Last year I was in a kind of debate with Andrew Copson - Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association (BHA). His final line of the evening was a plea for us all to "be good for goodness sakes."
The line sounds twee but there's a genuine point that deserves our attention: Goodness for the sake of 'spiritual reward' is neither necessary, nor desirable. In fact it's pretty ugly. If a religious person is motivated towards goodness simply by celestial carrots and sticks (which some are) then you can understand a humanist's protest. I hear the criticism loud and clear, and I wrote these four posts called "Why be good?" as a response. Only the gospel saves us from immorality and moralism.
But if you're unaware of the gospel, then your view of religion will probably sound that of like BHA President Jim Al-Khalili:
I have often felt offended by the misguided notion that people require a religious faith to provide their moral compass in order to lead a good life. Reason, decency, tolerance, empathy and hope are human traits that we should aspire to, not because we seek reward of eternal life or because we fear the punishment of a supernatural being, but because they define our humanity.
We might want to be curious about why such traits define our humanity, and who gets to say, and why the ones mentioned by Al-Khalili are so darned anaemic, and why he didn't also identify deep-seated characteristics like greed, hypocrisy and violence. We might want to point out that Christian faith brings far more to the table than 'a moral compass'. Actually it's a vision for the whole terrain and an accounting for why and where we fit into a moral order that is very old and runs very deep.
But we're not going to mention those things. We're just going to point out the terrible danger of moralism here.
Suppose that I'm a humanist who has unplugged the celestial CCTV and nowI'm free to be good for goodness sakes. What will that look like? Well I'm still going to get outraged by 'inhuman' behaviour - good. But now God isn't the ultimate court of appeal and dispenser of perfect justice. No, the 'moral-outrage buck' stops with me. Since God has been deposed, I'm going to have to mount the highest horse.
And, as far as godless high-horseing goes, get a load of this: [Read from the bottom upwards. RD was responding to this]
Dawkins has never let ignorance of a topic prevent him from weighing in with the full weight of his moral indignation. But feel the indignation.
When one tweeter asked him whence his moral compass (given Darwinism and all), he responded:
Darwinism, Mr Allnut, is what we were put into this world to rise above. Oh & do show a little intelligence & refrain from quote-mining this
Idiot that I am, I'm mining the quote - but I think it unearths a deep problem for those who let go of "God" but want to be "Good." The problem is not in acting morally- of course not. The problem comes in adjudicating the morals and in acting The Moral One. Wonderfully for the Christian, the Father adjudicates and the Son is the Moral One, but what's the situation for the humanist?
They are above the non-existent 'God', they are above the religious who (they claim) are only good for dubious reasons, and they are above nature ('red in tooth and claw') and their own selfish genes. They have risen above everything else in all reality... in order to be good.
How does a humanist not avoid hubris at this point? How do they not avoid moralism?
Dostoyevsky famously said "If there is no God, everything is permissible." But nihilism isn't the only danger. Dawkoyevsky's dilemma is this: "If there is no God, everything is puritanical."
What's good for the goose is good for the gander I'd have thought. The supernatural (for want of a better short-hand) might seem absurd to the naturalist, but, well, it would. But you can't do theology by common sense either - and certainly not naturalistic common sense!
Anyway, perhaps the best response is just to list some of Dawkins' other clangers from the last few weeks and let them speak for themselves...
[now deleted] What kind of person throws chewing gum in the streets, where it sticks to shoes? What kind of person chews gum in the first place?
Greetings to all atheists. But please, not so many athiests, aethists or aetheists. Greek theos: god. Hence theist. Hence a-theist.
I re-tweet for a reason. I know not everybody likes it. They are free to unfollow.
Comparisons often made of Jesus with Horus, Dionysus, Krishna etc. Any real scholars out there confirm each one? pic.twitter.com/IuN1u7McNq
then, when called on such tired and lazy comparisons...
