Am going to try to do something monumental this evening. Having watched the series The God Delusion (C4) and listened to Richard Dawkins’ views on the idiocy of faith, am going to give my thoughts on each of (what I have noted) as his arguments. With a health warning. My partner has warned me that The God Delusion, originally aired as The Root of All Evil, is heavily edited to be as controversial and attention-grabbing as possible, and is a distorted view of Richard Dawkins’ thoughts, which are expressed without edit in his book of the same name. That said, based on what I have watched, I am going to try and construct a defence for the faith that I have.
Faith does not require independent thought. One of Dawkins’ arguments in this documentary rested on the notion that faith does not require thought. One is simply taught what to believe, and does so, irrespective of the evidence. At a personal level this is false. I have done more thinking as a result of my faith than I have ever done about science (and that’s saying something, given my employment as a researcher). It may be true that some groups encourage everyone to ‘think the same’ – but I have never gone along with that. I didn’t, as a case in point, stop reading evolutionary psychology because the University Christian Union deemed it ungodly, and unworthy of study; and I do not take as gospel anything that anyone tells me about God, Jesus or the Bible. I find out for myself, with often deeply painful consequences. There is little in the way of black and white truths, or childish certainties when it comes to matters of faith.
Faith rids us of healthy doubt. All I can say to that one is, I wish. I am full of doubt in Jesus, as this website testifies. I perpetually doubt what God thinks He is doing with my life, and every so often, whether He is there doing anything with it at all. Doubt is, I believe, a healthy part of healthy faith, and of trust. Coming through doubt can make faith stronger, and ultimately, if I had no doubts, I would never have come to faith in the first place….They are different sides of the same coin.
Science is about being objective. Ideally, yes it is. The thing is though, that science, as we know it, is performed by scientists. `and the scientific process is a circle, like so. The problem faced by mere mortal scientists, is where in the circle to start. If you start with a theory, then your data collection might be coloured by that theory. As Karl Popper famously said to his class, ‘Observe!’. Their first question was , ‘What should we observe?’. Knowing what you want to find has a huge influence on what you might eventually report. If you start with data, you are faced with the problem of how to reduce it, and analyze it, without some guiding framework, or overarching theory.
Of course, if the data doesn’t show what you want, you can always pretend that it does. Thus, we have a grammar school system based on the notion that eleven is the age at which intelligence is best manifest: a notion based on fabricated data, courtesy of Cyril Burt, so wedded was he to the idea that intelligence is innate. My point is that science is just as fallible to fads, fashions, and, indeed faith in certain ideas, as any other discipline.
Science is about disproving hypotheses. Again, ideally yes. I tell my first year class about Fred. Fred is an alien who visits Britain. He come with the hypothesis that all swans are white. He collects numerous examples of these swans, and concludes that his hypothesis is true. Of course we know it to be false, because he has failed to visit Dawlish, and collect one crucial piece of evidence – the black swan. Thus when scientists dream up a theory, they should do their best to disprove it. In theory. In practice, you are more likely to find reams (I mean reams) of studies supporting a certain theory. My PhD, for instance, will ( I hope) be a collection of studies, supporting the view that the group is important in understanding bullying. Likewise, Dawkins, in his documentary, alludes to the plethora of evidence supporting current theories of evolution. That things evolve I will take as fact. Why they do, we have yet to discover, but at no point does Dawkins’ allude to counter-evidence to Darwinian views, or say that the theory of evolution is, to excuse the term, evolving. There are few scientists who are in the business of disproving (their own) hypotheses.
Primeval soup. Dawkins frequently asserts that, if you go back far enough, you get to a kind of primeval soup of genetic material from which all things evolved. If we take this to be true, we are faced with the question, ‘Where did the primeval soup (aka life) come from?’ As John Polkinghorne points out in Belief in God in an Age of Science, th e exact physical laws of the universe that make it possible to support life in any form are so exact, that, either there are numerous parallel universes (thereby increasing the infinitely small probability of chance bringing about a planet that will support life) or some divine being designed a universe with precisely the right, and very intricate physical laws necessary to support life. I choose the latter.
