Prof. H. Allen Orr is an evolutionary geneticist. He is University Professor and Shirley Cox Kearns Professor of Biology at the University of Rochester. He was one of only thirteen winners (alongside Stephen Jay Gould and John Maynard Smith) of the Darwin-Wallace medal presented every 50 years by the Linnean Society of London for “major advances in evolutionary biology“. He’s also an agnostic.
Surely he’s exactly the kind of guy you’d want reviewing your book if your name was Ricahrd Dawkins. Wrong. Writing in The New York Review of Books Orr is scathing about Richard Dawkins;
The God Delusion seems to me badly flawed. Though I once labelled Dawkins a professional atheist, I’m forced, after reading his new book, to conclude he’s actually more an amateur…his book makes a far from convincing case. The most disappointing feature of The God Delusion is Dawkin’s failure to engage religious thought in any serious way…One reason for the lack of extended argument in The God Delusion is clear: Dawkins doesn’t seem very good at it.
The criticism [of The God Delusion] is not primarily, it should be pointed out, from the pious, which would hardly be noteworthy, but from avowed atheists as well as scientists and philosophers writing in publications like The New Republic and The New York Review of Books, not known as cells in the cast God-fearing conspiracy.
On the back of Dawkins book it reads ‘The God Delusion – timely, impassioned and brilliantly argued‘. It would appear that a growing list of philosophers and scientists who share his skepticism when it comes to religion are not persuaded, they’re just a little embarrassed.
When the BBC decided it was time to broadcast another attack at the foundations of Christianity in the form of Bible’s buried secrets I wrote a letter to Mr Aaqil Ahmed the Commissioning Editor Religion and Head of Religion & Ethics at the BBC. My concern was not that Christianity should enjoy a protected or privileged status beyond contradiction but rather that Christianity should not be singled out for such critique when other religions, at their foundation, are free from critique. I received a reply from someone at BBC Audience Services which was far from satisfactory. Here is my second letter to Mr. Ahmed.
Dear Mr Ahmed
I am sorry that you were not able to reply personally to my letter sent regarding the concerns of many over the BBC’s ‘Bible’s Buried secrets’ broadcast on BBC2 earlier this year. Having now received a reply from a Mr Roberts of the BBC Audience Services it is important that I write again in light of the errors contained within his letter.
The programme ‘Bible’s Buried secrets’ was a deliberate attempt to challenge the credibility of the Christian holy book and sacred text. As the review in the Daily Telegraph highlighted;
The programme’s findings, said Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou, would “rock the foundation” of Christianity and Judaism. She must have been very keen to press home this point, because she used the phrase again and again, although, perhaps worried we were tiring of it, she did once switch to “undermine the basis”
Michael Deacon goes on;
If you hadn’t already guessed from its subtitle, “Did God Have a Wife?”, you could tell this programme was trying hard to shock the moment you heard the music its producers had chosen to play in the background.
I very much want to make clear that I believe that programmes that question the origins and basis of religious traditions have a place in public broadcasting. I am in no way seeking a privileged place for religious belief and am certainly not seeking to exempt Christianity from critique on the grounds of personal offence. That the series was frustrating in both the manner in which the claims were sensationalised and perhaps more importantly in the way the views of a few on the fringe of academia were singled out for such a high profile is something perhaps I simply have to accept. Sensationalist claims boost viewing figures after all.
My original complaint, as Mr Roberts summarises accurately, is ‘that you felt this programme was biased against Christianity, and feel there should be other similar programmes exploring other religious beliefs’.
Given that he clearly understands my concerns it is Mr Roberts’ defence of the BBC’s position that cause great concern and warrants the need for a second letter. As a public service broadcaster the BBC must not only value, but be seen to value equality and fairness in its broadcasting and Christians ask for nothing more and nothing less. All we seek is a level playing field when it comes to world religions. Mr Roberts offers little if no assurance that the BBC is seeking to provide this.
He makes three responses to my letter.
Firstly he writes, ‘The BBC delivers a range of content that reflects, celebrates and debates Christianity across TV and radio’. I’m sure it does and that is not at all at issue so let us move on.
Secondly, he argues ‘It’s simply not correct to say there are no programmes on Islam or that the BBC would not address issues about Islam’. Again this is not in dispute and not a matter I raise in my letter. That the BBC has made programmes critical of radical interpretations of the Quran is neither here nor there.
The key issue, and my chief complaint, does receive the briefest of answers in Mr Roberts’ third point and it is here that the bias at the BBC seems to surface again.
In response to my complaint ‘why does the BBC attack the foundations of Christianity in programmes that rubbish the Bible in a way that it would never do to Islam in programmes that question the very authenticity of the Qur’an’ his reply makes a strange defence.
