Dawkins Comes to the Bible Belt

Dawkins Comes to the Bible Belt

CNN interviewed Richard Dawkins when he spoke in Atlanta concerning the teaching of evolution to children, "moral progress", and more

Transcript Dawkins Comes to the Bible Belt

Kevin Harris:Dr. Craig, there is one thing that you and Richard Dawkins have in common, and that is that you're both sick of people trying to get the two of you to debate. But you have interacted with his work quite a lot, and it got our attention that he came through Atlanta, which is not far from where we are right now. And he says that he enjoys speaking to people in the Bible belt. A couple of things in this interview with CNN.[1] “How do you think evolution should be taught to children?” And he gets very philosophical here. He says, “I would teach evolution very early in childhood because you can't begin to understand biology, you can't understand life, unless you understand what's it's all there for, how it arose – and that means evolution.” And so he says,

There’s only one game in town as far as serious science is concerned. It’s not that there are two different theories. No serious scientist doubts that we are cousins of gorillas, we are cousins of monkeys, we are cousins of snails, we are cousins of earthworms. We have shared ancestors with all animals and all plants. There is no serious scientist who doubts that evolution is a fact.

Dr. Craig: I think this depends on what one means by the word evolution. Evolution is an accordion word that can be expanded or contracted in it's meaning as fits the context. Francisco Ayala, a very, very eminent evolutionary biologist, makes the point that evolution can be understood in at least three senses. The first sense would be the sense that present day organisms are descended from earlier organisms with modification. And he says when scientists say that evolution is a fact or that no serious scientist doubts evolution, that's what they mean: that present day organisms are descended from prior organisms with modification. Now the odd thing about that, Kevin, is that everybody, even the most Bible-literalistic young earth creationist believes that. He believes that present day organisms are descended from early organisms with modification. For example, he believes that all human beings are descended from Adam and Eve, and yet look at the modifications that have occurred racially and in skin color among the human family since that time. So truly that is an incontrovertible fact that everybody agrees with. But then the second sense in which evolution can be used, according to Ayala, is to refer to the mechanisms of random mutation and natural selection, and that these mechanisms are the mechanisms responsible for the evolutionary change that has occurred over the years, and this is a more controversial question. Ayala says this is open to debate and there are a good many scientists who think that these mechanisms are not adequate to explain the descent of all life from some primordial ancestor. And then there's the third sense of evolution, which he says is the reconstruction of the tree of life where you reconstruct the tree from its roots showing all the branches and how all the different life forms evolved and which life forms belong on which branch, and he said that is completely up for grabs. Nobody has the ability to reconstruct this tree of life.

So what that means is that evolution is accepted in certain senses but it's by no means uncontroversial in other senses. And I think that we should definitely teach our children evolution. They need to be acquainted with what the evolutionary paradigm is because it's part of the accepted scientific view of the world today, and they need to be aware of it. I think at the same time that we teach it we should also teach what it explains and what it fails to explain, and be willing to look at the evidence for and against it, and, contrary to the thinking of people like Dawkins, there is certainly considerable evidence pro and con concerning those explanatory mechanisms and the reconstruction of the tree of life. In fact there is contradictory evidence to the idea of common descent – the idea that all life is descended from some common single ancestor – that is not an open and shut case. So I definitely think that we need to teach our children about evolutionary theory, and in fact teach them better than what our secular schools do by acquainting them with the evidence pro and con concerning the issue.

Kevin Harris:Again, he waxes quite poetic when he says children need to be “taught where they come from, what life is all about, how it started, why it's there, why there's such diversity of it, why it looks designed.” That's another famous Dawkins [saying].[2]

Dr. Craig: Yes, he admits it looks designed. But isn't it odd that he thinks that evolution can explain why it's there, or what it's all there for? That's teleological language; that's language that suggests purpose. And of course on his own account evolution doesn't explain what it's all there for, unless you're to say simply it's there for nothing. But evolution itself doesn't say that because it's not investigating those kind of teleological questions.

