Agnostics vs. Atheists, or Eagleton vs. Dawkins

“Because there is no necessity about the cosmos, we cannot deduce the laws which govern it from a priori principles, but need instead to look at how it actually works. This is the task of science. There is thus a curious connection between the doctrine of creation out of nothing and the professional life of Richard Dawkins. Without God, Dawkins would be out of a job. It is thus particularly churlish [rude] of him to call the existence of his employer into question.”

I found this tidbit amusing. From Terry Eagleton’s Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate. He’s a British literary critic and no friend of Christianity. The above work is part of his contribution to the Terry Lectures, given at Yale in 2008. They are an academic series of lectures given annually which discuss the relation of faith and science. Marilynne Robinson was also asked to speak at these lectures, her contribution was published as Absence of Mind. Good stuff

C.M. Granger

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32 thoughts on “Agnostics vs. Atheists, or Eagleton vs. Dawkins

  1. Dawkins is an excellent and well-respected biologist, and would not have any employment problems should belief in god evaporate overnight. It’s god’s fan-clubs that make Dawkins’s recent work necessary. So they are the “employer” if you will.

  2. Welcome to the blog!

    As a biologist, no doubt. As a philospher, or even someone with a rudimentary understanding of epistemology, metaphysics, or biblical Christianity, quite untrue. Regardless, it’s someone in his own camp making the comments. Dawkins should stick with biology, and not venture into fields beyond his expertise. And surely you understand the humor intended in the quote.

    • No, I don’t really see the humor in that one. I’d see irony, if it were actually true. I much prefer jokes that poke fun at the way people actually are: “How many atheists does it take to change a light bulb?” “Two, one to change it and one to videotape it so the fundamentalists can’t claim that god did it.” Or my favorite Dawkins/Homeopathy poster: “The God Dilution: it only makes him stronger”

      And I would not say that Dawkins has a rudimentary understanding of those other subjects. But the most churchgoers don’t believe based on sophisticated theology, or biblical scholarship, they believe based on what they were raised with and what’s in the sunday sermons. That’s the type of belief he is addressing, so that’s the level he writes at when he writes about religion. He’s writing for his target audience. You want someone writing for philosophers, try Daniel Dennett.

      Odd to classify me in Dawkins’ “camp”. I love his writing on biology, I find him an engaging speaker, but sometimes a little arrogant and offputting in person. I agree with some of what he says, but disagree strongy with other things.

      • Hi “Ubi”,

        I’m sorry for not being more clear. I was not saying you were in Dawkins “camp”, I was saying that the comments in the post were the assessment of a fellow secular humanist (Eagleton) and not the observations of a Christian.

        We can certainly disagree about the humor. However, I think you will agree that the question of God’s existence is what has made Dawkins as popular as he is, and as wealthy. Certainly “The God Delusion” has significantly outsold “The Extended Phenotype”, and if Dawkins didn’t stray outside of biology he would have remained relatively nameless.

        We will also have to disagree on Dawkins rudimentary understanding of the other subjects I mentioned. Terry Eagleton says it best:

        “Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology”

        He’s a terrible philospher, and doesn’t even try to study or understand the subject he is seeking to castigate. How is he to be taken seriously, except by his ardent supporters? Daniel Dennett is Dawkins with sophistication, but with less personality.

        As far as your assessment of the basis for why most churchgoers believe as they do, I have no doubt there is some truth to it. I don’t see a problem with believing the gospel based on what is preached in church. Theological sophistication is not required to be a Christian, rather child-like faith is commended by Jesus. A sinner only needs to understand that he or she is in need of a Savior, and find in Christ that need fulfilled. Repentence and faith doesn’t necessarily require biblical scholarship. Be that as it may, if Dawkins is addressing a popular audience he thinks is filled with snake-handling rednecks from Appalachia, he is probably writing at too high a level. I doubt his readership is filled with fundamentalists.

  3. Why is a biologist writing a book about the existence of God anyway? I’m not sure I understand why he is considered an expert on the subject. Should Alvin Plantinga receive comparable consideration if he writes a book on biology? Or do we grant equal weight to an astro-physicist who also writes on religious issues?

    • Hi Jason,

      Thanks for your comments.

