Does Dawkins understand atheism?
Having read and re-read the God delusion I now think the biggest surprise in the book is not that Richard Dawkins has problems understanding Christianity (you might expect me to say that) but that he doesn’t seem to understand atheism either!
In a chapter entitled ‘The God Hypothesis’ Dawkins sets out what he calls a ‘spectrum of probabilities’ on the question of God’s existence. Each individual holds a position somewhere on the scale of 1 to 7.
1) Represents the Strong Theist whom he describes as ‘100 per cent probability of God. In the words of C.G. Jung, ‘I do not believe, I know.’
2) Very high probability but short of 100 percent. De facto theist. ‘I cannot know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there.’
There are a range of middle-ground positions and then at the other end of the spectrum are
6) Very low probability, but short of zero. De facto atheist. ‘I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.
7) Strong atheist. ‘I know there is no God. With the same conviction as Jung “knows” there is one.’
But here is Dawkins controversial and crucial conclusion;
‘I’d be surprised to meet many people in category 7, but I include it for symmetry with category 1, which is well populated.’
Why would he say that? Because Dawkins wants to represent atheism as a moderate view based on evidence. Theists may be crazy and arrogant enough to believe with certainty but ‘Atheists do not have faith; and reason alone could not propel one to total conviction that anything definitely does not exist.’
Dawkins wants to limit the definition of atheism to all intents and purposes to position 6 an altogether more reasonable position. We might call it a kind of moderate or liberal atheism.
How Dawkins misrepresents atheism
It’s as you look a little bit more into atheism that you begin realise that Dawkin’s is not exactly being far to atheism. For in reducing atheism to 6) Dawkins is skewing the definition(s) of atheism and he manages to obscure (even dare I say cover up) the debate between atheists over centuries.
Better books on atheism, to which I shall come in due course, set out the range of views and positions held by atheists that Dawkins prefers to ignore. The simple fact of the matter is that many atheists would and do argue for position 7 on his scale.
Michael Martins and Atheism properly understood
The best introduction to atheism written by an atheist philosopher in print today, is Michael Martins’ Atheism: A Philosophical Justification. Martins is a philosopher of the first order and emeritus professor at Boston University. He is a distinguished author and edited The Cambridge Companion to Atheism published by Cambridge University Press. He gained his PhD from Harvard University.
Martins points out that the central debate amongst atheists is between those who hold position 6 on Dawkins scale and those who Continue reading »
A. Why we need to think about this topic
Lots of churches and Christians avoid discussing this ‘hot-button’ topic in the church. It’s one accompanied by strong opinions (and emotions). There is also a real danger in discussion of a polarising parties in the church and wounding other Christians. But here are 6 reasons why we have to talk about it;
1. It might be a difficult conversation but it’s one that the whole church needs to have together. The alternative is individual women seeking to resolve their theology and their feelings in one to one conversations between friends.
2. It’s an issue that involves the men too! Husbands have a responsibility to lead. For them to opt out is for them to abdicate their responsibility to lead as heads of the home. Whether or not wives return to work is the primary responsibility of their husbands. A whole church conversation helps the men and reminds them of their responsibility.
3. It’s an issue that needs to be worked through in advance. It’s not just a topic for couples who already have children but for those planning the future. For example, the key factor in whether or not a wife returns in my experience is economic. Can the family function on one income?
For some couples, the decision is made for them in the house that they buy and the mortgage that comes with the house that locks a couple in for 20-25 years. Some bills can’t be deferred but must continue to be paid. Couples with kids can help couples without to anticipate where they might be in a matter of a few years.
4. It’s an chance for the church family to learn how to listen better, discover how it’s possible to graciously disagree and an opportunity to put into practice practical support and encouragement, one couple to another.
5. It’s a discussion in which all sides feel guilty. One author has written
‘One interesting trend I have noted as a pastor, counselor, husband, and friend is that in general, whether mothers choose to work or stay home, they feel a level of guilt associated with the decision. Moms that work feel guilty about not spending enough time with their children and moms that stay home feel guilty about not using their college degree or their professional skills to contribute to the family finances.’
