Monday, June 28, 2010

Delusion Confusion 5

* Below is part 5 of a response to Richard Dawkins book "The God Delusion"
**I'm dealing with pages 78-85 here

NOMA is an acronym coined by Gould (non-overlapping magisteria) which argues that science and religion simply cover different spheres. Perhaps science deals with the observable/material and religion with the unobservable/spiritual. Dawkins thinks "this sounds terrific - right up until you give it a moment's thought" (79).

In some ways this is really the core thought of the book. Dawkins is only willing to consider a religion that stands up to scientific scrutiny, that manifests itself in the material world. I, like Dawkins, agree that NOMA is all too convenient for religion. But I find it frustrating that Dawkins, when faced with apparent divine agreement on this point (incarnation, resurrection), is so quick to pass through the potential evidence with 1 mere paragraph (82-83). I'm having trouble remembering another mention of Jesus' resurrection in the entire book, the very kind of evidence Dawkins claims to be interested in!

So what does he say about the resurrection of Jesus?
1. If it occurred, it occurred within the material realm
2. It is unlikely that evidence will ever become available

Completely agree on point one (resurrection happens in the physical realm). But point 2 is where I think Dawkins has poor epistemology. He seemingly has such a preference for biology and contemporary observation that he either ignores historic evidence or pretends it doesn't exist. I get the impression that Dawkins would only accept the kind of evidence that nobody would expect to be available realistically (a strand of hair or drop of blood from Jesus that proved either incarnation or resurrection).

I'm going to stop there for the time being and finish chapter 2 in the next post. I was hoping Dawkins book would make some strong atheistic claims about 3 things: Origins, Morality, and refutation of Jesus' resurrection. I was disappointed that the resurrection got so little attention in this book (a few lines?). It's not that I was expecting a Bible study, it's that resurrection is the exact kind of evidence Dawkins claims to be interested in.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Matthew Series

These are the handouts (with some rough notes) from my sermon series through the Gospel according to Matthew...

Genealogy (1:1-17)
Joseph (1:18-25)
Wise Men (2:1-22)
Growing up (2:23)
John the Baptist (3:1-12)
The Trinity (3:13-17)
The Temptation (4:1-11)
D-Day (4:12-17)
The Calling (4:18-25)
The Beatitudes (5:1-12)
Salt & Light (5:13-16)
The Law (5:17-20)
Anger (5:21-26)
Marriage & Divorce (5:27-32)
Telling the Truth (5:33-37)
Dealing with Enemies (5:38-48)
The Secret Service (6:1-4)
Our Prayer (6:5-15)
Fasting for God (6:16-18)
Money Matters (6:19-24)
Worry Free Living (6:25-34)
Critique of Criticism (7:1-6)
The Golden Rule (7:7-12)
The Way of Life (7:13-29)
3 Healing Stories (8:1-15)
Theology of Healing (8:16-17)
The Cost of Christianity (8:18-22)
Calm in the Storm (8:23-27)
Swine Flew (8:28-34)
Questioning Jesus (9:1-34)
The Twelve (9:35-10:42)
Eulogy for John (11:1-30)
Lord of the Sabbath (12:1-21)
The Chained Beast (12:22-45)
The Family of God (12:46-50)
The Four Soils (13:1-23)
The Wheat & Weeds (13:24-30, 36-43)
Mustard & Leaven (13:31-35)
Full Faith (13:44-58)
Bread of Life (14:1-21)
Walking on Water (14:22-33)
Tradition vs. Transformation (15:1-20)
Jesus for Gentiles? (15:21-39)
How to Destroy Fellowship (16:1-12)
Peter's Confession (16:13-20)
Why Did Jesus Come? (16:21-26)
The Transfiguration (16:27-17:13)
Demon Possessed Boy (17:14-23)
Tax Questions (17:24-27, 22:15-22)
Like Little Children (18:1-14)
Sin in the Church (18:15-35)
One Thing (19:16-30)
Workers Paid Equally (20:1-16)
Upside-Down Kingdom (20:17-34)
From Triumph to Temple (21:1-32)
The Wicked Tenants (21:33-46)
The Banquet (22:1-14)
The Big Inning (22:15-46)
The Show Must NOT Go On (23:1-39)
It's NOT the end of the World (24:1-34)
Ready for the Return? (24:35-25:30)
What have you done to Jesus? (25:31-46)
The Betrayal (26:1-30, 27:3-10)
The Denial (26:31-35, 69-75)
He Exits the Garden Alone (26:36-56)
Jesus on Trial (26:57-68, 27:1-2, 11-44)
He has Died (27:45-56)
He has Risen! (27:57-28:15)
Go (28:16-20)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Delusion Confusion 4

* Below is part 4 of a response to Richard Dawkins book "The God Delusion"

Chapter 2 (Part A)

This chapter is about 50 pages and I hardly think a decent response can be made in 1 post/note. I'll deal with pages 51-77 here. Dawkins is attempting to show the weaknesses of non-atheist positions (polytheism, monotheism in various forms, and agnosticism).

