Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Richard Dawkins doesn't really get it?

Prof Dawkins asked the Prime Minister: “Why do you support faith schools for children who are too young to have chosen their faith, thereby implicitly labelling them with the faith of their parents, whereas you wouldn’t dream of so labelling a ‘Keynesian child’ or a ‘Conservative child’?”.

Mr Cameron responded: “Comparing John Maynard Keynes to Jesus Christ shows, in my view, why Richard Dawkins just doesn’t really get it.

That was a good start from the Prime Minister, I thought. Dawkins really does not get it. Views of economics or politics may play quite a large role in a person's life. But they cannot be the foundation. They cannot constitute the basis of a world-view, as Christainity, atheism, Islam, Rastafarianism etc. do. Keynesianism may be right or wrong, but there is no pathway towards seeing a failure to honour JMK's teachings as an intrinsic moral failure, or a basic constituent of someone's personal identity.

“I think faith schools are very often good schools. Why? Because the organisation that’s backing the school – the church or the mosque or the synagogue – is part of the community.


“And it brings a sense of community and a sense of responsibility and the backing of an institution to a school.

“The church was providing good schools long before the state ever got involved, and we should respect the fact that it’s not just the state that can provide education – other bodies, too.

“So I support faith schools on the basis of the proof that over the years they’ve been good schools.”
Here I was left wondering if Mr. Cameron really "got it".

From Dawkins' point of view, a Christian education cannot, be definition, be a "good school" precisely because it is Christian and Christianity is an outmoded and potentially dangerous superstition. The issue at hand is the definition of "good" in the context of education.

Cameron does go on to explain what he means by "good", though it's not fully clear to me without more of his thinking how to interpret him. He speaks of belonging to the community, and a sense of responsibility and the backing of an institution. I'm not sure if those things themselves are the "good" of which he speaks (which seems rather weak to me - a brainwashing camp run by a suicide cult could also theoretically fulfil that criteria), or if they are simply supportive of an other, undefined (here) good - perhaps the technical excellency of the education. But if the latter, then we're still begging Dawkins' original question - what, really, makes a school good? Is a school good because it teaches people lots of information? Helps them to think critically? Helps them pass GCSEs? Or what? Dawkins would argue that Christian assertions about reality are false; hence a Christian school can only be a "good school" despite Christianity, not because of it. He thinks that thinking critically leads to the conclusion that Christianity is false. And I think only the Department of Education would be tempted to make passing state exams the objective measure of "good" - other folk might be more likely to collapse their value into one of the other two (they help us learn information, or to think critically in general).

My children's education is "good", I believe, because we are helping them to understand God's world, how it works and how to live in it, from God's point of view. We are helping them to think critically, but within a context of Christian love and care. We believe they have their own minds which are to be developed, and thinking critically, when guided by a good heart which ultimately only conversion brings, will be very "good".

Dawkins, on the other hand, uses the word "good" as if it were an objective reality; yet he can only tell us his subjective preferences. In his world-view, he's simply an inevitable result of millions of years of natural processes, processes with no transcendental meaning, purpose or intelligence behind them, and no ultimate end except extinction. He may have his own quasi-transcendental purposes and goals; those that he sees as bigger than his own existence (e.g. his anti-God crusades), but there's no binding reason why anyone else should care about them. "Good" on his lips has no solid meaning that you can pin down beyond "Dawkins likes it that way". So whilst I might dispute with Mr. Cameron, who professes to believe Christianity is true yet seems quite confused about a number of Christian teachings, yet with Dawkins we can't even get the debate underway because there's no common ground to even start the discussion from. Dawkins, if you take his world-view back to basics, is simply one lump of animated meat trying to campaign about the education of the offspring-meat of another lump of animated meat. Why does he bother? He believes that we are nothing but matter, controlled by physical laws; in his view it's his physiology forcing him to do what he does, and mine forcing me to disagree with him. He bothers only because he's inconsistent. The atheistic world-view can't be consistently lived out. Dawkins behaves as if other people's children's education is important because the "we're just the happy results of meaningless physical processes" thesis is not possible for divine image bearers in a created universe to live out consistently.

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