Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Two Helpful Links


McGrath on Dawkins

Alister McGrath has a lecture on Dawkins and The God Delusion HERE.


Steve Hayhow on New Creation

Steve has written a paper on his blog about New Creation which is simply excellent. I encourage everyone to read it.


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Darwinism Encourages Racism, Eugenics and Fascism


So much for why Wilberforce ought to be put on the £10 note. But what about reasons why Darwin's portrait ought to be removed? I can think of three good reasons.


1 FOUNDATION FOR RACISM

Darwin’s portrait should be removed from the £10 note because his theory of evolution justifies racism.

If you accept Darwin’s theory, then it follows that different parts of the human race may be at different stages of evolution, and indeed, may have evolved from different apes. For example, in 1923 the German evolutionist Klaatsch wrote a book titled The Evolution and Progress of Mankind in which he argued that Caucasians were evolved chimpanzees, the Orientals were descended from orang-utans while Africans came from gorillas.

It is true that Darwin (born in 1809, three years after the abolition of the slave trade) opposed slavery, yet he also said that one of the strongest pieces of evidence for evolution was the existence of living 'primitive races.' What we call ‘missing links’ were not thought of as missing at all in Darwin’s day, but alive and living in Africa and aboriginal Australia. Darwin placed these people evolutionarily between the 'civilized races of man' and the gorilla. It was not unreasonable, therefore, to enslave these peoples just as we get certain animals to work for us. As Dr. Don Boys puts it in his article ‘Evolution: Basis for Racism!’, “Darwin and his disciples were not only pseudo-scientists, but they were also radical, rabid racists!”

In light of this, it is not surprising to find evolutionary theory on by leading advocates of racist ideology, such as Arthur Gobineau and Houston Stewart Chamberlain.

Professor James Joll, who has taught history at Oxford, Stanford and Harvard explained about the relationship between Darwinism and racism in his book Europe Since 1870:

The ideas of Darwin, and of some of his contemporaries such as the English philosopher Herbert Spencer, …were rapidly applied to questions far removed from the immediate scientific ones… The element of Darwinism which appeared most applicable to the development of society was the belief that the excess of population over the means of support necessitated a constant struggle for survival in which it was the strongest or the 'fittest' who won. From this it was easy for some social thinkers to give a moral content to the notion of the fittest, so that the species or races which did survive were those morally entitled to do so.

“The doctrine of natural selection could, therefore, very easily become associated with another train of thought developed by the French writer, Count Joseph-Arthur Gobineau, who published an Essay on the Inequality of Human Races in 1853. Gobineau insisted that the most important factor in development was race; and that those races which remained superior were those which kept their racial purity intact. Of these, according to Gobineau, it was the Aryan race which had survived best...”
(James Joll, Europe Since 1870: An International History, Penguin Books, Middlesex, 1990, p. 102-103)

Darwinism is still used to justify racism today. On their website, the American neo-fascists organisation National Alliance writes,

“Our world is hierarchical. Each of us is a member of the Aryan (or European) race, which, like the other races, developed its special characteristics over many thousands of years during which natural selection not only adapted it to its environment but also advanced it along its evolutionary path. Those races which evolved in the more demanding environment of the North, where surviving a winter required planning and self-discipline, advanced more rapidly in the development of the higher mental faculties.” (From the article ‘General Principles: The Law of Inequality’)


2 FOUNDATION FOR EUGENICS

Darwin’s portrait should be removed from the £10 note because his theory of evolution justifies eugenics.

Darwinism has also provided the basis for the theory of self-guided evolution known as eugenics. The modern field of eugenics was formulated in 1865 by Sir Francis Galton, a cousin of Darwin who used the idea of natural selection as the basis for arguing that only the fittest should be allowed to survive. The theory was adopted by prominent thinkers such as Alexander Graham Bell and W.E.B. DuBois but fell out of favour after Ernst Rüdin got hold of the idea and incorporated it into Nazi rhetoric. It has only recently started to make a comeback.

Thirty-seven years after the publication of The Origin of Species (1859), Darwin left the door open for Eugenics when he wrote as follows in The Descent of Man:

'At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. At the same time, the anthropomorphous apes. . . will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilized state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the Negro or Australian and the gorilla. ... It has often been said ... that man can resist with impunity the greatest diversities of climate and other changes; but this is true only of the civilized races. Man in his wild condition seems to be in this respect almost as susceptible as his nearest allies, the anthropoid apes, which have never yet survived long, when removed from their native country.' (Darwin, Charles, 1871, republished 1896. The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex; The Works of Charles Darwin, D. Appleton and Company, New York (First edition by AMS Press, 1972) pp 241-242)

In the sixth chapter of The Descent of Man, Darwin speculated that ‘survival of the fittest’ pressures would eventually eliminate both the black race, which he considered inferior, and other 'lower races'. In addition, he concluded:

'I could show [that war had] done and [is] doing [much] . . . for the progress of civilization . . . The more civilized so-called Caucasian races have beaten the Turkish hollow in the struggle for existence. Looking to the world at no very distant date . . . an endless number of lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilized races throughout the world.'

It is not hard to see how this idea of ‘higher races’ eliminating ‘lower races’ provides the ideological underpinning for the practice of self-guided evolution known (eugenics).


3 FOUNDATION FOR FASCISM

Darwin’s portrait should be removed from the £10 note because his theory of evolution justified fascism.

Like Darwin, Hitler believed that some living races still possessed ‘ape status.’ This was the ideological underpinning for his project of mass extermination of Jews, Gypsies, Slavs and Russians. ‘Take away the Nordic Germans, and nothing remains but the dance of apes,’ remarked Hitler during a speech in Munich in 1927.

In his book Mein Kampf, Hitler expanded on this idea, appealing to the idea of evolution to establish the superiority of the Aryan race:

"If nature does not wish that weaker individuals should mate with stronger, she wishes even less that a superior race should intermingle with an inferior. Why? Because, in such a case her efforts, throughout hundreds and thousands of years, to establish an evolutionary higher stage of being, may thus be rendered futile." [Also see Jerry Bergman, ‘Darwinism and the Nazi Race Holocaust’, Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal 13 (2): 101-111, 1999]

Hitler was greatly influenced by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). Nietzsche took Darwin’s idea of the survival of the fittest and theorised that evolution would continue to progress until human beings turned into a superman. ‘The superman’ wrote Nietzsche ten years after Darwin’s Descent of Man,

‘is the meaning of the earth….Man is a rope stretched between beast and Superman – a rope over an abyss…. Man is great in that he is a bridge and not a goal.’ (From Nietzsche’s book Thus Spake Zarathustra)

To reach this goal to which all evolution was striving, Nietzsche argued that something more was required than merely survival. It required the Will to Power. Man, according to Nietzsche, was not just the passive product of evolution, but could actively accelerate this progress forward. That is exactly what Hitler hoped to do. In his article ‘From Darwin to Hitler in Two Easy Steps’, Regis Nicoll writes,

"Inspired by Darwinism’s “survival-of-the-fittest’ and fuelled by Nietzsche’s Will to Power, Hitler sewed a crimson thread that would eventually run through Stalin, Mussolini, Khrushchev, Mao Tse-tung, and Pol Pot, and at the expense of over 100 million human lives." (Regis Nicoll, ‘From Darwin to Hitler in Two Easy Steps’, Salvo magazine, autumn 2006)

Working on the principle that nature eliminates the weak, Hitler believed he was called to help the process of evolution along. In Auschwitz, the theory that only the fittest survive was implemented with brutal consistency. As Sir Arthur Keith puts it well:

"We see Hitler devoutly convinced that evolution produces the only real basis for a national policy…The means he adopted to secure the destiny of his race and people were organized slaughter which has drenched Europe in blood." (From the book Evolution and Ethics, by Sir Arthur Keith)

Nazism also built on the Darwinian belief in the inevitability of human conflict. As Harun Yahya remarks,

"Both the eugenical murders, which were propagated by Ernst Haeckel and performed by the Nazis, and the Nazi mass murders of war years had a common philosophical ground: The idea that humans are mere animals and there is a perpetual conflict among their races. Nazis did not hesitate to kill hundreds of thousands of children for this cruel idea." (From the article Racism And Social Darwinism)

Harun Yahya also points out that

"a heavy Darwinist influence can be seen in all the Nazi ideologues. When this theory, which was given form by Hitler and Alfred Rosenburg is examined, one sees concepts such as 'natural selection,' 'selective mating,' and 'the struggle for survival between the races,' which are repeated dozens of times in Darwin's The Origin of Species. The name of Hitler's book Mein Kampf was inspired by Darwin's principle that life was a constant struggle for survival, and those who emerged victorious survived. In the book Hitler talked of the struggle between the races, and said: 'History would culminate in a new millennial empire of unparalleled splendour, based on a new racial hierarchy ordained by nature herself."