Kevin Harris:The interviewer says, “Why do people cling to these beliefs of creationism and intelligent design?” And before I even give his answer, Bill, we've got seemingly a comparison, a differentiation, between two terms: creationism and intelligent design. So we have a definitional problem, like the word evolution being an accordion word.

Dr. Craig: You've got to define your terms.

Kevin Harris:Dawkins says,

There are many very educated people who are religious but they’re not creationists. There’s a world of difference between a serious religious person and a creationist, and especially a Young Earth Creationist, who thinks the world is only 10,000 years old.

That's a step toward the definition that we're talking about. When you say creation, quite often in the minds of the people who hear it, and in Dawkins’ mind, it means a young earth creationist.

Dr. Craig: I think that he equates the term creationist with the idea of a young earth creationist, as someone who believes the world is only around ten to twenty thousand years old. And if you were to ask “why are there young earth creationists today?” I think they would be quite candid about saying that their belief is based upon the Bible. It's not based upon modern science. I don't think anyone looking at the modern scientific view of the world would come to the conclusion that the world is only ten to twenty thousand years old. This is based upon what they perceive to be divine revelation. So they claim to have an additional source of knowledge that trumps what science might seem to indicate, and then given that revelation, given that truth, then the scientific evidence can be reinterpreted in line with the young earth paradigm so that one does one's science in light of this theological presupposition. And I think that would be why, to answer his question, many people still hold to this young earth creationist view. Now with regard to intelligent design I think the answer would be quite different. I think there while in some cases belief in intelligent design would be motivated by religious beliefs – that the Bible teaches that God has created the world, for example, and that human beings are not just here by accident – still, I think many people would say that the scientific evidence points to design. Dawkins himself says, as you quoted, that the universe looks designed. Many people would say that the best explanation of the scientific evidence is that biological complexity is the result of intelligent design. Even given the doctrine of common ancestry, perhaps even given natural selection and genetic mutation, they would maintain that all of this had to be set up by an intelligent designer.

Kevin Harris:Bill, we have lost the term creationist, it seems, because it is no longer defined as a person who believes that there is a creator. A creationist would be one that believes that God created the heavens and the earth, leaving out how he did it and how long it took and all that. That's basically what a creationist is – right? – but it no longer means that.

Dr. Craig: Right, theologically I think you're right. But culturally, you're right, we've lost that term to the young earth creation view and I think we might as well recognize that, that when people hear the term creationist that's how it will be understood.

Kevin Harris:So we have this necessity to define our terms. This is what he says. He says,

What you cannot really logically do is to say, well I believe that there's some kind of intelligence, some kind of divine physicist who designed the laws of physics, therefore Jesus is my lord and savior who died for my sins. That's an impermissible illogicality that unfortunately many people resort to.

Dr. Craig: I agree wholeheartedly. I think that's absolutely right. That argument doesn't identify whether the designer is Zeus or Yahweh or Allah, or even some non-divine sort of being. So that's why the arguments of natural theology and Christian apologetics are supplemented by what's called Christian evidences. This is no new insight, this is the way Christian apologists have always argued. First you argue for theism, and then you present evidences to argue for the type of theism – such as Christian theism – that you think is correct.[3]

Kevin Harris:How many times have people said to you, after they've heard the initial kalam argument, “Yeah, but that doesn't mean that Jesus is God, or that Christianity is true?”

Dr. Craig: Right, “that doesn't prove the Christian God,” they say; and I am bewildered by that response. I typically say, well of course not, it's not intended to prove the Christian God. This is consistent with all of the great monotheistic religions of the world. That's where, I think, you turn to, as I say, Christian evidences. And for me that means principally the evidence for the radical self-understanding of Jesus of Nazareth and his resurrection from the dead. That would be the evidence for saying that this intelligent designer proved by the complexity of the universe is the God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ.

