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The debate has been underway for generations, but the explosive growth of knowledge in biology and genetics has given new confidence to those on the Agnostic-Atheistic side of the discussion. This, coupled with the relative decline in public Christian worship in Britain, has forced the advocates of Christianity onto the defensive. Not a bad thing entirely, considering that Christian apologetics at its best has usually been crafted under pressure.
His hostility toward the 'faith' position, especially of the Christian variety, is unalloyed by any display of courtesy or deference. He comes out with all guns blazing. He is so abrasive in his attacks on the Old and New Testaments that even some who agree with his basic tenets are uncomfortable with his take-no-prisoners approach.
So, they say, self-consciousness, compassion, joy, appreciation, awe, patience, self-denial and self-sacrifice, remorse, courage, guilt, conscience, deference, humility, love, loyalty, perseverance, goodwill, gratitude, male-female differences, appetite, brain-function, the immune and respiratory systems are all by-products of Evolution, accidents in an accidental process. Faith and piety are, so they say, merely misdirected or 'survivable' relics which at some point in the dim and distant past filled a utilitarian need.
The arguments against the existence of the Christian God, advanced by Dawkins in his book, are in large part predicated on what he regards as the nonsense of Christian doctrine, such as the Trinity and the Virgin Birth. He is especially rattled by the Permission of Evil. He cites Israel's conquest of Palestine as documented in the Old Testament, and the 'natural' calamities that afflict the planet, as stark proof that a Creator cannot exist. As Prof. Dawkins avers that the Bible is not an authentic document at all, but merely a collection of myths, events that never happened, a defence of the Bible itself becomes irrelevant. As to the prevalence of Evil, well, we're back to the Bible again on that one.
What is really under attack here is the idea of God and the consequences that flow from a belief in such a Being. Science plays much less a part in the assemblage of proof against God's existence than one might imagine. Any assertion of God's non-existence is, from a scientific point of view, untestable. Even though Dawkins concludes that 'God almost certainly does not exist', he assigns no weight of probability to the 'almost' (The God Delusion, p. 158, bottom [2006 edition]).
Granted, the historical influence of religion — including that of Christianity — has not been uniformly beneficial. Christians are among the first to admit this. So is the Bible. The critical portraits of some of the main characters of the Old Testament, such as Lot, Moses, Kings Saul, David and Solomon, and the sympathetic and finely-tuned compassionate theme that runs through the New Testament, comprise a body of work that is much more than the sum of its parts. A warped reading of the Bible text is no basis on which to dismiss the entire Christian philosophy — an understanding of which requires more attention to detail than its opponents are likely to give it.
Twenty-first-century Science stands at a vast and wonderful threshold. But compared to what may be known, what is actually known now is infinitesimally small — not a sound- enough basis on which to dismiss a very understandable and universal belief that there may be more to our existence than Science can tell us.
Hence the persistence of pesky religion.
Dawkins, and others like him, will come and go. He may generate sparks along the way, but in so doing will provoke the energies of Christians to dig a little deeper into their intellectual resources and the Biblical text to rebut his bitter assaults.
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