Archive for the ‘Atheistic literature’ Category

Worldviews-Atheism

by Matt Lefebvre

If you are wondering what a worldview is, you might want to read the introduction to this series before reading this article.

What do Atheists believe?

Greek Philosopher Epicurus

From the name, it might just seem to be the simple belief that God does not exist.  This is indeed accurate, but in denying the existence of God, which has been affirmed in some form or another throughout recorded history and is the majority view still today, it leads us to ask what is believed in lieu of God.  I have mentioned in regard to other worldviews approximately when they were founded, but this is not so simple with atheism, because it is the denial of belief.  Indeed, some of the Greek philosophers denied that the gods of Greek myths existed, but a renewed rejection of the Divine came about around the 15th century when the invention of the printing press made the writings of Greek and Roman philosophers more readily available.  Through this, some were sparked toward a greater awareness of God’s Word, but others pursued more humanistic themes.  On that note, it may serve to do a little definition of terms, as this was a time when there were various views concerning God, but not necessarily outright rejection until the 19th century, when the theory of evolution caused some who might have previously been classified as deists to feel they had found an adequate explanation of life without an intelligent Creator.  Deists believe in the transcendence of God as in theism, but deny His immanence.  God for the deist is the ultimate cause of the universe, but is subsequently uninvolved.  An agnostic, a term coined by T.H. Huxley, is someone who believes that there is insufficient evidence to say whether God exists or not.  A functional atheist is someone who is apathetic toward God’s existence or non-religious in the sense of not having any religious affiliation.  An atheist is someone who says that there is sufficient evidence to say that God does not exist.  These last three could also be described as secularists, because they do not invoke God in aspects of life as an explanation or source of anything.  However, I will be focusing on atheists, who sometimes prefer the term naturalist because it describes what they believe, rather than what they do not.  A naturalist believes that matter is all there is and that there is nothing beyond the natural, or in other words, no supernatural.  There is no Being behind the universe, and by implication, no miracles.  The world is what it is and all that exists is the universe itself, which we can discover by rational inquiry and scientific exploration (based on Dean Halverson, The Compact Guide To World Religions, p.182-185).

  1. Origin-As stated above, the naturalist denies the existence of God in any form, monotheistic or otherwise.  The prevailing belief prior to the 20th century was that the universe had existed eternally; that matter, in one form or another, is all there has ever been.  According to Carl Sagan, “The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” (Cosmos, p.4).  Modern scientific advances have, however, caused many naturalists to rethink their theories.  They still maintain that matter is all that exists, but with the advent of Big Bang cosmology, many now have attempted to incorporate the view that the universe had a beginning into their naturalistic theories.  Along with this is the belief in evolution by natural selection.  The apparent design in the universe is attributed, not to a Divine intelligence, but to impersonal forces in the universe and the earth specifically.  In reference to evolutionists, geneticist Richard Lewontin says that they “have a prior commitment, a commitment to naturalism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.” (Billions and Billions of Demons in The New York Review, p.31).  There are those who are honest enough to express that they do not know how the universe came into existence, but like Lewontin, they are sure it has nothing to do with God.
  2. Meaning-For the naturalist, humans are the pinnacle of the evolutionary process.  Somewhere along the line of random mutation and natural selection the human species became aware of its existence to the point of being able to think in the way that we are doing now.  Consciousness and personality are the result of chemical and physical processes and we are effectively highly developed machines that are more highly developed than other species.  Being the result of randomness and impersonal forces, there is no overarching purpose.  Religion is thus unhelpful at best, keeping people from facing the problems squarely, and solving the problems through reason and science (James Sire, The Universe Next Door, p.65-68, Dean Halverson, The Compact Guide To World Religions, p.185-187).  Whatever purpose there may be is what we make for ourselves by virtue of our highly developed evolutionary status as a species.
  3. Morality-Secularists believe the man is basically good and that there is no absolute standard of morality (Dean Halverson, The Compact Guide To World Religions, p.186).  The atheist does not need such a standard to be moral, but morality is in fact relative.  Morality is determined, still very much in line with the theory of evolution, by the consensus of society.  Some things are socially taboo and thus disadvantageous, but there is nothing morally objectively wrong in society.
  4. Destiny-Coming to what James Sire describes as “perhaps, the ‘hardest’ proposition of naturalism for people to accept, yet it is absolutely demanded by the naturalists’ conception of the universe.” (The Universe Next Door, p.67), death is the extinction of the individual.  There is no hope of a naturalist afterlife or some continued existence.  At death, the machine, as described above, stops working and there is nothing more to be said.  Any hope is right now in the moment, so as humans, we need to make the most of this life.

How coherent is the Atheist worldview?

  1. Logical consistency-This worldview is undoubtedly one that prides itself on reason and scientific enquiry, sticking with only the facts, defending it to the death.  However, in some of the most fundamental questions of life, the best naturalists can answer is “This is just the way it is” or “I’m sure we’ll figure it out someday”.  Sagan says that there is nothing but matter or the cosmos, but as Norman Geisler and Frank Turek point out, “‘nothing-but’ statements imply ‘more than’ knowledge.” (I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, p.60).  On the question of the universe being eternal or having a beginning, they will accept anything except a Divine Foot.  However, philosophically postulating an infinite number of material things is against both common sense and scientific discovery, as we will see below.  On the question of the beginning of life, the answer is that something must have happened, and even though they claim to know the kind of event it must have been, theories and experiments to recreate it have been unsuccessful to this point.  However, this is also counter intuitive, for impersonal forces do not bring anything into existence.  Evolution is a mechanism for after things get going and life has started, but not before.  As far as the place of humans,

    Dr. William Lane Craig

    William Lane Craig has some insightful thoughts, after quoting Paul Kurtz: “’the discoveries of Copernicus and Darwin . . . have [undermined] the belief that we are fundamentally different from all other species.’ He muses that ‘many [people] still refuse to accept the full implications of these discoveries.’ They ‘still seek to find a special place for the human species in the scheme of things.’ Kurtz is doubtlessly thinking of theists. Ironically, however, it is precisely humanists themselves who seek to find a special place for the human species in the scheme of things, who refuse to accept the full implications of reducing human beings to just another animal species. For humanists continue to treat human beings as morally special in contrast to other species.” (Reasonable Faith, p.174).  It seems as though it is in fact the naturalists who are not taking their evolutionary beliefs to the “natural” conclusions.  There is also something to be said of their opinions on morality.  Of course, if matter is all that exists, there is no adequate basis for morality, so then, no matter how heinous a crime or an injustice, there is no way that a naturalist can say that an act is objectively wrong; only socially taboo or evolutionarily disadvantageous.  The problem with this kind of thinking is that it thinks too much of man.  In Nazi Germany, it was not socially unacceptable to persecute Jews and other so-called outcasts of society.  We cannot say that anything done there was wrong on an atheistic point of view.

