Sunday, March 25, 2012
In 2006, Houghton Mifflin Company published “The God Delusion,” the 9th book by British evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins. Since then, it has sold over 2 million copies and spurred far-reaching debates on various topics surrounding theism and mainstream religion.
For atheists, it serves as a rallying beacon, for Christians, a war cry. This may be a bit of an overstatement, but not by much. For everyone in between, it forces serious thought and research on the most important topic in human history: Does God exist? From this, other questions arise as well. Is God good? Is religion healthy for society? Did Jesus ever really exist? If so, was he truly the living God?
You’ll notice that most of these questions revolve around the specific religion of Christianity. That’s because, even though he opposes all Theism, Dawkins chooses to zero in on Christianity in his book. Thus, Christians have taken notice. Some have responded intellectually by writing books and articles but, unfortunately, most have lumped “The God Delusion” in with other books they absolutely won’t read, such as “The Satanic Bible” and “Harry Potter.”
So, being the glutton for punishment that I am, I read it. Rather, I dissected it, not with a scalpel and forceps, but with a pen and a broad spectrum of research materials. I won’t pretend it was an easy read. Anyone who endures a formidable attack on that which they hold most dear will encounter a certain amount of frustration and pain. Dawkins raised points that made me think, made me doubt, and made me concede. But when I turned that last page, I realized one important fact: I was still a Christian. In some ways, it tempered my faith, sharpened it.
I don’t claim to be ahead of the curve in any aspect of my beliefs. I know Christians who are smarter, braver, and more discerning. But I also know several believers who refuse to read literature that will make them doubt their faith. That’s where this blog series comes in.
Time for a purpose statement: To present valid arguments against Richard Dawkins’ claims against Theism and offer counterpoints for the validity and necessity of Christianity. As my readers are a mix of Christians, agnostics, atheists, and several other overly exalted labels, I will attempt to avoid Dawkins’ characteristically hostile voice (which I will address later in this series) when presenting my points.
*Disclaimer: This is not going to be a light topic. I’m sure I’ll step on toes on both sides of the fence (that’s a joke about me being tall, in case you missed it). But don’t worry. I can pretty much guarantee my humor will, as always, come through at the least appropriate times.
As for this first installment (of what I plan to be a three-part series), I’ll attempt to convince you, my dear readers, that I don’t hate Richard Dawkins or his book. This may seem silly, but if you believe I approached his work with an open, well-meaning heart, you will be more likely to do the same with mine. So here are three reasons why I don’t, in fact, hate “The God Delusion.”
First on my list is the section titled, “The Worship of Gaps.” It would be silly to quote this entire section, but if you have the opportunity to read it yourself, please don’t hesitate. The general idea is that, when an over-zealous Christian finds an unexplainable gap in one of the sciences, he or she tends to ascribe the mystery as a miracle of God. Sure, it sounds like a good idea. After all, we’ve all heard of the unexplainable mysteries of the Lord. However, not all mysteries are unexplainable. In fact, I would go so far as to say that ALL mysteries can be explained, and most even have the potential to be explained by mankind. Thus, many well meaning Christ-followers set their savior up for failure when a scientific process explains that “miracle” away. I’m definitely not doing this section justice, but try to remember, even though we don’t yet have all the answers, that doesn’t give us the right to reduce the complex inter-workings of God’s creation to mislabeled, simplistic explanations. There is no honor to God in that.
On to another positive contribution of “The God Delusion.” In his section titled “The ‘Good’ Book and the Moral Zeitgeist”, on page 260-1, Dawkins hits on three eye-opening aspects of modern Christianity that should not be ignored.
1) “Labeling of children. Children are described as ‘Catholic children’ or Protestant children’ etc. from an early age, and certainly far too early for them to have made up their own minds on what they think about religion.” Obviously, I don’t think we should refrain from bringing our children up in a Christian household, but I believe it’s essential for us to educate them on other thoughts and beliefs if we want them to fully embrace Christianity while still respecting others as human beings. Bigotry is founded on ignorance and brainwashing our children does not honor God.
2) “Segregated schools. Children are educated, again often from a very early age, with members of a religious in-group and separately from children whose families adhere to other religions. It is not an exaggeration to say that the troubles in Northern Ireland would disappear in a generation if segregated schooling were abolished.” This final claim may be a stretch, but I do believe moral superiority stems from unawareness of the humanity of other ethnic groups.
3) “Taboos against ‘marrying out’. This perpetuates hereditary feuds and vendettas by preventing the mingling of feuding groups. Intermarriage, if it were permitted, would naturally tend to mollify enmities.” I know this is easier to say than to do. However, one can’t deny the truth in the statement.
This last contribution (found in the section titled, “The Mother of All Burkas”) is actually attributed to Steve Grand in his book, “Life and How to Make It,” but Dawkins gets the points because he brought it to my attention: “…of an experience from your childhood. Something you remember clearly, something you can see, feel, and maybe even smell, as if you were really there. After all, you really were there at the time, weren’t you? How else would you remember it? But here is the bombshell: you weren’t there. Not a single atom that is in your body today was there when that event took place…Matter flows from place to place and momentarily comes together to be you. Whatever you are, therefore, you are not the stuff of which you are made. If that doesn’t make the hair stand up on the back of your neck, read it again until it does, because it is important.”
It certainly is. In lieu of this information, what can we be, other than something beyond physical matter, molecules, and atoms?
Next month, I’ll address Dawkins’ views on the origins of the universe, and why those views fail to disprove God.
Until next time, noble readers.