When The Sun Has Risen Part 1

Posted: July 19, 2010 in Atheistic literature
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by Matt Lefebvre

(This post is really a continuation of analyzing best-selling book by Richard Dawkins called The God Delusion. If you have not read the book to know Dawkins’ line of reasoning, I strongly recommend you to read Matt’s first article in this series called Consciousness raising. You comments and questions are always welcome. Enjoy!)

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” This quote from C.S. Lewis in Is Theology Poetry? illustrates a very basic point that is valuable in evaluating any view, not just Christianity. In building terms, the point would be described as the foundation, or in other words, what we are building on. I plan to respond to Dawkins in 2 parts, answering the first 5 chapters in this article, examining the basic question of “Why believe in God?” and the second 5 chapters with “What’s wrong with religion?” I pick these questions, because they can have different connotations depending on who is asking or saying them. A skeptic can look at his explanations and ask the first question rhetorically, shrugging it off, while someone defending the position can say why he believes in God. On the other side, someone defending religion can ask the second question, evaluating the positive and negative aspects, while a skeptic can describe, usually very passionately, what is wrong with religion. Similarly, my title can be seen in two ways, serving as both a reference to the quote from Lewis and an allusion to Mark 16:2, describing that the sun had risen on the day of the resurrection. What I mean by this is that there is another side of the story that Dawkins is not presenting and in the light of evidence for God, I would hope that it would not be limited to his definition of faith as “blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence”, quoted in Alister McGrath’s book, The Dawkins Delusion?.

PART 1 Why Believe in God?

What the quote from Lewis basically means is that believing in God actually sheds a lot of light on the world and helps explain the unexplained, such as why humans have something like compassion, which natural selection or even impersonal beginnings should rule out. Even though Dawkins is quite aggressive in his assertion that there is not a shred of evidence for the existence of God, I do not believe that he is being deliberately dishonest, but that his criteria for what evidence will be allowed is based on fundamental presuppositions. In his book Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept, James Sire explores what a worldview is and what factors are involved in it. His definition can be found on page 161, “A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being” or put more simply, a worldview is what we think with.

