Richard Dawkins on Eugenics

Should you trust a biology professor on eugenics? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Richard Dawkins has a penchant for saying things that aren’t too bright. Now in all fairness, when he writes a book that focuses on science, it’s really quite fascinating reading. I like reading this Dawkins. Even if I don’t agree with him, it’s enjoyable and I see a great love nature in him.

Yet sometimes he steps out of that and that’s when things go wrong. Think The God Delusion. Think Outgrowing God. (Which my ebook response to is coming out soon.) Think The Magic of Reality. In all of these books, there is talk about theology and it’s consistently bad.

Or think about statements he’s made. Dawkins has said he couldn’t condemn the mild pedophilia that he experienced at a boarding school growing up. (Prediction, within a few years, Dawkins will be seen as someone ahead of his time, though still with bigoted viewpoints in thinking pedophilia is harmful at all. There have already been TED talks trying to normalize this awful practice.) He has also said that if a baby is diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome, abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring such a child into the world if you have a choice.

So after awhile, you realize that he’s fine when studying zoology, but when he goes outside of that area, disasters happen. Such is the case with a statement he made yesterday on Twitter. Dawkins has decided to talk about eugenics this time.

“It’s one thing to deplore eugenics on ideological, political, moral grounds. It’s quite another to conclude that it wouldn’t work in practice. Of course it would. It works for cows, horses, pigs, dogs & roses. Why on earth wouldn’t it work for humans? Facts ignore ideology.”

I will leave it to the scientists to discuss if eugenics would work on humans or not, but I find this kind of statement disastrous. For one thing, Dawkins overlooks that ideology could be factual just as much. There are moral facts out there. Perhaps it’s a moral fact that one shouldn’t try to farm the human race to breed superior humans and weed out weaker ones and deny them a right to life.

We can also be sure that Dawkins does not see him as one of the humans that would be eliminated with eugenics. Those who advocate eugenics tend to see themselves as the superior ones. It’s the same way I approach the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. If you believe in your cause, lead by example.

Now to be fair, Dawkins does go on to say that he thinks a eugenics policy would be bad and shouldn’t be done, but quite likely most people will not read the follow-up comments unless they are separate tweets themselves, which they are not. That is their fault if they are not, but sadly, Dawkins will still have stuck his foot in in his mouth and people will run with it.

However, whether it would work or not is irrelevant. Why bring it up if it is wrong? I am sure we could come up with a plan of an untraceable murder and it would work, but it should still not be done. It is fine for Dawkins to want to defend science, and really he should, but eugenics is much more an ideology than it is a science. It might be fine to breed dogs or cats or horses a certain way, but humans are different.

It’s important to consider that humans are different and if we agree (And sadly, not all do), then we have to ask what is the basis of this fact? Because we’re smarter or more evolved or something of that sort? Could it be there’s something all humans uniquely share that makes us different? Maybe. Just maybe.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Why I Don’t Debate Evolution

Is this an issue really worth debating? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Over the weekend, I saw some Christian friends arguing on Facebook about evolution. One is open to it if not supportive of it and the other is skeptical. I have also been reading through Richard Dawkins’s Outgrowing God who seems to be of the opinion that if you prove evolution, then you have put God out of a job.

Here I sit then thankful that I don’t debate the issue at all.

Let’s start with Dawkins. Dawkins regularly in his book when he talks about anything outside of science gets things stupendously wrong. I don’t want to be like that. When I get to the science section of his book, it sounds impressive, but then I think that he really blundered earlier. How do I know he didn’t do the same here? I try to give the benefit of the doubt because this is his area, but it can be difficult.

Yet here I am, someone who has not studied science. Do I want to make the same mistake in the opposite direction? Do I want to risk saying embarrassing things about science in a way that when it comes time to the areas I do know something about that people will not listen to me?

Keep in mind this is me saying this is what works for me. If you are someone who has studied science seriously and reads both sides, I have no problem if you want to debate evolution really. I think there are better areas to debate, but I’m not going to stop you.

But what about Genesis? For Genesis, I go with John Walton’s interpretation. In this one, Genesis is not describing the formation of creation in material terms, but in terms of function. It is telling how everything works together in the making of sacred space. The days can then be literal because this is just God making declarations over what He has made.

As it stands then, I have no hill to die on. My worldview then does not depend on modern science. Evolution is true? Cool. I move on. Evolution is false? Cool. I move on.

In my opinion, both Christians and atheists who think evolution is the dealbreaker are misinformed. For one thing, none of this has impact on if Jesus rose from the dead. At the most, it can damage inerrancy. The case for the resurrection of Jesus does not depend on Genesis.

It’s also sad that in some sense, atheists are right when they say we have God of the gaps and science keeps filling in those gaps. The early scientists who were Christians did their science to see how God did something. It was not assumed that He had to do something a particular way and if He didn’t, then He didn’t exist.

Let’s take our own formation. We all believe thanks to Psalms that we are fearfully and wonderfully made and the Psalmist says we are knit together in our mother’s womb. At the same time, many of us do not balk at the idea that we are formed through a process of gestation that takes place in nine months and don’t think this means God micromanages our DNA. God can still form us and a natural process can be involved.

Why not with our original creation?

Also, the existence of God is not on scientific terms, since science can never prove or disprove something immaterial. It’s in the area of metaphysics and here the question goes deeper. It is the question of existence itself. What does it mean to be? It’s not just how the universe came into being, but how does the universe stay in being? What about goodness, truth, and beauty? Where do they come from?

These are questions that are not scientific necessarily, aside from perhaps how the universe came to be. The rest are philosophical questions and God is something that can be studied through philosophy. This is where the real battle lies.

Furthermore, I get concerned that we could be keeping up a stereotype of science vs. religion. This is a big problem I have with Dawkins’s book. At the end, he can describe things like starlings in flight or chameleons catching insects with their tongues or anything like that. I read it and think “How marvelous the way God’s creation works.” Why? Because God is largely in my background knowledge and I see no contradiction between evolution and God.

