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Son of God

The Musical

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INDEX

Introduction

Two possible definitions of a Christian

The Debate

Does God exist?

Origins and evidence for Jesus

The torture of Jesus

The problem of evil

Perfect God in an imperfect world

Your God is unfair

Suicide bombers

I might be wrong?

The tyranny of atheists

Are science and faith incompatible?

 Why are you angry?

Root of all Evil?

Les Sherlock

NOTES

A discussion on the debate between Richard Dawkins and Alister McGrath, which was filmed for the TV documentary “Root of All Evil?” but left out of the final version. See below, or on the You Tube site here.


  Unless otherwise stated, all scriptures quoted are taken from the New King James version of the Bible. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations labelled NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream,, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Introduction

I have to say I found this production rather odd. The two protagonists were located in an old, echoing hall (presumably a university), standing facing each other for the entire debate that lasted around 70 minutes. This was a very aggressive setting: why not, for example, have had them seated in comfortable chairs in a study? The manner in which each spoke to the other was courteous and factual on the whole, rather than combative and emotional; so why not have a setting to match this? Very peculiar!


My initial response on seeing the debate for the first time was that it was very one–sided, with Dawkins making all the running, leaving McGrath constantly having to defend himself in an agenda completely set by Dawkins. In the entire 70–minute debate there was only one question initiated by McGrath, right at the end, in which, bewilderingly, he presented the perfect opportunity for Dawkins to round the debate off with another tirade against ‘faith’.


On my second viewing I realised that McGrath did make more valid points than I had originally thought, although they were made and then skipped over so quickly they were very easily missed. During this viewing I took the following notes, which are a summary of what was said, mostly in my own words. I later added my own comments, some of which I would have wanted to have been made at the time. About twenty minutes into the debate I began adding the timings of the points to make it easier to refer to them later. In my notes the debate appears rather more even than it was in reality, because I have written down the key points they both made: in the debate many of the points McGrath made were in a single sentence and then ignored thereafter.


Before I begin, it should be noted that McGrath painted himself into an indefensible corner even before the debate started. In it, Dawkins observes that McGrath is not a creationist, which McGrath accepts (in fact he is a theistic evolutionist). Therefore he is in a contradictory position: he is a Christian who claims the very book on which his faith is based to be in error. He will therefore inevitably be on the back foot in any debate in which an atheist challenges Christianity.

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There are two possible definitions of a Christian (of which I am aware):


  1. Someone who is born again: Jesus said it was essential (John 3:3–8), and Peter later took it for granted this would be the case (1 Peter 1:23).
  2. Someone who accepts the teachings of Christ: it is hardly consistent for a Christian to promote beliefs contrary to those Jesus taught.


Jesus clearly was a creationist. This is obvious because He was the creator of everything (John 1:3 “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made”), so He was bound to be! Furthermore, throughout His ministry He referred to the writings of Moses as the authoritative word of God, and it is Moses who tells us God created everything, by His word, in six days, and who reported that God Himself said He did it like this (Genesis 1:1–2:3; Exodus 20:11; 31:17–18). Additionally, no–one would know better than Jesus’ disciples the things He taught, and John (John 1:1–3; Revelation 4:11), Peter (1 Peter 4:19; 2 Peter 3:4–5), and Paul (Ephesians 3:9; Colossians 1:16) who was taught directly by Jesus (Galatians 1:12), all accepted the universe was created by God the way Moses described. Moses is mentioned by name in 79 verses in the New Testament, and always as authoritative. It is unquestionably the case that both Jesus and all the writers of the New Testament accepted a literal understanding of his writings: the first five books of the Bible.


This is not to say that only creationists can be Christians. Clearly it is not the case: Romans 10:9 says that salvation is for all who confess with their mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in their heart that God has raised Him from the dead. However, it does mean those who are not are inevitably going to run into serious contradictions, as does McGrath in this debate.

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The Debate


Dawkins begins by saying that McGrath’s beginnings as an atheist gives him ‘street cred’. I understand the point he is making, but in my book the validity of the argument is the key issue; the background of the person making it is of secondary importance. A parrot could be taught to say, “Two plus two is four”, and it would be just as true as if a university professor in mathematics was making it. I am a ‘nobody’ and without scientific or theological qualifications. However, I can read and think reasonably logically, and am perfectly capable of understanding and reporting on the work of those who do have them. For example, like most of the population, I could never work out how to calculate the area of a circle; but I can authoritatively state that it is done by the formula πr2, because someone far cleverer than I did the hard work, so I do not need to ‘reinvent the wheel’.


He complains he is brought up short in debate because the trump card of faith is introduced and there’s no arguing with that. However, faith is not incompatible with logical argument. 1 Peter 3:15 says we should “always be ready to give a defence to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” Therefore, the argument, “I believe it therefore it’s true,” is not valid, and it is unnecessary for the Christian who accepts the ‘whole counsel of God’. Dawkins certainly has a point if the logical reasons for the understanding of someone with whom he is debating are ignored simply on the basis of ‘faith’. This is either laziness or inadequate understanding of the subject on the part of the one saying it; but it does not mean, therefore, there is no logical defence to the points being made.

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At the beginning of the debate Dawkins holds up to the camera the book ‘Dawkins’ God’, written by McGrath and challenges him on what faith is based. McGrath points out that the opposing beliefs, that God exists or does not exist, are both faith based.


Dawkins: Complex living things are statistically improbable, and a creator capable of producing them is also statistically improbable for the same reason.

McGrath: The question is, improbable or not, does God exist? We are improbable and yet are here.


