Richard Dawkins: How I Changed My Mind

In an article published in Townhall.com, Dinesh D’Souza asked a very interesting question: “Are Atheists Cultural Christians?” The reason for D’Souza’s question is because of an statement made by the famous atheist Richard Dawkins that he was a cultural Christian. The following is an excerpt from D’Souza’s article:

Asked by a British member of Parliament if he is one of those atheists who wants to get rid of Christian symbols especially during the Christmas season, atheist Richard Dawkins replied that he is not. Dawkins said that he himself sings Christmas carols and that he considers himself a “cultural Christian.” Just as many Jews regard themselves as Jewish, defend Jewish interests and cherish Jewish culture while not participating in Jewish religious rituals, Dawkins says that he respects the fact that the history and traditions of the West are shaped by Christianity. Dawkins says he’s not one of those who wants to purge the West of its Christian traditions. The main threat to Christian symbols, Dawkins argues, does not come from atheists like him but rather from Muslims and members of other faiths.

In response to Dawkins’ statement, D’Souza wrote:

Now this is quite remarkable. In The God Delusion, Dawkins portrayed the Christian God as a wicked, avaricious, capricious, genocidal maniac. Dawkins even blasted Jesus for such offenses as speaking harshly to his mother. Yet if the Jewish and Christian God was such a monster, what sense does it make for Dawkins to embrace the cultural influence of that deity?

Good question. I believe that one of the answers to D’Souza’s question may reflect where Dawkins is in his scale of atheism. In my review of Dawkins’ book, I wrote:

Even Dawkins may inadvertently have left a very small crack in the wall for himself, a very faint burning light that some day may be as bright as the midday sun. And that dimly lit light is found in his own words.

Dawkins develops a spectrum of probabilities about the existence of God. In this spectrum, there are seven levels of probability concerning the issue whether God exists. At one extreme is Level 1, where strong theists are. Those who are on Level 1 believe 100% that God exists. On the other extreme, Level 7 is where the strong atheists are. A strong atheist is the one who says for a fact that there is no God.

Dawkins places himself at Level 6. Those who are on Level 6 say that there is a very low probability that God exists. Those on Level 6 are the people who say they cannot know for sure but think that maybe God does not exist.

Ah! Level 6 may reflect a faint light that is still alive in the hearts of atheists. That very low probability that God exists may be the sign of a faintly burning wick that is still burning. It is that crack in the wall that may allow the water of a mighty river to flow through. This is what happened with Antony Flew, the famous British philosopher and atheist, who at the end of his life abandoned his atheistic beliefs and embraced theism.

In his book, Dawkins never said that God exists, but he also said that it is impossible to disprove the existence of God. Thus, it is possible that, for Dawkins, Level 6 may be the sign that a faintly burning wick is still burning, but so faint that it is about to be put out. If it is so, let us then remember the reassuring words of the prophet about the work of the Servant: “He will not let a faintly burning wick be put out” (Isaiah 42:3).

After all those debates with Christians around the world, it is just possible that Dawkins came to the realization that the God of the Old and New Testaments is not that evil God so despised in atheist propaganda.

D’Souza’s article makes a good proposal for Dawkins and his new faith. D’Souza concludes his article by hoping that “perhaps eventually Dawkins will even reissue his book: Overcoming My Delusions: Confessions of a Cultural Christian.”

I hope so.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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17 Responses to Richard Dawkins: How I Changed My Mind

  1. Duane Smith says:

    >Claude,I’m not sure you are correct here. I think Dawkins is truly thinking probabilistically. Speaking for myself, but I think in general agreement with Dawkins, I am also Level 6 on mermaids, unicorns and bigfoot as well as God. The probability of there being any of these is negligibly low. I am to some extent a Bayesian (I’m not so sure about Dawkins on the point) but Bayesian probabilities exclude the possibility of a probability of 0 or 1 for any proposition. Nothing is completely certain nor completely uncertain. Now it is true that Dawkins and, if I may put myself in the same league, I come to our level 6 belief in God (or gods) from the Christian tradition. Both of us enjoy much that is part of the Christian tradition. But both of us see no evidence for there being either God or gods so, as in the case of mermaids and unicorns, we operate from the assumption that there isn’t any such thing but are open to evidence that might change our minds. The thing to remember is that the evidence for a God or gods must be epistemologically the same as whatever evidence one might adduce for mermaids, unicorns, or bigfoot. Faith is not an epistemological position that takes the place of evidence in such discussions.

