Monday, February 23, 2009


Sometimes it is difficult for me to take Mr. Dawkins seriously. His credentials show him to be a very learned and influential man. One would suppose he could argue his case in a calm rational manner. And though he does this occasionally, he seems to feel that he needs to take his readers through all his gripes against religion of any kind. It seems apparent that he is not merely attempting to disprove the existence of God, but also to vent his spleen against all religion, especially Christianity as he perceives it.

He claims that the God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction …” (page 51). Then after his statements regarding “The God Hypothesis” (page 52), he immediately attacks the progress of religion concept, tax-exempt status for religious charities, and “ … the sums of tax-free money sucked in by churches, and polishing the heels of already well heeled televangelists” (pages 51, 52). And he goes on and on. He attacks Trinitarianism and Mariolatry (page 55) and the excesses of the Roman Catholic Church.

At first reading, I just dismissed most of these as red herrings, but I believe they also are attempts to bring the reader over to his side (I even find myself in agreement with many of his religious gripes), and this is his method for dragging the unwary into agreement on the major issues.

However, Dawkins usually returns to his main argument. On page 52, he gives two definitions that clarify his thesis.

First, “The God Hypothesis,” which he disagrees with: “There exists a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us” (page 52). (I shouldn’t criticize his redundancy, but doesn’t the word “universe” itself already include “everything”?) On page 59 he fleshes out his definition to state that the (non-existent) Abrahamic God whom he is battling “ … not only created the universe, he is a personal God dwelling within or perhaps outside it, possessing … unpleasant human qualities …”

Anyway, Dawkins advocates his alternative view: “Any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution” (page 52).

That’s right! The design precedes the designer; the creation precedes the creator; the work of art precedes the artist. It’s not that Dawkins disbelieves in intelligent design; it’s just that he believes that intelligent design comes before the Designer! Pardon my sarcasm, but Dawkins himself quotes Thomas Jefferson “Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions” (page 55). I’ll go along with that.

Though Dawkins aims most of his attacks at Christianity, he asserts that he is merely attacking this form of religion because it is the most familiar. He assures us, “I am not attacking any particular version of God or gods. I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever they have been or will be invented” (page 57). That’s pretty clear. We know where he stands.

I would like to spend more time with Dawkins’ excursus on Secular America (pages 60-68), but if I do I’ll never get through writing. Suffice it to say that I agree with him that many of the founding fathers were secularists and that it is incorrect to assume from their god-talk that they were Christians, as many preachers do. But is Dawkins any closer to being correct when he assumes that they would have been Atheists if they had the chance?

Dawkins finally gets to the meat of his argument in his attack on agnosticism. Agnostics, such as T. H. Huxley argued that God could neither be proved nor disproved. Dawkins’ reply to this is that it is a matter of probability (page 72). “God’s existence or non-existence is a scientific fact about the universe, discoverable in principle if not in practice” (page 73). “The God Hypothesis is also very close to being ruled out by the laws of probability” (page 69).

On page 73, Dawkins speaks of a “spectrum of probabilities” and gives us a list of “seven milestones along the way,” ranging from number 1: 100 percent probability that God exists, to number 7: absolute certainty that God does not exist. I find this a very helpful way of looking at peoples’ beliefs. Dawkins places himself in number 6, “low probability, but short of zero,” but “leaning towards number 7.” (I wonder what the probability is that Richard Dawkins exists.)

Dawkins is also very dogmatic about evolution, and feels that professing Christians (including Pope John Paul II) who endorse Darwinism are hypocrites. He quotes with approval another writer, “It’s not just about evolution versus creationism … the real war is between rationalism and superstition … Creationism is just a symptom of … the greater enemy: religion” (page 92).

I have now completed reading 99 pages and I am still awaiting some more solid arguments. I’m sure they are coming. I can’t wait to see them, as I am getting rather bored with his tirades and dogmatic assertions. It is difficult to argue with a dogmatist.

