Journal Topics

Dawkins’s Youth Ministry

Richard Dawkins has redefined himself again. Earlier, Dawkins transitioned from academic works of theoretical biology to his popular atheistic manifesto, The God Delusion. Now, Dawkins has moved on to the scientific education of youth. Combining lavish color illustrations by David McKean with his own supple and enthusiastic prose, Dawkins aims to inspire a new generation with the belief that naturalistic science is the only source both of knowledge and of true “magic”-the poetic wonder of discovery.

The book would not be much of a problem if it stuck to data and theories. But throughout the text, Dawkins inserts fatherly asides to caution the reader against supernatural, superstitious nonsense-the enemy of true science. The procedure is to offer sober science and an atheistic worldview as a package deal. C. S. Lewis discerned a similar danger in the “Green Book,” ostensibly a work of English grammar, whose actual effect was to inculcate moral relativism: “The very power of [the book] depends on the fact that they are dealing with a boy…who thinks he is ‘doing’ his ‘English prep’ and has no notion that ethics, theology and politics are all at stake. It is not a theory which they put into his head, but an assumption, which ten years hence…will condition him to take one side in a controversy which he has never recognized as a controversy at all.”1

Dawkins’s approach is to mold impressionable minds with the presumption that all that really exists is a closed physical universe of pitiless indifference (p. 235). Pursuing the logic of natural selection, he concludes that a living creature is simply “a survival machine for genes. Next time you look in the mirror, just think: that is what you are too” (74–75). This means that the “poetic wonder” of scientific discovery has no ultimate significance. There are no valuable truths to discover, nor valuable people to discover them: we are lumbering robots in a meaningless world. Like the Green Book criticized by Lewis, Dawkins’s book will likely produce more people “without a chest,” closed to the transcendent realms of God’s moral law and saving work.

Propaganda. Throughout Dawkins’s entertaining text, which explores biology, astronomy, chemistry, physics, natural disasters, and alleged miracles, Dawkins seeks to discredit biblical revelation by citing its stories as myths alongside pagan myths and modern “urban legends.” Thus Genesis is presented with Norse mythology (34–35) and Dawkins repeats the old chestnut that since there are elements in common between the flood account in The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Genesis flood, the latter is cultural borrowing (140–43). Although there are some similarities, many of these would be expected in any flood account, and there are also marked differences. Most importantly, Dawkins does not seriously consider the possibility that both accounts arise from an actual historical event. Worse, when archaeologists do find evidence of the historicity of a biblical event, Dawkins attributes it all to purely natural causes anyway (208–9). And he relies heavily on David Hume’s famous critique of miracles (254–65), with no reference to John Earman’s devastating critique, Hume’s Abject Failure (Oxford, 2000).

Invincible Ignorance. Evidently, Dawkins has adopted a position that makes it impossible for him to contact transcendent realities. Dawkins tells us he would never accept a supernatural explanation regardless of the evidence, “Because anything ‘super natural’ must by definition be beyond the reach of a natural explanation” (23). But refusing to allow supernatural explanations does not show they are false. And Dawkins continues to complain that “none of the myths gives any explanation for how the creator of the universe himself…came into existence” (163), refusing to allow the idea of a necessary being that has no origin.

Interestingly, Dawkins never considers the possibility that theism might give a better explanation than materialism for the success of the science he prizes. Why does the world conform to orderly laws? Why should we expect our minds to be capable of discovering them? If he faced these questions without prejudice, Dawkins might begin to see that there is a deeper magic still.

–Angus Menuge

Angus Menuge, Ph.D., is professor of philosophy at Concordia University, Wisconsin. His book review, “Dawkins’s Youth Ministry” appears in the Volume 35, No. 1 special “Origins” issue of the CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL available by donation only.

NOTES:

1. C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York: Macmillan, 1955), 16–17.

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The article above is from the current, special origins issue of our award-winning magazine, the CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL | What Were the Origins of Life on Earth? This special issue is packed full of compelling articles by many of the biggest names in the Intelligent Design movement, relating to all aspects of the origins problem—scientific, theological, philosophical, hermeneutical, and apologetic (see the Table of Contents here). But not only so, this special issue also features a sneak peek at Hank Hanegraaff’s forthcoming Creation Answer Book!

In the News, Reviews

Atheism Will Doom Britain, but Does It Have to Be this Way?

In an op-ed piece for The Jerusalem Post, Shmuley Boteach laments “Godlessness has doomed Britain,” since “Atheism equals nihilism, neither of which are fertile ground for a national resurgence.” The logic of this is impeccable. Boteach points out that Britain’s greatest exports on the subject of religion are from thinkers who despise religion, such as Richard Dawkins who “compared religion to child abuse,” and Christopher Hitchens, who “titled his 2007 book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.” He also observes that whereas 92 percent of Americans believe in God, according to Britain’s National Center for Social Research, only 35 percent in Britain, and 43 percent declare no religion.