  2. Factuality-There are various scientific issues with the naturalistic worldview that either cause atheists to postulate things they do not really believe to be the case or acknowledge the possibility of something being beyond the universe. On the question of the origin of the universe, they tend to either cling to the belief in the eternal universe, contrary to modern scientific discoveries such as the expansion of the universe, the second law of thermodynamics, and Einstein’s theory of general relativity, or they end up saying that the universe brought itself into existence out of nothing.  Geisler and Turek rightly bring this to its logical conclusion.  “Either someone created something out of nothing (the Christian view), or no one created something out of nothing (the atheistic view).  Which view is more reasonable?  The Christian view.  Which view requires more faith?  The atheistic view.” (I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, p.26).  With the belief, and it is a belief, that the universe caused itself to exist goes the belief that there was something before the Big Bang, but nothing really means nothing and not some form of something.  Furthermore, what about the naturalistic understanding of the origin of information, order coming from disorder?  DNA is complex by anyone’s reckoning and yet, it must have arisen by natural processes on the atheistic worldview.  Former atheist Antony Flew records his experience of being shown the fallacy of the oft-quoted “monkey theorem”, the idea that monkeys banging away on keyboards could eventually end up writing a Shakespearean sonnet.  “Schroeder first referred to an experiment conducted by the British National Council of Arts. A computer was placed in a cage with six monkeys. After one month of hammering away at it (as well as using it as a bathroom!), the monkeys produced fifty typed pages — but not a single word. Schroeder noted that this was the case even though the shortest word in the English language is one letter (a or I). A is a word only if there is a space on either side of it. If we take it that the keyboard has thirty characters (the twenty-six letters and other symbols), then the likelihood of getting a one-letter word is 30 times 30 times 30, which is 27,000. The likelihood of getting a one-letter word is one chance out of 27,000.” (There Is A God, p.76).  I could also mention again the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus and the origin of the Christian faith, which makes naturalism’s rejection of the miraculous untenable if the resurrection actually did happen in history.  Other examples could be cited, but the point is that for a belief system that is supposedly only concerned with the facts, there are certainly a lot of gaps.  Theists are often accused of using “God of the gaps” as an argument and saying that God must have done whatever we do not yet understand about the universe.  However, I hope I have sufficiently pointed out that there are things we do know about the universe that are inconsistent with naturalism, without any reference to God.
  3. Viability-Some might think it initially freeing to not have belief in God.  After all, you can feel a sense of control and autonomy.  You finally have your chance to make a difference in the world, making the most of the short life that you have.  As exciting as that may sound to some people, it takes for granted that life without God is practically impossible for a number of reasons, as Ravi Zacharias points out.  “…if, indeed, man was the measure of all things, someone had to determine ‘which man.’” (Can Man Live Without God, p.xiv).  Atheism rejects the God of theism, but I still consider God to be necessary, whether you believe in Him or not, because something will always take the place of “god” in a person’s life.  It is not that there is no god in a person’s life, but it is just that something (the society) or someone (the individual) takes that position.  In the case of morality, it is not that there is no sense of morality, but just that it is not considered to be absolute or finding its source in the all-loving, good God of Christian Theism.  Man is now the ultimate judge of what is right and wrong, but on what can this be based from his limited perspective?  More often than not, the definition of what is right is what the majority wants, so basically what is becomes nearly indistinguishable from what should be.  Lurking behind all this is the evolutionary aspect to society, as naturalists see it.  They say they do not need God to be good.  They live morally anyway and for the most part have similar values to the Christian worldview.  A few things could be mentioned in regard to this.  Ravi Zacharias states, “Any antitheist who lives a moral life merely lives better than his or her philosophy warrants.” (Can Man Live Without God, p.32).  The evolutionary worldview is based on survival of the fittest and is red in tooth and claw.  “An ethic of moral autonomy and individual rights, so important to secular liberals, is incapable of sustaining and nourishing values such as altruism and self-sacrifice.” (Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster?, p.212).  Copan also catches Dawkins in his discussions on morality in The God Delusion.  Copan observes that “…Dawkins is helping himself to the metaphysical resources of a worldview he repudiates.” (Is God a Moral Monster?, p.210).  The West is built on biblical values, so naturally, those in such societies do not differ too drastically.  However, it could also be said that it is not that people cannot be good without belief in God, for there are moral atheists, and what is more, immoral Christians, but the belief is not that we are good because we believe in God, but rather that God has created us with a conscience, an innate sense of right and wrong.  Though not exhaustive or specific, there is a general sense of the fact that some things are just wrong and we know it.  What about the belief that humans are basically good?  Ravi Zacharias is again insightful.  “Any philosophy that has built its social structure assuming an innate goodness finds its optimism ever disappointed.” (Can Man Live Without God, p.133).  “Conveniently forgotten by those antagonistic to spiritual issues are the far more devastating consequences that have entailed when antitheism is wedded to political theory and social engineering.” (Can Man Live Without God, p.xvii).The 19th century produced some interesting ideas, from Nietzsche’s superman to Marx’s Communism, both rejecting God as a basis for anything.  However, in practice, these views saw the deaths of millions in Nazi Germany and the Communist states.  One of those affected by Communism had this to say after seeing the implications of just beliefs: “It was because we rejected the doctrine of original sin that we on the Left were always being disappointed…” (C.E.M. Joad, quoted in Counterfeit Gods, p.105).  There was this hope that the state would dissolve away and there would be no government, but this view did not take into account that man is sinful and generally selfish.  Power has corrupted many a well-intentioned man and will continue to do so if we do not realize that we are not as good as we think we are.  Darrow Miller sums this up well.  “The events of the past hundred years-the two world wars, the genocides in Cambodia and Rwanda, the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans in the nineties and the planned famines in the Ukraine in the thirties, the inhumanity of Mao and Stalin, apartheid in South Africa, and the deliberate murder of hundreds of millions of preborn babies through abortion-all deny the utopian view of the materialist.” (LifeWork, p.44).  The 20th century saw more people die in war than all the previous centuries of recorded history put together (105 million deaths, compared with 19.4 million in the 19th century and 7 million in the 18th).  As if this were not enough, according to the naturalist, all these people simply ceased to exist as persons.  There is no hope that any of them found peace, rest, and salvation after death.  Not to say that the Christian view of the afterlife must be true because it makes believers in Jesus feel better, but if I were to accept the naturalistic view of the world, I would have to see a lot more compelling evidence, for it does not seem to me to be particularly consistent nor hopeful as a worldview.  In fact, it currently seems to be in a place of denial.  I might even go so far as to concur facetiously with Alister McGrath in reference to Richard Dawkins and his book The God Delusion, “Might atheism be a delusion about God?” (The Dawkins Delusion?, p.65) (for more on Dawkins’ views click here and for subsequent responses to those views click here).

Naturalism claims to be based on science and rationality, but with no basis for order and reason in the first place, those who reject even the possibility of God end up sacrificing good science for an incoherent ideology.  I commend atheists for their critical thinking, but I would ask them to apply that thinking to their own presuppositions.  I hope I have shown a few of the reasons why it is not faith (Theism) versus reason (Atheism), but rather reasonable faith (Theism) versus unreasonable faith (Atheism).

For more on Christianity, click here.

Based on this Christian perspective I have also evaluated three other worldviews:

Islam, HinduismBuddhism


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by Matt Lefebvre


(This is Matt’s final article in his series on The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.  What Matt has done is profound. Dawkins is perhaps the most famous proponent of the New Atheism movement nowadays. His recent book The God Delusion has sold millions of copies and is already a best-seller. In it Dawkins viciously criticises religion and especially Christianity for being the source of practically every evil in the world.  If you are a Christian who wants to understand this current attack on Christianity, please take time to read Matt’s first article where he explains Dawkins’ arguments in some detail. You can find it here. In his second article called When The Sun Has Risen Part 1 Matt takes on the first 5 chapters of The God Delusion and wrestles with the ideas presented there. It is a good read for those who wish to uncover Dawkins’ questionable presuppositions and be able to answer some of the popular attacks on Christianity. What you have below is the final piece of Matt’s critique. I personally have found this article to be both enriching and helpful. I wish you would be as blessed as I have been by reading it. As always, your comments and questions are welcome! God bless you in your journey of reasonable faith! Dima)

What’s Wrong With Religion?

”We want a God without wrath who took man without sin into a kingdom without justice through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”  In this second part of responding to The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, I feel this quote from The Kingdom of God in America by Reinhold Niebuhr says a lot.  What I brought attention to in the first part was the fact that even atheism involves presuppositions and that where you start plays a very significant role in where you end up.  While I hold this true for arguments concerning the existence of God, it also plays a large role in considering the implications of such a belief, and conversely, the implications of not believing it.  The quote illustrates that there is an expectation upon God, which carries with it the notion that the one who has this expectation has determined his criteria to be true or satisfying, or both.  However, in regard to truth, is the criteria realistic, and in regard to satisfaction, what factors have been considered?  An atheist can say that God is possibly the most unpleasant character in all of fiction, as Dawkins has, first assuming some kind of criteria for deciding His unpleasantness and then labeling Him fictional.  From there, he moves on to it being a good thing that God is fictional, because of the unpleasantness, and that the world is a better place without Him.  So on the one hand, the evil in the world is taken as inexorable evidence that God does not exist, and on the other hand, it’s a good thing God does not exist, because otherwise we would not have it so good.  That is a very simplistic statement and I am not saying that all atheists effectively reduce the answer to that.  However, the big question is two-fold, namely “What are we basing our morality on, and that being the case, what are the results of that?”; and what I gather from the statements of certain atheists, including Dawkins, that is very difficult indeed.  So before anyone can pledge undying devotion to the Dawkins philosophy, I think it is best to examine his critique of the alternative, and while we are at it, his answers to his own questions.