Dawkins: Evolution explains the improbability because it starts very simple and over millions/billions of years increasingly becomes more complex. If we suddenly appeared, that would push incredulity too far. The eye is too complex to have suddenly jumped into existence, and so is God. Why don’t you want to say why this is not the case?

McGrath: God is not within the natural order, but makes sense of it.


Dawkins: Creationists’ arguments backfire, and I know you are not one of them, but God is improbable for the same reason as the eye: He would have to be far more complex than the eye, so couldn’t have suddenly appeared. If you said God evolved, perhaps somewhere around Alpha Centauri, and then somehow seeded life on earth, that would be more possible. But I don’t think you do believe that.


McGrath: I believe in God for a number of reasons, and the bonus is that His existence does make sense of things, although this is not the primary reason for believing in Him. In the natural sciences there is a 50/50 split between those who believe in him and those who do not, so atheism is not the natural result of the natural sciences. God created a framework for the physical order to exist and Christians don’t need to ask where He came from..


Dawkins: It’s not helpful to say that God was always there. It would be no answer to say that the eye was always there – it requires an explanation. Some theologians would say God is ultimately very simple, but then He would be incapable of setting up the laws of the universe.


McGrath: We don’t start by deciding what God is like, but look at what he has done and from that conclude what he is like. There are huge ideas difficult for us to grasp: like how the universe did not exist and then appeared.


Dawkins: I accept there is something very hard to understand at the base of the Universe and physics, but there had to be a simple beginning. The idea of a complicated intelligence at the beginning would not help. It is not going to be a complicated intelligence at the beginning and certainly not one that dies for people’s sins.


OK. Let us look at that first interchange. The entire Dawkins argument here is that because evolution requires a simple beginning for everything, therefore if God existed he must have had a simple beginning too. There are two key points here.


1] Dawkins claims everything had a simple beginning. This is a statement of faith, not science. No–one has ever been able to present any kind of scientific evidence for a life form simple enough to emerge spontaneously from inanimate matter. The simplest form of life observable on earth is incredibly complex: so much so that even Dawkins accepts it is impossible that it could have been the first living organism. So what was? He has no idea. He thinks it might have been based on RNA, but how even that could have been ‘simple’ enough to appear from inanimate material he cannot say. Furthermore, he knows it is impossible for the way DNA works to change significantly (i.e. not the information it contains, but the way DNA itself functions), as he states in his book, The Greatest Show on Earth, and yet requires that this happened many times over for the original organism based on a much simpler system to evolve into the DNA/RNA–based life forms we see on Earth today.


He claims there have been constant simple steps, gradually increasing the complexity of living things, to produce all of the life forms ever seen on Earth; but once again, he cannot give a single example of an increase of the specified complexity of a genome.* In ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ he gives many examples of natural selection, but that is a very different thing and is never the increase in specified complexity required for Darwinian evolution ** to take place.


* see specified complexity for a description.

** see evolution for a description.

So the basis for his argument is destroyed immediately. He cannot give any scientific evidence that will conclusively prove there was a simple beginning that gradually became complex. This is based, not on scientific observation, but on his faith that a Creator does not exist.


2] ‘God must have had a simple beginning’. It is extraordinary that evolutionists are quite happy to speculate on there being 10 or 11 different dimensions in our universe, only four of which the man in the street can normally observe (the three–dimensional physical space, and time), and yet throw their hands up in horror at the idea of a fifth dimension existing in the same physical ‘space’ as our universe that has no physical element to it: a dimension inhabited by thinking, reasoning beings – the spirit realm.


If Dawkins wants to argue against Christianity, he should do so on the basis of everything they teach, not selected bits in order to give him an easily defeated straw–man. John 4:24 tells us that God is a Spirit. Therefore, since He comes from a different dimension, He is not subject to the laws of our physical dimension. It is impossible for anything in our dimension not to have had a beginning; but this is not the case in His dimension. Furthermore, by definition, to have been the creator of the entire physical realm, God must be so much greater than we are that our minds will be unable fully to understand Him: He wouldn’t be God if we could! We may be able to get somewhere near, but, in this life at least, will never know the full story.* That God could be without beginning or end is one aspect of this.





* As Paul says, comparing the present life to eternity: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.”
1 Corinthians 13:12


* See here for a good discussion on the problems with the Big Bang

Dawkins may claim this is ‘faith trumping reason’, but it is not. In order to maintain his atheism, he must believe that the beginning of everything – the big bang, or whatever produced it – was totally without cause: the entire matter in the universe, compressed into a space significantly smaller than a full–stop, popped up out of nothing with nothing to make it do so.* If believing in a God who has always existed is ‘faith trumping reason’, then so is believing everything could come from nothing without a cause. To quote the Christian leader, Gerald Coates: “Christians believe God created everything out of nothing, while atheists believe nothing created everything out of nothing!”

Regarding the spirit realm, there are very many people who have had ‘out–of–body’ or ‘near–death’ experiences, contact from ‘spirit beings’ and so on.* I may not always agree with the explanation from some people of the identity of the spirit beings they met, for example, but that they have experienced something outside of the physical dimension in which we live is difficult to refute when it is repeated so many times.


* See here for free downloads, in PDF format, of two books describing some of these experiences – two being about people I have met: Jim Sepulveda and Ian McCormack

Dawkins then compares God to the eye. This is an own goal, since the eye is far too complex ever to have evolved by random processes, and there is no known intermediate example that demonstrates it changing from a simple form to a more complex one. There are many different types of eye, but every one (even the ‘simplest’) is highly complex and distinct. Clearly something as complex as this requires intelligence in order for it to exist; and only a Creator God could be responsible. Random mutation plus natural selection could never do it and there is no physical, scientific evidence demonstrating it: for Dawkins to believe it he must do so by faith. This, McGrath fails to point out.

