MOF Hello Terry, what is that book you are reading?
TERRY It is The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins.
MOF Yes I have heard all about him and his books, I don’t know why you read him when he is of the Devil.
TERRY Do you mean that Dawkins is motivated by the devil Satan?
MOF Of course, it is all lies.
TERRY I assume the connection comes from John 8:44, where Jesus describes the Devil as the "father of lies who has no truth in him".
MOF That’s right; Dawkins’ book is full of lies, which is why it is Satanic.
TERRY You have created two problems here; the first is that you haven’t read the book but you seem to know what it contains and the second problem us that it has many facts with which I agree. It is really just Dawkins’ conclusions that I disagree with.
MOF Well I have heard that he disagrees with the Bible and mocks the Church.
TERRY You are nearly right; he doesn’t attack the Bible so much as disagree with the conclusions reached by church authorities. Dawkins is challenging the conventional Christian and Jewish interpretations, rather then the text itself.
MOF Hah, I have heard these arguments before. The Bible is true because it is written by God and science is wrong because it gives a different picture than that of the Bible. The Jews are wrong because they don’t believe Jesus is the appointed Messiah and saviour of the world; and I am not being racist when I say that.
TERRY No I don’t consider you to be racist at all. But you are taking an extreme Christian fundamentalist position, which closes your mind to further truths that may otherwise set your mind free.
MOF Why should you as a scientist criticise my faith and my theology?
TERRY That is a good and fair point; I am willing to admit that you may well know the Bible better than I do. I will listen to your interpretation of the Bible providing you will listen to mine. But where I really challenge Dawkins is on his interpretation of science.
MOF How come?
TERRY Well for instance Dawkins does not believe in any a spiritual existence. Dawkins is a rational positivist who believes that there is nothing else in the universe except matter.
MOF That is really against what the Bible teaches, I thought you said that Dawkins agreed with the Bible.
TERRY I meant that Dawkins knows what the Bible says but he does not believe it has been inspired in any way; he thinks it has been made up by men.
MOF Well he is an obvious unbeliever, why do you bother to waste your time reading him?
TERRY Because I am more concerned with what my friends outside the church believe about the Bible. Church members have plenty of Bible teachers to listen to and read.
I am also interested in reading Dawkins because he is a fellow scientist. While I believe the text of the Bible is inspired I can’t prove this. Dawkins does not believe the Bible is inspired and I am curious to learn how he reaches this conclusion.
MOF You must be double minded, how can you believe that the two opposites: science and the Bible are both right.
TERRY Because they are not logical opposites. Science deals with tangible matter and fields, for example atoms, gravity, electricity etc. Religion deals with the intangibles that accompany life, for example morals, soul, spirit etc.
MOF OK, so Dawkins doesn’t believe in religious things, but did you say that you are questioning his scientific understanding?
TERRY Yes. Dawkins says that the universe is nothing more than molecules made of atoms and electrons (including subatomic particles) all interacting according to known laws of physics. He suggests that from time to time, in special places, life forms spontaneously, and this happens by sheer chance.
MOF Wow there is no room for a creator God that belief; do you think he is right?
TERRY No I don’t. One proposal from Dawkins’ reductionist style of thinking is the speculation that as we build better computers they will eventually start thinking for themselves.
MOF Well won’t they?
TERRY No I don’t think so; our minds and thoughts are far too subtle to be explained in terms of the clumsy physical events that accompany our thought processes. I would be fascinated if man ever built a computer that could think for itself, but if such a claim were made I would be extremely sceptical regarding that claim. I would apply the same evaluation standards that the sceptics apply to faith healing, extra sensory perception etc.
MOF I think I see what you are getting at; you would apply scientific judgement to scientific claims. At the same time you think that there is a Godlike or spiritual source to our thinking.
TERRY That sums it up fairly well. Dawkins attracted my attention, when he attacked a reputable English physicist who later retired to become a clergyman, his name is John Polkinghorne.
MOF So some scientists are Christians.
TERRY Yes, but the percentage is probably lower than that of the general population.
MOF How did Dawkins attack this fellow?
TERRY He seemed to ridicule him simply because he was a Christian. Dawkins described Polkinghorne and other Christian physicists as Dickensian implying that they were quaintly old fashioned and he went on to say that he was baffled their belief in the details of the Christian religion.
MOF Oh so Dawkins, as a scientist, was making a theological judgement.
TERRY Yes that was part of the problem. I had first read Polkinghorne when he was writing as a physicist; he was explaining that determinism does not lie at the heart of physics. Dawkins has ridiculed his religious beliefs without addressing his scientific beliefs.
MOF But did this person’s scientific beliefs agree with those of other scientists and physicists?
TERRY Yes, he was really just repeating the arguments of one of the truly great physicists called Richard Feynman, who is internationally respected by all his peers, especially when he comments in this area.
MOF Why is Feynman religious too?
TERRY Not at all, he was Jewish by race and he thought that Jewish rabbi’s were wasting their good intellects by debating religious matters.
MOF Oh, so what did Feynman actually say?