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  2. >Duane,Thank you for your insightful comment. I always appreciate your comments because they always prove to be informative.I am not so naive as to believe that Dawkins has really changed his mind. The title of my post was only a way to tease him in the same way he has teased many of his readers and debaters.I know that Dawkins still does not believe in God and that the issue of faith is difficult for him and it is for many people. I don’t believe in mermaids and unicorns because I know they do not exist. I, however, believe in Christ and accept as valid what he taught about himself and God. This is where I believe faith makes a difference in how we look at the world. Faith cannot be proven scientifically; this is the reason it is faith.The thing I have with Dawkins is that in his book he criticized the God of the Old Testament, Jesus, and the church for much of the misery, suffering, and evil in the world. And yet, he is willing to call himself a “Christian,” albeit a “cultural Christian” because of the good Christianity has done in the world. Dawkins cannot have both ways. Either Christianity is evil or else Christianity has some good in it. If there is something good in Christianity so that Dawkins is willing to call himself a cultural Christian, then he should not be so critical of others Christians who desire to be both cultural and religious Christians.Claude Mariottini

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  3. Eric D says:

    >Claude:I don’t believe in mermaids and unicorns because I know they do not exist.I would question how you know they don’t exist. Are you saying you’re a level 7 when it comes to mermaids and unicorns, and not the much more epistemicly (not sure if that’s actually a word) reasonable position of a level 6? Do you admit absolutely no possibility that mermaids and unicorns exist, on this planet or others?I, however, believe in Christ and accept as valid what he taught about himself and God. This is where I believe faith makes a difference in how we look at the world. Faith cannot be proven scientifically; this is the reason it is faith.How did you arrive at the conclusion that the Christian faith was what you should have faith in? I’m guessing you’ll give me examples of evidence that nudged you in that direction. But I’ve never understood the reasoning behind using evidence to get partway, and then letting a different epistemology take over form there. Why not use evidence or faith? If faith is sufficient, then why do you need any evidence at all? And if you don’t need evidence – if Christianity can be determined to be true by faith alone – then why are there people who are of other religions who have faith in a different deity than you?I was a Christian for most of my childhood and the beginning of my college years, but when I asked myself these questions, I couldn’t find reasonable answers to them. Still to this day I have not heard a reasonable answer to why faith is not sufficient for belief in Christianity (evidenced by the fact that virtually every Christian will name evidence when asked to explain their belief), nor how faith leads one to Christianity instead of other religions.And yet, he is willing to call himself a “Christian,” albeit a “cultural Christian” because of the good Christianity has done in the world.I don’t see Dawkins’ claim to be a cultural Christian to be related to “good” Christianity has done, but rather simply for the traditions. Christmas trees (though not really Christian), Christmas carols, and other symbols of Christmas aren’t necessarily “good” – they just happen to be the traditions of the country he lives in. I would guess that if he had been raised within a different cultural tradition, he would be a member of that – if he was raised within an Islamic country, he might be a cultural Muslim, or within a Buddhist country, a cultural Buddhist. I don’t see how you draw the conclusion that his decision to be a “cultural Christian” is related to his assessment of the merits of Christianity.Dawkins cannot have both ways. Either Christianity is evil or else Christianity has some good in it.Only if you define evil as “completely evil.” And I believe Dawkins has said on many occasions that Christianity does have some good, for example in talking about the beauty of the King James text. But you can often find good in many things that people would call evil. I’m sure Hitler had some good traits, but I would call him an evil person. I don’t see the justification in drawing such a sharp distinction and saying that anything one calls evil must have absolutely no good at all in it.

