Browsing articles in "atheism"
Feb 19, 2011
neil

Is Atheism to blame?

As a result of my post yesterday, I received a number of mostly friendly tweets from ‘new atheists’ questioning whether Christianity really was the force for good in African society that the atheist Matthew Parris argued it was. Part of our debate centred on a fact I took as a given that soon became apparent was not shared by those who opposed me.  It was this: atheism, as a worldview, has stood behind the greatest atrocities and evil committed in the history of the world.

The new atheists I engaged with were quick to blame religion for all sorts of evil but could not see why I wanted to respond in kind when it came to atheism.  The response I met with was ‘no-one kills in the name of atheism’.

How does the argument work for the new atheist? It seems to be something like this, only allow a cause to be responsible for an act of evil where the action can be directly and immediately attributed to the cause.  Then and only then can the cause be blamed. So for example a terrorist who cries ‘God is great!’ as they detonate the explosive vest they are wearing clearly shows that religion is not great! But, so the argument goes, atheism does not stand behind acts of evil in that direct way so atheism is not a cause of evil in the world like religion.

But my new atheist friends have missed something in this attempt to exculpate atheism and it is this; ideologies may be rightly held to account where acts of evil are indirectly attributable to an ideology and especially where that belief has been consciously, consistently and even perhaps deliberately adopted by a regime or group or individual to justify acts of evil.

Now clearly it’s not enough to say because person A holds a belief B and that therefore their action C must have been caused by B. So it is conceivable that someone might claim to be a Christian and  commit murder and for someone to thereby try and tie the two together.  But of course it won’t work because Christianity calls murder a sin, Jesus called on his followers to be prepared to suffer injustice, to turn the other cheek, to NOT retaliate or seek revenge. Those who murder are no friends of God and certainly no followers of Jesus, they are guilty of identity theft! Rather they can expect nothing from him but condemnation for their sin. It has failed the consistency test.

But it is beyond dispute that atheism was a consciously adopted ideology that led to a number of governments to commit acts of evil that far outweigh any charge that can be leveled against religion (although please note I am not seeking to clear ALL religion of some sort of foundation for acts of evil merely demonstrate that atheism cannot be cleared of such a charge itself.)

Vickor Frankl was a survivor of Auschwitz. He wrote this:

If we present man with a concept of man which is not true, we may well corrupt him. When we present him as an automaton of reflexes, as a mind machine, as a bundle of instincts, as a pawn of drive and reactions, as a mere product of heredity and environment, we feed the nihilism to which modern man is, in any case, prone. I became acquainted with the last stage of corruption in my second concentration camp, Auschwitz. The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment – or, as the Nazis liked to say, “of blood and soil.” I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers.

So it seems to many that there exists an indirect but evident link between the nihilism that atheism tolerates (notice atheism does not in and of itself promote nihilism it merely tolerates it as entirely consistent with atheism) and the attrocities of totalitarian regimes of the 20th century.  This statement in no-way  suggests that all atheists are nihilists or that atheism must necessarily lead to evil merely that it allows it by creating an intellectual foundation through the sweeping away of categories of good and evil, right and wrong in exactly the way men such as Richard Dawkins and Kai Nielson as atheists recognise.

So Dawkins writes:

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication some people are going to get hurt other people are going to get lucky and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it nor any justice.  The universe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind pitiless existence.  DNA neither knows nor cares DNA just is and we dance to its music.

The philosopher Kai Nielson writes:

We have not been able to show that reason requires the moral point of view or that really rational beings unhoodwinked by myth or ideology need not be individual egoists or classical amoralists.  Reason does not decide here.  The picture I have painted for you is not a pleasant one.  Reflection on it depresses me.  Pure practical reason even with a good knowledge of the facts will not take you to morality.

And such ideology was used by those tyrants of evil to justify their actions as Frankl witnessed.  Hitler himself said:

I free Germany from the stupid and degrading fallacies of conscience and morality…We will train young people before whom the world will tremble. I want young people capable of violence – imperious, relentless and cruel.

So is atheism to blame?

In one sense the answer of course is ‘no’. Atheism does not tell you to murder your own people by the millions as Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and Kim Jong-Il have done but it’s tenets have been put to a perfectly consistent and logic use when used by regimes to  justify mass-murder as Frankl not only observed but was forced to endure.  A godless universe is one of ‘blind pitiless indifference’ one should not be surprised to find atheists using that reality to justify ‘blind pitiless indifference’ in their treatment of their fellow men.

