What are the battle lines? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
In chapter 2, (And we won’t always be going one chapter a day) Humphrys starts what he calls the battle lines. He has said that only recently in history have we been allowed to question the existence of God. I cannot help but wonder what history he is reading. These are usually people who don’t understand either the Crusades or the Inquisition, or both. The treatment of Galileo and Bruno (To be fair, we don’t talk about Bruno), also misunderstood, didn’t even happen during the so-called “Dark Ages.”
Yet then he goes and points to the Enlightenment as the dawn of rational debate. Seriously? What was going on between Augustine and Faustus? In the medieval schools of thought, debate was taking place regularly. The rule was even you couldn’t comment on your opponent’s view until you could say it in your own words to his satisfaction. (Would that we had that today!)
Naturally, he also has the line about debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. While in a sense, this is a real question to discuss, it was never one discussed in that period. It was one made up later on to mock the kind of discussions that took place in that period. Mission accomplished, I suppose.
He then writes about figures like William Lane Craig, Richard Dawkins, and Alister McGrath. He notes Alister McGrath as saying he converted to Christianity because it worked. He says that it actually brought purpose and dignity to life. I can accept this provided that by works we don’t mean something like Christianity meets emotional needs since as Lewis once said, if he just wanted to be happy, a bottle of port could do that. If he means it makes sense of the world we live in, that is fine.
Humphrys goes on to say that there is a lot of dogmatism on both sides of the debate, but to call Dawkins non-thinking is a bit below the belt. Of course, it was entirely acceptable to say in the first part that anyone with the mind of an inquisitive child can see through the arguments for the existing of God. No harm in implying that your opponents don’t think that well, but if you say something about the new atheists, well that’s just mean.
Do I think Dawkins is non-thinking? No, but he has a gigantic flaw many atheists have in their approach. When Dawkins writes about science as science it is beautiful. I imagine I could read him for hours as he describes the wonders of especially the animal world. Dawkins is a magnificent writer there.
However, he then takes the mindset that because he understands this, then he is also qualified to speak on theology and philosophy and history. The new atheists seem to assume that anything religious is nonsense and stupid and so they don’t need to study it. Many internet atheists do this today, and when they do, they make embarrassing blunders and cannot see it no matter how many times it gets pointed out to them.
So yes, when it comes to writing on religion, I do consider Dawkins to not really be thinking. There’s no real attempt to engage with the substance matter. If you want to see this, consider what I wrote on the shoddy research of the new atheism.
Humphrys says the approach of someone like Dawkins won’t work on many because they weren’t reasoned into their faith. They were born into it or indoctrinated or had a Damascus Road experience or something like that. It never seems to occur to him that that can happen on atheism as well.
There can be many non-intellectual reasons for being an atheist. They could have had an experience with evil and don’t understand why a good God would allow it, or they could not like the political stance of Christians, or they could even just want to have a free sex life without the idea they are doing something wrong. It is foolish to say that most Christians come to their position emotionally, but atheists don’t have that problem. News flash. Humanity has that problem.
However, when it comes to choosing a belief system, one should take the best proponents of it. Consider their arguments. Just as I as a Christian have to put up with bad arguments and reasons from fellow Christians that can make me cringe, atheists have to do the same. As Michael Ruse has said:
Their [the new atheists] treatment of the religious viewpoint is pathetic to the point of non-being. Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion would fail any introductory philosophy or religion course. Proudly he criticizes that whereof he knows nothing.
This is an accurate description. My copy of The Dawkins Delusion by Alister McGrath and his wife had a quote by Ruse on the front along the lines of “Dawkins makes me embarrassed to be an atheist and the McGraths show why.”
The problem with Humphrys when he fails to do this is the hidden implication that if you are a Christian, it is most likely for emotional reasons, but if you are an atheist, well that is most likely for intellectual reasons. He himself does this without dealing with the arguments for theism. As we go along, we will see that that happens consistently. I have not finished it thus far, but so far, I have not seen him dealing with the arguments, just with the arguers.
But we will see more next time.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)