Was it seriously not obvious that I posted that set of other gods because I was SCEPTICAL of the alleged similarities to Jesus?
If you're used to the obscurantist smokescreens of religion, the sudden shock of the unambiguously clear voice of reason can SEEM aggressive
Dear Americans, please understand that "grade" as in "7th grade" is not part of the English language. Please state the child's AGE in years
People outside America truly don't know what "7th grade" means. In Britain we've "Year 10" but don't expect others to know what that means.
If you only care about communicating to Americans, "7th grade" is fine. But there's this obscure little place called The Rest Of The World
I'm NOT arguing for British English. "Year 10" not part of the language either, which is why I wouldn't use it in an international medium.
"Hit a home run" great metaphor, understood internationally. But "7th grade" conveys precision. Don't you WANT to be understood outside US?
Struggling with London tube notice: delays because "customer" taken ill on train earlier in day. Sorry for sick passenger, but why DELAYS?
Below you can watch Richard Dawkins speaking in advance of the 2011 KJV celebrations. He makes the case for being steeped 'to some extent' in the King James Bible. If we don't know the KJV we are 'in some small way barbarian.' But he ends by saying:
it is important that religion should not be allowed to hijack this cultural resource.
Notch it up as another Dickie Dawkins classic. But before we laugh and point, let's make sure there aren't three fingers pointing back.
You see, because he's talking about the bible the stupidity of his position is obvious. Of course it's ridiculous to view the bible as first a cultural resource that religion then hijacks. Any fool knows that the bible is originally, purposefully and most meaningfully a religious text (or if you don't like 'religious', say 'spiritual' or 'theological' or even 'Christian'). It is evident (but not to Dawkins) that the essence of the bible is appreciated only when it's treated according to its true theological nature. And that to read it through atheistic lenses is the real hijacking.
But Dawkins' inability to appreciate the bible according to its true nature is only one more example of his inability to appreciate the world according to its true nature. The whole atheistic project follows exactly the same line. It says that everything is most ultimately a physical, chemical, biological, historical or cultural artefact, let's not allow 'religion' to hijack it. But to pretend you are honouring the world by treating it non-theologically is just as ridiculous as pretending to honour the Word by treating it non-theologically.
The only reason we don't see its foolishness is because we have, to some extent, bought the double-decker atheistic approach. When it comes to the world around us we pretty much assume along with the atheists that there are brute facts that are perfectly understood in non-theological terms and that we then work with this raw data to make our theological (or atheistical) pronouncements. And even if we do dare to wear some theological lenses to view the world, we have a slight guilty feeling that maybe we are hijacking a properly non-theological reality.
But no. You've got to begin by treating the Word theologically. And you've got to begin by treating the world theologically. And it's best you do so in that order.
It's those who fail to see the world according to its essentially theological character who hijack it.
Have you ever heard this kind of claim from an atheist:
Unlike you theists, I am open to change. All you need to do is show me the evidence and I'll confess on the spot that I was wrong. If you can prove God I will switch sides. You theists on the other hand obstinately cling on to the God hypothesis no matter what the evidence. You call this irrationality "faith."
How to respond?
Do we say "No I'm very open to change, I just think the evidence is better on our side"?
That might sound tempting. After all it has the air of intellectual credibility about it (if, ironically, you don't think about it too long). And it's the least we could do seeing as the atheist has been so even-handed with "the evidence." Besides, what hope is there for genuine dialogue if we're not open to change?
Well let's slow down a second. What kind of openness is being claimed by the atheist?
Doesn't their claim amount to:
I, the neutral observer, will accept the God hypothesis if and only if naturalistic evidencemeets my criteria. And of course such acceptance will be eternally tentative, since opposing evidence may arise to dis-prove the God hypothesis.
Let me ask some questions about those bolded phrases...
Are you really a neutral observer? Is the scientific community, religious community or indeed the human race collectively a neutral observer? How could you ever know? What tests could you perform to figure out whether, when it comes to God, humanity suppresses the truth?
