Won't anyone stand up for God?
By DAILY MAIL
Added: Fri, 06 Jul 2007 23:00:00 UTC
Thanks to Linda Ward Selbie for the link.
Atheists are on the march. The idea of God is under fire. The practice of religion is being condemned as a major source of evil in the world. The latest assault comes in a book entitled God Is Not Great by polemical writer Christopher Hitchens.
The work, subtitled The Case Against Religion, is already on the bestseller list of The New York Times. It arrives hot on the heels of The God Delusion, another bestseller from Professor Richard Dawkins. Both authors are militant atheists who want to destroy the faith of believers.
Dawkins expressed the hope that 'religious readers who open this book will be atheists when they put it down'. Hitchens states boldly: 'Religion is man-made. Religion poisons everything.'
Of course, it is not difficult to convince us that religions can generate evil and violence, confronted as we are by the threats of Islamist Jihadist terrorists who wish to destroy the West. In the other extreme, we see American fundamentalists who eagerly await Armageddon and the eternal fire that will consume everyone but themselves.
Both authors have a field day pointing out the intolerance, savagery and barbarities that have been sanctioned by Church or Mosque through history - the wars of religion, the Crusades, the Inquisition, the hangings and burnings of heretics and witches and even of those who merely dissented. Religion all too easily gives rise to violence, as testified by the recent history of Northern Ireland.
It is true that churches have often aided and abetted tyrannical regimes and repeatedly tried to suppress freedom of thought and scientific inquiry. In much of the world they still oppose birth control or stem cell research. All this illustrates man's propensity to behave with a fanaticism that is neither Christian nor Islamic teaching. But not only religion has done this.
Just as much carnage has been committed for the sake of nationalism or racism. And atheism: the Nazi and Stalinist regimes, both atheist, were responsible for murder on an even greater scale. It is a mistake to attribute to religion itself the behaviour of some of its extremist adherents.
All this denouncing leaves unspoken the vast amount of good done from religious motives, including the private deeds of generosity and self-sacrifice which are never reported.
The next prong of the attack is on the Scriptures. Hitchens is a far better informed critic than Dawkins, whose book declines in places into near-hysterical propaganda.
The Old Testament is easy meat for destructive criticism. It contains the largely invented stories that sustained a primitive, hard-pressed nomadic tribe whose God Dawkins describes as 'a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak'.
Just for good measure he adds: 'A misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal megalomaniac and capriciously malevolent bully.' Does he think anyone believes in a God like that today?
It is not difficult to show the absurdities of the Old Testament myths: Genesis, for example, where Adam, having been created by God hungry for knowledge, is then banished for trying to obtain it.
The stories in Genesis and Exodus, like Jehovah's obliging parting of the Red Sea and stopping of the sun in its tracks to enable the Israelites to complete some slaughter, are read nowadays by most thoughtful people as the myths they clearly are.
Myth-making is as old as man and inevitably also enters into the New Testament in such stories as the Annunciation and the Nativity, both of which are noticeably absent from two of the Gospels (the earliest, Mark, and the most sophisticated, John).
Hitchens is well aware of current New Testament scholarship which acknowledges that the canon of 'authentic books', which was fixed after nearly three centuries of argument, is a man-made selection of much modified texts.
They were based on other texts that have been lost, which in turn depended on oral traditions which are not verifiable.
Thinking Christians would no more take every word of either Testament literally than they would offer up burnt offerings or take their moral teaching from Deuteronomy and stone adulterers to death.
But Hitchens and Dawkins fulminate as though every believer has to accept wildly improbably episodes as 'gospel' along with the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, which are the heart of the matter.
Their indignant denunciations of the Bible would be more appropriate in America, where a supposed 53 per cent of believers take Genesis as the literal truth of how the universe was created - only 6,000 years ago or so, they believe.
Having put the Bible in the recycle bin, Hitchens might have asked how it differs from ancient Greek texts of similar date and doubtfulness.
Does he refuse to read the Iliad and the Odyssey because Homer's existence is uncertain historically, as is the siege of Troy? Does he reject the axioms of Euclid because he may well never have existed but was the pseudonym of a committee of mathematicians? Having, they believe, demonstrated the unlikelihood of God, atheists have to show how much more reliable it is to believe in science as the answer to all our uncertainties.
Science is far from complete - there is so much we still don't know - but their assurance is that one day we will. We will attain that Holy Grail of the physicists sought by Einstein: the Theory of Everything.
Meanwhile, we have enough to go on without needing to presume a God as ultimate Creator.
Now most of us believe in science. We are happy to pay homage to the saints of scientific breakthrough - to Pythagoras and Archimedes, to Galileo and Newton, to Darwin and Einstein, Crick, Watson and the rest, remembering always that their work was bound to be superseded by those who came after. The final Theory of Everything seems as far away as it ever did.
