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 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.
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.