Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Reactions and Responses to The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (Pt. 2)

(Note: to read my first post in this series, go here.)

Chapter Two of The God Delusion is entitled "The God Hypothesis." Dawkins’ statement of that hypothesis goes like this: “There exists a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us.” Dawkins’ alternative to that hypothesis states, “Any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution” (p. 31).

Dawkins maintains that “Creative intelligences, being evolved, necessarily arrive late in the universe, and therefore cannot be responsible for designing it” (p. 31). As becomes clearer and clearer as one reads his book, Dawkins cannot entertain any possibility that a divine creative intelligence exists. I would not argue his point that all the creative intelligences known to us in the world have evolved and are “late” in their arrival. Given that anyone worthy of the name “God” would likely be of quite a different nature than what occurs in the physical world, it stands to reason that such a one would not necessarily be subject to such evolutionary processes. Christians are often accused (perhaps rightly) of making this weak argument: “I believe there is a Creator God, therefore that God necessarily stands behind creation.” Dawkins argues similarly: “I believe only in the reality that science can test, prove, or hypothesize, therefore no possibility of a God exists.” Once you have decided that evolution is not a possibility, no evidence or argument can possibly change your mind; once you have decided that God is not a possibility, no evidence or argument can possibly change your mind.

There is another possibility, of course: to believe in a Creator God and also to take seriously the findings of science as to how creation developed. From a perspective of faith, I have argued against those Christians who say that you can’t believe in a Creator God and in evolution. Such Christians say that you have to make a choice, that you can’t have it both ways. Operating from the scientific, rationalistic perspective, Dawkins would agree with those Christians. He too would say that you can’t have it both ways. I’m not sure that the discussion about religion and science is helped along by fundamentalist Christians who are afraid of science or by fundamentalist scientists like Dawkins who just may be afraid that there is in fact a God.

To Dawkins’ credit, he is upfront about what he is up to in this book: “I am not attacking any particular version of God or gods. I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented” (p. 36). He will expend most of his energy on the Judeo-Christian version of the deity, but there is no doubt that he is out to discredit any belief in the supernatural.

Dawkins makes the case that America’s founding fathers were for the most part at best deists and that some of them may have in fact been atheists. At the very least, he says, they were “passionate secularists” (p. 43) who “believed in keeping religion out of politics” (p. 41). For my part, I am convinced that the founders of our nation intended to establish a secular government; had they intended to establish a Christian government they certainly could have made that explicit in the Constitution and they did not. As a traditional Baptist, I am all for the separation of church and state. But I am also convinced that the founding fathers knew that a non-coercive civic religion was a good and necessary thing. Dawkins overstates his case here; a much more balanced approach is found in the book American Gospel by Jon Meacham.

Interestingly, while many Christians try to make the case that America is a Christian nation (for another and probably more accurate opinion, see The Myth of a Christian Nation by Gregory A. Boyd) and that if we don’t reclaim that heritage, we’re doomed, Dawkins floats a different hypothesis. He wonders if the secularity of the U.S. Constitution has not created an atmosphere in which religions are free to compete and therefore they have been successful at proliferation. I think he may be right about that. At least, I have argued that a secular government, separation of church and state, and religious liberty for all have led to the religious vitality (Dawkins would no doubt call it mass delusion) in this country that far exceeds that of other Western nations.

Dawkins asks what many will consider a frightening question: “What might American atheists achieve if they organized themselves properly?” (p. 44). For one thing, they would achieve the creation of even greater fragmentation in this country. Still, if they want to organize, I say they should organize. I believe that they should take full advantage of the freedom from religion, of the freedom to assemble, and of the freedom of speech afforded them by our Constitution. I believe that they should enter into the free market of religions that Dawkins thinks is such a bad thing. I do think that those Christians who keep trying to make our government more religious are misguided; perhaps the enlightened atheists can show us a better way by also not trying to make it absolutely irreligious. My point is that I want atheists to have the same rights and freedoms that Baptists or Methodists or Hindus or Buddhists have. I think they should put their message out there and see how it resonates.

I can’t help but wonder: just how much meaning will folks find in their brand of religion?

(Tomorrow: I will continue dealing with chapter 2.)

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