Archive for August, 2010


This was my essay assignment for the Science and Religion general education course at USNW semester 1 2010.

[Before I tackle the given question, I would like to note that Richard Dawkins is a prominent and publicly outspoken atheist. Thus, as I unpack his ideas on religion, it is obvious that they will include and correlate with modern atheistic concepts. I will attempt to remain focused on Dawkins personal thoughts on religion and not stray into a critical appraisal of atheism; my success in this regard will be determined by the reader.]

Professor Richard Dawkins has been an outspoken ‘preacher’ for the atheist community, who, alongside Christopher Hitchens has made atheism a socially acceptable ‘religion’ as well as making it a strong political force. Just recently Dawkins and Hitchens have been supporting a case for the arrest of Pope Benedict XVI for crimes against humanity relating to sexual abuse. As a leading biologist, it has been Dawkins primary purpose to expand on Darwinian evolution and in doing so explain the origin of the species. Whilst he has been pressing for a wider appreciation of theory of evolution Dawkins has also been presenting his thoughts on religion, arguing against the need of a God. This has brought him into the middle of the resurging science and religion debate. I have tried to compile his major thoughts on religion and have attempted to express my own and others reactions to them.

Faith and Evidence

This I believe is Dawkins most prominent argument against religion and for science, that encompasses many areas of the science and religion debate, that is, science is truth because it is based on evidence and religion is false because it is based not on evidence, but on faith. Dawkins believes that based on evidence scientific (and other) truth can be attained. When asked how he knew his wife loved him at a recent debate between himself and Professor John Lennox, he answered based on evidence. “The look in her eye” (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion Debate*). This may well reveal the possibility of her love, however as Lennox pointed out, evidence does not form proof. Proof can only be attained by mathematical proof, where it is shown to be true or false by conclusive logic. So this is the first great hurdle for Dawkins to jump. He is incorrect to think that scientific theory based on evidence is truth, and that to be a scientist there is no need for faith. There may well be a scientific theory in which recorded results match perfectly (within the bounds of error) with the expected results; even still this is not proof. All laws of physics have their clauses in which they cease to remain expectable. Faith is needed to do science, that is, a faith in the consistency of the universe is needed in order to apply laws to the universe. Now when we attain some formula for the nature of the universe, when we understand something well enough to be able to predict its future, do we say that we no longer have a need for a god to grant us our daily bread? Is there a need for faith? Newton when derived his laws of mechanics praised god. The very fact that we intrinsically desire to create ‘laws’ has been suggested by many theologians to point toward a creator god who created laws, and being made in the image of God has imparted this desire unto humankind.

Dawkins concepts of religion have been heavily shaped by his work in the field of biology. He constantly presents a case against creationism, and most directly toward the 6 day creationists. He has wide spread support for his ideas that the earth is not 6000 to 10000 years old but in fact 5 billion years old. This is not disputed. He confidently proclaims that although the origins of the universe has “not yet had its Darwin” (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion Debate*), he suggests that from the first bang to the present, the entire process, from forming atoms, to planets coming to shape, to life itself can be described scientifically. And from the point of life coming into being onward, he suggests that Darwin’s theory of evolution explains the designer appearance of the universe in a simple way. Even Dawkins himself expresses his awe at the universe laid out in front of him in the night sky, and how although he has the “desire to praise someone” (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion Debate*), to attribute this work to someone, he finds the theories of science and evolution more plausible than the concept of a God. “A creative designer cannot be a satisfying solution” (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion Debate*). Others would of course feel the inverse. Dawkins suggests that believing in a god provides a lazy answer to understanding the universe in which we live. He suggests that all religions encourage the mind to not seek the answers to how the universe around us works, and the creation story provides a copout answer to the origins of life. “One of the truly bad effects of religion is that it teaches us that it is a virtue to be satisfied with not understanding” (p126 The God delusion). Dawkins is a firm supporter of evolution to be taught in school science rooms before the creation story is taught so to encourage the minds of the young to seek answers to the big questions and not be satisfied with the easier solutions. However Lennox suggests that because of his faith he sought  to understand the creation around him all the more, so to be able to see the power of the God who made it, and thus to praise God all the more.

Much was said about the revelation by scientific observation that the universe was still expanding from the initial big bang and how this strongly promotes the biblical account of creation. The bible claims that there is a definite beginning of time and space which certainly correlates with a single explosion for a beginning. Dawkins does not suggest that the big bang theory proves or disproves the existence of a god, for the very nature of a god existing is not provable.