Contrast that with Christianity.  No one can with any consistency follow the teaching and example of Jesus and commit acts of evil.

Feb 18, 2011
neil

As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God

Matthew Parris is a former MP and now journalist for The Times. In an article written for the newspaper on the 27th December 2008 he wrote:

Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it’s Malawi….It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I’ve been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I’ve been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.

Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do.  Education and training alone will not do.  In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

Parris is a journalist known for his refreshing honesty and this piece is a fine example. What’s not clear to me is, as an atheist, what Parris attributes the profound change in people’s hearts that he observes to and what therefore he means when he says ‘the rebirth is real.’  My prayer is that he and many others will not only recognise the life-change that alone the gospel can bring but see it for what it really is – the work of a gracious God.  My hope is that he will see and come to share the sure and certain knowledge that at the heart of this universe is a God of love who in his Son has loved us and through his son offers us life and peace, joy and hope and that this message is not just the need of Africa but the need of all nations.  That the gospel is the power of God to not only forgive sins but to transform people, societies and the world.

Feb 1, 2011
neil

Maybe this is why Dawkins won’t debate William Craig

I posted a few weeks ago an interview featuring the man Richard Dawkins has refused to debate: William Lane Craig. Thanks to Tony Watkins for pointing me in the direction of this youtube post that shows Craig in action against the other self-publicist Christopher Hitchens. Dr. Craig graciously but masterfully exposes the holes in Christopher Hitchens logic as well as his views.  I can’t see Dawkins wanting to put himself through that same experience anytime soon.

And for any seeking the statement where Dawkins gives his reasons for refusing to debate Craig you can see it here.

Jan 29, 2011
neil

What I’d like to say to Ricky Gervais about God

Piers Morgan has taken over from Larry King on CNN and in his first week conducted an hour long interview with Ricky Gervais just a day or two after he ruffled feathers hosting the Golden Globe Awards show.

The interview is well worth watching not least for Ricky’s take on God.  As Ricky brought the 68th Golden Globes Award show to an end he said “Thank you to God for making me an atheist,” something Piers was keen to follow up in his interview.

I guess we’ve all heard comments like this when we’ve talked about matters of faith over a pint. I thought I might make a few observations on some of Ricky’s arguments for atheism to help us to meet such comments as we come across them in our conversations.

So let’s look at three statements that Ricky makes in the interview:

1.  ‘Unlike religious people I look at all religions equally’

Because it’s a throw away line in an interview it’s not altogether apparent what Ricky meant by this but what seems clear is that as far as he is concerned atheism is tolerant where religion is not and one assumes by virtue of that fact a better worldview to hold.

But take a closer look and I’m not too sure how a position that says ‘all religion is wrong’ is more tolerant than the position put forward by Christians. It seems to me that both the atheist and the Christian are making exactly the same claim to exclusive truth.  Christianity says there is only one truth and that is found in Christ.  Atheism says tehre is only one truth and that is found in rejecting all religion as wrong. Is one position more tolerent than the other? I don’t see how.

2. ‘Christians haven’t got a monopoly on good’

I’m not aware of Christians ever claiming that they did! The crucial point I would wish to make to Ricky over our pint is not that its only Christians who can choose to be good but it is Christianity and not atheism that makes a compelling case for why we must be good.

The difference I’d seek to highlight is that the Christian has a reason – more than that an obligation – to be good because of the demands of God. The atheist may choose to be good but can equally well choose to be bad. In fact good and bad are just arbitrary labels – badges of convenience – without any reference point to ground them.

The atheist philosopher Kai Nielson once said:

We have not been able to show that reason requires the moral point of view or that really rational beings unhoodwinked by myth or ideology need not be individual egoists or classical amoralists.  Reason does not decide here.  The picture I have painted for you is not a pleasant one.  Reflection on it depresses me.  Pure practical reason even with a good knowledge of the facts will not take you to morality.

So I think I would seek to persuade Ricky that atheism frees people to be as bad as they wish. Whereas Christianity has a monopoly over reasons to be good rather than being bad.

3) ‘Of course I believe in love…of course I believe in the beauty of nature’

Ricky is pretty put out by the thought that Christians claim that only they can love and once again I’d be seeking to help him understand that, as with the argument for goodness, Christians are not suggesting that only they can love or live a moral life.

The big issue though is who decides what love is and is there any rational foundation for love if we beleive that the universe is ultimately a dark and loveless place.

