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The Gospel According to Dawkins

The ‘new atheists’ have frequently ignored their best qualified critics, particularly in recent years. As Richard Dawkins tours NZ this month, will he continue with this trend? If his many confident claims about the core historical aspects of the Christian faith (an area well outside his field of expertise) were subjected to rational scrutiny and public debate, would they survive? Dr Graeme Finlay’s recent book ‘The Gospel According to Dawkins’ suggests not. It moves rapidly through a wealth of detail including a lot of quite recent work in the field, but in a very accessible way. The conclusion is clear – Dawkins and friends are well out of their depth in this area. 

Professor Dawkins needs little introduction, as a populariser of evolutionary theory who in the early 21st century used that platform to help develop the movement that came to be known as the ‘new atheism’, a movement widely believed to now be in decline, subject to as many attacks from fellow atheists as from believers.

Dr Graeme Finlay is a senior lecturer in the medical school at the University of Auckland, and an experienced participant in science-faith discussions, author of many helpful books (e.g. on evolutionary genetics), booklets and articles in the field, also having training in theology. For more background, here’s a transcript of an interview with him on this book. Dr Finlay is also a project director of the recently established NZ Christians in Science

The book starts with discussing the relation between faith and evidence, and the ways in which our culture, in particular our scientific worldview, is so inextricably embedded within the Christian tradition – many of the conclusions of which, ironically, many atheists take on faith. Not all faith must be blind in this way, however – “Dawkins asserts that faith ‘requires no justification’. But I gladly acknowledge Christian faith precisely because it is rooted in the empirical world of human history.” Indeed, Christianity is perhaps uniquely among the religions focused on historical claims rather than ecstatic experiences, rituals, or prosperity.

As background, in the first two chapters, Finlay briefly traces the history of science, and the pre-Christian foundation for science to the New Testament. He also shows the relevance of theology, particularly the biblical descriptions of God’s nature (e.g. good, acts freely, has supreme authority), in understanding Christian views of the world (respectively: matter is not evil; nature is contingent – must be observed; and nature is secure and not at risk of being overwhelmed by chaos).

Next, it is asked – did Jesus exist? Leading new atheists and many of their followers have flirted with the claim that he didn’t – keeping it as a live option, while (for most of them) never quite fully committing to it. The historicity of some parts of the Hebrew scriptures are briefly touched on to follow up on a comparison Dawkins made with king David. Then Finlay gives the various early non-Christian references to Jesus substantive treatment. These references are widely discussed in introductory writings on the topic, but ‘the Gospel according to Dawkins’ provides a lot of helpful context which I wasn’t aware of – particularly fascinating is the discussion around Tacitus’ treatment. Then, we have the writings of Paul, and early Christians from the end of the first century, with many fascinating insights along the way.

The rest of the book explores the authorship of the gospels (we can know more than often thought), the history of gospel scholarship, the transmission of the gospel texts (reliable), other writings that got called gospels (late and uninformative), the historical value of the gospels (high), the problem of sin, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and much more. A recurring theme is that the new atheists engage in something similar to science denialism when they disregard the findings of New Testament studies. This book is written by a scientist and touches on science-related issues in a few places, so is particularly suitable for those who have or think they have a scientific mindset. It also works well though as a general introduction to reasons to take basic Christian ideas seriously. 

One of these central ideas is the idea of sin, which Dr Finlay helpfully explores towards the end of the book. Dawkins castigates Christians for obsessing over this topic, but the chapter on sin helps to show why it is as crucial for our modern lives as to people in any other era. In particular, it is illustrated with careful discussion of the environmental crisis our society faces and which all of us living in the modern world contribute to. This is no unthinking fundamentalist tract, but instead the product of decades of scientifically informed Christian thought. 

I highly recommend this book, it is much more interesting than I can adequately communicate in this short review. There is material here for old Christians, new atheists, and everyone in between, including many helpful references to the wider literature. I hope that Professor Dawkins and many members of the movement he has given birth to will also read it – they may find here a path to the intellectually fruitful and personally fulfilling enlightenment which they seek.

Why not pick it up on kindle now?  And if you have comments after reading, feel free to get in touch with me to discuss them. 

Richard Dawkins is Coming to New Zealand, and That’s Good News!

(From Canterbury Evangelism Network and Thinking Matters)

Who is Richard Dawkins?

Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist and science populariser. He is the former University of Oxford’s Professor for Public Understanding of Science. He has written many books including The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, Climbing Mount Improbable and The God Delusion. He is a passionate rationalist who vigorously promotes science-based education, values and understanding. He is a staunch defender of atheism and a controversial critic of religious belief. He is well regarded by media and many academics as a top scientific thinker and a compelling public speaker.

Why is Richard Dawkins coming to New Zealand?

