Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


The God Hypothesis 1

posted by xscot mcknight

Richard Dawkins, who writes with a prose that is saucy and caustic and witty, argues in his newest book that God is a delusion. I will be joined in this series by RJS; I will write the first few paragraphs today and then RJS joins in. RJS is a scientist at a research university in the USA, and we will be looking at Dawkins’ new book, The God Delusion.
“You can be,” Dawkins claims, “an atheist who is happy, balanced, moral, and intellectually fulfilled” (1) and, he continues two pages later, “for atheism nearly always indicates a healthy independence of mind and, indeed, a healthy mind.” On the contrary, taking aim at his believing targets, “dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads are immune to argument” (5).
How’s that for a Preface? Do you think believers are “immune to argument”?
Chp 1 deals with “deserved” and “undeserved” respect. The former — nature. The latter — belief in God. “A quasi-mystical response to nature and the universe is common among scientists and rationalists” (11). But, this is not belief in God. He’s with Carl Sagan and Albert Einstein. And he thinks physicists should refrain from referring to this “metaphorical and pantheistic God” as “God.” To refer to the former as the latter is “an act of intellectual high treason” (19).
The undeserved respect is the way religion is treated with respect in public sectors. Think of Salman Rushdie or the cartoons published in Denmark or the way American media grants respect to religions. His question: “What is so special about religion that we grant it such uniquely privileged respect?” (27).
RJS:
Richard Dawkins is an evangelist of dogmatic atheism and secular humanism. Although he is by training an evolutionary biologist, and one who made some substantial scientific contributions early in his career, he has really made his reputation and his later career in the realm of the “popularization of science,” or more accurately in the preaching and popularization of a robust atheism. This book is essentially an extended polemic for atheism. Be aware though that Dawkins is not alone and those openly holding similar positions, although perhaps possessing somewhat more tact, are rapidly becoming more vocal and forceful, and ultimately, perhaps, more dangerous. Many of the arguments presented within this book are ones we must understand and be prepared to deal with.
Neither the preface nor the 1st chapter of The God Delusion contains much science, although Dawkins does quote a number of well known atheistic or agnostic scientists to bolster his argument that rational thinking demands atheism. In the section on undeserved respect his most cogent argument against religion and respect for religion relates to the condoned hatred of groups and individuals, all in the name of God, as practiced by Christians, Jews, and Muslims. How is this argument to be answered?



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David

posted November 30, 2006 at 6:40 am


“an atheist who is happy, balanced, moral, and intellectually fulfilled.” I can agree that we can measure people with some set of diagnostics to see if they are happy, balanced and intellectually fulfilled. The problem with morality is that how do you evaluate that without some standard? Some cultures have sacrificed their children, some are canabilistic and some of have sent millions to their death…….without a standard all morality is based on where you are standing and no one can judge it. Without a God there is not an absolute standard from which to reference all morality.
In reference to “his most cogent argument against religion and respect for religion relates to the condoned hatred of groups and individuals, all in the name of God, as practiced by Christians, Jews, and Muslims.” Jesus said in Luke 12
“I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished!
Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division; for henceforth in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three;”
Instead of trying to minimize his comments I would fully agree with him. There is a conflict. Hopefully Christians do not hate their enemies because Jesus said to love them. If the context is war ( spiritual war Ephesians 6 ) then a lot of things make sense which would not normally.



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John Lunt

posted November 30, 2006 at 6:57 am


Paul said he came not with the words of men’s wisdom but in demonstration of the power and the Spirit. This was from a man who was obviously an intellectual gian.
God, doing what only God can do is the answer to argument. When sick people that men can’t heal are healed then God will be Glorified. When lame people walk, the deaf hear, the blind see. When the church has the faith once again to raise the dead, people like Dawkins will be left with only an argument
The problem with the Western Church is that we have lost the supernatural aspect of our faith. Dawkins argument won’t mean much in places like South America where the supernatural is real and experienced every day.
I really don’t worry about people like Dawkins. God is still on the thrown. We need to answer not from our own mental agility. That’s soulish and frankly that’s the enemy’s domain. We need people to ask God for the answer and let him respond to Dawkins.
I get the idea of God using someone to challenge Dawkins at some point like God challenged Job. If my faith is so fragile that somehow I have to come up with a response to someone who’s obviously naturally more intelligent than I am, then it’s not much faith. But God can do what I cannot.