Dawkins claims that saying God was always there is the same as saying the eye was always there. This is ludicrous. The eye was not always there because it would be contrary to the laws of our universe. God did not originate in our universe, and therefore is not subject to those laws. The eye could only have had its beginning by being designed and made: a concept that destroys Dawkins’s atheism.

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21.50

McGrath: Religion is not concerned so much with origins, but with how things are now, what is the best way of making sense of how things are and how we should live.


22.20

Dawkins: We all want morality, etc., but religion does make claims about origins, which don’t seem to me to be essential for a good life. You seem to be saying it doesn’t matter now. I don’t understand why you’re a Christian.


24.10

McGrath: One of the key reasons I believe is because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. In that is something that holds the key to everything. Christianity is not primarily about explanation but salvation, but it does have explanatory implications.


26.10

Dawkins: The evidence for Jesus is remarkably thin. Surely theologians agree about that.

McGrath: The New Testament dates much closer to the time of Jesus than standard Roman biography of emperors. The lives of the early Christians demonstrate they saw in Jesus someone who changed their lives and gives an explanation for the things they see around them.


This argument of McGrath is probably his best of the debate (although I would dispute his claim that religion is not concerned with origins: the entire basis of salvation in Christianity is in the fall of man from his perfect beginning as described in Genesis, and how He is restored through Jesus Christ). The person of Jesus is irrefutable evidence for the existence of God. There is more documentary evidence for His existence and actions than most, if not all, other figures from 2,000 years ago. The ‘who moved the stone’ argument is further evidence.*

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* The stone at Jesus’ tomb was moved away. After a flogging that frequently killed men, followed by crucifixion, even if Jesus had merely ‘swooned’ on the cross and later recovered in the tomb, He would not have had the strength to move the huge boulder covering the entrance. The opponents of Jesus, had they moved the stone and removed the body, could easily have presented it as evidence the disciples’ claim of the resurrection was false. The followers of Jesus, had they somehow avoided the soldiers guarding the tomb, moved the stone and removed the body, would have been hardly likely suddenly to change from fearful people hiding from the authorities, to fearless preachers of the resurrection; and it is most unlikely that anyone would be prepared to suffer and die in support of something they know to be a lie. Therefore the only logical way the stone could have been moved was by Jesus’ resurrection.

27.10

Dawkins: It has Jesus being tortured as a punishment for others’ sin, even for Adam’s sin, when Adam didn’t really exist. It expiates for sins not yet committed, but that are in the future. Who was he trying to impress? If he was a manifestation of God and wanted to forgive sins, why didn’t he just forgive them instead of going through all that self–torture?

28.40

McGrath: Christianity says there is something wrong with human nature. We can’t transform ourselves. Something has to be done for us. Jesus did this. God demonstrates His love for us and makes it possible for us to return to Him and removes the barrier of sin that stands in His way.

30.00

Dawkins: You’re making the death of Jesus like a poetic, symbolic act. Theologians do that a lot: it doesn’t matter if it actually happened, but what is important is the symbolic meaning. It’s like if in the future the double helix of DND was shown not to be the case, but they said, “It doesn’t matter that it’s not a double helix, but what is important is what it means to us.” Doesn’t it matter he was killed for someone else’s sins, when he could have done it in a different way?

31.20

McGrath: The events are important, but they need to be interpreted. In Christ we see God entering the world at its darkest point. The worst the world could do took place. God is not just up there looking down benignly, but entering the world to bring about its transformation through Christ.


Dawkins begins this argument by claiming Adam did not exist. McGrath is unable to counter this, since, as a theistic evolutionist, he does not accept the Genesis account of origins. Yet Dawkins can only claim Adam did not exist by maintaining the unscientific idea that inanimate matter can spontaneously turn into a living organism and that random mutation can increase the specified complexity of the genome billions of times over. Since scientific observation proves both are impossible, the only alternative is creation; and the most likely method is of one man and one woman – just the way the Creator said He did it!


The theological implications of this are huge. For example, Paul’s entire argument, that because sin and death entered the world though one man, then grace and righteousness has also come by one man (Romans 5:12–21), is made invalid. This is the whole basis of salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross – if sin and death did not enter the world through one man, then salvation cannot be given to the world by one man – and yet it is lost to McGrath.


Throughout the debate Dawkins creates his own straw–man version of what God is like and then bases his argument on it. This is something else that McGrath fails to recognise. Dawkins assumes that God could simply forgive everyone in the world if He wanted to do so. He either does not know, or chooses to ignore what the Bible says about God. Even though He is almighty, there are some things God cannot do! It is impossible for God to sin (James 1:13), lie (Hebrews 6:18; Titus 1:2) or change (Malachi 3:6; James 1:17). In other words, He always acts according to His own nature. His nature is love, but it is also justice, and sin demands a just penalty. I doubt even Dawkins would agree that people should be able to commit the most evil acts with impunity and remain free to continue to do so without any kind of penalty. In the death of Jesus, the perfect love and justice of God meet, enabling all who will accept their need to be changed to go free. There was no other way possible, otherwise God would have done it differently.


Because McGrath is unable to use these arguments through his theistic, evolutionary outlook, he can only prevaricate, resulting in Dawkins’s justified complaint that he is acting like those who pretend only the symbolic meaning is of importance. Although McGrath says the events are important, in this debate he seems unable to explain why this was the only way salvation for mankind could be achieved, and leaves the viewer with the impression God was simply doing it in order to demonstrate His sharing of our suffering.

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33.05

Dawkins: I understand what you believe, I wish I understood why! (Interruption from producers saying it needs clarifying). How do you know the faith in which you have been brought up is the right one?


