Dawkins and My (Not Quite So) Open Mind

I finished listening to atheist Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion last night. Over the next few days, I want to interact with that book, but I’ll be using some of Russell Miller’s comments as my launching point. Please remember that not every detail of the book is in my mind, since I listened to it on CDs and was often doing other things at the same time.

Under my post, The Bible and Morality, Russell Miller said: “I’m a little surprised you’re reading/listening to [Dawkins’ book], but good on you. It shows some level of open-mindedness. :)”

I appreciate the compliment, but I should clarify something about open-mindedness: I have no intention of becoming an atheist, regardless of what Dawkins argues. When I was an undergraduate, atheist and agnostic professors thought that I should base my beliefs on some sort of positivist methodology: I can only believe in things that are supported by reason and evidence. Today, I feel no such compulsion. Now, if I want to convince a non-believer of the truth of theism, then I’d better use more than “Just have faith.” But, as far as I personally am concerned, reason and evidence are not the only factors in what I believe. There are also personal needs, emotions, experience, a desire for something more to life, attraction to certain aspects of religion, etc.

Dawkins would ask, “Then why don’t you believe in the flying spaghetti monster? You can prove that just as much as you can prove God (meaning you can’t prove it).” Look, I don’t care if someone believes in a flying spaghetti monster. If that makes him a good person, then I say “Go for it.” Personally, I don’t think it’s so far-fetched to believe that a supreme being created everything and is involved in life, so I don’t put God and the flying spaghetti monster in the same category. But that’s just me.

What’s interesting is that Dawkins is open to things that he can’t prove, see, or touch. He speculated in Expelled that aliens are responsible for the design on earth, and he expressed openness to the existence of extra-terrestrial life in The God Delusion. Dawkins defenders have pointed out that aliens are natural, whereas God is supernatural, but that’s just quibbling over words (in my humble opinion). I doubt that Dawkins has ever seen an alien, and “evidence” of alien life (e.g., spotting a UFO, experiencing abduction) can have other explanations, just like people’s experiences of God. Why should I feel bad about embracing God’s existence as a possibility? To his credit, there are times when even Russell Miller acknowledges that God may exist (i.e., “If there is a God…”). There’s lots out there that we don’t know about!

Then why do I read Dawkins, if I have no intention of becoming an atheist? I’m interested in how different people see life, including ways that non-Christians perceive Christianity. I remember hearing one Christian woman (at one of the schools that I attended) affirm that Christians can learn from what outsiders say about them–more than they can if they just hang out among themselves, read only their own writings, and watch only their own programs. At DePauw, I had a Christian friend who often saw truth in what non-believers were saying!

And there were gems that I got out of Dawkins. In his critique of Pascal’s Wager (i.e., believe in God because he may exist, and God will reward you in the afterlife for believing in him without proof), Dawkins asks why we should assume that God places such value on believing in him without evidence. Why can’t God place a greater value on, say, kindness? Good question! Dawkins also expressed shock that Christian martyrs were willing to die over minutiae of doctrine. He makes a good point, but that goes to show that what matters to insiders may appear unimportant to outsiders, since insiders believe something is at stake.

Coming soon: the anthropic principle. Stay tuned!

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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4 Responses to Dawkins and My (Not Quite So) Open Mind

  1. peterrubel says:

    The apostle Paul argued in his letter to the church in Rome that God reveals Himself to all people, but that some people “suppress the truth” (1:18) about God. Such suppression includes and is perhaps chiefly internal to the one doing the suppressing, a kind of self-persuasion of one’s own lie. In such a condition, does an atheist know God? At some level, Paul seems to say, “yes.”

    However, when I was an atheist, I recall at some point a sense of the impossibility of knowing that a God could exist. Indeed, my suppression of truth extended to the point of being convinced of atheism: honestly convinced so far as I was able to confess to myself. I was also unconcerned with the hypothetical possibility beyond my knowledge base.

    Even suppressing the truth to that extent, I could not be wholly consistent with my own views, for in an entirely mass/energy universe, the very purpose of argument degenerates into a deterministic sequence of mere complex chemical impulses. How such a sequence explains even self-awareness, let alone any meaning to “reason and evidence,” is beyond me now.


  2. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Hi Peter! Yeah, I think that may be how it is with a lot of atheists: they don’t think they’re suppressing what they truly know. For them, God is illogical. Maybe that makes sense when we look at evil in the world, but I think their arguments against the design argument are kind of a stretch.


  3. Shamelessly Atheist says:

    Perhaps there is no need of suppression. You do not even consider the possibility that there is no such innate knowledge (indeed, there certainly isn’t – you have to be told there is a god).

    “How such a sequence explains even self-awareness, let alone any meaning to “reason and evidence,” is beyond me now.” It’s beyond us still, but why would you leap to a supernatural explanation (I would argue that it is no explanation at all, since it does not explain how a god could do these things) just because we don’t necessarily have a naturalistic explanation? The absence of a naturalistic explanation (actually, in this case there is the framework for an explanation through emergence, but lets just say there isn’t one) now does not mean that we won’t have a good explanation in future. It is this “I want an explanation now” that gets us into trouble, believing all sorts of nonsense.


  4. peterrubel says:

    Hi Shamelessly Atheist! I understand that you have a faith that naturalism or atheism (whatever the label) will one day solve mysterious questions of self-awareness, etc. Your response sounds like what I would have said at one time. But you do not seem to have understood various points of my original comment, and I am not convinced that whatever other contribution I might make would help at this point other than to say that by “now” (last word in my original comment), I meant “now that I hold to theism as opposed to atheism,” or “from my current position.” I agree with you (at present as I would have when I wrote the original comment) that jumping to conclusions without adequate investigation is a problem.


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