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veda 05-27-2008 10:29 AM

Why Christians should take Richard Dawkins seriously
 
By Richard Skinner
19 Sep 2007

It’s easy to get annoyed, but Christians really ought to listen to and take seriously what Richard Dawkins has to say. With his high profile books, articles, television programmes and general media coverage, he has become the number one scourge of religion and religious believers of all and every stripe. He is articulate, passionate, an excellent speaker and a formidable intelligence. He has made important contributions to his particular discipline of evolutionary biology, most famously with his first book The Selfish Gene, but no less impressively with the follow-up volume The Extended Phenotype, and a series of subsequent books. He is a major player in his discipline.

His book The God Delusion appeared in 2006. This isn’t about evolutionary biology with a few side-swipes at religion thrown in, this is a concentrated assault on religion. He launches a series of exocet missiles at religion, at the concept of God, the ‘supernatural’, faith-heads (which is his term for religious believers), theology – the whole bang-shoot, in fact. Inevitably he has triggered much response. The theologian Alister McGrath, an Oxford colleague of his, who had already written one book critiquing Dawkins’ views on religion, riposted rapidly with The Dawkins Delusion. Another Christian riposte has come from a more evangelical quarter in Andrew Wilson’s Deluded by Dawkins? Both authors demonstrate that many of Dawkins’ arguments are strewn with error and misunderstanding.

However, in response to the statement “theologians say that Dawkins is wrong” we can echo Mandy Rice-Davies: “Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?” It’s part of their job description. Perhaps more significant, then, is the response Dawkins has drawn from non-Christian – or non-religious – quarters. Don’t get me wrong: there are many who agree whole-heartedly with Dawkins. But consider the review of the book by Professor of English Terry Eagleton, a non-believer, which appeared in the London Review of Books (19 October 2006): it is a high octane demolition job.

Eagleton starts off “Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be.” He continues for another 3,500 words to elaborate on this.

Now I think the critics of Richard Dawkins are in the main quite right. I say ‘in the main’ because Dawkins does make a number of valid points, particularly relating to the role of religion, and Christianity in particular, in the life of this country; but I agree that a large proportion of his book is indeed based on error. However, I don’t think it right for us to say, “Ah, well, not only theologians but even atheists have demonstrated where Dawkins has gone wrong, therefore we don’t have to take his views seriously.”

veda 05-27-2008 10:30 AM

Why Christians should take Richard Dawkins seriously cont.
 
We do have to take his views seriously, for more than one reason. Wilson suggests, and I agree with him, that Christians should be grateful to Dawkins, because “he has gathered together all of the best arguments against God’s existence in one place, with the intention of debating them publicly.” Quite so, but I think there’s another reason to listen to Dawkins. It’s this: theological writers and others can point out at length that what Dawkins does is to set up a straw man – or rather, a straw God – and then demolish it; they can show that Dawkins has not really got to grips at all with a true understanding of God and the religious dimension; but the straw God that Dawkins sets up and then demolishes is often uncomfortably close to the notion of God that we Christians all too frequently seem to talk about, pray to and worship.

What Dawkins demolishes in this book may well be a misrepresentation of God, but it is a misrepresentation, an idol, that we Christians all too have often set up and espoused as the real thing. We should listen to Dawkins because doing so can help us reflect on what we claim to believe, or think we believe, or imply that we believe. His views can act as an acid to eat away the false and phoney elements of our faith.

By way of example, Dawkins refers to ‘The God Hypothesis’ which “suggests that the reality we inhabit also contains a supernatural agent who designed the universe and – at least in many versions of the hypothesis – maintains it and even intervenes in it with miracles....” (p.81). God, in this understanding, refers to a fellow inhabitant of the universe. Earlier in the book, however, he takes a marginally more subtle line, and the hypothesis is that there is “a personal God dwelling within [the universe], or perhaps outside it (whatever that might mean)” possessing a whole range of unpleasant qualities he has earlier listed (p.59).

I doubt if many of us would fall into the simplistic belief that God is just another thing who inhabits the universe, such that if we went on a tour of the universe our guide would be saying “now ladies and gentlemen, over here is the solar system, over there is the Crab Nebula, watch our for the black hole at the centre; there’s a super-nova; there’s God, there’s a comet....” and so forth. We don’t think of God like that as simply an inhabitant of the universe. But what of the suggestion that God is outside the universe? I would guess most if not all past and present members of Sunday Schools and the like have sung, ‘He’s got the whole world in his hands’, and other hymns or choruses with similar imagery which suggests an entity external to the universe. It may be a comforting image, and it may have a lot to recommend it – but there is the danger of it being too comforting and our taking it almost literally, which doesn’t do justice to the biblical understanding of God as both immanent and transcendent – God dwelling within all things, but also greater than all things – and of God as a living presence.

