Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Somewhere in Kansas... the Kingdom of God

On Friday Linda and I fly to Wichita where I will be one of the speakers at Prairie Fire 2007. It happens all day Saturday on a 7000-acre ranch an hour west of the city. You can see details here.

I am going to speak about the main message of Jesus, which is about the kingdom of God. I will explain the twofold way Jesus taught about the kingdom: 1)by proclaiming the good news of the kingdom; and 2) demonstrating the authority of the King in healing and delivering people out of the kingdom of darkness. And, I (i.e. God) am going to empower the people to walk in the authority of the King.

Here's my outline.

I – The Lost Message of the Kingdom of God

II – The Kingdom of God as the hermeneutical key to understanding the message of the Real Jesus - The “Kingdom” as not a place, but as the rule or reign of God.

III – Matthew 5-7 – The Ethics of the Kingdom of God

IV – The Parables of Jesus – What the Kingdom of God is Really Like

V – The Two Kingdoms

VI – What the Battle Is Really About

VII – The Mission of the Real Jesus

VIII – The “Method” of Jesus – Proclamation & Demonstration

IX – The Mission of Jesus is Our Mission Today

X – The Authority of the King, Given to Us

XI – Praying the Lord’s Prayer – Bringing Heaven to Earth

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The God Delusion #37: Freud and the Future of an Illusion

The title of Dawkins's book, The God Delusion, draws from Freud's book The Future of a Illusion. So does atheist Christopher Hitchens in his new book God Is Not Great.

For Dawkins, Hitchens, and Sam Harris, Freud is an ally. "Illusion" is bad; science (= non-illusion) is good. Religion-as-illusion is the cause of much evil. But later in his life Freud, in Moses and Monotheism, has a different take on religion. Mark Edmundson of the University of Virginia points this out in his nytimes essay "Defender of the Faith?" and in his forthcoming book The Death of Sigmund Freud: The Legacy of His Last Days.

Edmundson writes: "In his last book, written when he was old and ill, suffering badly from cancer of the jaw, Freud offers another perspective on faith. He argues that Judaism helped free humanity from bondage to the immediate empirical world, opening up fresh possibilities for human thought and action. He also suggests that faith in God facilitated a turn toward the life within, helping to make a rich life of introspection possible."

Edmundson: "Judaism’s distinction as a faith, [Freud] says, comes from its commitment to belief in an invisible God, and from this commitment, many consequential things follow. Freud argues that taking God into the mind enriches the individual immeasurably. The ability to believe in an internal, invisible God vastly improves people’s capacity for abstraction. “The prohibition against making an image of God — the compulsion to worship a God whom one cannot see,” he says, meant that in Judaism “a sensory perception was given second place to what may be called an abstract idea — a triumph of intellectuality over sensuality.”"

Edmundson: "Freud’s argument suggests that belief in an unseen God may prepare the ground not only for science and literature and law but also for intense introspection. Someone who can contemplate an invisible God, Freud implies, is in a strong position to take seriously the invisible, but perhaps determining, dynamics of inner life. He is in a better position to know himself. To live well, the modern individual must learn to understand himself in all his singularity. He must be able to pause and consider his own character, his desires, his inhibitions and values, his inner contradictions. And Judaism, with its commitment to one unseen God, opens the way for doing so. It gives us the gift of inwardness."

While Freud remained an atheist, he came to see religion, especially Judaism, not as intrinsically heinous, but as helpful and productive and valuable. So, the later Freud is not in bed with Hitchens/Dawkins/Harris as regards their invectives against religion as intrinsically evil. This is important, because the heart of this trio's angry complaint is that, e.g., as Dawkins claims, to teach children religion is to engage in a form of child abuse. Freud, far more psychologically astute than Dawkins, argued against this.

A final thought from Edmundson re. Freud: "Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Freud were all at times able to recognize religion as being what Harold Bloom has wisely called it: not the opium of the people but the poetry of the people. They read Scripture as though it were poetry, and they learned from it accordingly. They saw that even if someone does not believe in a transcendent God, religion can still be a source of inspiration and of practical wisdom about how to live in the world. To be sure, it often takes hard intellectual work to find that wisdom. (As the proverb has it, “He who would bring home the wealth of the Indies must carry the wealth of the Indies with him.”) Yet Freud’s late-life turn shows us that there is too much of enduring value in religion — even for nonbelievers — ever to think of abandoning it cold."