He argues that Channel 4 have already made that programme! It’s strange because firstly it’s not true and secondly it’s strange because Channel 4 is not the BBC!
In my earlier correspondence I pointed out various academic studies that if given the same sensationalising treatment as the ‘Bible’s buried secrets’ received would also ‘rock the foundation’ of Islam. Mr Roberts’ seems to think that these studies were reflected in a Channel 4 programme which he says ‘question(s) the conventional reading of the authenticity of the Qur’an’.
As Commissioning Editor for Religion and Head of Multicultural Programming at Channel 4 when this programme was made no doubt you share my concerns that Mr Roberts should have made, no doubt mistakenly, misleading claims as to the nature and content of the programme.
The Channel 4 documentary, entitled The Quran and broadcast in July 2008, categorically does not do what your correspondent maintains it does. It emphatically does not address the issue of the authenticity of the Qur’an. As you know its concern was to focus on the issues surrounding the diverse interpretations of the book not the book itself. At no point did the programme criticise the Qur’an or mention any academic work that suggests the Qur’an is based on pre-Islamic texts. In other words, the programme at no point suggests in any way at all that the Qur’an might be merely a human book full of errors in the way that the BBC’s ‘Bible’s Buried Secrets’ does of the Bible.
So when Mr Roberts wrote in reply to my letter ‘This programme was only transmitted two years ago and no new academic work exists to warrant another film at present’ he is either ignorant of the Channel 4 programme or ignorant of the academic work or both.
The reality is, as I’m sure the forthcoming BBC series on the life of the prophet Mohammed will demonstrate, that Islam enjoys a privileged status at the BBC in being protected from criticism at its foundation. The BBC has never broadcast a programme questioning the behaviour of the prophet Mohammed nor critiquing the origins of the Qur’an. No such privilege is given to Christianity. In fact it’s quite the reverse. The corporation is quite ready to spend licence payers money on mocking and ridiculing Christianity, whether in light entertainment programmes such as Vicar of Dibley, and it’s indefensible airing of Jerry Springer the Opera or in sensationalist programmes undermining the credibility of the Bible but there is no level playing field and I suspect we all know why.
Should the BBC be free to mock Christianity? Yes. Should the BBC provoke our thinking and challenge our assumptions? In the name of education, absolutely. But should it single out Christianity for attack whilst protecting Islam? This is the big question and on this matter I look forward to receiving your answer.
William Lane Craig has two doctoral degrees, has published over 30 books, debated the world’s leading atheists including Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, but STILL Richard Dawkins will not debate him!
With thanks to Tony Watkins for this.
When the apostle Peter wrote a letter to Christians who found themsevles increasingly on the margins of society, mocked and even insulted here was his advice;
Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
In our increasingly secular society how do we respond to the growing numbers of people who are not just sceptical about Christianity but are downright hostile? How do we answer militant atheists who think no good thing comes from believing in God and that the only good religion is a dead one?
Well we should answer their arguments and there are good books worth reading and giving away on why Dawkins and Hitchens et al. are wrong. But maybe we have one knock-down apologetic argument that atheism cannot answer – the power of a transformed life.
The great defender of the Christian faith, Francis Schaeffer, said ‘the greatest apologetic is love’.
The one thing that atheism cannot explain or understand or rubbish is the extraordinary power of a transformed life.
So when the Guardian this week ran a story on the remarkable work of a church who decided to pour out their lives in sacrificial service of drug-addicts and prostitutes it was a great reminder that maybe Peter was right. When the pastor of a bible-teaching, Jesus-preaching church also says ‘”The real issues are how we should express and find love for the outcasts and the downtrodden” the world even as it accuses Christians of doing wrong still sees our good deeds and acknowledges something remarkable is going on.
John Harris author of the Guardian piece writes;
A question soon pops into my head. How does a militant secularist weigh up the choice between a cleaned-up believer and an ungodly crack addict? Back at my hotel I search the atheistic postings on the original Comment is free thread for even the hint of an answer, but I can’t find one anywhere.
The last Roman Emperor who viciously persecuted the church was Julian. He hated Christians with a vengence but even he conceded;
[Christianity] has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers, and through their care for the burial of the dead. It is a scandal there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.
‘There has never been a really convincing philosophical argument for the non-existence of God’
I don’t agree with all of it’s conclusions but an interesting read not least for recognising the failure of new atheism to defend their cause with any great ability.
In an interview in the Guardian yesterday Stephen Hawking confirmed his belief that ‘There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark‘
Hawking also argues that ‘Science predicts that many different kinds of universe will be spontaneously created out of nothing‘ a claim that is widely disputed within the scientific community.
