Over my years of teaching new member classes, I was continually surprised that the creation story caused so little discomfort with people’s public-school training in evolutionary theory. These were adults, and maybe the implications of the modern understanding had not caught up to them, especially the older ones.
I was and remain a big fan of Rick Warren’s book The Purpose-Driven Life, published almost twenty years ago. He addressed what has to be a basic source of confusion behind the increasing disinterest in church life. Is there a God, or not? If there is a God, what difference does he make? Most Americans do not think deeply on this tension. They drift into indifference and join the “nones,” who have no commitments.
I offer here a quick summary of recent discussions on the competing explanations. Alister McGrath has emerged as a good discussion leader, with one foot in science and the other in theology. He first gained attention with his 2007 best-seller publication on the Dawkins Delusion: Engaging with the New Atheism. His latest (2019) is Richard Dawkins, C.S. Lewis and the Meaning of Life.
Dawkins’ big picture is Universal Darwinism, that the universe has “no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind indifference.” He maintains his view offers an explanation of what is observed in the biological world, and that this understanding is superior to belief in a creator God.
C. S. Lewis gained popularity in the 1950s and 60s. He initially considered himself to be an atheist, especially after his Army experience witnessing the devastation of World War I. But he soon concluded that the world of the logically provable was inadequate and unsatisfying; he became convinced there had to be more to life. “Nearly all that I loved I believed to be imaginary; nearly all that I believed to be real I thought grim and meaningless.”
His 1976 book The Selfish Gene brought Richard Dawkins international recognition. He argued that whether we like it or not, our motivations and actions are shaped by our genetic inheritance—by DNA, which codes and transmits our individual genetic identities: “DNA neither knows or cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.” The moderator McGrath observed the resonance between Dawkins’ narrative of genetic entrapment and the Christian understanding of captivity to sin.
For Lewis, any scientific account of human nature is inadequate. It needs to be supplemented by something deeper: knowledge of where we really belong and what we really mean. Lewis found himself reflecting on the implications of a profound and elusive sense of longing, heightened rather than satisfied by what he found around him. “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in the world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
For Dawkins, God is an unevidenced delusion. For Lewis, God is “a dynamic, pulsating activity, a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance.” To have faith in God is not primarily to give intellectual assent to an idea about God but to step into a greater picture of our world and become part of it. There is no other way to the happiness for which we are made.
Alistair McGrath ends his discussion with reference to Paul Kalanithi, promising neuro-surgeon who died young of lung cancer. He had cause to think about the meaning of life, as reflected in his best-selling book When Breath Becomes Air, published after his death in 2015. Kalanithi wrote that “science may provide the most useful way to organize empirical, reproducible data, but its power to do so is predicated on its inability to grasp the most central aspects of human life: hope, fear, love, hate, beauty, envy, honor, weakness, striving, suffering, virtue.” He notes that to deal with the many questions and challenges of real life we need more than one conceptual toolbox.
A last observation from C. S. Lewis: “Reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning.”
I think Lewis would agree that Scripture offers us the biggest possible story of the meaning of life—from its creation, to its redemption, to the power to live better in this world, to fulfillment in the next.
What is your reaction to contrasting the atheism of Dawkins and the affirmation of God and biblical truth by C. S. Lewis? Have you experienced “a profound and elusive sense of longing to know who we are and why we are living?”
Frank Janzow says
The fact that Warren’s Purpose Driven Life is the best selling book in history, save the Bible, is evidence of a universal, primal human yearning for deep purpose, meaning in life and even for God. It seems completely unreasonable that humans would a universal hunger that has no corresponding reality that that satisfies it. Physical hunger implies food. Sexual desire Implies sex. Spiritual hunger implies spiritual realities.