If you are assessing 'the God hypothesis', are your investigations being carried out in a way proper to the object of your study. I.e. is God really a 'hypothesis' to be tested? And if you think he is, the question must be asked, Which god are you talking about? Because it doesn't sound like the God of the Bible. If, on the other hand, God is a Self-Revealing Speaker, doesn't "scientific investigation" look very different? i.e. Wouldn't a proper correspondence to this Object of enquiry entail listening to His Word?
Who gets to decide what is "evidence"? Does the Bible count? Does it count on its own terms, or only when filtered through other tests? What about encountering Christ spiritually through Scripture or worship? Wouldn't that be quite a "knock-down" proof - for some even literally! Is this evidence allowed at the bar?
Even if you are a neutral observer, even if God is a hypothesis that could be tested and even if the evidence you demand is the right kind of evidence - will you really 'become a believer' on the basis of this evidence? Surely, to be consistent with your methods, you will merely line up with the God-hypothesis-camp until a better hypothesis comes along? This is nothing like what Christians mean by "faith in God."
Therefore in what sense are you open to change? Admittedly, you are open to reshaping certain of your views - and that is a very laudable thing. Few ever do it, so such openness is indeed commendable. But the openness of which you speak is set within a tightly de-limited, pre-established epistemological system (i.e. system of gaining knowledge).
And if that's your definition of "open" then the Christian is at least as open. If you show me convincing evidence about a pre-millennial return of Christ (to choose an intra-mural Christian dispute of secondary importance) then I hope I'm open enough to change. I hope I am. Obviously, people are biased, obstinate, self-justifying fools by nature (the Bible told us that long before science did), so it might be an uphill battle, but allow me to declare my willingness to change.
So there you are. I'm open.
Of course, at this stage, the atheist says: "That's not openness to change! That's just redecorating the exact same house." To which I say, "Pretty much! But then, a tentative assent to the God-hypothesis is also just re-decoration. The foundations and structure of your beliefs would remain exactly the same."
You might rate yourself as a De-Facto Theist on Richard Dawkins' scale, but it's your commitments to a naturalistic method of knowledge that are really God for you.
To inflexibly hold pre-commitments about yourself, your object of enquiry, your method of enquiry and your criteria of judgement is to be "open" in only a very limited sense. But here's the thing... pre-commitments about Me and God and the World and how I know things are absolutely inescapable! I can't even begin to think without at least a shadow of an opinion on these things.
Which means none of us are very open. There is no neutral space between the Christian position and the naturalistic position. There is only conversion - i.e. a radical re-ordering of my view of self and God and the world.
Does this shut down all conversation? Absolutely not! This is the beginning of genuine conversation. Now that we know where we all stand (and both Christians and atheists are regularly deluded about this), real interaction can happen. How? I say "Come on over to my house. Let me show you around. For a time, come in on my foundations, my vision of God and self and how to know things. Experience the world from within these commitments. See if life doesn't make more sense. See if you don't confess that Jesus really is the deepest Truth" And, by the same token, you can say to me "Come over to my house. Allow me to show you the Magic of Reality as I see it. Experience the world from within these commitments."
There's great hope for fruitful engagement (though this is a real statement of faith, I acknowledge!). I believe that there is plenty to be said on the other side of an acknowledgement of our radical differences. But let's be honest enough to state our differences. It's not a case of simply assessing mutually agreed-upon evidence with the obvious tools for the job. It's about show-casing different visions of reality.
This doesn't mean we cast stones at each other's "houses" or dig into our entrenched positions. Instead it's a call to hospitality. Let's love our neighbours.
I believe the Bible is the word of God because in it God speaks. This is not an unfortunate circularity. At the end of the day nothing could convince me it's God's word except that God speaks. You could tell me it's great history, it's logically coherent and displays incredible internal consistency as a library of books over many centuries. Great, I believe all those things. But that doesn't make it God's word. The only thing that could authenticate the Bible as God's word is if God personally speaks through it. And at that stage I'm essentially saying that it's God's word because it's God's word.
