Thursday, March 26, 2009


It would be easy to assume that the last 3 chapters of Dawkins’ The God Delusion were simply tacked on as further rants, less important than his main arguments. After all, he has in the previous chapters proven – to his satisfaction, at least – that God’s existence is highly improbable and that morality is more moral when not based on Scripture. What more is there to say?

I believe, however, that these chapters show us where Dawkins has been headed all along. He is not content to simply state his case, to make a few converts (or un-converts?) and then live and let live. Dawkins really seems to be at war with the God he doesn’t believe in, and with any religious expressions of belief in Him and wants to do all he can to eliminate these beliefs.

Chapter 8, entitled “What’s Wrong with Religion? Why be so Hostile?” begins with his denial of a desire for “confrontation,” or “gladiatorial contests” and especially his denial that he is “a fundamentalist atheist” (pages 317-19). “Fundamentalists,” he tells us, “have read the truth in a holy book … and … nothing will budge them from their belief … By contrast, what I, as a scientist, believe … I believe not because of reading a holy book, but because I have studied the evidence” (page 319). Case closed? I have the facts and you don’t!

But does Dawkins really have all the facts? Is all the evidence on his side? I’d like to raise some objections:
1. All the evidence that Dawkins has is empirical evidence based on his observations of the material universe. He is as he has told us, “a dyed-in-the-wool monist” (page 209). There is no room for any external evidence. In his thinking there cannot be any!
2. Though he claims to “have studied the evidence,” he has interpreted the evidence to meet his previous conclusions. His monistic materialistic views color his interpretations, just as those of the religious fundamentalists he scorns.

He writes about “the dark side of absolutism” (page 323) and gives examples of the horrors of Islamic blasphemy laws – even those enacted against Christians. He goes on to cite similar acts within “Christendom” (pages 323-26). He likes the phrase “American Taliban” used to describe the actions of the religious right in their opposition to homosexuality and abortion. He even admits that his assumption of a consensus on morality was “rosy-spectacled” (page 323). While I would agree with Dawkins on many of these rants, I fear that he doesn’t see that he himself is advocating a sort of anti-religious absolutism.

His attack on the pro-life people is especially chilling to me. While I would partially agree with him that “many of those who oppose the taking of embryonic life also seem to be more than unusually enthusiastic about taking adult life” (page 329), most do not fit the judgment. He discusses the “difference of perception” and tells us that “Strong opponents of abortion are likely to follow a non-religious consequentialist morality” (page 335).

“One school of thought cares about whether embryos can suffer. The other cares about whether they are human” (page 336), is a good summary of the conflict. It is very clear that Dawkins puts himself in the former. Earlier on the same page he compares the suffering of an embryo to the greater suffering of a sheep or cow in a slaughterhouse. This is the logical conclusion of Dawkins’ Darwinian ethics. If an embryo is simply “a little cluster of cells” (page 336), then what am I? What is Richard Dawkins?

Later he tells us that “The granting of unique special rights to cells of the species Homo sapiens is hard to reconcile with the fact of evolution” (page 339). Earlier (DAWKINS’ GOD DELUSION, 6), I said that Dawkins hadn’t carried out his thoughts to their logical ends. Here he has. He has denied the humanness of man. The ethical consequences of this are horrifying!

Though he rants on through the rest of chapter 8, it is in the next chapter that he really gets frightening: “Childhood, Abuse and the Escape from Religion.” Here he makes his case that parents or religious groups should not be allowed to indoctrinate children in their faith. He quotes his colleague the psychologist Nicholas Humphrey, “We should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe, for example, in the literal truth of the Bible or that the planets rule their lives then we should allow parents to knock their children’s teeth out or lock them in a dungeon” (page 367).

He begins this chapter with a supposedly true story of a six year old child of Jewish parents in Bologna, Italy, who was forcibly kidnapped by papal police in 1869 and brought up as a Roman Catholic. This he tells us was a common event in Italy at the time (page 349 ff). This he presents to us as a horrible evil and we rightly agree.

But isn’t Dawkins advocating the same thing? The Roman Catholic authorities felt they were acting in the child’s best interests in removing the child from what they felt were false religious influences. Dawkins, while not advocating kidnapping, feels that a child should be somehow removed from “abusive” indoctrination by its parents and taught that religion is “something for her to choose or reject – when she becomes old enough to do so” (page 382).