Thus, if God is in that knowledge and I have no problem with evolution, I, like many others, will interpret knowledge I gain through the lens of what I already hold on what I at least think are good grounds. There are plenty of people who will not think that way, but religion is a deeply important part of their lives.

For those who have science as their background and are atheistic, this will get them to think science and religion are opposed, but the problem is a number of religious people could think the same way. Dawkins could wind up driving people away from science.

The reality is if you pit these two against each other, people will gravitate towards the one that means the most to them. Jesus means a lot more to a lot more people than, say, knowing how far away the Crab Nebula is from us. They will accept science on basic things, but not on things that really challenge their thinking.

My philosophy now on it is to just stay out of it. I do not know the field well enough to debate it and I could make blunders that would undermine me in other areas. It also does not impact my position on Genesis or Christianity at all. Once again, if you know the science and you think you can give someone a door to Christianity, have at it. God bless you. If you are not a scientist though or someone who seriously studies it, be careful about debating such a topic.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Why Christianity Is Not True Chapter 7

Does God exist? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We return again to David Pye’s book and this time he has a chapter on the existence of God. Pye is not ready to say he’s an atheist yet, but he does lean more towards that side. This isn’t a really long chapter, though it does seem longer than others. The downside is that real evidence is not engaged. There’s more thought experiments than anything else.

Pye starts by talking about how The God Delusion came out which presented the case for atheism with great force and clarity. With great force, we can agree. With clarity, we cannot. Dawkins did not write a convincing work at all and a number of atheists even agree with that one. It will be agreed that he at least brought a debate mainstream, but even now the new atheists seem to be a thing of the past.

One of the first pieces of evidence for theism that Pye presents is people saying that they know God. “Jesus indeed rose from the dead. I spoke with Him this morning!” I really do not take arguments like that seriously any more than I take the Mormon claim of the burning in the bosom seriously.

I agree with Pye also that this seems to be the inside language in the church. I don’t think it does any good and wish that older Christians would stop because I think it just confuses younger ones. Go look in your Bible and see all the passages where it tells you how to hear the voice of God. Oh wait. They’re not there.

From here, Pye goes on to the rise of science. He says that over time religious explanations have been replaced by scientific explanations. It’s a shame no examples are given. We can be sure that there were many people in a polytheistic context who tried to explain such things, but did they invent deities to do that, or were the deities already there believed to do the things that needed explaining?

As for Christianity, the Christians were the ones trying to find the scientific explanations many times. Science was being done often in the Middle Ages. Finding a natural explanation for something was not seen as removing God from the picture. It was seen as a way of demonstrating how the mind of God works.

The idea of science removing faith might work if you have an idea of a God who must be constantly doing miracles or such to maintain reality. That is not the Christian position. It is true that God upholds all existence by His power, but He also does it through many instrumental means and not through a constant working of the miraculous.

He tells a story about a little boy seeing the sun and realizing no man made that. He points out this story would be convincing 30 years ago, but not today, but why? What did we discover? There is often this idea that if you find a natural explanation for something, there can be no greater explanation. I see no reason to think such a thing. A natural explanation can show the genius of the creator.

Pye then goes on to ask if disbelief in God is evil. He compares it to the Loch Ness monster. Perhaps someone is not convinced by the evidence. Does that mean their denial is evil? Unfortuantely, the Loch Ness monster comes with no moral requirements of such a nature. If God exists and especially the Christian God, one is called to live a life of dying to one’s self and self-surrender.

This leads to Pascal’s Wager. He quotes Dawkins as saying that Pascal must have been joking. We can be sure that Dawkins has never read Pascal. Pascal in the wager was speaking to the man who has heard both sides and is just sitting on the fence and has his emotional doubt creeping in.

Pascal in this case does advise what is called “Fake it until you make it.” Pye says God would not be fooled, but such a person is not trying to fool God. Such a person really wants to believe. It is like the person in exposure therapy who tries to face his fears. He really does want to face them. He doesn’t feel like it the first time, but he wants to get there. A woman who has gone through abuse can have a hard time trusting her husband, especially sexually, but if she wants to, she will face even if she doesn’t feel like it.

Pye also says that the criterion listed is that God will judge based on belief, but this is assuming Pascal would not encourage a holy life anyway. Of course, he would. This is kind of like people who say an argument for God does not work because it does not prove the Christian God. So what? God is shown and theism is shown to be true then.

By the way, earlier in this chapter, Dawkins is quoted saying the non-existence of God cannot be shown. This is nonsense. This is not to say it can be established, but if one could show a necessary contradiction in the nature of God, then God could not exist.

Pye also has some material about word associations. We often associate good things with theism and bad things with atheism. This is interesting, but it really says nothing about the existence of God.

From there we get into discussions about omnipotence. The classic question is brought forward of if God can create a rock so heavy He can’t lift it. I will gladly answer this.

No.

What? Isn’t that a denial of omnipotence?

Not at all. What it is saying is God cannot make a contradictory state of affairs. God cannot make it be that something surpasses His power over the physical world. Pye can often quote Lewis. He should remember Lewis also said nonsense doesn’t become sense just because you add the words “God can” to it.

Pye thinks it’s nonsensical to say “I believe God was able to raise Jesus from the dead” and then say “I believe God can heal your Psoriasis.” Why is it nonsense? Just becuase the greater entails the lesser? The person who says this is saying it because the other person really does have doubts and they want to encourage. Whether it’s the right thing to say is another matter. That it entails a problem with doubt is not established.

Finally, Pye ends with a note on solar eclipses. He notes that our planet is the only one we know of in such a relationship to its moon that it has solar eclipses. He has not seen this argument he says used for theism. Pye has not looked hard enough.