Bill Ball

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


“I perceive that in all things you are very religious.”
Paul to the Athenian Philosophers, Acts 17:22

As I continue to read Dawkins (chapter 1), I sometimes feel that I’ll never understand this man. Sometimes I wonder if he even knows precisely where he stands or what he believes.

He discusses what he terms “transcendent wonder” (page 33), yet he vehemently denies being religious. He admires Einstein, but wishes Einstein wouldn’t use the word ‘God.’ He seems to think a form of Pantheism is okay, but then defines it. “Pantheists,” he claims, “don’t believe in a supernatural God at all, but use the word God as a non-supernatural synonym for Nature, or for the Universe, or for the lawfulness that governs its workings” (pages 39, 40). However, to many of us, the idea of Pantheism has to do with a worship of the supernatural, however, erroneous that worship may be.

He finally concludes that he wishes “that physicists would refrain from using the word God (even) in their special metaphorical sense” (page 41). He feels that when they do, Theists jump on this usage and try to make men like Einstein into believers. I can’t help but agree! There is altogether too much god-talk without meaning.

He makes clear that the God he is opposed to (that he believes does not exist) is a supernatural God (page 41), or a personal God (page 27). As of yet, he doesn’t seem too concerned about impersonal or non-supernatural god.

In the rest of chapter one, Dawkins bemoans the special treatment that religion and the religious are afforded. He complains about the “widespread assumption … that religious faith … should be protected.” He gives numerous illustrations of court cases where religious belief and behavior is irrationally protected, even when it is known to be harmful and would in many cases even break the law. I tend to agree with him, especially where he criticizes the violence of Islam. But then it’s not just the violence of religion he complains about, but even areas where Christians discriminate against homosexuality (page 46). Is it a sin to believe that homosexual behavior is a sin?

He quotes a speech by Douglas Adams (pages 42, 43), lamenting that it is not considered proper to speak against someone’s religion. I find this tremendously ironic. He complains that “… to have an opinion about how the Universe began, about who created the Universe … no, that’s holy?” Here he is defending his and Mr. Dawkins’ right to an opinion on beginnings. He continues, “Yet when you look at it rationally there is no reason why those ideas shouldn’t be as open to debate as any other, except that we have agreed somehow that they shouldn’t be.”

I agree with Mr. Adams and Mr. Dawkins. These ideas should be open to debate. However, I suspect that what they mean by “open to debate” is that they should have the right to speak their mind on the issue and that those who hold to differing beliefs – beliefs in a supernatural and/or personal Creator God should simply concede.

I’ll have more to say later. I’ve just started reading chapter 2.

Bill Ball

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 2, line 242

I finally decided to read Richard Dawkins’ THE GOD DELUSION. I had wanted to read it for some time, but just didn’t feel right about plunking down the full amount, feeling that some of the money would go to causes which I disagreed with. I couldn’t check it out of the library because I need to scribble and color all over a book such as this. Finally, when I saw the paperback edition on the “Buy 2 get 3rd free” table, I caved in and bought it.

Richard Dawkins is the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. He has authored many books, especially on evolution, and is one of the leading spokesmen for Atheism today.

I know that many have written, or attempted to write reviews or rebuttals (Dawkins mentions many in his Preface to the Paperback Edition), but I had to write just to get his and my thoughts down clearly.

I have read none of his books or any others about him, though I have seen his name mentioned in many books and articles. My greatest exposure to him was in Ben Stein’s movie EXPELLED. He seems a likeable sort. I rather felt sorry for him. But then he feels sorry for himself, as part of a misunderstood minority. “Atheists and agnostics,” he says, "are not organized and therefore exert almost zero influence” (page 27). Of course their influence in the scientific and academic communities may have slipped his mind.

According to Dawkins I shouldn’t be reading this book. I don’t think I fit in either of his two categories. He seems to feel that every believer must fit into one of the two. He speaks of “dyed-in-the-wool-faith heads … immune to argument, their resistance built up over years of childhood indoctrination.” He apparently feels that this type wouldn’t even read his book anyway because they have been warned “to avoid even opening a book like this which is surely a work of Satan” (page 28). Apparently he includes professing former atheists in this group, as he feels that this claim “is one of the oldest tricks in the book” (page 13). He doesn’t seem to consider a conversion from Atheism as a possibility.