He bemoans the fact that in America Amish parents have the right to raise their own children in their traditions. “There is something breathtakingly condescending, as well as inhumane, about the sacrificing of anyone, especially children on the altar of ‘diversity’ and the virtue of preserving a variety of religious traditions” (page 372).

In chapter 10, he returns to the idea that he has dealt with previously, that perhaps religion fills, “A Much Needed Gap” and that is why it was part of our evolution.

I’ve finally finished reading The God Delusion and I must admit I’ve had my consciousness raised (Dawkins’ phrase). I had felt that Atheists were few, as Dawkins himself claims. But he has convinced me that they are more than a few and they are influential, even though he denies the fact. The number of “authorities” he quotes, as well as of those who wrote the three pages of enthusiastic blurbs tells me this.

I also see that men like Dawkins (though hopefully not all Atheists) have an agenda. They desire to see other religions eliminated. They have built their own god, whether it is called Darwinian Natural Selection, or Science, or Monism, or whatever, and want everyone else to conform to their beliefs.

The picture that comes to my mind is of a present or recent atheistic state, such as China, or North Korea, or the Soviet Union, where atheism is enforced -- or of a future dystopia such as in Huxley’s Brave New World, or Orwell’s 1984. Interestingly Dawkins refers to Orwell’s book and its word “thoughtcrime” (page 325) in his argument against religious mental abuse. He doesn’t see that he himself is advocating applying the term to religious thinking.

Bill Ball

Monday, March 23, 2009


“So then, you are inexcusable – every man of you who judges. For in what you judge the other, you’re condemning yourself, for you who judge practice the same things” (Romans 2:1).

The deeper Dawkins gets in his argument against God, the farther he leaves calm reason behind. Reminds me of the story of the preacher who, at various points in his sermon outline, placed this note in bold print: ARGUMENT WEAK HERE. SHOUT!

In chapter 7, “The ‘Good’ Book and the Changing Moral Zeitgeist,” Dawkins attacks the Bible, any ethical code derived from it and those of us so foolish or ignorant as to attempt to live by its ethics.

He tells us that “there are two ways in which scripture might be a source of morals or rules for living. One is by direct instruction … The other is by example.” That makes sense, but then he goes on to tell us “any civilized modern person … would find … this system obnoxious” (page 269). Then he says, “Those who base their morality literally on the Bible have either not read it or not understood it” (page 270).

I suppose Dawkins uses his ad homonym arguments to protect himself from ever having to have a dialog with anyone who takes the Bible seriously. He does like some “Christians” whom he refers to as those “whose beliefs are so advanced” (page 269) that most of us wouldn’t recognize them as such. Dawkins is a bit inconsistent here, as elsewhere he deplores people who use such god-talk.

In the section on the Old Testament, he takes off on some hilarious rants, not only against the Scriptures, but also against modern-day prophets who try to read the Old Testament into present day disasters. I tend to agree here, as well as with some of his parodies of the morals of Old Testament saints.

What Dawkins doesn’t seem to understand (or care to) is that the Old Testament gives honest reports of the exploits, moral and immoral, of the saints. Not every act of Noah, Abraham or Lot is commended in the Bible. They are rather "examples of grace." The problem is that many Christians don’t understand this either.

Dawkins can’t understand God’s jealously, which he says “resembles nothing so much as sexual jealousy.” However, I disagree when he says, “of the worst kind” (page 276). Dawkins refuses when critiquing the Bible to take its perspective – that God exists and that man continually strays from Him. Dawkins judges from what he calls “our modern sense of values” (page 279). A jealous God of course, makes no sense to one who doesn’t believe in any God at all.

He states his thesis over and over “that modern morality, wherever else it comes from, does not come from the Bible” (page 279, also pages 267, 283, 284, 289). He’s right about that! But the morality of many does!

When he gets to the New Testament, Dawkins gets even more spiteful. He seems to sympathize somewhat with Jesus’ ethics although he dislikes Jesus’ call to exclusive discipleship, which, of course, couldn’t make sense if Jesus isn’t who He claimed to be (page 284).

