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Dawkins has a point

October 3, 2013

I recently co-hosted a symposium of origins – the ‘In the Beginning symopsium’. I invited speakers representing three points of view (young earth creationism, old-earth creationism and atheist naturalism) to speak on origins. I really enjoyed the exchange of ideas and I enjoyed the events for it gave each speaker adequate time to articulate their view. We also got to hear each view in conflict and conversation with competing views, which helped to really test the robustness of the position. This is a video of the lunchtime panel discussion which was held between the three different views. I was grateful at the spirit, intelligence and enthusiasm of all presenters (I am the MC and moderator of the discussion).

As the symposium progressed and I heard the different views expressed, I began to understand Richard Dawkins’ (and the other New Atheist writers] assault on religion. I understood a little more about their conception and criticism of the Christian notion of ‘faith’.

Dawkins claims that [Christian] faith is ‘blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence’,[1] a definition he outlines again in The God Delusion ‘[f]aith is an evil precisely because it requires no justification and brooks no argument’.[2] Essentially Dawkins says that ‘faith’ is blind – it requires us to believe something that has no (or little) evidential support, we are to believe it even if the ‘evidence’ apparently points in the opposite direction.

I, like many others (not just Christians), strenuously oppose this definition as inadequate. This is certainly not the way that the Bible expects nor describes ‘faith’ (or trust, commitment). The faith/trust/commitment demanded in the Bible is one based on evidence e.g. John 20:31 ‘But these [the whole Gospel of John] are written that you may believe [i.e. have faith] that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name’. The nature of ‘faith’ John expects is evidential – i.e. he has gone to great lengths to outline the evidence, the reasons to believe in Jesus. For further thoughts consider Alister McGrath in Dawkins’ God: Genes, Memes, and the meaning of life, (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005), pages 84-91.

Yet, after engaging with the young-earth creationist position at the symposium, I began to feel that Richard Dawkins and co had a point. I felt that the young-earth Christians presented a series of belief requirements (i.e. things a Christian ought to believe) and a view of origins which appeared to directly contradict the findings of modern science. It appeared that the requirements of Christian faith were almost ‘blind’ i.e. it required commitment in the teeth of the evidence from modern science.

The main area of my observation (and in the video above) centred on the age of the universe. Modern science, via a number of methods put the age of the universe at around 13.8 billion years. The Big Bang theory is consistent with the findings of the WMAP image (which we discussed in the panel) and other things. It seems as though there are good reasons to believe that the universe is indeed 13.8 billion years old. I recognise that the modern scientific paradigm may be wrong, but it seems to me to be overwhelming that the evidence for an old earth is sound – this theory best explains the data. Yet the young earth creation view rejects this ‘evidence’ because they claim that the Bible ‘clearly’ states that the universe was created just 6,000 years ago.

Now, whilst there are ‘some’ potential evidences for a younger universe (unfortunately these weren’t really articulated very substantially in the panel or at the symposium – the most promising evidences draw on the work of John Hartnett – but this wasn’t explained at all). It appeared that the main ‘evidence’ for the young age of the universe was the Bible! It seemed to be that because the Bible says it is 6,000 years old, then it must be, even if the ‘evidence’ from modern science contradicts this claim.

I think this unfortunately opens up an unnecessary wedge between modern science and Christian belief. It requires us to make, what I think is an unnecessary choice between trusting the Bible and trusting the findings of modern science. Given the chasm between the young earth view and modern science, it means that many choose modern science and reject the Bible altogether! Further, I don’t think that the Bible’s teaching on the age of the universe is nearly as clear as the young-earth creationist view would imply and hence I don’t think it is ‘necessary’ to believe in a 6,000 year old universe. (I can articulate these thoughts and others in further posts if desired.)

Yet now I can see if this is a requirement for belief in the Christian message, then Dawkins does indeed have a point. Christian faith would indeed be ‘blind’, believing in the absence of evidence, in the teeth of evidence.

[1] Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, (London: Paladin/Granada, 1978), 212.

[2] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 308.

From → Bible, New atheism

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