34.00

McGrath: I began as an atheist, so I was not brought up in this way, but it seems the best way to me. Tolkein said that Christianity brings to fulfilment what we find in other faiths. There is some good in all of them, but they reach their fulfilment in the Christian revelation.


35.15

Dawkins: What about evil in the world: natural disasters, for example?

McGrath: Theologians take two positions. One is to say, let’s try to explain this. That doesn’t get us very far because we can’t make sense of these things. It’s just the way things are. The other thing is we need to cope with suffering, so, what can we do to make it more bearable? God has been there and entered into our suffering through Jesus Christ. It’s not intellectual reflection but doing something.


I don’t want to pretend here that the issue of suffering is a simple one to explain. It is not (but the difficulty Christians may have in trying to explain it pales into insignificance compared with the difficulty Dawkins has in explaining how inanimate matter could change into a living organism). However, McGrath has virtually said that we can’t explain it, so don’t bother trying! No wonder atheists like Dawkins treat Christianity with scorn, when such an attitude is taken. This is what he was complaining about earlier, when he talked about faith trumping reason. It is certainly true that God did enter our suffering, so He is not an unaffected bystander, but this is a comparatively minor aspect to the cross, as previously mentioned. We’ll consider more on this topic later.

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38.40

Dawkins: When you hear thousands have died but one child has been saved, how can that be good that God would save one but not all?


McGrath: Is it possible to have a world where these things didn’t happen; where movements of tectonic plates did not happen? I don’t know the answer, but it’s a very significant question all the same. Giving thanks for a child being saved is the natural response for people to do – to give thanks for what they believe to be good things. It may be ironic to give thanks for one when many died, but for the parents, they would be overwhelmingly grateful.


38.10

Dawkins: I understand the parents doing that, but would you as a detached scholar want to say God saved that one child?


McGrath: I’d say God did save the child and the parents were right, but it’s not right to say that therefore God was responsible for what happened elsewhere. It’s the limitations of the way the world is that brought it about. Could a world be made with no volcanoes? It’s not a question about God, but about the way things are.


39.00

Dawkins: I’d expect you to say tectonic plates are a part of God’s creation. It’s a perfect creation, so it would be almost blasphemy to start messing around with this perfect creation to change it. But then he saved that one child. How do you reconcile that?


40.13

McGrath: The world is the way it is and there’s no other. If a better world was possible, I don’t know what it is and I don’t necessarily believe there could be one, which is why I don’t have any difficulty in accepting that God made the world as it is. The important thing is that God has entered our pain and knows what it is like to lose a son.


I will deal with the issue of the child later, but what an extraordinary admission from a theologian! “God made the world the way it is… I don’t necessarily believe there could be a better world.” This not only contradicts scripture, but also contradicts McGrath’s later statement that the world is not the way God wants it to be (why would God have made the world the way He doesn’t want it to be?). Of course, as a theistic evolutionist, it is consistent with that position, but, as I mentioned previously, it is thereby automatically self–contradictory. The Bible says that God made a perfect world, with no sin, suffering or death; but it was ruined by man’s collusion with Satan. So to blame God for the world being the way it is now directly conflicts with basic Christian teaching.


The vast majority of human suffering in the world is directly due to human activity: war, selfishness, crime, violence in the name of religion or atheism, etc. There is enough food in the world to feed everyone: but those with the food and the money do not want to distribute it to those without. There is enough money in many countries where abject poverty is experienced by the majority, but it is held by the few in power who live in luxury while their people starve. Often people are far more interested in the wars they initiate to promote their own interests than they are in the poverty and suffering directly or indirectly resulting from their actions. Around the world, millions of people live in fear of persecution, torture and death because their religious beliefs are different from those of the ruling authorities. In some areas, people build towns and houses on known fault lines, then blame God when the tectonic plates shift and destroy them. Or build on known water plains, then complain when their homes are destroyed by flooding.


Certainly there are disasters that are purely down to the forces of nature, however, and while the Bible does teach that God will pour out His anger on sin by using them, it also teaches we have a violent enemy, with vast, malevolent, spirit hordes bent on causing as much pain and suffering on humanity as they can, who may also do so. It is my belief that while before the cross God may have punished sin in this way, at the present time (the ‘day of grace’) He views us through the cross, and having vented His anger against sin upon Jesus, He will not do it again upon us. However, the Bible also teaches that for those who refuse to accept the sacrifice Jesus made for them, they will have to answer for themselves and the time is coming, when this ‘day of grace’ will be at an end and then God will vent His righteous anger on those people by using all manner of natural and supernatural disasters, as described in the book of Revelation, for example.

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41.35

Dawkins: It almost as though you are not interested in whether God reached out and saved that child or not. Yet you said earlier he did save it, which seems to contradict that the world is that way it is and you would not expect God to be able to interfere. In the 9.11 disasters, the wife of one passenger in the plane that crashed in a field said she believed he was God’s tool to prevent the plane from being flown into the White House. Why didn’t God just give the hijackers a heart–attack or something and prevent it all from happening? You are being inconsistent in saying the world is the way God made it and He can’t interfere capriciously, but on the other hand you are allowing Him to do so. Every time there’s a disaster like this people’s faith in God goes up. I find this totally bizarre.


43.40

McGrath: These disasters strip away people’s security and lead them to ask, “What do I depend on and who can I turn to when things go wrong?” It’s not a superstitious turning to God, but finding the solace, transformation and consolation people are looking for. Karl Marx said that religion offers consolation in moments of desperation. It meets people where they are and deals with their concerns. Regarding 9.11 God doesn’t do things directly Himself, but delegates them to others. The great theme is what should I personally be doing? So on the plane the person did what he felt was the right thing to do.