Dawkins really lets his venom loose on the doctrine of the atonement (page 284) which, of course, he says, “no good person should support.” It is a “new injustice, topped off by a new sadomasochism whose viciousness even the Old Testament barely exceeds” (page 285). He can’t understand why “a religion should adopt an instrument of torture and execution as its sacred symbol …”

So what’s new? Dawkins isn’t alone in this, nor should we expect anything different from him. Paul replied to these rants nearly 2000 years ago, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God … But we preach a crucified Christ – a stumblingblock to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks …” (1 Corinthians 1:18, 23).

He really shows his ignorance of Scripture when he takes off on the commandment to “Love thy neighbor.” He claims this “meant only ‘love another Jew’” and that “Jesus limited his in group of the saved strictly to Jews …” (page 287 ff). This is, of course, an interpretation from ignorance. Apparently Dawkins has never read the Bible he claims to refute. The command is given in Leviticus 19:18 and is specifically extended to non-Jews in 19:34. Jesus applied it in this way in His parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-19). (See STRANGERS AND ALIENS.) I must confess I chuckled at a quote “Jesus would have turned over in his grave if he had known that Paul would be taking his plan to the (gentile) pigs …” (page 292). Well – no! (1) Jesus sent Paul on that mission and (2) Jesus wasn’t in the grave anyway!

I don’t wish to deal with all Dawkins’ rants. I’ve heard many of them before from people I’ve talked to. One doesn’t have to be a brilliant scientist to rail against God – anyone can.

On page 298, Dawkins shifts gears to the “Moral Zeitgeist,” which he tells us on page 301 is German for “spirit of the times.” Dawkins really seems to be sincere when he tells us that “there is a consensus about what we do as a matter of fact consider right and wrong: a consensus that prevails surprisingly widely” (page 298). He seems to believe that there is a constant movement toward improvement, at least in what he terms “enlightened societies.” Apparently Mr. Dawkins doesn’t read his newspapers or watch the TV news. I don’t see much, if any improvement in people’s moral behavior. Possibly he’s thinking about statements of morality and not actual behavior, as with his ethical dilemmas in the previous chapter. There is a big difference between what people say and what they would do.

In the last section of this chapter, Dawkins attempts to answer the question, “What about Hitler and Stalin? Weren’t they Atheists?” His answers are full of irony, even laughable. He really wants to believe that every day and in every way things are getting better and better, especially as we move farther away from a belief in God. Hitler and Stalin represent “some appalling reversals” in this progress (page 308). He admits that those guys “were, by any standards, spectacularly evil men” (page 309).

His solution is that even if they were Atheists (and Stalin certainly was), they didn’t do their nasty things because of their atheism (as religious people do nasty things because they’re religious).

But wait – maybe Hitler was a Christian! If Dawkins can demonstrate that, then there’s no problem here. Hitler’s language was ambiguous, sometimes sounding religious, sometimes irreligious. While Dawkins elsewhere berates those of the religious right for claiming our founding fathers as Christians, here he wants to claim Hitler as one. Elsewhere Dawkins claims Jefferson as an atheist despite his religious talk, but here he claims that Hitler was a Christian despite his irreligious talk. It seems that Dawkins, like those preachers he condemns, plays fast and loose with history in order to place people on whatever side he chooses. You can’t eat your cake and have it too, Richard.

I have three more chapters to read. I hope I make it!

Bill Ball

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


“God created man in His own image and then man returned the favor.”
(I have no idea of the source of this quote.)

“Because what can be known about God is evident among them, for since the creation of the world His invisible attributes – His eternal power and divine nature are clearly seen, being perceived through the things He made, so that they are inexcusable. Because though they knew God, they did not give Him glory as God or give Him thanks, but became empty in their reasonings and their senseless heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for a likeness of an image of corruptible man and of birds and animals and snakes” (Romans 1:19-23).

I had finally finished reading chapters 5 and 6 of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion – “The Roots of Religion” and “The Roots of Morality.” I settled in to watch the Friday night news and commentary on PBS. I love to watch Bill Moyers’ program; he interviews such fascinating people. This evening he was interviewing Karen (pronounced KAHren) Armstrong on her ideas about religion. Ms. Armstrong is somewhat of an expert on comparative religions and talked of the similarities between all religions and how they are all based on the “Golden Rule” – not, however, as Jesus stated it, but in a negative form. She talked a lot about “compassion” and how all religious folks should get along. She, however, seemed to have little compassion for “fundamentalists,” those who take their own religion as exclusive.

