Friday, February 24, 2012

Atheistic (or is it agnostic?) angst meets Anglican fudge

In a much publicized debate at Oxford University, Richard Dawkins admitted to the Archbishop of Canterbury that he could not be sure God does not exist. I don't think the outspoken atheist (who, in the course of the discussion, said he preferred to be called an agnostic) was persuaded by the eloquent arguments of the Most Reverend and Right Honourable Dr Rowan Williams. It is more likely that Dawkins was contaminated by exposure to Anglican fudge. Here's a video of the debate from the Archbishop's website.

Of Dawkins, it can only be said that when it comes to a belief as pivotal as the existence of God, the slightest degree of doubt can be perilous. If you cannot be absolutely certain God does not exist, you are best advised to err on the side of caution. It should be noted that uncertainty on the part of Dawkins is nothing new. His infamous bus campaign a few years ago didn't exactly inspire people to embrace unbelief with gusto. Beneath the surface, the good professor is far more angst-ridden than he will ever let on.

Now, as far as ++Rowan is concerned, much of what he said was, predictably, incoherent and irrelevant. You cannot say, on the one hand, that human beings evolved from non-human ancestors but, on the other hand, are still "in the image of God." That is directly counter to the creation narrative, however "literally" one takes it (more about that shortly). The basic doctrine that human beings fell because of sin from a state of perfection to a state of corruption simply cannot be reconciled with the idea that human beings evolved from a lower form of life.

It must also be noted, sadly, that ++Rowan is not a particularly able defender of biblical authority. He said the Genesis account of creation was not to be taken literally. How many times do we have to go down this road? Let's go over the basics one more time.

The Bible is a (divinely inspired) work of literature. Even ++Rowan accepts the divine inspiration part. How else is a work of literature to be "taken" (that is, "read") if not "literally," that is, as a work of literature?

To say that one does not "take the Bible literally" is to say that one does not "take" the Bible as literature. If the Bible is not "taken" as literature, how is it to be "taken" at all? How seriously can a work of literature be "taken" if it is not "taken" as a work of literature?

So, when discussing the Genesis account of creation, it is utterly foolish to say, "This should not be taken literally." Yes, there is a deeper truth being conveyed through this divinely inspired literary work which may require an interpretive method that goes beyond wooden literalism, but to appreciate that truth, one must first appreciate the Genesis account precisely as a divinely inspired literary work. In other words, we must first "take" that account "literally."