Monday, August 27, 2007

God is not Great? Deluded Evangelistic Atheists

There have been a number of very popular books written recently that have questioned a great many things about Christianity - and religion in general. The blockbuster that seemed to open the gates was The Da Vinci Code (first the error-riddled book and then the pitifully awful movie). The book recycled (according to some, plagiarized) some discredited theories about Mary Magdelene, Da Vinci and of course Jesus. Despite being a work of fiction, the author presents these claims as historical fact: "All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate." In fact, almost nothing Brown claims about art, history, Jesus, Mary Magdalene, the Bible, secret documents or the Catholic Church is either true or accurate. Many web sites and books point out the factual errors.

However, The Da Vinci Code as well as a renewed interest in Intelligent Design has released a flood of books about the Gnostic Gospels (like The Secret Teachings of Jesus: Four Gnostic Gospels) and a great deal of anti-God books written primarily by atheists, like:
"God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" by Christopher Hitchens, "The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason" by Sam Harris, and "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins. Some of these books have been on the New York Times bestsellers list for months.

At the same time, these books have received some scathing reviews - and not just by those sympathetic to a religious worldview. Stephen Prothero in the Washington Post, points out something I have observed about atheists before. They fundamentally refuse to understand their own faith (atheism is after all a faith position) or the faith of anyone else. A quote from the review ...
"What Hitchens gets wrong is religion itself. Hitchens claims that some of his best friends are believers. If so, he doesn't know much about his best friends. He writes about religious people the way northern racists used to talk about "Negroes" -- with feigned knowing and a sneer. God Is Not Great assumes a childish definition of religion and then criticizes religious people for believing such foolery." Prothero finishes off his review with ...
"Christopher Hitchens is a brilliant man, and there is no living journalist I more enjoy reading. But I have never encountered a book whose author is so fundamentally unacquainted with its subject. In the end, this maddeningly dogmatic book does little more than illustrate one of Hitchens's pet themes -- the ability of dogma to put reason to sleep."

For a more point by point critique of Hitchens' book by a pastor and a New Testament scholar, Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts creates at least eight posts on his blog. This is lengthy and fairly focused on the Christian critiques sections in Hitchens' book.

The more popular book has been "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins. Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist and has written a number of books on that topic - some of them countering the Intelligent Design school of thought. Andrew Brown reviews the book in a British Publication called the Prospect Magazine. The title and sub-title speak volumes. "Dawkins the Dogmatist: Incurious and rambling, Richard Dawkins's diatribe against religion doesn't come close to explaining how faith has survived the assault of Darwinism."

However the most enjoyable review I read (including the comments and responses) was by H. Allen Orr in the New York Book Review. I quoted a couple of sections that I really enjoyed (this is also a very long and detailed review).

"The God Delusion certainly establishes that Dawkins has little new to offer. Its arguments are those of any bright student who has thumbed through Bertrand Russell's more popular books.
One reason for the lack of extended argument in The God Delusion is clear: Dawkins doesn't seem very good at it.
But as I made clear, I have no problem with where Dawkins arrived but with how he got there. It's one thing to think carefully about religion and conclude it's dubious. It's another to string together anecdotes and exercises in bad philosophy and conclude that one has resolved subtle problems. I wasn't disappointed in The God Delusion because I was shocked by Dawkins's atheism. I was disappointed because it wasn't very good."

And now my favorite quote: "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."

I have not read any of the books I mentioned above (except for the Da Vinci Code - which really wasn't worth the time invested - but that was before I started the DMin) - nor do I plan to - unless there is a relational component to it (ie I meet someone who is so impressed with it and wants to get my feedback). At any rate, atheism or belief in God is really not countered or overcome with one book or one debate. Actually I think we (both Christians and atheists) suffer from a deep and fundamental misunderstanding of each other. As one reviewer (I think it was Mark Roberts) said: "We inhabit different universes." I think that is so true. As a Christian I can't even begin to think that this world makes any sense without the existence of God. It seems so self evident to me. To believe otherwise is irrational to me. To disagree about the nature of that God and how he is revealed to us is understandable - but to deny the evidence of something much greater than us seems the height of folly. As the writer of the Proverbs says: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding" Proverbs 9:10.

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