Posts Tagged ‘Richard Dawkins’

Devotional Podcast #26: “Is Jesus Enough for Us?”

July 14, 2018

Devotional Text: Mark 5:21-43

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Hi, this is Brent White. It’s Saturday, July 14, and after a long break, I’m back with you for Episode Number 26 in my series of podcasts. I apologize for the time away. I’m an itinerant United Methodist pastor, and I was recently appointed to a new church. So over the past two months I’ve had to pack up and leave one town and one church move to another town and church. But now that I’m getting settled in, I hope to bring you these podcast episodes with more regularity.

You’re listening to “The Waiting” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, his hit song from 1981. I recorded this directly from the band’s long-playing vinyl record Hard Promises. The song is a happy song, in a way, because the singer sings it on the other side of a long and difficult wait. For the singer, the waiting is finally over—at last—because, you know, he’s finally found true love or whatever. But he wants you to know that waiting for true love was very difficult. In fact, “it’s the hardest part.” “Every day,” he says, “you see one more card”—you don’t see all the cards all at once; you just see one at a time, and you trust—you “take it on faith”—that you’re going to be holding all the right cards before the game is over.

And so it is for us Christians today, and so it was for Jairus in today’s scripture, which comes from Mark 5:21-43. I need to read it because, otherwise, you may not know what I’m talking about… [Read Mark 5:21-43.] 

Jairus is a synagogue ruler in Capernaum, the town that served as Jesus’ home base during his ministry years. That means, among other things, that Jairus is a powerful, wealthy, well-respected member of his community. He is sincerely religious, as we learn in v. 23, where Mark tells us that he “implored Jesus earnestly” to heal his terminally ill daughter. Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 03-27-16: “My Father and Your Father”

March 31, 2016

John Sermon Series Graphic

As I say in this sermon, I have a passion for convincing people that the resurrection of Jesus Christ really happened. But the more urgent need in our church, in our community, and in our culture is this: To convince people who say they believe the resurrection really happened to live as if they believe it really happened! Because if the resurrection happened, then that changes everything!

Sermon Text: John 20:1-18

[To listen on the go, right-click here to download an MP3.]

Yesterday I ran a race—a 5K—at my son Ian’s elementary school. It was a fundraiser for the school. Many people ran, including some very fast runners. I did not expect to win—not at all. But I also didn’t expect to get smoked by my son Townshend. The last time I ran a 5K with him, he beat me by a little—and I was still dealing with a heel injury at the time, so I could have chalked it up to that. Besides, the time before that when we ran a 5K, I beat him by a lot.

Yesterday, however, he beat me by a lot. And I thought I was in pretty good shape this time! So I had no excuses. I kept up with him for a little while, but… pretty soon he raced on ahead. So as much as it wounds my pride to say it, I think we have crossed the Rubicon; I will never again be as fast as Townshend.

Sad, isn’t it? No, not really. It shouldn’t be. He’s young! In his prime! Of course he beat me!

Today’s scripture describes something of a footrace, this one between Peter and John, called here the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” the author of John’s gospel. And it sounds like their race ended in a similar sort of way. And I think that John beat Peter to Jesus’ tomb for the same reason that Townshend be me. Because we know that John is a lot younger than Peter.

But the main reason I want to draw your attention to these verses—verses 3 through 10—is I want you to notice how oddly detailed… and specific they are. Why does it matter who got to the tomb first, or what order they went in? Read the rest of this entry »

“Yes, free will is an illusion,” say Dawkins and Gervais, “but don’t worry about it”

July 14, 2015


The two most recent podcasts of Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig have analyzed a popular YouTube video in which “new atheist” author and scientist Richard Dawkins interviews fellow atheist and comedian Ricky Gervais.

I was intrigued with the atheists’ candor regarding free will: they’re happy to concede that it’s an illusion, as you see in the following exchange.

RICHARD DAWKINS: I feel as though I have free will, even if I don’t.

RICKY GERVAIS: Of course. And, you know, I’d say determinism is sound. But it is when they start making these leaps that we can’t be responsible for our own actions. Well, you’ve still got to lock someone up if they go around murdering people to protect the innocent.

RICHARD DAWKINS: Yes. It wasn’t me that did the murder . . . it was my neurons and my genes.

