(I am still reflecting upon chapter two, “The God Hypothesis.” If you’re just now taking up this series of posts, I would suggest that you go back and read the previous three posts, dated June 19, July 3, and July 4. I would also suggest, and I should have said this before, that you read along with me in Dawkins’ book. It is well-written and, for people of faith, bound to be quite vexing.)
Dawkins talks about an experiment that was conducted on the effectiveness of prayer for hospitalized patients. The results were that there was no difference between those patients who were prayed for and those who were not and that those who knew they were being prayed for did worse than those who did not know. Dawkins is of course not surprised; one suspects that he would not have been surprised by different results as he would have simply had some rational explanation for that, too.
He quotes at length the Oxford theologian Richard Swinburne (and Dawkins is appalled that there is any such thing as an Oxford theologian) who makes a valiant effort at explaining just what role suffering might play in a universe that is ruled by a good God. Dawkins finds it “grotesque” (p. 64) that Swinburne could say that God just might be able to turn our suffering to some good purpose, such as the development of noble character. Dawkins has not yet in this book offered his take on the role of suffering in human life; perhaps he will later. I suspect that he will say something like this: all suffering has a biological basis and, given enough time, scientists will one day find a way to eradicate it all; in the meantime, we just need to buck up and take it. Dawkins would benefit greatly from having the Cross of Christ make an impression upon his thought processes.
I hate suffering. I hate that people suffer. I hate that I have church members with cancer, with Alzheimer’s, with Parkinson’s, and with heart disease. I hate that my mother died of breast cancer and my father of a massive heart attack. I hate that my daughter recently dealt with a serious blood clot. I want scientists to do all the research they can do in order to eradiate disease. Unlike many of my Christian friends, I believe, albeit uneasily, that the embryos that are formed by the efforts of infertile couples to conceive that are not otherwise going to be used should be employed in stem cell research. But I do believe that out of great suffering can come great good. I believe the Cross teaches that. I believe that those who trust in the God of the Cross experience that in their own lives.
Dawkins does not appreciate those scientists who try to make accommodations to religion; he thinks, and he may be right about this, that most who do so are motivated by their desire to navigate the political waters in America. Creationists and Intelligence Design proponents are loud. Dawkins says, “I have one thing in common with the creationists. Like me…they will have no truck with NOMA and its separate magisteria” (pp. 67-68). Indeed, creationists merge religion and science with religion always holding the majority position; if they have their way, science will still exist but it will be the servant of religion. That would, in my estimation, be bad for science, bad for truth, and an inappropriate application of the Bible. Dawkins and his ilk, on the other hand, do not want religion to be the servant of science. Dawkins wants religion to go away. Religion is to him superstition and it is to be eradicated.
I find that troubling and I want to try to say why. I do think that Christians who want to impose a biblical worldview on the scientific enterprise are partly wrong. They are wrong if they want scientists to accept a literal interpretation of the creation narratives in the Bible. Such literalism is not the biblical worldview, anyway. The actual and thus enduring biblical worldview is that creation and everything that is a part of it actually, in some mysterious way that is in the mind and heart of God (in whom I still believe, even after reading two whole chapters of Dawkins’ book, which does not surprise him, since I was “brainwashed” from my childhood), means something. There is a purpose. And in that purpose there is grace and hope and love. Science needs that worldview because every field of endeavor needs that worldview. The fact that the Church has so often done such a lousy job of living it out does not make it any less true.
Dawkins tries to make the case that science may one day be able to reduce the level of agnosticism about the existence of God in the same way that it has, in his view, reduced it toward the existence of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. He says, “Whether we ever get to know them or not, there are very probably alien civilizations that are superhuman, to the point of being god-like in ways that exceed anything a theologian could possibly imagine” (p. 72). For a scientist, that statement is quite a leap of faith. And, Dawkins here gives us some idea of just how shallow his brilliance is when he concludes that the ability to do amazing and even miraculous things makes someone “god-like.” Whether he can believe it or not, some of us look for more in God than the ability to do amazing stuff. We look for love. We look for a relationship. We look for hope. We look for purpose. And we have found it.