His second category is “open-minded people … whose childhood indoctrination was not too insidious, or for other reasons didn’t ‘take’ or whose native intelligence is strong enough to overcome it” (page 28). Apparently these are those for whom he writes. Elsewhere he speaks of “those theologians who take seriously the possibility that God does not exist and argue that He does” (page 14).

I consider myself a person with a reasonably strong “native intelligence,” but don’t see how or why that should convert me to atheism. I must confess that I have never been an atheist, but I certainly don’t attribute that to “years of childhood indoctrination.” (I won’t even mention here the work of the Spirit of God, as that would be arguing from a position that Dawkins would not recognize.)

Why am I reading this book? Certainly not to rebut Dawkins – persons much brighter and more astute than I have set their pens to that task. And certainly not because I am secretly seeking a rebuttal to my own shaky faith. Dawkins would probably call me a fundamentalist, one of those who “know what they believe and … know that nothing will change their minds” (page 19). Of course, he denies that he himself is one because his “passion is based on evidence”.

I suppose that, while I have many reasons for reading, the first would be that I am simply curious. I want to know what makes the author tick – why he believes the way he does.

A second reason would be to strengthen my faith, both by examining the weakness of the author’s arguments where he is wrong and by correcting my own thoughts where he is correct.

Thirdly, I would like to find points of agreement. Though I’ll probably never get to have a discussion with the author, perhaps I’ll be able to have a discussion with someone of a similar persuasion.

More later.

Bill Ball

Thursday, February 12, 2009


When I was a young believer, I often heard in sermons and Bible studies that there is some sort of distinction between the head and the heart. “It’s not enough to believe with your head.” we were told, “That’s 18 inches too high! You’ve got to believe with your heart!”

I recognize that the preacher was equating the head with the brain, but what did he mean by the heart? Certainly, not that physical pump within our chests that circulates the blood?

I came to realize that the head or brain represented the mind while the heart seemed to represent the emotions. I still occasionally hear or read this sort of thing in sermons and devotional literature.

But this sort of dichotomy just isn’t true! And I believe it’s a major factor in the “dumbing down” of much of Christianity.

Now I realize that when I get on this soapbox I am sounding like a curmudgeon, but wiser and godlier men than I have said things like this in the past.

“There is, unfortunately, a feeling in some quarters today that there is something innately wrong about learning, and that to be spiritual one must also be stupid. This tacit philosophy has given us in the last half century a new cult within the confines of orthodoxy; I call it the Cult of Ignorance. It equates learning with unbelief and spirituality with ignorance, and, according to it, never the twain shall meet. This is reflected in a wretchedly inferior religious literature, a slap-happy type of religious meeting, and a grade of Christian song so low as to be positively embarrassing.”
-- Dr. A. W. Tozer, May, 1952

“An outstanding fact of recent Church history is the appalling growth of ignorance in the Church … the logical and inevitable result of the false notion that Christianity is a life and not also a doctrine; if Christianity is not a doctrine then of course teaching is not necessary to Christianity.”
-- J. Gresham Machen, 1923

Where does this sort of (non) thinking come from? I believe it is partially due to a misunderstanding of the Old Testament in our English Bibles. The Hebrew of the Old Testament had no word that was the equivalent of our word “mind.” Rather, it used the word LEB or LEBEB, “heart” to refer to the whole inner man, including the intellect, emotions and will. Many modern translations translate this word as “mind,” but I believe the KJV translation “heart” has been affecting our thinking to this day.

Fortunately our New Testament was written in Greek which has at least a half dozen words for the mind and/or thought processes, as well as the word heart (kardia).

Look at the Shema, the great commandment in Deuteronomy 6:5 (Hebrew) demanding complete love from the total person: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”

One text of the Septuagint (the Greek translation – ca. 200+ BC) substitutes the word “mind” (dianoia) for the word “heart.”

