by Brandon Robbins and Steven B. Cowan-
On October 3, 2007 there was a debate in Birmingham Alabama titled , “The God Delusion Debate.” Fixed Point Foundation brought together two Oxford professors, one a bestselling atheist author, Professor Richard Dawkins, and the other, Dr. John Lennox, a mathematician and philosopher of science.
Richard Dawkins is a well known promoter of a new atheist agenda that believes that religious faith is not only wrong but dangerous. Dawkins has become very famous for his militant atheistic views and has authored a number of books promoting a Darwinian naturalistic world view. He claims that the Christian worldview is quite absurd and that Christians are irrational for holding their beliefs. Dawkins views Christianity as “Creationist lunacy” and believes our faith is “Outdated, petty and parochial. ”
The debate was structured around Dawkins’ best sell ing book The God Delusion. The moderator read quotes from the book and then Dawkins was given the oppor tunity to clarify and expand on the point(s) of the quo tation . Dr. Lennox then was given an opportunity to
respond to Dawkins ‘ proposals . The following is a response to a few of the issues raised in the debate that time did not allow an adequate discussion .
Atheism and Faith
First, there is an issue with the underlining foundation of Dawkins ‘ naturalistic worldview. Early in the debate there was a short discussion about the nature of faith and worldviews. Dawkins takes the position that religion is based on “blind” faith. Lennox on the other hand believes his own faith is based on evidence and not blind at all. Moreover, Lennox pointed out to Dawkins that the latter ‘s worldview is also grounded in faith. Dawkins thought that this was totally absurd because his world view of naturalism was based on scientific facts. The point Dr. Lennox was making had to do with the foundational assumptions or worldview people operate from. Dawkins had a particular view of the world and believed it to be true. But, is Dawkins “right” or “justified” in holding his “scientific” view of the world? Dawkins would say that science shows his view of the world to be correct. But what may not have been known from watching or listening to the debate is where exactly Dawkins is coming from. Dawkins promotes a view that is called scientism or positivism. Positivism was a view that was very popular in the 50’s and 60’s within the philosophy of science. Yet, over and over again it has been found to be philosophically and logically unattainable. These days few if any academic atheistic philosophers hold this view anymore. The main premise of a strong form of scientism or positivism Dawkins promotes would be something like the following:
We can only know that which can be understood to be true or probable through scientific investigation.
If the above where true, then only scientific statements could be rationally believed. The problem of course is that the above statement is not a scientific one and can not be known to be true by scientific investigation. The main premise of Dawkins worldview is not a scientific statement, it is a philosophical one. At no point in the debate, nor in his book does Dawkins give a philosophical justification for his worldview.
On what grounds do you know science gives you a true representation of the real world? The reason you trust in science as a truth-producing endeavor is based on your worldview. This is of course why Lennox kept pointing Dawkins to the idea that he (Dawkins) had a type of faith-because it has to be on some other ground that scientific or empirical investigation can be justified as a truth- giving discipline. Lennox very well stated that it is his belief in God as both creator of the universe and of man in his image that this worldview gives him the confidence or faith in the reliability of scientific investigation . Why does Dawkins trust in science? Philosopher Alvin Plantinga puts forth two competing questions : (1) What is the probability that you can trust your cognitive faculties given naturalism? And (2)What is the probability that you can trust your cognitive faculties given theism? In other words, on which worldview, atheism or theism, can we have faith in our ability to discern truth about the world in which we live? Naturalism as a worldview says that human beings (like all living things) are “guided” by natural section and the will to survive. Christianity as a world view says that we are guided by a God who created man in his image and made the universe to reflect his glory. Which worldview gives us a greater probability for arriving at truth? The answer should be clear.
Who Made the Designer?