In terms of morality and the question of God, Dawkins seems to get questions inquiring as to how a person can be good without God or even want to be.  In response to this, as I pointed out in my summary of The God Delusion, Dawkins feels that morality that is only strong in the presence of policing is not much of a morality, that the claim of taking morality from a holy book is not taken into practice, and that not doing what the holy book says is a good thing.  Now I agree with him on the first point, but from a Christian perspective, I do not agree with him on the second and third points.  I will not attempt to defend the holy books of other religions, one because I do see examples of violence being sanctioned unjustly and two because the brunt of Dawkins’ critique is against the Bible, which is the book I hold as the word of God.  However, I will concur with what Alister McGrath states on page 46 of The Dawkins Delusion?, “Yet is [religious violence] a necessary feature of religion?  Here, I must insist that we abandon the outmoded idea that all religions say more or less the same things.  They clearly do not.”  McGrath goes on to mention the fact that Jesus was totally opposed to violence and was even the object of violence, for He was crucified, in spite of the fact that He had done no harm to anyone.  Dawkins is not oblivious to this and certainly considers the teaching of Jesus to be an improvement on the Old Testament.  However, he does show himself quite oblivious to how the Old Testament is to be properly interpreted and to the meaning of Jesus’ statements about it.  Far from disagreeing with the Old Testament, Jesus proclaimed that He was in fact the fulfillment of it.  What He spoke against was not too dissimilar from Dawkins’ first point stated above.  The religious leaders at the time of Jesus were only concerned with outward obedience to the law and that to the tiniest detail, but missed the bigger picture.  Matthew 23:23 describes how they would tithe dill, mint, and cumin, but neglect justice, mercy, and faith.  They were concerned with how they looked and not with changing their hearts, or in other words, they were so concerned with all that they were not supposed to do, they did not think about what they were supposed to do.  They were those only moral in the presence of policing, but this was not the teaching of Jesus, nor even the teaching of the Old Testament to which they clung so tightly.  So while the first point may be true, it is not the biblical perspective, and thus, Dawkins’ notion that people like this represent mainstream Christianity will require further examination still, also illuminating the second and third points regarding whether Christians get their morality from the Bible and whether or not this is a good idea.

Since Dawkins has suggested that those who want to base their morality on the Bible have

either not read it or understood it, I think explaining how we are supposed to understand it will do a lot of good.  The Old and New Testaments are another way of saying the old and new covenants, which might bring to mind a question like “What is new about the new covenant?”  Reading Dawkins, it might sound like everything is new and that Jesus was very critical of the old covenant, when in fact, He was merely illuminating and bringing to completion all that the Old Testament spoke about.  Among other places, Matthew 5:17-20 describes this, in that Christ was the fulfillment of law and the prophets (the Old Testament), and interestingly enough, verse 20 says that the righteousness of those of the kingdom of heaven must exceed the righteousness of the religious leaders.  These are the same religious leaders who appeared righteous outwardly, but inwardly were unrighteous to the core, culminating in the eventual execution of Jesus on false charges.  So, if we have the Old Testament presented as something that is clearly not fulfilled until Jesus comes and actually ended up leading some to think they were righteous when they really were not, a further question might be “Why then the law?”  This is exactly what Paul answers after describing that the righteous man is righteous by faith and not the law in Galatians 3.  From verse 19 to verse 29 there is a description of the law being added because of our failures and being a tutor until Christ would come.  As the quote at the beginning said, there is a lack of understanding about why Christ is needed, not least in the mind of Dawkins.  The concepts of sin and justice are either treated as abstract or not even realities at all.  If we experience this lack of understanding now, it would certainly be the case for the nation of Israel.  Though the law was never meant to be God or become more important than God, it was meant to show people who God is: holy, just, loving, merciful, powerful, etc.  Dawkins gets it wrong by thinking that we base our morality on some holy book written by men who lived a few thousand years ago.  Our morality is based on who God is.  The Bible is what God has revealed to show us who He is, both the Old and New Testaments, though it does not include every situation that will ever come up.  The Bible is a guide to knowing God and morality comes out of being like God in the sense of emulating His character, such as goodness, love, and mercy.  However, even though God remains the same, He has revealed Himself in different ways.  The old covenant was a very physical covenant, involving sacrifice of animals, gathering for feasts, and maintaining outward purity.  In understanding these physical things, there was some basis for understanding the spiritual covenant that the new covenant was.  For example, in light of sacrificing a lamb at Passover, Jesus’ disciples could understand what His sacrifice meant, His death even coming during Passover.  So the old covenant prepared the way for Jesus, but even though He fulfilled all the law and the prophets, the Old Testament was not thrown out.  1 Corinthians 10:6-11 and Romans 15:4 describe how the Old Testament gives instruction, both to show us what not to do, but also to encourage us and give us hope.  So when Dawkins talks about the Old Testament as if Christians are supposed to be doing these things, he is not considering the proper way to interpret the Old Testament, nor the original situation into which these things were written.  Though the Old Testament helps Christians to appreciate Jesus more and to understand God more, it is not binding on us, and even the obscure things that Dawkins labels as just plain weird make a lot more sense when placed in their cultural, historical, and literary context.  Dawkins includes some examples from the law and then an example from Judges 11.  Since I have discussed some of how we view the Old Testament law, I will talk a little bit about Judges 11.  This is the story of Jephthah and how he makes a vow to sacrifice to the LORD the first thing that comes out of his gates if he gains victory.  The implication that Dawkins is giving is that if it is taken literally, Jephthah is a horrible role model, and if it is taken to teach a moral, it would be a bad moral.  Sadly, this seems to represent Dawkins’ cursory reading of the Bible, for if he had taken the whole book of Judges as one book, which it is, and thought about what the author’s intention was, it would save a lot of misunderstanding.  The book of Judges is full of bad role models, but that is the whole point of the book: the evil state people would drop to if they ignored God and went unrestrained to their own desires, not following the law.  The whole book is cycling downward and the book ends with the phrase “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”  In Dawkins’ New Testament analysis, he says that “Love your neighbour” really meant to love another Jew and that this was an “in-group” versus “out-group” development common to religions and possibly part of the reason it survives in a Darwinian framework.  Well, first of all, Jesus commended and commanded out-group affirmation, as Alister McGrath points out on page 54 of The Dawkins Delusion?, quoting Matthew 5:44 which describes loving your neighbour and your enemy, and even the concept of the neighbour was extended beyond the Jews in Luke 10 with the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Secondly, even in the Old Testament, in Deuteronomy 10:17-19, we have an excellent example of morality based on God’s character, “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.  He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.  Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”  Do Christians get morality from the Bible?  Yes, though in that view we are ultimately made in the image of God and have a sense of morality built into us, so the Bible then leads us closer to God.  Should we get our morality from the Bible?  Yes, but the Bible needs to be properly interpreted and God’s character to be considered for the things not specifically mentioned.

I think it might do Dawkins some good to read a book like Judges and see what happens when people just do what they want to without any moral guidance.  I bring it up, because while an atheist will often blame religion for atrocities in the world, he will think atheism to be different.  A common argument is that atheists can be good without God, but there are a few things that can be said about that.  First, I have already said that I believe God made us in His image and therefore, we have a personality like Him, being able to choose and make decisions.  Sadly, the consequence of being free in making decisions is that we will not always choose the right way, but that does not mean we have no concept of right and wrong.  The Bible says that some people suppress the truth and ignore the revelation of God’s divine nature, instead going after impurity rather than the glory of God (Romans 1:18-25).  Second, the atheist concept of autonomous or independent morality can be largely attributed to the borrowed values of their society with obvious exceptions.  Murder is a crime in most cultures, though not all, but atheists and Christian alike would generally agree that it is morally wrong for a human to murder another human.  Third, though atheists can be good without believing in God, the fact that they have no objective point of reference gives them every reason to be immoral, as Ravi Zacharias points out on page 32 of Can Man Live Without God.  He then goes on to say that “Any antitheist who lives a moral life merely lives better than his or her philosophy warrants.”  In thinking about that, it leads me to turn it around and say that I believe that those Christians who live an immoral life live drastically worse than the philosophy warrants.  By Dawkins’ own admission, though absolutism is not always derived from religion, it is usually hard to defend it apart from religious grounds.  What I gather from this is the implication that having absolutes is dangerous and that atheism is immune to this, because there is no objectivity.  To a certain extent I can agree, in that some absolutes are dangerous, but in the case of something like truth, I would want nothing less than absolute truth, or I would not consider it truth at all, but only opinion that works sometimes.  Where I fully disagree is in the fact that atheism is immune to absolutism, but I do agree that there is no objectivity, which ironically puts the atheist in a tight spot.

