Monday, July 28, 2008

Dawkins' Myth

I have finally finished The God Delusion (TGD). I found it predictable and yet sobering. There was nothing new in the book - unless you call "new" Dawkins' dependence upon logical fallacies for support of his argument. The book was nonetheless sobering. It was sobering because Dawkins proposes a dangerous myth.

Ten years ago or so a traveling lecturer came to LaGrande, Oregon, and spoke on the demise of the "old myth" that had been the basis of our civilization. That "myth" was the view of the world based on the Bible. It is what Christian thinkers now call the biblical worldview. It was dead, he said, because it could no longer be believed. He suggested that for our civilization to continue, for us as individuals to function, we needed a new myth.

He was right - partly. We do need a myth (read unifying worldview) if we are to function as a society and as individuals.

(Before my Christian friends jump on my case for implying that the Bible is a myth, let me define what I mean. A myth is an explanation for who we are, why we are here, and where it is all going. It may be true, as I believe the Bible's explanation of the world is, or it may be an attempt to describe in either literal language or literary language what the myth maker believes is true about the world. The word Myth is not the equivalent of fiction.)

Richard Dawkins in TGD is definitely attempting to create that "new myth," a new explanation for who we are, why we are here, and where it is all going. Here is my understanding of the myth he proposes.

  1. We are the result of entirely material/physical processes. Evolution is the physical process that accounts for living things - ourselves. But physical processes must also be the explanation for the mysteries of where the universe came from, how earth came to be in astounding ways the perfect place for life, how life itself came to be, and how conscious life arose. All that requires a great amount of faith in physical processes, of course, but Dawkins is committed to that belief.

  2. We are here purely by chance. (Evolution is not a chance process, Dawkins will declare, but everything else is so highly improbable that chance is the only way to explain it.) We have no purpose unless it is to enjoy the life that we by pure chance have. Though it might be nice to help out others and solve the problems we all face as the human race, we have no obligation apart from our own self-interest to do so. Helping others makes this a better place for us to live, after all. What is true of us is true of the universe - it has no purpose. It simply is.

  3. We are going nowhere. The universe is headed to eventual heat death. We are destined for the grave. "Get over it. It may be grim, but that's the way it is, and no fairy tale will make it otherwise," is what Dawkins appears to be saying.

So Dawkins weaves his myth, explaining the universe, the earth, ourselves, religion, morality, and everything else in purely contingent terms. (Contingent means everything has a material and or evolutionary explanation, each thing depending for its existence upon another.)

Now, it would be possible - and tempting - to refute Dawkins' arguments and conclusions one by one. The book is full of logical fallacies and illogical leaps to unfounded conclusions. However, the parts are not so dangerous as the whole, and it is to the whole that I want to speak.

A myth is essential. But a myth to be sufficient must be true. Fairy tales are quickly seen to be fiction. The myth of Santa Claus is an example. Santa Claus, in the end does not explain how gifts arrive under the tree on Christmas morning. And that is the reason Dawkins' "new myth" is insufficient. It does not explain. It does not explain those things he admits are highly improbable such as the universe, its laws, the privileged place of earth, the origin of life and consciousness, nor the origin of man. In fact, at best, it explains a process which we all can agree on called micro evolution. It explains how wolves over time can become dogs.

More seriously, if that failure is not enough, it does not explain who we are. It does not explain why we as a race have a spiritual sense of God. (The writer of Ecclesiastes puts it this way: God has put eternity in our hearts.) Dawkins leaves us half human, body and mind and that is all. But we know by intuition and experience that there is far more to us. Far more.

No myth is sufficient that does not explain the whole. Dawkins' myth falls far short of explaining the whole. No myth is sufficient that is not true. Dawkins' new myth is base on hope and conjecture. Though he claims that it is based on solid scientific evidence, there really is no consensus even among scientists for many of the fact claims Dawkins makes. And interestingly, he knows he is sitting way out on a limb. Yet he must make his case, no matter the lack of evidence. (By faith, in other words.)

Only the Bible explains the whole. Only the Bible presents a view of reality that is true.

That does not mean there are no problems, and Dawkins is careful to point out many. Christians do not and have not always lived out a biblical worldview. Our inconsistencies have laid us open to valid criticism and the Bible open to misunderstanding and scorn. But that is our failure, not the Bible's.

Dawkins' answer in TGD is to start over. That's what I suggest as well. Let's go back to the Bible and carefully discover the richness of the truth it declares. Let's go back and rediscover the true God that is so often hidden beneath our religiosity. Let's go back and discover who we are, created in the image of God, fallen, redeemed, and headed for the glory God has set before us in eternity. Let's discover again the Bible's explanation of who we are, why we are here, and where it is all going.

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