45.45

Dawkins: I have no problem with that being the right thing to do, but with the wife saying he was the instrument of God. If so, why didn’t God tweak the steering of the plane, or do something that in His omnipotence He could do. It seems to me that the world is precisely the way it would look if there were no God and no divine being guiding it. Bad things and good things happen and there’s no explanation why they should happen to one and not another. I don’t understand how a rational person like you can buy that stuff.


47.05

McGrath: I buy it because I believe it to be right. Atheists and Christians both look at difficult things and I believe the Christian explanation is the best, even though there are gaps in our understanding. Why didn’t God take the steering of the plane and move it? It’s a question that Christians have looked at down the years. God created a framework and does not directly intervene. The classical example is the crucifixion. God did not intervene to prevent it in the way we might hope. There’s no quick fix by a ‘nanny God’. It’s a dangerous world we live in and we have to learn how to live in it.


48.50

Dawkins: I agree with that, but you are being inconsistent. By admitting God saved the child you are saying that God does intervene as a nanny from time to time. If you said He never intervenes, then you would be consistent, but you are jumping about in your answers. Sometimes you say He doesn’t intervene and other times He does.


49.40

McGrath: (Speaking to the producers) I think we have covered this. (He then agrees with the producers and Dawkins to concentrate on the child.) Did God chose to save the one child, so what’s wrong with all the others? It is right to say He saved that child. Not because he wanted others to perish, but because he chose to save that one. God wants to do something in a world that’s not perfect. It’s not the way God wants the world to be. It’s not failure on God’s part that the world is the way it is, but He wants to do something to save a person here and a child there.


51.40

Dawkins: I think we’re going to have to leave it there because we’re never going to resolve it.


I shared Dawkins’ obvious frustration at McGrath’s consistent refusal to address the question here. How would I have answered it? There are many aspects to this issue, one of which is the tension between the free will of man and the sovereignty of God. On the one hand, God is Almighty, and His plans and purposes are always fulfilled. The fact that we cannot see the ‘big picture’, but only the tiny part that affects us, means we are unlikely ever to understand fully His decisions. However, our primary experience of Him is of His great love for us, so it is easy to trust Him in the small areas where we do not completely understand.


On the other hand, God has given man a free will, and the Bible says that the gifts and callings of God are without repentance (Romans 11:29): in other words, having given something to us, He will not take it back because it is contrary to His nature to do so. This is His nature and, as previously mentioned, He cannot change. If evil men choose to hijack a plane and use it as a bomb, they are using their free will to do so. God leaves their free will intact and others suffer the consequences of their evil natures. They suffer, not because God wants them to, but because evil people misuse the gift of free will they have been given. As I pointed out earlier, the majority of human suffering is directly because of the deliberate choices of other humans.


Dawkins says the world is the way it would look if there was no God. I would dispute that, of course,* but it is certainly the case that the world is the way it would look if it had experienced a world–wide flood: massive unbroken areas of sedimentary rock and coal layers stretching for hundreds of miles; billions of fossils buried in every part of the world, including the highest mountains. Would Dawkins accept there has been such a flood because the world looks like this? No, he would not! On the other hand, he is quite likely to accept the contradictory view of those scientists who tell us that Mars – a planet on the surface of which there is no water at all – did experience a world–wide flood many years in the past; while the Earth – a planet which is two–thirds covered in water – has never had a world–wide flood!


* It is the way it would look if it had been created perfectly and then wrecked, with the presence of malevolent spirit beings operating directly and indirectly on mankind and nature to bring evil into the world.

Dawkins sets the problem of one child saved while hundreds or thousands of people are not. This is a hypothetical situation: has such a thing ever happened? I suspect there has never been a natural disaster where hundreds or thousands have perished and only one child was saved. However, let us suppose it did happen. There are a number of different ways of looking at it.


Hebrews chapter 11 is the great chapter on faith. We read of a number of Old Testament characters who experienced miraculous deliverance as a result of their faith in God. It may be that the child was saved through either its faith or the faith of those praying for it. However, at the end of the Hebrews chapter we read of people who, through their faith in God, remained faithful to death and suffered terrible things from their enemies. The Bible teaches that since we live in a world in rebellion against God, then Christians are not immune from suffering: just as Jesus Christ came to Earth to share in our suffering (as I mentioned previously, this is not the primary reason for His coming, but it is one element of it) so we too share in the suffering of others.


Is it correct to say that God spared that one child? If the child, or others, were praying to God for deliverance, then certainly, the answer must be ‘yes’. Will there be a reason for the child being the only one spared? Once again, the answer must be ‘yes’, although we may never fully know the reason. However, there are some possibilities. Faith is an active thing, not passive, and simply sitting back and effectively saying, “Whatever will be, will be: God will do what’s best for me so I’ll just leave it to Him,” is not active faith and is likely to achieve little. As James points out three times,* faith without works is dead. It may be that only in the case of this one child was genuine, active faith utilised. As already pointed out, God has given us a free will and will not override it. If we choose not actively to seek Him and stand in faith for what He has promised, then we can’t expect Him to intervene. So, particularly in the case of people who ignore the claims of God on their lives, they can hardly blame Him when things go wrong for them. They have chosen to live without Him and so He will not impose Himself on them against their will to give them the protection they need from the enemy of mankind.




