Saturday, June 2, 2007

Revering the Universe

Richard Dawkins begins The God Delusion with a personal story of his own sense of wonder at the universe. We are expected to find his sense of awe deserving of respect and to question any respect we might hold for those who revere an immaterial Being transcendent to that universe. Throughout the book, Dawkins displays his inability to understand the idea that the God of Christian theism is so much more awesome and glorious than His creation. This inability ensures that Dawkins' entire project is nothing more than a straw-man argument, dealing with mischaracterizations of Christianity rather than the real thing.

Early on, Dawkins quotes favorably the late astronomer Carl Sagan (writing in Pale Blue Dot):
How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, 'This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant'? Instead they say, 'No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.' A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.
There's a great deal with which to take issue here, but I'll confine myself to a few quick observations.

As an encapsulization of Sagan's and Dawkins' religious affinities, this is a good one. Each worships the universe itself and reveres science as the only way of knowing things. This religious position is variously known as naturalism, naturalistic materialism, and pantheism, and includes the (self-refuting) views known as scientism and physicalism. Sagan and (more particularly) Dawkins would like us all to share their religious view, to worship the universe (which, for Sagan at least, should be capitalized). That's fine.

But Dawkins' book purports to show that Christianity is false. That being the case, the Sagan quote about major religions in general and Dawkins' use of it seem irrelevant at best and self-defeating at worst. You see, Christianity is the "major religion" that gave birth to science and the only worldview that provides the logical grounding for continuing science (see my blog posts of 3 Feb and 6 Feb of this year). The founders of science recognized their explorations of the universe as attempts to "think God's thoughts after Him." To the extent that science reveals even more grandeur, subtlety, and elegance in the universe, the logical Christian response is to feel and express ever greater wonder at and reverence for the Creator of it.

Moreover, the Christian (and Jewish) Scriptures are replete with admonitions to study and marvel at the universe, the Earth, and its inhabitants, and even to learn more about the Creator through such study. Of course (and this is perfectly reasonable), those same Scriptures are careful to warn people against worshipping the creation rather than the Creator, a problem common to Sagan and Dawkins.

Now I recognize that many who profess Christianity are guilty of what Sagan laments--putting God in a box and denying evidence about the vastness and grandeur of creation because it is at odds with their interpretation of certain Scriptures. But the validity of Christianity is not ascertained by examining how some of its aherents (or professors) behave as much as by what its Scriptures teach. Quite simply, the Bible portrays the universe as marvelous beyond our comprehension and yet the Creator as far exceeding even it in glory.

As an aside, I frankly much prefer to worship God with others who share the sort of wonder at creation that Scripture affirms. I think I've found a local church full of such folks. Central Oregon, with its high desert, magnificent mountains, and wealth of rivers and forests, somehow seems to bring out an appreciation of nature and (for those willing to acknowledge Him) reverence for its Creator. It's a shame that Sagan never experienced the sort of reverence and awe regularly expressed at Antioch.


Anonymous said...

Is it okay to be a lawyer and Christian. Do you see any internal conflicts that may cause the lawyer to be a stumbling block to his brother in Madras even if he loves him and his family a lot? Do you know me? :)

Christ's Legal Eagle

Rick Gerhardt said...


Of course, it's okay to be a lawyer and Christian. Indeed, we'd be in desperate straits if Christians abandoned the legal profession altogether.

I do see that Christian lawyers face more internal conflicts themselves than do some other folks (or perhaps I should say conflicts with more levels of complexity). I would not expect those things to affect relationships with (present a stumbling block to) other believers (generally or specifically, though your cryptic message may hint at some specific individual case).

I suspect I do know you, but at this point I can't identify you. I'd welcome another hint (or even full disclosure).

Anonymous said...

Christian Businessmen such as yourself will certainly possess the acumen to discern my identity. Alternatively I could have been found on the river fishing for Salmon on occassion with Pastor Lee in the past or presently in a town that sounds like it is named after rolling earthly protrusions.


Rick Gerhardt said...


Are you PH III?

Anonymous said...

Yes ! I very much enjoy your blog and hope that you and the family are doing well! We are doing fine. I'm now a younger elder at Sonrise We are currently sending teams to Africa, LA and Mexico. Local body is rapidly growing and we are getting ready to move into a new 50,000 sq. ft. facility. I still go to prision every other month, disciple two young married fathers and lead a home group!Jules is teachining the school system and Pres. of the CBNW Women's camp. Add three boys playing baseball and we move at light speed! God is good and since He is in charge all is moving ahead well. Our best to you, yours and all the wonderful folks in Central Oregon.

In Christ,