Dawkins is aware of C.S. Lewis and refers to him a couple times, one of which being the first page of the preface to the paperback edition, “I used to be an atheist, but…” That is one of the oldest tricks in the book, much favoured by religious apologists from C.S. Lewis to the present day. It serves to establish some sort of street cred up front, and it is amazing how often it works. Look out for it.” Granted, it goes the other way as well, as Dawkins knows of many people, including him, who have renounced their faith, but in fact, C.S. Lewis was even in a similar group. As James Sire points out on page 140 of Naming the Elephant, “Charles Colson, the Watergate conspirator, tells the story, in Born Again, of his shift in worldview from self-centered power-hungry materialism to Christian faith. He was greatly influenced by English literary scholar C.S. Lewis, who in Surprised by Joy tells of his own movement from early exposure to Christianity to atheism to deep commitment to Christ.” So the fact that Lewis left the Christian ideas only to return to them again later in life should lead to the natural question of why, which I think to be a great question, while Dawkins seems to dismiss it simply as an apologetic trick. For Dawkins, the way he thinks involves the presupposition that faith is irrational, made up by deluded people, and those who follow it should grow up and leave childish beliefs in fairies, Santa Claus, flying spaghetti monsters, cosmic teapots, and the like behind. Alister McGrath, an atheist-turned-Christian whom Dawkins has placed in the same I-used-to-be-an-atheist-but group as C.S. Lewis, had this to say about faith being supposedly infantile on page 3 of The Dawkins Delusion?, “Like many of Dawkins’s analogies, this has been constructed with a specific agenda in mind—in this case, the ridiculing of religion. Yet the analogy is obviously flawed. How many people do you know who began to believe in Santa Claus in adult-hood? Or who found belief in the Tooth Fairy consoling in old age? l believed in Santa Claus until I was about five (though, not unaware of the benefits it brought, I allowed my parents to think I took it seriously until rather later). I did not believe in God until I started going to university. Those who use this infantile argument have to explain why so many people discover God in later life and certainly do not regard this as representing any kind of regression, perversion or degeneration. A good recent example is provided by Antony Flew (born 1923), the noted atheist philosopher who started to believe in God in his eighties.” Dawkins’ response has been to largely discredit Flew, and granted, Flew has only become a deist and believes in a God that started it all without being interested in it any further, but aside from that, what is the issue? Dawkins claims that there is no evidence for the Christian belief, while people like McGrath would disagree, based on the fact that it is the very evidence they were presented with that led them from an atheistic position, and in McGrath’s case aggressively so, to belief in God. I believe it is that Dawkins has failed to fully engage with the questions. John Lennox, a Christian mathematician, describes a debate with Dawkins where a popular quote was employed from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?” to which Lennox responded that Dawkins could get rid of the fairies, but had not yet gotten rid of the gardener. If belief in God is reduced to be equivalent to the teapot analogy I described in my last article, the answer is very naturally that such belief is kind of silly, but it presupposes that because you cannot disprove the existence of God, it is on the same level as this teapot. However, when the light of the teapot illustration is turned on extra-terrestrial life, all of a sudden the only rational stance is agnosticism. Somehow it is more rational to believe in aliens than in God and this is based on the principles of Darwinian evolution and probability. To be clear, Dawkins does not believe that life was seeded on earth, but seems only to think it more likely than God as a hypothesis. In any case, I see that very intelligent people can look at the same evidence and come to completely different conclusions and I would like to explore that further.
In discussing worldview in Naming the Elephant, James Sire gives 7 questions that worldviews seek to answer, to which others might add or take away, but that in any case, give a basic outline of crucial questions. One of these questions is ontological, or why there is anything, and another is epistemological, or how we can know anything. Both are found on page 134, the ontological one is “What is the prime reality-the really real?” and the epistemological one being “Why is it possible to know anything at all?”. It is not only important what the answers are, but in what order the questions are asked. In the Christian worldview, the ontological question should come first, with the answer being that God is the really real, the prime reality. Hebrews 11:3 says “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.” and 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 says “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” From there, we know things based on being made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) and reflect the mind of our Creator as in 1 Corinthians 2:14-16 “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ.” In fact, Colossians 2:3 says that “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are hidden in Christ. Many verses could be sighted, but the point is that the Christian view is that we start with God, the “sun” that has risen, and we can know things because we are made in His image, having a mind and the ability to seek out His creation with the mind He has given us, and thus, we can see everything else that the sun has illuminated. In the Christian worldview, God has revealed Himself to those created in His image and all of reality has roots in His nature and character. So in discovering more of who He really is, people understand more of the world around them.