RICKY GERVAIS: Of course. Yeah, it doesn’t work. There is obviously a little bit of that creeping into everything – responsibility, being adult about things. But yeah it doesn’t change a thing. I feel that I make my own choices, and if I don’t I certainly feel like I am choosing. So yeah it is not even worth worrying about. But yeah this thing that takes the art out of something or the humanity or the beauty – why? Why does it? It is strange.

Why, from their point of view, is free will an illusion?

Because, as philosophical materialists, they’re committed to a worldview that says nothing exists beyond this material world. Obviously, this worldview rules out God—and it also rules out immaterial created things like angels and demons. But if you’re an atheist, who cares?

The problem is that it also rules out another immaterial thing that every human being, whether theist or atheist, experiences all the time: an independent mind, which stands over and above our bodies and has the power to direct our thoughts and actions.

From an atheistic point of view, however, the “mind” is nothing more than the byproduct of blind, unguided physical processes that take place in the brain. These physical processes in the brain create the “mind” at every moment—the way a movie projector projects an image on the screen. Just as an actor on-screen can’t step outside of the projected image to adjust the focus or the volume, or go to the concession stand and buy popcorn, so our “minds” have no power to control our bodies.

Everyone, including Dawkins and Gervais, grants that the mind seems to have this power, which we call “free will,” but it’s only an illusion. Who cares, Gervais says. “I feel that I make my own choices, and if I don’t I certainly feel like I am choosing. So, yeah, it is not even worth worrying about.”

He hastens to add, however, that our lack of free will doesn’t eliminate individual responsibility. (Really? Explain how.) But even it does, “you’ve still got to lock someone up if they go around murdering people to protect the innocent.”

Is he blind to the irony of that statement? His words are truer than he knows: If we have no free will, then, by all means, you’ve “got to lock someone up.” I mean, you’ve got to—because the people who are going around locking others up also have no choice! They’re only doing what blind, unguided physical processes are compelling them to do. And all the while, their brains are lying to them, making them believe that they’re choosing to do so.

Yet somehow Dawkins and Gervais have no problem with this? I say that they are “of all men most to be pitied.”

After all, in the very next breath they complain about Christians who insist on a worldview that fails to see the world as they do. But why complain? By their own reasoning, Dawkins and Gervais aren’t atheists because they’ve thought it through, and they’ve chosen the worldview that makes the most sense of the world; they’re atheists because—again—blind, unguided physical processes have made them this way.

And those same blind, unguided physical processes have made Christians like me the way I am.

They should simply have compassion on less enlightened people like me. Of course, whether they do or don’t isn’t up to them.

Easter Sermon 2015: “He Has Risen—He Is Not Here”

April 16, 2015


My Easter sermon for 2015 is one part apologetic for the resurrection of Jesus Christ and one part proclamation of what that resurrection means: forgiveness and reconciliation with God, eternal life, and God’s putting the world to rights (as N.T. Wright often says). This is the first time I’ve preached Mark’s version of the resurrection in nine or ten years—although I would hate to re-read my sermon from back then!

Sermon Text: Mark 16:1-8

[To listen on the go, download an MP3 of this sermon by right-clicking here.]

The following is my original sermon manuscript with footnotes.

When I was a child, to my great shame and embarrassment, I was a crier. For whatever reason, when I was a kid, I cried easily and often. This fact embarrassed me greatly. I know I know There’s nothing wrong with crying, but I was mortified at the thought of crying in front of my classmates in elementary school. The prospect filled me with dread. Yet somehow it still happened, year after year. Year after year, from first grade through sixth grade, something would happen—I’d get in a fight, I’d get in trouble, teachers would yell at me—and tears would flow. I would cry at school, and I felt like the whole world saw me.

Here’s the worst incident: It was literally the last day of sixth grade. I had gone the entire year without crying even once. A new record. And back in those days no one did any work on the last day of school. We spent most of the day in class parties or on the playground. What could go wrong? It was such a happy day. What could happen that would cause me to cry? Well, we were on the playground. By one of the jungle gyms. And I said or did something to cross Doug Smith—the class bully, my nemesis, my enemy—and he punched me in the gut. Cold-cocked me. Knocked the wind out of me. And I promise you, it was as if my skin turned green; it was as if muscles grew and ripped through my shirt and pants. It was as if I transformed into the Incredible Hulk. Read the rest of this entry »

“Oh, you sweet little simpletons, people don’t rise from the dead!”

April 7, 2015
Richard Dawkins explains why Jesus' resurrection couldn't have happened.

Richard Dawkins explains why Jesus’ resurrection couldn’t have happened.