6. It’s an issue in which surprisingly little has been written to help us think it all through. The quote above is from a short article – literally the only piece I could find on the topic. Unless we shed light on the topic together individual couples we will be leaving couples to think it through on their own.
In future posts we’ll answer the following;
1. Why do women return to the world of work after their children are born? (see http://wp.me/p1i2hG-k8)
2. Biblically speaking, should women return to work and what criteria should we apply is assessing that decision? Are some reasons biblically justified and others not? (see http://wp.me/p1i2hG-k8)
3. What part should husbands play in this debate and in their role as parents? How should they do their paid work differently when the kids come along? (see http://wp.me/p1i2hG-kG)
4. How do we support mothers who do go back to work, as a church family? (see http://wp.me/p1i2hG-lE)
5. How do we support mothers who don’t go back to work, as a church family? (see http://wp.me/p1i2hG-lE)
Purely for the purpose of this discussion we will use the word ‘work’ to means ‘paid work’. Wives who stay at home work extremely hard but it’s too complicated to keep switching terminology.
Great video. Mindblowing stats. Thanks to Andy Shudall for the link.
A few years ago two scientific experiments were launched. The first is aimed at discovering how and when life began the other is concerned with discovering how and when life ends.
The Hadron Collider costs billions and has been built to recreate the first few fractions of a second after the big bang and the universe began. The second has a much more limited budget but I think could yield more extraordinary results it’s called the AWARE study and it explores what happens after life ends. What happens to us after we die?
How then does it work? The idea is to speak to those who have had near death experiences and test their claims. Studies show that somewhere between 10 and 20% of those who reach the point of death through a cardiac arrest but are then revived back to life actually have memories beyond their moment of death.
In particular the study will investigate the claims of people who during cardiac arrest and resuscitation attempts have described how they actually were mentally conscious and in fact actually witnessed their own resuscitation attempts as they floated in an out of body experience from a vantage point outside of their own bodies, as if they were looking down on themselves from a bird’s eye view.
People describe sometimes in great detail, everything that was happening around them whilst they were technically dead. They could describe things they should not have been able to know and couldn’t really have made up. They might be able to say which doctor was attempting to resuscitate them male, female, young, old, black or white, or recall a unique detail such as how a doctor tripped over the edge of the bed and knocked something to the ground. The sort of details that require an explanation and seemingly defy rational scientific answers.
So in the AWARE study scientists will place pictures on the ceilings in Hospital A&E bays that are only visible by looking down from the ceiling and no other way. Patients of course won’t know any of this and the images will be regularly changed.
Those patients successfully revived will then be interviewed and asked to describe what they saw. If any of them are able to describe the images accurately then scientists will have to tear up the rule books. The shame is that it will be another two years before studies are completed.
What do these two different studies tell us about ourselves?
I guess quite simply that as human beings we are curious about much more than our day to day lives. We are keen to discover and investigate. At one level we want a cure for cancer, we want cheaper petrol, we want our team to win the league but we have bigger questions about our origins and our destiny; who we are? Where we come from? Where we are going?
Inevitably in the midst of such philosophical discussions sooner or later God is drawn in to the conversations. Is he real, can we know anything about him, does scientific discovery make his existence more or less likely?
I like reading stories of people’s lives and recently I have been reading a book by Anthony Flew – you may not have heard of him he was a British Philosopher who died last year and early in his career he wrote a paper entitled ‘Theology and falsification’. It might sound a bit technical (perhaps even a bit dull) but it is actually ‘the most frequently-quoted philosophical publication of the second half of the 20th century’.
It was a paper that debunked God. You could say he was ‘doing a Dawkins’. Flew wrote a sophisticated ‘God delusion’ and it remains a contemporary classic. But just seven years ago he announced that he as wrong and has publically retracted his atheism and declared himself a believer in God.
This is what he writes in his book: There is a God – how the world’s most notorious atheist changed his mind.