When we get to the New Testament we find Jesus quoting the text thus: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). He has added a word for mind to the description of the requirement for total love.

So when we come to faith in Christ, we don’t kiss our brains goodbye! Rather, living the Christian life requires mental effort!

Paul seemed to feel that it was important for his readers to think! Among his favorite words was the word phroneo (or some form of the word) which could be simply translated “think,” as I have translated below:
“For I say … to everyone … not to overthink beyond what he ought to think, but to think soberthinking” (Romans 12:3).

“When I was a child … I used to think like a child” (1 Corinthians 13:11).

“ … think the same thing … having the same thinking” (Philippians 2:2).

Think this among yourselves” (Philippians 2:5).

“Let us, as many as are mature think this, and if anyone thinks differently … “ (Philippians 4:15).

Think on the things above … (Colossians 3:2).

I do not believe that it is possible to live the Christian life without seriously engaging our minds. I know that there is a strong trend toward “doing” today, and that’s good. James tells us we are to “become doers of the word and not hearers only” (2:22), but this is not an either/or proposition. I believe that we need to engage our minds while -- even before -- we get involved in Christian ministries.

Bill Ball

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Reading in Paul’s letter to the Philippians this morning, I noticed two words juxtaposed: the words “gain” and “forfeit.”

“But what things were gain (Greek: kerdos) to me, these I consider forfeit (Greek: zemia) for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I rather consider everything to be forfeit for the sake of the surpassing value of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have forfeited (zemioo) everything and consider it as dung, in order that I may gain (kerdaino) Christ!” (Philippians 3:7, 8)

In my reading and study I have been looking for parallels between what Jesus said and what the later New Testament writers have said, looking for places where Paul and the others have taken Jesus’ words and made them their own. Here was one such place. In one place in the gospels Jesus juxtaposed these same two words.
(I realize that Jesus most likely usually spoke in Aramaic and that the gospel writers translated His sayings into Greek, hence the differences in the translations below.)

“For what will a man be profited if he should gain (kerdaino) the whole world, and forfeit (zemioo) his soul? (Matthew 16:26)

“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give as an exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:36, 37)

“For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world but loses or forfeits himself? (Luke 9:35)

These are not some of those “What must I do to be saved?” passages. Jesus was not talking here about eternal life; that is gained by faith (John 3:16). Rather, He was speaking about this present life. The word translated “soul,” could just as well have been translated “person” or “life.” In fact, Luke uses a different word, the word “himself” (heautos).

In the context, Jesus was talking about becoming a disciple of His, of taking up our cross, of self-denial. He was speaking of making a deliberate choice to follow Him. There are many alternatives. One can choose to gain the world, but in doing this he is forfeiting his soul, his self.

Paul understood this call. In the context in Philippians, he relates how he was on the fast-track to the top in the religious world, but he had forfeited it all – not to gain eternal life, but to know Christ – to have that intimate knowledge of the Son of God. In comparison with this, all else is excrement!

We might say that’s alright for Paul, but not for us; this is only for a select few (for fanatics?). But Paul a little farther on urges his readers to follow his example (3:17). He apparently expected the everyday common church-folks to do the same as he. And this is what Jesus is calling us to. The passages quoted above are addressed to “anyone”! (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:24; Luke 9:23)

Or we might say that we’re not trying to gain the whole world. That’s for CEOs and dictators to attempt. All we want is a little more. Jesus wouldn’t deny us that, would He?

I believe Jesus presents the Christian life as a paradox: the more we seek to gain in life, the more of life we forfeit; the more we are willing to forfeit, the more we gain. Paul understood this. Others have understood this.
We look at the economic crisis in America today and we can see this paradox. But it goes beyond gambling in the stock market. It goes beyond getting suckered in Ponzi schemes. It applies to every aspect of our lives. If I may say so, the whole world system is a Ponzi scheme.

I remember when I was a teenager seeing these words written on the flyleaf of Uni’s Bible:
Only one life, twill soon be past.
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Bill Ball