However, in the case of naturalism, what is really real, the prime reality, is matter (and energy along with it), but this is not in fact where they start. Contrary to the Christian order of ontology preceding epistemology, the naturalist decides how we know things and works from there to, among other things, what the really real is. Another way to say it is that all knowledge is empirical, or based on the senses. As Garrett DeWeese says in an article on How Can We Know Anything At All?, “Today, the spectacular successes of the natural sciences have enshrined empirical investigation as by far the best — and for most people, the only — way to know.” So, based on this presupposition the scientific naturalist works back to the origins of this matter that is the prime reality and how it might have come about. There are different views of whether there are truths apart from scientific observation, which the stricter view, that there are no truths outside of scientific claim, is self-refuting in the fact that the statement that there are no truths apart from science is not verifiable on scientific grounds. There are also philosophical presuppositions used to justify science such as those listed by J.P. Moreland in his article on How Should a Christian Relate to a Scientific Naturalist. They include the existence, orderly nature, and knowability of the external world, the existence of truth and the laws of logic, and the existence of values used in science. Moreland points out that these propositions are less likely to be abandoned than some currently held scientific beliefs. I am not reinforcing the myth that science and religion are logically incompatible, nor am I attacking science, but I merely want to point out the position of Dawkins, that denying the evidence for belief, is not only based on presuppositions, but also that those presuppositions are a belief. Atheists usually do not like atheism being referred to as a belief, sometimes remarking that they do not need to be called an “a-Tooth-Fairy-ist” if they do not belief in the Tooth Fairy. However, contrary to what they might say, the fact that God does not exist and that matter is all there is, was, or will be is not self-evident.
One of the criticisms of The God Delusion, even from those who appreciated his earlier works, is that Dawkins has departed from the evidence-based argument of his previous publications. While saying that the Christian faith is blind trust in the absence of evidence, he himself makes claims for which he has no evidence. One of the arguments for the existence of God is the remarkable fine-tuning of the universe, or in other words, the cosmological deck of cards was stacked in favour of supporting life. The initial conditions of the big bang made it possible for life to exist and if they were even an incredibly small fraction off, life could not exist in the universe. Dawkins’ response to this is the theory of the multi-verse, in true Darwinian style, supposing that if there were enough universes, one might naturally come out with the conditions we have, while other universes would be drastically different. In the debate with John Lennox I already mentioned, Dawkins used his closing statement to remind everyone to think like Darwin. Darwin lived in a world where evolution was not yet known about, but through science, he naturally came to his brilliant conclusions. In the same way, even though he concedes that the origins of the universe are not known, Dawkins encourages people to think like Darwin in that there will someday be an explanation. Though he will mostly likely highly resent this remark, to me it sounded like he wanted his audience to accept something “by faith”. I understand his criticism of “the God of the gaps” in saying that anything unexplainable so far in science must be God, but I see a logical inconsistency in his assertion that everything he believes is based on evidence and everything the Christian believes is based on faith, and his definition of faith at that.
His presuppositions that faith is irrational and that science is the way to all knowledge are evident in his discussion of arguments for the existence of God. Quoting Alister McGrath again will adequately sum up the point. On page 7 of The Dawkins Delusion? is a description of Dawkins attitude, “Here’s how a scientist would sort this philosophical nonsense.” It is also interesting that Dawkins does not engage with contemporary theology, but goes after guys like Aquinas and Paley. Even in these cases, as Alister McGrath points out, Aquinas was bringing attention to inner coherence of belief in God, assuming God’s existence and then showing it to make sense with inner witness of the Holy Spirit and what can be observed in the world. As far as Paley is concerned, McGrath agrees with Dawkins’ critique, but also criticizes Dawkins on the fact that Paley’s ideas were not typical of his age, not of Christianity as a whole, and that even many Christian writers of the age were alarmed at his approach. Thinking about his engagement with Martin Luther’s anxieties about “reason” in the life of faith, he commits the same mistake that he was upset about in the first chapter regarding Einstein’s concept of “religion”. As Alister McGrath is again clear in pointing out on page 6, Dawkins’ has taken quotes from the internet and not taken the time to figure out what Luther meant by reason, which happens to be “Left to itself human common sense would conclude that you need to do something to earn God’s favor—an idea Luther regarded as compromising the gospel of divine graciousness, making salvation something that you earned or merited.” Dawkins said in the preface to the paperback edition that he did not have to study all this theology, because most just assume that God does exist and go on from there. He instead feels he is adequately justified in engaging only with those seeking to defend God’s existence, but this is portrayed by way of analogy in Terry Eagleton’s review quoted on page 4 of The Dawkins Delusion? “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.”
