Friday, 29 January 2010

Hear the rumble of the mad-man

Richard Dawkins has his latest in the Times - "Hear the rumble of Christian hypocrisy". His points are many and all over the map. The main one appears to be that Christian theology is inherently a glorification of meaningless retribution - a furious God who delights to inflict unnecessary punishment. This is accompanied by scores of other asides showing how really, really angry the thought of God makes Dawkins. Revealing.

Dawkins' arguments make me think of a mad-man climbing into a ring with a heavyweight boxer. Because the mad man runs around furiously, throwing punches everywhere with rapid-fire, eventually you suppose one must hit. In just a few paragraphs, Dawkins goes over much of the whole map of Christian theology with great bravado - surely one of those punches connected?

In reality, the real boxer would just tip-toe around for a few seconds as he got a good look at the mad-man, and then lean forward with one mighty, all-sufficient knockout blow, and the mad-man thuds onto the mat with no likelihood of getting up.

All that Dawkins writes is predicated on what comes at the opening. According to him, no other explanation is needed for the Haitian earthquake other than the physical explanation. Two tectonic plates bumped and ground over each other; result, earthquake. That's it. As Dawkins says, "a force of nature, sin-free and indifferent to sin, unpremeditated, unmotivated, supremely unconcerned with human affairs or human misery."

That's the logical outcome of Dawkins' own atheism. The world is self-contained, and physical explanations not only describe what happens, but are also entirely sufficient to account for what happens. No ideas of personal agency should be sought. This is not the way that anyone deals with the events of their own life, though, or indeed how Dawkins does. "Yes, officer, I know that he's dead, and that the autopsy shows cyanide poisoning. But this is all just the outworking of chemical laws. Cyanide is fatal, so he died - why look for another explanation? No need to arrest me."

The problem with Dawkin's position is that, according to him, human beings are also a part of nature. Thus, they are constrained by the same laws as the rest of nature. We evolved ultimately from impersonal matter, according to fixed biological principles. Hence Dawkin's own screed in the Times is not something to take seriously - it's just the law-bound outworking of his own biochemistry. All the ranting about hypocrisy and other moral crimes is not to be treated as meaningful; it's only what the natural principles at work within him made him do.

For Dawkins to impute wickedness to the personal intentionality of Christians who disagree with either him or Pat Robertson (which I do) is no more or less rational than for Christians to impute any particular activity within the world to God's personal intentionality. Dawkins is self-refuting. If we use his own measure, he's not to be taken seriously. His thoughts aren't meaningful; they're just what nature enforced upon him. Tip-toe, tip-toe, tip-toe.... THUD.

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