Multi-verse Theory and Probability

Now a brief observation on plausibility and the multi-verse theory. Dawkins holds to the theory of the multi-verse. This theory is derived to explain the ‘goldilocks’ phenomenon of how the universal constants are so precisely perfectly tuned that it seems mathematically impossible to have occurred. Multi-verse theory states that there exists countless universes in which these constants and many other factors are different to the ones we measure in our universe. Thus we find ourselves in the universe with the perfectly fine turned constants, because it is the only universe we would be able to find ourselves in. Also it follows that if there exists multiple universes in one universe I may be a good person and in another I may be a murderer. Philosophers have of course had a field day on this. An interesting thought to ponder is that, if Dawkins suggests that there is a possibility of a God, however small it may be, it would be logical that in one universe of the many, there would be a god. This is not consistent with the judo-Christian presentation of god, that god would be somehow a part of creation. Thus this should only be considered in a humorous manner. Professor and highly acclaimed author and theologian John Polkinghorne considers it more probable that there is a single creator God than there being infinitely many universes.

Morality and the Mind

The age old question of, do we need a God for us to be good, has been a topic Dawkins has been keen to dispel. He suggests that the universal quality among humanity of doing good and despising evil can be explained from our past and not from god.  “You certainly don’t need a holy book to tell you (how to be good)” (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion Debate*). He suggests at one time humanity lived in small communities where by doing charitable acts developed within us a desire to do good acts with the hope of reciprocation. “We developed a kind of lust to be good which was parallel to the lust of sex” (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion Debate*). He suggests that this change in morals can be seen in reverse as the Darwinian desires to do good fade,  and the morals of the world shift. Lennox suggests that the universal nature of knowing right and wrong points to a god who humankind are made in the image of. Forgive the large quotation but it is a favourite of mine, as CS Lewis describes atheism and morality in a manner much more eloquent that I ever could.

“When I was an atheist my argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it?… Thus in the very act of trying to prove that god did not exist- in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless- I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality- namely my idea of justice- was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning.” (C S Lewis Mere Christianity).

Lewis promotes a complex concept that Lennox expands on, in that, even in the past of evolution, how could the knowledge of good or evil be derived from matter. Lennox suggests that after all, the mind is constructed of matter, controlling matter, being the body, and so, how can the matter of the mind derive that the matter of the body did something fundamentally good? Or in the reverse, if a brick falls off a roof and hits someone in the head and kills them, does the brick feel remorse, or is the brick intrinsically bad for just ‘following’ the laws of Newton. Is then Newton evil? Thus the question to be answered is, how can matter derive morality from other matter? And if we are supposed to be just “dancing to our DNA” (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion) how can our actions be considered evil if we are just doing what we are designed to do?

Religion is evil

Dawkins boldly claims that religion, even mild religion, is a cause of extremist behaviour. Logical people can be driven by seemingly logical impulses from ‘on high’, to do all manner of evil acts. So he suggests that for the cause of religion millions of wars and atrocities have occurred. “Without religion 9/11 would not of happened” (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion Debate*). He seems to forget the wars of the world where for the cause of no religion, that is, for the cause of enforcing atheism by force, tens of thousands were killed by the orders of Hitler and Stalin. So what can we attain from this? Jesus did not condone violence, even when he was arrested and led away to be killed he showed compassion and love. In a similar way atheists can be good too, for they also have the universal nature of desiring to be good. So there is really no argument here to say that religion causes evil, for there are people doing evil things in all faiths and cultures. However what is common is that across all these cultures, evil is known and despised.

Conclusion

I felt it necessary to provide Dawkins views on the central claim of the Christian faith, which is that of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. “Having produced some sort of case for a deistic God perhaps, the great physicist who adjusted the laws and the constants of the universe. That’s all very grand and wonderful.  Then suddenly we come down to the resurrection of Jesus. It’s so petty, so trivial, so local, so earth bound, it is so unworthy of the universe.” (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion Debate*). This is his views. If you were to read the Christian message this is plausible and logical conclusion anyone could find themselves thinking to be truth. However, if one were to consider that there is more to life that this, to think beyond matter, laws and science. To consider the ‘childish’ questions that science can never answer, such as, what is the meaning of life? Then one could view the cross of Christ as the ultimate act of love, from a loving God, for a people who do not love him, only done for the sake of chance, that some may love him back, guilt free.

Resources

The God Delusion Debate

http://www.fixed-point.org/index.php/video/35-full-length/164-the-dawkins-lennox-debate

Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion.

Blog 1.0

Hey guys! Yes i am one of those Jerks who thinks that their words are worth spamming across the internet.

I apologise in for this.

This is mostly for me in training myself in expressing my thoughts on theology in a nice, neat, understandable manner.

And to keep myself disciplined in setting aside time to ponder the mysteries of the Gospel.

Also i hope to post prayer points, for nothing of eternal value is possible apart from the eternal God.

Love and peace.