Richard Dawkins vs Cardinal George Pell

There are so many problems with this debate that it’s hard to know where to begin. I can’t agree with either disputant.

Dawkins proves that it is possible to be deluded about God, and he is correct. He adequately proves that Gnosticism is false, and this is a useful contribution to Christian theology.

The problem with this debate, as with most debates, is that the disputants are arguing from different definitions and presuppositions. The god that Dawkins describes is not the God of Christianity, even though he is able to use the words of Christian definitions. The difference is that words and descriptions apart from belief (or experience or participation or even submission) are inadequate to define God because doing so turns the idea of God into an abstraction. Dawkins destroys Gnosticism—praise God!

The early Christians were accused of being atheists because the God of Christianity is not at all like the gods of human imagination. Pagans recognized that Christians did not believe in divinity in the way that they did. The point here is that Christians have something in common with atheists, who argue against the gods of human imagination.

In the video Dawkins referred to antecedent factors of existence. The structures of human logic and reason move from cause to effect. The purpose of logic and reason is to explain causes, and because we are time bound creatures our minds think in time bound sequences. Consequently, we tend to think that the past pushes (or causes) the present to move forward into the future. And this is why God tells us that we are born into sin—we are born into time and thus locked into brains that think sequentially. If the past causes the present, then consequence follows behavior, and sin requires punishment. So, it is then reasonable to understand that the suffering in the world is caused by something in the past—sin. Such an understanding is perfectly logical and reasonable.

But Jesus came to reveal the fullness of God’s grace, to reveal the fact that God is not time bound, nor bound to the linearity of historical cause and effect. The idea of grace is that sins are forgiven, which means that past causes don’t have necessary consequences—forgiveness is possible. The god of human imagination punished people for past sins, and because people are born into sin from birth there is no escape from God’s punishments. However, this whole god-scenario is a product of human imagination, or of time bound logical, rational thinking—and, given this context, it is correct. The logic is flawless, and for God to communicate with human beings He needed to “speak their language,” the language of cause and effect, until such time that He could send His Son to reveal His Truth, the truth of the forgiveness of sin.

Grace breaks the logic of human imagination and is counter-intuitive to human logic. God’s grace is teleological. God, being like light, issues from beyond human experience or nature (the world or reality), and “causes” effects by drawing the present into the future, rather than pushing it from the past. Because God draws the present forward rather than pushes it from the past, what we call the “origin” of life “exists” in the future rather than in the past. Or we can say that the “cause” of life is outside of or apart from the stream of time (or history).

So, for us to look to the past for the “cause” of life or reality is to look in the wrong “direction.” The “cause” of life is not in the past. It is in the future (or outside of both past and present). The “cause” of life is the end (τελος or purpose) of humanity. That purpose, according to the Bible, is the establishment of God’s justice on the one hand and God’s mercy on the other. So, if there are any choices involved for human beings, it would seem that the better choice is mercy over justice.

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