Another issue discussed too briefly in the debate was Dawkins’ response to the argument for God based on apparent design in the universe. Dawkins basically claimed that to say that God is the source of the design is a cop out. Where did God come from? If God designed the world, then who designed the designer? Again this question comes from Dawkins self-refuting scientism. Dawkins assumes as a brute fact that we can only know or make meaningful statements about things that can be scientifically studied. If God is eternal and infinite and beyond scientific study, then any statement about him would be without meaning on Dawkins’ worldview. Yet again Dawkins shows himself to be unaware of the philosophical issued involved. Dawkins has elevated science to the level of supreme ruler of knowledge. Yet, he at no point gives reasons for why it has this place of honor.
Moreover, his implicit scientism prevents him from seeing the irrelevance of his question . As Lennox pointed out, the fact that we do not or cannot understand the nature of the designer in no way undermines the inference from the evidence to the existence of a designer. And, more importantly, if the designer is God (as Christians believe), then the question of who made the designer need never arise in the first place.
Which View Leads to Atrocity?
In the debate (as in his book), Dawkins made the claim that “there is no logical path” from atheism to moral atrocity. Even though there have been atheists who have committed terrible atrocities (e.g., Hitler, Stalin), their violent evils were not the logical outcome of their atheism. Dawkins insists, however, that there is a logical path from religion to moral atrocities. Because religion is based on blind faith and resists rational evaluation (says Dawkins) it breeds fanaticism. And fanaticism breeds violence.
Now if Dawkins had claimed that some religious beliefs lead logically to violence, then he might have been right. For example, we think that an Islam that takes the teachings of the Qur’an literally does breed violence and oppression. ¹ Yet, Dawkins is dead wrong if he thinks that Christianity has a logical path to violence. A key teaching of Jesus Christ, and a belief of all true Christian disciples, is:
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27-28)
There can be no logical path from this belief to moral atrocity. Anyone calling himself a Christian and yet engages in hateful violence for religious reasons is not following a logical path from Christian belief to atrocity. Rather, he is being inconsistent.
On the other hand, despite what Dawkins says, there is almost certainly a short, logical path from atheism to moral atrocity. Atheism implies that human beings are nothing special. Like the rest of the animal kingdom, we are the accidental products of blind evolutionary forces. For this reason, there is no justification on atheism for believing in objective moral values. Dawkins himself boldly asserts this very idea:
In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind forces of genetic replication , some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.²
So, according to Dawkins himself, atheists are com mitted to believing that
(1) There really is no such thing as good and evil. From which it follows that
(2) There is nothing morally objectionable to harming another person if it suits me.
From (2), coupled with the supposition that there is some person (let’s call him John) whom it suits me to harm, we may immediately infer that
(3) There is nothing morally objectionable to my harming John.
Of course, from (3) it does not follow that John will actually be harmed. There may be external constraints imposed on me by society. If I harm John, I could wind up in jail or worse. All that follows from (3) is that there would be nothing morally wrong with harm ing John. However, if circumstances were such that I could harm John without getting caught, or such that I could convince most members in my society to cooperate with me in harming John (say, by getting society to pass laws permitting harm to people of John’s race or creed), then it surely follows that
(4) John is harmed by me (and/or society).
Dawkins’ atheistic worldview cannot avoid this conclusion given his amoral starting point. Which means that there is a logical path from atheism to moral atrocity. Some atheists have seen-and followed-this logical path. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Jeffrey Dahmer drew this very conclusion from their atheism. The latter, for example, openly confessed, “If you don’t . . . think that there is a God to be accountable to, then . . . what ‘s the point of trying to modify your behavior to keep it within acceptable ranges?”³ Exactly.
Brandon Robbins is the graphic designer and photographer for Areopagus Journal. Steven B. Cowan is the editor of Areopagus Journal.
1See Craig Branch, “Veritas : The Cross and the Crescent ,”
Areopagus Journal 2:4 (October 2002): 2-7.
2 Richard Dawkins, “God’s Utility Function ,” Scientific America n 273 (1995): 85.
3 Quote from transcript of interview with Jeffrey Dahmer on Dateline NBC (Nov. 29, 1994).