Kevin Harris:The interviewer says, “Why do you enjoy speaking in the Bible Belt?” Dawkins says,

I’ve been lots of places, all of which claim to be the buckle of the Bible Belt. They can’t all be, I suppose. I enjoy doing that. I get very big audiences, very enthusiastic audiences. It’s not difficult to see why.

These people are beleaguered, they feel threatened, they feel surrounded by a sort of alien culture of the highly religious, and so when somebody like me comes to town…they turn out in very large numbers, and they give us a very enthusiastic welcome, and they thank us profusely and very movingly for coming and giving them a reason to turn out and see each other.

Dr. Craig: That's an interesting remark because it shows that the audiences that come out to hear Richard Dawkins are primarily these atheists, these nonbelievers. He says these people feel beleaguered and threatened because they're surrounded by this highly religious culture and therefore they're thrilled when they can come together and meet one another at one of these Dawkins events. I think that's a very interesting comment, sociologically. These people are in our midst and they feel alienated from a religious culture but they come out to hear Richard Dawkins because he supplies a kind of focus or magnet where they can all get together and affirm their anti-theistic beliefs.

Kevin Harris:What should this say to we as followers of Jesus Christ?

Dr. Craig: I think these folks just feel very alienated in a culture where, for example, our coins say “In God we trust,” or where in the pledge of allegiance we say “One nation under God,” or when the presidential candidates end their speeches by saying “God bless you and God bless America.” They feel isolated and so they love it when Dawkins comes to town and they can come out and have a support group. But what I think it says to me is these folks are amongst us, they're living amongst us. These unbelievers are everywhere, and we need to be trying to reach out to them in a rational, compassionate way to share the good news of the Gospel with these folks.

Kevin Harris:He brings up a biggy: “Where did morality come from? Evolution?” Dawkins says,

We have very big and complicated brains, and all sorts of things come from those brains, which are loosely and indirectly associated with our biological past. And morality is among them, together with things like philosophy and music and mathematics. Morality, I think, does have roots in our evolutionary past. There are good reasons, Darwinian reasons, why we are good to, altruistic towards, cooperative with, moral in our behavior toward our fellow species members, and indeed toward other species as well, perhaps. There are evolutionary roots to morality . . .

So he goes on there.

Dr. Craig: That's the difficulty with the questioner's question that he put to Dawkins: where did morality come from? That could either be interpreted as a question about what is the foundation of morality, what determines what is right or wrong, good or evil, or it could be a kind of sociological question – where did or values originate? And Dawkins takes it in that second sense. He says the way that our moral beliefs originate is through evolutionary conditioning “refined” by centuries of human culture and human society. And there's nothing there, inherently, that we need to disagree with. That may well be the way in which we come to obtain our moral beliefs. I think there are other sources for how we obtain those beliefs as well. Religious training, for example; the influence of church could also have an influence on where these moral beliefs come from. But for me as a philosopher that's just not really the interesting question. That sociological, psychological question isn't the really interesting one. The interesting question is: are the moral values we've come to believe in objective?[4] That is to say, are they valid and binding independently of our beliefs, or are these just subjective patterns of behavior that have been ingrained into us by centuries, even millions of years, of evolutionary development and sociological conditioning? If that's all they are then that means that we live in a morally neutral universe in which there really is no good and evil, right and wrong, objectively, and the Nazi war criminal or the child rapist doesn't really do anything wrong. And Dawkins has affirmed that in the past. He said that there is no good, no evil, no purpose, we are just machines for propagating DNA. It is every living objects sole reason for being.

Kevin Harris:But yet he talks about moral development as getting better.

Dr. Craig: Yes.

Kevin Harris:And you have to have a best in order to have a better. You have to have a standard. He does see it as progressing toward moral truth. He says Stephen Pinker's latest book The Better Angels of our Nature traces this improvement, moral improvement, over long centuries of history. He makes an extremely persuasive case for the fact that we are getting more moral, that we are getting better as time goes on.