Or to shift that argument to christology, I believe that Jesus is the Radiance of the Father's glory because in Him I've met the glorious Father. Yet this Father is met only in the face of the Son. In other words, I know that Jesus is Lord because I see in Him the kind of Lord that only Jesus reveals. There is a self-authenticating majesty to Jesus such that I say, along with Lord Byron, "If God's not like Jesus, He ought to be." Jesus is the kind of God that I believe in - the kind of God that Jesus uniquely reveals. He's IT. And I know He's IT because, well, look at Him! Jesus is Lord because Jesus is Lord.
At this point you'll note how inter-related these two circularities are. And also the integral role of the Spirit in both. He brings us God's written word with divine authority, illuminating Christ so that, in Him, we might see and know the Father.
Now "circular arguments" get a bad name. For one thing it sounds like buying into them will trap you. Actually, if you find yourself in the right Circle, you'll finally be free. The Circle of Father, Son and Spirit doesn't limit you. No these ultimate realities (because they really are ultimate) enable you to move out into the world all the wiser for knowing their Lordship. With the Spirit-breathed word, and the Lens of the Father's Son... then you can really get somewhere. From this knowledge you'll find all sorts of other things illuminated by God's Light.
But still, people will cry foul. "You can't reason in a circle" people will say. But hang on, we all employ circular reasoning whenever we make claims about ultimate reality. Didn't your mum ever justify her pronouncements with "Because I'm the mummy"?
It's inevitable that your ultimate ground of authentication must authenticate itself, or it isn't ultimate.
Now this plays out in all sorts of areas. But think, for instance, of the naturalist assumption that the "natural" realm is best placed to judge any hypothetical "further realm". If a "further realm" exists, they say, it must play by the rules of naturalism. This, of course, radically limits the kinds of realms the naturalist would be willing to admit and means that the gods they consider can only be superbeings within the world.
Now the naturalist cannot establish such a priority via naturalism. It is, by definition, beyond the ability of the natural sciences to pronounce on the existence of realms beyond their scope. Yet naturalists assume that the "natural" realm is all there is, was, or ever shall be.
Naturalism, they say, is the best explanation of ultimate reality because other explanations fail naturalistic tests. Or, to put it most simply, naturalism is true (or our best bet) because naturalism says so.
Now let's be clear - belief in naturalism is not a groundless leap of faith. It's a faith commitment that springs from compelling evidence (true faith always does). The evidence is this: trusting our own powers of perception and reasoning has produced great success in the natural sciences. I.e. it works, it explains things, when we move out into the world on its basis things make sense.
1) The Christian does not deny the explanatory power of the naturalistic sciences. The Christian believes that such sciences have sprung from a broader Christian world-view and rejoice in the fruits of the gospel here. Christians simply deny that such knowledge is the only or surest knowledge.
2) The Christian sees that naturalism is horrifically reductionistic and harmful when seeking to be applied beyond the natural sciences. As the old saying goes, If all you've got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. To treat human personhood and relationships, ethics and aesthetics, to say nothing of a relationship with God, as a mere interplay of matter and energy is to misunderstand these things greatly. The explanatory power breaks down here in a catastrophic way. And yet, these things - love, forgiveness, beauty, goodness etc - are the most precious realities in human existence.
In the discussion between Richard Dawkins and Rowan Williams the other day, Dawkins said he "believed" we would find naturalistic explanations for consciousness - explanations which we do not now possess. That is a consistent faith position within his world-view. Naturalism has produced the goods in many spheres of enquiry - he trusts that consciousness will be one more success story for the natural sciences.