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Gordon Hackman

posted November 30, 2006 at 7:38 am


Scot,
I’m thrilled to see you guys taking on Dawkins and his arguments here. I think in the end, Dawkins has more bark than bite. I’ll be following this thread closely.
John,
I get where you’re coming from and largely agree with it. I’m reminded of how Stanley Hauerwas says that the best apologetic is to let the church be the church.
I’m a little uncomfortable with some of what you say, however, especially this: We need to answer not from our own mental agility. That’s soulish and frankly that’s the enemy’s domain. If, by this, you mean that we shouldn’t depend on our own cleverness or think that the success of the gospel all depends on the strength of our intellectual arguments, then I accept your point. I’m not sure what you mean however, when you use the word “soulish” and claim that intellectual argumentation is “the enemy’s territory.” Isn’t God the one who gave us our minds and gifted and called some people to use them to answer people like Dawkins? Isn’t part of bringing all of life under the lordship of Christ to cultivate the intellect and the ability to answer people like Dawkins, rather than conceding a part of the created order over to the enemy?



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Julie

posted November 30, 2006 at 8:32 am


I don’t always love Dawkins style, but I find his critiques worth listening too. I agree with him, for instance, that to criticize religion creates rightesou indignation whereas religious feel perfectly free to slam atheists and agnostics.
Why do agnostics and atheists have to make the claim that they are moral and happy? Because the assumption is that they cannot be if they are not rightly related to God. A study showed that 52% of Americans would not elect an atheist to any public office. Without knowing any other criteria, the majority of Americans believe that atheists are dangerous. Even RJS here stated, “re rapidly becoming more vocal and forceful, and ultimately, perhaps, more dangerous.”
Why does vocal equal dangerous? They aren’t amassing weapons are they? They aren’t organizing to overthrow countries or freeze economic assets of large corporations, are they?
No.
They want to publish their ideas widely, with passion, to all who will listen and change their minds to agree with them.
Sounds an awful lot like missionary work to me, only they aren’t hiding their identities to do it.
So I just don’t get what people mean by dangerous. Are human beings incapable of examining evidence andrendering their own judgments? If the case for the faith is solid and belief in God founded, and if God exists and is interested and involved as Christians claim, why would the ideas of vocal atheists be dangerous?
I don’t understand the anxiety around atheism or agnosticism.



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kent

posted November 30, 2006 at 8:35 am


In response to RJS’s question on the hatred of groups, it cannot be condoned in any way, shape or form. It is clearly a violation of what we are called to do in Christ. (Matthew 5)It fuels the arguments of those who oppose us and it prevents grace from being experienced.
How do we answer? Perhaps the best we can do is seek forgiveness where we have been guilty, and strive to obey Jesus in our interactions with others. We do not have give up on our convictions, but how we treat others in our convictions is critical.



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Paul D.

posted November 30, 2006 at 9:30 am


This is from Chuck Colson’s Breakpoint yesterday:
Even Publishers Weekly rightly cautions readers, “For a scientist who criticizes religion for its intolerance, Dawkins has written a surprisingly intolerant book, full of scorn for religion and those who believe.” Publishers Weekly continues: “While Dawkins can be witty, even confirmed atheists who agree with his advocacy of science and vigorous rationalism may have trouble stomaching some of the rhetoric: [According to Dawkins] the biblical Yahweh is ‘psychotic,’ Aquinas’s proofs of God’s existence are ‘fatuous’ and religion generally is ‘nonsense'”



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Dana

posted November 30, 2006 at 9:33 am


That which does not exist does not have to be addressed. RJS asks the question of how to answer what he filters as being Dawkins most cogent argument. What are the available paths for such? What response can be made to a historical record- it’s there, but how one interprets it, well, that’s quite another matter. To insist that the finite mind is even capable of grasping the infinite mind is a mistake toward the absurb. Clearly God has established in His contacts with and through man that His thoughts aren’t our thoughts, and His ways aren’t our ways; whatever else that says, it certainly says that Dawkins needs to ask the questions he is asking as he works his way back to God where he will, hopefully, end up. Dawkins might want to consider Hawking, not just “another” scientist, and perhaps he and Hawking could discuss Dawkins difficulty in getting his mind moved toward the creator instead of the creation? Hawking came to see God as the “behind” the “big bang” my suspicion is that Hawking didn’t reach that conclusion without good investigation of a scientific nature. If men like Dawkins don’t ask questions like he is asking, then we won’t have the chance to direct their erroneous logic toward that which can assist them to escape their own personal hell.



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Brian

posted November 30, 2006 at 9:36 am


I’m not completely clear on Dawkins’ point, but an argument against religions because they condone hatred could be two pronged.
One prong would argue that religions are wrong because they are immoral. This prong is problematic in that it requires a moral standard that atheism cannot provide (as David pointed out in #1).
The second prong would argue that religions are wrong because they are inconsistent in that they condone in practice what they deny in theory. Hence the need for orthopraxy.



