Richard Dawkins – pleasantly surprised

Richard Dawkins - no horns and tail evident!Last night I had the dubious privilege of attending “a conversation with Richard Dawkins.” It was a well scripted chance for Dawkins to wind up his opponents in what the BBC dubbed the Scottish Bible Belt. If Dawkins expected a hostile crowd, he couldn’t have been more disappointed – the rapturous applause after his first “reading” gave the game way – he was preaching to the choir.

The UHI event was called “Science and the God Delusion.” Dawkins is to be admired for his promotion of science and reason – he stands against the some post-modern jibberish the church contents with. But his arguments were not those of a good debater – and I feel some of his statements were frankly contradictory. At the start of the interview, he spoke of the tremendous steps science has taken in recent years, and how science itself will soon be able to answer the question of why we are here. He was later asked about the right of science to answer the “why” questions – which he dodged, and actually said some why questions are silly and don’t deserve to be asked. The two statements were difficult to reconcile.

There was one point during the Q&A where Dawkins sense of wonder was evident. You need a sense of wonder to be a scientist. He was responding to a question about whether the latest scientific advances would put a final nail in the lid of religion. He spoke about a visit to CERN at Geneva as a “moving experience”. He spoke about the potential discoveries that such a facility could make, and was obviously excited. But, he said there was no guarantee about how someone would respond. Some would have a “religious”experience of awe at the wonder of science, while others would see these wonders as a religious experience of the glory of their god. At that moment I was convinced of the truth of Romans 1 – God’s invisible attributes (power and nature) are there to see the created world, but we suppress that truth, and exchange that glory for images and idols. My perception of Dawkins changed at that point.

Dawkins, and his followers, are demanding more from the Church. The crowd wanted to talk about pressing issues – global population explosion, climate change, resource depletion, species extinction. But we are happy to shout over their heads with self-satisfying arguments about prophecy, or confused “churchish” talk about evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit. That just isn’t where Dawkins is at – but we’re quite happy fishing in a different pool. Dawkins and co. demand our best Christian thought be applied to the issues of the day, and if coming to our level was good enough for Jesus, surely we can come down (from the lofty heights of the finer points of doctrine) to Dawkins level too?

The presence of men like Dawkins confirm so much theology I hold dear – we are created in the image of God, given to reason, creativity, and investigation. But at the same time we suppress the greatest object of wonder, and accept tawdry second rate substitutes. Dawkins could make an amazing theologian (you need a sense of wonder to by gripped by theology), but he has written God off as at best a bullying thug, before grappling with the evidence of why God might appear that way. Maybe we need to better explain our theology.

So, verdict on Dawkins – he’s not that scary, and is presenting a massive wake up call to the church, which we ignore at the peril of thousands of people who don’t know their left hand from their right, and also much cattle.