Faith ‘knows everything’. Dawkins finds it offensive that people of faith claim to have all the answers to scientifically answerable questions, such as how the universe began. From where I am standing, we don’t. I don’t take it as fact that the Earth was created in six days, because there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary. I have as much, or as little knowledge as any other person about how ever and ever the world began. The important message I take from the Bible, from what Moses wrote, is that God created Earth. Just how or when this happened, we don’t know. And there are a million other questions I don’t know the answer to either, from whether I will wake up tomorrow, to when the world will end. The only thing I can be sure of is that God is in control, and He wants the best for everyone.
Cherry-picking. Having noted that I don’t believe the world was created in six days, I’d better pick up on Dawkins’ concept of cherry-picking from the Bible. Not believing its text wholesale. The Bible, as it is now, is, I think, a fallible document. It is a very selective collection of testimonies about God and Jesus that some early Christians decided should be part of this book. It is not the whole truth about Jesus, but it does reveal Him in part. The Gospels paint portraits, not photo’s of Him, if you like. On this basis alone, taking every word literally as it is written would be foolhardy, and indeed impossible, given that words are inherently open to multiple interpretations. Consider also that the Bible was originally written in Greek, and has gone through myriad translations since, and hopefully, you can see why, I do not follow everything therein. Why, I do not take to my bed during my period, lest a man should sin by communicating with me, and why I do not condone homophobia or misogyny. We know St. Paul was a misogynist. Numerous stories of Jesus’ interactions with women show that He was not. Rather, then, when I read the Bible, I do so prayerfully, bearing in mind that the Bible was written by human hands, and try to understand what is being said to me in the context of my life through words written long ago, and in the context of the ‘New Commandment – ‘To love one another, as I have loved you’.
A lot of what I reject outright from the Bible is in the Old Testament – human views of God. That we should kill, an eye for an eye. I reject it, just as Jesus rejected a lot of the teaching he was subject to – ‘I tell you, turn the other cheek’. I reject it because Jesus rejected it, in favour of thinking in love, of others’ needs ahead of one’s own.
Fire and Brimstone. I don’t like it when people preach about Hell. I don’t like it because I don’t think they have any right to say that, ‘if you do this you will go to hell, if you do that, you won’t. No one, but God has the right to judge anyone. On that, the Bible is clear. It is not a human right to say to someone that they are going to Hell. The Bible tells us that those who believe in God will be saved (John 3 v. 16). It does not tell us, nor does it follow from this, what will happen to those who do not believe. One can be certain of salvation if one believes in Jesus. If one doesn’t, then, who knows?
Child Abuse. I am oft told by my partner that I am abusing the children in my care by suggesting to them that there is a God. I do not think that I am. For a start (in true scientific fashion) show me the damage I have done, by telling them, not that there is a God, but that I believe there to be a God looking after us all, loving us all, no matter what. I am not stopping them from coming into contact with other world views, I am simply informing them of mine. How is that any different to informing that child of atheism, Judaism, or Buddhism? Eventually that child’s mind will be mature enough to consider each of these viewpoints, and to make up their own mind.
The Crucifixion. Dawkins’ proposes that Christians believe that Jesus had to die on the Cross in order to overcome original sin. But since Adam and Eve are little more than allegory according to other Christians, what Jesus went through was tantamount to futile, cosmic child abuse. I believe that what Jesus accomplished on the Cross was much more than dealing with original sin. Jesus bore the sins of the world on his shoulders on the Cross. Everything that I have ever done wrong (and I sin daily) and will do was paid for on the Cross. The Cross allows me then to choose to have a relationship with God, by accepting the forgiveness for sin offered at the Cross. I could not, I believe, have this relationship without the Cross, since sin gets in the way of humans and God.