, means
    that the ‘thou shalt not criticise religion’ defence is in retreat.

    I had also discovered the Richard
    Dawkins website by this time. While it was reassuring to find a
    website dedicated to reason and science, I rarely contributed to the
    forums, given that they were populated by people of roughly the same
    opinion as me, but of greatly more intelligence and eloquence. What
    could I possibly add?

    Then a wonderful thing happened –
    David Robertson started to contribute. This was incredibly exciting.
    Finally we could have an interaction with a Christian, work through
    the arguments one at a time, and come to a conclusion about each one.
    Sure enough, others must have been of the same opinion as myself
    since the volume of responses shot up.

    Sadly however, David’s contributions
    proved to be as frustrating as every other apologist I had
    encountered. His opening entry to the discussion as I remember was
    his first chapter to what was to become The Dawkins Letters. A master
    of misrepresentation and evasion as I was dreading. Rightly so, he
    was torn apart by the regulars on that forum. Now how should we
    expect a Christian apologist to react? Anyone with an honest care
    for what is true, will seek out the strongest opposition to his
    views, and engage with them to determine which position is indeed the
    correct one. Did David do this? Not a chance! Like every other
    apologist he would evade and misrepresent. David as good as concedes
    this point with his recollections as he admits “that one third of
    them were just vitriolic”; what about the majority two thirds then
    David? (Not even that the one third were vitriolic, more like simple,
    and in my view deserved, ridicule.)

    It was incredibly frustrating to read
    those exchanges. So many reasonable objections to faith and
    Christianity were raised, David ignored them all. Instead he would
    revel in mud slinging with those who would ridicule him. Due to forum
    rules for productive discourse, he was banned. And again. And again.
    To this day, David wears his bans as a proud badge of Christian
    martyrdom, the fearless Christian in the atheist lions den, but still
    concealing the truth that he was kicked out for being unable to hold
    a reasonable conversation, and hijacking the forums through wilful
    dishonesty.

    Fast forward a couple of years and I
    find David contributing to the ‘Unbelievable’ forums. At last, I find
    an opportunity to hold a conversation with a Christian, this time in
    a Christian setting. Will David engage? No, beyond the first initial
    exchanges where I refuse to be fobbed off, David stops responding.
    Then the Unbelievable forums close. So much for that!

    Finally I find that David has a
    website. I cautiously send in a message, enquiring about the comment
    moderation policy. After all, it’s David’s own website, I can’t
    demand that my contributions are published. David’s reply is
    courteous, and encouraging – perhaps at last this is the medium for
    an honest discourse?

    Sadly once more I am disappointed.
    After publishing the first few messages, censorship soon surfaces and
    my posts never see light of day. I give David the benefit of the
    doubt; perhaps he is too busy to moderate the forum; but after the
    fifth post is censored, I stop wasting my (electronic) breath. The
    irony is not lost on me each time I see David boasting of his bans
    from the Dawkin’s forum! Where David was banned for rabble rousing, I
    am censored for raising a dissenting voice.

    This post of David’s recalling the days
    of the Dawkin Letters prompts me to write again, I feel it’s
    important that the perspective from the other side is recorded; and
    shall post it also on David’s site although I have no idea if it will
    be published.

    Looking back however, I see now that my
    initial intuitions were correct all along. There is no refutation of
    The God Delusion, for the simple reason that there is no good reason
    to believe that any of the claims of any religion are true. The
    behaviour of Christian apologists with their tactics of evasion,
    misrepresentation and special pleading simply confirm the point.

    I no longer hold my breath in
    anticipation of a reasonable defence of faith. The debate is not just
    over, there never was a debate. Christianity is sustained only though
    it’s position of privilege, take that away and it will wither and
    die, just as all other religions that we now call mythology have.

    The emperor is truly naked; and it’s no
    longer just this small boy who sees it.