Shock news of the week: one of the world’s reputed leading apostles of atheism, Oxford professor Richard Dawkins, is no longer an atheist!
Doubts about this were first raised a few days ago in the responses by several bloggers to a story reported by the BBC: Dawkins has put £5,500 of his own money towards the costs of an advertising campaign with the slogan “There’s probably no God”. “Probably”? That doesn’t sound like the statement of the true believer atheist Dawkins that we Christians have come to know, love, and vilify. OK, the word is an allusion to the “Probably the best lager in the world” advertising campaign and so is mocking the advertising rules which allow unverifiable claims to be made if this word is added. But I think it left many people puzzled that he is prepared to endorse and support such an ambiguous campaign – one even welcomed by the Methodist Church, and indeed by myself for making people think about God.
But now Melanie Phillips, writing in The Spectator (thanks to Damian for putting a link to this on David Ker’s Bible Behemoth feed), gives confirmation that Dawkins is no longer an atheist. She quotes him as saying, in a debate in Oxford this week which she attended,
A serious case could be made for a deistic God.
This was surely remarkable. Here was the arch-apostle of atheism, whose whole case is based on the assertion that believing in a creator of the universe is no different from believing in fairies at the bottom of the garden, saying that a serious case can be made for the idea that the universe was brought into being by some kind of purposeful force. A creator. True, he was not saying he was now a deist; on the contrary, he still didn’t believe in such a purposeful founding intelligence, and he was certainly still saying that belief in the personal God of the Bible was just like believing in fairies. Nevertheless, to acknowledge that ‘a serious case could be made for a deistic god’ is to undermine his previous categorical assertion that
…all life, all intelligence, all creativity and all ‘design’ anywhere in the universe is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection…Design cannot precede evolution and therefore cannot underlie the universe.
In Oxford on Tuesday night, however, virtually the first thing he said was that a serious case could be made for believing that it could.
In other words, Dawkins is not an atheist but an agnostic, one who is not sure whether there is a God or not. Melanie suggests that his thinking may be following the same path as that of the formerly atheistic professor Anthony Flew. Dawkins previously ridiculed Flew’s arguments for the existence of God, but now he seems to be accepting that there is a serious case for Flew’s position.
Meanwhile Dawkins is continuing his virulent attack on the divinity of Jesus. So there is some way to go before we can welcome him into the evangelical Christian camp. But he does seem to have taken the first step on that path by recognising the weakness of some of his famous atheistic arguments.