      Fair points. However, I wouldn’t say a biologist couldn’t be an expert on religious matters and therefore publish on the subject. Neither would I assert being a theologian precludes someone from writing on, say, economics. I would think though they should demonstrate some level of proficiency with their chosen topic. For example, Dawkins made this quip when challenged about his understanding of theology by Alistair MacGrath to the effect that “one doesn’t need to study leprechaunology in order to not believe in leprachauns”. Such a statement shows his ignorance at the most fundamental level. He wishes to discount Christianity with a wave of the hand, comparing it to fairy tales. However, it is a religion based on historical events, with a consistent worldview, which can explain the existence of variant, abstract entities like the laws of logic, emotions, the mind, numbers, etc. and makes sense of the uniformity of nature as well as presents the preconditions of intelligibility. All this Dawkins discounts with a scoff about leprechauns! And, by the way, none of these items can be explained by naturalistic, materialistic atheism.

      • C.M.,
        You have just made what atheists describe as the “courtier’s response”. This harks back to the story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, which I am sure you are familiar with. When the little boy in the story pipes up with “The Emperor is naked!” the courtier replies that the little boy cannot possibly be qualified to comment on such a thing. He has no advanced degrees in the Emperor’s vest material, he has made no lifelong study of Imperial hat designs, and he knows nothing about abstract boot theory. He cannot possibly have a valid comment to make about the Emperor’s clothes without years of additional study. To which the little boy says “Why would I need to do that? He’s naked!”

        If Alvin Plantinga were to write a book on the details of biology he should have a deep understanding of the subject. But if he were to write about the existence or non-existence of birds, no such study would be necessary. Similarly, if Dawkins were to write a book about the details of christian theology he should have a deep understanding of the field. But to comment simply on the existence or non-existence of a god, the study of theology is not needed. If your god does not exist, then it’s not relevant whether your worldview can supposedly explain logic, etc.

      • Hi “Ubi”,

        Sorry for the nonresponse, I just returned from vacation and was no where near a computer for a whole week (which almost never happens).

        My response was not a “courtier’s response” because I’m pointing out that Dawkins is asking a philosophical question, not a biological or physical one. When we ask the question, “Does God exist?” we are not asking something like “Are there crackers in the pantry?”, in which case to answer it we would simply open the pantry and look inside. The question “Does God exist?” is a metaphysical one. Dawkins is out of his element, as Eagleton aptly points out.

        Dawkins should understand the question before seeking to answer it, and I don’t think he truly does…

      • CM,

        I don’t think it’s a deep “metaphysical” question at all. “Does god exist?” (or more generically, “Do supernatual beings exist?”) is a question about the nature of reality. I hope you will agree that there is a correct answer to this question. We may not have the capability of discovering once and for all what that answer is, but the answer is either “yes” or “no”.

        Of course it depends on how you define “god” in the first place. Dawkins addresses the sort of god that most believers believe in, not the sort of nebulous concept that Sophisticated Theologians specialize in. You could just redefine god to the point where “existence” is not a relevant question anymore, but that’s not what’s being proclaimed from the pulpits. They don’t preach any sort of vague “first cause” or “abstract laws of logic” or anything else of that sort. They are not preaching complicated philosophy. They proclaim that there is a god who affects the physical world, who interacts with humans, and who has very specific opinions about how humans should behave and think. For the sort of god most people believe in, we should be able to do the equivalent of “open the pantry and look inside”.

        So for the time being I’ll start with a definition of a supernatural being as “A consciousness that is not the product of any kind of physical brain in our universe.” I’ll define “god” as “A supernatural being that exists, which created our universe, is omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent, and interacts with our material universe and human beings in some perceivable way. (If this does not fit your definition of “god” then feel free to propose an alternate definition.)

        Do supernatural beings exist? Does the specific supernatural being called “god” exist? If the answer to either question turns out to be “no”, then theology is the study of nothing, and there’s no point to pursuing it. Just as the study of the Emperor’s wardrobe is pointless.

        Most atheists take the position that the answer to “does god exist” cannot be proven to be “no” (because you generally cannot prove a negative), but we think the probability is extremely high that the correct answer is “no”. So we’re not about to spend years of our lives pursuing theological studies.

