Richard Dawkins continues his campaign to discredit God by arguing against one particular and very conservative view of the Bible. He is a very bright fellow and finds it easy to make Bible literalists look foolish. That is such a waste of his intelligence that I suspect his motives to be more like those of a debater (win the argument, no matter what the truth may be) than a seeker of truth. Truth is always the loser in a debate.
Given Dawkins’ faith in science, it is obvious that he would have to dismiss any view based on spiritual faith. What’s to debate? I stand on one side of a gulf. The soil under my feet is red. Dawkins stands on the other side, which has grey soil. What’s the point of us having an argument over whether soil is red or grey?
My real problem is not with Dawkins — atheists have come and gone for a great many centuries without having accomplished anything in the long run. I like the old poster that read:
God is dead. –Nietzsche Nietzsche is dead. — God
So Dawkins seems pretty irrelevant to me. My real irritation is with the Christians who so happily provide fodder for Dawkins’ quaint little views. They would be helped, in the first place, by studying a bit of church history, where they would find that the view that the Bible is to be read literally in every sentence is quite modern and is not part of classic orthodoxy. It is in fact part of the fruit of the Enlightenment, which taught the West that everything must be rational or, for a great many people, merely material. The current withering of departments of philosophy and humanities in our universities is part of that fruit. Why should Christians let a secular movement tell us that we either have to believe the Bible to be literally and historically exact or else reject it completely?
Second, Dawkins’ often shifts into the old idea that either religion teaches morality or it is worthless. Why do we let him do that? What morality can we learn, he asks, from the Old Testament story of Lot offering his daughters to a hungry mob in order to protect two visitors in his home from being raped? Why would Dawkins assume the story is supposed to teach us a moral lesson? It illustrates an ancient Middle Eastern morality (that hospitality to the sojourner is the highest form of morality) but doesn’t say we’re supposed to do the same thing. To find a moral lesson we have to broaden our scope and look at the whole of Lot’s life. He has made bad choices and now finds himself in a horrific mess with no good way out.
When God does deliver him from the situation by leading him out of the city, Lot loses his wife. It seems she ignored the warning of the angels and looked back on the city of Sodom as it was being devastated. She was turned into a pillar of salt. Is it a literally true story? That is not a question we can answer. The story is, at the very least, 2500 years old and very probably 3500 years old. It makes no sense whatsoever to pretend our modern definitions of reality are the proper standards for reading such texts. The question — Is it literally true? — is a modern question which is irrelevant to the ancient story. It is not one which the storyteller would have asked.
Nor should we ask it. There is a message to a story, a moral if you will, which is quite important. It was echoed by Jesus when he said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Entrusting ourselves to God is a matter of loyalty or, better, of commitment. These are rare words in our day of fickle fads but they are essential words in the Kingdom of God.
Dawkins should understand this. After all, he refuses to look back over his convictions. He has faith in science even though science “cherry picks” the evidences (that’s a favorites phrase of Dawkins’) and even though scientists are just as fallible and dishonest as the rest of us.
We Christians have cause for humility, as does Richard Dawkins. We both desire — do we not? — to be humble servants of truth. Why cast stones at one another?
Let Dawkins return to his lab and continue to do his studies. That’s a good thing and we all benefit from the work of faithful scientists. But bombastic and unsupportable claims that science explains all reality have no place in science, just as equally bombastic claims about the Bible answering all questions has no place in Christianity.