A Response to Dawkins’ CNN Interview of Sept 27, 2013

I tend to hesitate getting into these kinds of debates because they are normally fruitless, and tend to bring in only those who are already convinced of their own side of the debate without changing any minds. But on the other hand, I don’t want anyone reading Richard Dawkins’ arguments to come to the conclusion that there are no answers to his atheistic arguments.

I feel the same dilemma as Solomon:

Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.  Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes. (Proverbs 26:4-5 NIV)

But when Dawkins says, “Reason is on [the atheists’] side” but fills his interview with straw man tactics and fails to demonstrate a grasp of the fundamentals of basic biblical interpretation, one feels compelled to respond.

Although I will not respond to everything in the interview, I want to at least point out two of Dawkins’ own rational fallacies. First of all, he states,

The very idea that we get a moral compass from religion is horrible. Not only should we not get our moral compass from religion, as a matter of fact we don’t. We shouldn’t, because if you actually look at the bible or the Koran, and get your moral compass from there, it’s horrible – stoning people to death, stoning people for breaking the Sabbath.

Now of course we don’t do that anymore, but the reason we don’t do it is that we pick out those verses of the bible that we like, and reject those verses we don’t like. What criteria do we use to pick out the good ones and reject the bad ones? Non-biblical criteria, non-religious criteria. The same criteria as guide any modern person in their moral compass that has nothing to do with religion.

Dawkins’ betrays a (likely willful) ignorance of the scriptures when he arrives at the conclusion that we choose “willy-nilly” which verses of Scripture to apply and which ones we do not, by picking a verse at random out of the Mosaic Law. Reading the Old and New Testament in their entirety and proper context, one clearly sees the place that the legal code given to Israel under the Old Covenant has in the New Testament.  To illustrate a few verses that help give a little context (please read the New Testament completely, or at least the book of Galatians, for fuller context) consider,

Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.” … After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. …Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke [i.e. the Law of Moses] that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? (Acts 15: 5,7,10 NIV)

… you are not under the law, but under grace. (Romans 6:14b NIV)

Again, for brevity I am forced to pick these verses without full context, but any honest, straightforward reading of the New Testament will demonstrate clearly why we do not stone people today for failing to keep the Sabbath. There is an old saying that if you you take a verse out of context you can get the Bible to say anything. Dawkins clearly demonstrates the truth of this.

Second, Dawkins misses the point of the moral argument for the existence of God. (Though he does treat it more fully in his book The God Delusion.) First, the moral argument for the existence of God does not state that religious texts are the source of people’s ideas of morality. Rather, God Himself is the source of moral standards and, being created in his image, human beings have an innate sense of right and wrong. Instead, Dawkins’ worldview of scientific materialism (i.e., the belief that all we consist of are random collisions of atoms and chance chemical reactions) fails to demonstrate how moral standards came into existence in the first place.

If you read the writings of the New Atheists, they surprisingly do not deny the existence of some moral absolutes (e.g., genocide or rape are always wrong), but they provide no satisfactory philosophical basis by which they they came into existence. By what process are universal constructs of evil and good formed if we are merely complicated chemical reactions? Darwinian evolution fails to explain the innate moral sense of good and evil that exist within all people. Even Dawkins must have some basis for his own conclusion that stoning people for breaking the Sabbath is “horrible.” Dawkins is actually on the record for calling moral altruism (i.e., choices we make to benefit others and not ourselves) as “genetic misfirings” or “Darwinian mistakes” (God Delusion, p 221) Really?! A man saves a baby from a burning building and that’s his genes misfiring?

Furthermore, according to Darwinan evolution, people should be programmed such that whatever leads to the greatest likelihood of genetic reproduction should be the ultimate good. And yet across cultures around the world for centuries, marital unfaithfulness and adultery have been condemned, and loyalty esteemed, though this might not always lead to the greatest number of offspring and chance of genetic preservation.

This topic is treated at greater length and with a more complete examination of the New Atheist’s position in various places, but I would recommend, among others, Chad Meister, “God, Evil and Morality” (pp 107-118)  in W. L. Craig’s book God is Good, God is Great.  IVP Books, 2009. I merely give you a taste of some of the theistic answers to some of Dawkins’ arguments to whet your apologetic appetite.

On a different, but somewhat related note, I also highly recommend Stephen C Meyer’s book Signature in the Cell which gives an overwhelming argument for theism based on the latest DNA research. He also has a good chapter refuting the supposed “war between science and religion.” Please do not listen for a moment to the argument that belief in God is antagonistic to science. Christianity is hostile to the worldview of scientific materialism (the a priori conclusion that the universe and its origin are explainable in naturalistic terms), but not science. He makes the point that starting from a theistic worldview expecting design would have prevented scientists from coming to the wrong conclusion that non-coding DNA was useless “junk,” a position that is now being revised based on the latest research.

Take heart, Christian. You hold a reasonable faith!

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About Neil Burleson

I serve as a missionary in the country of Papua New Guinea.
This entry was posted in Apologetics, Current Issues and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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