A world bereft of any higher spiritual origin and purposes (Materialism) seems flat and empty in a way that belies our actual human experiences. Materialism is not science as much as a philosophy. The great scientists – (like Francis Collins, chair of the Genome Project which decoded DNA, a Christian who makes a strong case for God as creator, redeemer, and enlightener being the best explanation of nature, the cosmos and all the aspects of human experience) seem more humble than Dawkins, and more honest about he reality of all those mysteries that beg for spiritual explanations.
As I wrote, Dawkins is a fool. There really aren’t many true atheists out there. More than ever, people make up their own set of beliefs about relating to the Higher Being that draw on all sorts of traditions, Christian or not.
Rev. Michael Mueller says
The whole Rick Warren Purpose Driven… is nothing but the Theology of Glory. I’m surprised that a Lutheran would give credence to that in the Spiritual world.
Have you read the book? He sometimes uses phrases different from Lutheran expressions. But he certainly has the Gospel core. “Theology of glory” is a phrase Luther used to contract to the theology of the cross. I gather Warren has become the whipping boy for the ultra Lutherans. Please read the works of Evangelicals with an open mind.
Rev. Michael Mueller says
Nonsense. I have read several of his Purpose Driven drivel. It’s all centered on my works, my obedience. That is precisely Theology of Glory. Have you even studied the Theology of the Cross?
David Luecke says
I simply disagree. Have you read Rick Warren with an open mind to how vocabulary differs in different traditions?
Rev. Michael Mueller says
I am appalled at your disrespect. Yes, I have read many of the Purpose…drivel books. At the heart of each is my works, not a speck of real grace. Perhaps you need to think again on your chosen field.
David Luecke says
What am I (or someone else) disrespecting? I still simply disagree with you.
Peter Dorn says
From a Christian perspective: I think that many Christians err when we try to read more into Genesis 1 and 2 than is there. It never says that the days were 24 hours long–the sun was not created until day 4. I view the creation story as a faith statement affirming that God created everything. Humans were not created until day 6–so who recorded the creation before that? God’s time is not our time.
From a science perspective: Science can only test what it can see. It cannot answer questions beyond that. Dawkins and others are misrepresenting science. They have their own religion (which they would deny). As a Christian I affirm the study of science and I see it as a way of looking at God’s handiwork.
I agree completely. Well said, especially about the limits of science. I am glad Post Moderns have moved on to want more substantive answers to life’s great issues.
Rev. Michael Mueller says
So, again you display complete ignorance to basic Biblical literacy. In Hebrew yom with a ordinal, cardinal or definite article always means a literal 24-hour day. I presume you have studied Hebrew before making such a isogetical statement?
David Luecke says
I am thoroughly steeped in the Bible. That includes using the biblical languages and the challenge of translating them. It is very forced to read a 24-hour day into the Hebrew.
Paul L says
Love the convergence of 4 salient minds contrasting their world views in this piece. I was a Junior in college in 76 when “The Selfish Gene” hit the shelves. I didn’t understand it’s impact at the time, only observed the passion to which it was promulgated at my state university in science and (environmental) psyc classes. No doubt Dawkins ( at least in part) became “the” Uber atheist with the help of many passionate evolutionists at numerous universities who welcomed the language of his “selfish survival of the fittest”. Using this hypothesis he has attempted to counter the faith based charge that “time + matter + chance” is an inadequate basis for the origin of species in debates, Kalanithni and Lewis stir the heart to think otherwise.
The limits of evolution are becoming more apparent the more we know about genes. Interesting work going on how the more we know about genes and how the brain works, the less we know with certainty. Interesting also that only about 7% of our population consider themselves an atheist. The rest know there has to be something more to life. Our job as Christians is to lead them into the biblical answers.
Lee Larsen says
This past year mankind has been subjected to intense fear and isolation. This was made even worse by a media that thrives on sensationalism and by those in our government who used both of those factors for political gain. This was a prime example of how to break the human spirit. We were stripped of our ability to basically leave our homes to earn a living, to purchase what we need, to worship & fellowship with friends and family and so on. Everyday we were bombarded with fear and “ordered” to put our faith in the cold “science” and not to take part in your worthless religious practices for the good of society. We, the government, will supply you with what you need, you just listen to what we tell you.