* James 2:17, 20, 26

It is clear that if the child was spared in a disaster, then it had moved into the one place where there was safety. God is constantly speaking to everyone, but few listen to His voice. It may be the child was the only one to follow His guidance, knowingly, or unknowingly, to that place and was therefore saved. There could be different reasons for this. In the population of the UK, the majority intellectually believe that the Christian explanation of the existence of God is correct (in spite of the massive influx of immigrants bringing in their foreign religions with them, and the efforts of the likes of Dawkins to brainwash them into rejecting Him). However, of those, a comparatively small percentage will positively be seeking to serve Him and do His will. For example, how many attend a Church every week: 10% of the population? 5%? This means only a small minority of people have any possibility of the expectation that God will protect them, since the majority choose to ignore Him. As Jesus said, “the way to life is narrow and few find it.” * Of the small percentage in this disaster who were trusting God, perhaps only the child was in the position to hear and follow His guidance and be saved.






* Matthew 7:14

The Old Testament makes it clear that God did send judgement on people by means of four things at that time:* war, famine, wild animals and disease (e.g. Ezekiel 14:21). Nevertheless, even then, He made it clear that what He wanted was for them to have life: He said, “...I have set before you life and death; ...choose life!...” (Deuteronomy 30:19). They did this by the life–style they chose. While in principle, as previously mentioned, we are in a ‘time of grace’ and are spared this kind of judgement, when the majority of people choose a life separate from God, they are effectively taking themselves away from under His grace, and protection from the enemy may no longer be available to them.


* And will do so again in the future: see Rev 6:1–8 where the same four calamities are sent on the earth.

Another example of God’s attitude is found in:

Ezekiel 33:11  ‘As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’

He does not want people to suffer, but rather that they change their ways so they can live in peace and freedom. In the same passage, He says:

When the righteous turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he shall die because of it. But when the wicked turns from his wickedness and does what is lawful and right, he shall live because of it’ (Ezekiel 33:18–19).


There is a tension here though, since Jesus said in Luke 13:4–5 that when the disaster of a tower falling and killing people occurred, it was not because they were worse sinners than anyone else. (However, He went on to say that unless you repent, you too may perish in this way, thus indicating that for those who come to God in ‘repentance’ there is the expectation of protection.) We are living in the middle of a war zone – the war between Satan and his demons on the one hand, and God and His angels on the other – and in a war innocent people get hurt. Can’t an Almighty God step in and save the innocent? God always and consistently operates according to His own nature, which is perfect love and perfect justice. So what we observe is the result of Him being consistent with His own character, and it therefore cannot be done in any other way.


However, this is not the whole answer. Another major aspect is the fact that this life is only the aperitif – the tiny preliminary, opening scene for our existence. To ignore the Bible teaching on the eternity that follows this life is, once again, to create a straw–man argument. To us on this planet, this life is intensely important. Indeed it is, for it determines what our eternity will be. But it is the existence following this life that is most important, and it is this in which God is most interested. It is only there that God will correct wrongs and reward those who trusted Him. This argument is one that the likes of Dawkins will find impossible to accept, because to the atheist there is nothing other than this life: at death, all that follows is oblivion. Nevertheless, it is a valid argument because it is consistent with Bible teaching, although McGrath makes no mention of it.


So whatever the facts of one child being spared while all others perish, God, who is perfect justice as well as perfect love, will set things right for all of them for the eternal life that is to come.


Finally on this, it has to be said that this challenge of Dawkins in no way affects the debate regarding the existence or otherwise of God. It simply relates to what God is like, and in this respect McGrath is correct in saying things are simply the way they are. God is who He is, and we may find it challenging sometimes to understand His nature (which, as previously mentioned, is not surprising in one so much greater than anything our minds can fully comprehend), but in no way does this therefore make His existence impossible.


McGrath says that God does not intervene. This is self–evidently untrue. The testimony of many millions gives the lie to it. However, let us simply look at events in the New Testament. Jesus sees a funeral party with a widow mourning the loss of her son: God intervenes and the son is restored to life. He stands up in a boat about to sink in a storm and gives the command: God intervenes and the storm is stilled. Ten lepers come to Jesus: God intervenes and the lepers are all cleansed. Peter in chains in prison: God intervenes with an angel who releases him and helps him to escape. Paul and Silas in prison: God intervenes with an earthquake, the chains fall off and the doors are opened. Paul is bitten by a snake: God intervenes and Paul is unharmed. Over and over again we see God intervening in the affairs of this life.

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Dawkins: Suicide bombers and people doing atrocious acts do so because they believe they are right to kill and die for their beliefs. It’s faith that gives people the courage to do these things. I would like to discuss these things, but if these people believe they are right so much as to be prepared to kill those who disagree with them, isn’t this a dangerous thing to teach to children?


Of course it is, but what has this to do with Christianity? Dawkins is debating with a Christian here, as he knows very well bearing in mind his earlier comments about the crucifixion of Jesus. There are no Christian suicide bombers. Certainly it is the faith of the bombers that leads them to commit these crimes, but it is faith in the wrong thing. Writing off faith on this basis is like saying fire burns houses down so we should eliminate every form of fire. Or saying that knives are used to kill people so all knives, including those in the kitchen and dining room, should be banned. It is an invalid argument.*




* Of course, many Moslems would say that such crimes are contrary to the Islamic faith too: but that is something for them to defend, not me. One thing that is indisputable, however, is that a recent world–wide survey showed that a large percentage of countries where Christians (along with other minority people–groups) are persecuted, tortured and killed are those where Islam is the ruling force; and countries where freedom of speech and religion is found is where Christianity has been the dominant religion: the UK and the USA, for example.

Dawkins criticises faith, but what about the immense good done by people of faith? It was Christian faith that moved William Wilberforce to act against slavery; Elizabeth Fry to act against appalling prison conditions; Florence Nightingale to revolutionise nursing; Mother Teresa to bring relief to many people suffering in the third world. One could fill a book with the names of Christians whose faith moved them to change society for the better. Dawkins ignores this, and McGrath makes no mention of it either.