I now believe that the universe was brought into existence by an infinite Intelligence….why do I believe this, given that I expounded and defended atheism for more than a half century? The short answer is this: this is the world picture, as I see it, that has emerged from modern science.
Flew died last year a believer in God and it was looking to modern science that he found overwhelming reason to believe in a god. As a philosopher it was simply no longer credible to believe that this universe of law and order, of complexity and apparent design could have originated from nothing.
And to his fellow sceptics Flew puts the following question:
What should have to occur or to have occurred to constitute for us a reason to at least consider the existence of a superior Mind?
It is a good question and it is essentially our question this evening if evidence of God would you need to at least consider the existence of God.
Albert Einstein contrary to popular opinion was not an atheist and in fact he expressly denied that fact on more than one occasion.
We [human beings] are in a position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being towards God.
Einstein is far from the dogmatic atheist that people like Richard Dawkins claim him to be…but he is what you might call a dogmatic agnostic….what that means is that Einstein says we don’t know much about God and we can’t. Agnosticism is actually simply another word for ignorance. The one thing that we know is that we don’t know.
We might suspect a creator, yet we don’t know and we can’t know who he is.
The stats for our country reveal that too. 60 % of the UK population believe in a personal god but most of us would not be willing to put a name to that god.
I think that’s true of most of my friends – they believe in some kind of God but they also are fairly sure that they have no good reason to believe in anything more than a distant deity.
Here’s the point – reason alone can only get you so far -perhaps the vague notion of a god.
And here then is the conclusion that many of us reach; if God is there, a God who wants to know us, why doesn’t he make himself more obvious?
Well the Christian claim is that he has made it more obvious than by what we can work out through reason. We are not limited to reason but God has given us revelation.
And the staggering claim of Christianity is that God has spoken to us not in visions or dreams not in messages in the stars but in human form, personally, in his son Jesus and what a difference that makes.
A lot of people if they believe in God at all think he communicates in some deliberately vague way almost designed to confuse us. We think the way God communicates is a bit like the way we play Pictionary. Take away words and see just how difficult and confusing communication is!
Well it might be funny on Christmas day to live without words but it’s not so funny communicating through Pictionary in an operating theatre.
The great claim of the Christian faith is that God has spoken to us face to face and mouth to mouth through his Son. Jesus said to his disciples; anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. The apostle John wrote in John 1:18, ‘No-one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.’
Jesus perfectly reveals God. To have seen Jesus is to have seen God!
We don’t need Hadron colliders or even near-death experiences to know if anyone is out there. God has not left us in the dark and God does not play Pictionary. We are no longer looking up and guessing because, in Christ, God has broken into our world.
No-one should set out to be controversial for the sake of it and its certainly a worrying sign when someone revels in the reputation of a controversialist. Nevertheless, in a world in which the gospel will always be under attack (often by those inside the church) at times it is necessary to be controversial. If the leader is to protect the flock then he must expose error in order to guard the gospel. Defending the truth must mean contending for truth.
The ideas contained in Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins are ideas that need to be opposed and opposed in the strongest terms. It matters. It matters because the gospel is at stake in what he writes. Is salvation by grace through faith in Christ Jesus or not? Bell has concluded that it is not, or at least not in faith in the way in which the Bible presents it. Ahead of publication a promotional video was released in which Bell raised a number of provocative questions that only buying the book would answer. Some Christians have been critical of those who they believe have condemned a man for just asking questions.
Now that advanced copies sent by the publisher are being read we can see that the initial concerns of many are proving well founded.
Tim Challies in his review,based on reading an advanced copy of the book, quotes a couple of quite extraordinary statements. As Bell looks at the subject of heaven and hell he states:
A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better…. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’ message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.
And in case we are in any doubt as to Bell’s conclusion. He comments:
People come to Jesus in all sorts of ways.
Sometimes people use his name;
other times they don’t.
I’m not sure whether Bell is a full-blown universalist (all we finally be saved) but what I am sure of is that his message of a Jesus who saves people who don’t even know that he has saved them is poison to the church. As a result the book is one that for the sake of the name and honour and reputation of Jesus must be opposed.