These are some of the many reasons why Darwin's portrait on the £10 note ought to be replaced by Wilberforce. It is also shows how wrong ideas can have some pretty serious consequences. An idea can have more power than a thousand armies.
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Friday, December 15, 2006

Put Wilberforce on the Ten Pound Note


Can you think of a better way to commemorate the 200 anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, than to put William Wilberforce's portrait put on the £10 banknote?

A campaign to do just that was launched earlier this year by Pastor George Hargreaves at a conference of black-majority churches.

Since then, Christian Voice has also taken up the campaign, which is where my interest stems.

At a time when people like Richard Dawkins are telling us that the legacy of Christians in this world has been largely negative, we should ponder the fact Wilberforce and the other anti-slavery campaigners was motivated by their Christian worldview. This is a point that John Coffey brings out in his excellent article on The Abolition of the Slave Trade.

The campaign has added significance since Charles Darwin’s portrait is currently on the £10 note. Whereas Wilberforce's Christianity led him to campaign against slavery and racism, Darwin's theory of evolution has been used to justify racism over the year. In a following post I will expand on this.

To sign my petition, go HERE.


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A Worthy Petition

Timothy van den Broek has initiated a worthy petition as part of the Government's new e-petition scheme.

The wording of the petition is as follows: 'We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Reinstate the knowledge and use of Biblical law in society, particularly as summarised in the Ten Commandments written down by God and recorded in the Bible (Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5). '

In the section of more details about the petition, Timothy writes, "The United Kingdom is in a mess. The above request is one that if granted will help make the nation aware of sins we regularly commit against God as a nation. By so doing the nation will have a firm base for repentance – the turning away from, sorrow over and confession of wrongdoing against God. By repenting this nation has some chance of returning to its former strength under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. No action but that of repentance will turn the tide of lawlessness, hatred and wickedness that increasingly characterise the United Kingdom. Public reform, social work, education, and wealth may all be good, but they are only icing on the cake, the analogous cake being repentance. As a minimum the Ten Commandments should be displayed in the courts, taught in schools and memorised by every person holding public office."

I certainly agree with that! If you also do, you can sign the petition HERE.

My next post will give details of a petition I have created.


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Monday, December 11, 2006

Newton and the Enlightenment

Richard Dawkins and the community of scientific atheists hold as a high a view of Newton as they do of Darwin. Newton, they never tire of telling us, was one of the key figures for bringing Western Civilization out of the darkness of ignorance and advancing the project of secular enlightenment.

People have been saying similar things about Newton ever since the 18th century. This is not surprising. When I was studying about materialism and determinism in the 'Enlightenment period,' I was struck by the significant role Newton’s ideas played in advancing such ideas, even though Newton was neither a materialist or a determinist and was a firm believer in a personal God.

Before I say anything more about Newton, I need to define some terms.

MATERIALISM

Materialism in the philosophical sense does not refer to greedy consumerism. Rather, it refers to the view that “all entities and processes are composed of – or are reducible to – matter, material forces or physical processes. …materialism entails the denial of the reality of spiritual beings, consciousness and mental or psychic states or processes, as ontologically distinct from, or independent of, material changes or processes.”[i] That, at least, is how the dictionary defines materialism. Put more simply, the universe of the materialist is one in which everything, including you and me, is reduced to physics and chemistry. This worldview was summed up by George Wall, a professor of Harvard University, after someone asked him who Shakespeare was. Wall, a thoroughgoing materialist, replied that Shakespeare was a random collection of molecules that existed four hundred years ago.

Not surprisingly, materialism is usually associated with atheism and agnosticism. It is also sometimes called ‘naturalism.’

DETERMINISM

Another term that needs defining is determinism. Materialism is connected with determinism because the later is the logical result of the former. Determinism is the view that everything, including man’s actions, are pre-determined by physical forces. Determinists believe that free will, in the ordinary sense at least, is an illusion. They say that in everything we do, it is never true that we could have done otherwise. Human beings are like machines that are programmed by the laws of nature. Thus, a consistent determinist has to deny responsibility and the Biblical doctrine of sin.

This deterministic way of viewing of the universe was reflected in Diderot’s ‘skeptic’s prayer.’ After spending an entire book looking squarely at the consequences of the materialist worldview, he closes with the following prayer:

O God, I do not know if you exist….I ask nothing in this world, for the course of events is determined by its own necessity if you do not exist, or by your decree if you do…. Here I stand, as I am, a necessarily organized part of eternal and necessary matter – or perhaps your own creation….[ii]

NEWTON

You don’t have to read very far in the literature of the Enlightenment to see one name esteemed above all others. Voltaire called him “the greatest man who ever lived.”

The man was, of course, Isaac Newton (1642-1727), the great scientist who is perhaps best known for discovering the law of gravity. Newton’s work was extremely influential during the Enlightenment, especially where the philosophies of materialism and determinism were concerned.

Before Newton many scientists had made headway towards the goal of understanding the laws by which the universe was ordered. Galileo had shown the laws of terrestrial motion; Kepler had shown the laws of planetary motion while Descartes’ had showed that the universe operated mechanistically. What made Newton stand out above his precursors, however, was the way he effectively integrated all previous knowledge into a single, comprehensive theory.

Newton’s discoveries about the laws of motion allowed people to take a state-description of any system and work out from that description what the future state-descriptions would be and what the past state-descriptions had been. The same descriptions that held true of the universe also held true of the trajectory of a ping pong ball and falling apples. If the position and momentum of every point-particle is given, then a system can be completely described in mechanistic terms. Applied to the universe as a whole, this meant that the universe was rational, intelligible, and operated like a great machine in constant obedience to the laws God had created. Hence, Newton’s joyful exclamation, “O God, I think thy thoughts after thee!” Referring to Newton, Lucas writes,

He gives us a ‘God’s eye’ view of the universe, in which the whole of space at any one time is present immediately to God, who knows all the atoms individually, as it were by name, and knows where they are and what they are doing…. Newton views the world bathed in Absolute light, or better, illuminated by Absolute omniscience, a world of Absolute things in Absolute space, at one particular instant of Absolute time, all immediately present in God’s consciousness, as it were in His sensorium.[iii]

With God playing such an important part in Newton’s thinking, it may seem strange that his ideas played a central role in the development of a materialistic worldview. Before looking at that, however, it is important to understand the basic distinction between a materialistic universe and a mechanistic one. Newton showed that the universe was ‘mechanical’ in the sense that nature had fixed laws and operated like a big machine. But although Newton described the universe in mechanistic terms, he did not describe the universe in materialistic terms. He never believed that his discoveries rendered God unnecessary nor did he advocate determinism.