53.30

McGrath: Faith is a very dangerous thing: whether one has faith there is a God or faith there is not a God. Faith can inspire people to do dreadful things, both by people acting for God or people trying to remove people who believe in God. Atheism is just as guilty of using violence to promote their cause.

McGrath makes a good point here, although I would argue that it is impossible for faith that is genuinely Christian to be dangerous: anyone acting in a way that would bring harm to others is acting contrary to Christian faith and teaching. However, as McGrath points out, it is certainly true that atheists acting against religion have caused as much, if not more suffering than religious people acting wrongly for it.

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54.50

Dawkins: I want people to be able to say, “I might be wrong.” I can only think of Stalin who might have tried to get rid of religion, no–one else. Do you think it was Stalin’s faith in there not being a God that drove him to do those things? I would be very surprised if it was.


Does Dawkins ever say, “I might be wrong?” I have never seen any evidence of it. Rather he is adamant that he is right in his atheism and evolutionism. Do I ever say “I might be wrong?” Yes! Indeed, I have a statement along that line on one of my web site pages.* I know I am an expert at getting things wrong, and throughout my life have frequently done so. This is why I do not trust my own powers of reason. It is why, for example, I read right through the Koran some years ago, to compare it with my own understanding of things; and the result was a confirmation for me that I was indeed on the right track in my Christian thinking. It is why I have read some of Dawkins’ books and the writings of other evolutionists; and the result has always been confirmation I am on the right track since their explanations always leave huge gaps and rely on straw–man arguments. Having not found any other book better qualified to have originated from our Creator, it is why I constantly read the Bible: to try to ensure my thinking lines up with God’s revelation.

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* At the beginning of the Introduction to this page.

55.35

McGrath: Stalin did see religion as being a problem.

Dawkins: Even though Stalin was an atheist, what he was, was a dogmatic Marxist. It’s incidental he was an atheist. It’s not incidental that suicide bombers are religious. They believe it’s the will of God they do what they do and have a fast track to paradise.


57.00

McGrath: Institutionalised atheism has done some terrible things to people in the 20th century, just as religious people have done. There needs to be limits to what people will do to others.

Dawkins: I agree but take exception to what you say about institutionalised atheism. Stalin pushed Institutionalised Marxism – he happened to be an atheist. Other ideologies have caused terrible evil. Faith in the wrong hands is to be added to that. Atheism is not because it was incidental to what Hitler (who never renounced his Roman Catholicism) and Stalin did and not an integral part of their world–view.


58.45

McGrath: Atheism is not an add–on belief to Marxism but core and leads to the Marxist program to eliminate religion by force. So the 20th century shows that atheism, which can be benign, can also mimic the worst that religion can do. The real issue is human nature, which can do some very good things, but also some very bad things.


Once again, McGrath has made a good point here (the real issue really is human nature), although the key point, that atheism has a key role in the actions of Marxists (for example), is skipped over very quickly in the debate. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and others who suffered in the USSR, made it very clear in their writings that the Communist ideology that God does not exist, so people believing in God must therefore be insane, is the reason Christians and others were put in mental asylums and prisons and treated abysmally. Atheism is the prime mover in this ideology, and many people around the world have been tortured and murdered directly because of it. Dawkins may not like it, but he cannot avoid its truth.


59.50

Dawkins: When actions are policed, that is fine, but when thought police start to act against what people think, as in Orwell’s 1984, this is a very different thing. That is what Stalin and Hitler did – imprisoned and killed people because of what they thought. Faith at its worst can do that. Faith at its best can’t. Rational discussing of things, as we have been doing, is antithetical to faith. We should agree that thought police and the control of thought is deeply evil, leading to evil acts.


Dawkins cannot avoid the fact that it is the faith of atheists, believing God does not exist, that brought about the ‘thought police’ of Stalin and the USSR communist regime. I would certainly dispute that rational discussion is antithetical to faith: on the contrary, faith is the rational outcome of logical consideration of the facts.* However, in his determination to take Christianity and creationism out of school classrooms, for example, Dawkins is indeed acting like the thought police: he is censuring debate and preventing children from hearing a balanced view of both sides, which would enable them to reach a rational decision based on logical reason instead of being brainwashed into believing what Dawkins wants them to believe on the strength of his straw–man arguments.

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* For example, see here  for a review of the highly respected 20th century scholar C S Lewis, who changed from disbelieving to believing in God and accepting the Genesis creation description rather than evolution

1.01.30 (Another interruption from the producers)

1.02.10

Dawkins: Are science and faith incompatible?

McGrath: No. History shows that idea is unjustified. It shows that at some times they were in conflict and at others they worked together. There’s an obligation on all of us to make sure they work together well in the future as they have done in the past.


This is another of Dawkins straw–men: faith hinders science. History shows that the reverse is the case. It has largely been Christian scientists over the centuries whose discoveries have laid the foundations for the present state of scientific knowledge.* Furthermore, there are many Christian scientists alive and working today; producing work just as valuable as anything atheists create. Dawkins claims that creationism destroys scientific endeavour, yet it is a demonstrable fact that theories of origins have no bearing on any scientific investigation into modern medicine or the way living things work today. However, the theory of evolution has certainly delayed advancement in some of these areas, with the dead–ends of vestigial organs, which lead to many essential organs of the human body being written off as useless and ignored only a century ago, and the ‘95% junk DNA’ notion, now known to be completely untrue,** which for some time meant vital areas of DNA were largely ignored.


* See here for a list of them.




** See here

1.02.35

Dawkins: You’ve written that atheism is in decline. Why?