But how do we have a good and godly argument?
He happened to live and minister at a time of great controversy in the Anglican church when truth was under attack from Enlightenment Rationalism and the Romish Ritualism that flowed out of the Oxford Movement.
As a result Dimock gave himself to writing extensively for over 30 years to countering error in the church. We can learn much not only about the need to refute error, as a sacred duty, but also the manner in which we ought to conduct ourselves.
Dimock wirtes in 1876 at the end of a work on the Eucharist.
It belongs to Christian controversy to set forth the truth, and the whole truth, but to set it forth in love. This conducted, controversy itself, though often a painful duty, is really a very sacred thing. And while earnestly contending for the faith once delivered to the saints, we may surely ask for God’s blessing on consecrated controvery. And asking, we surely expect that in His own good way God will graciously employ feeble efforts made in a sacred cause.
His manner was well recognised by those who knew him. After his death, Handley Moule (then Bishop of Durham) wrote in the foreward to the memorial edition of Dimock’s collected works:
In him the grace of God combined in perfect harmony a noble force and range of mental power, an unshakeable fidelity to conscience and Revelation, and a spirit beautiful with humility, peace, and love.
Even those who opposed him theologically could not help but comment on his gracious method. A critical review of one of his books still recognises;
The courtesy and calmness and Christian spirit which Mr. Dimock shows in this pamphlet certainly entitle all he has to say to consideration, and demand grateful recognition from those who cannot agree with his conclusions
The conclusion of the matter is this: How we disagree with someone as well as how we contend for the truth are both gospel issues.
The Apostle Paul writes to Timothy about how a godly minister will conduct himself:
Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.
As many of us will no doubt enter into debate with Rob Bell (or at least with those who support his views) Dimock asks us a question to which we all know the answer;
Does anyone really suppose that the cause of Him, who would have us love one another, can be forwarded by nourishing in our hearts the bitterness, wrath, and anger of our grievous odium Theologicum, or that the truth of the Gospel will be advanced by addressing unseemly language?
Former editor of the Sunday Telegraph, Dominic Lawson, recently reviewed Niall Ferguson’s new book, Civilisation: The West and the Rest. In his review he includes a remarkable quote from a member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (which on it’s own website describes itself as ‘the highest academic research organization in the fields of philosophy and social sciences as well as a national center for comprehensive studies in the People’s Republic of China‘) in which he describes the remarkable impact of Christianity in shaping Western civilization.
He said: “One of the things we were asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world.
“We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective. At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had.
“Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system.
“But in the past twenty years, we have realised that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West is so powerful.
“The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don’t have any doubt about this.”
It does seem remarkable to me that it takes an Atheist state (you are required by law to be an Atheist to be a member of the ruling Communist Party) to remind us of our Christian heritage. Maybe we just take for granted everything that we have and we simply don’t realize where it has all come from. We don’t ever stop to think (dare I say to thank God) for how much the Bible and Christianity has done to bless the West. Perhaps we might be willing to wake-up to all of this before it is too late.
The article in today’s Daily Telegraph had a sad ring of familiarity to it. The opening sentence begins ‘The BBC’s new face of religion is an atheist who claims that God had a wife and Eve was “unfairly maligned” by sexist scholars.’ And it goes on to explain that the BBC have decided to invest your licence fee and mine in a primetime BBC Two series, The Bible’s Buried Secrets, which will set forth controversial and provocative views on the text of the Bible as interpreted by an atheist scholar at Exeter University. No doubt this will all be out in time for Easter.
The head of BBC’s religious output is Aaqil Ahmed. So today’s headlines got me wondering when the BBC’s series attacking all the other world religions is likely to be commissioned. I thought I’d draft Mr Ahmed a letter to find out and I thought I’d share it with you.
