The Faith of an Atheist

I think that it takes more faith to believe there isn’t a God than to believe there is. There is so much evidence for God’s existence and we’ll look at it in future issues of Contact.

Probably the most famous living atheist is Richard Dawkins, who is often on television and has written books such as The God Delusion. Dawkins is a brilliant biologist but he seems to think that makes him an expert on theology, which he manifestly isn’t.  Why is it that some scientists, who would ridicule non-scientists writing books critical of science, seem to feel they are competent to pontificate on theology? Let me briefly outline his position.

1. He claims everything is the result of Darwinian Natural Selection

He writes: “I believe, but I cannot prove, that all life, all intelligence, all creativity and all ‘design’ anywhere in the universe is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection.” He has an almost religious fervour about his belief in Natural Selection, which is understandable because it is his substitute for God. I am prepared to accept truth, wherever it comes from, and there does seem to be a lot of evidence for evolution. It seems to be the likely method that God used to bring the universe and all life in it into being. However it must be remembered that the theory of evolution has changed over the years and still has certain problems. Dawkins admits above that he can’t prove everything evolved.

What about the six-day creation of Genesis? The Bible is not interested in how God made the world, but rather that he made it and why he made it. If evolution is true then the Genesis account remains a beautiful and profound poetic description of creation. It is rich in theological principles expressed in symbolical terms and has been meaningful to hundreds of generations.

What Dawkins does not explain is how the universe and evolution started. He also does not explain how creation can be so incredibly interdependent if it evolved. He seems convinced that natural selection plus huge amounts of time are sufficient to explain this. I remain unconvinced. He doesn’t even ask why it is all here. In fact he dismisses what he calls “why questions” even though many people, quite rightly, ask them.

2. He says religion evolved from natural causes

He thinks it could be a by-product of the irrational aspects of falling in love or it is simply a transmission of ideas and beliefs over generations. He ignores – even dismisses – the immense amount of academic study and debate that has taken place, and still does, in religious circles. He also does not take seriously the fact of Jesus and his resurrection.

3. He enthusiastically promotes Atheism

He writes: “The atheist view is … life-affirming and life-enhancing, while at the same time never being tainted with self-delusion, wishful thinking ….” His naïve faith in the objectivity of atheism is embarrassing. Actually, Dawkins is rather more agnostic than atheist, i.e. unconvinced about God rather than certain he does not exist. He writes: “I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.”  That is quite an assumption! If God does exist and we are accountable to him, Dawkins will have a devastating shock one day. One could argue it is best to live on the assumption that God is there!

4. He is antagonistic to Religion

He writes: “I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented.’ He is scathing in his opinion of the God of the Bible but shows obvious bias and selective reading in order to maintain that position. He is either very ignorant of Scripture or deliberately misrepresents its teaching. 

Actually, Dawkins is really against fundamentalist religion and he doesn’t take seriously more mature expressions of faith. He makes the amazing statement: “Faith is an evil precisely because it requires no justification and brooks no argument.”  He ignores the vast majority of Christians who do face up to arguments and do have serious reasons for what they believe. He also ignores the immense amount of sacrifice and caring demonstrated by Christians. Instead he dismisses religious believers as “dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads,” so substituting insult for mature argument.

5. He makes uninformed statements about Jesus

Dawkins makes astounding statements about Jesus, such as “There is no good historical evidence that he ever thought he was divine’ and “It is even possible to mount a serious, though not widely supported, historical case that Jesus never lived at all…” Serious scholars would dismiss such uninformed statements as ridiculous. He also shows he doesn’t understand the meaning of Jesus’ death, claiming it is simply to atone for original (Adam and Eve’s) sin. Actually, Jesus died for our sins and in so doing showed the incredible love of God for us. Dawkins has missed the whole point.

It is little wonder that scholars, even atheist scholars, have made damning criticisms of Dawkin’s book “The God Delusion.” For example, Michael Ruse, Professor of Philosophy, Florida State University wrote: “The God Delusion makes me embarrassed to be an atheist.”

Prospect magazine in Nov 2005 voted Dawkins one of the world’s three leading intellectuals. But they reviewed The God Delusion as an “incurious, dogmatic, rambling, and self-contradictory” book.

Allen Orr, Professor of Biology, University of Rochester, New York wrote: “Despite my admiration for much of Dawkins's work, I'm afraid that I'm among those scientists who must part company with him here. Indeed, The God Delusion seems to me badly flawed. Though I once labeled Dawkins a professional atheist, I'm forced, after reading his new book, to conclude he's actually more an amateur. … his book makes a far from convincing case…” He goes on to say Dawkins is not good at philosophical argument but uses even feeble arguments to reach “preordained … conclusions at which he's determined to arrive.”

Finally, four academics (Sam Berry, Emeritus Professor of Genetics, University College, London; Sir John Houghton, ex-Director of Met Office, Malcolm Jeeves, Emeritus Professor of Psychology, University of St Andrews; Robert White, Professor of Geophysics, Cambridge University) wrote to the Times recently: “We are scientists from different disciplines who …. completely disagree with Dawkins that science can rule out the supernatural. Our faith in the existence of God revealed both in creation and in the person of Jesus is not diminished or contradicted in any way by our scientific understanding. On the contrary … putting together science and faith leads to a fuller and deeper picture of reality.”

© Tony Higton: see conditions for copying on the Home Page