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Richard Dawkins Was Right!

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Bad Reasons To BelieveYes, you heard me right. Richard Dawkins – perhaps the most famous atheist in the world – one of the “Four Horsemen of New Atheism” – was right about something. One thing only.

Of all things, he was right about ascertaining truth. Though he himself is living under the delusion of a lie.

At the end of his book, A Devil’s Chaplain (2003), there is a letter entitled “Good and Bad Reasons for Believing,” written to his 10-year-old daughter. In this letter Dawkins outlines three bad reasons to believe anything that claims to be true. Some of his logic is flawed or uninformed. Nonetheless, his reasons are solid.

1. “Tradition” Is A Bad Reason For Belief.

Dawkins describes tradition as something that is “handed down from grandparent to parent to child, and so on. Or from books handed down through the centuries.” He adds, “The trouble with tradition is that, no matter how long ago a story was made up, it is still exactly as true or untrue as the original story.” “Handing it down doesn’t make it any truer!” (p. 243).

Tradition is neutral. By itself, it is neither good nor bad. Once you do something more than once, it becomes a tradition. Yet tradition should never be mistaken as evidence or reason to believe in something. It becomes wrong when it teaches something contrary to the Will of God (cf. Matt. 15:3).

‘Inherited Religion’ would be an example of this. Methodists who are Methodists – Baptists who are Baptists – Catholics who are Catholics – Muslims who are Muslims – Buddhists who are Buddhists – simply because their parents were, are guilty of believing simply because of ‘tradition.’ Yet, true faith cannot be borrowed. Faith is “assurance” and “conviction” (Heb. 11:1), both of which must be derived from solid evidence (i.e. Rom. 10:17). If you believe something simply because ‘that’s the way its always been done,’ your belief is faulty.

Too high a regard for theologians is also an example of this. We are amazed at the wisdom and scriptural insight of men like John Calvin, Martin Luther, C.S. Lewis, and John Wesley. We are impressed with the brilliance and high regard for scripture men [who are currently living] like Albert Mohler Jr., John Piper, and R.C. Sproul seem to have. Yet we wonder, “Despite their knowledge of God’s Word, why don’t these men seem to get it? Where are they going wrong? Why are men of their intelligence not espousing Restoration Christianity?” The answer is this: they can’t get past tradition. They cannot accept the fact that previous theologians might be wrong. They cannot fathom the fact that millions and billions of people could be wrong about salvation, regardless of the fact that Jesus said “Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction” (Matt. 7:13). “Denominationalism & inter-denominationalism,” according to many, “surely can’t be wrong. The ramifications of such a belief are simply too radical.”

When you do not view God’s Word as 100% authoritative in matters of faith and religion, your belief is flawed.

2. “Authority” Is A Bad Reason For Belief.

Dawkins writes, “Authority, as a reason for believing something, means believing it because you are told to believe it by somebody important” (p. 244). ‘Authority,’ in the sense used by Dawkins, is anyone in a position of authority or perceived authority.

I heard a man tell me once, “Don’t talk to me about religion. I leave all of that up to my preacher.” In other words, he just does whatever his preacher tells him to do. I don’t think he is the only person in the world who thinks like that. People view religion as they do everything else. Everyone has a ‘financial guy,’ ‘car mechanic guy,’ ‘computer guy,’ and ‘plumbing guy.’ And they view religion the same way; they have their ‘religion guy.’

Catholics have a Pope. Muslims have a regional Ayatollah. Mormons have a President (the current one is Thomas S. Monson). The Jehovah’s Witnesses have an eight-member Governing Body. Various denominations have headquarters and conventions. Buddhists, though less organized, have a Dalai Lama.

Anyone or thing that claims to be an authority must have legitimate evidence to back its claim. No human being or man-made organization should ever be seen as an authority for belief. Only a Divine Being is worthy of belief. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Is Jesus your head (1 Cor. 11:3), or is some other so-called authority?

When you do not view God’s Word as 100% authoritative in matters of faith and religion, your belief is flawed.

3. “Revelation” Is A Bad Reason For Belief.

Dawkins is not referring to the Bible as revelation, but to rather to ‘feelings’ as revelation. He points out the obvious: a “feeling on its own is not a good reason for believing [anything]. You need evidence. We all have inside feelings from time to time, and sometimes they turn out to be right and sometimes they don’t” (p. 245).

This is perhaps the biggest failure of among Christendom. Too many people believe based upon how they feel as opposed to what they read in God’s Word. The problem with this is that feelings can be wrong. Jesus warned His disciples that they would be persecuted by men who genuinely feel like they are pleasing God (John 16:2), but in reality are not. Feelings, if not grounded in God’s Word, are dangerous.

The only ‘revelation’ that is relevant is the revelation found in Scripture. The Bible is the Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Jesus told the apostles that the Holy Spirit would guide them in writing the New Testament (cf. John 16:13). Scripture trumps feelings, along with everything else. Pertaining to religion, if something isn’t from the Bible, we shouldn’t believe or practice it (cf. Gal. 1:8).

When you do not view God’s Word as 100% authoritative in matters of faith and religion, your belief is flawed.

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One Response to Richard Dawkins Was Right!

  1. Dewayne Bryant April 18, 2013 at 9:34 AM #

    Great post, Ben. Some people have bad reasons for belief, and others have good reasons but articulate them very poorly. Dawkins is correct when he is talking about church fellowships that have strayed from the biblical pattern. That doesn’t describe all of us, of course. Unfortunately, those who hold to the “faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” get lumped in with everyone else.

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