Talk about haughtiness: this piece takes the cake. I guess that Easter brings out the self-styled superiority of Christians, for the Australian Broadcasting has published a pretty supercilious piece on its blog The Drum: “Top 10 tips for athiests this Easter.” The author, John Dickson, is of course a believer—he’s described as “an author and historian, and a founding director of the Centre for Public Christianity.” And he’s a self-appointed Ann Landers for atheists, deciding to tell us the proper way to deal with Christianity.
To be sure, Dickson mentions some points on which he sees Christianity as vulnerable—the doctrine of Hell and some of God’s bullying in the Old Testament, for instance—but most of his piece simply tells atheists where we’ve gone wrong on Christianity. Would that the world would one day have the proportions reversed, so we could see articles telling Christians how not to distort atheism!
Here are just three of Dickson’s “tips”. They’re invidious and offensive:
Tip #1. Dip into Christianity’s intellectual tradition
This is the 1,984th Easter since 7 April AD 30, the widely accepted date among historians for the crucifixion of Jesus (the 1,981st if you find the arguments for 3 April AD 33 persuasive). Christians have been pondering this stuff for a long time. They’ve faced textual, historical, and philosophical scrutiny in almost every era, and they have left a sophisticated literary trail of reasons for the Faith.
My first tip, then, is to gain some awareness of the church’s vast intellectual tradition. It is not enough to quip that ‘intellectual’ and ‘church’ are oxymoronic. Origen, Augustine, Philoponus, Aquinas, and the rest are giants of Western thought. Without some familiarity with these figures, or their modern equivalents – Pannenberg, Ward, MacIntrye, McGrath, Plantinga, Hart, Volf – popular atheists can sound like the kid in English class, “Miss, Shakespeare is stupid!”
Okay, can we now advise believers to dip into the intellectual tradition of atheism? Well, I’ve followed a lot of Dickson’s “sophisticated literary trail,” and it’s not that sophisticated. In fact, it’s littered with the leavings of male bovids, so one must step carefully. And Plantinga and Hart? We’ve had a taste of both, and, there’s no “there” there.
Tip #2. Notice how believers use the word ‘faith’
One of the things that becomes apparent in serious Christian literature is that no one uses ‘faith’ in the sense of believing things without reasons. That might be Richard Dawkins’ preferred definition – except when he was publicly asked by Oxford’s Professor John Lennox whether he had ‘faith’ in his lovely wife – but it is important to know that in theology ‘faith’ always means personal trust in the God whose existence one accepts on other grounds. I think God is real for philosophical, historical, and experiential reasons. Only on the basis of my reasoned conviction can I then trust God – have faith in him – in the sense meant in theology.
That’s a distinction without a difference. How can you have personal trust in someone whose existence rests on no evidence? What are the “other grounds” that lead to belief in God?
This argument is like saying that faith is “having personal trust in your giant invisible pink rabbit friend” when you were a kid, and then arguing that such a claim is somehow rational.
Tip #4. Repeat after me: no theologian claims a god-of-the-gaps
One slightly annoying feature of New Atheism is the constant claim that believers invoke God as an explanation of the ‘gaps’ in our knowledge of the universe: as we fill in the gaps with more science, God disappears. Even as thoughtful a man as Lawrence Kraus, a noted physicist, did this just last month on national radio following new evidence of the earliest moments of the Big Bang.
But the god-of-the-gaps is an invention of atheists. Serious theists have always welcomed explanations of the mechanics of the universe as further indications of the rational order of reality and therefore of the presence of a Mind behind reality. Kraus sounds like a clever mechanic who imagines that just because he can explain how a car works he has done away with the Manufacturer.
Give me a break again! Has Dickson even read any of the sophisticated literature he touts in his first tip? Serious theists may welcome explanations of the mechanics of the universe (except, of course, those serious theists whose faith is shaken by creationism), but they continue to tout things like fine-tuning, consciousness, and the origin of the universe as evidence for God. David Bentley Hart did this continuously in his new book, Alvin Plantinga adduces God as the reason why humans have true beliefs, and this morning we saw Amir Aczel use human consciousness as evidence for God.
I won’t give Dickson “tips for Christians” since they’re busy worshipping the nonexistent revival of their savior, but I will tell him that he needs to get out more. Tips like the three above are simply ludicrous, and #4 is palpably false.