One can also point out that the militant approach of New Atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens carries a strong rhetorical sway, and their arguments on the surface appear convincing. It is only when one examines them closely under the light of truth that one realizes none of them hold any water. (See “Village Atheists with Vengeance.”)

Boteach finds that there is nothing comparable in Britain to American megachurch pastors like Rick Warren and Joel Osteen, and reasons that in the latter there is no official state church with religion being entrepreneurial, in the sense that “religion lives and dies in America like a commercial enterprise.” Pastors who “excite” with “uplifting and relevant” messages will fill pews, and those who do not will have empty pews. He also attributes “religious fervor” to the growth of America, “from pioneering backwoodsmen to the most powerful and innovative nation on earth,” whereas British influence has waned in the past century with “militant atheism” being “a key reason.” His explanation is that “atheism is a philosophy of nihilism in which nothing is sacred and all is accidental.”

The endgame of belief in a purely material universe that came about by random chance through the Darwinian Evolutionary process with its survival of the fittest and extinction of the inferior is nihilism. Boteach is certainly on target.

Whie it is generally true that “religious fervor” is a contributing factor to the growth and expansion of the United States, it is not “relevant” preaching that forms foundations of innovation and progress. One can argue that an attempt to be relevant makes for irrelevance (see “How Relevant Is Relevance?”). While Joel Osteen does have mass appeal, his overall message can be considered a “Gospel of Self-Esteem” or “Gospel-Light.” Whether or not his name-it-and-claim-it prosperity gospel can provide spiritual foundations for lasting social transformation is doubtful.

To be more precise, one can make the case that the Bible has been the spiritual source underlying progress in Western Civilization. Vishal Mangalwadi, in his lecture series entitled “Must the Sun Set on the West,” makes a compelling case that the sun is setting on the West because the West has severed itself from the source of its greatness, the Bible; however, the sun need not set on the West, because people can still return to the source of their greatness. Ultimately, it is from minds deeply influenced by the truth of Scripture that have gone on to make innovations that ultimately transformed the West. How Christianity Changed the World also explores the way Christianity inspired the highest achievements in Western civilization from its humble beginnings.

— Warren Nozaki

For further related study, please access the following:

“Christopher Hitchens’s Sledgehammer Rhetoric” (Douglas Groothuis reviews God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens)

“The Cook’s Tale: A Naturalist’s Quest for the Ingredients of Life” (Angus Menuge reviews The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution by Richard Dawkins)

“Darwin’s Rottweiler: Fierce Barks, Feeble Bites” (Doug Groothuis reviews The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins)

“Dawkin’s and Darwin’s Three-Ring Circus” (Jonathan Wells reviews The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins)

“Can Morality Be Based in Our ‘Selfish’ Evolutionary Past?

Please also consider the following bookstore resources:

AGAINST ALL GODS/CONFRONTING THE NEW VILLAGE ATHEISTS Package PK974/$14.99

The Book that Made Your World B1044/$22.99

Apologetics, Journal Topics

Making Sense of a gracious God within the Old Testament drama

Is God a Moral Monster?Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011)

The Old Testament (OT) at points can be extremely difficult to understand. Complicating matters are remarks made by popular Neo-Atheists like Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris criticizing the OT God as a jealous, angry deity who supports heinous acts like genocide, human sacrifice, ethnocentrism, chattel slavery, and misogyny. Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God offers a well-written lay level response to these criticisms, demonstrating how the redemptive movement of God in Israel’s history puts the proper perspective on difficult OT passages, such as those relating to ceremonial cleanliness, kosher foods, cruel punishment, misogyny, bride-price, polygamy, concubines, slavery, and Canaanite killings.

Copan observes that not only are social aspects of Ancient Near East life alien to moderns, but the ancient social structures were badly damaged by the fall. It is within this context God starts a covenant nation, gives the law, and forms a culture. The OT law, however, was not the permanent ideal for all times and places, but looked forward to “a new, enduring covenant” (59). God met His chosen people where they were at, showed them a higher ideal, but “didn’t impose legislation that Israel wasn’t ready for” but “moved incrementally” (61, italics in original). The Ancient Near East cultures permitted slavery and the brutal treatment of slaves. The OT law permitted slavery but limited the kinds of punishments used on slaves. The New Testament declared masters and slaves as equal, but the ultimate ideal is the “genuine realization of creation ideals in Genesis 1:26-27, in which God’s image-bearers live and work together and are fairly, graciously treated; they are viewed as full persons and equals; and genuine humanness is restored in Christ, the second Adam/the new man” (63).