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Matthew

posted November 30, 2006 at 9:36 am


Do you think believers are “immune to argument”?
Religious people by definition believe in something that transcends objective truth. They always have critics. If they suffered a crisis in faith every time a critic challenged their beliefs, then the tension would soon create a twitch in their left eye and muscle spasms of the neck! It is part of the package to believe something that others wish to discredit. In this sense, yes – almost all truly religious people are at least somewhat immune to argument.
Hopefully, we can be religious (or relational or Christ-followers or whatever other cool term you prefer) in such a way that critics only cause us to learn more, stay humble, and improve our thinking and believing.



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ron

posted November 30, 2006 at 9:53 am


There have been some excellent critical reviews of Dawkins’ book in Harpers (Marilynne Robinson) and London Review of Books (Terry Eagleton, available on line).
A recent appearance by Dawkins at Randolph Macon in Lynchburg was broadcast on CSpan. There were a number of questions for Dawkins from individuals who identified themselves with Liberty University. I was struck by the inability of these individuals, in the manner they cast their questions, to appreciate that Dawkins did not share their beliefs in the Bible as inspired and authoritative. It is not surprising at all that Dawkins should have a low view of the intellectual ability of “believers” when he is confronted by individuals such as these. I was impressed by his graciousness in the presentation and in the question and answer period that followed.



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gymbrall

posted November 30, 2006 at 10:26 am


Do you think believers are “immune to argument”?
I think we probably seem that way to atheists. The atheist comes at best with the argument that “my perceptions are more valid than your perceptions”, they come preaching the absence of absolute value and at the same time valuing their belief and devaluing mine. When confronted with these types of arguments, I hope we are immune to them. We would not be much of a believer if we weren’t.
The issue with Dawkins is that he knows there is a God and he claims he doesn’t (Romans 1:20). And I’m with both John Lunt and Gordon Hackman, the only way that Dawkins will come to God is through the work of God. At times, we use arguments and apologetics when we talk with atheists, and at times we see them “work” (meaning, we see the person make a profession of faith), but the danger is when we walk away believing that in our argument we have found a lever (or even more dangerous, THE lever). We run excitedly to our next atheist and apply the lever only to see it fail. (I say this because I’ve done it so many times)
The changing of the heart of man is of the Lord, we are not magicians, there are not magic words that we can say, and we are not far-sighted, we can never see whether we have “succeeded” in making a convert or not, we can’t even tell if we’ve failed in that regard (we may have just sown, or watered, and someone else will reap the harvest). All we can do is obey. God prepares our heart (Prov 16:1), he teaches us the words to say (I Cor 2:13), and he gives the increase (I Cor 3:7)



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ChrisB

posted November 30, 2006 at 10:32 am


…his most cogent argument against religion and respect for religion relates to the condoned hatred of groups and individuals, all in the name of God, as practiced by Christians, Jews, and Muslims. How is this argument to be answered?
If the standard response to this is becoming trite, it’s because these folks insist on pounding this tired issue. Quite simply, condoning hatred of groups and individuals is not restricted to religious people. It is done quite effectively by racial, national, and political groups.
I read recently that North Korea keeps their people loyal by constantly telling them that they’re purer and therefore better than other people, even South Koreans. This will probably remind everyone of another famous socialist dictator — Hitler and his Nazi party. For whatever reason, human beings have a tendency to want to think of themselves as better than other people, and they generally find a way to divide people into “us” and “them” so that they can look down on “them.”
And we mustn’t let these guys try to take some kind of moral high ground here; we have to point out that these militant atheists are using speech just as hateful (not to mention condescending and rude) as anything they accuse religious people of using.
As far as the question in the above comments as to how these guys are “dangerous,” here’shttp://www.wired.com/news/wiredmag/0,71985-0.html?tw=rss.index an article with a number of examples. My favorite — one of the interviewees (Harris, I think) suggests it should be illegal to raise your children in your religion. Dangerous enough? It’s already been done in isolated cases (by judges in child custody cases).
http://www.wired.com/news/wiredmag/0,71985-0.html?tw=rss.index



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John Lunt

posted November 30, 2006 at 11:49 am


Gordon. You were right on the first count. I do mean our own “cleverness” What I mean by soulish, is our own device approach, which the enemy can influence as opposed to being led by the Spirit, which he does not control. Sorry if I didn’t make that clear. I don’t discount intellectual ability or what we may call the soulish realm. But I believe we often allow it to dominate when we should be seeking God and let him lead (as being led by the Spirit.)… I probably really muddied this up. :-)



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Gordon Hackman

posted November 30, 2006 at 12:56 pm


John,
Thanks for clarifying.
Gymbrall,
I like the lever analogy. I think it’s a matter of striving to understand as much as we can, to give the best responses possible to our challengers, and to be faithful with the abilities God has given us. We then submit that to Christ and let him use it as he will. If we think, however, that our irresistable arguments guarantee us success then we are really missing the point. Dawkin’s problem is primarily one of the heart (orientation), not the mind.
Peace,
Gordon