      • Ubi,

        It is a metaphysical question. When you hold to a materialistic, atheist world view that denies the existence of the supernatural (all that exists is matter in motion) it affects what you will accept as evidence. Even if, for the sake of argument, I grant your definitions of supernatural beings and of God Himself, what would you accept as evidence for their existence (and by supernatural beings, I have in mind angels)?

        Because of your a priori beliefs about materialistic atheism, you most likely would only accept physical evidence of some kind. For example, if God right now picked up the chair you’re sitting on and it levitated for twenty minutes (and you video taped it), then you’d believe there is a God. However, you still wouldn’t believe in His existence because you would search for a naturalistic explanation of the phenomena.

        The problems that atheists have to face is that they cannot acceptably explain the existence of universal, variant, and abstract nonphysical entities like the laws of logic. They cannot account for morality, emotions, the soul, the mind (which is different from the brain) and on and on it goes. They cannot explain human dignity, yet they still attend funerals and kiss their spouses and tell them they love them when they come home. They cannot account for any meaning in life, they can only “assign” meaning to it. (as an aside, one atheist advised me I was living an empty lie as a Christian. When I pressed him about his life having any meaning, he asserted that we must assign meaning to our lives…talk about irony…and he called me the pretender! Life has no inherent meaning, we must “assign” it)

        So, back to Dawkins. If he tries to answer the question of God’s existence by “looking in the pantry” like he would to see if there are crackers in there, he will never find Him. He’s like Yuri Gagarin, the first Russian cosmonaut, who said during his first space flight, “I don’t see any God up here”.

      • CM,

        “When you hold to a materialistic, atheist world view that denies the existence of the supernatural….”

        Not correct, to start out with. I don’t deny the possibility of the supernatural existing, but I do not think there is sufficient evidence at this time to warrant a positive belief in it.

        But you are right that I would want material evidence for the existence of a god. I know of no other kind that’s sufficiently reliable. People are easy to fool, and the easiest person to fool is yourself.

        The problem with your chair example is that it’s too easy a thing to fake. Before I could accept that an event had been established as “supernatural” it’s important to rule out all the other possible natural explanations. For instance, human brains are extremely fallible, so my first guess would be that I was hallucinating. Between a god and a brain seizure, I think the seizure more likely. If there were other witnesses, and preferably video, so we could rule out that it was all in my mind, then my next guess would be a human trick. Maybe Penn & Teller are mad that I missed this year’s Doughnut and Bacon Party and are getting back at me. Or a preacher has devised an elaborate ruse to try to add me to his flock. Many faith healers have been exposed as con artists, so we’d need to rule our human intervention. And so on. If we could rule out all of the possible natual explanations, then I would consider that the event might be supernatural.

        But there are better examples of things that I would accept as strong evidence of the existence of a god. For instance, the stars rearranging one night, witnessed by many astronomers. Or prayer to a specific god consistently healing amputees. Or the crabapple tree in my front yard suddenly growing KJV bibles instead of crabapples. Or – an omniscient god would know what evidence I would find personally convincing, and an omnipotent god could send it. Nothing so far.

        Or here’s an easier one. I have a pass-phrase, a short sentence in English that I have never told anybody but thought many times. It’s not written down anywhere either. If your god is omniscient, he already knows what it is. If he communicates with you, he can tell you what it is. If your next reply begins with that pass-phrase, you will have my undivided attention.

        As for morality and meaning, humans created morality, and it’s still a work in progress. And we each create our own meaning for our lives, and I find that much preferable to being told what the meaning is supposed to be.

      • Hi Ubi,

        I think you have proved my point. You may not deny the *possibility* of the supernatural, but for all practical purposes you have excluded metaphysical evidence from the discussion.

        As far as your required evidence, God has revealed Himself in natural creation, He has revealed Himself via special revelation in Scripture, and He ultimately has revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. You are responsible for your response to that evidence. However, the Lord doesn’t owe any individual a special dog and pony show in order to win their trust and faith. Besides, even if I revealed your secret pass-phrase, you would rule out supernatural explanations. Disbelief in God is not caused by the lack of evidence or insufficient argumentation, it’s root and source is the heart.

