Willow Creek, Dawkins, and Cloud

Last Tuesday morning, I flew back to Chicago to teach and perform at the Willow Creek Arts Conference.  After a dip in last year’s attendance, this year’s conference attracted around 5000 from around the country, all of them involved in various ministries in their local churches.  Musicians, actors, writers, dancers, technicians, and many of the pastors that lead them were there to be encouraged, trained, and renewed.  It’s a privilege to get to be a part of the team that is working with these artists.   I flew home Friday morning both inspired and refreshed, my state of mind better than its been in awhile.  But it wasn’t just the time with my friends Steve Pederson, Mark Demel and Rod Armentrout, and it wasn’t just the inspiring keynote given by National Geographic photographer Dewitt Jones, and it wasn’t just the warm response I got from the folks attending my classes and watching Leaving Ruin.

Partially, it was the reading of two books that have each challenged me to face some realities in my life.

The first was Richard Dawkins The God Delusion.   My last blog entry was about the new Atheists that are dotting the NY Times Bestseller lists, and I decided to get one of the books and actually read it.  Dawkins is a fine writer and obviously a deeply thoughtful and intelligent man who is serious about the damage he believes religion does to the world.   I’m still working on my specific response to many of the points in the book, but what the read did for me is to challenge my thinking about why I believe what I believe. In other words, it called me to examine the reality of my faith and my reasoning behind it, both on the intellectual side and the experiential side.  There are issues related to the text of the Bible that Dawkins raises that need to be addressed in my own study.  And it is plain that–given that he does not believe in God–he is working very hard to come up with a Darwinian rationale for what he plainly sees is a stunning and glorious world.  What do you do when the glory of God is in your bones, but there’s no God?   For me, where the book really fails to convince is when it comes to finding a basis for morality outside the realm of God.

What Dawkins refutes is that the Bible is the basis for morality, which he assumes is the stance of most Christians.  Philosophically speaking, my thinking is that it is not the Bible that is the basis for morality.  It is the character of God as poured into us by means of God placing his image inside us.  In other words, if for some reason there were no Bible to read, we would still live as if there were good and evil to discover.   Granted, it’s the Bible that gives us the knowledge to understand this, if we buy the thrust of what the Genesis story is telling us about humanity.

But I will also confess that I am curious about Dawkins’ eloquent defense of natural selection.  I keep expecting him to capitalize it, as in ‘Natural Selection’ because he constantly speaks of it as having will and direction.  He claims (and for the moment, I grant it to him) that natural selection is the very opposite of “chance.”  So Francis Schaeffer’s accusation that people like Dawkins are selling us “time + chance + nothing” is supposedly bogus.

Dawkins’ argument is mostly built on the idea that small probabilities are legitimate, while large improbabilities are not, and that the leap from what Schaeffer would call “nothing-nothing” into “something” is a small step from an infinitely simple thing that is unknown to a slightly more complex “singularity” that then begins the eons long process that has led us to now.  He rejects God primarily because God is the biggest improbability of all, and because God cannot, by default, be known by any emperical means.  God is not material, therefore he is monstrously improbable and outside the realm of scientific observation and study: therefore, he does not exist.

I hesitate to write anything about this book or my process with it, because the demands of taking on Dawkins and the rest of the atheists in point by point discussion and dialogue could easily take over mental energy and space that would stop all other activities.  My take is that I will continue to read and look for answers, as well as examine my own reasons for my faith in God.

As I sat at Willow, worshipping, watching the worshippers, seeing the joy and hunger of the people there, I couldn’t help but wonder what a world in which no one believed in God would be like.  Somehow, I can’t see how it would be a better world.   Dawkins trots out the worst of believers to shore up his honest contempt for religion, but it seems unbelievably naive of someone of his intellect to gloss the good that comes from those of us following Christ.  It is also naive, or just plain ignorant and disrespectful, to assume   that all religious people are intellectual pigmies.  He makes us sound pretty silly with rhetoric that is designed to do just that.  Maybe I’m just locked inside my own set of cultural glasses, but a world without God looks far, far darker than a world where God offers hope of love and peace.  I know, I know, fundamentalists are prone to dive off the deep end into wars and destruction, but that is not be set at God’s feet.

We are a broken people.

The other book I’ll write about tomorrow: Dr. Henry Cloud’s book Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality.

By the way, Dawkins never takes on the concept of evil…curious…

3 Replies to “Willow Creek, Dawkins, and Cloud”

  1. As we were leaving the Fremont Fair yesterday, we passed a booth where several folks were lined up waiting to have a card reading. Sarah remarked that it was amazing that people really believe that stuff. I replied that, to them, us believing in God is just as silly.

  2. “In other words, if for some reason there were no Bible to read, we would still live as if there were good and evil to discover.”

    Psalm 19 speaks to this.

    And I am always amazed to listen to those like Dawkins that speak with such certainty about the absence of God, yet perhaps the most scientific of the scientists, the physicists, concede that well over 90% of ALL of the universe is in the realm of ‘black matter’ or in laymen’s terms, the unknown. So they have 10 pieces of the 100 piece jigsaw puzzle and still speak with such confidence. As Jesus said of the centurion, “What faith!”

  3. I’ve often considered picking up Dawkins’ book but others have demanded my attention. At our church, we wrestle with the fact that, while most people have no interest in the church, they have a tremendous interest in things spiritual and Jesus in particular.
    We encounter very few true athiests. Unfortunately the church has lost a lot of credibility in recent (and not so recent) years because the reality is that people don’t appear to have any real connection with the God of the universe other than an intellectual assent to a list of beliefs and adhering to a lifestyle governed by rules and often just a rejection of the culture around them. Seeing true transformation and abundant life empowered by the Holy Spirit is very rare indeed.
    Christianity has, unfortunately in many eyes been reduced to a form without the power that is claimed.
    Fortunately, God can still speak today and despite people like Dawkins, the vast majority of people still believe in (a) God. Christians all too often just try to out-argue the athiest instead of living lives that show that God is real by the way they live.
    If we could only figure this out, we would perhaps have the answer to the arguments without ever saying a word.

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