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Britain Debates Life's Ultimate Question
Especially in the last year, the reemergence of media coverage about aggressive atheism has helped focus British attention on that most crucial of all questions: Does God exist? Even scientists are arguing the question. In spite of a rather vigorous defense, atheism certainly appears to be gaining ground in Britain and Europe.
by John Ross Schroeder
In the title of a feature article, columnist Gerard Baker of The Times recently called 2006 "a good year for religious conflict and atheism" (Dec. 22, 2006).
Many things have been and are being written about Oxford Professor Richard Dawkins' disbelief in God. He is perhaps the world's foremost apostle of atheism. John Preston, writing in Seven (the magazine supplement of The Sunday Telegraph), stated that Dawkins "is almost evangelical in telling Christians they are misguided in their faith" (Dec. 17, 2006, p. 8).
Even those who vehemently oppose his views generally acknowledge that Professor Dawkins "has caused a sensation this year with the runaway success of his anti-religious book, The God Delusion" (The Sunday Times, Dec. 24, 2006, p. 2). His book has headed the nonfiction best-seller list in Britain, and it stayed on The New York Times best-seller list for 14 weeks.
On a recent train and ferry trip from England to Northern Ireland, I saw at least two individuals reading The God Delusion intently. In one case I sat down opposite a businessman, and a conversation about Professor Dawkins' book soon ensued. It turned out to be a friendly discussion in which I pointed out some of the flaws in the author's rationale.
Education and religion
Richard Dawkins started his aggressive educational campaign with a two-part television documentary titled The Root of All Evil?--referring to religion in general and Christianity in particular.
However, as Gerard Baker has astutely pointed out, "The two great global conflicts of the 20th century were not truly religious at all...It was twisted ethnic, rather than religious, ideology that principally animated the Nazis. And it is worth noting that the narrowly avoided conflict which would have trumped even these tragedies--a nuclear war with the Soviet Union--would have been launched and prosecuted in the name of militant atheism" (The Times, Dec. 22, 2006).
As British author Roger Scruton summed it up, "Richard Dawkins believes that faith is an infectious disease which spreads intolerance and conflict. In fact...it is our principal source of love and peace" (The Spectator, Jan. 14, 2006, p. 24).
Professor Dawkins has stated that "there is a strong correlation between religion and education: the more educated people are, the less religious" (FT magazine, Dec. 16/17, 2006, p. 16). It's no surprise that secular-minded professors are "educating" students away from believing in God. But actually we would suggest that only those who have examined the overwhelming evidence and have come to believe in the reality of a personal God are truly educated.
Nonetheless, this exponent of atheism is not at all satisfied with education in even elementary schools that mostly emphasize secularism. A fairly recent report stated that "the Oxford professor and campaigning atheist is planning to take his fight against God into the classroom by flooding schools with anti-religious literature" (The Sunday Times, Nov. 19, 2006, p. 5). Dawkins plans to set up a charity that "will subsidise books, pamphlets and DVDs attacking the 'educational scandal' of theories such as creationism while promoting rational and scientific thought" (ibid.).
Far too many erroneously believe that religion is chiefly responsible for every human wrong in the world. Gerard Baker helps counter this false notion: "You don't have to be religious to have a dangerous inclination to bend others to your own views. Professor Richard Dawkins provided a timely reminder that belligerent intolerance of the beliefs of others is by no means the preserve of the faithful" (The Times, Dec. 22, 2006).
Comparative national religious beliefs
Historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto recently assessed the current state of British religious interest in general terms. He stated: "Sermons are about society, not salvation. Alastair Campbell [Tony Blair's director of strategy and communications] spoke for England when he said we don't do God. The British now respond to religion with the embarrassment once provoked only by sex" (The Independent, Dec. 24, 2006, emphasis added throughout).
British educational authorities like Chris Woodhead have indicated that "RE [Religious Education] lessons are badly taught and fail to instill faith and tolerance. They should be axed" (The Sunday Times, July 24, 2005, p. 11).
The Jewish community in Britain also has adherents in the atheist/agnostic camp, while still claiming to hold to some aspects of Judaism. For instance, one couple gave their twin sons "a faith-free" bar mitzvah. The two are quoted by The Jewish Chronicle as saying, "You can be Jewish without praying to a God you don't believe in" (Dec. 22, 2006, p. 20).