        If morality is created by humans, then you can’t assert that anything whatsoever is inherently evil or wrong. Nazi Germany, Apartheid, the sex slave trade, torturing animals for fun, as long as accepted by society, is right and good. IF morality is a work in progress, upon what basis do you judge “progress”? Are you not implicitly admitting that some moral systems are better than others? Says who? Why should I accept your moral opinion over, say, Pol Pot?

        As far as creating meaning for your life, that is an empty bottomless pit. You see, for atheism, even if you win, you lose. There is no meaning, except for what you pretend to be there. I don’t like pretending, except when playing with my kids.

        From what I can tell from reading your blog, most of your exposure to Christians has been to the fringe, super-fundamentalist type, the doomsday sky-is-falling on such and such a date kind of folks. I really do sympathize with you on that front. Unfortunately, sin manifests itself in many ways and distorts the truth, even among those who profess faith in Christ. However, the truth claims of Christianity cannot be disproven by evaluating the behavior of those who profess to follow the teachings of Christ. They must be validated or invalidated on their own merits. I would encourage you to give a new consideration of those claims.

        Best to you,

        CMG

      • Can you give me an example of a piece of “metaphysical evidence” that you can reliably distinguish from “something somebody made up”? Because people make stuff up all the time. Sometimes they are lying, sometimes their memories are faulty, but sometimes they are just honestly mistaken. And if you have a piece of “metaphysical evidence” that can reliably be shown to he accurate, how is that different from physical evidence?

        How do you evaluate the truth claims of a religion if not by looking at the behavior of the beilevers? What “merits” do these claims supposedly have that can be evaluated in some other way? Do you have an example?

        As for “special revelation in scripture”, if you had been born in Saudi Arabia, you would have been raised to view the Qu’ran as holy scripture and all the books of other religions as invalid. A billion Hindus think they have the real scripture, and both the bible and the Qu’ran are wrong. Why Jesus and not Muhammed, Zoroaster, Buddha, Krishna, or any of the thousands of other “special messengers from god” that people have believed in so fervently? And going from “the universe is amazing” to “therefore the war god of a mideastern tribe of bronze-age goatherders is the creator” really does not follow. The best you can get from “the universe must have been created” is Deism.

        As for my background, I was raised moderate Presbyterian. i was the perfect “church kid”. I did all the sunday school and bible school and youth groups and youth choirs and retreats and church camp and conferences in the summer. I believed what I was supposed to believe, and felt all those warm fuzzy feelings you are expected to feel. They told me I should read the bible, so I did. Twice. Cover to cover, in two different translations. (In hindsight, the church leaders should probably not have pushed that so hard. It backfired.) I had nothing but good experiences from my churchgoing years.

        In college I ran into the Campus Crusade, who were harsh and judgmental, even though they smiled all the time. We had visits from a very young Brother Jed, and also some crazy loon carrying a giant sail and ranting about sin and damnation. And yet all these people based their beliefs on their interpretation of the same book I used. I looked at these people and immediately thought “what these people believe is ridiculous!” But then I took the step that most believers don’t, I really thought about what was actually in the bible, and whether what i believed was also ridiculous. Meanwhile, I stuffed my head full of physics and calculus, and history and great books. And by my senior year, even though I was living in the Methodist student house, I realized that it was ridiculous, all of it. Christianity was a human invention, just like all the other religions. No big emotional reaction, no anger, no “hating god”. I just realized that I had been incorrect and changed my mind about what I thought the right answer was.

        For some reason, believers NEED losing faith to be an emotional decision. I hear that same trope over and over, “you’re just angry at god”, “you’re just reacting emotionally”. You know who I don’t hear that from? Atheists. There was nothing emotional about my de-conversion, I just thought the question through and calmly changed my mind. But you believers can’t just accept “we changed our minds” as a reason, you apparently need to project all this emotional baggage onto us that’s not actually there. Maybe the idea that someone could simply change their mind is threatening somehow. If it happened to us, it could also happen to you, and I suppose that’s too scary to consider.

      • Ubi,

        You ever type out a really long response to someone, only to have it disappear when you hit the “post” button? Well, that just happened to me and it’s a bit late for me to rehash.

        I’ll try to respond later this week. Thanks

      • Ubi,

        I’m going to make a few separate comments.