That is why such huge, basic questions asked by our ancestors are still being raised: Why are we here? Why is the universe? As the philosopher Leibniz put it most starkly: 'Why is there something, rather than nothing?'
Science cannot answer 'why' questions, only 'how' questions. The explanation of how we got here is currently Darwin's evolution of species by random mutation and natural selection. Only the wilfully blind would reject that - but we still want to know why it started.
Cosmologists have made great strides in plotting the evolution of the universe from the Big Bang to its present state. But we still want to know why there was a big bang.
As for the other great question - what is the point, or purpose, of it all? - the current answer from science is that there isn't one. Dawkins again: 'The universe has no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.'
So atheism is a belief in pointlessness. As Hitchens observes, the views from the Hubble telescope are more awe-inspiring than any medieval vision of Hell.
A Black Hole is as sobering a concept as the voice of God coming from the clouds on Mount Sinai. And the intricacy of the double helix or the human genome are as great a marvel as the most heart-stopping landscape on Earth or cloudscape in the Heavens.
But they are all pointless, without purpose. Our existence on what as far as we know is the one blue planet in trillions that nurtures and protects human life is the result of the most exquisite fine-tuning of forces such as gravity.
Every year we are seeing proved how easy it is to upset this tuning through climate change. We know how fragile the future existence of humanity could be.
But, say the atheists, it all came about by chance, thanks to millions of amazing coincidences, without any God-like creating principle behind them. Strictly speaking science invites us to believe not in a God but in the gambler's goddess - Lady Luck.
Luck or not, here we are to ask why and what for. No wonder there are, in spite of everything, many reputable scientists who do believe in God and maintain there is no contradiction between that and their belief in science.
Atheists have to face the conundrum: why do so many people believe in God when there is no God to believe in?
Their usual answer is that they are all deluded wishful thinkers who invent a God because they are scared of dying and want to imagine life after death.
Hitchens distrusts faith of any kind - 'we distrust anything that contradicts science or reason'. But reason only takes us so far. We do not live by reason alone. We rely also on intuition, imagination and faith.
Without faith - belief beyond evidence - life would be unlivable. Imagine taking a journey without faith - faith in an unknown driver, faith that there will not be an accident. You would never leave home.
Dawkins calls non-thinking faith 'evil' but current cosmologists are required to believe that the universe must be full of Dark Matter which they can neither see nor measure. What an act of faith that requires!
So it ill behoves scientists to ridicule faith as a basic fact of human nature. And of course, as the only ground for belief in God or salvation. No one can prove or disprove it. Atheism as a world view, as a philosophy to live by, is full of holes. It leaves unanswered and unanswerable our questions about the mystery of our existence.
So I am astounded that in the face of so much aggressive atheist attack no one in the ranks of believers or in the Church has stood up to reply.
Why has no one joined in the battle against these warriors for atheism? Where are the Defenders of the Faith that they ridicule?
Are our bishops and cardinals, our preachers, imams or rabbis too supine, too complacent or too scared to argue back? Have they no arguments?
In the past there have been eloquent fighters for Christian belief: churchmen such as Cardinal Newman and Archbishop Temple, writers like G. K. Chesterton or C. S. Lewis, of Narnia fame. Where are their successors?
I know of only one: Oxford professor of theology Alister McGrath - who is also a bio-physicist - who has made a substantial refutation.
In a little book called The Dawkins Delusion he takes apart the arguments of his fellow Oxford professor and chides him for his unscholarly ignorance of theology. But though excellently argued, this is hardly likely to become a bestseller. Where are the intellectual guns of the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England?
The Pope, as Cardinal Ratzinger, wrote intelligently combative books. Why does he not show that the Papacy can argue as well as act as a figurehead?
The Church of England, mired in a squabble over homosexual priests, should wheel out its guns on a more important front.
This lack of response is dangerous, especially in the eyes of young people seeking enlightenment. It looks as though the battle will be conceded by default.
Speaking up for faith should not be left to the lunatic fringe - such as the American televangelists who declared that 9/11 was God's judgment on America for tolerating abortion, or to the Fatwaissuersof Islam who threaten the life of Salman Rushdie for even questioning the Koran.
Apart from fanatics of all religions whose rigid minds leave no room for questioning, we live in an age of doubt and scepticism.
It is not enough for complacent pastors to feed their dwindling flocks with anodyne repetitions of old platitudes and the assurance that God is in his Heaven waiting for them personally. People are too educated and sophisticated for the old messages.
What are needed are speakers and writers of vision ready to address with open mind the questions and difficulties that would-be believers meet in their spiritual searches. And to show up the blind spots and black holes of both religion and atheism. It is time for some honest debate.
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