Although Newton showed the ways in which nature’s patterns were determined by nature’s laws, one cannot call this determinism since Newton never applied this to man himself. Newton’s laws of motion might describe the trajectory of a man being fired from a catapult, but not the same man walking round his garden. Above all, such laws cannot explain our thoughts and decisions.

Newton’s discoveries, properly understood, always pointed towards the Creative intelligence behind everything. In magnifying God, man’s role was also elevated. As creatures made in the image of God, Newton believed human beings had an important role to play in discovering the universe’s laws (‘thinking God’s thoughts after Him’). Man could meaningfully study these laws since he is himself more than merely the product of physics. Speaking again of Newton’s ideas, Lucas writes as follows:

…God, the Creator, is Himself uncreate, and not part of the created world. Newton, taking the God’s eye view, always considers the world from outside. He could thus embrace materialism and mechanistic determinism as completely true, because not true of completely everything – oneself, and every thing to do with oneself, was always excepted. Like God, the thinker was not himself subject to the laws he laid down as obeyed by everything else; and awkward problems were thereby avoided. [iv]

How then did Newton’s physics become wrongly associated with a materialistic view of the universe? We shall see the answer to that question in the following lesson. For the moment, however, we need to study a bit more of the background.

LOCKE

John Locke (1632-1704), was a contemporary and friend of Newton, who was also an important precursor of the Enlightenment. Now Locke was a determinist, for he believed that human beings, as well as the universe, are completely governed by deterministic forces. The principles that Newton saw as applying only to the material world Locke saw as applying to mankind. Locke believed that a complete description of the world (and that includes everything, including your and my actions) can be arrived at from mechanical state-descriptions. Thus, if we had enough information, then theoretically the future of the universe could be predicted in every respect, not just in some respects.

Such determinism even applies to our own thoughts. Hume, building on Locke’s theory in the 18th century, wrote about the involuntary association of ideas which our experience has connected together. “All these operations are a species of natural instincts which no reasoning or process of thought and understanding is able either to produce or to prevent.”[v]

Locke, like other philosophers of the 17th century, had been careful to try to fit his ideas into a Christian framework. Locke even wrote a book defending the reasonableness of Christianity. However, this mattered little to the next generation who was prepared to be more consistent with the consequence of his philosophy. In proposing a theory that reduced man to matter, Locke’s philosophy became one of the foundation stones of the Enlightenment’s attack on revealed religion.


DEISM

Newton’s discoveries, filtered through the philosophy of Locke and then popularised by Enlightenment polemicists, gave impetus to the worldview of deism.

Since materialism maintained that it was possible to explain the universe in purely naturalistic terms, no longer was it necessary for there to be a personal God behind everything. The idea of a God who is interested in the affairs of mankind, a God who gives us an authoratative revelation or performs miracles, was dismissed as the by-product of pre-scientific superstition.

This does not mean the materialists were atheists. In fact, outright atheists were such a rare comodity in the 18th century that Hume was even known to remark he didn’t believe such people existed at all. Like the Epicureans of ancient Greece, the 18th century materialists were quite happy to believe in a kind of ‘God’ – one that was distant and uninvolved in the affairs of men.

The self-appointed task of the 18th century materialists was not to attack the existence of God but, rather, to attack the foundations of revealed religion. Once that was taken care of – that is, once it was no longer credible for a thinking person to believe in such things as authoritative revelation, miracles and a God interested in the details of our personal lives – these philosophers prefered to retain some notion of a Supreme Being rather than face the intellectual difficulties of complete atheism. As Becker puts it,

It seemed safer…to retain God, or some plausable substitute, as a kind of dialectical guarantee that all was well in the most comfortable of commonsense worlds. But, obviously, the Creator as a mere first premise no longer needed those rich and all too human qualities of God the Father. Having performed his essential function of creation, it was proper for him to withdraw from the affairs of men into the shadowy places where absolute being dwells. Thus withdrawn, he ceased to be personal and inconvenient.[vi]

This ‘Supreme Being’ was called by a variety of names, including First Cause, Supreme Architect, Prime Mover, Author of the Universe, or even Benvolent Entity. As long as this Being was unknowable, irrelevent and uninvolved, the philosophers were happy.

One way of establishing that this Supreme Being was irrelevant and non-personal was to show that the universe, and particularly man, was the impersonal result of matter and necessity. If man was not made in the image of God but was merely a system of pre-determined physical particulars, then even if you want to say that God started the ball rolling at the beginning, the overall conclusion remains crystal clear: God has nothing to do with our lives and, if He exists at all, is completely irrelevant to the closed pre-determined system in which we are trapped.

Another name for this philosophy is deism. It is contrasted with theism (belief in a personal God) and with atheism (belief in no God).


Newtonian Philosophy?

Although Newton was no more a deist than a materialist or determinist, his discoveries were used, or rather misused, to bolster up these secular worldviews.

Becker notes the names of six different 18th century books that popularized “Newtonian philosophy”, as it came to be called. The emalgamation of Newton’s discoveries into a ‘philosophy’ was significant. What was this new philosophy? It was certainly not that for every action there is an equal and oposite reaction. In fact, if you wanted to learn the principles of Newtonian ‘philosophy’, the last place you would want to turn would be Newton’s own writings. Better turn to such books as Martin’s A Plain and Familiar Introduction to the Newtonian Philosophy or, better still, Voltaire’s Elements of Newtonian Philosophy.

Though Voltaire’s book on Newton made clear that “The whole philosophy of Newton leads of necessity to the knowledge of a Supreme Being”[vii], the overall thrust of the, so called, ‘Newtonian philosophy’ was towards an impersonal and materialistic way of viewing things. Anyone who wanted to could start with the premise that the universe was governed by a set of rational laws (Newton had established that) and then leap to the conclusion that the universe and its laws were all there was, or at least, all that can be known (materialism). Similarly, one could start from the premise that the universe followed determined laws (Newton) and then leap to the premise that man’s decisions were likewise pre-determined - that the human being is really no different from lines, planes, and bodies (determinism). In taking this leap from the mechanistic science of Newton to the materialistic philosophy of the Enlightenment deists, you could feel that science was entirely on your side. Furthermore, since Newton’s discoveries were thought to have banished mystery from the world[viii] by showing that everything was rationally explicable on a purely scientific basis, it was again an easy step for those who wished to dismiss all aspects of the unseen world that had been central to Christian dogma.

In actuality, the new philosophy was not so monochrom as my brief discussion implies. The relationship between Newtonian physics and Enlightenment materialism remained complex and sometimes extremely vague. It was vague precisely because the new philosophy was rarely worked out from a systematized train of thought. Rather, the new philosophy revolved around an incholate notion that such ideas were somehow implicated by recent advances in science.

The closest parallel today would be the way some people have a vague (perhaps even unconscious) notion that science has disproved miracles or that evolution establishes atheism. Ask a person exactly how the non-existence of God is proved by evolution, or which scientist disproved miracles in which laboratory, and they hardly know what to say. This is similar to the general assumption in the 18th century that Newton’s ordered universe removed the need to believe in the supernatural.

In future posts I will be exploring some of the practical consequences of the worldview forged in the fires of Enlightenment.