        An example of metaphysical evidence is the very existence of the laws of logic, which are universal, abstract, nonphysical entities. Materialist atheism cannot account for the laws of logic (among many other things). Laws of logic are universal, that is, they do not change and apply to everyone in the same way. They are not social conventions, but are objective laws by which one can determine if something is true or false. They are abstract, that is, they express a quality or characteristic apart from an object. They are nonphysical, that is, you can’t put them in the pantry closet next to the crackers. Therefore, they prove the existence of transcendent entities like God, that do not constitute matter in motion. That is not “physical evidence”, but evidence all the same. If you disagree, account for the laws of logic under materialistic atheism.

      • I don’t see logic as a metaphysical thing that needs to be accounted for. The rules of logic are a formal system that we have worked out for determining “true” and “false” statements, just as math is. But neither logic, nor math, nor any other formal system turns out to be perfectly internally consistent. If we create a formal system that is complete enough that we can express all the true and false statements that we might want to discuss, it inevitably follows that there are also possible undecidable statements, such as “this statement is false”, where we can neither establish truth nor falsehood. (See Kurt Godel’s work, and particularly Hofstadter’s wonderful book “Godel Escher Bach” for more about this.) If logic were the product of a god, I would not expect to see such inherent weakness built in.

      • Continued…

        Truth claims need to be evaluated on their own merits. We don’t judge the truth (or falsity) of Marxism by evaluating the behavior of Josef Stalin, nor do we evaluate the truth claims of the Civil Rights movement by looking at the behavior of the Black Panthers. That would be ad hominem argumentation, and it carries no intellectual weight. The Scriptures teach that man is fallen and sinful (that human nature is inherently evil), therefore when a man or woman acts in sinful ways (even Christians) it only confirms the truth claims of Scripture. Christians, when they are abiding in the word of Christ, will be continually growing in Christ-likeness. Certainly, for a Christian profession of faith to be genuine, the fruit of the Christian life should be evident. But, in this life, there are true believers who produce little fruit, and false believers who do not follow Christ.

      • You have a different fallacy here, though. You may have avoided ad hominem, but you have a correlation does not imply causation fallacy. I have no reason to think that humans doing bad things stems from being “fallen”, it’s just as likely that the idea of being “fallen” was an an attempt to invent an explanation for why humans sometimes do bad things. So does your claim that “man is fallen” and “needs Christ for redemption” lead to anything testable that could not be explained in any other way?

        For instance, if we could find no good and virtuous people outside of christianity, that would be a good confirmation. But that is not the case, there are good and virtuous people of all religions, and of no religion.

        If people became significantly more loving, peaceful, honest, (and any other virtues you could name) upon conversion to christianity, then that would be another confirmation. This is also not the case. Some people become better people, but some become quite a bit worse. The average christian is not a better person that the average Hindu or the average Buddhist.

        Another truth claim that can be tested is the efficacy of prayer. If prayer worked the way the bible says it is supposed to, then christians would have no need of doctors, they could pray away natural disasters, they could rearrange mountains, and accomplish all sorts of other things. And Christian prayers would work better than any other kind of prayer. But disease and natural disasters hit christians just as often as non-christians, and prayer appears to have no physical effect on the world.

        For a truth claim about christianity, you need to make a very specific prediction, one that would point to christianity and only christianity, then check to see if that prediction is correct. And your claim needs to be falsifiable, that is, there needs to be a possible result that would not support your claim. For instance, if you claim that god always answers prayers, but says “yes” “no” or “later”, the same answer could apply just as well to prayers to a jug of milk. You have not put forward any claim to which there is a possible answer of “the claim is false”, so you have not accomplished any progress toward “this claim is true”.

        An observation that “people do evil” could also confirm the truth of the Qu’ran, the Book of the Dead, the Iliad, or the Loose Canon, but as far as I know you don’t accept those as the word of a god.

      • Continued…

        The truth of a religion must be determined upon it’s own merits. It doesn’t matter how many there are in the world, it only matters which one is true. They all make truth claims, and they cannot all be right. Christianity is the only religion in which God accomplishes the salvation of His people and it is given as a gift, freely, and received by faith. All other religions are systems of works in which man attempts to earn his way back to some form of deity or nonpersonal divine force. They all boil down to some form of moralism, none of which deal with man’s biggest problem, sin.