Even though Dawkins says it in the book, it would be quite possible to glean that he does not consider theology to be a real discipline without him having said it directly. In tackling the argument from Scripture, Dawkins seems to think that Scripture only stands up until you start asking questions of it, like who wrote it and when, but considering that I do that kind of thing ten months out of the year in the school I am the leader of, I was very surprised at this remark. What he seems to be referring to is how liberal scholarship has questioned the reliability of the Bible, saying that the case is overwhelming that the Gospels are not reliable historical sources and that they were long after Jesus’ death and the epistles of Paul, which mention almost none of the facts of Jesus’ life. He then refers to how it is was copied and recopied by fallible scribes and finally that all of those involved were significantly biased with their own religious agendas. Many evangelical scholars disagree and have shown the inconsistency of such beliefs, but Dawkins just has to mention doubt to serve his purposes. He starts off with the example of Jesus’ birth, but it is not a good start, because he misinterprets the passage from John. Aside from that though, Luke does present a difficulty in mentioning the census under Quirinius, but as Norman Geisler shows on pages 383-385 of The Big Book of Bible Difficulties, contemporary scholarship, I repeat, contemporary scholarship has now widely accepted that this is not an error as was previously supposed, but that Luke records an earlier census, that Quirinius was entrusted with authority earlier, and that people could be summoned to the place of their origin for a census. The point is that Bible difficulties do not mean Bible errors and the plethora of times where the Bible has been vindicated by archaeology and scholarship pound home the idea that it is not enough to raise an argument from silence or inconclusive evidence. Though it may work until vindicating evidence is found, it looks fairly silly afterward.
It may be true that the Gospels were written between 30 and 60 years after the death of Jesus and after the letters of Paul, and it is true that the originals were then copied by fallible scribes. However, what Dawkins is not telling you is that 30-60 years is not a long time when compared with other so-called reliable historical documents, not least the gnostic gospels to which Dawkins refers as if they were written even close to Jesus’ time, which they were not. Indeed, the letters of Paul do not include the amount of facts that the Gospels do about Jesus, but then again, letters are not Gospels and the most crucial aspects of Jesus’ life, to which a rather large portion of all 4 Gospels pay special attention, are His death and resurrection and to those, Paul makes frequent reference. In regard to copying, I will not claim that the hand of every person who ever writes a word of the Bible is divinely guided, for that is plainly false. However, what Dawkins is again not telling you is that the New Testament fits the historical criteria for being accurate better than any other ancient document by far and that no originals of any ancient document exist. The closest second in number of manuscripts is the Iliad with 643, while the New Testament has approximately 5400 manuscripts in the Greek language, not to mention manuscripts in other languages bringing the total to nearly 25000. The earliest copy of the Iliad is from 500 years after it was originally written. In the case of the New Testament, there are manuscripts that are less than 100 years from the original. There are more examples of the accuracy of the New Testament, but it is enough to say Dawkins can say a lot of things about the Bible, from his personal bias, though he is pretending to be objective. The assumption is that because he is critical, he is unbiased, but I find that to be a rather arrogant and naïve assumption. If someone else were to question Dawkins’ views, he would demand overwhelming proof and would cling to the fact that he is not a fundamentalist, but in order to sufficiently demolish religious belief he feels he only needs to cast a little doubt on what he already deems to be an irrational position much inferior to his own, with nothing to challenge it.
Speaking of naïve and arrogant assumptions, Dawkins hints at his main argument in chapters leading up to the chapter where he deals with it. As I was reading, I was quite unsure of what he was going to say, not because his hints were inconspicuous, but because I did not see how the improbability could have sufficient weight as his main argument. Needless to say, I was disappointed when I read the chapter. As others, I was reading the book half-expecting Dawkins to present an argument against the existence of God; not that I did not think there might be an answer, but recognized that my own incomplete knowledge of God might be challenged in an area in which I have less knowledge than others. However, as Dawkins responded to one argument in the last chapter, I must respond to his main argument in saying as he said, “That’s an argument?” Hopelessly trapped in his Darwinian view of life, Dawkins thinks of God in the same way. He recognizes the problem of improbability in the fact that life exists here, but he says that invoking