McGrath: Its appeal is largely by cultural factors. Where belief in God is considered a bad thing, atheism flourishes. But today things are changing. There’s a new interest in the post–modern culture in spirituality. People are talking about spirituality instead of atheism.


1.03.30

Dawkins: What about spiritual atheists? Einstein was a deeply spiritual man but didn’t believe in God.


This is a typical Dawkins tactic: manipulating the meaning of a word. He regularly does this with ‘evolution’, defining it as all species arising from a common ancestor, but then pointing at natural selection (a very different phenomenon) and saying he is looking at evolution. Here he takes the word ‘spirituality’, which quite obviously refers to things related to the spirit realm, and uses it to refer to his emotional and intellectual response to what he sees in the physical realm.


McGrath: Einstein was a Theist, although not a conventional one. There’s a conflict between the Marxist atheism that considers only the material things, and the growing interest in the spiritual side of life we are seeing all around us.

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1.04.20

Dawkins: I call myself a spiritual atheist. I do not believe in supernatural phenomenon, but have a deep reverence for the wonders of the universe.

McGrath: I would disagree with your definition of ‘spiritual’. It is not merely an appreciation of nature but that which goes beyond it. I have one question for you. Why are you so angry in your writings about religion?


This brings us to the only time in the entire debate that the agenda is set by McGrath. It has not been an ‘even’ debate, but entirely one of Dawkins making the running and challenging McGrath, with the latter throughout defending himself. Now, for the first time he makes his one and only challenge, and chooses the extraordinary question in the above quote! There are many, far better issues on which Dawkins could be challenged, some of which I have mentioned here, but he chooses one which, predictably, gives him the opportunity to end the debate with another straw–man assault on people of faith.


Dawkins: The evidential point. Religion teaches people to stop questioning. It’s a privilege to understand the universe, and we shouldn’t be prevented from looking at it and it’s tragic that children should be brought up not to question how things work, etc. when they could be brought up another way. Faith unsupported by evidence is a lethal weapon. Children brought up from childhood to believe their faith is truth regardless of the evidence and become human bombs, detonating themselves and blowing up a bus load of people or the twin towers because they believe it is God’s will for them to do it is a terrible thing and would never come from reasoned argument. Also children born into whatever is the predominant religion are then labelled: so in Northern Ireland – this is a catholic child or a protestant child. I know the troubles in Ireland are political, but the labelling of children generation after generation exacerbates the situation.


Religion does not teach people to stop questioning. This is a lie, dreamed up by Dawkins, to give him an excuse to attack Christianity. On the contrary, many scientific discoveries in earlier centuries were initially opposed by scientists (as was Darwin’s theory of evolution in its early days), not Christians. It was the questioning of Christian scientists centuries ago into the way God had created the universe that produced the knowledge that gradually built up into today’s understanding of how things function. Christian teaching in no way prevents children from questioning how things work. This is yet one more straw–man argument on which Dawkins bases his ludicrous attacks on Christians.


I repeat: he is debating a Christian here, not a Muslim. He is perfectly right to be angry about those who, through their distorted belief–system, cause mayhem, terror, suffering and death to others. I am angry about this too. But it is not Christianity. Earlier in the debate Dawkins made reference to the Roman Catholic/Protestant violence in Northern Ireland, but this too has nothing to do with Christianity. As I pointed out earlier, Christianity, by definition, has to be that which was taught by Jesus Christ. Jesus said that those who say “Lord, Lord” will not necessarily enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only those who do the will of God.* So there will be those who pay lip service to Christianity, but who are not actually Christians. How can we know which is which? Jesus said, “By their fruits you will know them.” ** It is what people do that proves who they really are. But what is God’s will? Jesus said it is to love your enemies and do good things to those who do bad things to you. *** This is Christianity. Those who call themselves Christians and act in the ways Dawkins has just criticised are wolves in sheep’s clothing: they may talk the talk, but according to Jesus it is only those who walk the walk who are His true followers. It is self–evidently wrong to judge Christianity by those who act contrary to its basic tenets.




* Matthew 7:21

** Matthew 7:16, 20

*** Matthew 5:44

Dawkins feels he is justified in his anger. However, far more important is the fact that God is much angrier. What makes Him angry? James 5:1–6 tells us that those who have oppressed people over whom they had power/authority are going to experience that anger. Proverbs 6:16–19 says:

“These six things the LORD hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him: a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.”

Proverbs 11:1 says:

“Dishonest scales are an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is His delight.”

In other words, God is angry about fraud. Revelation 21:8 tells us that murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars will experience that anger. Above all, Romans 1:18–20 says:

“But God shows His anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. They know the truth about God because He has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see His invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.” (NLT)


In other words Dawkins has the anger of God hovering above his head like the sword of Damocles, because, although the existence of God is obvious from everything around us, he prefers to believe his own prejudices and the speculations of his own mind. What is more, he imposes them on many others and seeks to suppress the truth of our Creator God from them. There is yet time for him to change, come to Jesus and be spared the experience of that anger. It is only the great love of God for Him, in providing the sacrifice of Jesus to deflect His wrath away from Dawkins, that presently protects him from it; but this will not continue indefinitely.


While clay is on the potter’s wheel it can be moulded and shaped into any kind of form; but once it has been fired in the kiln there is no further possibility of change. Likewise, while we are on the potter’s wheel of this life our choices mould and change us; but once we have been through the fire of death we are fixed into whatever those choices have made of us. I pray God will continue to work in Dawkins’ life and that there will be something to open his eyes to the truth while there is still time.


If Dawkins is right and I am wrong, then neither of us will ever know, because all that follows this life will be oblivion. If I am right and he is wrong, then he will have an eternity in which to regret his choices.

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