Thursday, April 10, 2008

Dawkins v. Lennox

We watched the DVD of this debate from last year over two life group evenings, and it was very interesting. The basic premise was it pitched Richard "The God Delusion" Dawkins against Dr John Lennox, who I hadn't heard of before, but is the author of a very interesting-looking book called God's Undertaker.

I have to admit Dawkins was much less impressive than I thought he would be. He seemed unwilling to defend his arguments as vigorously as I expected. He also didn't like the set-up of the 'debate', which was more like a plenary than a proper debate, with little or no opportunity to comment on the opposing viewpoint. In fact, it was only when Dawkins and Lennox broke free from the imposed structure that the most interesting interchanges took place.

What struck me was how easy Lennox found it to rile Dawkins, who often appeared very short-tempered when arguing with Lennox's points. He certainly didn't come across as a superior thinker. Many of his criticisms of religion were straw-man arguments, although he did make some very valid points which I agreed with - especially regarding the ideas that a person's faith wasn't open to debate, and that teaching 'faith' as a virtue in itself could lead to extremism.

There was also the age-old: "Religion's done terrible things" - "So has atheism" exchanges. Personally I'd like to see the argument go beyond this. Both religion and atheism give people an excuse to commit atrocities - any ideology that's bigger then you, whether you're fighting in the name of god, or in the name of the people - will let you justify murder. What's more interesting is why human beings allow themselves to abdicate their personal responsibility in the name of a greater cause.

The debate about where morality comes from was also very interesting - especially the mystery of how would we develop a sense of injustice in a universe with no underlying justice. Unfortunately, this theme wasn't developed in any great detail, which is a pity, because the existence of morality is about the only classical argument for god's existence to hold any water. Which may be why Dawkins stepped round that debating point.

Dawkins' last word was to dismiss Lennox's appeal to the ressurrection. "It's so petty, and trivial, and unworthy of the universe," he said. Which, when you think about it was kind of the point of the resurrection... It's an interesting theological point, which I'm sure Richard Dawkins is quite unaware of.

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