G.K. Chesterton illustrates this on page 41 of Orthodoxy, which I will quote at length.  “For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it. Thus he writes one book complaining that imperial oppression insults the purity of women, and then he writes another book in which he insults it himself. He curses the Sultan because Christian girls lose their virginity, and then curses Mrs. Grundy because they keep it. As a politician he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is a waste of time. A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. A man denounces marriage as a lie, and then denounces aristocratic profligates for treating it as a lie. He calls a flag a bauble, and then blames the oppressors of Poland or Ireland because they take away that bauble. The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite skeptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.”

It was inconsistency that I commented on in the first part of this article and I see it again here.  Dawkins calls God immoral, but on what basis?  He was not up to date with the changing moral Zeitgeist or spirit of the times?  He did not consider popular opinion?  In the case study on general opinion, Dawkins discovered that 90% of people, whether atheist or Christian, would make the same moral choice between saving 5 people by killing one.  However, when the spotlight is turned on God, He cannot take anyone’s life or give laws to punish sin by death penalty.  Since I mentioned how the Old Testament teaches us how to learn from other people’s mistakes, I can give an example.  Dawkins thinks that God should not be so jealous in the matter of the worship of other gods, which did in fact warrant the death penalty.  What is the big deal?  Well, for one, the worship of some of these gods involved child sacrifice, burning the child alive.  Or consider an analogy of a father doing everything for his child and then having the child go thank a chair or a coffee table.  It does not matter how fancy the furniture may be, it is still man-made and made for the purpose of gratified one’s own desires.  Dawkins may still not see a problem here, but I certainly do, and though we will never understand what it is like to be God, He gives us enough emotion in the Bible to give us the picture of the danger and futility of idol worship.  I cannot get my head around how an atheist can accuse God of anything or feel the need to, if His non-existence were to be presupposed.  What wrong has He committed hypothetically?  Who says so?  Dawkins does not feel that the responsibility is on him to say where morality comes from, but that it is just enough to say that it does not come from the Bible.  Well, considering that the moral argument is an argument for the existence of God and that the lack of morality is the cause of many instances of suffering charged flippantly to God’s account, I would say that the responsibility is very largely on the one who says God does not exist to tell me where morality comes from.  Ravi Zacharias captures well the inconsistency of the atheist claims on page 13 of Can Man Live Without God.  “I often remind them that the same type of authority referencing is given by irreligious persons who also provide no defense for why their source has served as canonical for them, be it this philosopher or that movie star.”  This was in response to the Bible being rejected immediately at school as irrelevant, because some Christians feel that all they need to say is that the Bible says so and that is that, but not everyone feels this way.  I like defending the authority of the Bible and I think Christians should look into the historicity of it, but my point is that there is a bias that goes largely unnoticed.  A professor can immediately reject the Bible as authoritative without qualification and present his view as the way people ought to think but as G.K. Chesterton said above “all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind” so where is his from and what makes it superior?  This bias is evident in many places in Dawkins’ book, but I want to focus on one in particular, centered on the evils of religion.

Though I have a copy of The God Delusion I want to present the following quotation of Dawkins from Alister McGrath on page 48 of The Dawkins Delusion?, because he adds italics for emphasis and then follows it up with a couple sentences.  “I do not believe there is an atheist in the world who would bulldoze Mecca – or Chartres, York Minster, or Notre Dame.’  Sadly, this noble sentiment is a statement about his own personal credulity, not the reality of things.  The history of the Soviet Union is replete with the burning and dynamiting of huge numbers of churches.  His pleading that atheism is innocent of the violence and oppression that he associates with religion is simply untenable, and suggests a significant blind spot.”  It is almost comical to see this going back and forth, saying that Stalin was an atheist, countered by Dawkins saying he did not do the atrocities because he was an atheist, and then this quote that places Dawkins in a bit of a corner.  As it has been put in other words, indeed, they did not use bulldozers…they used dynamite!  It is hard to take a man seriously, who distinguishes himself from fundamentalists who know they are right and that nothing will change their mind, when he is presented with a 20th century filled with atheist oppression, especially against religion, and he still holds to his belief, I repeat, belief that atheism is not conducive to violence.  He has his defense in it being political and not based on atheism, but I do not see how the eradication of religion can be anything but an atheist agenda.  Thinking implicationally how is it that these so-called violent religions are going to just vanish to make lives better?  Dawkins might not be directly encouraging the persecution of Christians, but that is how it has started in the past.  He may not present so many ideas, but maybe he could get some tips from Mao in China or Lenin and Stalin in Russia.  Wait, maybe that will not work, as Ravi Zacharias points out in the introduction to Can Man Live Without God.  “There is no clearer demonstration of this unrelenting hunger than the experiences of Russia and China as each has, in its own way, tried to exterminate the idea of God, only to realize that He rises up to outlive His pallbearers.”  So while Dawkins will not concede the evils of atheism in any form, his critique of religion encompasses not just fundamentalist religion, but even moderate religion, for he thinks it fosters fundamentalism, teaching children that unquestioning faith is a virtue and to this subject of children, he will return with a vengeance.  However, just because atrocities have been committed in the name of Christianity (and I do not deny that), I have to question what that has to do with orthodox Christian belief.  I think Alister McGrath says it best on page 49 of The Dawkins Delusion? when he states “The reality of the situation is that human beings are capable of both violence and moral excellence – and that both these may be provoked by world views, whether religious or otherwise.”  Would the end of religion be marked by the end of violence?  I think not.  Christianity, for one, is not blind to the fact that we need to be more like Christ.  In response to an article in The Times of London entitled What’s Wrong with the World?, G.K. Chesterton replied, “I am.  Yours truly, G.K. Chesterton.”  I feel that this is the key difference, in that we have, as followers of Christ, a standard to follow.  This is the standard of the One that told Peter to put his sword away when he wanted to fight (John 18:10-11) and said that His kingdom was not of this world, otherwise His servants would fight (John 18:36).  This is the One who said to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39) and not lord authority over anyone, but serve (Mark 10:42-45).  Of all the abuses of Christ’s name, none have been sanctioned by Him, but what about atheism?  What sets that on the right track if it deviates or better yet, what governs it in the first place?  Dawkins does not seem to think he has to answer his own questions, posed to religion, but atheism is not the default position, so if he wants more respect for it, he needs to present it as substantially more satisfying than anything I see him saying.  Moving on to my final point, I want to remind you of the opening quote, saying that people want a God without wrath to take man without sin into a kingdom without justice through Christ without a cross.