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The God Delusion #36: The Naive "Science Explains Everything" Outlook

McGrath, in The Dawkins Delusion, cite neuroscientist Max Bennett and philosopher Peter Hacker as pointing out the philosophical shallowness of much contemporary scientific writing. They are especially harsh on the Dawkins' "science explains everything" outlook.

They argue that "scientific theories cannot be said to "explain the world" - they only explain the phenomena that are observed with the world. Furthermore... scientific theories do not and are not intended to describe and explain "everything about the world" - such as its purpose." (DD, 38)

Oxford immunologist Peter Medawar, who won a Nobel Prize for medicine for the discovery of acquired immunological tolerance, in his book The Limits of Science, "explored the question of how science was limited by the nature of reality." (DD, 38)

Consider this wonderful pre-facto Dawkins-slamming quote from Medawar: "That there is indeed a limit upon science is made very likely by the existence of questions that science cannot answer, and that no conceivable advance of science would empower it to answer... I have in mind such questions as: How did everything begin? What are we all here for? What is the point of living? Doctrinaire positivism - now something of a period piece - dismissed all such questions such as only simpletons ask and only charlatans profess to answer." (Citied in DD, 39)

Friday, September 21, 2007

The God Delusion #35: Science Has Disproved God?

An underlying, pervasive belief in Dawkins's God Delusion is that science has disproved God. And, anyone who continues to believe in God is a wacko. Dawkins is especially outraged and perplexed at scientists like Francis Collins who are real scientists but believe in God.

McGrath, in The Dawkins Delusion, says "it's not that simple - and just about every natural scientist I have talked to about this issue knows that." (DD, 33) Stephen Jay Gould, e.g., acknowledged that science not only does not but, in principle, could not disprove the existence of God. But Dawkins, deeply ensconced in his hyper-naturalistic paradigm, write the following astonishing sentence: "I simply do not believe that Gould could possibly have meant much of what he wrote in Rocks of Ages." (In DD, 34)

Martin Rees is president of the Royal Society, which brings together Britain's leading scientists. In his book Our Cosmic Habitat Rees points out that some questions "lie beyond science." (In DD, 34)

The truth is, as McGrath points out, that the "great questions" of life cannot be scientifically proven or disproven. "Either we cannot answer them or we must answer them on grounds other than the sciences." Which means: the Dawkins assumption that science disproves the existence of God is essentially misguided.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The God Delusion #34: Dawkins and the "God of the Gaps?

Dawkins’s god is “science.” “Science,” for him, will fill in the gaps that religious people use to argue for God (the “God of the gaps”).

McGrath points out Richard Swinburne’s argument that “the capacity of science to explain itself requires explanation – and that the most economical and reliable account of this explanatory capacity lies in the notion of a Creator God.” (DD, 31)

Here is Swinburne’s argument:
- The intelligibility of the universe itself needs explanation.
- It is therefore not the “gaps” in our understanding which point to God
- It is, rather, the very “comprehensibility” of scientific and other forms of understanding that require explanation
- In short: “explicability itself requires explanation”
- To believe this is precisely not to inhibit the progress of science but to encourage it and commend it

Swinburne’s argument is found in his book Is There a God?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The God Delusion #33: Dawkins Now Selling T-shirts

There is no reason atheists should not have their own fashion line. After all, Christians have been marketing t-shirts and bumper stickers and action figures and jewelry and anything that that one could ever think of. Now Richard Dawkins is taking advantage of this, and we can't fault him for that.

There are "scarlet letter t-shirts" for women. The letter 'A' stands for "atheist." The t-shirt will get people to ask you, "What's the 'A' for?" The wearer of the t-shirt will answer, "Atheist."

There are t-shirts for men.

On the sleeve of the t-shirt are the words: "Out Campaign."

This is Dawkins's new thing to try to get atheists to come out of the closet and "stand out" and be proud of their atheism.

