OPIN­ION Why Richard Dawkins is wrong about Chris­tian­ity

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mis­read­ing of the Bi­ble).

The ar­gu­ment is emo­tive: ‘‘God isn’t real be­cause I hate him’’. Dawkins presents him­self as a rad­i­cal scep­tic, yet when it comes to see­ing and con­fronting his own cher­ished as­sump­tions he isn’t nearly scep­ti­cal enough.

Most ex­as­per­at­ing of all is his re­peated dis­tor­tion of the con­cept of ‘‘faith’’. It’s one of his sta­ple crowd-pleasers, and in fact a huge amount of his anti-re­li­gious world­view is built on his ha­tred of ‘‘faith’’. There’s just one prob­lem: he com­pletely mis­un­der­stands what Chris­tians mean by ‘‘faith’’.

In his new book, Science and the Soul, Dawkins de­scribes faith as ‘‘be­lief that isn’t based on ev­i­dence’’. He con­tin­ues: ‘‘Re­li­gious faith not only lacks ev­i­dence, its in­de­pen­dence from ev­i­dence is its pride and joy, shouted from the rooftops.’’

I wouldn’t pre­sume to speak for other re­li­gions, but I can tell you how Chris­tians re­act when we hear or read com­ments like those ones: ‘‘What the heck is he talk­ing about? That’s not what we be­lieve at all!’’ In fact, that’s the op­po­site of what bib­li­cal Chris­tian­ity is about. The poor man sim­ply doesn’t even know his own en­emy.

Chris­tians have zero in­ter­est in a be­lief sys­tem de­void of ev­i­dence, still less in a be­lief sys­tem that flies in the face of the ev­i­dence. The Bi­ble is a book of his­tory, and Chris­tian­ity is built on the his­tor­i­cal ev­i­dence for the life of Je­sus Christ.

Most specif­i­cally, Chris­tian­ity rises or falls on whether Je­sus rose bod­ily from death, never to die again, as an ac­tual event in time and space. Be­cause Chris­tians are per­suaded – by the ev­i­dence – that he did, we be­lieve he is who he claimed to be. We be­lieve he takes away the guess­work when it comes to God. We be­lieve he can of­fer all peo­ple ev­ery­where a spe­cial and unique ac­cess to their cre­ator.

But if Je­sus didn’t rise from the dead, Chris­tian­ity should be aban­doned. Tear it all down. If you proved to me that Je­sus stayed dead, I’d tell my chil­dren to rip up their bibles and I’d quit go­ing to church. The Bi­ble it­self in­sists that if Je­sus never rose, Chris­tian­ity is ut­terly use­less for ev­ery­one. But he did. That’s where the ev­i­dence of his­tory takes us, and so Chris­tians be­lieve. We have faith be­cause we trust in the ev­i­dence.

This isn’t a com­pli­cated idea, and surely Dawkins is smart enough to grasp it. He’s heard it clearly ex­plained in de­bates against the likes of John Len­nox, Ox­ford Pro­fes­sor of Math­e­mat­ics. So I find my­self won­der­ing: does he re­ally not get it? Or does he get it, and choose to turn a deaf ear? Which is worse?

Yet for all that, I’m glad he’s here. I’ll be glad if his visit causes even one per­son to ask the big ques­tions about life, the uni­verse and God.

But I’ll only be truly thank­ful if that per­son looks be­yond Dawkins’ fire-breath­ing hos­til­ity to­wards God, sees the lack of logic that lurks (not far) be­neath the sur­face, and is driven to ask: ‘‘Re­ally? Is this the best that athe­ism has to of­fer?’’

Ge­off Rob­son is a Christchurch-based church pas­tor and uni­ver­sity chap­lain, and the author of The Book of Books: Ashort guide to read­ing the Bi­ble.

Richard Dawkins vis­ited Auck­land and Christchurch last week pro­mot­ing his lat­est book, Science in the Soul.

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