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Julie

posted November 30, 2006 at 1:11 pm


At the risk of seeming contentious (and I don’t want to be), why is it for us to determine if Dawkins’ “problem” is of the mind or heart? Couldn’t it be that he does not see sufficient reason to believe the supernatural claims of the Bible and therefore his mind refuses to accept them? Why is that a heart problem?
I don’t like it when other people reduce my struggles to their ideas of what’s wrong with me. It makes memanageable in their minds, and therefore makes me easily dismissed. Christians complain about this all the time – that the media mischaracterizes them, that other people simplify their faith and call it mindless etc.
Why are we free to do that with an atheist, saying they have no basis for morals or that their issues with the faith are not primarily what they say they are but what we say they are, namely heart issues?
One of the things I’ve discovered over the last seven years of interacting with atheists, agnostics, ex-evangelicals and ex-fundamentalists is that their experiences are not taken seriously by the faithful. Usually a combination of sinning, being immoral, resisting the Spirit, not having an open heart, not ever having fully converted etc. are put on them rather than believing their own reports which often include not being able to believe the basic tenets of faith that are beyond natural explanation.
That means they are having troubles on the intellectual level and that ought not be re-interpreted by us, but heard and accepted. And then if appropriate, addressed.
Same for Dawkins. I’m not a fan. But I don’t disbelieve how he interprets his problems with religion. It’s for him to say, not me.



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Dana Ames

posted November 30, 2006 at 1:29 pm


Dana, fyi RJS is a she, not a he.
RJS, I would also appreciate some elaboration on how you see those holding similar opinions becoming more dangerous. Thanks for partnering with Scot in this series.
Is anyone listening to ron #10? This is important stuff, and illustrates just a part of how we Christians need to get our heads out of the sand. People do not care about the authority of the bible, and we need to figure out a different way to approach them.
How is a good moral act by a Christian somehow “gooder” than a good moral act by a non-Christian? I’m not talking about hidden motivations that only God can know- I’m talking about the bare act. I don’t see Jesus preaching a new morality per se- in fact, he said that not an iota of the law would pass away. He did have a lot to say about motivation, and he warned against paying lip service, but really, what did he change about how we see a “bare” moral act?
And what is the work of God if not the open, visible, embodied acts of those who claim to follow him? Yes, I believe in the miraculous- and I’m not talking about phenomena a committed atheist would rationalize away. I’m talking about “what makes news”. I realize that there is much good being done under the radar, so to speak, by Jesus-followers- and I’m not talking about that either, though one could certainly point questioners to those quiet groups. I guess that’s my point- what is true religion?
Dana



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Brian

posted November 30, 2006 at 1:48 pm


Julie (#15),
I hear you. The problem is back in gymbrall’s post (#11). If the Bible is true when it describes people as knowing God, but suppressing the truth through unrighteousness, then their rejection does not come from intellectual considerations. But does that square with what we actually see in people? That is an issue to grapple with.



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Bob

posted November 30, 2006 at 2:35 pm


I’ve been interacting with some e-atheists for the past 8 months and have learned a lot (and have taken a lot of blows to my spiritual high ground). Scot and RJS, I am thankful that you are taking this issue on.
About “dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads being immune to argument”. If you listen to a theist argue, you will come to one of several endpoints:
1) One cannot understand God because He is so far beyond our understanding.
2) Atheists cannot understand God because the things of God are spiritually discerned (but I apparently can because I have His Spirit).
3) If we could understand everything about God, there would be no room for faith. I’m comfortable with mystery.
Dawkins’ motivation is not to stamp out God. It is to promote inquiry. All of the above answers are forms of defeatism. “You just can’t know so don’t even try.”
Science’s strength is its ability to question and delve into the “mysteries” of the world around us and discover their inner workings and develop means to predict or produce desired outcomes. When things like the Evolution v. ID debate come up, one side says “Look at all this evidence! How can we make sense of it?” The other side says “God did it that settles it. I don’t need to look further.”
Though I dislike his style, I am pressed to embrace more of scientific discovery…even the stuff that’s “dangerous” to may faith and that comes from “amoral” atheists.



