Category Archives: Biography – Richard Dawkins

A lesson in lion taming

C. S. Lewis ends the fourth chapter of Book I of Mere Christianity with a note on the supposed middle road between the twin alternatives of a universe viewed from the perspectives of materialism and religion. He dispels the notion that the Life-Force philosophy (a.k.a. Creative Evolution, or Emergent Evolution) is in reality a middle road. If the force is personal, then it is the same thing as religion, and if impersonal, then it is materialism by another name. He describes the pulling power of this view astutely:

One reason why many people find Creative Evolution so attractive is that it gives one much of the emotional comfort of believing in God and none of the less pleasant consequences. (p. 34)

He sees so clearly that the thought of a great Force gives a sense of continuity and is somehow vaguely comforting when life is going well. But,

If, on the other hand, you want to do something rather shabby, the Life-Force, being only a blind force, with no morals and no mind, will never interfere with you like that troublesome God we learned about when we were children. The Life-Force is a sort of tame God. You can switch it on when you want, but it will not bother you. All the thrills of religion and none of the cost. Is the Life-Force the greatest achievement of wishful thinking the world has yet seen? (p. 34)

The abundance of faiths in the supermarket of religion to which we trundle our spiritual trolleys bears out Lewis’s point well. Even dyed-in-the-wool materialists cannot escape the hope of this wishful thinking, so Dawkins calls himself a “cultural christian”, while all the time denying every doctrine of the Church. Let’s face it, science may have smells, but only liturgical Christianity has the bells and smells.

But it strikes me that such wishful thinking is not only to be found among nostaligic materialists who gravitate to the more liturgy-focussed Christian denominations. Even those of us who worship in more Word-focussed forms of service may be content with just the familiar cadences of the preaching. Once through the doors, we can be adept at turning the volume down, or even off, until next Sunday. It can be hard to tell whether it is a fix or an inoculation. However it is to be viewed, it clearly demonstrates that we have never answered Lewis’s question in another book, “Is he a tame lion?”

Letter to an atheist heretic

Magnus Linklater wrote a refreshingly honest piece in The Times last month. I found it heartening to see that not every self-proclaimed atheist agrees uncritically with Richard Dawkins and his fellow militant atheists (Hitchins, Dennett, Harris, Toynbee, et al.).

In one sense it is easy to see what Linklater is uneasy about. According to Dawkins (if that doesn’t sound too much like The Gospel According to Dawkins), he is a vacuous atheist. Who wants to be called vacuous? Inconsistent, yes. A heretic, even — his words not mine. He sounds more like a reluctant convert who is having second and third thoughts. And it’s not too hard to see why. Rather than thanking God he is an atheist, he ought to thank God he is having second thoughts. And well he might.

Proclaiming oneself an atheist is a big step to take. It is, however, a step in the wrong direction. The only right step to take from agnosticism is the one Adam took from his fig-leaf-bedecked rebellion (not agnosticism or atheism) — towards God, not away from him.

But then, as a Christian, I would think that. Look, however, at what Linklater himself says. He is reassured by Dawkins on his mental independence. He feels the healthy effects of his bold step. But he’s worried about Dawkins’s qualification “nearly always” — Richard Dawkins could be wrong! Yes, he is wrong. He could not be any more wrong. To rely on his pronouncements is justifiably to be worried.

Adam got to wear his fig leaves precisely because he exercised independence of mind. Far from a healthy step, it was the most unhealthy step he could have taken — terminally so. He followed the shallow, flawed logic of a persuasive anti-god exponent. His deceiver was no mere atheist. No, he was a convinced theist, as well he might be (cf. James 2:19). But he was an anti-theist — he was utterly opposed to God. Like his latter day disciple, he sought to convince our first parents that independence of mind was a healthy and desirable thing. But such a mode of thinking will condemn its proponents to the very hell Magnus Linklater thinks a fantasy. Sadly, it is the mode of thinking that is the fantasy, not the eternal abode.

Why does Linklater find comfort in religion, and specifically Christian religion? Given his espousal of atheism, it is certainly inconsistent. But I venture to suggest, it is a good sign. He has not succumbed totally to the Lie, for lie is what it is — God does exist, and to say and believe otherwise is to speak and believe the greatest lie in the universe.

May that inconsistent comfort in the things of God grow in his mind. Well might he feel he is on the “shifting sands of uncertainty.” He is. But unlike the foolish builder in Jesus’ parable (Mat. 7:24-27) he has begun to realise the precarious position he is in. His position is at variance with the very nature of the universe, and the manifest reality of the living God. As the late Francis A. Schaeffer often insisted, this universe is personal, not impersonal. To seek to live in a universe stamped with the very personality of its Creator as if he did not exist is bound to lead to uncertainty. Suppressing the truth (Rom 1:18ff) is a very dangerous thing. If one persists in it to the end of earthy life, it will result in the full effects of the wrath of God being meted out against oneself — what Linklater supposes to be a fantasy (Hell) will be known as an eternal reality.

But God has designed this universe in such a way that what can be known about him is plain. It is no accident. God has shown it to us. “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” (Rom 1:20) Such manifest revelation of God as this world in which we live provides, leaves us without an excuse not to believe in God. Our claim to be wise — the “healthy independence of mind” that Dawkins so deludedly proposes — is in fact evidence of our folly. We have “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.” (Rom 1:23) Not for Dawkins the worship of mere animals. But worship nonetheless he engages in — worship of man. If he will not have the living God, god he must have. Since there is nothing with higher intelligence than himself and his species, that has become his god. But to do such a thing is to exchange “the truth about God for a lie” and to worship and serve “the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” (Rom 1:25)

Well might Linklater feel uncertain and uneasy. He is living a lie, however sincerely he may believe it, and I have no doubt he is sincere. Rather than thank God for his atheism, he would do well to take the next step in his atheistic heresy. I welcome him to the ranks of heresy, a heresy to which I am myself committed. I do not believe in atheism, and must therefore be an atheist heretic.

But simply to doubt or disbelieve atheism is not enough. If The Lie is to be abandoned with any profit, it must be forsaken for The Truth. That Truth will lead to worship of the Creator. It will entail embracing the one who proclaimed himself The Truth (John 14:6). It will also entail the admission of that wrong-headed independent thinking — what the Bible calls confession of sin.

Far from entering a closed-minded universe of intellectual darkness, such a confession will lead one into a gloriously illuminated Technicolor universe, the like of which no Hollywood cinematic extravaganza could capture. It is to leave our tiny, cramped, two-dimensional hovel we pathetically call a universe for the expansive reality of all that God has created. We move from darkness into light (Col 1:13-14). From the blindness of unbelieving minds to hearts in which shines “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2Co 4:6).

Who could be content with the sterility of antitheism, thinking and acting in an imaginary universe devised by impotent minds? Who could be content with the comfortlessness of mere amorphous theism? The enjoyment of reality is to be found in worshipping the Creator — the one we have known for 2000 years as Jesus of Nazareth. He is The Truth. Facing the truth means bowing our minds and hearts and wills to his benevolent Lordship.

To all atheist heretics, I say to you, “we implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2Co 5:20).