Old Testament heroes were flawed. Abraham lied about Sarah, Moses murdered an Egyptian, and David power raped Bathsheba and murdered Uriah; however, Copan points out that one must avoid the “Is-Ought” fallacy, and “the way biblical characters happen to act isn’t necessarily an endorsement of their behavior.” The status placed on these OT heroes was not their moral perfection, but their uncompromising dedication to the cause of Yahweh, and trust in His promises (66-67).

Copan spends several chapters addressing the New Atheist criticism that the killing of the Canaanites is tantamount to genocide and ethnic cleansing. Militating against the charges of genocide and ethnic cleansing are the facts that God waited 430 years to judge the Canaanites as “the last resort” when their corrupting moral practices reached their lowest depths (159-160), that God’s command to destroy nations was never meant to be a “universally binding standard for all time and all cultures” (161), that Israel experienced divine judgment when she sinned (163), that Joshua’s use of Ancient Near East conventional warfare language, a form of exaggeration, precludes the literalness of statements about complete annihilation of a particular people group (170-173), that some Canaanites who responded positively to the God of Israel received mercy (175), that noncombatant Canaanites live outside cities like Jericho and Ai, which were government/military installations (176), and that Deuteronomy 20 indicates Canaanite cities could have made peace with Israel (180). The OT was not the ideal, but was part of a redemptive movement to the ideal, which is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Copan lastly points out that Neo-Atheists can recognize morals and to a certain extent live by a moral code; however, they have not the philosophical foundations to explain why they are rights-bearing, valuable individuals (210-211). People have dignity and intrinsic knowledge of morality because they are created in God’s image, which is a better explanation why moral absolutes exist.

Is Yahweh the moral monster the New Atheists paint him out to be? According to the evidence, nothing could be further from the truth! What are your thoughts?

Apologetics, Journal Topics

Why Atheists Object to Killing the Canaanites

Killing the Canaanites: Was it Biblical?

Atheists grouse about God’s ordering of the destruction of the Canaanites calling it “divine genocide.” But, it wasn’t genocide, it was capital punishment, which I try to show in the latest issue of the Christian Research Journal. In Lev. 18 the Lord details Canaanite sin: incest, adultery, offering children to Molech, homosexuality, and bestiality; and, throughout the Old Testament, God made it clear that anyone who did any of these things should be put to death (of course, that’s a theocracy—now Christians fight in the realm of ideas and in prayer).
Shock-and-awe! The atheist is repulsed by this answer. Why? There are three major reasons. First, most of today’s “enlightened” thinkers, or “brights” (as some atheists like to be called), don’t regard anything as deserving capital punishment—usually, not even for murder. So, obviously, if capital punishment is itself always wrong, then surely God was wrong to order it.
Second, even if the atheist did think capital punishment appropriate for some crimes, it certainly wouldn’t be warranted for committing consensual sexual acts. After all, even if the atheist finds, say, sex with animals personally repugnant, that doesn’t mean that they don’t approve those so inclined. For example, atheist/ethicist Peter Singer wrote that sex with animals is not “an offence to our status and dignity as human beings.” And it’s not just Singer. Consider the 2008 movie Sleeping Dogs Lie where a woman tells her fiancé about once having sex with her dog only to have her fiancé break off the engagement. Peter Travers in Rolling Stone wrote that Sleeping Dogs Lie “possesses a quick wit and an endearing tenderness toward Amy as honesty wrecks her life. It’s sweet, doggone it.” Notice for Travers it wasn’t sex with a dog that ruined Amy’s life, but honesty.
Third, even if atheists were to think that some offenses did deserve capital punishment and even if the things enumerated in Lev. 18 did warrant that punishment, the atheist would still complain that some innocents must also have been killed. But how would the atheist know this? After all, if the God of the Bible really does exist then He does know everything which includes knowing who is guilty and who would or would not repent. This was exactly the point of Abraham’s lengthy dialog with the Lord in Genesis 18 regarding the coming destruction of two Canaanite cities—Sodom and Gomorrah. The Lord said He would spare both cities if even ten righteous people were found. But not only could ten righteous not be found, the angels had to all but drag Lot and his family out of the city.
Still, atheists will intuit that what God ordered was all very wrong. And that’s all it is: atheist intuition. But the Christian’s task is to proclaim God’s truth and not be surprised that the atheist hates it. After all, Jesus said that the reason the world hated Him was because “I testify that what it does is evil.”
Clay Jones is an Assistant Professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University. You can read more about Clay by visiting www.clayjones.net.