[i] Concise Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (New York, NY: Routledge, 2000), p. 535.
[ii] From Diderot’s Interprétation de la nature (1754), cited by Norman Hampson, The Enlightenment: An evaluation of its assumptions, attitudes and values (Penguin Books, 1968), p. 95-96.
[iii] J. R. Lucas, The Freedom of the Will (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970), p. 105.
[iv] Ibid,, p. 105.
[v] Cited by Hampson, op. cit., p. 120.
[vi] Carl L Becker, The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1932), pp. 49-50.
[vii] From the first chapter of Voltaire’s Elements of Newtonian Philosophy, called ‘Of God’, cited by Hampson, op. cit., p. 79.
[viii] This is reflected in Pope’s famous epitaph “Nature, and Nature’s Laws lay hid in Night/God said, Let Newton be! And All was Light.”
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The World of Christopher Robin

I've just finished reading Timothy The World of Christopher Robin, which includes the complete When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six by A.A. Milne. With E. H. Shepard's unbeatable illustrations, you can't get any better than this. Here's one of my favourites:

Bad Sir Brian Botany

Sir Brian had a battleaxe with great big knobs on;
He went among the villagers and bopped them on the head.
On Wednesday and Saturday, but mostly on the latter day,
He called at all the cottages, and this is what he said:

"I am Sir Brian!" (ting-ling)
"I am Sir Brian!" (rat-tat)
"I am Sir Brian, as bold as lion -
Take that! - and that! - and that!"

Sir Brian had a pair of boots with great big spurs on,
A fighting pair of which he was particularly fond.
On Tuesday and on Friday, just to make the street look tidy,
He'd collect the passing villagers and kick them in the pond.

"I am Sir Brian!" (sper-lash!)
"I am Sir Brian!" (sper-losh!)
"I am Sir Brian, as bold as lion -
"Is anyone else for a wash?"

Sir Brian woke one morning, and he couldn't find his battleaxe;
He walked into the village in his second pair of boots.
He had gone a hundred paces, when the street was full of faces,
And the villagers were round him with ironical salutes.

"You are Sir Brian? Indeed!
"You are Sir Brian? Dear, dear!
"You are Sir Brian, as bold as a lion?
"Delighted to meet you here!"

Sir Brian went on a journey, and he found a lot of duckweed:
They pulled him out and dried him, and they blipped him on the head.
They took him by the breeches, and they hurled him into ditches,
And they pushed him under waterfalls and this is what they said:

"You are Sir Brian - don't laugh,
"You are Sir Brian - don't cry;
"You are Sir Brian, as bold as a lion -
"Sir Brian, the lion, good-bye!"

Sir Brian struggled home again, and chopped up his battleaxe,
Sir Brian took his fighting boots, and threw them in the fire.
He is quite a different person now he hasn't got his spurs on,
And he goes about the village as B. Botany, Esquire.

"I am Sir Brian? Oh, no!
"I am Sir Brian? Who's he?
"I haven't got any title, I'm Botany - Plain Mr Botany (B)."

Some of my other favourites from the same book are 'The King's Breakfast', 'The Four Friends', and 'Teddy Bear.'

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Why I am against the database

In my earlier post about ID cards I mentioned that the problem is not so much with the cards themselves but with the database that will underpin it. THIS is what we could be heading for if the database proceeds as planned.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Bits and Pieces


A democracy, for all its problems, at least gauruntees that citizens will get the leaders they deserve.

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An excellent resource for debunking Chomsky is THIS WEBSITE.
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The Christian Voice website has added a lot of new material recently. We've got a set of webpages giving information about an Olympic mega-mosque that is proposed for London as well as some new webpages campaigning against casinos and sharing research on why gambling is harmful (this includes a long list of scriptures showing that the Bible is far from silent on the issue of gambling). There is also an article on 'Political Christianity in the Early Church'. Oh, and I forgot to mention, all of the above webpages were researched and written by yours truly.
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In an earlier post I mentioned about an onling college I started. Next year I will be accepting new applicants at a small fee. On Friday evenings we have online discussions using Skype software. I would love to have other people drop into some of the discussions if any of my blog readers are interested. To find me on Skype just do a search for Mr.Phillips and I’m the one at Sutton-on-Sea.

You wouldn’t have to be familiar with the material to join the conversations because it is always helpful for my students to explain about their studies to an outsider. Nevertheless, to give a flavour of the kinds of things we’ve been studying, click on some of the following links.

Assignments for week 1

October week 2

October Week 3

November Week 1

November Week 2

November Week 3 & 4

December Week 1

December Week 2

December Week 3


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Over the last month there has been a number of medical ethics issues that have come up in the news. I’ve written them up for my students HERE.

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I've just read an insightful article by Michael Novak titled 'What the Islamists Have Learned: How to defeat the USA in future wars.' If Novak is correct, the Muslims have a real advantage over the West through understanding the tactical significance of narrative.

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Homer for Children


Elsewhere on this blog I mentioned reading Padraic's The Children of Oden to Matthew. Now I've just finished Padraic's The Children's Homer to him. I supplemented it with Rosemary Sutcliff's's The Wanderings of Odysseus, filling in the bits that Padraic's version left out and always following along with the supurb illustrations that Alan Lee did for Sutcliff's book. Alan Lee was one of the two illustrators that worked on the Lord of the Rings films, and his interpretation of Homer is absolutely amazing. He gives you the feel of really being there while still preserving the sense of the fantastic. To view some of his illustrations in the book, click HERE.

Now that we've finished Homer, I'm reading Sutcliff's retelling of Beowulf to Matthew. It isn't illustrated by Alan Lee, but it still promises to be good.





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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Why Europe is Morally Unserious

A very interesting article recently appeared in The American Thinker, titled Sparing Saddam: Why Europe is Morally Unserious. Here are some snippets:

Hitler was never caught. Stalin and Mao died in their beds, and Jean-Paul Sartre, Europe’s most famous philosopher of the 20th century, passionately supported them at the height of their reigns of terror. The entire French intellectual elite worships Sartre as well as Nazis like Paul de Man and Martin Heidegger. The whole gang of bloody-minded European professors either sided with the Nazis or the worst Leftist tyrants, just as today they are passionately attracted to Hamas and Hezbollah....

The dirty little secret is that every mass-murdering ideology in the last two centuries had its origins and supporters in Europe. Pol Pot was Cambodian by birth but learned his revolutionary ideology in Paris. He was trained by the French Communist Party and the Russian KGB, went home, and massacred two or three million of his countrymen. Even Saddam’s Baathist Party was modeled on the European fascist parties of the 1930s.

Yet Europe wants to spare Saddam’s life.


The most infamous massacres of the 20th century, the Nazi genocide of some six million Jews, was inspired by a European nativist ideology.'



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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Reply to counter argument

My review of review of The God Delusion has been under attack HERE. This is my response, which is also posted on Dawkins' discussion forum.

Thanks for all the comments. I’ll reply to the points I think are relevant.

You ask what my point was in citing Dawkins’ long list of accusations against the Christian God. But then you answer the question for me, announcing that I didn’t have a point. Well, actually I did. I quoted that list of unpleasantries to give a flavour of Dawkins’ venomous antagonism towards God (I mean, the God of the Bible – thanks for catching that). This, I thought, might help to suggest why the professor feels so emotionally compelled to produce half-weight pseudo-philosophical arguments against Christianity.

“But”, you say, “it’s all right there in the Old Testament. 100% everything in that sick list and Dawkins was far from the first person to point this out.”

Well, Dawkins can hardly be considered a very reliable source for understanding the content of the Old Testament since he believes that Christian theology (and therefore, we may presume, the Bible) is “Devoid of…content.” As various scholars have pointed out, Dawkins presents a caraciture of the Bible because he is unwilling to face the long hard slog of serious theological scholarship.

See http://robinphillips.blogspot.com/2006/11/dawkins-justifying-ignorance.html

Thanks for answering my question “How…could Dawkins possibly defend atheism using the scientific method?” I’m not sure about your answer, though. You say, “It’s how science works. You don’t start by believing in something. You start without belief. You start atheist to the concept of every God ever invented by man and if proof of any of them existed for their wild claims Dawkins and all atheists would become theists.”