Dawkins is promoting his new book Science in the Soul in Auckland on May 10, 2018, and Christchurch on May 11, 2018. The book is a collection of 42 of his essays spanning three decades that proclaim the power and glory of science, the wonder of discovery, and the necessity of scientific thinking in diverse areas of society. He defends Darwinian evolution and natural selection, and the role of scientist as prophet. He responds to questions about whether science is itself a religion, the probability of alien life and the beauty and cruelty of life on Earth.

Why should the church be interested?

Dawkins has been identified as one of the New Atheists, a group that speaks critically against religion in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon. He is well known for his criticism of creationism and intelligent design and non-rational approaches to social policy. In The God Delusion, he argues that there is almost certainly no God and that religion is a delusion. He equates religious indoctrination of children with child abuse and offers the following description of God:

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

How is this “Good News”?

Dawkins has brought the discussion of religious belief back into the public arena and we can be grateful for that. No longer simply a “private faith”, Christians are being asked to think carefully about what they believe and why they believe it in light of his strong attacks on Christianity. St. Peter encourages Christians to “in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15 NIV). The faith and witness of followers of Jesus Christ will grow and the Church will be strengthened when we seek answers and present them with humility and respect.

How should I think about the conflict of science vs. faith?

Is it always science or faith? Is it possible to be both? We enjoy many benefits that science has brought to our lives; modern medicine, electricity, automobiles and smartphones. We can find areas where we agree with Dawkins if we’re willing to listen carefully. We can learn to discern claims of verifiable facts from claims about the implications of those facts. Scientists, like all people, are just as susceptible to affirm or ignore evidence based on our view of the world. Remember that there are faithful, obedient Christians who believe in a young earth, an old earth and theistic evolution. Be gracious.

How can I engage my non-Christian friends and colleagues?

Pray to God with thankfulness. Dawkins’ visit is a gift that can open up conversations about Jesus. Listen carefully and genuinely seek to understand what others believe and why. Affirm areas of agreement with the Christian worldview. Resist a combative response, even if you feel defensive. If you don’t have solid answers to their questions, say so with humility. Offer to journey together to discover what is really true and whether it matters to our lives. Consider Paul at the Areopagus in Acts 17. He quoted pagan philosophers and poets to build bridges that moved people towards Jesus. He ignored those who sneered at his faith and instead went with those who were genuinely interested in learning more. Get out there and do likewise. In addition, explore some of the articles on this website, you might find something that speaks to the subjects that either you or those you know struggle with.

How can I pray?

We urge you to pray for Richard Dawkins. This is an important opportunity. Instead of being prideful, defensive or argumentative, we can choose to bless him as one created in the image of God and to pray for his salvation and a destiny that he has yet to embrace. We would love to welcome him into God’s Kingdom here in New Zealand. We choose to pray for revelation of the living God. We choose to pray for dreams and visions of Christ to flow into his life. It has been prophesied that this city is a place where people will come and meet God and then take the good news back to the nations. It is in this spirit that we believe good things for Richard and want him to have the blessing of knowing Christ.

What a privilege to pray for a man God loves and wants to rescue and restore. God used Saul to become one of Christianity’s greatest evangelists. He can use Richard Dawkins the same way.

If you would like to share this information with your church, download the Richard Dawkins Brief in PDF, print copies to A4 and then cut them into A5 sized handouts.

Fool’s Gold

This is a guest post by Lachlan Gordon, one of our newest writers at TM.


The Psalmist reports the fool saying there is no God. The Atheist, meanwhile, declares the Christian the fool. Who, then, is the fool?

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was, according to Voltaire, the ‘father’ of the scientific method – the method of modern science. In observing the order in the universe Bacon wrote, ‘I had rather believe all the fables…then that this universal frame is without a mind.’ He also wrote that ‘God never wrought miracle[s] to convince atheism, because his ordinary works convince it.’ For Bacon that God existed was a self-evident fact. To this Isaac Newton (1642-1726), the founder of classical physics, adds that, ‘this most beautiful system of the sun, planet and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.’ He also stated that, if nothing else, the thumb alone would convince him of God’s existence.

Both Bacon and Newton believed in a rational god: because God was rational so to was his creation. And because a rational creation is coherent it can be studied. Scientists like Bacon and Newton did what they did precisely because of their belief in God, not in spite of it. In the case of Michael Faraday (1791-1897) is was because of his particular theology that lead to his discovery of electromagnetic induction – a discovery that lead to the development of the electric motor. Faraday was a devout Christian, and a member of a small (Presbyterian) sect known as the Sandemanians, who believed that because God created the world then everything must be interconnected. Faraday had been given an apparatus consisting of a magnet and a wire. When the wire was dangled over the magnet and had an electric current applied to it, the wire rotated around the magnet as if carried by an invisible wind. Faraday applied his theology to this phenomena and imagined an invisible force (the interconnection of electricity and magnetism) swirling around the magnet, and discovered the magnetic field. Richard Dawkins, the notorious atheist, has stated that he is against religion because ‘it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.’ Dawkins’ premise is rebutted by the scientists mentioned above, all of whom believed in God, and yet made very important scientific discoveries.