Dawkins on Polytheism
It is clear that Dawkins' pictures worldviews through the same evolutionary lens than he pictures biology. For him, polytheism evolved into monotheism which evolved into agnosticism which should evolve into atheism. Dawkins basically uses this section as a 'warm up' to his attack on monotheism in all its forms (57).

Dawkins on Monotheism
Dawkins considers Judaism, Christianity & Islam to be practically indistinguishable for his purposes. He goes on a brief tangent to bring into question just how religious the founding fathers of America were. In all honesty, I have no real interest in that debate (though I tend to think that many of them were less 'Christian' than fundamentalists believe them to have been). I'm still a little puzzled why this tangent was even necessary.

Dawkins on Agnosticism
His basic point here is that agnosticism is fine when we lack evidence (69), but that in the case of theism the burden of proof rests on the theists (76) and that their is no evidence available for them to build their case. Perhaps the most interesting section in the first half of chapter 2 is where Dawkins provides a spectrum of 7 positions in regards to theism/atheism. Dawkins considers himself to be in category 6, but is leaning toward category 7.

1. Strong theist (100% certain there is a God)
2. High Probability (Strongly believe in God)
3. Greater than 50% (agnostic but lean toward belief)
4. Exactly 50% likely
5. Less than 50% (agnostic but lean toward unbelief)
6. Low Probability (Strongly disbelieve in God)
7. Strong Atheist (100% certain there is no God)

Questions for Discussion
1. Doesn't Dawkins use circular reasoning (over and over) by failing to let theism exist on its own terms? I am thinking particularly of his insistence on starting most arguments with potential straw men (using Oral Roberts as an illustration of a theist, describing the OT God is a monster, saying that Paul is the founder of Christianity).
2. Can it really be demonstrated that monotheism evolved from polytheism and not the reverse (or, perhaps, that the evolution could go in both directions)?
3. Are the 3 monotheistic faiths really indistinguishable, even for Dawkins purposes? Doesn't the incarnational theology of Christianity make it quite distinct?
4. Were the Founding Fathers' as religious as fundamentalists say they were? Were they as secular as Dawkins guesses?
5. Is the burden of proof really on theists?
6. Is there really no evidence available for a theist? What kind of evidence would satisfy Dawkins? Why only that?
7. Where are you on Dawkins' spectrum of belief/unbelief? What direction are you moving?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Delusion Confusion 3

* Below is part 3 of a response to Richard Dawkins book "The God Delusion"

Chapter 1

Dawkins uses his 1st chapter to talk about what he is and is not talking about in his book. It's a short section to establish important definitions. The key terms are atheism and theism. What form of Atheism is Dawkins defending? What form of theism does he find intellectually offensive? I will address these 2 questions below:

Some who claim to be atheists are probably closer to agnosticism in terms of technical definition. Someone who does not presently believe in any particular God or gods may define themselves as an atheist even if they are open to belief in the future (given enough evidence). But there is a much bolder kind of atheism which believes more certainly that there is no God or gods. Dawkins fits this stronger form of atheism. The chapter seems to make clear that he believes that the physical/natural world is all that exists (the spiritual/supernatural realm does not).

Just like there are different kinds of beliefs labeled as atheism, there are also different kinds of belief that include a concept of God. Dawkins defines a theist as a believer in a supernatural God (transcendent & immanent). A deist believes in a supernatural God too (but only transcendent). A pantheist uses the term God, but not in a supernatural sense (not transcendent). He declares, "Pantheism is sexed-up atheism. Deism is watered-down theism" (40). It is a major point of the chapter that many/most great scientists who are considered religious were closer to pantheism than to either theism or even deism.

I have no major (or even minor?) disagreement with Dawkins' definitions. I don't even care to dispute his claim that Einstein fits on the pantheistic (non-supernaturalist) side of the debate. I also welcome his ending disclaimer that he is targeting (in this book) the supernaturalist form of religion and will do so without kid-gloves.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Delusion Confusion 2

(Original) Preface

There are two themes in Dawkins Preface that I'd like to react to:
1. Dawkins seems to think atheists are a persecuted minority
2. Dawkins thinks a world without religion would be a better place

The first theme made me wonder if Dawkins was not just from another country, but a whole other planet. Dawkins uses the Preface to paint a picture that atheists are some sort of mistreated minority. He believes that the "status of atheists in America today is on a par with that of homosexuals fifty years ago" (26). This theme is carried throughout the book.