Philosophers and theologians over the centuries, grappling with what is meant by ‘God’, have resorted to a different type of language, making statements such as “God is ultimate reality”; or “God is the ground of our being”, or “God is the precondition that anything at all could exist”, and so forth. In theological discourse, they can be very helpful concepts, but the trouble with them is that if you’re not a philosopher or theologian, you feel your eyes glazing over - God has become a philosophical concept rather than a living presence.

Let’s face it, it is easier for most of us to hold a clear but inaccurate image of what we think God is, rather than to live with the discomfort of not being able to pin God down precisely. Many a mystic has said, in effect, that all descriptions of God are false because they are so inadequate, but that is not a comfortable place to be in. We prefer a domesticated God that our comprehension can contain, a golden calf that we have fashioned for ourselves, and that we can see. Richard Dawkins in effect, even though he may not realise it, is pointing at a load of golden calves that we have fashioned over the millennia, and saying, “what a load of rubbish”. But of course, to rubbish a golden calf is not the same thing as to rubbish the living God. Dawkins, unwittingly, can help us distinguish between the two!

So, if our understanding of God can be encapsulated in a nice, neat definition; a nice, neat God hypothesis; a nice, neat image; a nice, neat set of instructions – if, in other words, our understanding of God does approximate to a Dawkins version, then we are in danger of creating another golden calf. The alternative, the non-golden-calf route, is to sit light to definitions, hypotheses and images, and allow God to be God.

Challenges to our image of God is not new. Back in 1963, the then Bishop of Woolwich John Robinson published Honest to God. After an extract was published in The Observer newspaper under the heading ‘Our Image of God Must Go’ the book became a surprise bestseller and triggered off a major rumpus. Robinson was urging us to jettison old images of God - uncontentious in theological circles, but a shock to the person in the pew. Commenting on it twenty years later, Ken Leech had this to say: “The ‘god’ whose image must go might well have been a caricature of the Christian God, but it was a caricature which corresponded with a widely held view, a view which effectively prevented any real engagement with God as a living reality. Robinson did not create this situation: he merely laid bare the reality of existing confusion and unbelief” (True God Sheldon Press, 1985 p.6). I think Richard Dawkins – though he may well not sanction my saying this – is performing a similar challenging function to that of Robinson

Curious perhaps to compare Richard Dawkins to John Robinson, but whether such attacks on our images of God come from within the church or from outside it, it is no bad thing regularly to be reminded that all images of God fall far short of the reality encountered and witnessed to by Moses and the prophets, and by Jesus and the apostles. We should listen to Richard Dawkins. His understanding might be full of errors, but they are often our errors of understanding too.
---------

© Richard Skinner. The author is a poet, writer, qualified therapist and performer. He is currently undertaking doctoral research in the area of spirituality and evolutionary psychology. He is author of Invocations: calling on the God in all (Wild Goose Publishing, Iona). This article was originally given as an address at St Stephen’s Anglican Church, Exeter.

source: Why Christians should take Richard Dawkins seriously | Ekklesia

kamikazi89 05-27-2008 10:36 AM

i don't know much about biology..& he would not be my first choice unless i wanted to argue soley against theology

look at where he's coming from, church = england, islam and immigration

veda 05-27-2008 10:47 AM

Quote:

Eagleton starts off “Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be.”
this reminds me of a lot of posts i read here in this forum. people tend to argue against their own ill-formed and illusory ideas without knowing much at all about what they think they reject.

Canuck Wisdom 05-27-2008 10:48 AM

Interesting.

kamikazi89 05-27-2008 10:55 AM

right, there are much better sources concerning science & biology minus the theological ties(as interesting and neccasary as that may be)

then again it's just scholarship, and speaking fees(beheadings, threats to life: that sorta thing)

JcP 05-27-2008 01:27 PM

"We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further. "

was all I ever needed to hear from him to know he misses the boat on spirituality completely.

Christopher Hitchens, while equally frustrating for me at times, seems FAR more compelling a debater and speaker.

Waves 05-27-2008 01:27 PM

haha i love that guy, chris hitchens

hes such a douche sometimes though

a hilarious douche

JcP 05-27-2008 02:51 PM

^^ totally. The hilarious part makes him enjoyable enough to not tune him out completely.

Sometimes he even makes a good point!

kamikazi89 05-27-2008 02:58 PM

hitchins is a polemicist(imo) i really don't know enough about dawkins, or have watched/read enough of the debates he's been involved in to have an informed opinion on the substance of his positions

although i will say this: science has improved the lot of humanity far more then religion has(both quality and quantity-wise)*

*individual results may vary)(penicillin)vs. efficient weaponry..and so on and so forth

veda 05-27-2008 04:40 PM

yeah the issue here is that Dawkins (and others who imagine they have "debunked christianity") are saying that there is no white bearded man in the sky controlling everything. of course there is no white bearded man in the sky, nor are any other misconceptions true, nor any simple two-sentence theories about the origin and order of the universe.

it is interesting how some ppl are unable to grasp the meaning and value of some teachings. both literalists and deniers fall into this category; either way, it is delusion

snapshot 05-27-2008 05:12 PM

YouTube - Atheism_Tapes-Denys Turner_1_of_3

YouTube - Atheism_Tapes-Denys Turner _2_of_3

YouTube - Atheism_Tapes-Denys Turner_3_of_3

This one.

