Though atheism is still unpopular in the United States, the new book The God Delusion has made it more fashionable. The truth is that Richard Dawkins’ book, not the Bible, is the real delusion.
Our Christian faith is under fresh attack by a strident, dogmatic and powerful brand of atheism. The chief apostle of this ideology is Richard Dawkins, the famous Oxford professor and prolific science writer.
His latest book, The God Delusion, has been on the best-seller lists for months. His views have put him on the cover of Time magazine, and he has been featured on the BBC, CNN and other stations. Along with Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett, Dawkins is a hero to a new breed of atheists.
Dawkins considers belief in God as ridiculous as the idea that a huge teapot is currently orbiting Mars. He dismisses believers as “faith-heads” and states that “faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence.”
Dawkins advocates “atheist pride” and asserts that atheists can be “happy, balanced, moral and intellectually fulfilled.” He defends atheistic Darwinism with no blush and heaps scorn on scientists who show appreciation for religious beliefs. According to Dawkins, they represent the “Neville Chamberlain School of Evolutionists.”
The extent of Dawkins’ contempt for Christian faith is shown in his endorsement of The Blasphemy Challenge, a campaign that actually encourages young people to publicly blaspheme the Holy Spirit. This is no joke. The Challenge Web site asks, “Do you have a soul you’re not using?” and offers an anti-Christian documentary (valued at $24.98) free to anyone who uploads his blasphemy to YouTube.
In 30 years of tracking anti-Christian polemic I have rarely seen anything so heartbreaking. As of mid-March more than 800 people had posted Spirit-denying testimonies online.
That Dawkins seems unfazed is not surprising given the depth of his invective against the Christian faith. He calls the God of the Old Testament “a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty, ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
Dawkins views the Christian church of equal worth with Bobby Henderson’s recently created Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Dawkins ridicules belief in prayer, gives little credence to Jesus and views religion as the root of evil.
Clinton Richard Dawkins was born in Kenya on March 26, 1941. His religious roots were traditional Anglican, though he abandoned Christian belief when he was a teenager.
He became a student at Oxford in 1959, graduated with a degree in zoology in 1962 and then earned a doctorate in 1966. He taught at the University of California at Berkeley for three years and returned to Oxford in 1970. His most famous scientific works are The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker. He became a fellow of the Royal Society in May 2001.
Dawkins’ atheism is rooted explicitly in his allegiance to Charles Darwin (1809-1882), the famous exponent of evolution. Dawkins uses Darwin’s work as an explanatory framework for questions about the origin and nature of life.
However, Dawkins moves beyond Darwinism in at least two important ways. First, unlike Darwin, he totally abandons even token appreciation for God and religion. On these matters, Darwin could be annoyingly vague. Second, Dawkins is passionately opposed to social Darwinism, the use of “survival of the fittest” as a tool for politics, as was suggested by Karl Marx.
Though it is not true that Darwin repented of evolution on his deathbed, there is no evidence that he became an atheist. So, what explains Dawkins’ hard-core atheism? Basically, Dawkins believes it is foolish and cowardly to remain agnostic.
According to The God Delusion, there are no adequate proofs for God, no reasons to anchor morality in God, little to admire in the Bible and abundant evidence that religion is evil. With John Lennon, Dawkins wants to imagine a world with no religion and no God delusion.
Dawkins is not using hyperbole in his use of the word “delusion.” He quotes with approval the view of Robert M. Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: “When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called Religion.”
How Not to Respond
In 1856 Darwin used the phrase “a Devil’s Chaplain” in a letter to a friend. Dawkins proudly uses the phrase of himself and as the title for one of his books.
How should Christians respond to this modern-day Devil’s Chaplain? Let’s note some ways how not to reply.
First, we must steer away from the nasty tone Dawkins sometimes adopts in his book and has used in recent public speeches. For example, his lecture in Lynchburg, Virginia, contained an utterly condescending response to an innocent Christian student who simply asked him, “What if you are wrong?” In the prestigious London Review of Books Terry Eagleton, the literary critic, chided Dawkins for the “appalling” tone in parts of his book.
Second, Christians should avoid spending much if any time arguing that religion is good. As Dawkins correctly notes, religion can often be deadly, irrational and the source of much misery and evil.
Christians should have deep sympathy with the position of Karl Barth that the gospel of Jesus Christ stands against all religion. There is impressive evidence that churches grow when the trappings of religion disappear. Bruxy Cavey, a creative Toronto pastor, explores this reality in his new book The End of Religion (NavPress, 2007).
There is another response to avoid. Nothing will be gained by answering The God Delusion with replies that duplicate Dawkins’ dogmatism and obstinacy tit-for-tat. Francis Collins, the famous Christian scientist and director of the Human Genome Project, notes that Dawkins has embraced “an embittered manifesto of dogmatic atheist fundamentalism.” Atheists and agnostics will not be impressed by any Christian apologetic that imitates Dawkins’ overbearing certainty.