Dear Mr Ahmed
I note with interest that the BBC has commissioned another series of programmes designed to disparage orthodox Christianity, The Bible’s Buried Secrets. No doubt in pursuing your agenda of equality and diversity you have also begun prelimenary work on spending my licence fee on programmes designed not just to ridicule the faith of Christians but Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus too. When, for example, can we expect to find The Kuran’s Buried Secrets on our TV screens? There are a number of Islamic scholars who are themselves either liberal Muslims or atheists whose unorthodox views would be as interesting to hear as that of Dr Stavrakopoulou.
If, because of the time you’ve had to spend considering how to offend Christians, you haven’t quite got round to thinking how best to insult other people of faith maybe I can suggest one or two avenues that you could explore. For liberal scholars who have done a fair bit of work deconstructing Islam how about commissioning Ibn Warraq to make a series based on his scholarly books such as The Origins of the Koran and The quest for the historical Mohammed. No doubt his views broadcast by the BBC will help boost ratings and make a few newspaper headlines. Or you could turn to Christopher Luxenberg and his ground-breaking ideas that the text of the Kuran is based on pre-existing Christian Aramaic texts. Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran: A Contribution to the Decoding of the Language of the Koran is the work to consult for more on that line of thinking.
I look forward to hearing back from you on how work is progressing on these series but I won’t be holding my breath.
Yours not very sincerely…
Worrying in one form or another costs the British economy £5 billion a year. Non-work related stress, anxiety and depression account for more lost days at work than any other form of illness in all but manual workers.
But perhaps more alarming than any statistic is that according to Martyn Lloyd-Jones if you are a Christian ‘The result of worrying about the future is that you are crippling yourself in the present.’ Worry is in essence practical atheism. It is the failure to live in the world as we know it to be ie a world in which we are known and loved by a heavenly Father.
In his book Studies in the Sermon of Mount Lloyd-Jones devotes five chapter to the subject of worry from Matthew 6:25-34. The last chapter is entitled Worry: It’s causes and cures in which he tackles that curious verse, v.34, in which Jesus says ‘Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.’ It’s the best chapter of all and in eight pages Lloyd-Jones gives us some great wisdom on worry.
What Jesus says to us when worry is a way of life.
To make sense of why we worry and what we need to do with our anxieties Lloyd-Jones starts with commenting on Jesus’s words ‘each day has enough trouble of its own’. The antidote to worry is not to live under the illusion that ‘it might never happen’ but to recognise that in a fallen world Jesus does not offer us a trouble-free life rather a worry-free life.
Our Lord seems to picture life like this. As a result of the Fall and sin there is always a problem in life, because when man fell, he was told that henceforward he was going to live and eat his bread ‘by the sweat of his brow.’ He was no longer in Paradise, he was no longer just to take the fruit and live a life of ease and enjoyment. As the result of sin, life in this world has become a task. Man has to labour and must meet trials and troubles. We all know that, for we are all subject to the same tribulations and trials.
A life liberated from anxiety doesn’t come from avoiding troubles (for how can we) nor in pretending they won’t come our way maybe by constructing some kind of prosperity gospel. The solution Lloyd-Jones says is this to know how to face them. Continue reading »
So runs the headline in a surprising article in today’s Sunday Times.
An evangelical Christian who is one of the world’s top scientists is trying to save the life of Christopher Hitchens, the cancer-stricken writer who told him at their first meeting that God does not exist.
Francis Collins, who led the projec to map human genes, contacted the atheist when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer last year.
Hitchens was sent to Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, where scientists sequenced the 6 billion letters of his DNA. Using computers in a process that takes several weeks, they also sequenced the 6 billion letters in his his tumours, Then they looked at the two sets for differences.
‘Over these last few months, we have not talked directly about faith,’ Collins said, ‘But I would like to think that Christopher’s sharp intellect has challenged my own defence of the rationality of faith to be more consistent and compelling.’
The historian, television and radio presenter, David Starkey is gay and an atheist. He is also an honorary member of the National Secular Society. You might therefore expect him to be clearly in favour of the ruling in the High Court this week that banned a Christian couple from fostering children because of their religious beliefs. Watch the exchange of views amongst the five panelists on this weeks Question Time and you may be surprised.
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