Divinity and Dawkins Debating Delusions
‘THE DAWKINS LETTERS’
A minister, a Presbyterian minister to boot, with a broad Scottish accent isn’t supposed to take on Richard Dawkins’ ideas in a bookshop like Borders. But this is what happened on January 21st when David Robertson, from Dundee, spoke to an attentive audience of well over a hundred at the Cambridge branch of the shop.
It had such a good response partly of course because Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion, has been a best seller but also because David with his non-religious appearance and style is able to give a credible rebuttal of Dawkins’ rather crude
David was there for a book signing of his own book, The Dawkins Letters, published by Focus, and he explained how originally he had written a critique of Dawkins for his church website which had found its way to Dawkins’ website and had then generated a huge response. This had made him expand his critique into a book. The delight of the evening was to see the confident, articulate and entertaining way David made his case. He answered the mostly critical questions and at the same time challenged us all, Christian and non-Christian alike, to think about the issues.
If more Christian leaders got themselves intellectually up to speed and engaged with secular culture on its own terms and exposed it as David did, it would have a transformative effect. But that would require hard work and the conviction that demonstrating the truth of the gospel is the priority in a culture that justifies its unbelief on the grounds that the gospel is no longer credible.
You can hear David’s talk and Q & A on the Audio page of our website:
By Ian Cooper
AGREEING AND DISAGREEING WITH
DAWKINS Part 1
Even humanists are having problems with Richard Dawkins. He rages against faith but fails to see that faith is no more or less than a set of overarching beliefs with which people make sense of the world’. (1) In this sense humanism is a ‘faith’ like any religion – as humanists themselves are pointing out. Clearly, too, his tirades against religion are excessive and ungracious. Humanists tend to feel as uncomfortable as believers when he appears on the box and their conclusion the same, ‘This man clearly has a chip on his shoulder’. Eminent fellow-scientists find it expedient to distance themselves from his philosophical and ethical meanderings because they realise that amongst philosophers the least said about Dawkins the better. (2) As Christians, therefore, we can allow ourselves a measure of relief as we lament Dawkins’ astronomical book sales. They have made him rich and done harm but a more discerning reaction is at hand even amongst those who share his naturalistic world-view. But we need to go further.
Photo by James UK
First we need to agree that much of his critique of religion is in fact correct. Scripture is if anything more outraged than Dawkins by religious irrationalism and wickedness - something even Christians are in danger of forgetting these days surrounded as we are by political correctness. So we readily echo Sam Harris’ expression: ‘religion poisons everything’. (3) Precisely! That’s just what the Bible says.
The second thing we need to do is to insist that Christianity is not a religion as commonly understood. Theoretically at least and unlike almost all other religious world-views, Christianity claims to be dealing with reality not fantasy. The very territory atheists like Dawkins lay claim to, namely the sphere of science or what we call ‘the real world’, the Bible asserts is declaring the glory of God from day to day.
That religion is the universal problem of all human experience is the common assumption of the whole Bible. Genesis, for example, teaches that all human distress began with a seemingly attractive and plausible religious construct. What appeared to be a move towards a better reality proved to be a move towards un-reality. True religion in short was replaced by false religion. So from Genesis on we trace the history of how all religious myths and inventions emanated from this initial disaster and became increasingly perverse and harmful, even amongst the chosen people of God as they repeatedly turned to idolatry. Jesus shares this repudiation of religion. ‘I am the good shepherd’ he says. ‘All who came before me
Photo by Matti Á
[from the context clearly meaning religious teachers] are thieves and robbers’. Hence his fierce protest against the religious traditions of the Pharisees. He also says, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father except by me’. To follow other religious leaders is to surrender oneself to the blind being led by the blind.
So we agree with Dawkins that religion does in fact stand at the centre of human depravity and distress, but for different reasons. He protests against religion because he is contemptuous of the supernatural. Only matter exists – period! To him religions are framed by delusion. The Christian views them as a deceipt rather than a delusion because they are false to reality. God’s nature and his attitude towards human beings - his mercy, his justice, his longsuffering – are not accurately represented by other religions. Only that view of reality which he himself has revealed, including his merciful intervention on our behalf in Jesus, adequately represents the way things actually are. So to accept the teaching and worldview of the Bible is to step closer to reality not away from it.
Revealed and directed by the living God the Bible accurately, though not exhaustively, describes the way things really are. It first tells us the truth about how reality is structured and then with equal accuracy explains our need for a divine saviour in history. The structure is true, the history and meaning are true. Human religion, by comparison, is none of these. Therefore it is destructive since human beings, ipso facto, have to live in reality. Only God’s revealed truth sets us free, Jesus says.
Paradoxically such agreement with Dawkins far from simplifying things produces greater
and almost overwhelming difficulties for us. Making the assertion that Christianity is in fact ‘reality’ rather than ‘religion’ brings us into conflict not merely with Dawkins and the consensus of our own society, but with the cultural consensus which increasingly spans the globe. What now supplants the absolutes of 20th century tyranny - and ironically western relativism also - is the absolute toleration now demanded of all multi-cultural and multi-faith societies. To assert any single view of reality to be true is to subvert civilised society.
Only one thing compels us to disagree: that the Bible teaches it unequivocally. This brings us to the relevance of Christian heritage, for if Christianity is indeed related to reality its benefits should be identifiable in human history. We believe this to be the case, initially within the history of the Old and New testaments but also within Christian heritage subsequently, good and bad alike, and this we hope to clarify in the next newsletter. Dawkins is right to condemn religion, but he is wrong to overlook Christianity’s uniqueness and truth. He may and must be challenged philosophically and historically.
(1) The New Humanist Nov/Dec 2007 p 16ff.
(2) ‘Now despite the fact that this book is mainly philosophy, Dawkins is not a philosopher (he's a biologist). Even taking this into account, however, much of the philosophy he purveys is at best jejune. You might say that some of his forays into philosophy are at best sophomoric, but that would be unfair to sophomores; the fact is (grade inflation aside), many of his arguments would receive a failing grade in a sophomore philosophy class.’
(3) The subtitle of Sam Harris’ book ‘Letter To A Christian Nation’
The work of Christian Heritage depends on the gifts of friends. Make your
contribution to this pioneering ministry by (UK)
• cheque payable to Christian Heritage , Christian Heritage, Round Church
Vestry, Bridge Street, Cambridge, CB2 1UB
• bank standing order set up either with your on-line bank or by
completing and returning the enclosed form
• Charity voucher to address above
• Our website www.christianheritageuk.org.uk/OurWork/CourseFees&Donations See the link to the Gift Aid form.
• Check payable to Christian Heritage USA Foundation, at
Christian Heritage USA Foundation,
P O Box 11651, Montgomery, AL 36111
• Our website www.christianheritageuk.org.uk/OurWork/CourseFees&Donations
Ian Cooper and Ranald Macaulay, 01/02/2008
Registered Charity 1076750