Richad Dawkins acknowleges;

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication some people are going to get hurt other people are going to get lucky and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it nor any justice.  The universe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind pitiless existence.  DNA neither knows nor cares DNA just is and we dance to its music.

Conclusion

But more than anything else the purpose of apologetics is not winning arguments but seeking to win hearts and minds for Christ. More than anything I’d want to help Ricky to see that his very concern for goodness, beauty, love (and no doubt truth?) are pointers away from atheism (which explains them all away) and pointers to the God who is good and beautiful, love and truth.

Jan 27, 2011
neil

If evolution is so obviously wrong then why….

If you’re anything like me you probably think that the history of the church in the last 150 years or so has been one in which Christians have made a strong and concerted case against Darwin’s theory of evolution only to find that in recent years a number of Christians have perhaps lost their nerve and jumped ship – much to the dismay and confusion of the general Christian public.

What I’m discovering is that church history tells quite a different story. As we will see below the picture is one in which a number of intelligent, in fact brilliant, godly, prominent Christian leaders from the middle to late 19th century have found a place for evolution within a Christian worldview.

Why does any of this matter?

Well quite simply because if it can be shown that there have always been evangelicals able to accommodate evolutionary ideas then why should we be surprised or even shocked to find the same today?

And if it is the case that significant voices in the church have from Darwin’s day through to the present been able to reconcile evolution with the Bible why do some insist that it is THE issue on which to test the orthodoxy of Christian faith?

And importantly what arguments have been presented in the past 150 years by these believers and have they remained consistent or changed over time?

In an earlier post we briefly considered three leading scientists who believe exactly that and three leading theologians (Stott, Keller, and Packer).

Today I want to take a look at three leading evangelical thinkers of the late 19th and early 20th century who defended the idea of evolution as compatible with the Bible.  We start with the most important and influential theologian of the period.

B.B. Warfield (1851-1921)

Warfield was professor of theology at Princeton Seminary from 1887 to 1921. So great is his reputation that JI Packer lists him along with John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards and Abraham Kuyper, as the fourth member of ‘Reformed theology’s Fabulous Four’.

In a journal article Mark Noll and David N. Livingstone begin:

One of the best-kept secrets in American intellectual history is that B.B. Warfield, the foremost modern defenders of the theologically conservative doctrine of the inerrancy of the Bible, was also an evolutionist.

Early on in his career Warfield decribed himself as a ‘darwinian of the purest water’ and in 1888 in his Lectures on Anthropology at Princeton University he wrote;

The upshot of the whole matter is that there is no necessary antagonism of Christianity to evolution, provided that we do not hold to too extreme a form of evolution. To adopt any form that does not permit God freely to work apart from law & which does not allow miraculous intervention (in the giving of the soul, in creating Eve etc.) will entail a great reconstruction of Christian doctrine, and a very lowering of the detailed authority of the Bible. But if we condition the theory by allowing the constant oversight of God in the whole process, and his occasional supernatural interference for the production of new beginnings by an actual outpur of creative force, producing something new we may hold to the modified theory of evolution and be Christians in the ordinary orthodox sense.

In a new book The Theology of BB Warfield Fred Zaspel and Sinclair Ferguson question whether it is a fair conclusion to draw that Warfield was a dyed-in-the-wool evolutionist. Zaspel argues against that view in a recent themelios article but he does concede that David N. Livingstone is surely right when he comments:

It is clear that Warfield believed he was perpetuating orthodox Calvinism even while conceding the possibility of a human evolutionary history.

James McCosh (1811-1894)

McCosh was a Scot who was appointed Professor of Logic and Metaphysics at Queen’s College, Belfast (now Queen’s University Belfast)before becoming President of Princeton University between 1866-1888.  He was a mentor of BB Warfield’s and was the first leading evangelical thinker to endorse an evangelical Christianity compatible with evolution.

Writing in 1871 he comments:

There is proof of Plan in the Organic Unity and Growth of the World. As there is evidence of purpose, not only in every organ of the plant, but in the whole plant…so there are proofs of design, not merely in the individual plant and individual animal, but in the whole structure of the Cosmos and in the manner in which it makes progress from age to age. The persistence of force may be one of the elements conspiring to this end; the law of Natural Selection may be another; or it may be a modification of the same.

For our third example we turn to the Baptist tradition where we too find voices in support of evolution.

