February 2008


To Love and Cherish

Doing Apologetics

Christianity: The Basics

What is Wrong with Social Justice

Christianity and Secularism

Evidence for the Bible

Archive for February 1st, 2008

A Review of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion Part XV

Friday, February 1st, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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In chapter 7 of his book, “The God Delusion” Richard Dawkins, turn the issue of morality and the Bible.  Dawkins lays down his goal pretty clearly in the opening paragraph when he says that the Bible, “encourages a system of morals which any civilized modern person whether religious or not, would find – I can put it no more gently – obnoxious.”  As for the millions of people who do get their morality from the Bible and yet somehow seem to be civilized and modern, Dawkins claims that “they either do not read it, or do not understand it.”

As a Christian friend of mine is fond of saying when confronted with such statements, “And yet here I stand.” The simple fact is that there are many people who do read and understand the Bible, probably a lot more than Dawkins, who reach vastly different conclusion.

It is true that on the one hand there are the extreme fundamentalists who insist that any deviation from how they read the Bible is heresy. In fact, in some cases they even argue that if you don’t read the same translation they do, you must be a heretic.  Yet on the other hand there are the skeptics like Dawkins who, if you deviate from how they read the Bible you are picking “which bits of scripture to believe” (pg 238).  Other than the conclusions they reach, I find very little difference between the two groups, as they both have a very superficial view of scripture, and dogmatically reject any deviation from their view.

Again Dawkins is not completely at fault here for he relies on the work of liberal scholars who are also critical of the scripture, such as Bishop Shelby Spong. But as I detail in my book, Evidence for the Bible, Liberal scholars are often little better than these other two groups. For example a while back I heard Bishop Spong being interviewed on the radio and he said that the Gospel of John that was anti-Semitic, and he knew of no scholars who would argue differently.  This means that he was completely unaware of those scholars, for they certainly do exist.  D. A Carson for example, in his Commentary on John’s Gospel, lists other possible understandings and argues quite convincingly from the text that anti-Semitism simply does not fit.

Dawkins’ analysis of the Bible starts out by listing the acts of God he considers immoral such as Noah and the Flood, and Sodom and Gomorrah. There are two main problem Dawkins faces with these arguments. The first, as discussed in earlier installments of this review, is on what basis of morality are we to make such criticism?

A bigger problem however, is that to really judge the morality of an action, we need to have all the relevant information the person had at the time.  Without that information, an act that seems immoral could in fact have been moral in light of the addition information.  For example, if all you knew was that John cut Mary with a knife, that might seem immoral until you find out that John was a doctor removing a cancerous growth.

The simple fact is that we can never hope of have all the relevant information available to God so as to be in a position to pass judgment on God.  Nor does this really matter, in terms of our morality, as even in the Bible these are special cases, and not models for us to follow today.

Another problem in Dawkins critique is that he at times fails to distinguish between the Bible describing what happened, and the Bible telling us how we should act. For example, he cites the instance in Judges where a priest cut up his concubine into 12 pieces (Judges 19).   But as the book of Judges says about the period, “in those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” (Judge 21:25)  One of the unique aspects of the Bible is that it does not present the main figures as perfect and noble, but as flawed.   We are not so much to follow their actions, but frequently to learn from their mistakes.  But Dawkins often is too busy ridiculing to notice such distinctions.

One of the stranger side trips Dawkins takes, is when he condemns “America’s Ten Commandment tablet-toters” arguing that they should be praising the Taliban for their destruction of Buddhist statues.  He says “I do not believe there is an atheist in the world who would bulldoze Mecca—or Chartres, York Minster or Notre Dame,  the Shew Dagon, the temples of Kyoto, or of course, the Buddhas of Bamiyan.” (pg 249)  Apparently Dawkins is unaware that much of the controversy in the U.S. is over the removal of Christian religious symbols such as crosses and the Ten Commands.  In short, those in the U.S. acting like the Taliban in their intolerant seeking to remove religious symbols they disagree with are not Christians, but atheists.

Finally Dawkins fail to consider the historical context of the time. For example, he asked if a whole range of offenses should have the death penalty, starting with cursing your parents. This was nothing new to the age, in fact even today; in some cultures parent have the right and even the duty to kill their children that dishonor them. What was new in the Bible’s command was that parents had to “bring him to the elders at the gate of his town.”  The change the teaching of the Bible brought about was that the power to kill was removed from the parents. But like in so much of his analysis, Dawkins missed the point of the passage.  

This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.