Yet all the while an explanation for personal reality presents itself to Dawkins. One which does not rule out science but underpins it. And one which accounts for the priority of the personal which is the most blindingly obvious reality which we encounter moment by moment. Nothing else accounts for it like this accounts for it...
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. (John 1:1-4)
I honestly don't know why Dawkins - or anyone - can't see it. How can there be darkness when the Light of Christ is so dazzlingly obvious? But then I would say that. I'm in the grip of the ultimate Circularity!
"A universe with a god would look very different to a universe without one.” Richard Dawkins.
It's one of the wisest things Dawkins has ever said. Believers and unbelievers alike should take heed.
Let's tease out some implications of it.
1) Dawkins clearly has a doctrine of "god" in mind as he makes the statement. The flying spaghetti monster wouldn't affect the kind of universe we inhabit. But Thor might. Allah in a different way. And the triune God, different again. Therefore it's not a straight binary choice.
2) I would look different depending on the existence of God or not. Dawkins seems to imagine two states (a theistic and an atheistic universe) as alternatives lying before him. And who is the great unmoved mover in this scenario? Who is the neutral observer, the one enthroned above all worlds? The scientist! But no, Dawkins' thought experiment - if it takes the word "God" with any seriousness - is one in which everything must be re-imagined. If I am a creature, made by the Father's Word, intended for life in communion with God, then everything changes for me.
3) I would look differently depending on the existence of God or not. If I was a creature of the Word, and if the world is a creature of the same Word, I would look through the lens of His Word. I would see all things in relationship to Christ the Creator. That would simply be good science if the Christian God existed.
But here's something strange...
4) Dawkins ridicules Christian scientists who do actually deliver a different vision of the universe to his own. Yet how could they do otherwise, if "a universe with a god will look very different"?
Which only makes me think...
5) Dawkins has not entered into his own thought-experiment for even a minute. Has he really considered the revolution involved in actually reconceiving Self and World and God according to the Christian vision? Of course not. To do so would mean repenting of his position as all-seeing Arbiter. Or in other words:
"Unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3)
Here's a couple of older Dawkins' articles reposted...
I think, actually, [Richard Dawkins is] a pre-Christian atheist, because he never understood what Christianity is about in the first place! That would be rather like Madonna calling herself post-Marxist. You’d have to read him first to be post-him. As I’ve said before, I think that Dawkins in particular makes such crass mistakes about the kind of claims that Christianity is making. A lot of the time, he’s either banging at an open door or he’s shooting at a straw target.
But before we feel smug. Let's allow him (and others) to critique a knee-jerk theism that too often passes for Christian apologetics:
[Conservative Evangelicals] despise Richard Dawkins while actually believing in the kind of God he rightly rejects, as if the existence of God were, in principle, demonstrable, as if the proposition “God exists” were a hypothesis to be affirmed or denied, as if God were simply the hugest of individuals.
Kim Fabricius (I object to his other points, but this one has a lot of truth to it).
Dawkins himself says that all he does is stretch his disbelief one God further than the Christians.
Which is absolutely right. Both Dawkins and the Christian reject Thor and Vishnu and the Flying Spaghetti Monster and any other super-being you care to imagine. The task of the Christian apologist is not to establish a deity but to proclaim the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And once they've described it, the response to have ready is 'I don't believe in that either, let me tell you about the cross.'
And in this article Dawkins was asked, "Where does evolution leave God?" He answered:
“Before 1859 it would have seemed natural to agree with the Reverend William Paley, in “Natural Theology,” that the creation of life was God’s greatest work. Especially (vanity might add) human life. Today we’d amend the statement: Evolution is the universe’s greatest work. Evolution is the creator of life, and life is arguably the most surprising and most beautiful production that the laws of physics have ever generated. Evolution, to quote a T-shirt sent me by an anonymous well-wisher, is the greatest show on earth, the only game in town.
