Richard Dawkins is an atheist who has written a best seller entitled The God Delusion. I was able to spend some time with him since he was in New York City on Tuesday. Specifically, I spent time listening to him take calls on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show and then spent time watching him interview with Bill O’Reilly in the evening on the fair and balanced Fox News Channel.
Dawkins likes to compare belief in God – any god – to the belief in fairies. He admits, if you listen closely, that he cannot actually be certain God does not exist; but he always adds that he is just as certain God does not exist as that fairies don’t exist. Fairies and God – same basic evidence available for each.
This is highly misleading and disingenuous. There is a vast difference between the evidence for believing in God and the evidence for fairies, unicorns, or Santa Claus. Serious scholars have embraced Christianity for a range of reasons and various types of evidence. There is a reason that thick books are written concerning the evidence for the existence of God and no one writes these books about Tinkerbell. There is a reason why scientists raise challenging (and therefore silenced) objections to traditional evolutionary theory and yet propose intelligent design rather than fairy magic.
Surely Dawkins knows this, but this serves a rhetorical purpose and gets folks like me worked up. But almost as disturbing as Dawkins’ smug assertions was that on the radio interview neither the host (one of my favorite interviewers) nor any caller effectively challenged these ridiculous statements equating God with characters in children’s pop-up books. For the record, I listened by podcast rather than live, so I couldn’t call in to say, “Ummm, no.”
Enter Bill O’Reilly.
For the record, I appreciate O’Reilly. I don’t watch him regularly, but I prefer him to many but not all of his mainstream counterparts. O’Reilly, a Roman Catholic, defended belief in God against Dawkins as best he could. But in my opinion O’Reilly sold the farm:
O’Reilly: It helps me as a person.
Dawkins: That’s different, if it helps you, great, but that doesn’t mean it’s true.
O': Well, it’s true for me.
D: You mean true for you is different than true for anyone else?
O': Yes, absolutely.
D: Something has to be either true or not.
O': I cannot prove to you that Jesus is God. So that truth is mine and mine alone. But you cannot prove that he is not. So you have to stay in your little belief system and I—
D: You cannot prove that Zeus is not, you can’t prove that Apollo is not…
O': (Makes joke and changes subject.)
Once you say “it’s true for me” it’s all over. Dawkins is right: something is either true or not. That’s something we can agree on. (View video here.)
While I don’t expect atheists to convert to Christianity based on a radio call-in show, I would like to see Christianity represented well. There was a time, I think, when even those who agreed with Dawkins’ basic principles wouldn’t have accepted his caricature of the Christian faith. And there was a time when no one would have relied on the argument it’s true for me.
I know argument alone will not change someone’s core beliefs, something deeper is needed spark a transformation. Yet as a starting point, we need intelligently designed arguments. On both sides.