AH Strong (1836-1921)

Strong was president of Rochester Theological Seminary  between 1872 and 1912 where he served as professor of systematic theology. In discussing the possibility of evolution as God’s means of creation he writes;

It has to do with the how not the why of the phenomena, and therefore is not inconsistent with design, but rather is a new and higher illustration of design.

In his Systematic Theology Strong writes:

Since we believe in a dynamic universe, of which the personal and living God is the inner source of energy, evolution is but the basis, foundation and background of Christianity, the silent and regular working of him who, in the fullness of time, utters his voice in Christ and the cross.

We’ve taken just three examples from the time of Darwin and haven’t even considered the leading scientists of the day who were firm believers in the Bible whilst adopting the new scientific views such as Asa Gray, George Frederick Wright and james Dwight Dana.

What difference does any of this make?

If men such as Wayne Grudem insist that ‘Christians cannot accept modern evolutionary theory without also compromising essential teachings of the Bible‘ then one has to wonder why (as we saw in the previous post)

1) Leading theologians such as JI Packer, John Stott and Tim Keller disagree

2) Leading scientists such as Francis Collins, Denis Alexander and R. Berry come to a different conclusion

And now we add a third historical argument

3) why eminent theologians living at the time of Darwin, and having to deal with the fall-out of his ideas, were willing to accept some form of evolutionary theory as compatible with evangelical belief.

None of this makes evolution true and I for one find a whole host of questions for which I have yet to find a satisfactory answer but as David N. Livingstone concludes:

There was no clear consensus about what constituted the orthodox Calvinist line. Some such as McCosh, Warfield and Strong, were willing supporters; others such as A.A. Hodge, Patton, and Shedd, were more tentative; still others, including Dabney and Charles Hodge, remained unconvinced if not hostile…Nevertheless, a general picture clearly emerges: American evangelicals in the Reformed mold absorbed the Darwinian shock waves fairly easily.

Jan 22, 2011
neil

More reasons to believe than at any point in history

You would think – and the man in the pub almost certainly thinks – that the further in time we are away from the life and times of Jesus the less we can know about him with any degree of certainty.  If true that would be reason enough not to give Christianity a second look. But the facts work in exactly the opposite direction. The more time that has elapsed the more evidence we discover, for example, that the gospels that record the life and death and resurrection of Jesus are the gospels of antiquity and are a reliable record with regards the events that took place.  And yet over that same time there remains an unbroken silence with regards any other 1st century documents that work the other way.

The Christian in the 21st century has more good reasons to believe that his faith is true than believers at any other time since the death of the apostles.

Here’s a great presentation of some of the arguments from Dr. Daniel B. Wallace of the Ehrman project.

Jan 9, 2011
neil

The man Dawkins won’t debate

William Lane Craig is one of the worlds leading defenders of the Christian faith. Author of 16 scholarly books including The Kalam Cosmological Argument, Philosophy of Religion: A Reader and Guide and The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology.

Craig holds two doctorates (one from Birmingham University!) and is Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California.  He is a member of a number of societies including the American Philosophical Association.

Bill Craig has debated a number of leading American atheists but Dawkins won’t debate him! It was a surprise to both of them when they found themselves on opposite sides of a debate between three theists and three atheists on the question of ‘Does the universe have a purpose‘ in Mexico in November of 2010.

In conversation with Justin Brierley on Premier Radio Prof. Craig gives his take on Dawkins and the debate.

If you want to watch the whole thing you can below. For Lane Craig’s own website click here.





Dec 27, 2010
neil

Christianity and media bias

My preferred weekly magazine, in its Christmas special, ran only one article on the Christmas story and they asked an atheist to write it.  It’s called ‘Confession of an atheist: I respect Christianity too much to believe in it.’

Why would the magazine, which is conservative culturally and politically, prefer the view of an atheist for a Christmas comment? Well I guess because it’s a different angle.  And that, my friends, is the problem for Christians when it comes to Christianity and the media.

There exists an inevitable bias against Christianity in the media because the media is always looking for new angles and new opportunities to say new things.

Locked out?

Andrew Marr at a recent internal seminar at the BBC let the cat out of the bag.

The BBC is a publicly funded urban organisation with an abnormally large proportion of younger people, of people in ethnicminorities and almost certainly of gay people than the population at large.  It depends on the states approval at least for its funding mechanism and all this creates an innate liberal bias inside the BBC and I think if we pretend there isn’t an institutional liberal bias of that kind which is much more clearly expressed as a cultural bias than as a party political bias.

