RE: Are We Aiding Richard Dawkins?

From: Austerberry, Charles <cfauster@creighton.edu>
Date: Tue Nov 29 2005 - 16:13:14 EST

I think Joel makes a good point.

Someone alerted me to an editorial in the American Spectator. To my way
of thinking, the author of the editorial exemplifies the absurdity of
allowing Dawkins, Wilson, Provine, etc. to define what theology is all
about:

http://www.spectator.org/dsp_article.asp?art_id=9045

If a Christian (such as the American Spectator editor) either: 1) cannot
imagine God creating through evolution, or 2) cannot imagine God
choosing to act discretely in ways undetectable by science, then that
Christian will feel challenged by Richard Dawkins' absurd theology, and
the theistic evolution/evolutionary creation option will seem
distastefully weak.

If, on the other hand, a Christian bases her or his belief in Jesus
Christ on the testimony of those who knew Jesus Christ personally, as
recorded in the New Testament, then the theological rantings of
atheistic evolutionists like Dawkins are much less challenging.

Chuck

-----Original Message-----
Date: Mon, 28 Nov 2005 08:52:04 -0500
From: Joel Cannon <jcannon@jcannon.washjeff.edu>
Subject: Are we aiding Richard Dawkins?

Hi Folks:

I have become uncomfortable with some elements of our discussion of
science and Christianity. There is a feeling that a good bit of what I
have said in the past (and the friends that I agree with have said) may
miss the point as far as Christianity goes. What follows is an attempt
to express some of those thoughts. It was catalyzed by being part of a
panel discussionn of ID, where while describing Richard Dawkins it
became even clearer to me that the discussion surrounding Dawkins, ID,
and others concerns an abstract entity who has only the remotest
relationship to YHWH and Christianity. Perhaps a better question to have
discussed is, "Why does this discussion go on?" But that is for another
day. Here is my attempt to give voice to my
concerns:

*************************************************************

Are We Aiding Richard Dawkins?

Michael Poole aptly observed that ``the `god' in whom Richard Dawkins
disbelieves is a `god' in whom the major world religions, Christianity,
Judaism and Islam do not believe either.''[1] Dawkins believes that
``until recently one of religion's main functions was scientific; the
explanation of existence, of the universe, of life...So the most basic
claims of Religion are scientific. Religion is a scientific theory.''[2]
For Dawkins, God is nothing but an explanatory hypothesis which is in
competition with evolution by natural selection.

Given how much Dawkins god differs from Christianity's God, we might
wonder why what Dawkins says would have any relevance for us.
Consider the fundamental discontinuity between Dawkins view of
Christianity's function and the founding of Christianity. Imagine a
Jewish peasant, living in first century Palestine between the violent
poles of Jewish nationalism and Roman occupation in conditions whose
closest modern parallel is ironically a Palestinian living in the
occupied West Bank[4]. The peasant ``prophetically'' explains the
existence of life and the universe to Israel, leading to his execution
as a political revolutionary, and the founding of a religion bearing his
name whose claims are ultimately scientific, and destined to compete
with evolution by natural selection to explain the existence of the
world we see.

Absurd! At minimum, it is an ethnocentric sin to imagine the
contemporary West Bank resident ruminating amidst the violence about how
the eye came to be so exquisitely formed, something Dawkins would have a
religious person do. But it brings new meaning to the word anachronism
to imagine how a first century Jewish contemporary of Jesus in a
similarly violent environment pondered the existence of the universe
1500 years before the advent of modern science, and was energized toward
religious revolution by this meditation. The idea that Jesus would be
noticed in this environment for explaining life's history, let alone
executed, is an even bigger anachronism.

For Dawkins, Christianity is an abstraction, severed from any connection
to its roots.

``In an absurd situation, act absurd or you will be absurd,'' wrote two
of my college classmates.[5] Given the absurd intellectual landscape of
which Richard Dawkins is the archetype, Christians seem to have a
choice: 1) To be absurd relative to our environment in proclaiming that
the being we refer to as `God' can be known through the peasant who was
executed in first century Palestine; or 2) To reinforce the absurdity of
our intellectual environment by being absurd relative to the roots of
our religion.