If you’ve been paying attention, you notice a few problems here overall. The only evidence really given for theism other than personal experience at the start is solar eclipses. No Kalam argument is given or interacted with. Moral arguments are not. Thomistic arguments are not. The arguments from desire and beauty are not.

As I think about it, it looks like we have a lot of psychology. There is much more thinking about why people believe things instead of the evidence for those beliefs. Hopefully in the future Pye will interact with the best arguments on both sides.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Science Delusion

What do I think of Curtis White’s book published by Melville House? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

White is really tired of the arrogance of the scientists today. He loves the science, but his big problem is that many times scientists think that they’re doing science when really, they’re not. They will make statements such as Hawking’s that philosophy is dead, then make philosophical statements and not even realize it. Often this is done without a look at all at the great philosophical stances. (Consider how Krauss redefines nothing from the definition understood for some 2,500 years by theologians and philosophers and then blames them for changing the terms.)

One of his favorite examples is when he talks about how scientists say science is beautiful and amazing. White doesn’t argue against this, but what does it even mean? Are these scientific statements? Certainly not. These are statements of a personal opinion that can’t be objectively measured.

I have personally seen this. When I lived in Charlotte, Richard Dawkins came to nearby Queens university and gave a talk on his book The Greatest Show On Earth. His last chapter was all about the beauty of the universe and science. Now I am not denying the beauty of the universe or of science, but I got in line for the Q & A. When I got up, I asked Dawkins about that chapter and asked if he had any metaphysical or scientific basis for beauty.

I suspect most of the audience consisted of atheists at the time who had been throwing softballs and this time, he was flummoxed. He gave an answer that went on various tangents for about three or four minutes and then finally ended with “We don’t really know.” So here we have Dawkins telling an audience about this beauty and he hasn’t really even thought about how this beauty is known.

White also notices that scientists and others regularly use other words without telling about them. It’s just assumed “Well everyone knows what that means.” Consider how Hitchens writes about the life of reason. Sounds good. I mean, we all believe in reason don’t we? Don’t we see atheists having the Reason Rally and the Christmas signs that say “This season, celebrate reason.”? Indeed we do, and yet they never seem to define this word. What exactly is meant by reason? Your guess is as good as mine because it is never stated.

In all of this, White doesn’t want scientists to stop doing science, but he doesn’t want us to lose sight of the humanities. Art and philosophy and other topics are not dead. Scientists have too long put themselves up as the pinnacle of knowledge and others should be silent because “Hey! We’re scientists!” Maybe other fields can pick up some of the scraps, but science is where the real knowledge is.

White’s book is a really good critique of this system of thought and of the scientism of our age. It is a call to not abandon philosophy and art and other fields and to not give pat answers to big questions. Those questions need to be asked even if science is not the answer to them. Perhaps there are some questions that science just can’t answer.

Oh. One more thing. Curtis White is an atheist.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 8/15/2015: Andy Bannister

What’s coming up on the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The new atheists have had their share of responses to them and many times, it’s more of the same, but this Saturday I’m discussing a guest who gave a quite different response. It’s a different one in that the work is hysterical. It’s not because it’s a bad book, but because it’s filled with humor in looking at this topic. This is one book that you actually look forward to having footnotes show up. The footnotes are the best part. The book is The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist and its author is Andy Bannister, who will be my guest. Who is Andy Bannister then?

AndyBannister

And according to his bio:

Dr. Andy Bannister is the Director and Lead Apologist for RZIM Canada. He speaks and teaches regularly throughout Canada, the USA, Europe and the wider world. From churches to universities, business forums to TV and radio, Andy regularly addresses audience of both Christians and those of all faiths and none on issues relating to faith, culture, politics and society.

With a background in youth ministry before studying theology and philosophy (focussing especially on Islam), Andy was previously based in Oxford, from where he worked with churches and organisations across the denominational spectrum.

Andy holds a PhD in Islamic studies, a topic on which he has taught extensively, especially since 9/11 and the huge interest that was sparked in the subject by the events of that day. He has spoken and taught at universities across Canada, the USA, the UK and further afield on both Islam and philosophy and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Islam and Other Faiths at Melbourne School of Theology.

Andy is the author of An Oral-Formulaic Study of the Qur’an, a groundbreaking and innovative study that reveals many of the ways the Qur’an was first composed. His latest book, The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist (or: The Terrible Consequences of Really Bad Arguments) is a humorous engagement with the New Atheism.

When not travelling, speaking, or writing, Andy is a keen hiker, mountain climber and photographer. He lives in Toronto and is married to Astrid and they have two children, Caitriona and Christopher.

This Saturday, we’ll be talking about this book and looking at some of the popular arguments that especially get shared on the internet. We’ll be looking at what these bad arguments are and why they not only don’t work, but we’ll also see why it is that they have such disastrous consequences if they are followed through. I’ll also be interested in discussing why so much humor in a book on such a serious topic.

This is a great book to read and even if you disagree with Bannister, I’m sure you’ll have fun going through the book and if you pick it up an atheist and put it down still an atheist, hopefully you’ll be an atheist who is better informed on what are some arguments to not use. I hope you’ll be joining us for this next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast to discuss this great book.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Why Science Does Not Disprove God

What do I think of Amir Aczel’s book published by William Morrow? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The New Atheists have by and large appeared to agree that if they’re going to disprove Christianity, they’re going to go the route of science. It’s a quite strange route really, but it’s the route taken because today most people do think scientifically, or at least think that they do. Unfortunately, a lot of people who make science their forte and ignore all the other areas tend to have that show in their argumentation. Richard Dawkins is no philosopher, but that doesn’t mean he has no grounds to take on the Thomistic arguments obviously. Victor Stenger isn’t a historian, but that won’t stop him from talking about the historical Jesus as if he was an authority. In our day and age, the scientists have become the new priesthood. This is not to disparage science, but it is to say that when scientists speak outside of their field on areas they have not studied, we have no reason to take them as authorities.