It is clear that Dawkins is oblivious to the effects of sin when he puts forward the idea that psychological abuse, in the form of labeling children with the religious beliefs of their parents, can be worse than physical abuse.  This presents a problem, not least because physical abuse is a criminal offense.  Now, in his own words, Dawkins seems to be disinclined to think that God should care what you do with your genitals and from his Darwinian standpoint, it makes sense, since he views sexual desire as nothing more than a by-product of the need to procreate for survival of a species.  However, this is not the biblical view, which he makes fun of by citing some of the different sexual prohibitions in Leviticus, saying who or what to not have sex with.  The reason for these prohibitions would be that people would do this kind of thing and it was both unhealthy and against nature.  It is easy for a naturalist to say that there is no morality, so do whatever you want, but it not so easy for him to provide answers for the ensuing problems.  Sex before marriage can lead to unwanted pregnancy or eventual unfaithfulness in marriage, which in either case can quite naturally lead to divorce, if the pregnant couple even end up getting married at all.  I do not know of many people who would say that relationships are not central to life, but in a society where anything goes, we show by our actions that we really do not care about them.  Kids grow up without both parents and their eventual commitments are not commitments at all, but simply self-serving gratification until it runs out.  In a satirical poem on the modern mind called Creed, Steve Turner had this to say, “We believe that everything is OK as long as you don’t hurt anyone, to the best of your definition of hurt, and to the best of your knowledge.  We believe in sex before, during, and after marriage.  We believe in the therapy of sin.  We believe that adultery is fun.  We believe sodomy is OK.  We believe that taboos are taboo.  We believe that everything’s getting better despite evidence to the contrary.  The evidence must be investigated and you can prove anything with evidence…We believe that man is essentially good.  It’s only his behavior that lets him down.”  Do no harm to anyone is a great motto, provided you have a solid definition of what you mean by harm, which we actually do in the Bible in Romans 13:8-10 among other places.  However, where does the atheist get his definition from?  Of course the atheist would very easily avoid the form of child abuse describe, for he has no religious beliefs to shove down a child’s throat.  However, what does he have?  He has evidence, reason, logic and empirical investigation.  Dawkins brings forward the noble suggestion that he would want to not tell his kids what to think, but how to think.  This sounds like a positive proposition, seemingly unbiased and objective.  However, how exactly would a naturalist teach his children to think?  “Matter is all there is and you cannot trust anything that cannot be proven scientifically”?  “Do not listen to these fairy tales called religions”?  I defy Dawkins to tell me that he would not openly ridicule religion in front of children as he does in his book.  I am sure he would not use the same language, but I believe the core sentiments would remain the same.  How about right and wrong?  “This is right and that is wrong, because that is acceptable in our society and that is not”?  Or maybe it would not even come up, but there would just be an understanding of things that are less favourable or more favourable.  Whatever the case, Dawkins is not an impartial observer to the actions he criticizes, but must employ morality to postulate anything in favour of one thing over another and he cannot do that arbitrarily, as if not swayed by any other factors.

In closing this article, I would just like to comment on how I started, giving it the title When The Sun Has Risen referring to seeing the world in the light of God, but also the time when the empty tomb was discovered after Jesus’ resurrection.  The death of Jesus on the cross is seen by Dawkins as both indecent and unnecessary, and as I have briefly explored, part of this has to do with him not appreciating the problem of sin, nor the fact that Jesus stands as an example for all.  However, this fact itself is not unanticipated by Scripture, as 1 Corinthians 1:18 says that the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those being saved it is the power of God.  The truth, not least demonstrated in The God Delusion is that there is much evil in the world, and somehow, many people say it is either God’s fault, or He cannot exist because evil does.  There is a lot that could be said about this, but I would like to take a couple quotes from Ravi Zacharias’ book Can Man Live Without God to sum it up.  On page 171, he says “The

Ravi Zacharias

cross stands as a mystery because it is foreign to everything we exalt self over principle, power over meekness, the quick fix over the long haul, cover up over confession, escapism over confrontation, comfort over sacrifice, feeling over commitment, legality over justice, the body over the spirit, anger over forgiveness, man over God.”  In questioning why God could not just forgive us if He wanted to, without having Himself tortured and executed, Dawkins shows a few of these qualities, but not least legality over justice.  Why did Jesus have to pay when He did not do anything wrong?  Well, no one else could.  He was the only sinless Person and in His death, all the earthly ambitions and worthless pursuits were put to death with Him.  There was nobody who could earn salvation, because everybody had their own problems.  Imagine the absurdity of one guy on death row offering to take the sentence of another so that other could go free.  You cannot pay for someone else if you have your own debt.  No, Christ was not killed needlessly, for God did not decide one day to be just and holy so this would have to happen, but He has always been and will always be just and holy.  Being just and holy, then, requires that those granted good have done good and those granted bad have done bad.  However, one look at the workings of a human being show that even the best of us have done badly to some extent.  So, what could be done was to give an offering in place of those who were not so good, to not only allow them to not be punished, but also to show them such expression of love as to procure their devotion to the One who lived a life unparalleled.  I will close with three things that Ravi Zacharias goes on to state on pages 172-174 that he sees in the cross, because there really is not only one thing to be seen in it.  I hope this article has been helpful for you to see even a little glimpse of the magnificent wonder it is to know God and search Him out, and to think about how unrealistic and unsatisfying objections to Christianity can be.  “First, I see in the cross the expression of my own heart, for it was the heart’s rebellion against God and the will’s disposition that vented its fury upon the One who was and is the gospel…Second, in the cross of Jesus Christ, I see the marvel of forgiveness as a starting point for rebuilding one’s own life…Finally, the cross sounds forth the message that God is not distant from pain and suffering; He has done something about it.”

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.

by Matt Lefebvre

Dawkins with his book

Richard Dawkins with The God Delusion

…is a phrase employed by Richard Dawkins in his book, The God Delusion. He borrows the idea from his appreciation of what feminism did in that area, raising his consciousness about the power of consciousness-raising, and applies it to natural selection, as can be seen on page 141 where he states, “Feminism shows us the power of consciousness-raising, and I want to borrow the technique for natural selection.” He goes on in the same paragraph to say that natural selection explains the whole of life and even raises consciousness concerning the power of science to explain organized complexity coming from simple beginnings without deliberate guidance. Dawkins’ case is to raise consciousness in a number of ways ranging from how people should not be ashamed of being atheists to how the world would be a better place without religion. These areas of discussion make it clear that Dawkins is out to liberate people from the jaws of religion through rationalism and naturalism, but has he, perhaps inadvertently, raised questions that would indeed raise consciousness, but on the side in favour of the existence of God?

This is certainly not Dawkins’ intent and in the preface to the paperback edition he wishes to absolutely distinguish himself from fundamentalists, as he gives this definition, “Fundamentalists know what they believe and they know that nothing will change their minds.” So in as much as Dawkins generalizes faith as blind trust in the absence of evidence, and even in the teeth of evidence, I would hope that he would applaud Christians engaging with the questions he raises in an honest attempt to seek the truth that ultimately shapes the lives we live. Considering that Dawkins does not seem to think there is any evidence for Christian belief, I can’t put words in his mouth, but if he remains consistent to his assertions of following the evidence wherever it leads, I cannot see how he would be opposed to rational arguments, even if they were in support of God’s existence.

However, in order to explore questions such as those raised by Dawkins, it is important to understand what those questions are. The skeptic surprisingly plays a vital role in confirming belief for those willing to engage with the questions, for if a belief is held, it is less common for someone to spend all their time thinking about possible difficulties than for that same person to enjoy the benefits of the positive attributes of the belief, which is likely what attracted them in the first place. Now for some who believe in God, a title like The God Delusion would not naturally put the book on the Christmas wish list, but contrary to popular understanding, knowledge of opposing views can be a first step in confirming your own view and even being able to coherently explain it to those who ask. Paul is a great example of someone who knew his audience to the point of being able to effectively communicate the truth of Christ to pagans, Greek philosophers, magicians, Jews, and whoever might cross his path. If we truly believe something to be true, we should not be afraid of questions asked of this belief, but rather be encouraged with what we do know and challenged to pursue the answers that remain elusive.

Considering that The God Delusion is over 400 pages, the best I will offer here is to simply try to summarize Dawkins’ ideas in the book. In my copy there is a preface to the paperback edition addressing various criticisms followed by a preface outlining motivations and intentions in the book which are fascinating in themselves, but since those ideas are expanded in the rest of the book, I will jump to the first chapter. The title, A Deeply Religious Non-Believer, is taken from a quote of Albert Einstein and Dawkins devotes space to explaining what Einstein meant. Other quotes from Einstein are employed to convey that the idea of a personal God was foreign to him and that the sense in which Einstein used the word religion was to refer to his awe at the structure of the world. From this, Dawkins says that his title, The God Delusion, is concerned only with supernatural gods and that the respect for the belief in God in this sense is undeserved. He proceeds to offer examples in which religious beliefs are protected from offense and even further, given special consideration and advantage over other ideas or positions that have no religious affiliation. A comparison is made particularly regarding the situation a few years ago involving cartoons of the prophet Muhammad published in Denmark which led to outrage and violence. The connection is then transferred to political cartoons, which are disrespectful to politicians, and yet lack rioting in opposition of such slander. Dawkins states that he is not in favour of offending just for the sake of offending, but also that he will not tip-toe around religion and not handle it as he would anything else.

