Atheist Richard Dawkins, a renowned evolutionary biologist and no friend of Christianity, wants people to read the King James Bible but for different reasons than you might think. In his article entitled Why I want all our children to read the King James Bible (May 19, 2012), Dawkins shares three reasons to support his statement. The first two reasons are, both of which one would find little cause to disagree with:
- To underline the value of learning old English, including figures of speech: Dawkins refers to a section of a book which he has written, The God Delusion, the section itself being titled “Religious education as a part of literary culture.” He boldly states in this article that “A native speaker of English who has never read a word of the King James Bible is verging on the barbarian.”
- To allow people to understand European history: “European history, too, is incomprehensible without an understanding of the warring factions of Christianity and the book over whose subtleties of interpretation they were so ready to slaughter and torture each other.”
Dawkins then plunges into his primary point, a corrective rant of sorts, against which conservative Christianity will have much to say:
- To disprove the Bible as a moral guide: Dawkins believes that the Bible is wrongly labeled as a moral guide. By encouraging people to read the Bible, he claims, this practice will cure this wrong view (“pernicious falsehood”). “I have an ulterior motive…. People who do not know the Bible well have been gulled into thinking it is a good guide to morality. This mistaken view may have motivated the “millionaire Conservative party donors”. I have even heard the cynically misanthropic opinion that, without the Bible as a moral compass, people would have no restraint against murder, theft and mayhem. The surest way to disabuse yourself of this pernicious falsehood is to read the Bible itself.”
Throughout the remainder of his article, the evolutionary biologist proceeds to share his arguments against belief in the Bible as a legitimate moral guide, and thus to disprove the legitimacy of the Bible in its entirety. His underlying argument (which is obvious) is that there is no God, and thus no God-given revelation. Dawkins points out what he considers to obvious observations that undermine Christian claims, observations that mere theologians are unwilling to see. He addresses all forms of Christianity, including those forms that largely deny what the Bible says anyway. This is very broad swipe and ends up being a group of confusing swings in every direction.
Dawkins’ arguments can be summarized thus: (1) The Bible is not legitimate because of what it is; (2) the Bible is not legitimate because of what it says; (3) the Bible is not legitimate because of what Christians say or say about it; (4) the Bible is not legitimate because of its core claims.
Argument #1: The Bible is not legitimate because of what it is
Dawkins confidently directs his initial attack squarely at the 10 Commandments. Dawkins believes he lands an instant knockout blow by simply referring to the 10 Commandments: “Do you advocate the Ten Commandments as a guide to the good life?”
Dawkins falters immediately. The 10 Commandments, though moral in nature, are not given as a guide to the “good life” as he suggests. They indeed are a measure of “good,” giving a glimpse of God’s perfect standard of living. However, the Bible is clearly teaches that these 10 Commandments (as representation of the entire Old Testament Law) are not given primarily as a moral guide. Instead the Bible shares that the Law (represented by these 10 Commandments) is given to show that mankind is not moral and does not measure up to God’s holy standard:
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:19-20)
Therefore the law was our tutor [to bring us] to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:24)
In fact, the Bible is clear that no person can be “good” or “justified” by keeping the law (including the 10 Commandments). Instead, the law shows us that our only hope was to be rescued by God. And He God did make a way for us to be “saved” or rescued by allowing His Son, Jesus Christ, to take our penalty (for breaking God’s law) for us!:
knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. (Galatians 2:16)
For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.” Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree “), (Galatians 3:10-13)
Argument #2: The Bible is not legitimate because of what it says
Dawkins, building on this wrong premise of the Bible being a moral guide, continues to show his hand by attacking some of the 10 Commandments individually:
The first two – “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” and “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image” – come from a time when the Jews still believed in the existence of many gods but had sworn fealty to only one of them, their tribal “jealous” god.
This simply is not true. This view comes from liberal Christian views that would reject what the Bible says, and who would impose an outside view on the Scriptures which is not contained in the Scriptures. Dawkins is fine applying this liberal evolutionary view to the Bible, but he misses three important facts:
- As revealed in the Bible, the patriarchs (progenitors of the nation Israel) Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were all monotheistic. They had communication interactions involved just one God, which was initiated by God Himself.
- God is revealing Himself to the Israelites. Regardless of Israel’s history or proneness to polytheism, He is declaring what is true.
- Israel as a nation, receiving God’s declaration, was told this: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4) There was no evolving of views as implied by Dawkins (and liberal theologians). They were instantly monotheistic as a nation around the same time that the 10 Commandments are given. (The book called Deuteronomy means “second law,” and the 10 Commandments are repeated a second time in the very chapter where “the LORD is one” is declared….)
Dawkins continues to hammer, in his mind, more of the 10 Commandments. He believes he undermines the veracity of the Fourth Commandment (“Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy”) because of a harsh penalty that accompanied certain violations of that command (the death penalty).
Here we need to point out that Dawkins assumes that no God exists, and so all these commands are conjured up by crazed men. However, the Bible declares the existence of God as the Creator of the Universe, a holy God who deserves recognition and worship as such. One cannot parse the Bible in pieces and create a context of one’s choosing – Dawkins is doing just that.