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RJS

posted November 30, 2006 at 2:36 pm


Chris B (#12) –
What is the “standard response?” The fact that nonreligious people also condone hatred and persecution is irrelevant. Theoretically at least being Christian should be leading us to the moral high ground, to love God and to love others. The fact that some Christians have in the past and continue in the present to condone hatred and persecution – in the name of God – is a real problem, and a serious question that is often raised. Kent put it very well (#5).
Dana (#16),
Within the academic environment at least, there seems to be a steady increase in those willing to be openly atheistic or agnostic, and a significant increase in those who are intolerant of Christians and Christianity in general. Because we live in a gnostic culture (in the sense that there is a tendency to defer to the experts, that is, to those “in the know”), I think that this is going to be an increasing problem in our lifetime.
Ron (#10) and Dana (#16) and Julie …,
Many people have real intellectual questions and concerns. Most people I know who have left the church have done so with regret and sadness, because they have not found Christianity to be intellectually defensible. Note I did not say provable – I don’t thing that it can be objectively proven. Intellectual questions need to be heard, accepted, and addressed – not reinterpreted as arising from a sinful, immoral, and rebellious heart. And Ron is absolutely right. Arguments that start from the assumption that the Bible is inspired, infallible, and authoritative will go nowhere.



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Bob

posted November 30, 2006 at 2:41 pm


Oh I forgot the most offensive theistic endpoint to atheists: You are *willingly* denying God’s existence. Deep down you really do believe, you’re just being stubborn.



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gymbrall

posted November 30, 2006 at 2:46 pm


RJS said:
Arguments that start from the assumption that the Bible is inspired, infallible, and authoritative will go nowhere.
Agreed. But arguments that accept the atheistic presuppositions will also go nowhere. Atheists often claim to only be interesting in facts when in reality, they are trading in faith as much as Christians. An argument that begins by recognizing only atheist-approved “facts” is already lost.



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gymbrall

posted November 30, 2006 at 2:53 pm


Bob said:
Oh I forgot the most offensive theistic endpoint to atheists: You are *willingly* denying God’s existence. Deep down you really do believe, you’re just being stubborn.
I want to be very careful how I say this and very deliberate about what I mean by it, but unless you can show me Scripturally that bringing offense is by its very nature, wrong/sinning, then I’ll submit that we as a society have elevated the “evil” of offending someone to an unreasonable position. I am not trying to close a sale for God. I am commanded to speak the truth in love. I do not mean that we go out and say the most offensive thing we can think of, but when the Holy Spirit guides me to say something that may offend, I should not back down because of my fear of man and culture. I believe there is a time and a place for such statements. I also believe that the fruit of an action can not be judged immediately.
Charles Churchill



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Bob

posted November 30, 2006 at 2:59 pm


Gymbrall
I wasn’t presenting this as saying we shouldn’t be offensive (after all we’re the stench of death to those who are perishing, eh?). I was presenting it as a “immunity to argument” from theists.
If my argument is: “really, deep down, you agree with me. Just admit it.”, that is hardly an argument at all.



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Simon Fowler

posted November 30, 2006 at 3:07 pm


I’m thrilled you’re reviewing this book and I look forward to the series!
Right on, ChrisB! Even a cursory gathering of data from the last century would reveal that hatred of ‘others’ is not just by ‘religious’ people. And isn’t dispassionate gathering and assessment of data what scientists are supposed to be good at?
I would take Dawkins’ “immune to argument” objection more seriously if he would offer anything like a credible argument from atheism for morality and purpose. His objection to God in this book seems based on a wholly untested and scientifically unprovable notion that hatred of others is wrong, that respect ought to be deserved and that human beings aim to be fulfilled, happy etc. If he would show the basis for any ethical and teleological terms and sentiments he has without recourse to religious heritage and non-scientific sources he would have a stronger argument I think. Does he, in this book?
There is a book just out called “Moral Minds” which seeks to show how morality is hard-wired in a similar way to language structures. [Perhaps you could review that for us RJS?] And I do think there is a closer link between the physical and the ‘metaphysical’ than we Christians are willing to think about, but Dawkins’ refusal to engage anything he deems to be ‘non-scientific’ is one reason why he thinks we’re immune to argument.



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Gordon Hackman

posted November 30, 2006 at 3:11 pm


Julie,
I agree with you that too often we don’t take the objections and claims of non-believers seriously. Perhaps my claim about Dawkins assumes too much and if it does, then I repent.
Just to be clear, though, my statement is not based on a simple presumption to see inside of Dawkins heart. It’s based on my having followed Dawkins for several years and having listened to the tone and rhetoric and substance of his arguments. It’s the angry tone, the ridiculous caricatures of religious belief and religious people, the absolute refusal to see even the slightest good in anything religious or to even admit that anything good has ever come from religion (in an interview with beliefnet.com, Dawkins said that he could not think of a single good thing that religion has ever produced), and the refusal to take seriously any real evidence which conflicts with his extremely rigid worldview that lead me to question whether Dawkins objections to religious belief are really in good faith.



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Bob

posted November 30, 2006 at 3:32 pm


Simon
Perhaps you should check out The Selfish Gene by Dawkins. I haven’t read it but I believe he discusses the origins of things like altruism.



