The Atheist Crusade
A Jewish rebuttal to Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion
Columnist and psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple, writing in the prestigious "City Journal," discloses the origins of his atheism. He was nine years old and attending prayer assembly in his British school. The headmaster Mr. Clinton commanded the children to keep their eyes shut lest God depart the assembly hall. Young Theodore wanted to test the hypothesis, so he opened his eyes suddenly so as to catch a glimpse of the fleeing God. Instead he saw Mr. Clinton praying with one eye open in order to survey the children. "I quickly concluded," recounts Dalrymple, "that Mr. Clinton did not believe what he said about the need to keep our eyes shut. And if he did not believe that, why should I believe in his God? In such illogical leaps do our beliefs often originate, to be disciplined later in life by elaborate rationalization."
Over the last year and a half, such "elaborate rationalizations" of atheism have spawned a spate of books condemning God, religion, and religious believers. Christopher Hitchens' book, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything reached #1 on the New York Times bestseller list in just three weeks. Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion has sold over 1.5 million copies and has been translated into 31 languages. It was on the New York Times bestseller list for 51 weeks. The BBC produced a two-hour documentary based on the book, entitled, "Religion: The Root of All Evil?"
Many critics have pointed out that the appeal of these books is less in the soundness of their arguments than in the eloquence of their prose. As Bruce DeSilva of the Associated Press wrote: "Hitchens has nothing new to say, although it must be acknowledged that he says it exceptionally well."
The venom of their invective actually turns these proud rationalists into irrational hate-mongers.
Five of the six books constituting the neo-atheist crusade can be dismissed as screeds, full of what Theodore Dalrymple describes as "sloppiness and lack of intellectual scruple, with the assumption of certainty where there is none." The venom of their invective against God and religious believers actually turns these proud rationalists into irrational hate-mongers. Witness Sam Harris's declaration in his book The End of Faith: "The link between belief and behavior raises the stakes considerably. Some propositions are so dangerous that it may be ethical to kill people for believing them."
Obviously, such a diatribe does not merit a rational rebuttal.
1. THE DANGER OF RELIGION?
Only The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, a professor of evolutionary biology at Oxford, merits serious discussion. Dawkins advances four basic arguments.
One is that religion is dangerous. His BBC documentary begins with the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. He then shows footage of wounded Israelis after a suicide bombing. From this he pans to pictures of Hasidic Jews praying at the Western Wall, and announces, "Religious terrorism is the logical outcome of deeply held faith."
Dawkins's distorted syllogism -- that because Muslim terrorists are religious and Muslim terrorists murder, therefore all religious people are potential murderers -- is enough to make a freshman student of logic go apoplectic.
The obvious rebuttal of Dawkins's allegation that religion causes terrorism, wars, crusades, inquisitions, jihad, etc. is a cursory look at the genocides of the 20th century. An estimated 80,000,000 human beings were murdered in the course of the 20th century (not including war casualties), and they were all murdered by atheists: Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao.
Dawkins writes that this point comes up "after just about every public lecture that I ever give on the subject of religion, and in most of my radio interviews as well." He then devotes seven pages to attempting to prove that Hitler was not an atheist but a Catholic. He sums up this section: "Stalin was probably an atheist and Hitler probably wasn't; but even if they were both atheists, the bottom line of the Stalin/Hitler debating point is very simple. Individual atheists may do evil things but they don't do evil things in the name of atheism."
If Dawkins had asked Stalin or Mao if they were motivated by their ideology, they would certainly have contended that all their policies derived directly from their Communist principles. Even today the Communist regime of China is cutting open live Falon Gong practitioners and removing their vital organs for sale on the lucrative organ transplant market. This atrocity is consistent with their atheistic ideology that regards human beings in exclusively economic terms and denies that human life is sacred because human beings were created "in the image of God." Since Communism is an inherently atheistic system that denies both God and the Divine soul, Dawkins's contention that atheists "don't do evil things in the name of atheism" is blatantly false.
It's like saying medicine is evil because Dr. Josef Mengele committed heinous acts in the name of medical research.
Furthermore, to say that religion is evil because religious people have committed heinous acts in the name of religion is like saying medicine is evil because Dr. Josef Mengele committed heinous acts against the subjects of his Auschwitz experiments in the name of medical research. One can take any constructive enterprise and use it for destructive purposes. This offers no grounds for condemning the enterprise itself.
One of the many distortions in which all the neo-atheist books abound is that they rant about the evil byproducts of religion without ever mentioning religion's benefits to every society throughout history. As Theodore Dalrymple observes: "The thinness of the new atheism is evident in its approach to our civilization, which until recently was religious to its core. To regret religion is, in fact, to regret our civilization and its monuments, its achievements, and its legacy."
Dalrymple gives as examples the Cathedral of Chartres and the Saint Matthew Passion. Judaism can point to its legacy of Western values. As Ken Spiro demonstrates in his book WorldPerfect, Judaism has given the world its core values: respect for human life, peace, justice, equality before the law, education, and social responsibility.