Aczel will not take them as authorities either and has written a work demonstrating the fallacies in their thinking. When reading the work, it is unclear also what side Aczel falls on. He does not write like a Christian. In many ways, he does not even write like a theist. Still, his main contention is that the new atheists are doing a disservice to the arguments. He knows the material well and has spoken to many of the best scientific minds out there on the topic. Due to his different positions in the area of religion, it will be difficult for opponents of his to play the bias card.

The downside is that the work is largely a defensive work in that sense and thus does not really touch on the positive arguments for the existence of God. Of course, it does have some areas in science that certainly can seem to point to a deity, but at this point the idea of “God-of-the-Gaps” is trotted out. (Strangely enough, the critics of theism never consider they are going with a “naturalism-of-the-gaps.”) Of course, Aczel could say that these are positive evidences such as the fine-tuning of the universe, and in that case he would indeed be right. The question is not “What is the best explanation of what we don’t know?” but rather “What is the best explanation of what we do know?”

Absent are the great philosophical arguments for the existence of God, which I think are ultimately the way to go. Science can give evidence, but it is not the final authority, despite what many will think and some will think I am attacking science simply by saying that. I instead prefer to think I am giving science its proper field, which is the study of material objects and the material world. The ramifications that one draws from that study are indeed philosophical and the sad reality is that many scientists do turn out to be poor philosophers, but that has never really stopped them from trying!

Ultimately, people who are advocating that science has disproven God are in fact doing science a disservice and limiting people in the field by saying that if you are going to be a serious scientist, you cannot be religious. A lot of great minds who are religious also could be dissuaded from entering the field and who knows what benefits they could bring? From a Christian standpoint, we have too often made it be science vs. religion and when that happens, people will go with whatever they think makes the most important contributions to their lives. Some scientists would be shocked to hear religious people think religion makes the most contribution, but indeed most do. Most think of the morals that they ascribe to their religion and the sense of meaning they find and the wonder of the universe. The scientific view of atheism frankly doesn’t offer an appeal to them and sadly they think “If it’s science or the Bible, so much the worse for science.”

Now I am not of this standpoint as I think it’s not either/or but both/and and the problem is a fundamentalism on both sides that thinks because you know something in one field, you know all fields. Having a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology does not qualify you to speak on Aristotelian philosophy or the study of the New Testament. Believing that your Scripture is the Word of God and that you have an infallible and inerrant message does not mean that you are therefore in the right on everything that you speak about. Both sides are making the same kind of mistake. Consider what one Christian authority said on this:

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field in which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although “they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.”

Who said that? Augustine did, about sixteen centuries ago. It still stands today.

Aczel’s book will be a good read for those interested in this debate, though at times if you’re not familiar, the terminology can get difficult to follow, but it does for the most part tend to be readable. If you’re interested in this kind of debate, this is a book you should seriously consider.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist

What do I think of Andy Bannister’s book by Monarch Books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As I have studied apologetics more and more, sometimes reading apologetics books now gets boring. It’s a lot of the same-old, same-old. You’ve heard it all several times before and there’s nothing new so what’s the big deal. Honestly, getting Bannister’s book, I was expecting I’d get a good primer on some apologetics issues and put it down thinking that I had had a decent enough read and that’d be it. I don’t mean that in a snide way at all. Many of these books are fine for beginners after all and I read them wanting to learn how well this would help someone who was starting out in the field.

I could not have been more wrong.

As I started going through Andy’s book, from the very beginning I saw that it was different. Now the content is still a good basic start for most people. You’re not going to get into the intensely heady stuff here. You will discuss the issues, but it is just a start. What makes this book so radically different and in turn one of the best that I’ve read on this kind of topic in a long time is the presentation. Bannister is quite the comedian. His humor shines throughout the book and this is one book where I had great joy whenever I saw there was a footnote. Normally, you tend to just pass those over. Do not do that with this book! You will find some of the best humor.

That makes the content all the more memorable. Bannister deals with a lot of the soundbite arguments that we deal with in our culture such as “You are an atheist with regards to many gods. I just go one god further.” He deals with scientism and what faith is and can we be good without God and can we really know anything about the historical Jesus? If you spend time engaging with people who follow the New Atheists on the internet, then you need to get your hands on this book. With humor and accuracy, Bannister deals with the nonsense, which tells us that in light of all the work he invested in this that first off, Bannister is highly skilled as an apologist and second, that Bannister has way too much free time on his hands to be thinking so much about this stuff.

I really cannot say much more because it would I think keep you from enjoying all the surprises in this book. There were many times my wife had to ask me as I read “What’s so funny?” Some parts I even read to her. If there was one thing I would change, it was the chapter on the question of goodness. I don’t think Bannister really answered the question of what it means to be good. He said we need a God to ground it in, and I agree, but that does not tell me what good is. Even if we say the good is God’s nature, that still does not tell me what the good is, yet we all know that people know the good and the evil without knowing who God is.

Still, do yourself a favor. Get this book and then sit down and prepare for a fun and worthwhile time. You’ll laugh and you’ll enjoy yourself so much you could lose track of how much good apologetics is sinking in.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Andy Bannister’s book can be purchased here.

Richard Dawkins: A Gift From God.

Are all human lives valuable for what they are? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Richard Dawkins is well-known today as a leading contemporary spokesman for atheism. If you asked most people today to name a famous living atheist, Dawkins would likely be on top of the list. In fact, according to this site, he’s the #1 leading atheist in the world. Perhaps in some ways we could describe Richard Dawkins as the Pope of atheism.

PopeDawkins

This is actually more fitting than most realize. The idea is that in the so-called Dark Ages, you went to the priests who were the bearers of all knowledge. The correct view on that is that the religious leaders likely were some of the most knowledgeable people around. The false view is that it’s because the only knowledge they had was knowledge of the Bible. No. Active learning was going on in many areas. Not all would have a specific interest in “natural philosophy” as science was called, but all would know something about it.