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rick

posted November 30, 2006 at 3:37 pm


The wonderful book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, woke up many to the need for Christians to engage the intellectual portion of their faith. It appears most here, if not all, agree with that goal.
However, there have been a couple of comments here which indicate that Dawkins’ motive is harmless and simply intended to promote thought. I recommend reading the 10/23 interview, The Crusade Against Religion, with Dawkins in that issue of Wired. It appears he may wanting to go beyond just “promoting inquiry”.
Unfortunately, as the question of this topic asks, the hatred expressed by religious groups has given Dawkins and his allies some additional fuel. As Christians, we cannot really speak for other faiths. However, we can redirect our lives, and responses, to the focus of our faith, Jesus Christ.



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T

posted November 30, 2006 at 3:47 pm


How is his charge of hate (and delusion) to be answered? I have a few thoughts off the top of my head. First, by biblically loving Dawkins and those like him (and those more hateful towards Christians than him). Secondly, by continuing to practice the miraculous through Jesus and let athiests try to make sense of it. Thirdly, and relatedly, by discussing the clear historical facts (if his perspective will allow him to hear reasonable arguments).
There are at least two historical points that I think are important. One, I don’t think secularism has any better track record for nonviolence and love than religion, given it’s relatively brief and isolated large-scale periods and places of influence. Where atheism has taken root in different countries to varying degrees both officially and at a grassroots level over the last century or so, the resulting societies weren’t exactly models of love, peace, and justice. Whether it’s Nazi Germany or my local public schools, where the gospel of secularism, “God isn’t real! You’re a sophisticated and fairly fragile accident!” has been taught, I see fear, violence and hate getting worse, not better, and for fairly obvious philosophical reasons. There are plenty of post-modern, non-religious, thinkers who acknowledge this reality.
And two, to the extent Dawkins or others would say that so-called Christian nations have been plenty full of hate and violence, it doesn’t seem difficult to me to argue that these injustices happened in spite of whatever influence Jesus’ teachings and example may have had within that society and not because of them.
Obviously, I focus on Christianity as opposed to defending ‘religion’ generally, and I think there’s great reason for that, but that’s another conversation, I think.



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Bob

posted November 30, 2006 at 4:05 pm


Point well taken, Rick . I have two things to add.
First off, I say that Dawkins’ motivation is to promote inquiry because that is his current position (his career in the realm of the “popularization of science”). I’m sure upon embarking on this career he was confronted with theists who believe that science is out to “destroy their faith”. I’m cutting him slack and granting that his initial purpose remains his primary purpose (at heart).
Second, I think we have to remember that we can’t fall back on arguments that say “Christianity is o.k. It’s those other religions that are the problem.” This is just another example of “immunity to argument”.
Dawkins’ complaint isn’t against Christianity. It is against all forms of supernaturalism–Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, New Ageism, Mediums, Spiritualists, Christians, etc. All of these share in a long history of horrors and manipulation in the name of an unseen, incomprehensible higher power. Albeit, those “horrors” were perpetrated by man not God–but to Dawkins and atheists like him do not draw this distinction.



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Bob

posted November 30, 2006 at 4:27 pm


Of course, here is where the atheists become “immune to argument”. When state this “those “horrors” were perpetrated by man not God”, they say “God doesn’t exist. He is a figment of your imagination. You are deluded.”



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rick

posted November 30, 2006 at 5:06 pm


Bob-
Thanks for the follow-up comments.
In regards to speaking from just the Christian faith, I mentioned that because it is our faith, and we therefore have more credibility and knowledge speaking from that perspective. I was not advocating the degrading of other religions.
You do a good job expressing the views of the atheists’ postion, which in turn helps us know how to communicate with them more effectively. Thanks.



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gymbrall

posted November 30, 2006 at 5:21 pm


Bob said:
If my argument is: “really, deep down, you agree with me. Just admit it.”, that is hardly an argument at all.
I definitely get what you’re saying, but the thing is, I think Scripture does say that people are deluding themselves. So while I’m not saying I would script it into the argument, I do think there can be a time and place to say just that. I think sometimes, things that offend do because they have power, and because they are convicting.
Anyway, thanks for the reply.
Charles Churchill



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macht

posted November 30, 2006 at 5:39 pm


“Dawkins’ motivation is not to stamp out God. It is to promote inquiry.”
Dawkins has made it very clear that he wants to get rid of religion. He thinks religions are viruses of the mind. He has also made it very clear that he refuses to dialogue with Christians on very basic matters (e.g., if I had a nickel for every time he’s defined “faith” as “believing something without evidence” I’d be a rich man – I’ve never even seen him acknowledge that this is not the common understanding of Christian faith). This is not what somebody who wants to promote inquiry does. (I suppose I wouldn’t want to listen to somebody who I thought had a “virus of the mind” either, though.)