Lutheran Pastor Hans Fiene has blessed us with another Lutheran Satire video. This one relates to the circularity that often emerges in atheists’ arguments against miracles, particularly the miracle at the center of our Christian faith: The resurrection couldn’t have happened because we know miracles don’t happen. We know miracles don’t happen because we have no evidence of miracles happening. But doesn’t the resurrection itself offer evidence of at least one miracle happening?

My boys—13 and 10—thought this was funny.


“Reason to Believe,” Week 2: Conspiracy theories

March 19, 2015


“Liars make bad martyrs,” the old saying goes—which is one reason we can know that Jesus’ disciples didn’t conspire to invent Jesus’ resurrection in a misguided effort to vindicate their rabbi’s teaching or enrich themselves. No, as I discuss in Part 2 of my “Reason to Believe” class, followers of Jesus—including a couple of men who weren’t originally followers—sincerely believed that they had encounters with the resurrected Jesus. They believed it so much that many of them suffered and died horrible deaths because of it.

Moreover, N.T. Wright has taken pains to show that no Jew expected a single individual—Messiah or otherwise—to be resurrected in the middle of history. What would have motivated the disciples—pious Jews that they were—to set aside this religious doctrine other than their firm conviction that resurrection happened, at least in this one case?

I heard atheist Richard Dawkins say, when asked to account for the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection, “When powerful and charismatic leaders of antiquity died, their followers believed all sorts of things.”

Setting aside the chronological snobbery that takes for granted the gullibility of ancient people, Dawkins is simply wrong. There were dozens of other messianic movements in Judea on either side of Jesus’ death, yet in no other case did the would-be messiah’s followers claim that their leader had been resurrected.

Again, what’s different about Jesus?

Enjoy the following presentation. Right-click here to download an MP3 file.

Sermon 11-30-14: “Beginning with the End”

December 10, 2014
My new Advent series draws on ideas from Hamilton's new book.

My new Advent series draws on ideas from Hamilton’s new book.

During Advent this year, I take a cue from Adam Hamilton’s new book, Not a Silent Night, and tell the Christmas story through Mary’s eyes. This first sermon in the series begins near the end—after the resurrection and ascension of her son Jesus. Although Mary only gets one mention in scripture after those events—in Acts 1:8-14—we can infer that she devoted herself to fulfilling the Great Commission.

Her mission is our mission, too!

Sermon Text: Acts 1:8-14

Audio only this week. Click on the play button below, or right-click here to download .mp3 file.

The following is my original manuscript with footnotes.

There was big news in the world of entertainment last week, as we got our first glimpse of the new Star Wars movie, number seven in the franchise. Of course, when I was a kid, there were only three Star Wars movies. And at the end of the third movie, which we used to call Return of the Jedi, but is now more often referred to as “Episode VI,” the rebels defeated Darth Vader, and the Empire, and the “dark side,” and everyone lived happily ever after, as far as we knew.

From the new Star Wars trailer

From the new Star Wars trailer

But now, guess what? The story wasn’t over after all. And in a voice-over, a menacing voice says, “There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?” I don’t know what has been awakened, but it sounds pretty bad.

The point is, despite the happy ending in the previous movie, the Star Wars story continues—and will continue for at least three more movies.

And believe it or not, something similar is happening in today’s scripture. Whereas we thought that the Gospel of Luke was the end of the story, it turns that it was just a prequel to the next story, one which Luke will tell in the Book of Acts. Luke writes in verse 1: “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach…” Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 08-31-14: “Bible Heroes, Part 4: Barak”

September 10, 2014

superhero graphic

One of the most difficult truths of scripture is that God permits suffering in our world, whether he causes it or not. The good news is that he redeems suffering too. He constantly uses it for our own good. He did so in the case of Israel at the beginning of today’s scripture, and he did so in the case of Barak. Suffering, as C.S. Lewis famously observed, is like a megaphone by which God wakes us up. But victory is always waiting for us on the other side of hard times, if we can only trust in the Lord.

 Sermon Text: Judges 4:1-22

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

The best-selling new atheist writer and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins got some bad publicity a couple of weeks ago from some remarks he made on his Twitter account. One of his followers said, “I honestly don’t know what I would do if I were pregnant with a kid with Down Syndrome. Real ethical dilemma.” It was no dilemma for Dawkins. He tweeted back: “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.”

