The Dawkins Dilemma – Part 2


Those of you who read Part 1 hopefully understand my concern is that in his book “The God Delusion” Dr. Richard Dawkins has set out to divert people from any religious views they and move them into the world of atheism in what i contend is an inappropriate and inaccurate manner, especially in light of the “world-class scientific” credentials he possesses. Furthermore, I believe people making decisions based on reading this book have the absolute right to have the material presented in a fair, accurate, and honest manner.

In Part 1 I demonstrated how Dr. Dawkins manipulated the available information to skew the perceptions on the effectiveness of intercessory prayer. For Part two, I’m going to jump forward to Chapter 3, Pages 118-120 in the paperback version and focus on the section entitled: “The Argument from the Scripture”.

I’m not saying that I don’t take issue with many of the things Dr. Dawkins says in the in the first two chapters (in addition to the prayer example) but I’ll save commentary on that section of the book until a future post. There are two reasons for this. First, many of the issues I have with this material revolve around the rather subtle wording and style Dr. Dawkins uses, and I think that once I point out some of the more obvious issues farther on in the book it will be easier to go back and pick those items up later.

Second. A large portion of the first two chapters of “The God Delusion” deals with the contention that there are many religious persons (including professed Christians) who have done terrible things. On that point, I agree with Dr. Dawkins, there are. However, the fact that some Christians, Muslims, Jews, or Atheists for that matter do so has no bearing whatsoever on the existence or nonexistence of God. It is, in my opinion, discussed simply to shape the readers perspective leading into subsequent portions of the book.

With that being said, let’s look at what Dr. Dawkins’ has presented in pages 118-120.

We’ll start with his comment in the middle of the page 118 which states:

A good example of the colouring by religious agendas is the whole heart-warming legend of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, followed by Herod’s massacre of the innocents. When the gospels were written, many years after Jesus’ death, nobody knew where he was born. But an Old Testament prophecy (Micah 5:2) had led Jews to expect that the long-awaited Messiah would be born in Bethlehem

He goes on to say:

In the light of this prophecy, John’s gospel specifically remarks that his followers were surprised that he was not born in Bethlehem:Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee? Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?‘ “

To state that John is in any way inferring that Jesus was not born in Bethlehem is totally untrue. You can easily check this for yourself. The Scripture quoted above is John 7:41. However, if you go back just a few lines and check John 7:1, you see that “After That, Jesus went around Galilee, purposely staying away from Judea because the Jews there were waiting to take his life.” The Scriptures state that Jesus traveled regularly and just because he was most recently in Galilee doesn’t mean he wasn’t born somewhere else.

In my mind that’s equivalent to someone trying to dispute my having graduated from Ohio State simply because I moved to Virginia from my previous residence in Maryland after having lived in Ohio, Florida, Texas, and California. (But some said, Shall the Chief Engineer come out of Maryland? Hath not the resume said, that he cometh of the Ohio State Engineering Department and out of the town of Columbus in Ohio, where Woody was?)

Continuing on to pages 118 and 119.

Matthew and Luke handle the problem differently, by deciding that Jesus must have been born in Bethlehem after all. But they get him there by different routes. Matthew has Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem all along, moving to Nazareth only long after the birth of Jesus, on their return from Egypt where they fled from King Herod and the massacre of the innocents Luke, by contrast, acknowledges that Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth before Jesus was born. So how to get them to Bethlehem at the crucial moment, in order to fulfil the prophecy? Luke says that, in the time when Cyrenius (Quirinius) was governor of Syria, Caesar Augustus decreed a census for taxation purposes, and everybody had to go ‘to his own city’. Joseph was ‘of the house and lineage of David’ and therefore he had to go to ‘the city of David, which is called Bethlehem’.

Let’s check the sources. Matthew 1:20 details an angel’s words to Joseph: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife…” Mathew 1:24 further states “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” (NIV)

So where were Joseph and Mary? While Matthew doesn’t specifically say, a good case can be made that it is somewhere other than “home” since that is where they are told to go. And, where is Joseph’s home…Bethlehem.