You seem to have committed the logical fallacy known as ‘equivocation.’ You are using the term ‘atheist’ in a difference sense to Dawkins to defend something he says about the term. You are using the ‘atheist’ to refer to No God Concept. In that sense, infants and plants are ‘atheist’ since they don’t have a conscious (cognitive) belief in God, as far as we know. But they also don’t have a concept of God’s non-existence. Dawkins, on the other hand, defines atheism quite clearly in The God Delusion as being belief in God’s non-existence. And he also maintains that THIS kind of atheism can be defended with science. So I think my original question still stands.

A bit of a side-road, but I’m not convinced that science does ‘start without belief.’ Surely, a mind that was a blank slate would not be equipped with the conceptual apparatus necessary to make scientific inferences. Even the most simplistic scientific inductions presuppose belief in such things as continuity, order, logic. There are many beliefs that we just take for granted but which are the preconditions to intelligibility and therefore prior to all scientific endeavour.

While we’re on the subject of science, I noticed no one replied to my rebuttal of Dawkins’ scientific disproof of God. I’d value any feedback you might have to offer.

Referring to my comments about Dawkins ethical theory, you write, ‘You just don’t like his scientific explanation.’ Whether I like it or not is really beside the point. The real question is whether the theory can hold up under rational investigation. Ad hominem fallacies won’t get us anywhere.

Forgive me if I’ve misunderstood you, but all your comments about ethics seem to be addressing arguments you’ve heard other Christian use but which I didn’t actually employ in my book review. My point was simply that Dawkins’ explanations for ethics only show WHY we are moral but not why we OUGHT to be moral. Hume pointed out that moving from an IS statement to an OUGHT statement is a non sequitur yet Dawkins, who admires Hume, does it all the time. Dawkins then lets the cat out of the bag by conceding that ‘it is pretty hard to defend absolutist morals on grounds other than religious ones’ and lapsing, by implication, into consequentialistialism and all the logical fallacies of utilitarian theory. His only trump card is an ad hominem attack on Christians which runs a bit thin when it begins to look suspiciously like a cover.

You’re right, my explanation for morality is the Biblical one, though from what you say I’m not convinced you’ve properly understood the Biblical system of ethics. I’d be happy to explain about that after we’ve got these other issues cleared out of the way.

I admit the ‘meme’ always did seem like a bit of a joke to me. I’ll be sure and make clear, however, that the meme is merely ‘like’ a virus which is ‘analogous’ to something jumping around from brain to brain. Thanks.

You make the point between good memes and bad memes. It looks fine in theory to put scientific and ethical ideas into the category of ‘good memes’ and religion into the category of ‘bad memes.’ However, this very distinction has no ontological basis within the context of memetic theory. This is because if ideas are naturally selected according to how they help or inhibit human survival, and if they compete, cooperate and mutate similar to the way genes do, then the very idea of ‘truth’ or ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is a category mistake. The reason it is a category mistake is because it assumes a neutral, objective, outside vantage point where we can stand and assess the value of ideas. Yet ironically, if all ideas are characterised by these memetic processes, then the person making these distinctions is only doing so because HE has been programmed to do so by his memes. In the end the whole theory becomes epistemologically self-defeating.

You acknowledge that all evidence points to us actually living in ‘objective reality.’ Okay, but that statement comes with a price. You can’t just say things like that without holding a worldview that cannot sustain objective truth claims. Dawkins worldview does not sustain anything of the sort (see above paragraph).

All that stuff about Hitler being a catholic is beside the point. I just used Hitler as an example because everyone agrees he was evil. But I might equally have said Cardinal Wolsey. All evil becomes trivialised under Dawkins’ radical Darwinism.

Yes, I didn’t define God and that was because I wasn’t trying to prove His existence or anything about Him in my book review. Rather, I was trying to refute Dawkins’ arguments. So I don’t think you can dismiss it as an ‘easy out’ of the debate.

Finally, I’d like to reply to the point that the problem with negative reviews is that they are written by theists. How is that a problem but its not a problem the other way round? Might I equally dismiss Dawkins for writing negative reviews of the Bible on the grounds that ‘after all, he’s an atheist’? Surely the real question is the content of what the reviews are saying. It seems a bit of a fudge to dismiss everything on the grounds that someone is a theist.

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Saturday, November 11, 2006

Book Review under Attack

Some atheists at Richard Dawkins’ site are having a real go at me because of my book review of The God Delusion. In particular, see the rebuttal to my review that someone called azryan has written on the discussion forum. If anyone thinks my ideas are worth defending, why not write a response to azryan on the discussion forum. I shall be doing so myself in a few days.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Dawkins: Justifying Ignorance

Timothy van den Broek has shared a quote from Dawkins on his blog, in which the professor tries to justify his ignorance of Christian theology. This would not be so lamentable if it were not for the fact that Mr. Dawkins has set himself up as an expert on the Christian faith in his book The God Delusion.

Mr. Dawkins' comments occured after McGrath challenged his knowledge of Christian theology. Dawkins replied: “Yes, I have, of course, met this point before. It sounds superficially fair. But it presupposes that there is something in Christina theology to be ignorant about. The entire thrust of my position is that Christian theology is a non-subject. It is empty. Vacuous. Devoid of coherence or content.

I was glad to see Mr. Dawkins put in his place by Terry Eagleton, who wrote,

'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. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be. If they were asked to pass judgment on phenomenology or the geopolitics of South Asia, they would no doubt bone up on the question as assiduously as they could. When it comes to theology, however, any shoddy old travesty will pass muster. These days, theology is the queen of the sciences in a rather less august sense of the word than in its medieval heyday.'


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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Dawkins and the Myth of Secular Tolerance

In 2003 John Coffey wrote an excellent article titled 'The Myth of Secular Tolerance' in which he levelled a pretty devastating critique against Richard Dawkins' view that religion tends to produce intolerance. Coffey quotes Dawkins' statements about religion and shows, in a persuasive appeal to history, that the shoe is actually on the other foot: 'the horrible history of atheism shows that whenever secularism grabs temporal power it turns lethal.'

In light of Dawkins' recent militant atheism and War on Christmas, Coffey's words are more than a little ironic, not least because the professor has accused Christians of intolerance in his best-selling diatribe known as The God Delusion.

You can download Coffeys article HERE.


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Dawkins and the War on Christmas

Richard Dawkins will not be content simply to tax churches and shut down Christian schools. The atheist professor is now wanting to abolish Christmas.

What I want people to do with Christmas,’ Dr. Dawkins said in a discussion posted on YouTube, ‘is give all their Christians friends a copy of The God Delusion.’ The professor also advocated ‘something like an advertising campaign: “fed up with Christmas, right, give an anti-Christmas present.”

Dawkins is not alone. The ‘Rational Responders’ are currently involved in a ‘War on Christmas’ campaign along with three other groups belonging to the ‘No God Network.’ According to the End Christmas website, the anti-Christmas campaign is based on the view that ‘Christianity holds us back in an archaic world unable to advance society to the fullest of human potential.

Although it began as a left-wing joke, the ‘War on Christmas’ has been gathering global momentum. Last December, UK campaigners distributed 500 free copies of ‘The God Who Wasn’t There,’ many of which were given to Christians going to church. The film, which includes a presentation by Richard Dawkins, ‘lays out the case that Jesus Christ never existed’ according to Newsweek.

This Christmas season, the Rational Response Squad are aiming to distribute 1,000 copies of the DVD, published by the atheistic organisation Beyond Belief Media.

The anti-Christmas campaign is part of a global movement to take Christ out of Christmas. In USA last year, Beyond Belief Media organised a 300-strong ‘street team’ to descend on Christmas-themed public events with ‘guerrilla giveaways’ of the ‘The God Who Wasn’t There.’

‘No Christmas pageant or Nativity display is safe from our troops,’ said Brian Flemming, president of the organisation.


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Dawkins and the Rise of Militant Atheism



Atheist Richard Dawkins is campaigning to criminalize Christian education and eliminate Christmas.