According to Harvard professor and author Niall Ferguson, "the Gallup Millennium Survey of Religious Attitudes shows that barely 20 per cent of West Europeans attend church services at least once a week, compared with 47 per cent of North Americans and 82 per cent of West Africans. Less than half of Western Europeans say that God is a 'very important' part of their lives, as against 83 per cent of Americans and virtually all West Africans. And fully 15 per cent of Western Europeans deny that there is any kind of 'spirit, God or life force'" (The Daily Telegraph, July 31, 2005).
The other side of the debate
Daily Mail columnist and author Melanie Phillips has pointed out that "religion lies at the heart of our society's greatest achievements because it enables the human spirit to soar...It was this Judeo-Christian heritage that has given us values that secularists prize, such as human rights and tolerance. Religion gives us a code to live by which helps make us better people...The value we in the West place on every individual and on the principle of equality is based on our foundation religious doctrine that we are all created equal in the image of God" (Daily Mail, Dec. 19, 2005).
Columnist Jeff Jacoby articulated the fact that "without God the difference between good and evil becomes purely subjective" (International Herald Tribune, Dec. 15, 2006).
At least a few scientists also ask some searching questions relevant to life's ultimate question. For instance, Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society, stated: "The pre-eminent mystery is why anything exists at all. What breathes life into the equations; and actualized them in a real cosmos. Such questions lie beyond science, however; they are the province of philosophers and theologians" (The Sunday Times, Dec. 24, 2006).
A cover article in Time magazine (international edition) stated: "The universe seems uncannily well suited to the existence of life. Could that really be an accident?" (Nov. 29, 2004, p. 58).
In yet another piece from Time, Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Research Institute, states: "For me the fundamental answers about the meaning of life come not from science, but from a consideration of the origins of our uniquely human sense of right and wrong and from the historical record of Christ's life on earth" (Aug. 15, 2005, p. 34).
The testimony of a former atheist
It happens! About three years ago, "one of the most renowned atheists of the past half century...changed his mind and decided that there is a God after all. Anthony Flew, emeritus professor of philosophy at Reading University, whose arguments for atheism have influenced scholars the world over, has been converted to the view that some sort of deity created the universe" (The Sunday Times, Dec. 12, 2004, Internet).
To quote this long-believing atheist directly, Professor Flew stated: "I have been persuaded that it is simply out of the question that the first living matter evolved out of dead matter and then developed into an extraordinary creature" (ibid.).
It is axiomatic that life comes from life! The question is: Who possessed life before the creation? The Bible tells us that both the Father and the Son have life within Themselves (John 5:26).
During the middle of the first century, the apostle Paul addressed academics in Athens, declaring the reality of the Creator God to the Greek philosophers of his day (see Acts 17:16-28). This aspect of the gospel is also a part of the teaching of the United Church of God today.
We have written in voluminous detail about the many reasons we believe there is a personal Creator God who has always existed. Please be sure to request (or download) our free booklets on this important subject-- The rationale for these three booklets springs from the Bible and from the perspective and evidence of true science.
Does it really matter what you believe?
There are two opposing worldviews at stake in this crucial battle for the minds of the British people. The first worldview argues that human beings are nothing but a cosmic accident, the result of millions of years of being gradually engineered by the evolutionary process, occasioned through the survival of the fittest. Thus the bottom line is that we should all look out for number one because this life is all there is.
This despairing outlook sums up the Darwinian worldview. In his weekly Spectator column, British author Paul Johnson has analyzed the results.
"Much of the blame lies with Richard Dawkins, head of the Darwinian fundamentalists in this country [Britain], who has (it seems) indissolubly linked Darwin to the more extreme forms of atheism, and projected on to our senses a dismal world in which life has no purpose or meaning and a human being has no more significance than a piece of rock, being subject to the blind process of pitiless, unfeeling, unthinking nature" (Aug. 27, 2005, p. 25).
Yet, as world statesman Sir Winston Churchill once articulated in a speech to both houses of the U.S. Congress: "He must be a blind soul indeed that cannot see that a great purpose is being worked out here below."
The other worldview is firmly based on life having a great divine purpose. In the vernacular it says, "It's not about me." This life is not about human beings seeking to please the self, but instead, showing love to neighbor and striving to become more like the greatest Man who ever lived, Jesus Christ of Nazareth. He showed us the ultimate example of love in giving His life for us so that we might eventually share the entire universe with Him (see Romans 8:16-23; Hebrews 2:5-11).
If you would like more information about this second and much more fruitful worldview, request or download our free booklet Why did God create human beings in the first place? Does the Bible reveal a great divine plan and purpose? Why has it been hidden from most of mankind? All these questions and more are answered in this publication, which you can read in just one sitting. WNP
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Keywords: Dawkins, Richard atheism The God Delusion