As Bill and Karen blathered on, I felt my eyes glazing over until she mentioned that we have created our own God, to which Mr. Moyers agreed. Religion to Karen and Bill seems to be something we have invented for some psychological reason. It sounded to me like they were simply religious Atheists. All of a sudden I found myself more in sympathy with Richard Dawkins than with these folks. At least Dawkins admits his lack of belief in God. He doesn’t hide it under pious jargon.

However, I believe that all three persons fall into a different category – that of Romans 1. They had a reasonably clear perception of who God is, but deliberately chose to “exchange” it for something less -- a god of their own making, whether this god is the mental idol of Karen and Bill, or the god of Darwinian Natural Selection (DNS) of Mr. Dawkins. (This is probably a god of the other two as well.) We, I believe, are all religious.

In chapters 5 and 6, Dawkins speaks a bit less confidently than in the previous chapters. He must answer two questions posed by Theists. The first in chapter 5, “Why are people religious? He admits that Darwinians have a bit of a problem here. “Knowing that we are products of Darwinian evolution, we should ask what pressure or pressures exerted by natural selection originally favoured the impulse to religion. The question gains urgency from the standard Darwinian considerations of economy” (page 190).

In other words, the Atheist must explain why DNS didn’t just eliminate something as “wasteful” and “extravagant” as religion. Dawkins discusses two possible answers: either religion has a direct advantage to “gene survival” or else it is a “by-product” of some other, useful function. He wastes little time (and paper) discussing possible direct advantages, such as the “placebo effect” (it just makes us feel good). He spends most of this chapter discussing the by-product view.

Dawkins uses the analogy of the moth drawn to a flame. This apparently suicidal behavior is a by-product of the moth’s internal system of navigation by celestial lights (sun, moon, stars). Artificial light interferes with this highly evolved characteristic and causes what is perceived to be irrational (suicidal) behavior in the moth. In the same way religion is a by-product of some internal mechanism in us. The problem is to find out what the original useful function is or was.

Dawkins spends many pages on hypotheses and ideas to explain. It is here that he must admit uncertainty. In fact he seems to be as uncertain and unclear about this as the religious folks he derides. He asks “could” questions and mentions an “intriguing possibility” (page 215). He knows that there is a Darwinian explanation; he just doesn’t know what it is! It almost seems here that Dawkins is exercising faith, the faith that he elsewhere derides as “belief without evidence” (page 232).

At the end of chapter 5, we have to conclude that Dawkins has not answered the question. Perhaps we need to consider Paul’s answer quoted above.

Chapter 6 seems to follow naturally. “Why are we good?” is the way Dawkins states the question. Most of us believe that morality and religion are in some way tied together, so Dawkins must explain this away for us, after a few pages describing the immorality of his attackers. It is in these first pages of chapter 6 that I find myself siding with Dawkins. Why do those who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ express themselves in such “unchristian” ways (page 242)?

Dawkins in this chapter, as in the previous, seems uncertain. He does not come across well as an anthropologist or a moral philosopher. He goes on and on about various views but boils them down to “kinship and reciprocation as the twin pillars of altruism in a Darwinian world” (page 249). Kinship, of course, means that we take care of our own for “gene survival.” Reciprocation means we have a sort of a trade off with others – a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” morality. He seems to approve of this pragmatic approach to morality, except in the case of religion. Here, being good “to gain God’s approval …” is “just sucking up." He fails to see that if morality is primarily for one’s own advantage, why then should religious motivation for the same reasons be condemned?

It seems that Mr. Dawkins, while attempting to deal with one question, “Why be good?”, is evading some equally, if not more, important questions.
• If there is no God, then what is good? Who determines?
• What is evil?
• Why is there evil? Dawkins says, “Perhaps naively, I have inclined toward a less cynical view of human nature …”

One other matter: In dealing with psychological answers to the problem of religion, Dawkins makes clear that he is a “dyed-in-the-wool monist” (page 209). “Like most scientists,” he says, “I am not a dualist” (page 210). Though he mentions this position almost incidentally, this is the heart of the problem. If mind and matter are the same, or if as Dawkins says, “mind is a manifestation of matter,” than all tendencies in humans to believe in design and teleology are merely “childish.”

Dawkins doesn’t here carry these thoughts out to their logical ends, but he is not only, because of his monism, denying the existence of God, but also the humanness of man. It would seem to me that he is left with a mere material being, without a spiritual aspect – a simply more developed ape. Any moral system then is useless.

