Friday, May 30, 2014

The "Cultural Christianity" of Richard Dawkins

 
Dawkins' Flying Spaghetti Monster (with Meatballs)
   
    I don’t often find myself agreeing with Richard Dawkins, the chief evangelist (dysangelist? cacangelist?) of the “New Atheism”.  I recently ran across an article, however, from a publication called Christian Today (not to be confused with Christianity Today) featuring this same Prof. Dawkins [here].   It seems that as Dawkins was out hawking his memoirs he was asked a question by "an American minister in the audience who said he continued to preach the teachings of Christ and considered himself a Christian despite not believing in Jesus’s miracles or His resurrection anymore."  Dawkins quite properly responded: “But if you don’t have the supernatural, it’s not clear to me why you would call yourself a minister.”  Now, I myself wouldn’t call it “the supernatural”, but I know what he means.  As I’ve said before [here], a man who does not believe in the Resurrection of Christ has no business standing up in front of a congregation in the guise of a Christian minister, or pastor, or priest.  He’s guilty of fraud, for one thing; also, what in the world does he do with a passage like this:


If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.  We are even found to be misrepresenting God . . . If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.  Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. (1Corinthians 15:14-19)


Sadly, Prof. Dawkins and I have little ground for agreement after that.  In fact, this little article, whose main focus is he atheist apologist’s Anglican origins, is a good illustration of the emotionalist and sheer illogic that underlies much of the currently fashionable atheism.  Consider the following:

Dawkins, Author of The Selfish Gene, went on to say he believed there was a “magnetic pull” that kicks in if humans stray off the path they were destined to take.
          “I think there are always paths not taken but if a different path is taken, I think there is a magnetic pull.  There is a sort of something that pulls you back to the pathway having taken a fork in the road.”

In The Selfish Gene and in other places Dawkins, whose training is in insect biology, has argued that our actions and choices are genetically determined.  A “destined path” sounds quite a bit less random than simple genetic determination.  And how is it that we “wander off the path” in the first place if our genes are determining our actions?
     Or how about this:

He said he felt “grateful” to the Church of England because of its “benign tolerance” that allowed people to be a part of its ceremonies and traditions without having to believe in the faith.
         
He suspects, he says, that many Anglicans “don’t believe any of it” but “vaguely enjoy” it, and goes on to compare “evensong in a country church” to “a village cricket match on the village green”.  If what he says is true, the Anglican Church either lies that it believes what it does not, or really does believe it has a truth vital to salvation but makes no effort to impress it upon anyone, not even those who enter its doors.  Shouldn’t Dawkins be angry at its dishonesty?
     Well, he is angry, in fact – but he is angry instead at Christians who actually believe what they claim to believe.  According to the article:

. . . Dawkins admitted he was a little “angry” with God [!!] and those who believe in him.
          “I do believe in truth.  I am moved by the beauty of life, as it has evolved.  I think any child who is being denied that knowledge is being cheated.  It’s wicked that children are being brought up that way by parents, teachers, priests – deliberately, systematically deprived of that knowledge,” he said.

Where to begin with this emotion-charged pile of inconsistencies?  Claiming to be angry with a God he says doesn’t exist is probably just a rhetorical trope, but what is the “truth” he’s talking about?  Most Christians would agree that life “has evolved”; the difference is that they believe that any “evolution” has been guided by the hand of an infinitely loving God, while Dawkins claims that it is all a big, random, meaningless accident.  Is it “wicked” to find the Christian view more beautiful?  And given that Dawkins’ position is unproven and, in fact, completely unprovable, how can he assert an absolute like “truth”?  Why should he be angry with people who are just following their genetic programming?  And finally, how can anything possibly be “wicked” (wicked!) in a world that is ultimately meaningless?
     And this, of course, is the irony at the heart of atheism as a belief system: atheists claim that theirs is the “rational” view because we can’t point to ironclad “proof” of God’s existence.  There is in fact quite a bit of proof, both empirical and logical, of course, but even if we concede their premise, nobody has ever offered a rational proof, or offered physical evidence, of God’s non-existence.  While one can come up with a logical defense of agnosticism, perhaps, atheism is and can only be an opinion, no more.  Notice how Dawkins himself answers this criticism: he claims to believe in “The Flying Spaghetti Monster”; sure, he can’t prove it, just like Christians can’t prove the existence of God, and therefore his Spaghetti Monster is equally plausible.  He pretends that a critique of his own position is instead a defense of his antagonist’s position, and having created a straw man, ridicules it with an absurdity.  That’s a pretty cheap trick for the champion of “reason”.
     One final, interesting, detail: Dawkins, the article tells us, “became atheist in his teens” (much like his fellow New Atheist, the recently deceased Christopher Hitchens, who became an atheist as a preteen).  It’s theoretically possible, I suppose, that an adolescent could have the knowledge, wisdom, and objectivity to come up with the logical argument that disproves Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and other great minds throughout the ages, but if Dawkins has done it, he hasn’t shared it with us.  There are a number of well-written books that fairly easily shred the arguments that he and his fellow militant non-believers have offered (my favorite: The Last Superstition by Edward Feser).
     The Richard Dawkinses of this world are badly in need of our prayers.  It shouldn’t surprise us that he feels a strange fondness for Christian observance: a rational person might even conclude that if he feels a “magnetic pull” back to church that something – someone? – is pulling him, well, back to church.  Who knows? He may, like famed atheist philosopher Anthony Flew [see here], reason his way back.