Answering The God Delusion must not involve proving Dawkins wrong at every point, as if Christians know everything. After all, we now know in part (see 1 Cor. 13:12) and live by faith and not by sight (see 2 Cor. 5:7). What that means this side of heaven is honest recognition that we simply cannot solve every problem.
We follow “the Light of the World,” but Jesus has not illumined us with omniscience. In practical terms, we gain ground by honest admission that there are Bible passages we cannot understand, Christian truths we cannot fathom, and depths of pain and evil that break our hearts.
The God Solution
Though Christian response to Dawkins must show proper humility, there is no reason to be shy about God as solution and not delusion. In the end, Dawkins ultimately offers a weak assault on Christian faith and belief in God. In fact, Michael Ruse, a famous critic of creationism, has written that “The God Delusion makes me embarrassed to be an atheist.”
On what grounds and on what evidence should Christians resist Dawkins and have confidence in God and in the gospel of Jesus Christ?
First, in spite of Darwin and Dawkins, there is no reason to abandon belief in God as creator. The heavens still declare the glory of God. The incredible design of the world is proof enough that we are not creatures of the blind dance of time and chance, as Dawkins claims.
On these matters, the success of the intelligent design movement is rooted, not in the gullibility of scientists addicted to a God of the gaps, but to the absolutely stunning complexity of the created order. Consider one example: Humans are able to hear because of the 16,000 hair cells in the cochlea of the ear. These cells can turn current off and on 20,000 times per second.
The increasing evidence for the intelligent design of the world led Antony Flew, the renowned British philosopher, to abandon atheism after six decades. Flew became increasingly persuaded and announced his belief in God in late 2004. Yet Dawkins grants Flew’s conversion only part of one lone footnote in his book.
In the end, Dawkins offers atheism without proof and by simple fiat. He ignores the best writers in Christian philosophy, mentioning C.S. Lewis only once and giving no space at all to Alvin Plantinga (Notre Dame), William Lane Craig (Talbot), Hans Ku¨ng (Tu¨bingen), the late Elizabeth Anscombe (Cambridge) and other superb Christian philosophers. This is a stunning dereliction of intellectual responsibility. Plantinga has already written a devastating critique of Dawkins’ atheistic stance.
It is important to note that acceptance of Darwin’s theory of evolution does not necessitate atheism. This has been argued at length by Alister McGrath in his work Dawkins’ God and also by Francis Collins in The Language of God. In his review of The God Delusion in The New York Times Jim Holt wrote that even Darwinian processes “can’t take you from Nothing to Something.” All that Dawkins can manage on the issue of the origin of life is that scientists are working on it.
Second, despite the bombastic claims of Dawkins, Christians have every right to retain confidence in the love and grace of God as shown in Jesus Christ. The God Delusion contains virtually nothing substantial in its treatment of Jesus Christ.
That’s right. In a work of nearly 400 pages, Jesus receives scant and shallow attention. (In fact, He is mentioned only 86 times, while Darwin’s name appears 164 times.)
Dawkins has almost no peer as a writer of science, but he is out of his league when he writes about Jesus. He asserts, for example, that there is little proof that Jesus thought He was divine. This is said with absolutely no examination of relevant biblical data and with no analysis of the work of New Testament scholars such as Craig Evans (Acadia University) or Larry Hurtado (University of Edinburgh).
Dawkins is desperate to circumvent the fact that Jesus claimed divinity. He gives Jesus high marks for His ethics but does not face the implication of this great ethicist’s being wrong about His identity.
He makes a brief reference to the classic argument that Jesus must be liar, lunatic or lord. His solution here is simply stunning: “A fourth possibility, almost too obvious to need mentioning, is that Jesus was honestly mistaken.” So Dawkins would have us think that anyone who believes in God is delusional but that Jesus, who believed He was God, is honestly mistaken. Wow.
One might expect that a book targeting Christian faith would make mincemeat of historical arguments for the resurrection of Jesus. After all, if Jesus rose from the dead, it sure seems as if Christianity is true.
But the word “resurrection” appears in The God Delusion only twice in 400 pages. The case for or against the resurrection basically receives no attention at all.
Dawkins does not even allude to the superb work on this topic from historians such as Gary Habermas or John Warwick Montgomery. He would probably dismiss both as naive fundamentalists.
For the record, Montgomery has three earned doctorates (Chicago, Cardiff and the Sorbonne), and Habermas has a Ph.D. in history from Michigan State.
Third, God as solution is our proper testimony as we experience God’s work in our lives through Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. On this subjective front, Richard Dawkins has absolutely no patience with Christian testimony. Remember, he prefers those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit!
Christians should feel no threat from such hostile unbelief. Rather, we should be empowered by the actual work of God as He forgives our sin, helps us to grow in love, answers our prayers, gives us strength to face trials, and helps us to enjoy life and trust His promise of eternal life.
James A. Beverley is professor of Christian thought and ethics at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto. Go to jimbeverley.com for information on his book-length replies to Dawkins and to The Secret.