On page 262, Dawkins reverts to his gnosticism. He says that he is “not claiming that atheism increases morality …”, though he seems to think so. But that’s probably because Atheists are more intelligent than the rest of us. Perhaps so. In the next chapter he’s going to demonstrate that “people who claim to derive their morals from scripture do not really do so in practice.” I’m afraid I may find myself in agreement with Mr. Dawkins although I don’t believe I will agree that it is a “very good thing” (page 267).

Christianity is not in itself a moral system, even though it has to do with morals. Christianity is rather a rescue system. Because we are not moral, God sent His Son to redeem us from sin’s penalty.

Bill Ball

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


“Why sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
The White Queen in Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll, chapter 5.

I had resolved to finish reading and commenting on Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, although frankly, I’m finding it a bit tedious and repetitive. But I’ll trudge on.

In chapter 4, “Why There Almost Certainly is No God,” Mr. Dawkins delivers what he seems to believe is the coup de grace to “the God Hypothesis.” It “is untenable. God almost certainly does not exist” (page 189). He does this by taking “the Argument from Improbability” away from the arsenal of theologians, creationists and apologists and showing (?) that rather than its being a proof for theism, it is really a proof for atheism!

The argument goes something like this: The probability of life originating on earth, or of complex life evolving is somewhat on the order of a hurricane assembling a Boeing 747 out of a scrap yard, or something to that effect. While this is “the creationist’s favorite argument,” it could only be made by somebody who doesn’t understand the first thing about natural selection” (page 138).

Dawkins agrees that complex things could not have come about by chance, but claims that this is not evidence of design. “The illusion of design is a trap …”!

Rather than design, Dawkins invokes Darwinism Natural Selection (henceforth referred to as DNS) as the whole solution to the problem. DNS is a “consciousness-raiser” that explains all.

Dawkins’ explanation of how DNS succeeds as a solution to the problem is that it “is a cumulative process, which breaks the problem of improbability up into small pieces.” The creationist “doesn’t understand the power of accumulation” (page 147). That’s right; the 747 doesn’t get assembled spontaneously by a hurricane; that’s highly improbable! Rather, it’s assembled in pieces (apparently by smaller storms). Little bits of improbability are easier to take!

He refers on page 147 and elsewhere to a previous book, Climbing Mount Improbable, where he explains that the development of life is not like climbing a “sheer cliff,” but a “gentle slope.” Evolution is gradual, creeping up the slope to the complex form atop the mountain.

However, even if we were to agree with Dawkins’ parable, we would still be left with certain questions which appear to not have entered his mind thus far (maybe he’ll answer them in a later chapter, but I’m not holding my breath).

The main question that’s puzzling me is “Why?” Why should Mount Improbable even be climbed at all? What is the reason for the movement from “lower” to “higher” life forms? It would seem that Dawkins has granted godlike powers to DNS: The powers of “deliberate guidance.”

Another related question is “How?” Dawkins explains the method that DNS takes to move up the mountain from lower to higher forms but doesn’t explain how it all got started in the first place. What was the triggering mechanism? Dawkins has previously mocked the idea of a first cause, yet here almost gives the credit to DNS, not only for the process, but for its beginning.

Dawkins argues for the origin of life based on the Anthropic Principle: The improbability of all the right conditions for life (or intelligent life) being found on one planet out of our whole universe. This has been used by theists as pointing to design, but Dawkins attempts to use it in his favor. His argument here is statistical, going something like this: If the odds against the conditions for life existing on any planet are a billion to one, and if there are a billion billion planets (both conservative estimates), then “life will still have arisen on a billion planets – of which Earth, of course, is one” (page 165).

This little bit of legerdemain is where, I feel, Dawkins is grasping at straws. Whatever we make of these statistics, they do not account for the origin of life on earth or anywhere else. I fail to see how “this statistical argument completely demolishes any suggestion that we should postulate design to fill the gap” (page 166).

I believe that Dawkins’ big problem, however, is that the concept of God is unattainable and incomprehensible to one who is so locked into an empirical and materialistic system of learning. He does not want a God that he cannot explain using his own terminology.

“However statistically improbable the entity you seek to explain by invoking a designer, the designer himself has got to be at least as improbable” (page 138).