And it has always been so. Marr, in his presentation to the September seminar, actually quoted a  parliamentary committee from 1936 which highlights how the old, old story will always be eclipsed by the new.

‘There’s an inevitable tendency in the general programmes of the Corporation to devote more time to the expression of new ideas and the advocacy of change in social and other spheres than the defence of orthodoxy and stability, since the reiteration of what exists and is familiar is not so interesting as the exposition of what might be.’

As Marr pointed out, ‘Any producer, any reporter worth their salt wants to go for newness, challenge, controversy – and the Continue reading »

Dec 20, 2010
neil

No god? No problem?

The philosopher and atheist AC Grayling is writing a book entitled ‘The Good Book: A Secular History’.  In it he joins Richard Dawkins and Christophet Hitchens, amongst a growing list, who insist that you don’t need to believe in God to be good. Every Christian would want to affirm that fact.  Atheists can and often do choose to be ‘good’, whatever that may mean in an amoral universe of ‘blind pitiless indifference’ to quote Dawkins.

But, heres the rub, the thing they don’t want to tell you is that without a belief in God there is no reason to be bad either. In a quite brilliant article the intellectual dishonesty at work in those who will not admit that their creed allows men to be cruel is exposed by Peter Heck.

Here’s just one extract but it’s well worth reading the whole:

Two years ago, their motto was “Why believe in a god?  Just be good for goodness’ sake!”  Last year, they were more direct: “No god?  No problem!”  But this year, as they feebly attempt to detract from the celebration of Christ’s incarnation once again, perhaps it’s a fruitful exercise for our civilization to consider their overtures and weigh the merit of their message.

As far as I can tell, the mantra “No god?  No problem!” has but one minor flaw: the entire record of human history.  It is no coincidence that as German atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche boasted, “God is dead … we have killed him … must we not ourselves become gods[?]” (which, by the way, is the entire basis of humanism dating back to the Garden of Eden), he Continue reading »

Dec 10, 2010
neil

How atheists are made (sometimes)

A couple of days ago we considered the remarkable story of how atheist and arch-enemy of Christianity AN Wilson rediscovered his Christian faith.

In a follow up article in the Daily Mail Wilson set out some of the reasons he had become an atheist along with his route home to faith. I hope by looking at it together it will give us renewed confidence in our faith and a fresh desire to share it with others.

Like having spots

One of Wilson’s key insights looking back on his life is that his atheism rested not on the fact that Christianity is no longer believable but that it has become so deeply unfashionable. Our culture is much more than secular (in which it would simply ignore matters of faith). Our culture is in fact deeply anti-religious. It’s not satisfied to leave Christianity alone it seeks out opportunity to give it a good beating.

Wilson, in his article, examines how the media-pundits and intelligencia in British society systematically attack and ridicule Christianity.

‘Like most educated people in Britain and Northern Europe (I was born in 1950), I have grown up in a culture that is overwhelmingly secular and anti-religious. The universities, broadcasters and media generally are not merely non-religious, they are positively anti.

To my shame, I believe it was this that made me lose faith and heart in my youth. It felt so uncool to be religious. With the mentality of a child in the playground, I felt at some visceral level that being religious was unsexy, like having spots or wearing specs.

This playground attitude accounts for much of the attitude towards Christianity that you pick up, say, from the alternative comedians, and the casual light blasphemy of jokes on TV or radio.

It also lends weight to the fervour of the anti-God fanatics, such as the writer Christopher Hitchens and the geneticist Richard Dawkins, who think all the evil in the world is actually caused by religion.

The vast majority of media pundits and intelligentsia in Britain are unbelievers, many of them quite fervent in their hatred of religion itself.

The Guardian’s fanatical feminist-in-chief, Polly Toynbee, is one of the most dismissive of religion and Christianity in particular. She is president of the British Humanist Association, an associate of the National Secular Society and openly scornful of the millions of Britons who will quietly proclaim their faith in Church tomorrow.

‘Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls. Did we ask him to?’ she asked in a puerile article decrying the wickedness of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia stories, which have bewitched children for more than 50 years. Or, to take another of her utterances: ‘When absolute God-given righteousness beckons, blood flows and women are in chains.’

The sneering Ms Toynbee, like Richard Dawkins, believes in rational explanations for our existence and behaviour. She is deeply committed to the Rationalist Association, but her approach to religion is too fanatical to be described as rational.’ Continue reading »

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