TERRY Hang on a minute and I will read it out to you from my essay. First he said we should “…welcome quantum mechanics as a release from a “completely mechanistic” universe”. Then he said “… we are unable now to predict what will happen in physics in a given physical circumstance that is arranged as carefully as possible.”
MOF Oh so life won’t form mechanically just because we put the atoms together.
TERRY Yes that is roughly what he is saying.
MOF And then he is saying that no matter how well we mix the chemicals and set the conditions we can’t expect life to appear.
TERRY Correct again, although as a scientist I would support having a go. Dawkins is saying if we did the experiment we would have a finite, but probably slight, chance of success, while I am saying there would be no chance of success.
MOF As a scientist you are a very strange person.
TERRY Thankyou I will take that as a compliment. Polkinghorne also challenged Dawkins’ concept of the theory of evolution.
MOF Wow, what did he say?
TERRY Dawkins believes that evolution proceeds through natural selection. That is we evolve because by chance we have the genes that favour our survival; his first major book was called The Selfish Gene, in this book he argued that the whole purpose of life is simply to survive and reproduce.
MOF Sounds like Darwinism to me.
TERRY It is. However Polkinghorne asked the question “If we simply evolve to survive, why do we have the extra, and unnecessary, ability to do highly theoretical physics that has nothing to do with our survival on this earth. For instance why do we have the capacity to speculate about the nature of the universe when we should just concentrate on eating, sheltering and breeding?
MOF That is a good point, can Dawkins answer that question?
TERRY He has covered aspects of this problem in his book, but ultimately he has not produced any convincing answers.
MOF Hey it is almost scary the way you never quite commit yourself and admit to anyone, or anything, being right or wrong.
TERRY Again I will take that as a compliment to my scientific training. Preachers play emotional chords when they speak while scientists speak with logical chords.
MOF What chords does Dawkins use?
TERRY Both of course, he is trying to inform the public, but first he has to get their attention. There is nothing wrong with the way that he writes. I still have a remaining personal and, I believe, scientific objection to Dawkins’ theory.
MOF Wow it sound as though you are just as argumentative amongst scientists as you are amongst church members. What is this personal objection?
TERRY Well, Dawkins talks about memes and as he appears to have coined the term it is hard to determine exactly what he means by the word meme.
MOF Well, what do you think a meme is?
TERRY Dawkins describes memes as part of our natural selection inheritance, much as we inherit our genes from our parents. Genes are of course large molecules and can in principle be examined and analysed in terms of their structure and chemical constituents. Memes are not molecules they seem to found in the cultural environment into which we are born. With suitable genes and memes we have a better chance of surviving and procreating. Dawkins suggests the memes may be reflected, say, in popular tunes that your family or tribe enjoys. He also says that our religious beliefs are produced, or influenced, by our memes.
MOF Do you mean to say that he thinks our religious beliefs are just superstitions passed on to us by our family or ancestors?
TERRY Yes that is what he is suggesting and because of his mechanistic view of life he thinks this is all there is to religious belief.
MOF But that is silly, even if our religious training is passed on by our ancestors, the purpose of this training is to instruct us on what God has revealed to us in the past. Because we learn about religion from our parents doesn’t in any way prove that God doesn’t exist.
TERRY Hey you are starting to think as a scientist, is it something I taught you, or did you catch it off me.
MOF No I have been saying all along that the trouble with science is that it doesn’t believe in God. Science is atheistic.
TERRY Dawkins would agree with you, only he would say that this is the strength of science. I say that science, especially the physics I used to teach, describes physical reality, but there remains a transcendent reality that lies outside the scope of science.
MOF Of course you mean God’s spiritual kingdom.
TERRY Probably. Unfortunately the transcendent reality cannot be defined in scientific terms or in a scientific manner. I use the word spiritual to describe this extrasensory existence, but I cannot define spiritual in the scientific manner in which our modern western society has become accustomed.
MOF OK I am with you there, is this why you don’t react well to the way some preachers describe things, you don’t like the way they define things when they talk.
TERRY Yes, but with my long church attending history I think I object more to the way people listen uncritically. Dawkins writes to attract public attention which is fair enough; he only does what any decent preacher is expected to do. I still haven’t covered my point.
MOF What is that?
TERRY If I liken Dawkins to a preacher then it is easy to see that he is persuading us to become atheists. But my memes have enabled me to evolve as a Christian and I find this gives me a satisfactory way of understanding both the physical as well as the spiritual universe. If I become an atheist, then my whole interpretation of reality will change and I will see a bleak impoverished existence described by an earlier evolutionary writer as nothing other than ‘chance and necessity’.
MOF A good point who wants to live in a Godless universe, that would be depressing.
TERRY Of course, our offspring would probably commit suicide, or kill each other off in savage wars. They certainly wouldn’t be inspired to save our polluted planet.
MOF So that’s why the Bible tells us to have dominion over the earth, so that we can use it, look after it and cherish it.
TERRY For once we are in agreement over Genesis 1. There are some beautiful babies still in the bathwater of the Bible.
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