“As ever, the theist’s answer is deeply unsatisfying, because it leaves the existence of God unexplained” (page 171).

“God, or any intelligent, decision-taking, calculating agent, would have to be highly improbable in the very same statistical sense as the entities he is supposed to explain” (page 176).

“The designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer” (page 188).

Dawkins complains that God, if there were one, “would have to be very complex and presumably irreducibly so!” Over in over in this chapter he (at times, mockingly) speaks of the complexity of anyone who would be in control of this universe. A God who is both (to use theological terminology) both immanent and transcendant is beyond scientific observation and therefore beyond Dawkins’ comprehension (a “Divine Knob-Twiddler” – page 172).

Although Dawkins would emphatically deny it, it appears that he has made a faith-commitment, on which he has based his life. While he feels he is on solid ground basing his argument for the development of life on DNS, he seems to know his arguments for life’s origins are shaky. “We should not give up hope of a better crane arising … the relatively weak cranes we have at present are, when abetted by the anthropic principle, self-evidently better than the self-defeating skyhook hypothesis of an intelligent designer” (page 189). He tells us on page 173, “my consciousness has been raised by Darwin.”

I know that many have read this book and agree with its author, and many have read it to argue with him. I wonder how many who have read it, have prayed for him, that the veil might be removed?

Bill Ball

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


When I was a young believer in my teens and twenties, I took to heart a challenge from my pastor to “do great things for God.” My biblical examples were men like David and Paul, men who built kingdoms or planted churches, men who stood up fearlessly to the giants.

Well somehow, either the opportunities never came, or more likely, I missed them. Though I felt I was somehow “serving God,” it never seemed to amount to much.

Then, in my late thirties, I went off to seminary and felt that now, with the gifts and the abilities that I had, along with an education, I was finally ready to do those great things. But the years passed. I pastored some small churches and taught at a Bible college. Still no great things. I dreaded getting the Alumni newsletters, because there I’d read about men younger (and less qualified?) than I, doing what appeared to be great things.

I have gradually come to realize that this was a false ambition. Very few of us accomplish those great things. And what is it that makes an accomplishment great anyhow?

This past year, two of my former professors at Dallas Theological Seminary, passed away: Zane Hodges and Harold Hoehner. As I read the many tributes to them, most by former students, it was clear that they had affected hundreds, maybe thousands of men. God had used them to change lives. As far as I know, neither of them had planted a church, built a kingdom, or faced a giant. Yes, they had written a few books, some memorable, some not. But it was people that counted.

Though David and Paul are still included in my pantheon, it is Barnabas who has become my model. His name, we are told, means “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:5). Nearly everywhere we find him in the New Testament, he is involved with encouraging others in some way.

The first time we meet him, we read that he “owned a tract of land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:37), thus priming the ministry of sharing in the early church.

Later we find that when Saul (later Paul), the persecutor of the church, was converted, it was Barnabas who introduced him to the fearful Jerusalem apostles. “And … he (Saul) was attempting to associate with the disciples, and they were afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and related to them how he had seen the Lord …” (Acts 9:26, 27).

When the new Gentile church was started in Antioch, Barnabas was sent to minister to them and “ … he was encouraging them …” (Acts 11:23). When the church continued growing, “ … he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he found him he brought him to Antioch … and they taught a great number” (Acts 11:25, 26). How many preachers would do that – go find a better preacher to help them in the ministry of a growing church?

Later when he and Paul were on what is known as their missionary trip through what is now Turkey, their young helper John Mark, got homesick and returned home (Acts 13:5, 13). Later, when Paul refused to let John Mark come with them on another trip, Barnabas and Paul split up. “Barnabas wanted to take along John, called Mark … but Paul insisted that they should not … And there was such a sharp quarrel that they separated from each other, and Barnabas took Mark with him … But Paul took Silas and departed” (Acts 15:37-40). Paul seemed to have forgotten how he had at one time needed encouragement.

Later, though we never read that Paul and Barnabas reconciled, we find Paul still holding him in high regard (Gal. 2:13; 1 Cor. 9:6).

I believe there are more Barnabases around than there are Pauls. Great works – churches and kingdoms will fail. (In fact the church in Turkey where Paul evangelized, has practically disappeared today.) But people are eternal. It is those whom we encourage, whom we help to grow in their faith and character who will be around to greet us in eternity. As Paul himself said to the people of a church he had planted, “For who is our hope or joy or crown of boasting – is it not even you – in the presence of our Lord Jesus at his coming? For you are our glory and joy!” (1 Thessalonians 2:19, 20).