      • Continued…

        As for my background, I was not raised in a religious home. I was only at church for weddings and funerals. I tried to read the Bible once in high school and I only got to Genesis 22. Didn’t get it.

        For some reason, I listened to a lot of bad TV preaching. In spite of all the talking, I don’t ever remember hearing the gospel.

        When I got to college, I went to a Bible study on the book of Romans. It was the first time I heard about being a sinner, and about the problem I had with God because of my sins. It was the first time I heard about who Jesus Christ really was. This all caused me to study the Scriptures with renewed earnestness and to consider the truth claims of Christ. Over time God opened my heart and my understanding, and the Bible became a new book to me.

        You know that belief in God is not ultimately the result of one’s intellectual voracity. There are simple and intelligent Christians, just like there are simple and intelligent atheists. I was not attributing your lack of faith purely to emotional baggage or anger at God. Rejection of the gospel is a moral decision. I am not threatened at all by your change of mind. It simply highlights that you did not really understand what you believed, or why you believed it. Based on your comments to Jason and elsewhere, you’re rejecting a caricature of Christianity, a straw man version of it. I commend you for rejecting such a thing. However. I urge you to give an adult consideration to the claims of Christ.

        Best to you,

        CMG

      • It was when I understood Christianity on an adult level that I stopped believing it. You said a “moral” decision, that’s more accurate than calling ti an emotional decision. There is much about christianity that I find immoral. For instance: Eternal punishment for finite wrongdoing.

        Or judging someone entirely on belief, instead of on works. This allows for a mass-murderer who repents on his deathbed to gain an eternal reward, but someone who worked their entire life for their fellow human beings, but did not believe in the correct version of the correct religion merits eternal punishment. How is this just?

        Or the whole idea of “I give you free will as to whether to worship me, but if you don’t I’ll torture you forever”. How is this not extortion?

        Or a god who, being omniscient, creates beings capable of making mistakes, then punishes them for being exactly the way they were made, and messing up in exactly the way he would have known they would. Is this fair?

        Or sending the most important message that humans would ever receive to a backwater of the Roman empire, before printing presses, and leaving the transmission of that crucial message to the vagaries of human hearsay, copyists and translators. An omnipotent god should be able to do better than that. As it is, we have to trust the word of preachers that they have the correct interpretation of the correct version of the correct text, and as we know, preachers are “fallen” too, and just as likely to be wrong as anybody else. If there is a perfect book god wants me to have, he can make it grow on the tree in my front yard. He could make it so magic that nobody needed a translation, and could just read it. He could have seen to it that the original manuscripts survived. Jesus could have written down his message himself, at least Mohammed is claimed to have done that much. There is nothing virtuous about trusting your life to a book that you can’t even verify as accurate.

        That does not even get into the justifications for slavery, misogyny, and genocide that the bible is full of.

      • Hi Ubi,

        It’s interesting that you don’t consider logic a metaphysical thing to be accounted for. What logician could you site who agrees with you? Godel was a theist, by the way. Apparently he didn’t share your concern with logic’s “internal weaknesses”. However, logic is metaphysical, it is real, and you utilize it. Therefore, you need to account for how it can exist in a materialistic, atheistic universe.

      • RE: your second response,

        By what standard do you judge “good and virtuous” people? If morals are social conventions or they are personally or culturally relative, how do you determine what is good and virtuous?

        You have to borrow objective moral standards from Christianity to then make such judgments. Otherwise, all your moral judgments boil down to your personal opinion, which of course is not universally binding.

        Be that as it may, your comments reveal once again how you misunderstand Christianity. It isn’t primarily about keeping rules, being nicer people, etc. It is primarily about a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It is that vine and branch relationship with Christ that changes people. By God’s objective moral standard, an action has to be done with the right motive (love for God), in the right way (in accordance with His revealed will), and to the right end (God’s glory). No worshiper of false gods, or those who deny that God exists, can do that (as cordial as they may be).