What I am starting to feel with uncomfortable regularity is that many of
us have unwittingly reinforced the absurdity of our environment, even if
we disagree with it. I am not just thinking of Intelligent Design
proponents, although I do think it odd that Johnson and Dembski have
published thousands of pages defending in a very real sense a god in
whom Christians do not believe (Johnson started his anti-evolutionary
journey after reading Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker [3]). I am thinking
of Christians, including myself, who have (from our own perspective!)
brought to bear thoughtful and reasonable theology within which we can
understand science's activities and findings and distinguish what
questions science can and cannot answer. By the arguments' very
reasonableness (with no apparent connection to first century Palestinian
judaism), our arguments reinforce the absurd intellectual landscape that
is cut off from the religion it seeks to discuss.

Indeed it seems to be the case that, for many of us, Christianity is an
abstraction (albeit an orthodox one) that is less disconnected from the
roots of Christianity than Dawkins, but still disconnected. The life,
death, and resurrection of Jesus, etc. in many of our mouths are naked
events, free of their historical and Jewish content. These naked events,
in turn, serve as axioms which support even more abstract doctrines,
which provide the framework with which we may consider issues such as
modern science which are, at best, tenuously connected to first century
Palestine.

 I am not arguing that the events of first century Palestine have
nothing to say about our modern 21st century world, that abstraction
should not be attempted (as if this were possible), or that we should
not ponder the nature of science, but I do have an increasing sense that
our willingness to view Christianity as an abstraction removed from its
roots may fuel, and make it more difficult to deal with more heterodox
abstractions such as those of Richard Dawkins. I believe further that
the disconnectedness of some of our abstractions make our discussion of
science irrelevant to the religion we claim. The test of an abstraction
is, after all, how well it is connected to what it represents.

********************************************

A Related Postscript

Historically, one of the most deadly disconnected abstractions (at least
in the way it has been passed onto us) came from William Paley, who gave
the argument from design its clearest and most lasting form, a form that
fits quite well into Dawkins absurdly disconnected Christianity, and
provided Dawkins with the metaphor and the license with which to advance
his prejudice.[7] Without the Christian Paley's choice to argue the
truth of Christianity in terms disconnected from Christianity itself,
Dawkins and Darwin would have no power. To my chagrin, Christians (e.g.
Dembski and Johnson) apparently continue to view Paley's argument,
however it has been adapted, as the principal intellectual justification
for Christianity, and believe that if the argument fails, Christianity
is not intellectually credible. Unfortunately, those of us who do not
support Paley have not done a much better job at resisting and reshaping
the landscape that Paley helped to create for Dawkins and his ilk. Paley
created Dawkins playground and we have left that playground largely
intact.

[1] Michael W. Poole, "A Critique of Aspects of the Philosophy and
Theology of Richard Dawkins", Science and Christian Belief, 6 (1), pp.
41-59, 1994.
http://www.scienceandchristianbelief.org/articles/dawkinspoole1.php

[2] ibid. p.42

[3] e.g. Tim Stafford, "The Making of a Revolution," Christianity Today,
p. 17, December, 1998.

[4] Despite differences, the similarities include 1) grinding poverty,
2) occupation by a brutal and much stronger power, 3) persistent violent
revolt reinforced by religious conviction (the religious convictions
seem to me to have been stonger in first century Israel), 4) an
intolerance, even persecution, of moderate voices. Just as in the modern
West Bank, these factors would play a prominent role in the psychology
of a person in first century Palestine.

[5] This was the central line of two of my Willamette University
classmates' play. The classmates were Steve Sawyer and Andy ??? (last
known to me to be raising Llamas somewhere in Eastern Oregon).

[6] N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, p. 128,
Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1992.

[7] I anticipate that Michael Roberts will object. To try to avoid that
objection, I have tried to distinguish what we contemporary Christians
are aware of with regard to Paley as opposed to the actual scope of his
writings.
                                     
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------------------------------------------------------------------------
------
Joel W. Cannon | (724)223-6146
Physics Department | jcannon@washjeff.edu
Washington and Jefferson College |
Washington, PA 15301 |
                                     
                    
Received on Tue Nov 29 16:15:36 2005

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