Saturday, March 08, 2008

Atheism = Wishful Thinking?

I was annoyed the other night when I turned on the radio and heard Richard Dawkins, author of "The God Delusion," dissing religion. This guy said that the universe doesn't owe us meaning. So far so good. Then he caricatured religious belief as the product of wishful thinking.

Now I used to believe this same dumb thing, back when I was young and foolish and hypocritical.

Yes, hypocritical. Why didn't I believe there was a God back then? Because I didn't want to think there was someone who had the right to tell me what to do, to judge my actions, to determine my eternal destiny. I wanted to think myself the master of my own fate, with the right to do as I pleased without regard for what God said about it.

Dawkins says there's insufficient evidence to believe in whatever it is he doesn't believe in. This I also recognize as a crock that I trotted out, back when I was young and foolish and hypocritical. We all decide what to believe in, and then interpret our experiences in light of those beliefs.
Let me channel someone I used to know who decided some decades ago to smoke cigarettes. What about the health risks? Cancer, shmancer, he said. Look, the chance of dying from cancer as a nonsmoker is very low, say 1% or something. If you smoke as much as I do, it's still very low -- yes, it's higher, but it's still just 2% or something. Whether you smoke or not, you could still get hit by a truck, or your house might collapse on you in an earthquake (this conversation took place shortly after the 阪神大震災 -- the Hanshin dai-shinsai or "great Kobe earthquake", where several hundred were killed by the earthquake and several thousands more by government incompetence).

This guy lived in Japan but he could just as well have been living in the southeastern US and reading literature from The Tobacco Institute, back when they were still claiming that smoking didn't kill you.
Or think the automobile industry and auto safety in the 1960s, or global warming in our day.

When I was very young and very foolish, I decided that there was no God (see Psalm 14:1). For some time thereafter, I denied anything that pointed toward the existence of God or the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Anything that would tend to point away from God's existence I of course latched onto.

Fortunately, I got lucky and had a (pardon me please for using this phrase) paradigm shift, when the evidence in favor of God's intervention in the world became to me overwhelming. It did for Morison (Who Moved the Stone) too, and for McDowell (Evidence that Demands a Verdict) and Strobel (The Case for Christ).

But until the evidence reaches that point, we humans tend to put new evidence into our existing mental maps (and toss what doesn't fit); we are therefore willfully blind, to a point.

I did this as a young, foolish atheist, and I think Dawkins is doing it as an old, foolish atheist. Like all the rest of us, he believes things partly because he wants to. Like all the rest of us, he screens new information through the filters of his existing beliefs and prejudices and opinions and positions.

I hope he comes to recognize some day that he has been foolish and hypocritical. Let us pray that the spirit of God will get this man's attention, and that out of his great mercy, God will get his attention and turn him from his folly. Because the god of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not....

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