A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

On Giving a Fair Hearing

This quarter I am teaching a seminary class entitled, "Christian Apologetics in Postmodern Context." One of the books we are reading is Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion. During our first session, I stated to the students that we were going to give Dawkins a fairer hearing than Dawkins has given Christians.

Anyone who has read Dawkins knows that, while he raises some issues that deserve an answer from Christians, he is also quite unfair in his caricature of Christianity. He is also extremely insulting throughout the book, making it very clear that anyone who embraces religion is not very intelligent.

As we have been making our way through his book, we are attempting to do what Dawkins has not. We are trying to give him a fair hearing and refrain from insulting him personally (not that he would care). From a Christian standpoint this is quite necessary.

Whether it comes to disagreements over religion, politics, or anything else for that matter, it is important that we are fair to those with whom we disagree. It is all too easy to set up straw man arguments and go after someone's reputation, or simply insult the other person's intelligence. In so doing, we really don't have to deal with the substance of their views; we can simply write them off as stupid or crazy or the product of an abusive environment. We also get to ignore the complexity of faith and life by simplistically critiquing one's views as simplistic.

It is impossible to know where and why we disagree with someone else until we know what that persons believes. We cannot do that without a fair hearing. We cannot offer a substantive critique if we fail to deal with the substance of the argument, and instead go after the content of someone's character and intelligence.

Such a posture is out of character for those who follow Jesus, and I would have thought it was inconsistent with someone who teaches at the prestigious Oxford University.


Anonymous said...

I hope you can be persuaded into posting your class handouts or starting a new blog series on Dawkins. It would be very helpful to many of us thinking through these issues.

Allan R. Bevere said...


I will consider it. Thanks for the suggestion.