By Jay Mathews, Nashville, TN
“How do we respond to the attacks of the ‘new atheists’ like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris?”
Here is a response to Sam Harris’ article in last year’s Newsweek:
I Am the Most Dangerous Man in the World?
In the Nov 13, 2006 edition of Newsweek Magazine, renowned atheist, Sam Harris unleashed his heartfelt beliefs about people of faith…. we pose a “tremendous danger.”
The basic points of Harris’ arguments include (1) science has forever debunked faith, (2) Christians’ belief in the end of the world give them “no incentive to build a sustainable civilization,” (3) religion elevates morality over human and animal suffering, and (5) because of fanatical belief, religion is the most dangerous institution in the world. While I may be wasting time and ink writing a rebuttal to Mr. Harris, I can’t resist using my newly declared notorious state to ease the fear of all the atheists and agnostics within my reach.
I do want to make it clear that to treat all faiths as equal is the most improper presupposition of our post-modern carnage. All religions are not the same. They have different systems and practices. I do believe that jihadist Islam poses a violent danger to our world today. All religions have the possibility of perpetrating great oppression and harm. One has to look no farther than the Crusades to see the destruction that misguided human beings can cause in the name of religious belief.
But even in the case of the Crusades, there are fundamental differences in belief. The Crusades demonstrate followers of Islam doing what their faith requires them to do and followers of Christ ignoring what their Savior requires them to do. The Crusades represent Islam at its best and Christianity at its worst.
To lump all religions together for the purpose of generalizing criticism of faith makes as much sense as criticizing all people of non-faith by looking at the actions of Joseph Stalin.
I am a teacher and coach at a Christian School in the United States of America. I love my wife and three children. We read the Bible, pray, worship in a local congregation. We live about as simple a life as one can live in the 21st century. We give to missions and desire to tell others what the Lord has done for us. May I use this simple and dangerous position to counter a few of Mr. Harris’ assertions?
One, science has not eliminated Christian belief or doctrine. It is proper to say that the relationship between Christianity and Science is not without controversy. There has often been strenuous debate between the Church and scientists, who often held the same beliefs. As a believer in Christ and the Bible in 2007, I can say that we live in advantageous times because of the light of science and the truth of Scripture. Both are helpful when they are properly placed according to their use. Science is limited concerning many matters of life and faith.
Today, there is a scientific jihad as non-faith scientists try to use reason to trump faith. They use superiority of educational pedigree to intimidate the public. The average person today does not understand, for example, that traditional Darwinian evolution is no longer acceptable as an explanation for the origin of life as we know it. When scientists say, ‘Evolution is a fact” they are not honestly representing the actual assertion of that quote.
There is ample scientific data that supports ‘microevolution’ and many natural history museums have altars to that truth. Microevolution is the accepted and provable truth that certain species have changed through slight, successive adaptations based on the ability to survive the environmental challenges to their survival.
The problem with this scientific mantra is that it is the end of the statement of fact and the beginning of the propagation of the myth. In the study of evolution, there is no observable data to support ‘macroevolution” or the ability for these adaptations to change into new species. M.I.T. physicist Geoffrey Schroeder correctly points out his analysis of the impressive display and tribute to evolution that is found in the Natural History Museum in London. “It is all impressive. Impressive, until you are able to walk out and reflect upon that which they are able to document. Daisies remained daisies, moths remained moths, and cichlid fish remained cichlid fish. (The Science of God pg. 31).
When non-faith adherents attack intelligent design and other theories about the origin of the species as “faith” and their acceptance of evolution as “science” they are pulling a slight of hand. All debates about the origin of life are debates of faith and not observable by true science.
As a Christian, I see little controversy about what science has discovered and what the Bible teaches. I believe in the existence of God and the creation of life. I believe God has given science as a wonderful gift to uncover His grand design. Science does not discredit the Bible at all. If anything, it helps the Bible make more sense. My better understanding of the natural does not negate my belief in the supernatural. When science stays within its proper boundaries, it strengthens our wonder about the majesty of the Designer!
The second incorrect assumption asserted by Harris is that Christians have no vested interest in preserving civilization. I will admit that we often stumble in our mandates from the Creator, but Mr. Harris does not understand Biblical teaching on our responsibilities to our bodies, our nations, and our planet. God has instructed His followers to be good stewards of all with which they have been entrusted. C.S. Lewis correctly pointed out “If you read history you will find that Christians who did most for this present world were those who thought most of the next.” (Mere Christianity 134) A recent book suggests that current data demonstrates that Christians give more and do more than their non-faith counter parts. How many “Atheist Homes for the Poor or Orphans” exist in the world today? To assert that Christians have no vested interest in this present age because of the hope of Jesus’ return makes as much sense as a student wanting to destroy his undergraduate resume because of an eagerness to succeed in graduate school.
Christians are re-discovering our need to serve the poor and help the weak. History shows the church to often be slow in addressing human misery, but Christians are found in every hard circumstance loving. serving, and persevering. People of non-faith, if true to their world-view, should turn to destroy the weak as an act of nature’s law of survival of the fittest.
Harris’ weakest argument is his assertion that Christian’s obsession with right or wrong leads to unnecessary human or animal suffering. It is also the atheist’s weakest position. If there is no God, what is justice? What is love? Why is goodness even a pursuit? Why be unselfish? Why have any values at all?
The belief in right and wrong is what holds the world together. Even though we debate what is right and wrong, our belief in right and wrong is universal and necessary. The fact that values sometimes rule over human comfort is actually a comfort in and of itself. Values restrain our harmful human impulses. Restraint produces order.
As a Christian, I do value “life” as a gift from God and this belief requires me to hold life as sacred. I do believe God has clearly communicated his desires for love, service, truth telling, and unselfishness. The more we hold to these values, the better life is. Test tube ethics will always default to heartless pragmatism. In a world without values, the atheist’s utopia would be the horrible display of death and oppression that would make Joseph Stalin look like a saint.
Is the Christian Church “dangerous?” Christianity has done more to promote love and humility than any other movement in history. If you remove Christian work and influence, how many hospitals, homeless shelters, orphanages, educational institutions, good laws, powerful leaders, and beautiful artists would never have had the positive influence and redemptive power that the world has enjoyed?
The bottom line is that our greatest danger is that we ever lose the life and faith of Jesus in our society. The cultural landscape grows darker and colder as we stab at the Creator and deny His right for our adoration. The time for repentance is now.