After reading chapter 1 of Dawkins’ book, I was surprised at how much I tolerated, and even how much I agreed with. The chapter could be summarized into four introductory points.
- Einstein was not a theist.
- The universe is beautiful even without God.
- Religious people are offended too easily.
- Dawkins is a philosophical naturalist.
The first point, one in which Dawkins spends a lot of time on is not interesting to me. It is a demonstration of how poor apologetics is among most people (specifically Christians since Dawkins admits that his primary religious audience identifies as one). Dawkins feels it to be very important to labor to prove that Albert Einstein (and other prominent scientists of history), in spite of a few isolated quotations, was not a theist. And Presuppositionalism is important to me for this primary reason.
I have never been jealous to have Einstein ‘on our team.’ Einstein was either Jewish (religiously) or atheistic, and both of those would send him to hell. I have never coveted him, and would never consider it a powerful apologetic were he a theist.
The heavens Einstein was so fascinated by do not declare the glory of deism, nor of theism, nor of neo-Judaism which denies the Messiah. The heaven’s declare the glory of God (Psalm 19: 1); the true and living, Triune God of Scripture. Einstein’s theism, were it even the case, would be an apologetic against Christianity. That’s the problem, so Dawkins can have him.
The Created Order
One of the points of the first chapter I am intrigued by is Dawkins’ insistence that the universe is wonderful and beautiful even without God.
Dawkins regularly emphasizes that he does not need to believe God created the natural world to find the natural world amazing. You can tell Dawkins is tired of being told he cannot, but he better get used to it, because it is true.
Douglas Wilson made this point to Christopher Hitches during their debate at Westminster,
“There are mysteries beyond us. The point is not whether there are things in the universe that will stagger us and make us go ‘woa.’ The issue is, when you reflect on what you think is actually going on, and you say ‘There’s no purpose in this; there’s no design behind it. It’s just a plain, weird, crazy, place‘ I believe you’ve taken [out] the aesthetic element. You’ve removed the element of intention. It may be big, it may be crazy, it may be wild, it may be chaotic, but it is not lovely.”
That is exactly the point. Dawkins is right in one sense, the universe can be awe-inspiring and breathtaking while one denies the Christian God. However, it cannot be beautiful, it cannot be lovely, it cannot be good. The difference between Dawkins’ astonishment at the nebulae and the galaxies, and the ecosystems of the world and my own astonishment, is Art.
However, as a Christian, what I found so satisfying about this technique was its wonderful demonstration of Romans 1.
In Romans 1: 18-32, the famous text which denies the existence of Atheists, Paul says something about natural man. Natural man, who knows God exists, instead has “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” (25).
The irony for Paul is obvious: the greatness of the artistry reflects how much greater the artist is. The creation is supposed to be awe-inspiring and breathtaking so that we dare to fathom just how much more awe inspiring and breathtaking the One who breathed it into existence is. Yet, Dawkins falls in line with the rest of the sons of Adam, and attempts to stop at marveling at the painting, while never giving credit to the one who made it. Dawkins is deeply religious, he loves and worships the grandeur of the created order, when that ought to make him fall on His knees for the Creator of that creation.
Dawkins’ argument essentially begs the question. When asked to justify why or how the universe is so amazing, when asked to give an account for its beauty and wonder, his response from the epilogue through the first chapter can be boiled down to this, “It just is!” How riveting. Claiming to be wise, this P.h.D. microbiologist is a fool, and his heart is dark.
Dawkins spent the end of his opening chapter warning the reader of some soon to come offensive language, and called us to persevere.
Some of this portion I agreed with. Dawkins essentially makes the argument that religious people are too easily offended and that society coddles religion too much. I do not doubt that over the course of his career Dawkins has met some very thin-skinned Christians. We as Christians are allowed to get our feelings hurt. But, we must extend the same rights to others we claim for ourselves.
Freedom of speech can be messy, but we must deal with it biblically and with maturity. However, I find his idea that religion is coddled and privileged to be worthy of an eye-roll.