In a recent discussion with the ‘Rationalist Response Squad’, the bestselling author stated that Christianity is ‘a viral disease analogous to a computer virus.’ (For a fuller explanation of this, and a discussion of the ethical implications, see My Review of The God Delusion) During the conversation, which was recorded and later posted on YouTube, Dr. Dawkins outlined specific objectives for eliminating the Christian virus from society, making The Myth of Secular Tolerance more than a little ironic.

This included Dawkins' War on Christmas and his campaign to persuade Government to tax religious organisations by removing the charity status they currently enjoy. He also proposed that Christian education should be made illegal.

The science professor referred to an earlier conversation with lawyers from the Dover School Board Intelligent Design case, in which he asked what could be done to stop Christian education. The professor, who is particularly concerned about homeschooling, criticised the American legal system for ‘[taking] it absolutely for granted that parents own their children.’

Dr. Dawkins, who believes the entire human race descended from a self-replicating molecule, said ‘Young children should be taught the truth of where we came from.’ To achieve that, he favours state intervention, on the grounds that children have ‘the right…to be protected from their parents.’

‘The idea of even calling a child a Christian child seems to me to be immoral and child abuse’ said Mr. Dawkins.

Richard Dawkins and the ‘Rationalist Response Squad’ represent a growing movement in militant atheism. With slogans such as, ‘Believe in God? We can fix that’, the RRS’s mission (as stated on their website) is ‘to free humanity from the mind disorder known as theism.’

Given that Dawkins supports Eugenic, we can wonder whether he would favour using more direct means to eliminate this 'viral disease.'


ATHEIST INTOLERANCE

‘Many secularist commentators argue that the growing role of faith in society represents a dangerous development,’ said the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams. ‘However, they fail to recognise that public atheism is itself an intolerant faith position.’

On 7 November, the Times collected together just some of the examples of ‘secularism on the march.’ They pointed out that

Last year Lambeth council renamed its Christmas lights “winter lights”, although it claimed subsequently that the decision was made by a junior and was not binding

Torbay Council removed a cross from the wall of a crematorium for fear of upsetting other faiths


The Welsh Assembly stopped public funding of Teen Challenge, one of the world’s largest Christian drug and alcohol ministries, because it was felt that the drug rehabilitation programme included spiritual elements that counted as proselytism

A church-run shelter for the homeless in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, was warned that its funding would be cut off if it continued to say grace before meals, make Bibles available and refuse to remove Christianity from its legal objectives

Several Christian unions have come under pressure to admit non-Christians on to their boards

The University of Edinburgh considered banning Bibles from student halls of residence on the basis that they were “discriminatory” and made students of other religions feel unwelcome.

For more examples of secular intolerance, see HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE .


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Monday, November 06, 2006

Review of The God Delusion


Mr. Dawkins has certainly produced a book worthy of his reputation as Britain’s leading atheist. In The God Delusion, the internationally best-selling author has taken 406 pages to tell us that God does not exist, that the Bible is total fiction, that religion is a virus of the mind and that Christianity is dangerous to society.

Professor Dawkins’ self-appointed task has been to discredit the religious ‘infection’ in all its forms. While this has also been the goal behind many of his other books, The God Delusion takes things to a new height. Being an all-out tirade against theists in general and Christians in particular, the professor has now abandoned any pretence of civility.

Believers are ridiculed, mocked, slandered and bullied throughout the entire volume. Apparently Christians are a bunch of self-deceived idiots who ‘dread the advance of science as witches do the approach of daylight.’

The only consolation for Christians is that they remain in good company since Mr. Dawkins has reserved his most stinging abuse for the God of Abraham (‘the most unpleasant character in all fiction’ he says). Among the charges he lays at God’s door are that He is ‘jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.’

Wow, that’s quite a list. Jesus fares slightly better. While being ‘a huge improvement over the cruel ogre of the Old Testament…Jesus’ family values, it has to be admitted, were not such as one might wish to focus on.’

The Trinity also takes a few good knocks.


THE PROBLEM OF GOD

Dawkins’ hostility towards Christianity frequently leads to scattershot reasoning. No where is this more apparent than his argument for the non-existence of God.

According to Dawkins, belief in God is as infantile as believing that there are fairies at the bottom of the garden or that there is such a thing as a Flying Spaghetti Monster lurking invisibly in the sky. As thinking people, he says, we can be sure God does not exist. Well…almost sure. As a scientist, Dawkins will not completely close the door to God’s existence (‘we can never absolutely prove the non-existence of anything’). Nevertheless, he maintains it is highly probable that God does not exist.

To prove that ‘there almost certainly is no God’, Dawkins appeals to the scientific method: ‘the presence or absence of a creative super-intelligence is unequivocally a scientific question.’

A scientific question? That’s right. Whether or not a Being exists beyond time and space is just as much a question for empirical observation as the nature of our DNA.

That certainly pricked my curiosity. How, I wondered, could Dawkins possibly defend atheism using the scientific method? When he does finally get round to trying to disprove God, it is a bit of a let down. His arguments for the probable non-existence of God, it turns out, have nothing to do with science at all. Instead, his defence of atheism rests on some speculative metaphysical assumptions about the God he doesn’t believe in. In short, he presupposes that if God exists, then He must: (A) have ‘come about’ once upon a time or have always existed within time; (B) be limited by the laws of science, time and contingency.

Although these assumptions are never made explicit, they underpin his entire project and allow Dawkins to argue that God is at the wrong end of the evolutionary time scale. As he puts it: ‘any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution.’ Because ‘any God capable of designing a universe, carefully and foresightfully tuned to lead to our evolution, must be a supremely complex and improbable entity who needs an even bigger explanation than the one he is supposed to provide’ it follows that ‘a God capable of designing a universe, or anything else, would have to be complex and statistically improbable.’

The idea that the Creator of time and the laws of the universe might, in fact, not be subject to time and cause-and-effect contingency, is an idea Dawkins dismisses with scathing polemic rather than reasoned argument. Yet this should not be such a hard idea for Dawkins to grasp, seeing that on page 145 of his book he allows that the laws of our universe might be merely one among a number of ‘by-laws’ in a ‘multiverse’ containing ‘many universes, co-existing like bubbles of foam.’ He can conceive that possibility, yet he will not allow, even hypothetically, a reality that is not time-bound. At least, not when the subject in question is God. However, if we are talking about the universe itself, Dawkins is more generous. In an earlier book, Unweaving the Rainbow, Dawkins remarks that

'further developments of the [big bang] theory, supported by all available evidence, suggest that time itself began in this mother of all cataclysms. You probably don’t understand, and I certainly don’t, what it can possibly mean to say that time itself began at a particular moment. But once again that is a limitation of our minds….'

Chapter 4 of the book is a classic example of trying to blind people with science. It would be very easy for unphilosophical readers to think Dawkins has proved his point when he appeals to seemingly irrefutable scientific data. In reality, even if all his science is correct (and specialists will know it is not) his conclusions simply do not follow. He commits what is called a non sequitur – when the conclusion is out of sequence with the preceding premises.

Just as Dawkin’s notion of God hinges on certain unverifiable assumptions, so most of his objections to Christianity rest on misunderstanding and ignorance. Because he has failed to do his research properly, many of his assertions are embarrassingly ill-informed.
[i]



THE PROBLEM OF NO GOD

One of the useful things about The God Delusion is that it shows the consequences of atheism. If there is no God, then right and wrong have no ultimate meaning and we are left with an ‘each man for himself’ approach to ethics.

