I recently wrote (here) about Man vs. God. Karen Armstrong and Richard Dawkinseach wrote an essay, but it seemed to me that Armstrong was closer to understanding the larger context that would allow a middle view. Dawkins is one of the New Atheists and these extreme atheists can seem as literal in their thinking as some religious types. These New Atheists and Christian Fundamentalists agree on the literalism of religion. The former believes it’s literally false and the latter believes it’s literally true. Armstrong, on the other hand, is arguing that literalism isn’t a helpful mindset to understand religion.
I came across something on RichardDawkins.net (here). The comments below the article are mostly the typical hardcore atheist knee-jerk misunderstandings (for the atheists that pride themselves on being intellectuals some of them can be pathetically ignorant). The article is Darwinists for Jesus by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee (The New York Times). The author is writing about Michael Dowd (who wrote the book Thank God for Evolution). Dowd’s view seems akin to that of Armstrong which is interesting as Dowd said that he personally knew Dawkins (Dawkins allowed a letter he wrote to his daughter to be republished in Dowd’s book, but Dawkins wouldn’t publicly endorse the book because of his public role as a hostile atheist). Like Robert M. Price, Dowd started off as a biblical literalist and once he started questioning (instead of turning to atheism) he turned to agnosticism (or weak atheism if you prefer). A commenter at RichardDakins.net linked to a video of Dowd being interviewed on the Infidel Guy Show.
I haven’t read Dowd’s book, but this interview gave me a basic understanding of his view. Dowd talked about the universe as a nested reality with ultimate explanations being unknowable. He differentiated between private and public revelations which he connected with religion as night language and science as day language. We do things in our dreams that would seem bizarre if it happened while awake and yet these night events are completely normal within the context of dreaming. He spoke of myths in the Campbellian sense of not lies but deeper truths, archetypal realities. This is what Armstrong writes about. The silly part of this debate about creationism vs. Darwinism is that the earliest Christians themselves didn’t tend to take Old Testament stories literally. The interviewer was an atheist, but semed to have some understanding of this unnecessary division as he said that he supported the view of Kenneth Miller.
A famous Christian who tried to find a middle ground between the two was Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Dowd briefly mentions Teilhard de Chardin in he interview which made me happy because this opens a connection to Integral Movement theorists such as Ken Wilber. Open-minded Christian intellectuals like Dowd are serving a role parallel to that of the Integral theorists. Many Integral theorists are focused on complex analysis and of application to society in general, but Dowd is more narrowly focused. Dowd is mainly writing to a specific sector of Christians. At present, he said that he has spoken mostly to Unitarian Universalists, but he wants to focus more on Evangelicals who lean towards Progressive Christianity.
He referenced diffusion theoryin explaining his sense of purpose. He realizes that he isn’t going to reach the extreme Christian fundamentalists, but he recognizes that there are millions of Christians who are willing to question and who accept scientific theories. Even though these liberal Christians may seem like a minority, Dowd points out the media focuses on the extremes and yet change is most likely to happen in the middle. Ideas introduced into Progressive Evangelical churches will filter down into the Evangelical mainstream. The present generation of fundamentalists won’t change, but Thomas Kuhn points out (in The Structure of Scentific Revolutions) that ideas change (paradigm shift) when new generations come to power.
As an example, demographics show that the new generation is less overtly religious and more liberal, and also the new generation has a changing relationship to religion. Religious and social attitudes are changing immensely and this change will become very clear in the next few decades.
The 2006 Baylor religion in the USA survey delves into the beliefs of the 10.8% of respondents who claim no religious preference or identification:
Belief in God
• Believe in higher power or cosmic force: 44.5%
• Don’t believe in anything beyond the physical world: 37.1%
• Believe in God with no doubts: 11.6%
• Believe in God with some doubts: 4.8%
• Sometimes believe in God: 2.1%
Source: Baylor survey
- Whereas 19% of American men are Nones only 12% of American women are Nones. (Fig. 2.1)
- The gender ratio among Nones is 60 males for every 40 females. (Fig.1.1)
- Women are less likely to switch out of religion than men.
- Women are also less likely to stay non-religious when they are born and raised in a non-religious family.
Seventy percent of Protestants age 18 to 30 drop out of church before age 23 and give multiple reasons for their departure.
Why they leave
• Wanted a break from church: 27%
• Found church members judgmental or hypocritical: 26%
• Moved to college: 25%
• Tied up with work: 23%
• Moved too far away from home church: 22%
• Too busy: 22%
• Felt disconnected to people at church: 20%
• Disagreed with church’s stance on political/social issues: 18%
• Spent more time with friends outside church: 17%
• Only went before to please others: 17%
Reasons cited by the 30% who kept attending church:
• It’s vital to my relationship with God: 65%
• It helps guide my decision in everyday life: 58%
• It helps me become a better person: 50%
• I am following a family member’s example: 43%
• Church activities were a big part of my life: 35%
• It helps in getting through a difficult time: 30%
• I fear living without spiritual guidance: 24%
Source: LifeWay Research survey of 1,023 Protestants, conducted April and May 2007. Margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points
Jonathan Merritt: A New Generation of Religion and Politics (PBS interview)