In particular places today this is certainly the case, and in former times it was more so the case. For example, America seems to coddle Islam in very peculiar ways. However, it is without doubt that secularists occupy the chair reserved for the Chief of getting feelings hurt.
It is Christians whose most fundamental and ancient beliefs are called bigotry, homophobic, Islamophobic, and many other new phobias.
It is Christians being sued and losing their businesses over their beliefs. It is Christians being arrested for “hate speech” in the very countries Dawkins lives near.
Our beliefs are hardly coddled. It is open-season on Christians within the countries most of Dawkins audience is found; it is open season on Christians in these areas.
Without a doubt the most important and significant aspect of the opening chapter is Dawkins appropriately admitting his worldview. Dawkins identities as a philosophical naturalist, and defines it as such:
“An atheist in this sense of philosophical naturalist is somebody who believes there is nothing beyond the natural, physical world, no supernatural creative intelligence lurking behind the observable universe, no soul that outlasts the body and no miracles – except in the sense of natural phenomena that we don’t yet understand. If there is something that appears to lie beyond the natural world as it is now imperfectly understood, we hope eventually to understand it and embrace it within the natural” (Dawkins, 35).
I am happy to accept this definition and it will be important moving forward. But first, some immediate thoughts:
I have elsewhere ridiculed the idea that “[There are] no miracles – except in the sense of natural phenomena that we don’t yet understand. If there is something that appears to lie beyond the natural world as it is now imperfectly understood, we hope eventually to understand it and embrace it within the natural…” is the Naturalist’s version of ‘God of the gaps.’ The atheist does not allow the Christian to simply credit God for phenomena that he cannot explain, yet the Naturalist is free to just assume there is a natural explanation for the things currently without explanation. Hence, naturalism of the gaps.
But more than that, before the meat of the book has even dawned, Dawkins admits some horrible consequences which follow from his natural worldview.
Quoting Julian Baggini, Dawkins purports,
“What most atheists do believe is that although there is only one kind of stuff in the universe and it is physical, out of this stuff come minds, beauty, emotions, moral values – in short the full gamut of phenomena that gives richness to human life.”
The poetic veneer cannot hide the hideous nature of that worldview dependent statement. Peel back the curtain, and Dawkins is supporting an absurd idea that immaterial abstractions actually evolved from material matter.
Greg Bahnsen wrote a brilliant essay titled On Worshipping the Creature Rather Than the Creator. In this irrefutable and scathing academic destruction of Evolution, Bahnsen quotes British physicist and atheist John Tyndall remarking on why Naturalistic evolution must be a slow process:
“[T]he process [of evolution] must be slow which commends the hypothesis of natural evolution to the public mind. For what are the core and essence of this hypothesis? Strip it bare, and you stand face to face with the notion, that the human mind itself – emotion, intellect, will, and all their phenomena – were once latent in a fiery cloud. Surely the mere statement of such a notion is more than a refutation…. Surely these notions represent an absurdity too monstrous to be entertained by any sane mind…. These evolution notions are absurd, monstrous…” (Emphasis mine).
The notion that transcendental immaterial concepts within reality (mind, love, etc.) were once somehow contained in and evolve from a dense and “simple” point of material nature is beyond belief, unscientific, and illogical, even when it is dressed up and endorsed by the intelligentsia.
Along these lines, Dawkins says,
“Human thoughts and emotions emerge from exceedingly complex interconnections of physical entities within the brain” (Dawkins, 34).
What an astonishing admission. There is no human agency or will. We are all slaves to the random firings of our brains. We are robots. We are meat-machines, dancing out our DNA, slaves to chance.
Why does a husband love his wife? His brain made him. Why did Hitler kill Jews? His brain made him. Why am I not an atheist? My brain makes me.
The greater problem is that if all our emotions and thoughts are just the interconnections of brain entities, there is no reason to expect reason or truth from them.
We do not expect truth or reason from any other chemical reaction we can recreate in the lab, so why do we expect it from the chemical reactions in human being brains? Unfortunately, before Dawkins has even begun to give reasoning for why God is a delusion, he has admitted he cannot even account for his ability to reason from his own worldview.
But I suspect more will be said on this later…