Tim Farron’s book likes and dislikes: CS Lewis and Richard Dawkins

Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron features in the ‘Brought to book’ column in the current edition of Total Politics, answering questions such as:

What is your least favourite book?

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. I’m a Christian, but I don’t object to people criticising my faith or even trying to ‘disprove’ it. However, I do object to bright people like Dawkins writing uncritical and abysmally researched polemic and then parading it as a respectable work.

What was the most inspiring book you have ever read and why?

The Problem of Pain by CS Lewis. The book doesn’t give you a get out jail card when it comes to grief, but in a clear and Biblically consistent way it helps you to understand something about why such things happen in a world ruled by a loving and all powerful God. Heavy but sublime too.

You can read the full piece here.

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28 Comments

  • Oh dear, there goes my respect for another of our MPs
    Where’s Laurence when we need him…..?

  • If he’s going to criticise Dawkins for abysmal research, I’d like to see the research which counters Dawkins’ arguments, then we can compare them side-by-side in a rational manner… until then, I’ll happily write him off as another of the crowd who have to try and attack something because they don’t like it.

  • Andrew Waller 8th Aug '09 - 11:50pm

    Bravo for Tim. It is not just athiests who stand up for what they believe (or don’t believe) in., but sadly on Lib Dem voice it is the Christians who usually get shot down.

  • I suppose the problem with a ‘loving and all powerful god’ is that someone has to write a book about pain. Pain is quite understandable to a doctor and Charles Darwin. If for example,we insist on using an upright backbone for 70 odd years, when it was designed for a 50 stone gorilla which spent most of its life at 40 degrees to the horizontal, then it is no surprise lots of us suffer back pain in our old(er) age.

  • I don’t have a problem with anyone disliking Dawkins, but I cannot respect anyone who would include Lewis’s intellectually pathetic apologetics in a list of inspirational books.

  • …writing uncritical and abysmally researched polemic and then parading it as a respectable work.

    That line made me think of the Bible or indeed the Qur’an.

  • Herbert Brown 9th Aug '09 - 1:01pm

    “If for example,we insist on using an upright backbone for 70 odd years, when it was designed for a 50 stone gorilla which spent most of its life at 40 degrees to the horizontal, then it is no surprise lots of us suffer back pain in our old(er) age.”

    Are you sure you meant to say “”designed”?

  • Paul Pettinger 10th Aug '09 - 11:47am

    What a needlessly churlish thing for Tim Farron to say. He was a staunch defender of the religious privilege and discrimination against the non-religious in our education system during the faith schools debate in March and seems to be quickly building a reputation for being prejudicial against the non-religious. May be Tim Farron would like to tell Richard Dawkins his views on his book when comes to Bournemouth conference in September??

  • Some of these comments demonstrate precisely why I am reticent to join the Liberal Democrats, even though as a Christian I happen to think that many Lib Dem policies dovetail rather well with what I believe. The seemingly widespread assumption among Lib Dem members (pace Dawkins) that religious people are somehow unworthy of respect purely because of their beliefs is, at the very least, a major turn-off.

  • Tom, the Liberal Democrats are (if you’ll forgive the expression) a very broad church. We have people of all faiths and none, and those inbetween. I certainly don’t think there’s a “widespread assumption […] that religious people are somehow unworthy of respect purely because of their beliefs” – I don’t even think that you could read that into the comments posted on this story. Most of the negative comments are opposing Farron’s claims about Dawkins (or his taste in literature) rather than him as a person.

    I think Tim Farron is a good MP, and a very entertaining person. I happen to disagree with some of his points here. One of the things which makes the Liberal Democrats such an interesting place for me is the wide range of beliefs which stem from liberal principles, and the way in which people are encouraged to discuss and debate their opinions.

    Admittedly, this can often get out of hand and turn into intellectual masturbation, distracting us from the important practical task of bringing about a liberal society… but I think that on the whole Liberal Democrats tend to strike a good balance between the destination and the journey, and it’s exciting to be part of both the debate and the momentum.

  • “I do object to bright people like Dawkins writing uncritical and abysmally researched polemic and then parading it as a respectable work.”

    I don’t know why people think the God Delusion is badly written or argued. Mostly it seems to centre on Dawkins not having enough understanding of theology. Theology – defined as the explanations people use to make up for the things they want to be in the Bible but aren’t. Theological debates – e.g. should there be women priests ? tend to suggest that it is not a very useful tool for getting meaningful answers.