As God Himself reveals in the Bible, He created all the universe, including his highest creation, the human race. These highest of creators are logically expected by God to worship Him and honor Him as their Creator in the ways He communicates. What is so hard to understand about that? Though the Sabbath penalty is a harsh one (as it was given to the nation of Israel), it made the point: God deserved His day of attention each week, per His commandment and per His design. Worship of God was no small matter, and God wanted the Israelites to understand the consequences of not doing so. It was that big of a deal.
From the Fourth Commandment Dawkins proceeds to the Fifth Commandment (“Honor thy father and thy mother”). He jumps backward in time (and in the Biblical text) to where God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Dawkins is convinced that this is a violation of the Sixth Commandment: “do not kill.” Dawkins may not remember that God actually did not have Abraham kill Isaac (which then did not violate anything). To be fair, the Bible is also clear that Abraham did not know that God would prevent him from killing Isaac, but he was certain that God would raise up Isaac if he did go through with it (Hebrews 11:17-19).
This may bend Dawkins the wrong way. However, God does reveal that He knows what He is doing whether we can understand it or not. God accomplished what He desired in Abraham’s life. Further, Abraham was to the point that, having been called by God, having walked with God for years, and having been given a son in his old age, he was fully confident that God could be trusted. That is the greater context of the offering of Isaac.
Dawkins further objects to the Sixth Commandment, stating that the command “do not kill” really meant, in practice, do not kill those of your own tribe. This is simply not true. Again, Dawkins assumes that God is a myth, that men made up this text, and that all killing is condemned. He errs on all counts.
In the very beginning, in the Garden of Eden, God issued the warning of death for eating of the forbidden tree. Death is God’s justice, not man’s made-up choice. God, as the Creator of the Universe, is the One Who makes the rules based upon Who He is (His nature and character). He judges human beings and nations, and throughout the Bible, often dispenses His justice on some human beings through the hands of others. In fact, one only has to read to the ninth chapter of the Bible, Genesis 9, to see that God required men to hold other men accountable (the basis for human government). In Genesis 9:6 God commands Noah, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man.” This is reflected all the way into the New Testament where the government is said not to carry the sword in vain. Government exists to protect those that obey the law and to punish those that do not (some crimes even requiring capital punishment).
Therefore, “you shall not kill” in context means that you do not take matters into your own hands and murder someone. God holds the arm of justice, whether judging individuals or nations. We do not.
Argument #3: The Bible is not legitimate because of what Christians say or say about it
Dawkins mocks some Christians who make claims he rejects, and uses these to discard Christianity for yet another reason. It might be good for him to exercise reason. It would only be fair (and reasonable) to acknowledge that Christians do not claim to fully understand their Maker nor all of the commands given by Him any more than scientists claim to understand all that science involves. We both accept much on faith based upon what we do understand.
It is fair to say that ridiculous statements and actions by Christians (of which Dawkins gives examples) may cause Bible believers to look foolish (as they often have). However, these examples no more invalidate Christianity than previously held views of a flat earth or a geo-centric universe invalidate Dawkins’ pursuit of any field of science. Further, just because some “sophisticated” theologians, as Dawkins puts it, reject what the Bible says and seek to back-pedal and avoid obvious interpretations does not mean that all Christians have abandoned what the Bible says.
Argument #4: The Bible is not legitimate because of its core claims
Dawkins finally jumps to several central themes of the Bible, which he wholly rejects (and which all who reject God must reject). Dawkins rejects the historical Adam (by which sin entered the world), and thus he rejects the concept of sin. Logically, then, he rejects the payment for sin by Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, which He transacted by dying on the cross for the sins of mankind.
Since Dawkins rejects God as an evolutionist, he cannot understand that God revealed this plan of rescue (salvation). Since He refuses to believe in anything supernatural, he is left with no good options, and scorns the idea of God revealing truth to mankind. Since Dawkins rejects sin, he offers no explanation for evil, but sees no reason for its resolution – he rejects the only possible Source for its resolution. Maybe to Dawkin’s own surprise, the Bible is not caught off guard by this:
For since the creation of the world His invisible [attributes] are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, [even] His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify [Him] as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:20-21)
Dawkins accurately states that the Bible is not a “moral book.” It is much more than that. It is true that the Bible is full of instructions in righteousness for those that believe in God and seek to obey Him. However, it also does not shy away from accurately recording the history rebellious actions of those who failed to do so or refused to do so.
The Bible claims to be the revelation of the one true God, the Creator of the Universe, Who clearly and honestly presents the human race in all of its immoral and rebellious detail while declaring Himself to be the only solution to mankind’s core problem – sin. God did so by sending His only begotten Son to bear the penalty for the pathetic and helpless human race. God accomplished this in such a way that He could remain holy while receiving the justice His holiness demanded, and yet forgive the sins of those that believe in His Solution. God sent His only begotten Son to suffer the sin penalty for the world by dying on the cross, that He might save those that believe in that Payment.
It is not unreasonable to accept a Divine Creator Who has the sovereign reign of the universe, and Who is holy and metes justice as He sees fit according to that holiness. He is beyond our understanding, but has communicated with us at times directly, through His prophets, through the written Word, and through His Incarnate Son. God’s communications truly make perfect sense, if you accept them at face value.
We are all for people reading the Bible, even if they are encouraged to read it by enemies of the Bible. However, it is Dawkins that may need to read the Bible more, without the assumptions or explanations of men who reject it. It is then possible to gain what the Scriptures truly have to offer from God Who has everything to offer.