Today, science has become the new priesthood with a scientism that says science is the only way you know anything and that all knowledge must be scientific and if you can’t establish something scientifically, it can’t be true. Never mind that this criteria has never once met its own standards. It is an undercurrent in our society. Whenever an opinion comes on an issue, if it is said that “a scientist says” that is automatically the most valid opinion, never mind that it could be something the scientist has never really studied. His opinion matters because he is a scientist.

None of this is to knock science. No one should want to. Science is our friend. Scientism is our enemy. The putting of science in the supreme place as the supreme guide to knowledge is also our enemy. It is no desire to belittle scientific knowledge, or any knowledge for that matter. It is a desire instead to deal with the practical worship of science.

Many of us know about Dawkins’s recent outrage that has been sparked due to twitter remarks. It would be bad enough if that was the only embarrassing story of the week, but it is not. Consider this story from just last Saturday. In it, Dawkins is compared to an evangelist who develops a following if you donate to his circle. Reality is Dawkins is even more expensive than the evangelists that he would criticize. Let’s look at some highlights. A lengthy quote will suffice.

the Richard Dawkins website offers followers the chance to join the ‘Reason Circle’, which, like Dante’s Hell, is arranged in concentric circles. For $85 a month, you get discounts on his merchandise, and the chance to meet ‘Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science personalities’. Obviously that’s not enough to meet the man himself. For that you pay $210 a month — or $5,000 a year — for the chance to attend an event where he will speak.

When you compare this to the going rate for other charismatic preachers, it does seem on the high side. The Pentecostal evangelist Morris Cerullo, for example, charges only $30 a month to become a member of ‘God’s Victorious Army’, which is bringing ‘healing and deliverance to the world’. And from Cerullo you get free DVDs, not just discounts.

But the $85 a month just touches the hem of rationality. After the neophyte passes through the successively more expensive ‘Darwin Circle’ and then the ‘Evolution Circle’, he attains the innermost circle, where for $100,000 a year or more he gets to have a private breakfast or lunch with Richard Dawkins, and a reserved table at an invitation-only circle event with ‘Richard’ as well as ‘all the benefits listed above’, so he still gets a discount on his Richard Dawkins T-shirt saying ‘Religion — together we can find a cure.’

The website suggests that donations of up to $500,000 a year will be accepted for the privilege of eating with him once a year: at this level of contribution you become a member of something called ‘The Magic of Reality Circle’. I don’t think any irony is intended.

I can suspect that this will be met with zealous opposition where this is shared by internet atheists and their followers, which will really demonstrate the case. Those who are followers of Dawkins really study the issues just as little as he does, if not less, which might be surprising seeing as it’s hard to imagine studying religious issues less than Dawkins. Thankfully, there are some atheists who are thoughtful and seek to understand the issues that realize Dawkins is an embarrassment to their cause and want him to just go away. The more atheists keep upholding Dawkins however and referring to works like “The God Delusion” as if it was a philosophical masterpiece, the more Christians who know what they’re talking about will see no reason to take them seriously. In fact, if I meet anyone who considers “The God Delusion” to be recommended reading to show why Christianity or theism should not be taken seriously, I know that this is a person uninformed on the issues. Actually, that applies to anyone who recommends any of the new atheists.

Many of you might not have noticed that story about Dawkins because frankly, he’s done something even more embarrassing than that. In fact, this is something I would even say is downright wicked. What Dawkins has done is sparked a controversy based on what he said in his twitter feed. You see, Dawkins heard from someone that they don’t know what they would do if they were pregnant with a child with Down’s Syndrome. It was described as an ethical dilemma.

Before we focus on what Dawkins had to say in response, isn’t it a shame we live in a world where even knowing your baby will have Down’s Syndrome leaves you with a dilemma of if you should kill it or not? You see, the reality is that as soon as that child is conceived and they have Down’s Syndrome, you are already the parent of a child with Down’s. The question you have to ask is if you’re going to be the parent of a dead one or a living one. Not only that, are you going to be the parent of a living child that you and your spouse brought into the world together, or are you going to be the parent of a dead child that died at your own hands.

In fact, I know and have known a number of people with Down’s Syndrome children. Are the children hard to care for? Yes. Can it be frustrating? Yes. Does it cost a lot of money? Yes.

You know, like all children do.

Of course, Down’s children come with extra hurdles, but you know what? They also come with extra joys. They tend to be far more honest and genuine in their love and the parents who take the time to love them see them as the gift that they are and how much they should be appreciated. One friend of ours in fact when she found out the child she was carrying had Down’s was told “There are other options” to which she immediately responded that there were not. That was her baby and she was going to love her baby and Down’s was not going to be an obstacle.

Well done.

So right at the start, we have a problem. We are being told that we really need to consider if people with Down’s Syndrome have lives that are really worth living. Exactly how far will this go? Are we not participating in a eugenics program at this point where we decide only those with desirable traits will live?

Well hopefully Pope Richard was able to give some advice to point out to this person that lives are valuable by the nature of what they are and that yes, things could be difficult, but you know, with the wonders of science we can do so much to ease the burdens that really are there and maybe even find a cure for Down’s someday! Surely this was said!

Or maybe not.

What was said?

“Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.”

Dawkins is in an even worse position than the questioner. He sees no ethical dilemma. It is said so easily. Abort it and try again. In fact, it would be immoral. Why?  Well Dawkins later said in his response to the outrage that:

“If your morality is based, as mine is, on a desire to increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering, the decision to deliberately give birth to a Down’s baby, when you have the choice to abort it early in the pregnancy, might actually be immoral from the point of view of the child’s own welfare.”

