Dawkins, Christmas and the God of the Physicists

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An objection to Christianity often found in popular atheism is that if there is a God he would not sully himself by getting involved in human affairs. In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins claims that, compared to the God of the Bible, a deist God who starts the universe off and then leaves it to its own devices is:

an altogether grander being: worthy of his cosmic creation, loftily unconcerned with human affairs, sublimely aloof from our private thoughts and hopes, caring nothing for our messy sins or mumbled contritions. The deist God is a physicist to end all physics, the alpha and omega of mathematicians …’

But is this really a greater conception of God? If you think of God as a scientific hypothesis, which seems to be Dawkins’ view of God (an hypothesis, of course, which he doesn’t believe in), then the answer might be ‘yes’.[i] But why should we think about God like that? Wouldn’t a personal God, a loving God, a God who is interested in morality and justice be an even greater conception of God?

At the heart of Christianity is the incarnation, the belief that God became a man so that we could be reconciled to God. Like Dawkins, Greek philosophers found this belief absurd. They might have tolerated God as a rational principle or impersonal force of some kind, but not as God become man. This claim was just as a shocking to the Jews; to believe that a human being was God was considered blasphemous. In this hostile context, the Christians declared that God had become a man in the person of Jesus of Nazareth and that as such Jesus was worthy of worship.

Christians can indeed affirm that God is the creator of everything and so is the God of physics, chemistry, biology and whatever science you wish to mention. They can also affirm that God provides a foundation for morality as well as providing meaning and purpose to our lives. Good as all these things are, however, they do not exhaust the Christian understanding of God. For Christians, reflection on the natural world can tell us something about God, but to see more clearly what God is like, we should look at Jesus of Nazareth. In Jesus, God has come into our world, has experienced suffering of the worst kind and has demonstrated his love in the most dramatic way.

Surely this is a much deeper and greater conception of God than anything deism has to offer. Surely this is a God who is truly worthy of worship. Such a God also leaves us with a challenge, however, for if such a God exists, we cannot remain at a distance and view him as a scientific hypothesis: his love and mercy towards us demand a response.

[i] Ironically, Dawkins seems to think like a physicist when talking about God. Perhaps if he thought more like a biologist he would have less of an objection to God being involved in the contingencies of human life.

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