With that in mind, he turns to the next chapter, The God Hypothesis, in which he looks first at polytheism and then monotheism, stating that they developed in that order. Beside the point, Dawkins sees little difference between the two anyway, or at least, he shows little interest. His arguments in the book go on to refer to God in a general sense, including both polytheistic and monotheistic beliefs in a broad sweep. To Dawkins, the question of which God he is talking about is irrelevant in a book arguing against belief in any supernatural being from the God of the Old Testament to any number of particular Hindu gods. Dawkins has mostly Christianity in mind, but he says it is only because he is most familiar with that one. Dawkins sees Judaism as originally a tribal cult and Christianity as a less monotheistic and less exclusive sect of that. Adding Islam as a later military upgrade, he mentions how Christianity was also spread by the sword. With little interest in discussing what he believes to be more like ethical systems or philosophies of life, like Buddhism, he will not be concerned with other religions. What is of interest to Dawkins, or at least of more interest, is the deism of people such as Voltaire, believing that there is a cosmic Creator, but that He has no personal qualities and is unconcerned with human affairs. These beliefs are extended in the discussion of the founding fathers of America, but Dawkins also contends that deists in earlier times would be atheists in ours. Especially in the case of Thomas Jefferson, whose various quotations include this statement on page 63, “To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings.” This goes with the argument that the greatest of the founding fathers may have been atheists, which is an argument that will be used by Dawkins in other contexts later. Moving on to agnosticism, which is a fancy way of saying you don’t know, he displays how empty he finds this position to be. He uses an illustration from Bertrand Russell in response to calls on the skeptic to disprove belief in God, with the inability to do so being a proof of God’s existence. He suggested that if he said there was a teapot between Earth and Mars orbiting the sun and that it was too small to be seen by the most powerful telescopes, it couldn’t be disproved, and if he said that this fact made it true, he would be thought to be talking nonsense. The point is then made that religion does the same thing with that which is affirmed in ancient books. Similar entities used by Dawkins include the flying spaghetti monster or fairies, but the point is the same: not being able to prove non-existence doesn’t prove that something exists. This leads into a discussion of the separation between science and religion in what they can answer, which Dawkins can’t understand, saying that science has all the answers and religion adds nothing. After discussing the great prayer experiment, in which there was a test of whether prayer would make a difference for sick people, results were negative on the side of prayer helping people. Dawkins concedes that some Christians spoke against it, but he thinks they would think differently if the results had been positive to prayer. Turning from his portrayal of Christianity as a teapot-type assertion, based on inability to disprove it, he moves to finish his chapter with a discussion of what he finds more plausible. On page 94, he suggests, “Suppose Bertrand Russell’s parable had concerned not a teapot in outer space but life in outer space” where the only rational stance for this is agnosticism. However, the concept of extra-terrestrial life is differentiated from gods because of the simplicity of what Dawkins calls Little Green Men, because as he says on page 98, “Entities that are complex enough to be intelligent are products of an evolutionary process.” The idea is that gods required more explanation than they provide and are rendered redundant in light of natural selection.

Chapter 3 deals with arguments for God’s existence and the first contestant is Thomas Aquinas. The first arguments dealt with are Aquinas’ assertions of invoking God to avoid an infinite regress, saying that everything has a cause, so for the universe to exist, there must be a first cause, called God. Dawkins thinks this unhelpful at best and misleading at worst. He states that some regresses reach a natural terminator and that it is not clear that God provides the terminator in the case of the universe. Moving on, humans can be both bad and good, so goodness cannot rest in humans and can only be compared with a maximum, so God is the standard and maximum. Dawkins doesn’t consider this an argument at all. Moving on to the teleological, things in the world appear to be designed and God would be that Designer. Dawkins refers to Charles Darwin’s criticism of the argument from design in William Paley’s Natural Theology and says that evolution by natural selection can seem like design. Another argument addressed is the argument from experience, which Dawkins places in brackets and proceeds to attribute to explanations from hallucinations to psychological problems to being honestly mistaken. Being honestly mistaken spreads into the next argument, the argument from Scripture, for to the argument that Jesus was “Lunatic, Liar or Lord” is added that he might have been honestly mistaken. Dawkins then implies that Scripture sounds good to those not used to asking questions of it and that there is a huge uncertainty surrounding the New Testament. Examples are given of contradictions in the Gospels and the suggestion is made that the four Gospels in the Bible were chosen arbitrarily and are of no more value than other Gospels not included in the Bible. Moving on to religious scientists, Dawkins takes Bertrand Russell’s position that most intellectuals disbelieve the Christian religion, but conceal the fact in public for fear of losing their incomes. In addition, Dawkins implies that those who are religious are only religious in the way Einstein was. Pascal’s Wager and the Bayesian arguments are dealt with last, but as with the rest of the chapter, they are not really treated with any credibility as arguments. At the end of the chapter, Dawkins transitions into what he describes as his central argument, to which he has already alluded several times, summarized by the question, “who made God?”.

In his central argument, titled Why There Almost Certainly Is No God, Dawkins obviously wants to be understood, so he offers his own summary at the end of the chapter. Since this article is only putting forth Dawkins ideas and in no way wanting to misquote him, I will simply use his points in the book.
One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect, over the centuries, has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises.
The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design itself. In the case of a man-made artefact such as a watch, the designer really was an intelligent engineer. It is tempting to apply the same logic to an eye or a wing, a spider or a person.
The temptation is a false one, because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer. The whole problem we started out with was the problem of explaining statistical improbability. It is obviously no solution to postulate something even more improbable. We need a “crane” not a “skyhook,” for only a crane can do the business of working up gradually and plausibly from simplicity to otherwise improbable complexity.
The most ingenious and powerful crane so far discovered is Darwinian evolution by natural selection. Darwin and his successors have shown how

Charles Darwin

living creatures, with their spectacular statistical improbability and appearance of design, have evolved by slow, gradual degrees from simple beginnings. We can now safely say that the illusion of design in living creatures is just that – an illusion.
We don’t yet have an equivalent crane for physics. Some kind of multiverse theory could in principle do for physics the same explanatory work as Darwinism does for biology. This kind of explanation is superficially less satisfying than the biological version of Darwinism, because it makes heavier demands on luck. But the anthropic principle entitles us to postulate far more luck than our limited human intuition is comfortable with.
We should not give up hope of a better crane arising in physics, something as powerful as Darwinism is for biology. But even in the absence of a strongly satisfying crane to match the biological one, the relatively weak cranes we have at present are, when abetted by the anthropic principle, self-evidently better than the self-defeating skyhook hypothesis of an intelligent designer.
The explanation of a crane versus a sky-hook is saying that believing in God is throwing a hope up into the sky, expecting God to be an explanation. What I would describe as his main argument against the existence of God is that, since the universe is complex and came about through evolution by natural selection and is in fact improbable, explaining this by God as the Creator would have to make God even more complex, more improbable, and unhelpful, because it would require an explanation for where God came from, leading to an infinite regress. Therefore, though maintaining that disproving God is not possible, Dawkins presents that this argument brings the question of God not existing to almost certainty, making it extremely improbable. Having established that, he turns in the next 4 chapters to where religion comes from, where morality comes from, and what the problem with religion is. The reason being that if God does not exist why do so many people believe in it, why are people good, and what’s the harm of having religion?
For Dawkins, everything must have a Darwinian explanation and religion is no exception. In natural selection, in order for something to be passed on to the next generation, it must have some benefit, but Dawkins quickly qualifies that “benefit” may be misleading, perhaps for fear that religion would be perceived beneficial. He suggests the idea of group selection and that the “benefit” would be either of the group or the idea itself, leading to it being passed on. In addition, Dawkins believes that the survival of religion could be due to a by-product of something else beneficial. Some benefit of safety in groups or listening to parents may be what has made religion survive as cultural norm or just what the parents said, or a combination of various benefit by-products. In a later chapter, Dawkins will return to the idea of parents teaching religion to children and his absolute distaste for it, but in what follows is a heading Tread Softly Because You Tread On My Memes. The title is an obvious allusion to the poetic line “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams” by Yeats, but what are memes? Dawkins provides some explanation. A more familiar term is the term gene, which is a replicator, and natural selection is reliant on replicators, pieces of information that make exact copies of themselves and sometimes inexact copies, otherwise known as mutations. Other examples given by Dawkins are computer viruses and the unfamiliar term meme. Now while genes affect the chances of survival in natural selection, Dawkins suggests that memes could do the same in the case of religion. He mentions the resistance to memes, in that no one knows what memes are made up of, whereas the exact physical nature of a gene is known, consisting of DNA. Another name for memes given by others is cultural variants, or in other words, some things are imitated and passed on to subsequent generations. Why? They are passed on because they work and seem to be successful. The suggestion is that religious memes survive because they go well with other memes that already exist and not necessarily because of intrinsic benefit. These religious memes contribute to survival because they continue in the same cultural norm that is already there in the meme pool. In conclusion of the chapter, Dawkins turns to cargo cults. He gives an example of white people going to islanders and being deified due to the magical nature of the advanced technology of the white men. One in particular was the cult of John Frum, which treated him as a messianic figure with a prophesied return. Accounts of him varied and there is doubt as to whether he ever existed or not, but in any case, the cult developed in new directions, looking to the second coming of John Frum and in other cases claiming to have seen him many times. The connection is then made that Christianity and other religions would have developed in similar ways, starting with a figure, being embellished, and the cults alive today are simply the ones that survived while others passed away. Development along the passage of time would again be due to memes or cultural variants. According to Dawkins, religion is explainable through natural selection and in the next chapter, he turns the same light on morality to explore the roots of that.