Besides being totally opposite of the very founding principles of America this also flies in the face of what God tells us. The toll that Covid-19 has been bad, but it pales in comparison to the devastation these two factors, isolation & fear, have brought. This level of impact is just given lip service by those who live by the “cold science” and not by faith. Our society has become as sterile as the hand sanitizer we have been inundated with. Our lives are played out in the electronic world with so many not even knowing who their neighbors are. Covid managed to rob us of those few opportunities to share time with those we love including our most important relationship, that with Jesus.
Hi, Lee. As usual, well said.
Jack Narvel says
Great Post, David! Truth is not,”what we make it” as some Journalists seem to believe…. Rather truth is the “Fact of God” not our interpretation of Him through our own fantasies or disappointments.
It is not difficult for us, as human beings, to “imagine” God as something different than what he truly is. Imagination can be, at the same time, an opportunity to create, as God created, but also to provide apparently “solid ground” for a misinterpretation of events and identities..
I was reading Isaiah 60:2 today where the Word says,”For Behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you and His Glory will be seen upon you.”
God created the world, out of darkness and lack of physical substance. We have the opportunity now, to see HIS LIGHT coming out of the darkness. We need not and should not try to create our own.
Creativity is highly valued in our current society. If I created something you need to respect it. My truth is as good as yours. There is an utter lack of humility facing the ultimate questions of life. I dare to believe such an extreme will swing back to a more realistic worldview and recognition of the sinfulness we humans have.
Phil Bickel says
What an intriguing contrast between Dawkin’s metaphor of dancing to the tune of our selfish DNA and Lewis’s metaphor of dancing with God. Lewis expands his metaphor in the final chapter of his novel “Perelandra.” His 5-page description of The Great Dance is in my opinion the greatest attempt by a human writer to describe in our earth-bound language the infinite complexity, beauty and compassion of our Creator.
On a related but separate note, in her novel “Troubling a Star,” Madeleine L’Engle portrays two characters conversing about statistics and how we know that death will come. One of them says: “Statistics help free us from the compassion that is part of intimacy. Statistics do not understand that until we accept our mortality we cannot even glimpse the wonder of our immortality.” That’s quite a deep thought to chew on. I pray that Dawkins and others will.
From my Ph.D. work, I know statistics well. It cannot reliably provide answers to specifics of truth. By its very nature, it can only offer approximation. Look at how badly polling statistics called the 2020 election. I once listened to a cd course on morality by a psychologist. All the professor could say was that in research 60% said this and 45% said that. What kind of truth is that?
Dawkins’ god is the void.
David Luecke says
Yes, it is empty. Thus it is not soul-satisfying.
John Manthey says
As they used to say in Monty Python’s Flying Circus, “And now for something completely different!” So here goes.
The beginning of the answer, I think, is in the story of the ten lepers in Luke’s gospel. The ten lepers call out to Jesus. How and by whom was Jesus revealed to them? The story doesn’t say. This story ends with “your faith has healed you.” The Greek word used here for “healed” can also mean “preserved,” “saved,” or “made whole” which provides more richness and insight into the story. The definition of “faith” at the time this was written is a relationship of trust based on God’s revelation to someone personally in his or her life. Faith is a gift. Faith is a result of God deciding to act in someone’s life. As various bible stories point out, this is deeply personal, life-changing, and not necessarily easy. Through the gift of faith, one becomes part of the story. This helps clarify to whom one belongs and how one is to use the gift of faith to serve God in this life.
As with most things theological, this raises as many questions as it answers. And so the story and conversation continue.
David Luecke says
Well said. You can’t get around the fact that with God in three persons we are dealing with a mystery that can’t be explained rationally. The same can be said of how bread and wine become body and blood. I think Post-Moderns are much more open to mystery than many theologians are.