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  4. >Eric,Christian faith is not based on things, but on a person, Jesus Christ. I know whom I have believed and I persuaded that he is what he claimed to be. Faith alone is enough for Christians but evidence serves to confirm what one believes. As Jesus said: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). I know that Dawkins, atheists, and secular people are happy with life without God. Christians, on the other hand, are happy with a life lived in fellowship with God. Although you and others may not accept this fact, we do and are happy with our decision.Thank you for visiting my blog.Claude Mariottini

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  5. Eric D says:

    >You missed the question though… If faith is all that’s necessary, then how does one decide which religion to have faith in? Muslims have faith in theirs, you have faith in yours, other people have faith in other religions. If faith is enough, then how does faith serve to tell you which one is right and which ones are wrong?And if faith alone is enough, then you have no need to be persuaded by evidence that he is who he claims to be.Also, I’m not sure which part of my comment made you conclude that I do not accept that Christians are happy living a life in fellowship with God, or how “being happy” with your decision has any bearing on whether the methods used to arrive at your conclusion are sound.

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  6. >Eric,You may not understand the concept of general revelation, but “what may be known about God is plain to people for since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities– his eternal power and divine nature– have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Those who accept God’s revelation will come to the knowledge of the true God.As for my statement about being happy as a Christian: the reason I wrote that statement is because so many secular people keep writing and saying that Christians are stupid or ignorant. Christians are happy being Christians and no criticism or name calling will change our joy in being Christians.Thank you for visiting my blog.Claude Mariottini

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  7. Anonymous says:

    >A line of reasoning I’ve never had clearly explained :1) For the sake of argument, God exists2) By definition he is omnipotent and omniscient. If he wasn’t that would imply the possibility of other Gods etc.3) Evil occurs in our world4) Either God allows evil to happen ( in which case he is evil ) or it is our “Free Will” causing it.5) If God is Omniscient then we can’t have Free will since again, by definition, he would know every choice of our lives before we were even created.So either God is not Omniscient ( and so not all powerful ), or we do not actually have free will. If we don’t have free will then God has created us with the full knowledge that we will commit evil – which is, in itself evil. It’s just so much easier to go with the lack of evidence and assume God does not exist.Although I do welcome a logical answer to the age old problem of evil in the world.

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    • Dylan says:

      I know this was a post from long ago (over 7 years!) that I’ve randomly stumbled upon today, but I just wanted to give you some food for thought and open myself up to any questions you might have in case you or someone might read this 🙂 God knows and sets up what has, is, will be happening, but we still made those decisions. For instance, you could be put in a room with a cookie and a salad and chosen to pick one. If the person who set this up knew you would pick the cookie it would still have been your choice to pick the cookie. Evil is not part of God, but instead the rebellion against God. The opposite of what he is and has commanded us. He gave us free will instead of making us robots, out of love and for his glory.

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  8. Eric D says:

    >I understand that the Bible says that faith will lead you to Christianity. But you must first accept the Bible as true in order to believe that. So if you start from nothing, how does faith lead you to Christianity? You must first choose to believe the Bible before your explanation of faith leads you to Christianity – and why should you choose the Bible of the Qu’ran or the Tao Te Ching or any other book? It seems to me that you can give no reason at all why faith leads one to Christianity.And I would guess that a large number of the 1.5 billion Muslims would disagree with you that faith leads to Christianity.And yet even the Bible verse you quote seems to indicate that it’s evidence, not faith, which gives reason for belief. God’s qualities are “understood from what has been made,” that is, observable in creation. If that’s the case, and evidence is once again introduced, then I would ask why switch from evidence to another epistemic method.Attacking my understanding doesn’t answer the questions I’m asking. General revelation would be all fine and well if every time someone received revealed information, it agreed with all other revealed information received by other people. But some people receive revealed information from Allah, some from Jesus, and some from pink elephants. Not only that, but even among those who claim to have received information from the same God within the same religion get different information – some say abortion is okay, some say it’s not, some say homosexuality is okay, some say it’s not, etc. On top of all of this, general revelation seems to have no possibility of explaining why people almost exclusively have revelations from the most prominent deity in their civilization. If there was only one deity giving revelations and they were, as you claim, undeniable, we’d expect to see them equally in all cultures. If people were simply imagining that a deity was talking to them, we’d expect that their perception of it would be colored by their cultural upbringing.So how do you know which “general revelations” are authentic? This is essentially the same question I’ve been asking all along – how does faith tell you which religions are right and which are wrong? This is the essential question which you have still failed to answer.As far as your statement about happiness, I still don’t see how happiness is related to ignorance or stupidity. You contrast being called stupid or ignorant with being happy – but they’re completely independent traits. But ignorant and knowledgeable people can be happy, and both happy and unhappy people can be ignorant. I’m not looking to change your joy – but if happiness is your only criteria for choosing beliefs about what’s true in the universe, you’re going to have a lot of incorrect beliefs.

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    • Dylan says:

      I know this was a post from long ago (over 7 years!) that I’ve randomly stumbled upon today, but I just wanted to give you some food for thought and open myself up to any questions you might have in case you or someone might read this 🙂 Definitely an interesting thought! If you look at the evidence, the evidence points to God and specifically the Christian God. I personally grew up in a Christian household, but went through a long period of doubts middle/high school. Part of what helped me with the doubts was God putting me into Christian communities that showed me more about who he is and just putting me in positions to hear the evidence. One of the biggest reasons for faith is just seeing the truth in the bible and of curse another is to look at the evidence and another is to see God revealing himself in your life (nature, circumstances he’s put you in (which may not seem good at first, etc.), which you may have yet to notice. I’m definitely here for any questions you may have or if you want to hear more about the reasons why I believe.

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      • Dylan says:

        Also there are many people that are not carefully examining the bible or believing what they want to believe instead of looking at the truth. I’ve definitely had experiences of misrepresenting or misunderstanding God because I hadn’t looked into it or wanted to believe what I wanted to be true. Of course, I’m happy now to have been shown that I was wrong as God’s truth is better than whatever I can come up with 🙂 Also I’m not super knowledgeable of revelations people claim to have had, but it definitely helps to look at the evidence of them, the circumstances, and the reasonability.

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      • Dylan,

        Thank you for your comment.

        Claude Mariottini

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      • Dylan,

        Even though the post was written several years ago, I still welcome the dialogue.

        Claude Mariottini

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  9. Eric D says:

    >Quick response to anonymous:I don’t accept the proposition that omniscience precludes free will. I can know what you did in the past, yet it is still your choice. Similarly, it seems reasonable to me that God can know what choice you will make, while it is still your choice.It seems to me that a much more productive argument is asking if we have free will in heaven. If we do, then evil is not a necessary consequence of free will since there is no evil in heaven. If we don’t, then free will is not a necessary condition of happiness, since we will be happy. Either way, it makes the conditions of this world unexplainable using the standard theological explanations.

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  10. >Dear Anonymous,If the problem of theodicy leads you to believe that God does not exist, that is OK with me. Your choice is just part of the free will that God gave to you. You are free to believe that God does not exist in the same way that I am free to believe that God exists.I choose by my own free will to believe that God exists and that he is a good God. His goodness is evident in a book that you, by your own free will, chose to reject.Thank you for visiting my blog.Claude Mariottini

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  11. vicky says:

    >You have a great deal of patience Mr Mariottini. A virtue I need to cultivate. I see that anytime a Christian wants to make a statement or blog about belief, faith and God’s existence (to which it should be plain to any rational person that He does exist through His creation) the others come out of the darkness like roaches.

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