Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Dawkins night review (Part III)

Part I; Part II.
Christianity and Atheism
Dr Greg Clarke concluded the Dawkins evening with some reflections directed particularly to Christians.

There is surprisingly little discussion of atheism in the sciptures; it is simply assumed that the normal human situation is to be religious. This indeed has been the overwhelming statistical norm for humanity throughout cultures and history. Yet the Bible does often describe the experience of living in a world where it seems like there is no God. Nonetheless, the few explicit mentions are quite scathing: Psalm 14.1 (and 53.1) says the fool says in his heart 'there is no god' and Romans 1.18-32 speaks of suppressing the truth in wickedness.* Perhaps atheism might be the expression of a desire to live my own way without God's interference.
*Rom 1.23 makes it clear that this passage is about idolators rather than atheists; I assume Greg must have been applying this pattern more broadly. This may be valid, but I remain to be convinced. Does Paul have a more specific group in mind here than simply all gentiles? Interestingly, while the fool says in his heart that there is no god, the converse does not necessarily follow. Is it fair to accuse all atheists of being fools who suppress the truth because of their wickedness? As one questioner later put it, mightn't more be said at this point?

Dr Clarke ended with four suggestions as to how Christians might respond to Dawkins and co.:

1) Don't fight fire with fire. This is a very bitter book. Respond kindly, rather than in kind.
2) Acknowledge where religion can oppress and welcome the critique of life-destroying faiths. This is not alien to the scriptural witness.
3) Acknowledge that not all 'Christian' claims and behaviour are defensible.
4) Like The Da Vinci Code, seize the opportunity for discussion.
The ensuing question time followed a number of paths which Greg had opened, and overall I thought the night went quite well. I'll finish with a brief reflection on method.

I have learned a great deal from Greg, both directly and through example. In particular, I have appreciated his threefold classification of apologetics: (a) traditional 'defensive apologetics' (a tautology, I know), where attacks on Christian belief are answered; (b) kategorics, or 'reverse apologetics', where the claims of other views receive critical scrutiny; and (c) 'attractive apologetics', where the fecundity, coherence, explanatory power and beauty of Christian belief are displayed in a way that makes the Christian life appealing. Without denying the place of (a) and (b), Greg has repeatedly demonstrated the priority of (c) in his role as public apologist over the last few years. However, on this evening, I would have liked to have seen more (c), which I felt was somewhat muted in comparison to (a) and (b).

Speaking of which, in the latest edition of CASE magazine, Ben Myers has contributed an article called "An Apologetics of Imagination" (Ben has also written a longer summary). He rejects the 'imperialist' apolgetics of rhetorical violence in which one's opponent is backed into a logical, but inhumane, corner, in favour of an ethically self-reflective apologetic discourse, one where the forms of speech used are consonant with the message being advocated. Such a discourse would be not only 'rationally persuasive' but also 'imaginatively compelling'; rhetorical coercion would give way to imaginate invitation: come and see the world from over here! Managing to footnote Hart, Milbank, Küng, Barth and McGrath in a handful of lines, this article expressed with theological breadth what I think Greg has been trying to embody for years. This is more than simply being nice (though Greg is a deeply nice guy); it is speaking the truth in love.
One final time, twelve points for the best explanation of the link between image and post.


Anonymous said...

Well, the picture is in keeping with the previous posts architectural theme. But that's not quite sufficient as a link. I think this one illustrates the idea of ethically self-reflective apologetics. The sky looks far better than any building and the gospel looks far better than any logical argument. For a logical argument to look really good it has to reflect the gospel that it is defending. So, build your arguments of shiny glass, a bit weaker but far more attractive.


Jonathan said...

The attractive apologetics and apologetics of imagination are aiming to create a bridge for others to cross over and see another view. This particular picture of a bridge even seems to be pointing upwards - to God?

One of Freedom said...

Thanks for posting these, I finally made it through them (despite the squiggly little girl who kept visiting my office). Sounds like a great reflection, I would love to see more apologetic options as well. I find myself both abhoring and at the same time fascinated by apologetics. I think there is a place for engaging in public discourse on matters of religion, but I'm so wary of the ways it is typically carried out in my evangelical context.

Dawkins is a fascinating character, I think he deserves to be taken seriously. Despite the obvious disparity between his position and my own.

thanks again Byron.

byron smith said...

Frank: Yes, I have often been impressed with Greg's creativity in avoiding the clichés of apologetics. This wasn't his best night (thought he still made some good points, including a few great ones in the question time - unfortunately, because I was MCing the night, I didn't get to take notes during the discussion). You should ask Ben for a copy of his article - it is well worth a read.

byron smith said...

I'll be awarding points later - need to dash now.

Ben Myers said...

Hi Byron -- thanks for your comments on the apologetics essay.

Drew said...

I think jonathan's right - Greg has often described apologetics as 'creating a bridge' between different viewpoints.

byron smith said...

I'll give eight points each to JRS and Jonathan, though I still think this one is waiting for a winner.