Basically, the return argument is that arguing for the existence of God reaches an absurdity, though the argument for the argument for [sic] God still exists because the question (that there is something] exists. (That's what Jonathan Miller puts forth, and I think he's more convincing than Denys Turner.

The fact that teachings have value and meaning to individuals does not mean they put forth any objective knowledge, which is all arguments for and against the existence of God are.

I disagree with Dawkins on basically everything now (even though I still have his quote in my sig) because he doesn't go far enough with his logic and he strays too far in terms of letting people believe what they want to believe. He should realize that any definition of God which defies logic cannot exist, and therefore should put forth the claim that it might exist ((not going far enough)), and he should realize that the only reason religion is a scourge is because people use the government in order to promote it; what is bad about that is not religion but the government.

People can believe whatever they want. But if they are going to make objective claims, they are obligating themselves to stick by the methodologies by which we can judge those claims. Otherwise, they are just opinions and not to be taken seriously as objectively claims. Dawkins should study more philosophy.

Canuck Wisdom 05-27-2008 05:16 PM

There is some sort of feeling of being enlightened or serious in many of my peers anyways associated with being atheistic.

It bothers me because I feel like even the most thoughtful ones are denying an aspect of their experience. One they experience nonetheless, but limited and caged, bottled up in an unknown and unacknowledged place.

My girlfriend... /ex sort of is an atheist and she has many good arguments but I feel as though they are hollow. Faith isn't about reason, even though you could reason out why faith is more valuable or not, its about being human and living free of fear.

Skywarp 05-27-2008 05:22 PM

Beyond my faith of my morals and convictions, why should I base beliefs in anything else?

snapshot 05-27-2008 05:41 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Canuck Wisdom (Post 51590656)
There is some sort of feeling of being enlightened or serious in many of my peers anyways associated with being atheistic.

Anyone who even considers themselves "atheistic" is prompting premature enlightenment.

spicoli 05-27-2008 05:44 PM

^^where did your morals and convictions come from? what is the source that 'taught' you those things?

edit: could it be the all elusive 'Moral Law?'

kamikazi89 05-27-2008 05:49 PM

experience..and awareness(particular y of :"others") your life is your teaching: so in a way it's genetic: you hand it down generationaly, throughtout the ages

..and literature, lets not forget that either

spicoli 05-27-2008 05:57 PM

yes, but, in many many cultures, where books and such aren't available (and the people can't read anyway) how do you explain the 'need' for us humans to 'do the right thing?' somehow it is built in almost all of us the understanding of right and wrong. we know that killing another human is wrong, hurting someone else is wrong. how do the people that have not been reached by missionaries and such have this code to live by? it seems clear to me that it's not an accident at all that we all have this in us. some of us deny it, but it's there.

Waves 05-27-2008 06:29 PM

humans dont feel a need to do the "right" thing- humans feel a need to categorize behavior into absolute terms, black and white terms. like "good" and "bad." we create beliefs to explain which behaviors are acceptable and which behaviors arent, and we label the ones that arent as "bad." one could argue that these catagories are a result of dividing behaviors into actions that cause suffering and actions that reduce it, but i believe its much more complicated than that. morality is a complicated issue but to boil it all down to one specific influence seems like an oversimplification.

snapshot 05-27-2008 06:30 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by spicoli (Post 51590695)
yes, but, in many many cultures, where books and such aren't available (and the people can't read anyway) how do you explain the 'need' for us humans to 'do the right thing?' somehow it is built in almost all of us the understanding of right and wrong. we know that killing another human is wrong, hurting someone else is wrong. how do the people that have not been reached by missionaries and such have this code to live by? it seems clear to me that it's not an accident at all that we all have this in us. some of us deny it, but it's there.

The need for us to do anything is the need for consistency. There wouldn't be any need to do "the right thing" if the right thing was different every time. So when someone wants to know what the right thing to do is, they expect it to be the same every time.

Our need for consistency translates to our arguments. If I argue that it's always wrong for you to do something but it's never wrong for me to do the same thing, that's totally inconsistent and no one would accept that argument. Thus, the translation also occurs when we decide what we think is right for us (morally, not preferably) while at the same time deciding what is right for others.

The only code you really need to follow is that of consistency in your arguments. If you don't care about morality, then it would be consistent to act in ways that are consistent with that philosophy. If you do care about what is moral, then it would be consistent to act in ways you think are moral.

Morality really is all about what you want, since there is no objective standard for morality. The only objective standard we have is logical consistency. So if you want an objective morality, it has to be based on that. The need for consistency is in all of us. Without it, we wouldn't even be asking these questions.


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