Dr. Dawkins received a ton of well-deserved criticism for this tweet, including from a thoughtful writer named J.D. Flynn in the Christian journal First Things. Flynn wondered on what basis Dawkins believed that knowingly bringing Down Syndrome children into the world was “immoral.” Read the rest of this entry »

Missing the point

May 30, 2014

Last week, I blogged about a recent episode of The Good Wife in which a philosophical materialist—one who believes that nothing exists beyond the physical universe—was tripped up by his own philosophy. One commenter linked to this YouTube video of celebrity atheist Richard Dawkins rejecting the idea that you need God (or any transcendent being) in order to be a moral person.

On the one hand, of course that’s true: atheists can certainly be—and usually are, I imagine—about as moral as anyone else—religious or otherwise. On the other hand, as I said in my reply, Dawkins’s response misses the point of the question he was asked in the video:

For our purposes in this post only, it hardly matters whether we “agree” on what is right or wrong. It is more important to have a right or wrong on which to agree or disagree. [Dawkins] seems to fail to grasp the question. So he likes modern Western secular values. What is his rational basis for doing so? How does he prove in any scientific way that these values are best? He doesn’t. And that’s the point.

The commenter responded: “Do you feel values in the western world are not superior to others? If you could choose a nation with the best values, or system for us to live by, which would it be? Just curious.” To which I replied: “To a philosophical materialist, words like ‘best’ and ‘superior’ are meaningless except insofar as they express one’s personal tastes, shaped as they are by blind forces…”

In other words, if materialists can agree on what counts as “good,” then they can work out what is better or best, superior or inferior. But a materialist who’s true to his values doesn’t pretend that the “good” means what we human beings usually mean when we use the word, at least insofar as it relates to justice—as in, “This is right, and that is wrong.” We are appealing to a universal standard that transcends opinion and taste.

To the materialist, by contrast, the good is entirely subjective—which is fine, of course, so long as you live among people who agree with you. But if you’re being tortured by people who disagree on the question, there’s no sense saying, “This is wrong. This is evil.” Because based on your own philosophy, your torturers’ sense of right and wrong would be no more or less justified than yours.

In a series of blog posts this week, Roger Olson put the problem with materialism in sharp relief. (He refers to materialists as “naturalists,” but same difference).

He issued this challenge to anyone who wanted to defend naturalism as a worldview:

So let me put it this way. I’m not a naturalist, but here I will adopt the “voice” of one:

I am a young naturalist, having adopted a purely naturalistic worldview, such that I believe nature is all there is and there is no transcendent meaning or purpose to my life or anyone else’s life. I am here by accident and when I die I am simply gone. There is no God or gods, only matter, energy, space and time.

I have decided to live for pleasure; I will do only what pleases me. I happen to find that treating others as means to my end is advantageous to me. I do not find that compassion or empathy or cooperation are of any value to me except insofar as they happen to enhance my own happiness. More often than not they don’t. I use them as tools for my own advantage–to enhance my own pleasure.

However, I have discovered certain ways in which I can mistreat other people, take advantage of them, through deception and manipulation, and not at all be disadvantaged by it. You can’t convince me otherwise. I see other people doing the same and I follow their example and am perfectly happy.

So long as I am not socially or personally disadvantaged, why should I not manipulate, even oppress, others?    My life plan is to live entirely for myself and my own personal pleasure. It brings me satisfaction. I am very smart, smarter than the majority of people, and am confident that I can get away with my chosen path of life. If it leads me to commit crimes, I will do so–so long as I am sure I will not be caught.

Some people tell me that I have some kind of altruistic gene and that I ought to live a life of cooperation and compassion. I do not feel that; if there is such a gene I didn’t inherit it. Don’t tell me I’m not normal; I don’t care about being normal. I care about being happy and I am happy taking advantage of others and living solely for myself.

My life philosophy is “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.” I am a hedonist and don’t see any reason not to be. Life is what it is and its only purpose is survival, reproduction, and happiness. Those are my only values.

Try to convince me, on naturalist presuppositions alone, that I am wrong. Good luck.

Read the comments sections of these posts. Given that his follow-up posts were called “Adventures in Missing the Point” and “Further Adventures in Missing the Point,” you can see that he didn’t get very far.

David Berlinski on evolution and the pretensions of scientific atheism

December 21, 2013

devils_delusionYesterday, I read The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions by David Berlinski. It’s a polemical, savagely funny response to the new atheism of Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, et al., whose unlikely author is himself an agnostic and secular Jew. Why did he, of all people, write a book mostly for Christians like me? Because he noticed that no one else had written it! One’s soul can only withstand so much indignation, after all.