God solves nothing, because God would have to be more complex, more improbable, and would require an answer to the question “Who designed the Designer?” There are several things that could be said, but I will start with what McGrath starts with. He refers to the holy grail of the natural sciences, “the theory of everything”, which is important, as stated on page 9, “Because it can explain everything, without itself requiring or demanding an explanation.” Second, Dawkins seems to be unaware that, under his criteria, any explanation that he might offer is not immune to infinite regress. He shows understanding of the theological argument concerning why there is something rather than nothing, but he does not think God is a good solution, because he maintains that it must be simpler. What he suggests as more probable is something that causes itself in the form of a crane, not necessarily natural selection, but he thinks it to be the best so far, and not a sky-hook, invoking God. To rephrase that, he is saying that it is more likely that the first cause of the universe was nothing causing itself, which is simple, than that a timeless, infinite, all-powerful, all-knowing, space-less Being creating the universe and time with it. To borrow words from William Lane Craig, physical things have moving parts and are complex, but a mind is simpler, without moving parts. However, this only adds to the point that Dawkins is only arguing against himself in what he has to explain as well. His terminology makes it sound more plausible, but the reality is just not there. Third, though improbable we may be, we are here. As simple as that may sound, the argument against God being probable, even if true, indicates nothing about whether God exists or not, and we are the evidence of that.
The final chapter to be dealt with in this part 1 of the article is in chapter 5, the roots of religion. I will largely skip over this one for 3 reasons, though: one, thinking in terms of ontology before epistemology I consider God to be the origin of religion, two, even if what Dawkins suggests were to be true it does not mean that the belief itself is false, and three, I have written quite a lot already. The thing with a 400 page book is that you can go on and on and in a lot of different directions, but I will say one thing about memes. The Dawkins Delusion? discusses memes, but I will turn to the other Alister McGrath book on Dawkins, Dawkins’ God, which summarizes very well another inconsistency, cited from page 128, “Dawkins talking about memes is like believers talking about God – an invisible, unverifiable postulate, which helps explain some things about experience, but ultimately lies beyond empirical investigation.” I also feel the need to give a quote often attributed to G.K. Chesterton, though I do not have the exact citation, “When a man ceases to believe in God, he does not believe in nothing, he believes in anything.” There are an abundance of resources in books and even on the internet for the existence of God and answering of these types of questions from the new atheists and even from other faiths and just genuine skeptics within Christianity itself, but what I wanted to show is that we do not have to be afraid of such questions. I am not a prolific author such as Dawkins or McGrath, but I do think it is possible to engage with questions and not be afraid of not knowing, because there are many of ways to seek answers, as I have said. A great, and for the most part, non-threatening question is “Why do I believe what I believe?” and that might even lead to “What are the consequences of such a belief?”. I plan to deal with the second question and the negative aspects highlighted by Dawkins, in part 2 of this article, but for now, I would like you to just think about the quote that I began with. Whether you are a Christian, a skeptic, or an outright atheist, I would only ask you to consider if you have considered certain pieces of evidence, if you recognize your own presuppositions, whether they be right or wrong, and how life would be different if you really lived in light of God existing and shining down to light up the world around you.

Click here to see part 2 in response to the last 5 chapters of The God Delusion.

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Comments
  1. Max says:

    Thank you for continuing to write about Dawkins’ book and thoughts.

    Your analysis is thorough and the writing manner is nice.

    Thanks for spending your time on doing this. Looking forward to your other articles! I still have to read the ones you already posted on this blog :).

    Max

  2. Matt says:

    My pleasure, Max. Being thorough is a natural consequence of me being a detailed person and Dawkins writing such a long book, but the length of the articles might scare some people away, so I am pleased to hear that you took the time to read through at least the first 2, with just 1 more remaining. My next article will be on the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, which I think is a very important and thought-provoking subject, so I hope that you can find time to look at that after you finish with my second critique of Dawkins. You might be my only reader at the moment, but I still don’t think it is a waste of time to write about these things, because they are questions that have extreme significance, no matter what side of the debate a person may be on!
    Cheers
    Matt

    • Max says:

      My last days were a bit hectic. I hope to spend more time reading your and Dima’s articles in the future. We are flying to Stockholm tomorrow!

      I will definitely read your article on the Resurrection of Jesus.

      I enjoyed both your articles I read so I’m sure I’ll like the other two too :).

      Thanks again,
      Max

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