Dawkins denies this. In fact, the purpose of chapter 6 is to show that you can have morality without God. Yet the best he can do is subject all ethics to a vigorous reductionism, arguing ‘that our sense of right and wrong can be derived from our Darwinian past.’ In short there are

'four good Darwinian reasons for individuals to be altruistic, generous or ‘moral’ towards each other. First, there is the special case of genetic kinship. Second, there is reciprocation: the repayment of favours given, and the giving of favours in ‘anticipation’ of payback. Following on from this there is, third, the Darwinian benefit of acquiring a reputation for generosity and kindness. And fourth, if Zahavi is right, there is the particular additional benefit of conspicuous generosity as a way of buying unfakeably authentic advertising.'

Okay, thanks Dawkins. I always knew there was something wrong with the way Hitler treated the Jews and now I know why.

But wait a minute? What about situations where we do something right that does not directly benefit ourselves our advance our own evolutionary progress? Dawkins has an answer for that one as well. Our ‘Good Samaritan urges’, as he puts it, are ‘misfirings’ or ‘by-products’ of one of the above reasons. These ‘misfirings’ are a kind of ‘Darwinian mistakes.’ Lest anyone worry that this invalidates all ethics, Dawkins hastens to add that they are ‘blessed, precious mistakes.’

Blessed mistakes? For Dawkins to even use the word ‘blessed’ in this context involves smuggling in an outside ethical standard not established by his theory. It also raises more problems then it solves: was Hitler wrong because he didn't make the right Darwinian mistakes?

Being content with explaining (some would say ‘explaining away’) our ethical standards, Dawkins does not attempt to establish that we are under any obligation to follow such standards. And how could he? After all, if ideas of right and wrong are simply the by-product of a long stage in evolutionary history, what do you say to the person who decides to leave right and wrong behind and move on to the next stage? Proving that certain impulses we normally consider ‘ethical’ are useful to our evolutionary growth is as much an argument for no ethics as it is for ethics. This follows from the fact that at one time it may be useful for my evolutionary growth to be kind to my wife, at another time it may be useful to murder my neighbour and steal his car. The question of whether such actions are right or wrong belong to a different category to the question of whether they are useful. Yet Dawkins moves rather sloppily from the first category to the second.

Dawkins is aware of the problem. Summarising his dilemma through the mouth of an imaginary apologist, he writes,

‘If you don’t believe in God, you don’t believe there are any absolute standards of morality. With the best will in the world you may intend to be a good person, but how do you decide what is good and what is bad?… The Christian, the Jew or the Muslim, by contrast, can claim that evil has an absolute meaning, true for all time and in all places, according to which Hitler was absolutely evil.’

For all Dawkins’ skill, he cannot answer this objection. In fact, he does not seem particularly concerned even to try. He spends two paragraphs over Kant’s view that moral absolutes can exist without religion, yet he finds this inadequate. With the exception of patriotism, he confesses that ‘it is pretty hard to defend absolutist morals on grounds other than religious ones.’ This only leaves him one option left: the consequentialist school of moral philosophy, which includes theories such as utilitarianism. Although the book is full of utilitarian reasoning, Dawkins acknowledges that it forms an insufficient base for deriving moral absolutes. As he says elsewhere, "Wrong and right are not things that you can prove scientifically.” (From
an interview available on Youtube) He concludes chapter 6 by apparently conceding the point. His only trump card is an ad hominem attack on Christians: ‘in any case, people who claim to derive their morals from scripture do not really do so in practice.’


THE MEME

One of the most chilling aspects of The God Delusion is the ‘Meme’. The word first appeared in Dawkins book The Selfish Gene to explain what he believes is the social equivalent of the gene. According to memetic theory, ideas such as belief in Jesus, prayer, miracles, (all religious ideas, in fact) spread from one mind to another mind like a kind of genetic infection. These mind viruses then replicate by infecting the minds of gullible children and then jumping around from brain to brain after that.

Religious memes, like ethics, are misfirings of impulses that were originally useful in our evolution. This applies to all religion. Islam, he suggests, may be ‘analogous to a carnivorous gene complex, Buddhism to a herbivorous one.’ Our minds are vulnerable to ‘catching’ various religious memes rather like our bodies are prone to catch the common cold. But whereas the common cold is relatively harmless, the religious meme is a complete enemy to the health and even survival of the human race.

The irony is that the theory of the meme, combined with Dawkins ruthless utilitarianism, is actually what is dangerous. Dawkins does not advocate the forced extermination of religion from society, but I kept expecting that as the corollary of memetic theory. After all, if we are all the products of natural selection, then what would be wrong with using self-guided evolution to eliminate certain corporate brain infections (i.e. Christianity)?

One of the paradoxes of the meme is that if the theory is correct, then Dawkins’ own ideas could be brushed aside as memetic. As Jim Holt pointed out in The New York Times, ‘The story Dawkins tells about religion might also be told about science or ethics. All ideas can be viewed as memes that replicate by jumping from brain to brain.’


IT ISN’T ALL BAD

In many ways The God Delusion is a throwback to the 18th and 19th centuries, when people still believed science could give us absolute truth. For all its problems, this viewpoint is a refreshing contrast to the postmodern relativism that says ‘You have your truth, I have mine.’

The book is also an antidote to the widespread assumption that religion is a private matter, outside the realm of objective analysis. Dawkins and Christians agree about one thing: Christianity is just as much about objective truth-claims as science (1 Cor. 15:13-15).

Although Christians can admire Dawkins’ commitment to truth, such admiration must be short-lived. He works on the premise that there is objective truth, yet if his worldview is correct, he has no right to that assumption. After all, if ideas are naturally selected according to how they help or inhibit human survival, and if they compete, cooperate and mutate just as genes do, then the very idea of ‘truth’ is a category mistake. In the end, ideas cannot be true or false, only useful or harmful.

And that includes all the ideas in his book.

Thus, Dawkins has shot himself in the foot. He leaves himself no basis for really knowing anything, let alone his premise that Christianity is false and dangerous. The book only works on an emotional level for those willing to be carried along in the flood of his scorn and derision. Looking beyond the emotional polemic, however, we find no evidence to support his claims, only slipshod reasoning and emotional propaganda. If he has proved anything, it is the truth of the Bible's statement that it takes a fool to say in his heart 'there is no God.'



Further web resources:

List of Anti-Dawkins Resources

The Odd Delusion

Dawkins and Eugenics

Dawkins: Justifying Ignorance

Dawkins & The Rise of Militant Atheism

Dawkins & The War on Christmas

Richard Dawkins on Gorillas' Rights

Reply to Counter Argument

Beyond Belief

If You Can’t Beat Them, Embarrass Them

Marilynne Robinson on Dawkins

Christopher Booker’s Notebook

Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching

Tilic Thoughts

Dawkins the Dogmatist

Brown on Dawkins

The Dawkins Delusion

The Myth of Secular Tolerance

Platinga’s Review


[i] Alister McGrath challenged Dawkins’ knowledge of Christian theology. Dawkins responded by saying, “Yes, I have, of course, met this point before. It sounds superficially fair. But it presupposes that there is something in Christina theology to be ignorant about. The entire thrust of my position is that Christian theology is a non-subject. It is empty. Vacuous. Devoid of coherence or content.” Yet Dawkins also advocates teaching the Bible as literature (pp. 340-343). But if the Bible (from which Christian theology is derived) is meaningless, then how can it be studies as a literary source? Further, if there is no content to Christian theology then why does Dawkins spend so much energy criticising various aspects of its content? To justify such ignorance on the grounds that is nothing there to misunderstand seems like the ultimate ad hoc, and I am sure Dawkins would not have very nice words if a Christian took that approach to his ideas. It is simply a convenient way for Dawkins to let himself off the hook of doing the real work of understanding his opponents’ positions.




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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Consistent Abortionists

Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge has come under a lot of fire recently for burning the bodies of aborted babies in the furnace used for incinerating trash.
 