Chapter 6 begins with various letters Dawkins has received from nasty Christians that display less than moral attitudes in regard to him. It seems as though his intention is to introduce the idea that Christianity doesn’t produce morality, and to a lesser extent, God shouldn’t need to be defended so ferociously. A phrase that Dawkins put into the mouths of Christians and those sympathetic to Christianity or belief in general goes something like this, “How can one be good without God, or even want to be good?” and he attempts to answer that, true to form, in a Darwinian manner. Much of Dawkins’ attention will be turned to altruisms (or in other words on page 247 “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”) and misfiring, mistakes, or by-products, which he has mentioned in the last chapter to refer to religion. Altruisms essentially embody the benefits of being generous, in how kin is treated, in how repayment of favours is expected, in how generosity carries with it a good reputation, and in how generosity gives a partial benefit in giving a perceived authenticity. So what seems selfless may in fact have selfish benefits. As far as the misfiring goes, one example given is sexual desire. Though the benefit for survival would be procreation, the urge or desire is independent of the Darwinian pressure that drove it. Even in these modern times, sexual desire is present even when the possibility of procreation is absent, due to birth control or even infertility. Continuing on with a case study, Dawkins presents a moral dilemma in which a person must choose to make a decision to save five people at the cost of one being killed. He also presents 2 more dilemmas, but the results are the same in that at least 90% made the same moral decision. The inference was that if people get their morality from religion, atheists should differ from religious people in their moral decisions, but the research apparently showed no difference. At this, Dawkins closes the chapter with a question he has been asked by religious people, “If there is no God, why be good?” It is accompanied by a quote from Einstein, “If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.” The point is that morality that is only strong in the presence of policing is not much of a morality. Evidence is also presented concerning the United States that the states that tend to contain more conservative Christians, based on the party that they usually vote for being in power, have more crime, so they do not seem to have the expected increased societal health. The point then made at the end of this chapter refers to absolutism and how, though not always derived from religion, is usually hard to defend apart from religious grounds. Religious absolute morality is usually derived from a holy book, but Dawkins attempts to show in the next chapter this morality is not taken into practiced and that this is a good thing, as Dawkins thinks the religious people should agree upon reflection.

The title of chapter 7, “The “Good” Book and the changing moral Zeitgeist”, sums up, as a good title usually does, Dawkins’ view on morality. There are two main points presented in the chapter: that the good book is not as good as people say, hence the quotation marks in the title, and the Zeitgeist, spirit of the times, changes and morality with it. Beginning with the first point, he takes a few examples from the Old Testament of the Bible, Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19, as well as Jephthah in Judges 11. In Sodom, towns are wiped out because of a desire to “know”, or in other words have sex with, the angels that come to stay at Lot’s. Jephthah makes an oath to sacrifice to the LORD whatever comes out of his gate first and it turns out to be his daughter. There are other examples, interspersed with the idea that the book of Genesis is not to be taken literally anymore, used to illustrate that either the practices are immoral, the role models are not good ones, or that taking it to be non-literal serves no purpose for some kind of didactic fiction, either because the morals are often bad. The point is taken further to illustrate that the theist picks and chooses through the Bible by personal decision the way that the atheist does in choosing moral precepts without an absolute foundation. The claim goes as a quote from page 269 tells, “Those who wish to base their morality literally on the Bible have either not read it or not understood it” and the work of very liberal bishop, John Shelby Spong, is mentioned which is entitled The Sins of Scripture. Dawkins concedes that most religious leaders today do not command the things commanded in the Old Testament, but as he describes, that establishes his point, for the morals are not taken from the Bible and religion does not give a morality unavailable to atheists. From this, Dawkins does not feel it is his responsibility to explain where morality comes from, but to simply say that it does not come from the Bible and that it does depend on the changing moral Zeitgeist. Before doing this, however, there is a description of the New Testament that elevates the teaching of Jesus when compared with the Old Testament in terms of morality, but condemns the doctrine of atonement from sin, by both necessity and decency. According to Dawkins, on page 287 “If God wanted to forgive our sins, why not just forgive them, without having himself tortured and executed in payment – thereby, incidentally, condemning remote future generations of Jews to pogroms and persecution as “Christ-killers”. Not stopping there, he turns to “Love thy neighbor” and interprets it as originally meaning “Love another Jew” which comes to the topic of religious prejudice, including the horror of labeling children with the beliefs of their parents, to which Dawkins will return in chapter 9. Finishing up chapter 7, however, is a description through various examples of how what is acceptable changes over time. A few quotes demonstrate that what was progressive 150 years ago would be considered racist today. The noticeable evil of Hitler’s reign of terror is attributed to his 20th century technology and not to his noticeable difference from men like Caligula or Genghis Khan. A couple pages after the suggestion that Hitler would not have stood out in a time such as theirs, Dawkins returns in the close of the chapter to Hitler and throws Stalin in. He is often confronted with the argument that they were atheists and they did evil things. For Stalin, it is immediately conceded that he was an atheist, and Hitler’s beliefs are discussed at length, with evidence being present for both Christian and anti-Christian standpoints, but above all, the point is made that they did not do their evil because they were atheists, thus making the fact that they were, even if Hitler was, irrelevant. On the contrary, what leads into the next chapter is the fact that religious beliefs are quite the opposite; namely, a cause that makes people do much evil in its name.

In chapter 8, Dawkins deals with what is wrong with religion, not because he says he does not thrive on confrontation, but because of the inherent evil he sees in religion. His hostility, as he puts it, is limited to words and unlike those who would kill in the name of religion. As before, Dawkins vehemently distinguishes himself from fundamentalists. A way that he defines it can be found on page 319, “Fundamentalists know they are right because they have read the truth in a holy book and they know, in advance, that nothing will budge them from their belief.” He follows science, because it is based on evidence, and though he says it is easy to confuse fundamentalism with passion, for he may passionately defend something like evolution against those who do not see that the evidence is overwhelmingly strong. His hostility is then naturally against fundamentalist religion because it teaches people not to change their minds or see the exciting things available to be known. He sees an unavoidable conflict between science and religion, and believes science to be hindered by fundamentalist religion. He concedes that non-fundamentalist religion may not be doing that, but he also says that it fosters fundamentalism by teaching children that unquestioning faith is a virtue. Dawkins proceeds to look at examples crimes under religious law that he does not consider crimes, namely blasphemy and homosexuality, and thus nowhere near worthy of the punishment of death. His idea is that they are not hurting anybody and are only doing private things and having their own private thoughts, and should not be condemned as evil. Dawkins is especially disdainful toward those he calls the American Taliban, who want a theocracy in America and to do away with what was called evil. Moving on to abortion, Dawkins cannot understand why religion would speak out against killing an embryo, but have no problem taking adult life, in the examples described above. Euthanasia is a similar issue and both have “slippery slope” arguments against them, or in other words, “Where does the killing stop?” or if you are willing to kill babies in the womb, what about infanticide or if you kill invalids, what about your granny to get her money? Dawkins submits that the consequences of such actions may be better than some absolutism, as he portrays the irony of what some fundamentalists defend on the basis of religion. He gives the story of Reverend Paul Hill, who killed a doctor and his bodyguard with a shotgun to prevent the future deaths of innocent babies. Dawkins does recognize that not all religious people are like this, but he does conclude the chapter with a more lengthy discussion of how moderation in faith fosters fanaticism than what he briefly stated at the beginning of the chapter. On Christian example given is that of those who believe in the rapture, leading to their belief that Israel has a God-given claim to the land of Palestine or to the longing for nuclear war, seeing it as Armageddon and necessary before the return of Christ. Turning to a suicide bomb attack in London a few years ago, Dawkins describes the murderers on page 342 as “British citizens, cricket-loving, well-mannered, just the sort of young men whose company one might have enjoyed.” Dawkins concedes that patriotism and love for one’s own ethnic group may produce similar results in regard to devotion of life to extremism, but religion is described as especially potent, because it says death is not the end, a martyr’s heaven is glorious, and it discourages questioning by its very nature. It is this teaching, that faith itself is a virtue without requiring justification or argument, that Dawkins considers particularly evil, and especially in regard to teaching this to children, to which he turns in the next chapter.

