According to this article, Dawkin’s book The God Delusion is responsible for at least one suicide. In this instance, 22-year-old Jesse Kilgore was reading The God Delusion because a biology professor had challenged him to do so. Independent witnesses confirmed to Jesse’s father that the book had had a devastating effect on Jesse, causing him to question his faith, and led to him shooting himself in the woods near his home in October.
There are a couple of things to note from the story. First, Dawkins in no way intended that his book would cause people to commit suicide. Be that as it may, The God Delusion offers no reason for someone who deconverts from Christianity not to kill himself. That is, the philosophical justifications that Dawkins uses (poorly, I might add) logically lead to concepts of nihilism and despair. There is no reason, purpose, or value in life under Dawkins’ view. In fact, any humanistic worldview can only provide a useful fiction for atheists to pretend is real; nothing more. Reality itself does not contain these values or any purpose whatsoever. Therefore, whether you invent a God or invent a feeling of universal brotherhood, it’s still just your own mental invention. It doesn’t extend into reality at all, and as such Dawkins’ worldview is just as delusional as the religious worldview he abhors.
This is not as much of a danger to someone who is already a nonbeliever. Nonbelievers who read Dawkins’ books only gain reaffirmation of their beliefs. Since they’ve already suppressed the negative aspects of their worldview and blinded themselves to the nihilistic aspects of their presuppositions, reading Dawkins won’t affect them. A believer, however, who comes from a radically different worldview will be more prone to falling into that nihilistic despair if he deconverts because he has not yet deluded himself with false hope for a destitute world.
Since Jesse apparently did some apologetics work on-line, he may very well have been caught in such a quandary here. It could have been something as simple as the fact that Jesse couldn’t believe in Dawkins’ worldview because his apologetic was strong enough to show Dawkins’ false humanistic optimism to be bunk; but at the same time Jesse’s understanding of Christianity was weak to Dawkins’ attack. The result would be that Dawkins’ book would convince him Christianity is wrong, but not that Dawkins was right, and that left him with nowhere to turn to.
This brings us to the second point from the story. Christians need to have a strong understanding of Christian beliefs. One of the aspects I’ve found (and it is obvious from such folks as the Debunkers) is that most former Christians have no concept at all of Christian theism. Most apostates illustrate that they cannot even properly read a verse of Scripture at all; they have no understanding of basic exegesis; they do not even make an attempt to read the Bible in context. The former Christians that I run into, to a man (or woman), attack Fundamentalist caricatures of Christianity and assume that they are actually critiquing Christianity in that process! Look no further than those who complain about talking snakes and donkeys in the comments for evidence of this. (Granted, that’s personal experience, which is merely anecdotal evidence. But on this issue, I think the case is quite strong since it’s consistent anecdotal evidence and not only my experience on the matter.)
If atheists attack a straw man, it doesn’t affect Christianity. The God Delusion is nothing but burning straw and tilting at windmills. The unfortunate thing is that those types of errors can be very subtle and hard to spot. Fallacies are not always blatant; that’s why you need to study them. Sadly, Dawkins has been responded to by many people online and through books, yet Jesse apparently never discovered how shoddy Dawkins’ arguments are.
This brings us to a third point. I do think Keith (Jesse’s father) was a bit too hard on himself regarding how he should have been there for his son. Jesse wasn’t a ten-year-old; he was twenty-two years old. He was an adult. Keith didn’t put Jesse in danger by allowing Jesse to go off to college. Jesse should have been able to discover these resources by himself.
Keith’s other points regarding secular education are valid though. It is the case that public education is anti-Christian. Christians do need to take the effort to educate their children with this in mind. Public education is not an ally (even if they weren’t anti-Christian, public education is so dismal you still couldn’t consider it an ally). Parents need to teach their children the basics of logic so their children can spot logical fallacies. Parents need to ensure their children do understand what Christianity is so they can defend it against atheism.
But this requires that the parents understand logic and Christianity too. And that requires the Church to understand what she teaches. But this takes hard working. Critical thinking isn’t easy. Weighing arguments takes effort. We, as Christians, must be willing to do that footwork. If nothing else, this story shows us that lives are on the line.