Dawkins is also selling buttons:

Lapel pins:

And some bumper stickers.

We can assume more is coming.

Here are Dawkins's promo-statements:

"Atheists have always been at the forefront of rational thinking and beacons of enlightenment, and now you can share your idealism by being part of the OUT Campaign. " But surely Dawkins's GD is not "at the forefront of rational thinking," nor can Dawkins be thought of as some "beacon of enlightenment." As we and many others have pointed out, GD is filled with irrationality and internet cut-and-pasting.

"We are human (we are primates) and we are good friends and good citizens. We are good people who have no need to cling to the supernatural." But surely Dawkins cannot be defined as "good." He is positively mean-spirited, and even takes it out on Mother Teresa who, arguably, has done far more good for this world than he has.

As a college philosophy professor I very much welcome atheists who express their atheistic disagreements in my classes. And I do think more authentic relationships can form when people "come out" as to their worldviews.

But I do not think these t-shirts will help. I am no fashion expert, but it is hard for me to imagine atheists actually wearing these things. I find them ugly, and think they could actually hurt the atheist "out campaign," causing even more atheists to stay in closet with their atheism, which is where these shirts belong.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The God Delusion #32: The McGrath's on "But Who Made God?"

Dawkins, in GD, writes: "Any God capable of designing anything would have to be complex enough to demand the same kind of explanation in his own right. God presents an infinite regress from which he cannot help us to escape."

Anything that explains something must itself be explained. If God created the universe, then who or what made God? And then, ad infinitum, who or what made that which made God? And so on.

The McGrath's in DD, respond that "the 'holy grail' of the natural sciences is the quest for a 'grand unifed theory' - the 'theory of everything'." (DD, 27) Such a theory is important because can explain everything, without itself requiring an explanation.

So: "If Dawkins's brash and sinmplistic arguments carried weight, this great scientific quest could be dismissed with a seemingly profound yet in fact trivial question: What explains the explainer?" (DD, 27)

Perhaps there is no such theory. But, there are scientists looking to discover it. It is understood, if it exists, to be "the termination of an explanatory process." It is a quest for an irredicuble explanation, and it lies at the heart of the scientific quest. McGrath writes: "There is no logical inconsistency involved, no conceptual flaw, no self-contradiction involved."

Thus, analogously, there is no contradiction invovled in viewing God as the ultimate explanation of the universe.

Further, and saying more here than the McGrath's do, the question "But what caused God?" is a nonsense question if God is understood to be an eternal being, or a being that did not come to be. Whatever begins to exist has a cause. But if something did not begin to exist, then the question as to its "cause" seems misguided. (See William Lane Craig's writings on the Kalam Cosmological Argument for the Existence of God.)

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The God Delusion #31: The McGraths & Martin Luther

In GD we see that Dawkins does not understand Martin Luther. Dawkins quote-mines from Luther to supposedly show “Luther’s anxieties about reason in the life of faith.” (DD, 23) McGrath points out that “no attempt is made to clarify what Luther meant by ‘reason’ and how it differs from what Dawkins takes to be the self-evident meaning of the word.” (DD, 23)

What Luther believed is that human reason could never be a central theme of Christianity. God would not give humanity the gift of salvation on the basis of their reason. On Christianity one does not first have to do something in order to earn God’s favor.

McGrath writes: “Dawkins’s inept engagement with Luther shows how Dawkins abandons even the pretense of rigorous evidence-based scholarship. Anecdote is substituted for evidence; selective Internet trawling for quotes displaces rigorous and comprehensive engagement with primary sources. In this book Dawkins throws the conventions of academic scholarship to the winds; he wants to write a work of propaganda and consequently treats the accurate rendition of religion as an inconvenient impediment to his chief agenda, which is the intellectual and cultural destruction of religion. It’s an unpleasant characteristic that he shares with other fundamentalists.” (DD, 24)

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The God Delusion #30: McGrath #2 - "Delusion"

The McGraths' Dawkins Delusion examines Dawkins' core claim that religious belief is "infantile" and, thus, a "delusion" or "illusion." For Dawkins, belief in God is like belief in the "Tooth Fairy" or "Santa Claus." "These are childish beliefs that are abandoned as soon as we are capable of evidence-based thinking. And so is God. It's obvious, isn't it?" (DD, 19)
As Dawkins once said on BBC radio in 2003, humanity "can leave the crybaby phase, and finally come of age."