Lord help me to be a Barnabas – to do small things for you!

Bill Ball

Sunday, March 1, 2009


“You are not also deceived are you? No one of the authorities or Pharisees has believed in Him, has he? But this mob that does not know the law, is accursed!”
The Pharisees – John 7:47-49

As I began to read chapter 3 of Dawkins’, “Arguments for God’s Existence,” I had hopes of seeing how he dealt with the various arguments. I expected to be intellectually challenged by his rebuttals. Such was not the case; rather Mr. Dawkins wrote off the five “proofs” put forward by Aquinas in four pages, then went on to spend more time and ink on the shakier ones.

Aquinas’ first three: The Unmoved Mover; The Uncaused Cause; and, the Cosmological Argument are said by Dawkins to “rely upon the idea of a regress and invoke God to terminate it.” He berates the “unwarranted assumption that God himself is immune to regress” (pages 100, 101).

In doing this, it would seem that Dawkins is assuming that the universe is eternal. However, he immediately draws back, by allowing the possibility of a “terminator,” he sees no reasons to posit that this could be God. He rather posits a “big bang singularity,” but fails to explain how this doesn’t also require a mover or a cause.

He probably is correct in his writing off of the Argument from Degree (page 102). It is a weak argument at best.

His claim that Darwin has blown the Argument from Design (or the Teleological Argument) “out of the water” is baffling (page 103). Whether or not one accepts Darwin’s arguments, they are arguments about means, not cause or purpose. They give us Darwin’s (and Dawkins’) views of how living things came to be as they are. They do not tell us why they are as they are. It would seem that the Darwinian Theory still requires a Designer. Why do Darwin’s rules of natural selection, or of “goal-seeking behavior” work as they do (if they do)? And neither Darwin nor Dawkins has explained where life came from in the first place (back to the Uncaused Cause).

Dawkins next pooh-poohs Anselm’s Ontological Argument. I must admit that I have to concede this one. I have always felt that there was a bit of shakiness to the argument. Then he goes on to put down the Argument from Beauty and the Argument from Personal Experience, both of which he caricatures.

When he attempts to refute the Argument from Scripture (pages 177 ff), he shows his ignorance by his dependence on “reputable biblical scholars,” i.e., those who support his views by late-dating the biblical texts or positing a canon by-committee hypothesis. He seems to be totally ignorant of scholarship that supports the biblical texts and canon.

Apparently he’s not read C. S. Lewis, whom he refers to on page 117. Lewis in the passage referred to was not trying to use Scripture to persuade people to believe in God. Lewis was refuting the claim that Jesus was simply a “great moral teacher” but not God. Lewis said, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic … or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.” (Mere Christianity, page 56). Dawkins’“fourth possibility … that Jesus was honestly mistaken” is simply a restatement of Lewis’ “lunatic” reference. However, Dawkins simply writes the whole matter off by saying, “There is no good historical evidence that he (Jesus) ever thought he was divine.” This he does by simply denying that the Gospels are historical documents. In one place, he even claims that, “It is possible to mount a serious, though not widely supported historical case that Jesus never existed” (page 122), though he concedes that Jesus probably did.

The other “rebuttals” in the chapter are much the same: use evidence wherever you find it; use “experts” when they agree. However, I think I find that much of Dawkins’ arguing has its source in a sort of intellectual snobbery – a sort of gnosticism. “Atheists are likely to be drawn from among the better educated and more intelligent” (page 129). He and his fellow atheistic scientists are smarter than the average uneducated masses. That should settle the matter! Nyeah, nyeah, nyeah!

Dawkins makes an interesting attempt at refuting Pascal’s Wager: the argument that whatever the odds are, for or against God’s existence, one is safer by deciding to believe in God, as the eternal consequences outweigh the temporal (page 130). He claims that, “Believing is not something you can decide to do as a matter of policy.” And “What’s so special about believing?” (page 131). Well, if believing is not a big deal, why is he trying so hard to dissuade us from believing? I think Mr. Dawkins really does think believing is important. He has a belief system that he has decided to take and would like his readers to make the same decision.

Bill Ball