“Where does that leave God? The kindest thing to say is that it leaves him with nothing to do, and no achievements that might attract our praise, our worship or our fear. Evolution is God’s redundancy notice, his pink slip. But we have to go further. A complex creative intelligence with nothing to do is not just redundant. A divine designer is all but ruled out by the consideration that he must at least as complex as the entities he was wheeled out to explain. God is not dead. He was never alive in the first place.”
Again ask the question - who or what has Dawkins taken aim at? He's railing against a divine designer entirely dependent on its own creation.
Rail away Richard. Christian theology does a far better job, but if it makes you feel better - go for your life.
And if you want to lay the smackdown on some god-of-the-gaps who is posited simply to explain the inexplicable, then please don't let us stop you.
And if you're invigorated by venting splenetic rage on a god 'ruled out' by the logic of its own creation well Richard, who isn't? I'm regularly energized by such disdain. And we certainly have no wish to spoil your fun.
While you heap adolescent contempt on those gods, we'll be over here - stoning modern-day Paleys for providing you with such irrelevant and idolatrous targets.
By the way - if you read the Dawkins quote and thought to yourself 'Aha, but who created the laws of physics!?' - you are Paley. And I'm coming to get you.
On this recent Australian panel show Richard Dawkins was served up a number of Christian politicians on a plate. And he quite rightly ate them for breakfast. Of course, given their distinct lack of back-bone, they wouldn't have been hard to chew. But you do have to wonder why the key match-ups weren't scientist versus scientist, or atheist versus Christian - but atheist scientist versus... MP. Huh?
Anyway both Pete and I found this particular quotation from Dawkins interesting.
I think that the existence of a supreme being - a supernatural supreme being - is a scientific issue. Either there is a God or there isn't. Either there are gods or there are no gods. That is a... supremely important scientific question. If the universe was created by an intelligence, then we are looking at an entirely different kind of scientific theory from if the universe came into existence by natural means. If God or gods had something to do with the creation of life, then we're looking at a totally different kind of biology...
So I think you can't just say religion and science have nothing to do with each other. Science can get on and you let people have their own religious - of course you let people believe whatever they like. But you cannot say that science and religion are completely separate because religion makes scientific claims. It certainly makes scientific claims about miracles, as I mentioned before, and you cannot reconcile an authentic approach to science with a belief in miracles or, I suspect, with a belief in supernatural creation. At least the very least you should say is that this is a scientific question.
Here was an oasis of clarity in a desert of dualism. While other panelists were falling over themselves trying to affirm both evolution and "the one who provided the amino acids in the first place”, Richard refused to compartmentalise either religion or science. Good.
But if Dawkins is right here - and I think he is - then there are two major mistakes you must avoid.
1) You must avoid tacking on some kind of super-intending god to the science of naturalism. Whatever god of the gaps is left by a scientific method designed to exclude the supernatural is not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Christian assumptions mean a very different way of doing science . There may be great overlap at points but the foundations are very different. Don't pretend that Christian assumptions matter in the theology class but not the science class. They matter as profoundly in theology as they do in science (and everything else!).
2) You must avoid judging creationists by the very same scientific method used for naturalistic enquiry. If indeed science 'with God' would be conducted differently than science on atheistic assumptions then to test the effectiveness of YEC science you'd want to avoid just assuming they were wrong, wouldn't you? I mean that wouldn't be very fair - not very scientific. Well then, you're going to have to walk a mile in their shoes rather than simply test them by a scientific method that excludes divine words from the outset. Instead, if you want to do science ‘with God’ – you’d better allow Him to BE God. ie You’d better allow Him to speak, for that to be your authority and then to move out into the world on the basis of His word. That would be good science wouldn’t it? If God is God – that would be the only kind of science you could do.
So I think Dawkin's words need to be heeded here - first by Christians who want to conduct and affirm science on common foundations to naturalists. But second by Dawkins himself. If he really believed that science ‘with God’ was entirely different then he wouldn’t be judging YEC science by naturalistic science. But he does this all the time!