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JACK

posted November 30, 2006 at 6:53 pm


I know I’ve recommended his book before, but I really would suggest taking a look at Luigi Giussani’s The Religious Sense. It’s actually mostly about what is reason and how do we reason. The challenge is that most of us have truncated our understanding of reason and knowing to classify reaching judgments on matters of a religious nature as being something apart from reason. Some might not buy the entire argument Giussani presents, but I like his approach because it’s rooted in two things: humanity and experience. Because I agree completely, quoting the bible to a non-believer is just not going to be the way to go.
“Religious people by definition believe in something that transcends objective truth.”
I have to assume you don’t quite mean “objective truth”, but that religious people ultimately accept truths that cannot be verified through scientific/mathematical means. This goes back to my point about the difficulty created by the truncating of reason. An observation that Giussani makes is that the object one wishes to know determines the method of studying it. From that perspective, to arbitrarily rule out certain methods of obtaining knowledge in favor of one (e.g., scientific method) that is applied universally, without regard to what is being studied, is in a sense irrational. Reflection on our own experience should generate examples that give credence to Giussani’s observation.
My point in going through all of this is that I do think that Christianity has a challenge in reaching people these days (including Christians, frankly) because we too often treat it as an ideology, a scheme of ideas, and do not recognize it as an encounter with a Person. Encounter. Experience. After all, the apostles didn’t believe in the resurrection because of what Jesus had told them, or some supernatural intuition. (Look at their reactions — depression, fear, “We had thought he was the one to redeem Israel.”) They believed because they encountered the risen Christ.



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ChrisB

posted November 30, 2006 at 7:52 pm


RJS,
What is fast becoming the “standard response” is that non-religious and specifically atheists have done more harm in the last century than Christians have done in the last 2000 years. It’s “standard” because this new group of militant atheists, especially Harris, have made bad things done by religious people the corner stone of their push for anti-religion.
“The fact that nonreligious people also condone hatred and persecution” is not irrelevant if that is part or all of their basis for attacking religion and especially Christianity. Yes, Christians should be better than that, but any group and especially Christians is going to be composed of three types of people — the faithful, the fallen, and the fakers (and, of course, in Christianity the first two are intermingled). In fact, the NT predicts that there will be fallen and fakers among the faithful. If the bad people were exclusively in Christianity, it might make you wonder, but since they’re not, that’s not much for them to base an attack on. And history shows that it’s generally safer to given self-professed Christians political power than self-professed atheists.
When they make these attacks on religion, they generally point to our past and Islam’s present, but of course there are “Christians” and Christians today. The fact that we can’t stop them does not invalidate the religion. If they want to debate on the cosmological argument, the reliability of the Biblical texts, or the resurrection, let’s take ‘em on, but let’s not let them pretend that the existance of bad people disproves Christianity.



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Dana Ames

posted November 30, 2006 at 8:32 pm


Here’s a thought-
Instead of getting defensive and pushing back with “Well,you’ve done it too!”, why not acknowledge all that was not right that has been done in Jesus’ name by professing Christians, and say that those things were not right, and we’re sorry? And then act differently?
Again, I’m not saying this is a cure-all or the magic bullet for people coming to Jesus, or would forever silence critics of Christianity. I think it would help a lot to give it a try, though.
Dana



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RJS

posted November 30, 2006 at 8:43 pm


ChrisB,
However – pointing out that others are also bad is neither relevant nor an answer.



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RJS

posted November 30, 2006 at 8:51 pm


Whoops, the first part of my comment (37) was accidently deleted just before being submitted. I think you are right in saying that we have to point out that the acts of some “Christians” do not invalidate or disprove Christianity. The best we can do is to follow through in our actions, as pointed out by Kent, T, Dana and probably others, above.



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Benjamin Bush Jr.

posted November 30, 2006 at 9:22 pm


Another option is to realize that certain people have made a conscious decision to reject God or any notion of his existence. I have talked to people who readily acknowledge that they have chosen to go to hell. And I’m not going to convince them otherwise, all evidence and argument notwistanding.
I believe the comment was made earlier that this is a realm reserved exclusively to God and His Spirit. God alone deals with and changes the heart. Man is simply a messenger.