Now none of us would object to increasing happiness and reducing suffering, but what we ask is if the ends justify the means. Is it ever justifiable to do an evil act because you think there is a good result? That is in fact something that I wish to keep pressing when it comes to the abortion debate. The question we need to ask is “Is the act of willfully terminating your own pregnancy wrong?”

You see, in reality, we can agree with many of the reasons that someone would want an abortion. We can agree they should be financially stable. We can agree many are not ready to raise a child yet. We can agree that many need emotional security. We can agree that it is fine for a woman to have a career. No one is saying any of these things are evil in and of themselves.

What we are saying is that none of those justifies the murder of an innocent child.

Dawkins has decided in advance that these children cannot be happy and that they can only be suffering and they cannot bring happiness to their parents but only bring suffering.

Interestingly, this same person who wondered about a child with Down’s also admitted to being on the autism spectrum (like my wife and I) and asked about that. Dawkins’s response?

People on that spectrum have a great deal to contribute, Maybe even an enhanced ability in some respects. DS not enhanced.

Well thank you Dawkins for saying I have a great deal to contribute. Apparently, the reason you think I’m valuable to the human race is that I can contribute something worthwhile. In other words, I am valuable for what I do. Too bad those babies with Down’s Syndrome don’t have enough value in being, you know, human beings.

The response to all of this was as expected and even included this satirical piece. (Warning: It does have language, but it was the greatest laugh I had all day yesterday.) The sad part is too many internet atheists were defending Dawkins as if his point was obvious. Sure. Why not abort a baby with Down’s Syndrome?

Now Dawkins did apparently issue an apology, though it was quite a backhanded one. It would be like a man saying to his wife “I’m sorry I had an affair, but you have just been so frigid lately, and this woman was just so hot, and I have these needs that I have to have met, and it was meant to be a private thing between her and I and you were never meant to find out.” We could go on and on with it. 

Dawkins has no apologies for the comment. In fact, his clarifying comment said he would still recommend abortion for the same reason. What he is sorry for is that it started a twitter war. In the above analogy, it would be like the husband issuing an apology not because he cheated on his wife, but rather because he got caught doing so. From this point on Dawkins, went to make statements about the people who were complaining about what he had to say.

It never occurs to Dawkins that what he said was utterly reprehensible. Dawkins has before said

It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).

Let it be said in response that if you meet someone who seeks to justify the murder of an innocent child in the womb, wicked should in fact be one of the first things in your mind. It looks like in the world of Dawkins, denying evolution would be a worse crime against humanity than aborting a baby with Down’s Syndrome.

It will be a wonder to see what happens if Dawkins or those like him were truly ever in charge. He has already made a statement about what children he thinks bring suffering into the world. Perhaps he’d also team up with his friend Peter Boghossian. This is the same Peter Boghossian who has a chapter in his Manual for Creating Atheists (A book that I reviewed here and keep in mind that Tim McGrew massacred Boghossian’s chickens here) that lists containment protocols.

That’s right. What can we do to “contain” people of faith? This included such steps as treating faith (A term Boghossian does not know the meaning of) as a public health crisis and to remove the religious exemption for delusion from the DSM, which is the diagnostic rule book for psychological disorders.

Dawkins might say he would not want to impose his beliefs on others, but would his followers have that same belief? Boghossian seems fine with treating those of us who are Christians or believers in any deity as if we have a disease. 

The sad part is technically, Dawkins is not contradicting his atheism in any way. For a Christian, to think it okay to abort a baby with Down’s Syndrome would be a contradiction of their view of life, but for Dawkins, it does not have to be. Of course, there are many individual atheists who are pro-life and thank God for them, but the only requirement for being an atheist is “Don’t believe in God.” You can not believe in God and be a psychopath or be a philanthropist and both of them are consistent with the statement “God does not exist.” You cannot be living a life of sin in Christianity and have that be consistent with “I am a follower of Christ.”

Well Professor Dawkins, the sad reality is that you don’t see children with Down’s Syndrome as a gift to the world, which indeed they are as many parents with Down’s Syndrome children would tell you, but we can certainly say that you, Professor Dawkins, are a gift to the church. You are a great example of what will happen the more and more we move away from God and let people like you have the most say in what goes on in our culture.

Let’s just hope most people have enough moral sense to know not to like it.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Clarification On Discussing Evolution

Is Evolution an important question to discuss? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

My post on the Ham/Nye debate has been getting a lot of attention and it’s been getting a lot of questions, which is understandable! A number of people have wondered about my position and asked if I really think the question of evolution is unimportant.

Yes and no.

Suppose you want to know if Christianity is true. All you need answered is one question. Did God raise Jesus from the dead? If that is true, then Christianity is true and Jesus is the King of this world. If that is not true, then Christianity is not true and you can move on.

How do you establish the resurrection question? You do a historiographical study of the evidence that we have such as found in the NT and in the surrounding culture of the time and other writings outside of the NT. You find the explanation that best explains the data.

Do you need Inerrancy to do this? No. Inerrancy is an important topic, but if there was an error in Scripture, it would not mean Jesus did not rise. The Bible is not an all-or-nothing game and it would be ridiculous to treat it as if it was.

So let’s make a hypothetical situation here. Let’s suppose for the sake of argument, and I do not believe this at all, that the first two chapters of Genesis are in error. Does that mean the whole NT is untrustworthy? No. It does not. It just means we need to change our doctrines of inspiration and Inerrancy. Note I am taking a scenario that is unfavorable towards us intentionally and using it to show that the central truth can still stand.

So in that case, I again repeat, if you want to know if Christianity is true, you don’t need to answer the question of evolution. If evolution is wrong, I would rather someone come to Christ with a belief in evolution, than to avoid Christ while having a true belief that evolution is wrong. I am more interested in getting people to Christ and removing as many hurdles from them as I can. I don’t want them to think they have to overcome a hurdle with evolution. Just show them what alone is essential.

So then, is the question of evolution important? Yes. But this is in a scientific sense.