It may be that Christians are indeed foolish, but if that is the case then there have been some very intelligent fools.

Further Reading : Francis Bacon, http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/ scholarsandscientists/francis-bacon.html . Isaac Newton, http://www.christianitytoday.com/
history/issues/issue-30/faith-behind-famous-isaac-newton.html
. Michael Faraday, http://
www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/the-genius-and-faith-of-faraday-and-maxwell
.

Auckland Conference: Science and Faith with Dr C. John Collins

Much of Western culture assumes that science and faith are foes, that faith and scientific naiveté go hand in hand, and that science has disproved the Bible and made faith irrelevant if not completely indefensible and undesirable.

Come and hear Dr. C. John Collins explain why faith and science are actually friends, how good faith fosters good science, and how good science should actually lead people to be more open to faith and the Bible.

WHEN: Friday 19 July 7pm-9.30pm and Saturday 20 July, 9:00am-4:30pm
WHERE: City Presbyterian Church, 283 Karangahape Road, Auckland
COST: $40 ($20 for Students).

Coffee and tea will be provided but please bring your own lunch. Payment can be made at the door or online (for online payments: City Presbyterian Church 12-3066-0402436-00. Please include your name and “SAF”)
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Schedule:
Friday 19 July

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7pm Registration
7.30am Welcome and Introduction
7.45am Session 1: How good faith fosters good science
8.30pm Break
8.45am Session 2: Genesis 1-11: Poetry, history, science, and truth
9.30am Evening Tea

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Saturday 20 July

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9.30am Session 3: The Image of God And Human Uniqueness
10.15am Morning Tea
10.30am Session 4: Miracles, Science, and God-of-the-Gaps
11.15am Break
11.30am Session 5: Biology, Evolution, Design
12.15pm Lunch (please bring your own)
1.15pm Q&A session
2pm Afternoon tea

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Dr C. John Collins is Professor and Chair of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary. With degrees from MIT, Faith Evangelical Lutheran Seminary, and the University of Liverpool (PhD), Collins is one of the few scholars uniquely placed to address critical issues that arise in our understanding of the Bible and the world.

While Collins’ early studies focused on linguistics and biblical languages, his latest work on miracles (The God of Miracles: An Exegetical Examination of God’s Action in the World), the historicity of Adam and Eve (Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care), and the book of Genesis (Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary) have established him as a leading evangelical voice on the relationship between science and faith.

Professor Collins has served as Old Testament chair on the translation committee for the English Standard Version of the Bible, and Old Testament Editor for the ESV Study Bible. He and his wife have been married since 1979 and have two children.

Auckland Conference: Ancient Truth for Modern Times with Dr C. John Collins

What is the Bible? What authority if any does the Bible have in the 21st Century? How should the Bible shape the life of the Church and individual believers?

Our approach to Scripture is fundamental to our ability to understand who God is and what he has to say to us. Come and hear Dr. C. John Collins explore the nature, authority, and purpose of the Bible in the 21st Century.

WHEN: Saturday, 13 July, 9:00am-4:30pm
WHERE: City Presbyterian Church, 283 Karangahape Road, Auckland
COST: $20 ($10 for Students).

Coffee and tea will be provided but please bring your own lunch. Payment can be made at the door or online (for online payments: City Presbyterian Church 12-3066-0402436-00. Please include your name and “ATMT”)
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Schedule:

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9am Registration
9.30am Welcome and Introduction
9.45am Session 1: What is the Bible?
10.30pm Morning Tea
10.45am Session 2: What Can We Say About the Bible? The Attributes of Scripture
11.30am Break
11.45am Session 3: What Do We Mean When We Say the Bible is “True”?
12.30pm Lunch (please bring your own)
1.30pm Session 4: How Should We Read and Interpret the Bible?
2.15pm Session 5: How Should We Preach and Teach the Bible?
3pm Afternoon tea
3.15pm Q&A Session
4.30pm Wrap up

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Dr C. John Collins is Professor and Chair of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary. With degrees from MIT, Faith Evangelical Lutheran Seminary, and the University of Liverpool (PhD), Collins is one of the few scholars uniquely placed to address critical issues that arise in our understanding of the Bible and the world.

While Collins’ early studies focused on linguistics and biblical languages, his latest work on miracles (The God of Miracles: An Exegetical Examination of God’s Action in the World), the historicity of Adam and Eve (Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care), and the book of Genesis (Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary) have established him as a leading evangelical voice on the relationship between science and faith.

Professor Collins has served as Old Testament chair on the translation committee for the English Standard Version of the Bible, and Old Testament Editor for the ESV Study Bible. He and his wife have been married since 1979 and have two children.