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Julie

posted November 30, 2006 at 9:36 pm


ChrisB, I thought of something my professor said in class today when I read your comments. He said the faithful are quick to dismiss the relevance of actors in the name of their faith when their actions bring shame to the religion. This is as true of Muslims and Jews as it is of Christians and Hindus!
His point was that the critique brought by those who say religion creates or fosters cruelty, intolerance and violence is that the people doing these acts justify them in the name of religion, hence, religion is one source of justification for those kinds of heinous acts.
The sacred is not so easily protected by one group of faithful. It is usually a resevoir of ideas, doctrines, insight and commands that are taken in various ways. When someone like Dawkins points to Christianity and says: look at all the evil done in the name of that faith – he is speaking of how the faith has been used to support evil, hence, he sees that as having some bearing on its benefit to mankind.
Likewise when we reduce Islam to fanatics who believe in killing the infidel, we are referencing Islam too… but don’t expect progressive Muslims to feel that you are accurately describing the tenets of their faith. They, too, believe that their faith is not what the fundamentalists portray it to be… and on it goes.
The truth is: religion *has* been responsible for some of the greatest intolerance and violence in the history of mankind. We must admit at least that much or lose credibility.



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gymbrall

posted November 30, 2006 at 9:51 pm


Julie said:
The truth is: religion *has* been responsible for some of the greatest intolerance and violence in the history of mankind. We must admit at least that much or lose credibility.
While I’d agree with your statement, I think we need to be accurate both about history and about the reason why religion (which I think is way too general of a term – atheism qualifies as a religion by modern standards as religion has come to mean nothing more than philosophy) has done these things. For instance, much of the racism that became prevalent in the church, both in England and America was a result of evolutionary teaching (the Aborigines were believed to be closer to monkeys than Europeans for instance).
In the end, his attack on “religion” is a straw man. He is really trying to establish his faith as the basis for reasonable thought and then to examine religion within that context.



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VanSkaamper

posted November 30, 2006 at 9:59 pm


Julie (#40),
I’d nuance your comment by suggesting that human nature is responsible for intolerance and violence, whether it’s Godless and political, Religious and political, or whatever. Religiosity has, historically, been exploited by despots, crooks, con-men and tyrants quite successfully in order to achieve political aims. Many tyrants have managed to wreak havoc by being anti-religious as well. The one common thread, it seems to me, is human nature, and if Dawkins were to get his way and succeed in stamping out the God delusion, there’d still be no shortage of cruelty, genocide, racism, and every other sinful human behavior known to mankind…because it’s not God who’s the problem.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 30, 2006 at 10:44 pm


VanSkaamper,
I agree … humans are the problem. Humans who use just about everything in the world to justify power, ideology, and violence. Including religion. Including Jesus.



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ChrisB

posted December 1, 2006 at 11:49 am


Julie +,
I don’t want to be misunderstood as denying our responsibility for the bad things that have been done in our name. Nor do I want anyone to think I’m saying that all that is ok because other groups have done it.
But a big part of the new militant atheist attack on Christianity and religion in general is the claim that, since so much bad has been done in the name of religion, we should get rid of religion so the bad stuff will quit happening. The fact that non- and even anti-religious groups have done bad stuff without resorting to religion as a justification demonstrates that their “plan” for world peace is without merit.
Dawkins et al don’t believe in God; fine. They don’t want to have anything to do with Christianity; fine. They want to live their lives free from interference by religious people; fine (provisionally). They want to stamp out these annoying religions; not fine.
Let’s be clear — these folks want to destroy, and outlaw if necessary, all religion, religious expression, and religious faith. While we shouldn’t be ugly, we mustn’t give them an inch in their attacks. And we must be careful to meet their attacks head on. When their statements are wrong or wrong-headed, we have to point that out. If their arguments are illogical or historically suspect or hypocritical, we have to highlight it.
We are in a contest not only for souls but for the right to raise our children in our faith (again, see the article I referenced above). We need to act accordingly.



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Bob

posted December 1, 2006 at 1:23 pm


Jack said: to arbitrarily rule out certain methods of obtaining knowledge in favor of one (e.g., scientific method) that is applied universally, without regard to what is being studied, is in a sense irrational.
This is spot on. In one of my many e-discussions with my atheist friends, I tried to establish a difference between knowledge and wisdom. Or between training and experience. The former can be measured. The latter cannot.
But the atheists all had confidence that one could develop an objective measure of wisdom and/or experience. I think they fell into the trap of having one yardstick for all things regardless of subject.



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Sam Carr

posted December 2, 2006 at 2:46 pm


One obvious weakness in Dawkins general approach of pitting science against religion is that a lot of the best science has been done by other than atheists whether deists or theists or pantheists or panentheists. Arguing that only atheism can be true to science is ridiculous.
On the other hand, the way in which mainstream religion had (and sometimes still does) tried to overstep its bounds and rule over any sort of enquiry, whether philosophical or political or scientific is honestly problematic. There are many who believe that their faith precludes a belief in quantum mechanics or in subatomic particles or in genetics or in evolution… We have to think through various issues including what the bible does and does not teach regarding nature and incidentally, science.



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