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Giles Fraser and Richard Dawkins debate Christianity

Giles Fraser and Richard Dawkins debate Christianity

According to The Telegraph, Giles Fraser “played a blinder” on Richard Dawkins in their debate this week:

Credit where it’s due: Giles Fraser played a blinder on the Today programme. He was arguing with Richard Dawkins over the true definition of a Christian. People who identify as Christians don’t really know what they’re talking about, implied the biologist. “A majority of them don’t seem to be truly Christian in the sense that they don’t believe what Christianity teaches,” he said. “Many of them don’t go to church, they don’t read the bible – an astonishing number couldn’t identify the first book of the New Testament… they just tick the Christian box.”

All of which made him sound like a strict Mother Superior telling off her novices. But it was then that Giles Fraser pulled a fast one. “If I said to you what is the full title of the Origin of Species,” he said, “I’m sure you could tell me that.” Dawkins really did try – you could almost hear the wobbling jowl – but he simply couldn’t.

Listen here.


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Gary Paul Gilbert

Following Matthew Arnold, it would be possible to argue that Dante’s poetry became more powerful in the Nineteenth Century after the death of the old theology, such as there being different rungs of Hell or that Homer’s Odysseus ought to be relegated to a particular rung of Hell simply because he was Greek. Following Michel Foucault, it is possible to say that modern literature was invented in the aftermath of the collapse of the classical and Biblical texts, and a move away from Greek, Latin, and Hebrew toward the so-called modern languages. Literature would be unable to substitute for the transcendental claims of religion, however, and would instead offer scandals, such as the trials of Baudelaire’s Fleurs du mal and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Murdoch Matthew

You will notice that the meaning is in the poetry, which is human, and not in the stars.


“What do the galaxies mean”

I guess the answer to that, Murdoch, depends upon the added dimension of faith. Mere spinning gasses and particles in space? Or, ala Dante, L’amor che muove il sole e l’altre stelle. “The Love which moves the sun and the other stars.”

JC Fisher

Murdoch Matthew

I think my husband, Gary, is right to deny meaning in the universe. What do the galaxies mean, or the dinosaurs? On the other hand, meaning is important in human communities: “Red sky at morning, sailor take warning,” “Leaves of three, let it be,” “Step on a crack . . . ” Meaning is the story we tell about our lives — the plot that makes it a story.

We’re learning not to look for meaning in extra-human events. The recent earthquakes in Haiti and New Zealand, the tsunamis in Malaysia and Japan — only the tendentious tried to discern what God was punishing in these events. Church people pretty much talked about a Divine comforter, who had shared the human condition and could hold our hands in times of trouble. Not terribly comforting to me, but better than blaming earthquakes on homosexuality.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Bill, I didn’t find the Guardian article to which you refer too encouraging. That many people in the United Kingdom call themselves Christian–perhaps to avoid sticking out–I don’t find reassuring. Lukewarm mind as well be nothing.

I think the problem, to echo Matthew Arnold, is the old paradigm is dead while the new one, secularism, is powerless to be born. Those who believe nothing or think they believe nothing have no need to develop a systematic theology or atheology, whereas the old school did seem to require a foundation of some kind. If there is no meaning in the universe there is no need for a philosopy which would justify existence or find purpose in things.

In any case, belief can also be unconscious, as a person who won’t admit belief still adheres to tenets of the tradition while someone who claims to believe lives as if there were no point to anything. It can get murky.

Gary Paul Gilbert

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