I've had some atheists tell me this as an objection to my God-belief. It's an internet atheistic urban legend that gets proliferated. What can we say to this? The McGraths' reason as follows.

1. Dawkins' analogy is flawed. Because: "How many people do you know who began to believe in Santa Claus in adulthood? Or who found belief in the Tooth Fairy consoling in old age?" Alister McGrath notes that he gave up belief in Santa Claus at age five, and began to believe in God as a young adult in the university.

"Those who use this infantile argument have to explain why so many people discover God in later life and certainly do not regard this as representing any kind of regression, perversion or degeneration." (DD, 20) Consider, e.g., former atheist Antony Flew who began to believe in God in his eighties.

2. Dawkins "argues that the biological process of natural selection builds child brains with a tendency to believe whatever their parents or elders tell them. This... makes them prone to trust whatever a parent says - like Santa Claus." (DD, 20) It's here that Dawkins makes the stunning claim that "bringing up children within a religious tradition... is a form of child abuse." (DD, 20-21)

There is a reasonable point here, but it cuts both ways. On this way of thinking, if children are force-fed "Dawkins's flavored dogmas and distortions" would not that also be child abuse?

3. The McGraths' agree with Terry Eagelton's "withering review" of GD: "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." (DD, 21-22)

In other words, so much of Dawkins' book betrays his real ignorance of the issues at hand. Straw-men-building abounds.

Finally, Freud's theory of God-belief as an illusion is itself grounded in Feuerbach's "projection theory," a view which has been largely discounted in philosophy, since it cuts both ways. One can as easily imagine someone projecting a universe without God out of their need to disbelieve as one can imagine someone projecting a Father God onto the heavens out of their need to be helped.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The God Delusion #29: The McGraths' Critique of Dawkins #1

Alister and Joanna McGrath's recent book The Dawkins Delusion: Atheistic Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine is a brilliant, coherent refutation of Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion.

Alister has a Ph.D in molecular biophysics from Oxford and a doctoral degree in theology from Oxford. He teaches historical theology at Oxford. Joanna has a doctoral degree in psychology and teaches at the University of London, specializing in the psychology of religion, experimental psychology, and clinical neuropsychology.

Alister is a former atheist. He writes (DD, 9): "Although I was passionately and totally persuaded of the truth and relevance of atheism as a young man, I subsequently found myself persuaded that Christianity was a much more interesting and intellectually exciting worldview than atheism. I have always valued freethinking and being able to rebel against the orthodoxies of an age. Yet I never suspected where my freethinking would take me...

...I started out as an atheist who went on to become a Christian - precisely the reverse of Dawkins's intellectual journey. I had originally intended to spend my life in scientific research but found that my discovery of Christianity led me to study its history and ideas in great depth.

I gained my doctorate in molecular biology while working in the Oxford laboratories of Professor George Radda, but then gave up active scientific research to study theology."

I'll be making some posts from the McGraths' book that especially interest me.

The book is extremely well-put-together and readable.

The issue remains important, as we see atheists like Michael Shermer trying to uplift Dawkins's GD as something worthwhile and intelligent. But mostly, it is not. As one can see by reading DD.

Monday, September 03, 2007

The God Delusion #28: The Attempt to Rescue Richard Dawkins

There's a battle going on to save the intellectual credibility of Richard Dawkins. The newest issue of Skeptic magazine is the latest attempt to elevate Dawkins as one heck of a person and one phenomenal God-critic. Go into a Borders or B&N and browse, e.g., atheist Michael Shermer's tribute to Dawkins, whom he refers to as a "fountainhead of skepticism" and "the skeptic's chaplain."

I just finished Alister McGrath's brilliant debunking of Dawkins' God Delusion, and hope to make some posts about this in the future.

In the meantime, note the skeptic-atheistic attempt to put a pastoral-rational spin on the abusive-sophomoric Dawkins of GD.