Even Oxford University, where Prof. Dawkins enjoys tenure, was founded nine centuries ago by religious Christians, among them the Bishop of Rochester.
2. SCIENCE VS. RELIGION
Dawkins contends that religion and science are irrevocably opposed. He maintains that, unlike science, faith in God is irrational:. "Faith demands a positive suspension of critical faculties." The Dawkins dogma states: "Science uses reason and evidence to reach logical conclusions. Religion is about turning untested belief into unshakable truth through the power of institutions and the passage of time."
Dawkins, who was raised in the Church of England, naturally associates religion with irrational beliefs such as the virgin birth and God impregnating a human being to give birth to a God-man. This, however, has nothing to do with Judaism. Just open a page of the Talmud, read Maimonides, or spend one hour learning in a yeshiva, and you will experience Judaism's rigorous argumentation to discern the truth. The primary focus in Judaism is the study of Torah and the development, not the "suspension," of critical faculties.
Judaism's perfectly rational belief in God, as enunciated by Maimonides, is that there must be a non-physical, infinite source of the physical, finite universe. As will be shown below, there is no other plausible explanation for how the universe got here.
Einstein understood that the beginning of the universe implies a transcendent force that brought it into being. That's why for so long he clung to his belief in a static universe (one that had always existed, and therefore had no beginning) and resisted the mounting evidence for an expanding universe.
As Lawrence Kelemen in his book Permission to Believe, explains the challenge posed by an expanding universe:
Why would a dot containing all matter and energy -- a dot that sat quietly for an eternity -- suddenly explode? The Law of Inertia insists that objects at rest should remain at rest unless acted upon by an external force. Since all matter and energy would be contained within this dot, there could be nothing outside the dot to get things going—nothing natural, at least. What force could have ignited the initial explosion?
Faced with evidence of an expanding universe discovered by astronomer Vesto Slipher and deduced by mathematicians Willem de Sitter and Alexander Friedman, Einstein refused to accept the inevitable conclusion. "I have not yet fallen into the hands of the priests," was Einstein's famous response to the possibility of an expanding universe. Clearly he understood that an expanding universe must have a non-physical First Cause.
Since then, of course, science has proven that the universe is expanding from the original event known as the Big Bang. This reality gives scientific backing to Maimonides' philosophical contention that a supernatural force must have initiated the natural universe.
The respected journal Astrophysics and Space Science [issue 269-270 (1999)] states clearly that the Big Bang points to a "transcendent cause of the universe":
The absolute origin of the universe, of all matter and energy, even of physical space and time themselves, in the Big Bang singularity contradicts the perennial naturalistic assumption that the universe has always existed. One after another, models designed to avert the initial cosmological singularity--the Steady State model, the Oscillating model, Vacuum Fluctuation models--have come and gone. Current quantum gravity models, such as the Hartle-Hawking model and the Vilenkin model, must appeal to the physically unintelligible and metaphysically dubious device of "imaginary time" to avoid the universe's beginning. The contingency implied by an absolute beginning ex nihilo points to a transcendent cause of the universe beyond space and time. Philosophical objections to a cause of the universe fail to carry conviction. [pp. 723-740]
In a flippant two and a half pages, Dawkins dismisses Thomas Aquinas' proofs for the existence of God (Maimonides, who preceded Aquinas by two centuries, writes similar arguments). "The five ‘proofs' asserted by Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century don't prove anything, and are easily -- though I hesitate to say so, given his eminence -- exposed as vacuous." [p. 100]
Dawkins simply fails to understand the depth of argument of philosophy, and is too arrogant to admit when he's out of his element.
Dawkins's rebuttal of Aquinas would earn him a "D" in any first year philosophy course. A biologist, not a philosopher, Dawkins simply fails to understand the depth of argument of philosophy, and is too arrogant to admit when he's out of his element.
The problem of "First Cause" is the knock-out argument against which Dawkins has no defense. Even if Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist, could prove that human beings evolved out of some primordial soup, evolution still begs the bigger questions: Where did the elements of the primordial soup come from? What caused the first particles to come into being? What caused the Big Bang? How can you believe in a beginning without also believing in a beginner? To these classical challenges to atheism, Dawkins offers no response.
Dawkins's sanguine belief that although scientists have not yet created life, someday in the future they will succeed, suspiciously resembles messianic hopes:
I shall not be surprised if, within the next few years, chemists report that they have successfully midwifed a new origin of life in the laboratory. Nevertheless it hasn't happened yet, and it is still possible to maintain that the probability of its happening is, and always was, exceedingly low -- although it did happen once! [p. 165]
Of course Dawkins would then have to explain how to do it without having the original chemicals. Dawkins may be able to make a salad, but let's see him create the vegetables.