The Bible is a book of history. I do not believe it is a book of science nor is it intended to be. This is not to fault the Bible or science. It is simply to admit the Bible is interested in teaching us God’s activity in the history of the universe and is not interested in telling us how the planets in our solar system move. It is also not interested in telling us how to do math, how to paint a masterpiece, or how to get in shape, even though there is nothing wrong with any of these and many are important.

Of course, I say this realizing the Bible contains other aspects such as moral teaching and Wisdom, but these are not to be separated from its history. The history is central to the text and the moral teachings are an outworking of that history.

As I said, the view I take on the matter is that of John Walton. You can hear my interview with him here. In this view, the creation account as it were is not a scientific account but is a functional account. You can have literal 24-hour days where God gives the orders on how everything is to behave and still have billions of years of Earth history prior.

What does this say then about how God created? Nothing. Not one thing. God could use fiat creation in Genesis 1 and 2 and Walton’s view is safe. God could also use evolutionary processes and Walton’s view is safe. Now where do you go to determine which view is accurate? You go to the sciences.

Evolution is a scientific question and if it is to fall, and I care not if it succeeds or falls, then it will fall scientifically. Right now, it is the leading naturalistic theory. There is no denying that. That does not mean it is true, but it means it is a serious contender.

So why do I not speak on if evolution is true or not? Simple. I am not a scientist. I do not possess the knowledge in the field. If I was up against a scientist and had to discuss it as science, I would not stand a chance whatsoever. I could not critique evolution from a scientific perspective. I could not defend it from a scientific perspective.

And I’m fine with that.

Too often in the apologetics field, someone can think they have to master everything and have an answer for everything. You don’t. It’s okay to say you don’t know some matters. Many of us have seen the atheists who think they are such experts on history and philosophy and really, they are just embarrassing themselves. Unfortunately, too many Christians when they speak without knowledge on scientific matters are also embarrassing themselves and this only presents a barrier to those atheists who are skilled in the sciences that will keep them from entering the Kingdom. It will give them the impression that Christians just believe what they are told without thinking about it. (Like we do when we see atheists quote “The God Delusion” as an authority.)

Now if you want to critique evolution, then have at it! Go for it! Just make sure that it is a scientific critique and not a Bible critique. The last thing we need is to have this be the case of science vs. the Bible. As soon as we put that to the world, guess which one they will go with.

Also, we must be clear on evolution. I am fine with anything that can be established scientifically as I believe fully that God wrote two books, Scripture and nature, and all truth is God’s truth. If something can be shown through science, then we should accept it.

So could it possibly be shown through science that mankind evolved through a long process of time? Sure. The process could be possibly shown scientifically. Could it be demonstrated that there is no God behind the process whatsoever? No. That is then philosophy and not science. In the same way, I do not think we could use science to PROVE that there is a deity. I think we could establish probabilities either way, but hard proof relies on metaphysics.

This is one reason I hesitate with Intelligent Design. If one takes Intelligent Design to mean do you believe there is a designer behind the universe, where every Christian would be an IDer, but it depends on what kind of universe. What I see most in the ID field is concern about the mechanism which makes God more of an engineer.

The mistake we often make is thinking that if evolution is shown to be true, God is out of a job. Atheists and Christians BOTH make this mistake. This is a concept that I do not think does justice to the Biblical concept of God. For instance, in Colossians 1, we are told that God by His power sustains the universe. The same is said in Hebrews 1.

It is not the case that the universe can just exist on its own. What is holding it in existence? What is sustaining it. Evolution does not answer the question of existence, the most important question to answer.

What this means for me is I can go to someone like Richard Dawkins and say “I will grant you anything about evolution you can show scientifically. Now what is your argument against theism?” If he wants to establish an eternal universe, fine. We’ll do it! If he wants to establish an eternal multiverse, well he can knock himself out! We’ll do it! None of those answer the question of existence itself as you need to explain not just the existence of the universe, how it came about, but the existing of the universe, how it is today.

If someone wants to go out and argue against evolution, I say let them. Just make sure the case is scientific. If evolution will fall, it will fall because it is bad science and the God who gave us Scripture is the one who gave us science as well. Bad science can be shown scientifically. Maybe it cannot be shown right now. Maybe it can be. I don’t know. I just know that I won’t comment on it because it is not my field and the truth of Christianity does not depend on it.

I am an active defender of the new creation beginning in Christ. I am anxiously awaiting its full fruition. My salvation does not lie in Genesis. My salvation lies in Easter Sunday.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Reason Rally: Do You Know The Bible?

Does having read the Bible mean you know the Bible? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

One step I’ve taken for dialogue with people of other faiths like Muslims or Mormons is to have read their religious works. Thus, I have read the Koran and I have read the BOM, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and the Book of Abraham. However, that does not mean that I will claim to know these books well, certainly not as well as the adherents of those who treat those books as divine revelation.

In other areas, one can read the plays of Shakespeare, such as Romeo and Juliet, and have a basic understanding of what is going on, but to get a substantial understanding, one really needs to study the culture of Shakespeare and the style of writing he used and the meaning of the words back then.

Richard Dawkins recently made a big deal about how many Christians don’t know their Bibles because they did not know the name of the first gospel in the NT. I agree that that is problematic, but let us suppose someone does know the name of the first gospel in the NT? So what? That does not prove that they know the gospel. That proves they can memorize.

N.T. Wright has issued a challenge in a lecture to encourage people to memorize the book of Ephesians verse by verse. Let us suppose that someone did do that. It does not matter if they are an atheist or a Christian. At the end of the process, even if they can quote the whole book verbatim, does that mean that they know the book?

Again, not really. They can know the words of the book, but that is not the same as knowing the content and what those words all mean. Scholars can spend their lives studying just one book of the Bible and still have much about that book that they do not know.