For a Christian response to the idea of an uncaused universe see William Lane Craig’s Cosmological argument
An Oxford University Philosopher and atheist has written an open letter suggesting that Richard Dawkins might be running scared for refusing to debate Dr. William Lane Craig, arguably the greatest Christian apologist and debater of our time.
Dawkins has consistently refused to debate Craig even though Craig has debated just about every atheist debater out there. Why when Dawkins will debate lesser men without any hesitation does he continue to avoid Craig? It certainly looks as if he is trying to dodge a debate!
In his letter Dr Daniel Came from Worcester College writes,
“The absence of a debate with the foremost apologist for Christian theism is a glaring omission on your CV and is of course apt to be interpreted as cowardice on your part.
“I notice that, by contrast, you are happy to discuss theological matters with television and radio presenters and other intellectual heavyweights like Pastor Ted Haggard of the National Association of Evangelicals and Pastor Keenan Roberts of the Colorado Hell House.”
For the full story see the Telegraph report.
For a great expose on Dawkins His Grace has some very interesting insights.
Here’s a great article from the New Statesman that introduces us to 30 leading thinkers including eminent scientists and philosophers and asks for their reasons for faith in God.
In a follow-up article the author Andrew Zak Williams assesses their reasons for belief.
1. Know and interact with the three best arguments against the Christian position
2. Pray hard
1. Refer to the Bible, maybe use a passage from the Bible. Demonstrate that it is your authority. Show that you are not speaking on your own behalf but seeking to represent Christ.
2. Take people to the cross
3. Don’t try and say too much and introduce too many ideas. What you have to leave out have ready to introduce, in condensed form, in the question-time
4. Work hard on the introduction – engaging and demonstrating an ability to resonate with the ‘problem’ being addressed. Show them that you ‘feel’ the problem.
5. If there is an ‘authority’ on an issue try to cite him (as long as you understand him). e.g. Dawkins on atheism, Singer on ethics,
6. Don’t cite Christian authorities by name who would be unknown to a non-Christian audience e.g. Stott, Keller, Schaeffer…
7. Don’t be defensive about Biblical truth – our role is not to defend God but rather to show the truthfulness and reasonableness of what God says.
8. Never apologise for what the Bible says but do admit to personal struggle in accepting what the Bible says e.g. gay friends,….
9. Always admit what we do not know because the Bible does not tell us
10. Always admit what you don’t know because you haven’t thought about it.
11. Trust the Lord by speaking clearly of what we do know even if you think it will push people away from the gospel.
12. Expect to be misunderstood and be patient
13. Have in mind a variety of listener
1. Show why this is a necessary and important issue for them to resolve for themselves not just an issue to see Christians squirm over.
2. Make clear the limitations a 20-25 minute talk place on addressing the issue at hand. Tell them what you do hope to achieve in a single talk.
3. Watch out for the crunch of gears between ‘prosecution’ and ‘invitation’ – we don’t want an apologetic talk with 2 ways to live bolted on the end
4. Show them that you love them, however you can.
5. Help your hearer to see that they need the gospel to be true if they are to make sense of life. Show them from practical examples why that is so.
6. Don’t be aggressive, antagonistic or hostile to your audience even if they are all of those things to you.
7. Don’t attack the man eg insult Richard Dawkins but do show the folly of his thinking
8. Don’t give them reason to dislike you – only the gospel
9. Invitation needs to be clear – exactly what do you want them to do in response and why.
We must learn the language of our audience. And let me say at the outset that it is no use laying down a priori what the ‘plain man’ does or does not understand. You have to find out by experience…You must translate every bit of your theology into the vernacular. This is very troublesome…but it is essential. It is also of the greatest service to your own thought. I have come to the conclusion that if you cannot translate your own thoughts into uneducated language, then your thoughts are confused. Power to translate is the test of having really understood your own meaning.
C.S. Lewis – God in the Dock
1. Listen well to the question: thank them for it (no matter how stupid)
2. Take your time in answering a question, if necessary ask for clarification
3. Be prepared to offer a challenge back to the questioner. E.g. Our answer may leave us with unanswered questions but what alternative explanation are they putting forward
4. Don’t enter into a to-and-fro with a single questioner but invite them to talk with you on your own afterwards.
5. Have a clear finish time and stick to it, but stay around as long as you can afterwards
6. Always have literature available and plenty of it. Explain which would be helpful for who, Try not to have too many different books that would overwhelm or confuse.
7. Don’t let the questions set an entirely new agenda – try and draw Q&A back to the topic under consideration as set out in the title.
8. Remind people of what you said, briefly, in the talk as you answer questions.
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