British Archbishops and the ‘new atheism’ February 18, 2011
Jonathan Wynne-Jones, Religious Affairs Correspondent, The Daily Telegraph, UK, writes on 06 Feb 2011:
‘Members of the General Synod, the [UK Anglican] Church’s parliament, will be asked at this week’s meeting to back [a] landmark report, which outlines a vision to ensure a strong future of the Church. Commissioned by Dr Williams and Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, it says that religion in Britain is under threat from atheists, but admits that the Church faces many internal problems as well, from ageing congregations to rows over homosexuality.
‘Drawing particular attention to the threat posed by a new movement of militant atheists, led by Dawkins and Hitchens, it says the Church must respond if it is not to be pushed from the public square. “One of the paradoxes of recent times has been the increasing secularisation of society and attempts to marginalise religion alongside an increasing interest in spiritual issues and in the social and cultural implications of religious faith” says the report, called “Challenges for the New Quinquennium”.
‘The Church must be “explicit about the need to counter attempts to marginalise Christianity and to treat religious faith more generally as a social problem,” it says. “This is partly about taking on the ‘new atheism’. Bishops have a key role here both as public apologists and as teachers of the faith.” The Church is keen to address the rise of new atheism, which has grown over recent years with the publication of bestselling books arguing against religion.’ (end of quote).
Considering that Richard Dawkins published his best-selling book “The God delusion” five years ago in 2006, the Bishops’ declaration of war on the ‘new atheism’, though welcome, seems somewhat tardy. Meanwhile, of course, many authors on both sides of the Atlantic (not all of them Christian) have taken up the cudgels against Dawkins and his allies, whose ranks have sadly been augmented by renowned cosmologist Stephen Hawking with his recent co-authored book “The Grand Design”. Never mind that both Dawkins’ and Hawking’s books have been rubished by fellow scientists and even by some atheists, the fact remains that these books sell in their millions while theistic rejoinders barely make it to the bookshop shelves. The Bishops need to ponder why this is so. Let me suggest some reasons.
At the top of the list, without hesitation, I put the almost universal acceptance of the theory of macro-evolution (all living things have arisen by common descent from some primordial life-form which itself came into existence by a chance combination of chemicals). When I sent a copy of my own book “Who made God?” to Dr John Sentamu, the Anglican Archbishop of York, I received a most gracious reply. But significantly he began his short appraisal of the book by writing: “I note that you oppose the biologists’ evolutionary theory which is accepted by many Christians”. And this highlights the problem that faces the Church … most leading figures in most denominations and most Western lands have bought into the mistaken idea that science and religion are two different ‘magisteria’ which neither overlap nor interact ( see WMG pp. 61-62, 83-84). Although this ‘complementarity’ avoids certain practical problems, if adopted as an over-riding paradigm it effectively banishes God and biblical revelation from the world of nature. Thus Hawking is at liberty to declare that even the laws of nature ‘created themselves’ without the involvement of an intelligent Creator. His argument crashes even before take-off, of course (see my articles on this website), but the protests have come more from fellow-scientists than from theologians who have remained strangely muted … gagged by the complementarity paradigm which scares them into silence.
This problem arises in its strongest form with the theory of macro-evolution. As I seek to show in WMG, this theory has little genuinely scientific support but is ‘sold’ as true science on the deceitful grounds that micro-evolution (small-scale changes in organisms) is an established fact. Virtually all the evidence offered for evolutionary origins rests on observations of micro-evolution (plus an interpretation of the fossil record based upon macro-evolutionary presuppositions). Yet scientists know all too well the dangers of extrapolating small-scale processes beyond the range in which they can be tested experimentally. Why, then, do evolutionists do it? Because complementarity frees them from any consideration of non-material processes such as divine creation and commits them to the fiction that science must, by definition, be able to explain everything by purely natural cause and effect.
Thus mankind is the product of a mindless and purposeless process of macro- evolution and no room is left for a God who made man in His own image. By the same thought process, God becomes quietly defined as a God-of-the-gaps, useful only for plugging the gaps in scientific knowledge until such time as science explains everything and God becomes totally redundant.
Until the Churches and their leaders understand that they are up against a complementarian worldview, and not simply some maverick atheists like Dawkins and his friends, they will, I fear, have little success in combatting atheism, either old or new. Their first need, therefore, is to abandon the complementarian mind-set that they have themselves adopted and start taking seriously the biblical concept of a God who is ‘lord of heaven and earth … [who] gives to all life and breath and all things … [and in whom] we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:22-34).