The book clarified my thinking on several ideas I’ve blogged about in the past, including Dawkins’s argument against God, necessary versus contingent things, the mulitverse (or “Landscape”), the universe’s apparent fine-tuning, and attempts by Stephen Hawking and others to explain it away using quantum cosmology. Of the latter he writes the following (which gives you a sense of his writing style):

The details may be found in Hawking’s best-selling A Brief History of Time, a book that was widely considered fascinating by those who did not read it, and incomprehensible by those who did. Their work will seem remarkably familiar to readers who grasp the principle behind pyramid schemes or magical acts in which women disappear into a box only to emerge as tigers shortly thereafter.[1]

After describing the work Hawking did to explain the origin of our universe, Berlinski says that the universe that Hawking found is, unsurprisingly, just the universe Hawking assumed he would find. “If what Hawking described is not quite a circle in thought, it does appear to suggest an oblate spheroid. ¶ The result is guaranteed—one hunnerd percent, as used-car salesmen say.[2]

Berlinski continually highlights the same problem with these guys that I’ve highlighted a few times on this blog. Even if what they say is true (which he doesn’t believe for a moment), they haven’t answered the question, “Why something and not nothing.”

That’s all well and good… What I wasn’t prepared for in this book was his frontal assault on something that I never talk about on this blog: evolution.

In part, I don’t talk about it because I don’t understand it. No one I know understands it. I mean, we may remember some things from our tenth-grade biology textbook, but nothing that would pass muster these days. When the average person says he believes in evolution, all he’s really saying is that he takes on faith that really smart people haven’t misled them on the subject. And none of us wants to appear to be stupid.

Or sometimes when people say they believe in evolution, they’re saying something about a God they no longer believe in, or a church whose doctrines they’ve long since abandoned.

Even before reading this book, I’ve wondered why it’s necessary to talk about “believing in” evolution in the first place? Either it happens or it doesn’t, like any other phenomenon in the realm of science. Why use religious language to describe one’s assent to its “doctrines.”

Berlinski has an idea: because the theory makes little sense, and it’s supported by little evidence.

If the facts are what they are, the past is what it is—profoundly enigmatic. The fossil record may be used to justify virtually any position, and often is. There are long eras in which nothing happens. The fire alarms of change then go off in the night. A detailed and continuous record of transition between species is missing, those neat sedimentary layers, as Gould noted time and again, never revealing precisely the phenomena that Darwin proposed to explain. It is hardly a matter on which paleontologists have been reticent. At the very beginning of his treatise Vertebrate Paleontology and Evolution, Robert Carroll observes quite correctly that “most of the fossil record does not support a strictly gradualistic account” of evolution. A “strictly gradualistic” account is precisely what Darwin’s theory demands: It is the heart and soul of the theory.

By the same token, there are no laboratory demonstrations of speciation either, millions of fruit flies coming and going while never once suggesting that they were destined to appear as anything other than fruit flies… If species have an essential nature that beyond limits cannot change, then random variations and natural selection cannot change them. We must look elsewhere for an account that does justice to their nature or to the facts.[3]

Berlinski also argues that computer simulations of Darwinian evolution fail “when they are honest and succeed when they are not.” When the results of one such simulation came in, a reporter for the New York Times wrote, “with solemn incomprehension, ‘the creatures mutated but showed only modest increases in complexity.’ Which is to say, they showed nothing of interest at all. This is natural selection at work but it is hardly work that has worked to intended effect… What these computer experiments do reveal is a principle far more penetrating than any that Darwin ever offered: ¶ There is a sucker born every minute.”[4]

In a recent paper published by an evolutionary biologist named Joel Kingsolver, the author said, “Important issues about selection remain unresolved.” “Of those important issues,” Berlinski writes, “I would mention prominently the question whether natural selection exists at all.”

Finally, I had a laugh at this:

Although Darwin’s theory is very often compared favorably to the great theories of mathematical physics on the grounds that evolution is as well established as gravity, very few physicists have been heard observing that gravity is as well established as evolution. They know better and they are not stupid.[5]

1. David Berlinski, The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions (New York: Basic Books, 2009), 98.

2. Ibid., 106.

3. Ibid., 188-9.

4. Ibid., 190.

5. Ibid., 191.