    I suspect that people just start from a view point so different that they don’t understand what Dawkins is writing.

    The other aspect of attack is that Dawkins concentrates religious extremists. On this point, I have some sympathy with the argument. I would hope people of moderate religious views could be allies of atheists against religious extremists.

  • Tom,

    Go for it.

    I’m a Liberal Democrat because, like you, I feel it dovetails nicely with my Christian views. What’s more, we are a party which tolerates different views; in NI, where I am, we have evangelical Christians sitting side by side with leading gay rights activists on our exec.

    So, join!

  • “The seemingly widespread assumption among Lib Dem members (pace Dawkins) that religious people are somehow unworthy of respect purely because of their beliefs is, at the very least, a major turn-off”

    Certainly a lot of Lib Dems seem to forget the tolerance bit of the preamble and some Dawkin-istas do seem to exhibit all the traits of extremist fundamental religionists.

    There are plenty of excellent liberals in the LIb Dems who have no difficultly reconciling their liberalism and christianity. Tim would be one, Steve Webb, Roger Roberts and Alan Beith would be another three.

  • Please don’t conflate ‘tolerance’ and ‘respect’. They are two quite different things. You can choose to tolerate, but you either respect something or you don’t.

    In my view if you’re a liberal and a Christian then you’re either a bad liberal or a bad Christian. If you can find a way to deal with the cognitive dissonance then more power to you, but as far as your beliefs go you may as well be sacrificing goats and barking at the moon for all the respect you’re going to get from me.

    Those are my beliefs. If you don’t respect them then you understand why I don’t respect yours.

    But we can tolerate each other.

  • “In my view if you’re a liberal and a Christian then you’re either a bad liberal or a bad Christian.”

    Which is Roger Roberts?

  • Hywel, I call Blake’s Law:

    “In any discussion of atheism (skepticism, etc.), the probability that someone will compare a vocal atheist to religious fundamentalists increases to one.”

    The difference between the “shrillness” or “militantness” of Dawkins, and that exhibited by fundamentalist “religionists”, is that Dawkins has the evidence on his side. If Dawkins angrily claims that evolution is true, and a fundie insists that the world is 6000 years old and they are descended from Adam and Eve etc (as lots do), do you really think that Dawkins and the fundie are equally criticizable??

    Saying that, everything I’ve read or seen of Dawkins doesn’t match up with such claims of “militantness”. It seems like a caricature by his critics, when they can’t rebut his arguments. It’s absurd to say “he goes for the easy target, the extremes of religion that are easy to mock”. He regularly criticizes more everyday religious types. And besides, they may be easy to mock, but you can hardly say that they mean nothing. Islamic fundamentalists are a well known threat, I thought. Not heard of Bin Laden? Not to mention the fundamentalist Christians who promote creationism in schools, most noticeably in the US, but also over here too, particularly if we’re not careful with faith schools, Academies, and Steiner schools. Not to mention that we have an established religion in this country. Do you seriously think that religion doesn’t matter?

    Any shrillness from Dawkins is a reaction to the rubbish peddled by the Establishment, from religion to quack medicine, and most certainly a reaction to the denied civil rights those who aren’t Christian, in this country and in America, face.

  • Which is Roger Roberts?

    Tut tut. You appear to be questioning my beliefs. How very shrill/ strident/ intolerant/ militant of you.

  • James Robertson 1st Sep '09 - 6:57pm

    Not the kind of thing I’d expect from one of our own MPs. I have to respect Tim Farron’s views, but I find his dismissing of one of the most respected scientific thinkers of our age a bit downheartening.

  • James Robertson 2nd Sep '09 - 9:14am

    Yes, fair point Robin, Prof Dawkins is not an expert on religion.

    My point is that I do respect Tim Farron’s views, he is entitled to hold his religious views (I’m not an atheist myself!), but that does not mean it was necessarily wise of Tim to express himself in this way. Tim comes across as more than a bit intolerant, which is not the kind of thing we Lib Dems are famous for.

    It is a bit of a storm in a teacup (I’m more concerned with Tim’s voting record on certain issues to be honest), but MPs should be careful as far as religion is concerned. As Alistair Campbell once said, “we don’t do religion”; MPs would be well advised to keep their religious beliefs private.

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