For Dawkins, as brilliant a scientist as he is, he believes in a closed universe and so it’s unlikely that he’ll accept any compelling evidence that punctures his system. Even Jesus was aware of how our a priori commitments block us. He famously said, “‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” Why? Because there is more going on in our minds and hearts than just intellectual questions and the pursuit of what happened.
I can imagine Richard Dawkins sitting in the back row at the Areopagus, stern-faced and shaking head, and leading a small chorus of sceptics.
Richard Dawkins is continuing his mission to evangelise people out of Christianity (and religion altogether) and to secure his message of a world without hope.
Today in a video message, he asks, ‘Do you want to be comforted by a falsehood?’
It’s a good question and an important one. Does anyone want to find consolation in a fabrication? Does anyone want to pour all their hopes into a dead end? For Professor Dawkins death is of course the dead end, with nothing beyond and no light to give hope to either the dead or those who are left behind.
When your brain decays there is absolutely no reason to suppose your consciousness will continue, so the grounds of plausibility, the balance of plausibility is heavily in favour or there been no survival after death and that is something and that is something we need to live with. It’s not all that horrifying a prospect when you think about it because we think as Mark Twain said, ‘I’ve been dead for billions of years before I was born and never suffered the smallest inconvenience.
I suspect that Dawkins’ answer will arouse applause and retweets from fans and devotees, and with a satisfied Amen. Leaving aside for a moment the question of whether he’s right or not, his answer isn’t particularly consoling. Dawkins says that he finds solace in the finality of being no more, but I suspect most people including a lot of atheists are not so convinced. Our intellectual commitments (whether theistic or atheistic) come under a sudden assault when death approaches and when a loved one is lowered into the grave. There is a longing for death not to win. There is palpable hope that life may continue and love to beat any final breath.
Why divorce cognitive processes from heart filled yearnings? Of course, the two can be in conflict and they can also partner together as a harmonious duet, as we find in Christian theism.
Dawkins (and fellow atheists) believes that once our final breath expires and we are buried, the totality of what we were begins to rot and we cease to be. All that is left is the box in the ground holding our biological material and the memories that people have of you. Again, some readers may find that a satisfying end of the story, but most of us don’t. Whether we find it satisfying or not isn’t evidence of what is ultimately true.
The thing about the Christian view of resurrection is not one of lacking commitment to the intellectual process but appreciating that there is more going on. It is not wrong to appeal to deep heart filled longings, for those emotional impulses are part of who we are as human beings. We are more than those heart desires, not less.
I believe, along with Oxford and Cambridge Dons, scientists, poets, plumbers and children, that the Christian explanation of resurrection is both intellectually satisfying and emotionally, psychologically, spiritually liberating and consoling.
Something happened that day just outside Jerusalem that changed the world. Women and men saw something that didn’t compute. The evidence defied their prior assumptions and challenged their emotional state. They saw and heard and touched Jesus raised from the dead.
Before we line up the Biblical accounts with ancient mythology, we mustn’t assume that resurrection was a commonly held view in the ancient world, for that is not the case. Many ancient religions believed in some kind of life after death, although not all (including many Athenians in the First Century AD). The Christian notion of resurrection is altogether different
As Dr Chrisopher Watkin summarises in his new volume, Biblical Critical Theory,
“The nature of the resurrection is very different to the ancient notion of rising gods known as apotheosis. The bodily nature of resurrection sets the Christian claim apart from other superficially similar narrative patterns in the ancient world. The Romans, for example, were familiar with the idea that a mortal person could undergo an apotheosis to become a god, but apotheoses were spiritual, not bodily, and the deified mortal would not be expected to tread the streets of Jerusalem for forty days before ascending to heaven. Apotheosis was also a privilege reserved for the rich and mighty, not for the common artisan and certainly not for the crucified criminal. Christ’s resurrection was also different from the myths of dying and rising agricultural gods in other pagan religions. N. T. Wright, author of the 740-page The Resurrection of the Son of God insists that “even supposing Jesus’s very Jewish followers knew any traditions like those pagan ones—nobody in those religions ever supposed it actually happened to individual humans.”