What I found interesting was that The Cambridge Evening News reported outrage among women who had recently had abortions at the hospital. ‘I am furious and very hurt,’ one woman was reported as saying. ‘Imagine my horror when I discovered that my baby was incinerated in the same furnace as the hospital rubbish.’

Think about those words for a minute...

If a foetuses’ value is determined solely by the mother’s ‘choice’, then what right does the mother have to complain if her baby is treated as rubbish after it has been killed? After all, once the baby is dead, the linkage to the value-determining fiat of the mother has surely been severed.

The public outcry against Addenbrooke’s Hospital’s policy suggests that our society still does consider a foetus to be a human being, deserving the same dignity after death that we would afford any person. It suggests that implicitly we think that there is a value that persons have independent of the mother's choice and it is this value which causes us to instinctively want human persons to be treated with dignity even after they are dead. 
 
Those who are shocked at what is going on at Cambridge there should reflect that the hospital’s appalling policy is simply the consistent outworking of the pro-abortion viewpoint.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Justification and Church Unity

I recently gave a talk to the family on the subject of justification and church unity. Building on my earlier Bible study on The Trinity and Chruch Unity and working within a New Perspective framework, I have tried to show that the doctrine of justification is first and foremost a practical doctrine to be lived out in the life of the church. You can read my talk HERE.


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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Stephen Green's Arrest


My boss was arrested by the new 'Minorities Support Unit.'

His crime? Handing out gospel leaflets. Read about it HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE. For a good perspective on some of the issues behind the issues, see Philip Johnston's article 'How Long Before Marriage is Illegal' and Melanie Phillips' excellent article 'How Britain is turning Christianity into a crime'.

The above cartoon was done by a friend of mine named James Haram. He is a professional cartoonist, quite reasonable in his prices, and always eager to be hired. His email address is jamesharam@aol.com and his mobile number is 07986392241.

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Monday, October 02, 2006

New Perspective on Paul

A couple friends have recently asked me what this thing called 'The New Perspective on Paul' is all about.

I’m afraid I only have time to give a few pointers for those who are interested in further study.

A good brief explanation of the NPP, along with the names of the main contributors, can be found
HERE. The New Perspective on Paul (NPP) should really be called the Old Perspective on Paul since it seeks to align Pauline scholarship with its original 1st century historical and theological context, with particular concentration on understanding Paul’s relationship to the Judaism of his day. Within that general rubric, the New Perspective is far from monochrome, but represents a loose and rather fluid network of thinkers and viewpoints about which it is hard to generalise.

Nevertheless, there are some overarching elements. In a nutshell, the NPP developed out of historical scholarship which showed, or claimed to show, that 1st century Judaism was not a religion of merit legalism. That is to say, the Jews of Jesus and Paul’s day were not proto-Pelagians who believed they could earn salvation through works righteousness.

This simple realisation, if true, has enormous implications for Pauline studies. Ever since the reformation, it has been customary for Protestant exegesis to assume that Paul was countering Jewish merit theology in books such as Romans and Galatians. If however, it can be proved that this reading of Paul is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of Second Temple Judaism, then perhaps Paul actually meant something else in these epistles. Taking this line, those who advocate the NPP would argue that Paul's contention with the Judaizers was not about Christian grace versus Jewish legalism, at least not in the contemporary sense of these terms. Rather, they point out that his argument revolved around the status of Gentiles in the church. Paul's doctrine of justification, therefore, had far more to do with Jewish-Gentile issues than with questions of the individual's status before God.
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Dunn explains it like this: since salvation comes to all who put faith in the Messiah, it follows that the markers which have served as the boundaries between Jew and Gentile can no longer function as the markers of the people who are the true people of God. It is in these, in the presence of these boundary markers and not at attempts at self-help justification that the apostle refers when he speaks of the works of the law. So when Paul says we are saved by grace and not by works, Paul’s antithesis is not between salvation by grace and salvation by works; rather, Paul’s anti-thesis is between salvation by Christ the Messiah, with its implications about the universality of his reign and the restoration of the kingdom of God, over against the narrow disgracing of the grace by those who would reinstate the old boundary markers as the distinguishing features of the covenant community.
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Even Paul's discussion of predistination in Romans 9, revolves more around Jew/Gentile issues than issues of personal regeneration. The NPP has also tried to nuance other New Testament terms such as 'justification' and 'the gospel' by realigning them with their 1st century context. (See Ollif's article on what the ‘the Gospel’ REALLY means HERE, which is along similar lines to some points Leithart makes in his book Against Christianity) The result is very enriching because we find that these doctrines mean more, not less, than customarily assumed.

Those who advocate the NPP are not saying that the traditional protestant categories are in themselves false, only that these were not the issues Paul happened to be addressing. Nevertheless, there have been numerous critics who have erroneously claimed that N. T. Wright and the NPP undermines the basic doctrines of the reformed faith.

Rich Lusk points out
HERE and Doug Wilson HERE that just because the Jews professed grace in theory does not mean they really believed it. They remind us that even the most die-hard ideological Calvinist can be a legalist at heart. This should cause us not to naïvely rush into affirming that the Judaism of Jesus’ day was a religion of grace. Although I think that’s a valid point, my own position is that regardless of whatever view we take on Second Temple Judaism, it can be established on purely exegetical grounds that Paul was not addressing merit legalism when he wrote Galatians and Romans. That's a whole side of the NPP which Doug's critique seemed to overlook. Derrick Olliff has proved, conclusively to my mind, that legalism and works righteousness were not on the radar screen when Paul wrote Galatians. See his excellent article When the Fullness of Time Had Come: Paul’s Gospel to the Galatians and, along the same lines, Rich Lusk’s article ‘The Galatian Heresy: Why We Need to Get It Right’ and Tim Gallant article What Saint Paul Should Have Said: Is Galatians a Polemic Against Legalism?. Also, whether 1st century Judaism was or was not a religion of grace, it can be shown on scriptural grounds that this is not the issue Jesus addressed when he critiqued the Pharisees. See Ollif’s article 'Looking for Legalism'.

My interest in the New Perspective arose from reading the works of N. T. Wright (whose writings can be read HERE). The first book I read was What Saint Paul Really Said, which is a good starter for anyone interested in the NPP. As I told Bishop Wright earlier in the year when I met him at a conference, before I began reading his books, Bible study was not that enjoyable for me, but something I just did out of duty (that was also before I discovered authors from the reformed tradition, by the way). I tended to see everything in isolation – a verse here, a verse there – without grasping the bigger picture. Wright’s work brought the Bible alive for me because it helped me to see how everything fits together in the bigger picture. Understanding the continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament would be the most obvious area where this is the case.
I have written further about the New Perspective HERE.

Reformed believers who have been told that Wright is a dangerous heretic, should read the following articles before making too hasty a judgement:

A SHORT NOTE ON N. T. WRIGHT AND HIS REFORMED CRITICS by Rich Lusk

Are Wright's Critics Misreading Him?, by Mark Horne

Why is Wright Misrepresented and Misunderstood by So Many of His Reformed Critics?, by Alastair Roberts

Within The Bounds of Orthodoxy?: An Examination of Both the Federal Vision and the New Perspective on Paul, by Joseph Minich

STOP THE PRESS!

Since writing the above, David Field has put some New Perspective thoughts on his blog, specifically to do with interpreting Romans. See HERE.
While we're on the subject of David Field, although this doesn't relate specifically to the NPP, I have to recommend his last talks at the last Auburn Avenue pastor’s conference which were highly fascinating. You can download David's talks or any of the speakers talks individually HERE or if you want to buy a set of the entire conference go to THIS webpage. The handout for David's first lecture can be downloaded HERE while the handout for his second and third lecture can be downloaded HERE. Alternatively, see the 49 page document David has written covering the same ground as his second and third lectures is HERE.

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