Now let’s look at Luke. Luke tells us both Mary (Luke 1:26) and Joseph (Luke 2:4) are in Nazareth. Luke 2:1-3 states: “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. So, Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David because he belonged to the house and line of David.”(NIV)

Again, let’s ask where were Joseph and Mary? Somewhere other than “home”, but this time we have an answer, Nazareth. And where did they go? To Joseph’s home…in Bethlehem.

From this we can see that what the Scriptures say concerning the location of Jesus’ birth, is nothing remotely like what Dr. Dawkins says in his book. Lets’ keep going.

Still on Page 119, Dr. Dawkins states:

Moreover, Luke screws up his dating by tactlessly mentioning events that historians are capable of independently checking. There was indeed a census under Governor Quirinius – a local census, not one decreed by Caesar Augustus for the Empire as a whole – but it happened too late: in AD 6, long after Herod’s death.

There are a couple of items that should be discussed relative to this. For baseline purposes we will use the generally accepted date of 4 BC for Jesus’ birth.

The first item is a matter of translation. The term “governor of” may also be translated as “governing in” and Luke presents his description of Quirinius in the same manner he uses to describe Pontius Pilate’s role as a regional Procurator (i.e. not a “Governor”). (Luke 3:1) Thus it is valid to extend the time period during which Quirinius was serving in some official capacity which has been documented back to as early as 12 BC and leads to a translation describing a census that took place under the direction of Quirinius, before he formally became “Governor”.

Additionally, the Luke uses the Greek word “protos” which in addition to being translated as “first” may also be translated as “prior to” when followed by the genitive case. Thus the implication here is that Luke could also be referring to a census (commonly thought to be the “Oath Census” in the 2-4 BC time-frame) that took place prior to the 6 AD property/taxation census.

While I will agree this is somewhat of a gray area as far as clarity is concerned, Dr. Dawkins again fails to mentions any valid discussion that happens to contradict his absolute vision, thus again leading the reader away from a fair and accurate portrayal of the facts.

The final example I want to point out in this section can be found in the middle of page 120. Dr. Dawkins states:

“Shouldn’t a literalist worry about the fact that Matthew traces Joseph’s descent from King David via twenty-eight intermediate generations, while Luke has forty-one generations? Worse, there is almost no overlap in the names on the two lists! In any case, if Jesus really was born of a virgin, Joseph’s ancestry is irrelevant and cannot be used to fulfil, on Jesus’ behalf, the Old Testament prophecy that the Messiah should be descended from David.”

I’m sure in researching this topic that Dr. Dawkins came across (but failed to note) the widely accepted position that Matthew traces back the lineage of Joseph while Luke traces back Mary’s lineage. No wonder there is little overlap between the two. Also note that Matthew didn’t say there were 28 generations in total from David to Jesus, but rather 14 from David to the exile to Babylon and 14 after the Babylonian exile ended to Jesus.

As for the Messiah being descended from David, that blood relationship is provided through Mary’s ancestry. Joseph, while not the biological father of Jesus, is considered the legal father, and according to the Jewish law, passes on the royal and legal family ancestral link to David and Solomon.

In Part 1 of this post, I showed you how Dr. Dawkins had selectively manipulated the “prayer experiment” to fit the needs of his agenda. In this part, I hope you have seen how he continues to manipulate the facts in a manner the leads people to his agenda.

As with Part 1, I ask only that you take the time to look over this from a neutral point, think for yourself, and ask yourself the following questions relative to The God Delusion:

1.      Am I being told the truth or am I being given a rhetoric which is unfairly skewed to lead me (and others) into potentially life-changing decisions?

2.      Does Dr. Dawkins (a world-class scientist) present you with a fair, accurate, and ethical document on which to base my life decisions or is he unfairly misleading me into making the decision he wants?

Let me know what you think.

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