I find this same syndrome quite often in Christian circles. There is something attractive about thinking of your own group as a persecuted minority. We see this in sports all the time, but we also see it in theism and, apparently, atheism as well. But from a street level I just don't see what he claims to be seeing. Practical atheism is the NORM in America, not a minority. And, in this culture, it is usually religious belief that is treated with contempt rather than the lack thereof. But more often people are indifferent and tolerant to a fault!

The second theme is the classic John Lennon thought of imagining a world with no religion. But Dawkins also makes the classic mistake of taking out all the bad fruit of religion while not raising the issue of whether religion has produced much of the good fruit that we enjoy. I thought this was a pretty immature and un-thoughtful opening argument.

Dawkins preface states clearly some of his goals in writing this book.

1. He wants atheists to realize they can 'come out.' I would guess that most atheists, by the very nature of atheism (a positive belief that there is no god or gods), do not struggle with confidence issues.

2. He wants religion to be judged by the evidence. I was/am quite willing to grant this request, though I'd certainly critique Dawkins' epistemology.

3. He wants to bring an end to the practice of labeling children as 'Christian' or 'Muslim' (or whatever) since they have not yet made a decision of what to believe. He states at the bottom of page 25 that "There is no such thing as a Christian child." As an Anabaptist at heart, I'm hard pressed to critique Dawkins on this point.

4. He wants religious readers to be atheists by the time they finish reading his book. I can only say with complete honesty that my faith in Christ was actually strengthened by reading this book because I found Dawkins' arguments to be weak in the areas he addresses and his book very weak in terms of what was neglected. But we'll get into the particulars later on...

Questions for discussions (to keep things focused):
1. Do you think atheism is a persecuted minority in America?
2. Do you think Dawkins was fair in his imaginations of a world without religion?
3. What do you think of Dawkins' goals?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Delusion Confusion

For the next little while, I'm going to be responding to Richard Dawkins best-selling book The God Delusion. Dawkins is one of the world's most famous atheists and this 400+ page book is considered his strongest argument to date against religion of all kinds (but especially focused on Christianity).

Preface to the Paperback Edition
In this section, Dawkins deals with common objections to his book.

1. You can't criticize religion w/o theological training
Dawkins responds by saying that he has no interest or obligation to respond to theologians who take God's existence for granted. He claims to deal only with those who "take seriously the possibility that God does not exist and argue that he does" (14). I think this is a fair point on Dawkins' part, but I don't think he came through. When the subject comes up later in the book, I don't see very much dialogue with the best arguments of theism. A bit of the straw-man fallacy is present, which leads us to objection 2.

2. You always attack the worst of religion
Dawkins responds by saying that subtle/nuanced religion is "numerically negligible" in comparison to bad religion. I find this point to be at odds with reality. Of those who claim to be religious in our world (most people), I don't find the vast majority of them to be illustrations of the evils of religion. And if Dawkins is directing his attack against bad religion, I'll join in! But what is that to me?

3. You are too mean!
Dawkins uses comparison to show that he's not really very mean. Having read the book, I would tend to agree with him. He has strong opinions and he's blunt with them, but I wouldn't say he is mean in any sense that would drive me away from reading his book.

4. You are preaching to the choir
This point assumes that The God Delusion will only be read by atheists who already agree with Dawkins. I think this objection is weak. I'm a Christian and I was very interested to read the book.

5. You are just as much a fundamentalist as they are
Dawkins responds to this by saying there is a big difference b/w someone who is passionate against evidence (a fundamentalist) and passionate about the evidence (in his view, a naturalist). He states bluntly that "all available evidence (and there is a vast amount of it) favours evolution" (19). I find both components of that statement to be vastly overstated. Plus, Christianity does not stand or fall on whether Darwin was right! After reading the book, I would say Dawkins is so committed to naturalism that he would qualify as an equal though opposite fundamentalist.

6. Religion is here to stay, so live with it
Dawkins basically says that if something is false we should do everything possible to get rid of it. I agree with him in principle.

7. Religion is false, but people need it
This objection basically speaks down to the common man who doesn't know enough to become an atheist. Such unlearned people need religion to help them through life. But Dawkins thinks this is arrogant and I agree. However, Dawkins feels that most people are religious b/c they simply don't know there is a solid alternative (a point he gets into more in the regular preface). I find this point ridiculous (I'll get into this in the next post).

So, after reading the book, what objections do I think stick? I would say 1, 2 & 5 are strong points against what Dawkins has written. He hasn't dealt thoroughly with the strongest theistic arguments. He definitely avoids dealing with the strengths of his opponents (basically ZERO discussion of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ) or the weaknesses of his own view (very little worthwhile discussion of true origins, unpersuasive discussion of morality w/o theistic foundations). And he's clearly assuming his naturalist position in making most of his arguments.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010


I have a BBC intern
What should I make him do?