        Your comments on prayer further reveal your misunderstanding as to what the Scriptures teach on the subject. Prayer is not a Genie’s lamp to be rubbed for personal gain. Furthermore, Christian prophecy is not a prediction game. Most prophecy in Scripture is the proclamation of God’s word, not predictions about the future. When prophecy does involve such “predictions” they are in regard to the unfolding redemptive plan of God. It isn’t a little “gotcha” game where God tells you what number you were thinking of just now, or what your secret password is…

      • Re: Your third response,

        Of course creatures who are inherently evil are going to find infinite punishment for finite wrongdoing unpalatable. However, you will admit a crime against the President of the U.S. is going to have greater ramifications than a crime committed against a normal citizen? It is the worth of the Being against whom the crime is committed which makes infinite punishment just.

        God doesn’t judge anyone just based on belief, where did you get that notion? See Revelation 22:12 and Matthew 12:36. Belief, action, and words are intertwined.

        With regard to God forgiving the repentent murderer who comes to Him, and condemning the nice person who helped others, do you not realize that God has punished the murderer’s sins in the Person of His Son on the cross? That is just and merciful.

        To sum up, I would suggest the remainder of your comments are caricatures of biblical teaching. It seems as though your biggest problem with God is that He doesn’t do things the way you would have, or the way you would like Him to. I wouldn’t expect the sovereign creator of the universe to behave like I would, or to have to justify Himself to me so that He gets my approval. Such a God would not be God, and I wouldn’t be a creature. I trust Him and know that He has good purposes for all that He plans or allows.

  4. How does Dawkins know what “sort” of God believers believe in? That sort of God has to do with theology. It seems to me that is the primary point of contention…

    • Well, he was raised Anglican, so he already knows that one really well. As for the rest, it’s not rocket science. All you have to do is turn on your TV, and there are countless people who will tell you exactly the sort of god they believe in (and all the various punishments for disbelief as well).

      • But the assertion is that he doesn’t “know” or understand the “sort” of God believers believe in. Eagleton asserts this. Are you right while he’s wrong?

      • I don’t see this assertion from Eagleton in the original post. It may or may not be in the larger work that was quoted, I won’t comment on that without having read it. In this thread it was CM that made the assertion, and I disagree with CM on this point. I don’t think a deep knowledge of philisophy or metaphysics or theology is necessary to have considerable knowledge about what sort of god(s) most modern christians believe in. They certainly did not require any deep study of theology to acquire their beliefs in the first place. And in America, at least, we have a religion-soaked society, where it’s hardly possible to go a day without someone telling you in great detail exactly what they believe, and why it’s imperative that you also believe it. It’s on the TV, on the radio, on billboards, on streetcorners, and lately in every speech from a Republican politician. The information is not only easily available, it’s practically unavoidable.

      • I was referring to the 4th comment in which CM quoted Eagleton as saying:

        “Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology”

        Theology has to do with the “sort” of God Christians believe in. I don’t assume the God portrayed in Republican political speeches is the same one philosophers of religion wrestle with. I would think for someone like Dawkins, a scientist who throws his weight into philosphy and religion, he should be able to understand the deity he is rejecting (and in his case, condemning). If you listen to him talk long enough about God, you start to wonder what God he is talking about, the one caricatured in popular culture or the one revealed in sacred scripture?

      • But if someone is holding forth on whether birds exist, then the Book of British Birds is more than sufficient.

        And I don’t see how the god philosophers of religion wrestle with bears any resemblance to what is shouted from the pulpits and drilled into children’s heads. People don’t start believing because of some deep theological analysis, they believe because they’ve been taught to sing “Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so” from the time they could talk. They’ve been told that faith is a virtue, and that people of faith are to be admired. They’ve been taught that there is a powerful invisible man who is watching them and will judge them on every little thing they think or do. That this powerful being communicates with human beings through a very particular ancient book, and through self-appointed holy men. That you’d better do what the holy men say, and believe their interpretation of what the book says, if you want to be “saved” and be a good person and accepted by your community. That’s there’s some kind of reward after you die for getting it right, and some kind of punishment for getting it wrong. And that it’s vitally necessary to spread this belief to as many people as possible. Oh, and god needs money.

        None of the above is deep theology, and I think most of it applies to most believers. And if people stop believing the extremely simple points above, then the complicated theology becomes irrelevant.

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