Dr. Craig: Right, and now that is a statement that presupposes that objective morality exists. In the absence of objective moral standards all you could speak of, truly, would be change in behavior over time; our moral behavior and beliefs have changed over time. But you could not say that they have improved over time, or that we are getting morally better as time goes on. So that when he uses that kind of value language you can tell that he is implicitly presupposing the objectivity of moral values and duties because in the absence of objective moral values and duties at most you would be justified in speaking about change, but not improvement or getting better.

Kevin Harris:And he says – and I want you to address this, too, Bill – he says that,

Our moral attitudes today in 2012 are very different from what they would have been 50 or 100 years ago. And even more different from what they would have been 300 years ago or 500 years ago. We don’t believe in slavery now. We treat women as equal to men. All sorts of things have changed in our moral attitudes.

Dr. Craig: Well, I think he's consistent in that regard. What he says is that our moral attitudes have changed from what they used to be. Slavery used to be accepted, we don't believe in slavery any more; women used to be regarded as inferior to men, today women are treated as equals. So he's saying there has been a change of moral attitude, and we would all agree with that – attitudes change over time. But it's when he goes on to characterize that as an improvement rather then merely a change, when he says, “we are getting better, now, morally, as time goes on,” that is when, you see, he begins to presuppose that there is an objective standard by which these changes can be measured so that we can say there has been moral improvement rather than moral decline.

Kevin Harris:Now, as Christians we would teach that there can be moral improvement, right?

Dr. Craig: Absolutely, and the examples he gives are good examples. I mean, look at the attitude toward slavery. That is one respect in which American culture has gotten better; it has morally improved in recognizing that it is immoral to enslave other people and to discriminate against them on the basis of their skin color. In other areas I think we as Christians would say our culture has declined – particularly with regard to sexual ethics and standards of modesty and so forth. There, I think, we would argue that there has been a moral decline.

Kevin Harris:We can point to two – right? – we can point to what we'd think would be moral improvement and we can point to things we think would be moral decline.

Dr. Craig: Yes, and both of those presuppose an objective standard by which you can say that one represents an improvement and the other represents a retrogression. In the absence of an objective standard all you can talk about is change over time, but you couldn't talk about improvement or decline. So insofar as he's willing to talk about improvement he clearly is, contrary to his worldview, presupposing the objectivity of moral values.

Kevin Harris:The interviewer from CNN asks Dawkins, “If there were a God that met you after death, what would you say?” Dawkins says,

If I met God, in the unlikely event, after I died? The first thing I would say is, well, which one are you? Are you Zeus? Are you Thor? Are you Baal? Are you Mithras? Are you Yahweh? Which God are you, and why did you take such great pains to conceal yourself and to hide away from us?[5]

Dr. Craig: Yes, this is the attitude of many atheists who think that there is no evidence for a particular God, for the God of the Bible, and, I think, who use this as an excuse for running away from God. Rather than acknowledge their own antipathy toward God they blame it on God and say “God has chosen to conceal himself and hide himself from us,” where what the Scripture says is that God has revealed himself to us, in nature, first of all, through the fabulous world around us where we see the handiwork of God so that everyone is without excuse, the Bible says, for recognizing an eternal creator of the universe. And then secondly he's revealed himself in human history in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, a man unique in the history of the world. And if people would simply look into the Gospels and the historical evidence for their credibility, for the radical personal claims of Jesus, and his resurrection from the dead, I would think they would find evidence that is certainly sufficient to justify belief in the God revealed by Jesus Christ.[6]

[1] http://lightyears.blogs.cnn.com/2012/09/06/dawkins-evolution-is-not-a-controversial-issue/ (accessed February 20, 2014).

[2] 5:10

[3] 10:07

[4] 15:00

[5] 20:05

[6] Total Running Time: 21:21 (Copyright © 2012 William Lane Craig)