Dawkins said earlier that he does not believe that any child should be labeled with the religious belief that their parents hold, and the title of chapter 9 is Childhood, abuse and the escape from religion. In this vein, he opens with an anecdote about a young boy of Jewish parents in the middle of the 19th century. This boy was dragged away from his parents under legal authority from the Inquisition, carried out by papal police. He was then taken to a house for the conversion of Jews and Muslims in Rome and brought up as a Roman Catholic. The reason he was taken was a policy of the Catholic church concerning children that had been baptized, for after becoming sick, he was baptized out of fear that he might die by his 14 year old Catholic caretaker. The idea was that, after learning years later that this young boy had officially become a Christian because of this baptism, he could not be left to be raised by Jewish parents. To Dawkins, this is an example of the religious mind and the evils that arise specifically because it is religious. He avoided such topics such as the horrors of the Crusades, because he recognizes evil people pop up everywhere and can be of every persuasion, but he has a serious problem with a mindset that think a sprinkling of water and an utterance of words can completely change a child’s life, all against parental consent, the child’s consent, and even the child’s happiness and well-being. He also has a serious problem with the view of popes and cardinals about the practice being protection and not anything terrible at all. Thirdly, he is also resistant to the notion that, as described on page 353, “religious people know, without evidence, that the faith of their birth is the one true faith, all others being aberrations or downright false.” Lastly, in addition to it being against his opinion that a child could change his religious beliefs in a moment not involving his consent, he is again against the labeling of that same child in the first place with any particular beliefs, having had insufficient time to have thought them out rationally. Turning to the physical and mental abuse, Dawkins addresses priestly abuse of children in terms of sexual abuse first, which is how it is perceived today, and even describes that he was in fact a victim of one of them, which he describes as embarrassing but otherwise harmless. As he develops the idea further, it becomes clear that his point is how psychological abuse can be worse than physical. A letter he received described how a woman brought up Catholic was sexually abused by a priest when she was seven and this made her feel “yucky”, but the memory of a friend who had died going to hell because she was a Protestant was one of cold, immeasurable fear. Speaking of which, the idea of hell itself is another example of Dawkins’ concept of child abuse, seeing the idea as an attempt to scare the children witless of what will happen after they die, if they had lived a life of sin. In terms of escaping from these sort of things, there is an idea that to become an atheist is to be ostracised by one’s family and friends. It is something that people sometimes have a gradual progression from not knowing whether they are allowed to not believe in God, to not believing while just not telling anyone, to finally confessing that they are atheists, to which the response is usually disillusionment. Moving on, examples are shared about how children are subjected to religious views, from the Amish in America to a school teaching creationism funded by Tony Blair in Britain, but the point is the same, namely that exclusive beliefs are being stuffed down young, impressionable throats. Returning to the concept of consciousness-raising, a Christmas news article described a school play of the nativity, with the Three Wise Men being played by Shadbreet (a Sikh), Musharaff (a Muslim) and Adele (a Christian), all 4 years old. Dawkins is disgusted by this and illustrates the point by saying that if they were labeled a Keynesian, a Monetarist, and a Marxist, all aged 4, people would protest. However, since it is religious, Dawkins suggests that it is perceived to be above criticism. Rounding off the chapter, Dawkins shows that he is not suggesting that the Bible be thrown out, because of its value in literature and how people can observe the traditions such as marriages and funerals without subscribing to supernatural beliefs, giving up belief in God without throwing away a treasured heritage.

The final chapter, titled A much needed gap?, contains a double meaning, because Dawkins has ridiculed how Christians used God as the “God of the gaps” to fill the holes in science and in the human longing that seemed to only be explained by a supernatural, transcendent Being. However, the title was applied to Dawkins book to the effect that it bridges what people were looking for, perhaps in terms of raising consciousness in an area that many were looking into already. On the other side, the suggestion is made that God clutters up a gap better filled with something else. Religion was thought to offer explanation, exhortation, consolation, and inspiration, but Dawkins either has or will argue for the lack of necessity for religion being that and for what he feels should take that place. Starting with explanation, he says that he explained his view of science superseding the need for God in chapter 4 and by exhortation he means moral instruction, which he feels to be covered in chapters 6 and 7. Consolation is what he will take on next in this chapter, introduced by a discussion of imaginary friends, referred to as Binker due to a poem by A.A. Milne. The question becomes such as this, that if God does not exist, what is going to be put in His place in terms of consolation and the need for God. Dawkins makes himself very clear that need for something does not make it true, and would indeed rather submit that people fell the need to believe in belief rather than believe in God, or in other words, remain favourable to the idea of people believing, regardless of the truth of the matter. Less concerned with whether belief has an effect on happiness, Dawkins would like to explore whether there is any good reason to feel depressed if people live without God. Consolation is defined as 1. Direct physical consolation and 2. Consolation by discovery of a previously unappreciated fact, or a previously undiscovered way of looking at existing facts. Comparing religion with science, imagining God’s arms could console in the same way as a real friend, but the suggestion is that scientific medicine can also offer comfort. Turning to number 2, religion can offer consolation is times of trouble, believing that God will work things out in the fullness of time and that ultimately, heaven awaits. Tied to this is Dawkins wondering why religious people are still afraid of death and why they oppose euthanasia for similar reasons. It is further suggested that those who are afraid of death tend to be religious, at least based on a few observations in different accounts. However, the point is that life can be as meaningful as people choose to make it and that science may provide this consolation and even inspiration as he moves on to explain. Accordingly to purely scientific perspectives, Dawkins shares how fortunate the lives that get lived are and how it should not be wasted, for that would not do justice to the trillions of unborn who were not so lucky, in that they did not live in the first place. Having only one life should make it all the more precious as well. Using the imagery of a burka, the Muslim women’s dress which includes a small eye slit in the most extreme style, Dawkins envisions science as an agent to open up understanding and widen the view from the ancestrally familiar. Dawkins describes the wonder of science in finding things out from the strange happenings of quantum mechanics to the molecular theories of how the same molecules that exist now in their present form existed in the times of the dinosaurs, though in a different sense. He describes how reality is a perceived concept, seeing a rock as solid because we cannot put our hand through it, but a whirlpool as not solid for similar reasons. People can relate to the world around us based on how we were so far made to understand it, but just like the concepts of people like Galileo did not seem to make sense because of the way people saw the world, these mysteries can be sought out through science. The thought is to possibly tear off the burka in exploration as the realm of possibility expands. After asking if this is the future, Dawkins last word in the book is “I am thrilled to be alive at time when humanity is pushing against the limits of understanding. Even better, we may eventually discover that there are no limits.”

So if it is raising consciousness that Dawkins has intended to do, I think he has been successful in that. He has testified to the fact that people have found release from religion through his book, but has he also stirred up those who did not previously think that the question of God’s existence was significant or even open to debate? I realize that this was a long article, but I truly hope you have read it to the end, for I think it is as relevant as it is thought-provoking. I began by saying that Paul knew his audience and communicated Christ to them, understanding the way they thought, and I think it best to leave you with a quote from him. Acts 17:22-31 “22So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28for
“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,

“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’
29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Is God a delusion? In my next article, I will have some things to say about that, and I sincerely hope that every follower of Jesus Christ would have something to say as well.

Click here to see part 1 in response to the first 5 chapters of The God Delusion.