Dawkins's insistence that religion and science contradict each other dismisses with an imperious sweep of the hand an entire body of work written by respected scientists who show that science in fact corroborates the Genesis narrative. Although the bibliography of such books is too lengthy to list here, three excellent examples are: The Science of God: The Convergence of Scientific and Biblical Wisdom by M.I.T. physicist Dr. Gerald Schroeder, The Language of God by Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the Human Genome Project, who, by the way, grew up as an agnostic, and There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind by Anthony Flew and Roy Varghese.
3. RELIGIOUS EDUCATION AS CHILD ABUSE
Dawkins's third point is that indoctrinating children with religious teachings is akin to child abuse, because they prevent children from learning to think independently.. He writes that terms like "Catholic child" or "Muslim child" should make people flinch.
Dawkins is, in fact, surprisingly tolerant of the sexual abuse of children. He writes: "We live in a time of hysteria about pedophilia ... It is clearly unjust to visit upon all pedophiles a vengeance appropriate to the tiny minority who are also murderers." [p. 354-5] He has, however, zero tolerance for what he considers the far worse crime of raising a child in a particular religion:
Once, in the question time after a lecture in Dublin, I was asked what I thought about the widely publicized cases of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Ireland. I replied that, horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place. [p. 356]
While it takes a whole book to refute a book, suffice it to say that all parents, whether religious or secular, inculcate their children with their own beliefs. Does Dawkins not raise his children with a prejudice to be pro-democracy? Anti-cocaine? In the name of intellectual honesty, would he expose his children to every perverse element of society? In the name of intellectual balance, would he permit his children to study Muslim theology in a Saudi mosque for a few months?
4. DARWINIAN MORALITY
Dawkins' final point is that human beings don't need religion for morality. In his BBC documentary, as a troop of chimpanzees frolics in the background, he asserts that morality is also the product of evolution.
His explanation is simple: "Morality stems from altruistic genes naturally selected in our evolutionary past." Pointing to the social structures abounding in the animal kingdom, he asserts that "survival of the fittest" favored the evolutionary development of moral traits:
Natural selection favours genes that predispose individuals, in relationships of asymmetric need and opportunity, to give when they can, and to solicit giving when they can't. It also favors tendencies to remember obligations, bear grudges, police exchange relationships and punish cheats who take, but don't give when their turn comes. [pp. 248-9]
Here the title of Dawkins's documentary,"Religion: The Root of All Evil" turns out to be true, although not in the way he intended. Religion is indeed the root of all evil, because without religion there would be no concept of "evil." And religion is also the root of all good. Simply put, without religion determining an absolute system of values, what makes anything evil or good?
If human beings were nothing but advanced monkeys, as evolutionists would have us believe, the concept of morality would be irrelevant. A lion that devours a kicking and struggling "innocent" zebra is not "evil." She is merely following her instinct, and instincts in the animal kingdom carry no moral value.
Dawkins offers an example: "Vampire bats learn which other individuals of their social group can be relied upon to pay their debts (in regurgitated blood) and which individuals cheat." [p. 248] But is the bat who pays his debts "good" and the bat who cheats "evil"? Of course not.
According to Dawkins, the terrorists flying into the Twin Towers are no different than the lion devouring the zebra.
By taking God out of the picture there is nothing evil about evil. According to Dawkins, the terrorists flying into the Twin Towers are no different than the lion devouring the zebra.
Even in the development of human civilization, social contracts were expedient rather than moral. The Code of Hammurabi, for example, prohibits stealing for the mutual protection of property rights, not because stealing is "evil."
Morality could have been introduced into the world only by God, for no one else has the arbitrary right to declare universal standards of right and wrong. And much of the morality that God ordained is counter-intuitive and goes against instinct.
For example, historian Paul Johnson [A History of the Jews, p. 34] has pointed out that, among all the legal codes of the ancient Near East, only the Bible declared that crimes against property are never capital, because the sacredness of human life supersedes property values. The Torah also commands people to release the debts owed to them at the end of every seven years, to return purchased land to its original owner every fifty years, to proactively intercede when another person's life is in danger, and to not carry a grudge or take revenge. (Remember Dawkins's statement, quoted above, that natural selection favors those who "bear grudges.") (1)
In his duel against religion Richard Dawkins chose his weapon: rationality. While he certainly gets points for his eloquent use of the Queen's English and for his cynical wit, in terms of rational argument Dawkins wields a dull sword indeed.
(1) Most laughable is Dawkins' attempt to show the strides made in a constantly evolving morality. His "proof" that morality evolves is that a half century ago in England almost everyone was racist, and now almost no one is racist. A half century ago almost everyone was homophobic and now the majority is not. This is the apex of moral evolution in Dawkins' estimation.
But what about the Holocaust? The present genocide in Darfur? The stealing of organs of live Falon Gong practitioners? The sadism that accompanied or accompanies each of these atrocities dramatically refutes any notion of moral evolution. Dawkins's fancied "moral evolution" must mean that human beings are demonstrably less barbaric with the passing of centuries, but in terms of moral level, Rudolph Hoess, the commandant of Auschwitz, had nothing over Genghis Khan.