This, of course, does not mean that a simple message cannot be grasped by reading the book. One can read the book and understand that there is no longer a divide between Jew and Gentile and that our lives ought to be lived knowing that Christ has torn apart this wall of division.

To grasp the simple message is not the same as to grasp the deep message. I could tell you about the Brothers Karamazov since I have read the book, but that does not mean that I could tell you as much as a professor of Russian Literature could tell you about the book.

What many atheists have done is what I’ve done with the BOM and other works. They have read the works and assumed that because they’ve read them, that they thus have an understanding of them. In a sense, you do have an understanding of them, but it is not really a substantial understanding of them. Indeed, many Christians, far too many, lack a substantial understanding of their Bibles.

To really understand the Bible, one needs to study many areas. Just what are these and why do they matter?

First, studying the languages would be very helpful. We do have numerous references on Greek and Hebrew that can help the layman who has not learned them yet (And I freely confess I need to still find a good teacher of these languages for myself), but the most helpful way is to be able to read them yourself.

With knowing the languages, you have to know not only the word, but what the word meant to the author. For instance, we are often told that for the NT, faith meant to believe in something without evidence. The Greek word for faith is “pistis.” Is that what it means? What someone can do, and many have done this for us as well, is to do a word study of the word not just in the New Testament, but in other works. Did Aristotle use it? Did Seneca? Did Plato? Did the Jews at Qumran? Did the Septuagint? How else can we find this word being used?

If we come with our own definitions of what the word means, we are not only misrepresenting the author and making them say what they never meant to say, but we are in fact missing the true message that the author of the work in question wishes to convey.

Second, you need a study of history. In reading the gospels, we read about Pharisees and Sadducees. They do not show up anywhere in the Old Testament. Who were these groups? Did they just come out of nowhere? What was going on in Israel at the time? What was the relation to Rome? Did the Jews coming out of exile have anything to say about what was going on?

Jesus claimed to be the Messiah. What did this mean? Were there other Messianic claimants? How did the idea of the Messiah fit into the history of the Jews? When Jesus made the claim to them, what would they think about him in relation to the presence of Rome at the time?

When Paul is writing his epistles, what is going on? When he says “Jesus is Lord” is he just having an old-fashioned revival service where we just shout “Praise the Lord!” or is he in fact making a direct challenge where he is saying “Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not!”?

Third, you need to know about the landscape at the time. Paul wrote to Philippi, a Roman colony at the time. Does it make a difference when he writes and tells them that their citizenship is in Heaven, especially in light of the fact that all of them would have been citizens of Rome?

Fourth, you need to know about the surrounding culture? What was the big deal about honor in the world of Jesus and the New Testament? When the Old Testament talks about slavery, how did that work in the culture back then? Does it matter that there was not a grocery store just down the street for every one?

What about the Old Testament Law with this? Why would God give a darn about tattoos? Are we supposed to put up railings around our roof? If we say we believe in “Do not murder” but do not believe in “Do not wear mixed fabrics” are we just being arbitrary?

Fifth, you need to study hermeneutics. What is the way the text is to be interpreted? When Jesus tells us that we are to hate our father and mother, is this to be taken literally or not? When the proverbs are read, are these ironclad or just generalities? When Jesus tells about the calamities of Matthew 24, are these to be read literally or not? How are we to understand what the text means?

Sixth, with that text, you need to understand textual criticism. How did we get the Bible that we have today? What role did oral tradition play in it? How was the Old Testament passed down to us? How is it that the New Testament has been passed down to us? Can we really trust that the text was copied accurately?

Seventh, you need to understand post-NT history. What was going on at Nicea? Who were the Early Church Fathers? Has the Reformation shaped our understanding of the culture? Are we reading the Trinity into the Bible or out of the Bible? (For the record, we read it out)

Eighth, you need to study theology. What is the doctrine of God in Christian thinking? Does the Trinity really teach that God is one person and three persons, or is it something really quite different? What does it mean when we say God is omnipotent? If we say God is impassible, what does it mean and does it really make a difference?

Ninth, you must be well-read in what real scholars are saying. Of course, Christians can feel free to read devotional literature. We should be discerning in what we read. There is no doubt good application to much of what the Bible says, but we want to make sure that application is faithful to the text. Devotional material needs to be rooted in scholarly understanding.

When we read a text that is puzzling, we not only wrestle with it ourselves, but we also see what other great minds said about it. Perhaps a Calvinist could be helped by reading what an Arminian like Wesley said about a text. Perhaps a Preterist could be helped by reading what a Dispensationalist like Darby said about the text. We need to be open to reading other thinkers who came before us and interacted with the text. We Christians should not be so arrogant, as I believe Spurgeon said, to believe that we are the only ones the Holy Spirit has ever shared truth with.

The man of the book will be a man of many books. The Bible has a message that is simple in some ways. However, it is also a complex book and one does not fully understand it just by reading on one’s own or getting even a basic understanding in the text through Sunday School or other such means.

Please note also that at this point, I am not even telling anyone to agree with the Bible. You can understand the Bible and still think it is wrong. I would disagree, but it can improve our discussion if we find out that those we dialogue with have really understood the text.

With the Reason Rally coming up, what I expect is simply argument from outrage with new atheists taking passages they do not understand and arguing about them. As it stands, I already in a place I dialogue at have seen arguments concerning Elisha and the two bears, a woefully misunderstood story. Note that saying there is something in the Bible you do not like is not the same as saying it is false. I do not like being told I am a sinner and that my way is not always the best way, but it is there in the Bible and I learn to accept it.

Hopefully, a number of atheists will be willing to do their homework and go get some books by evangelical scholars on studying the text. Atheists have long wanted Christians to study evolution before criticizing it. I agree. I would not be qualified to criticize evolution even if I had read the entirety of the Origin of Species. That would be just a start. I’d need to hunker down and really study the subject matter in much the same way.

Will atheists do the same? I’m skeptical, but we can hope.

In Christ,
Nick Peters