I was looking back at the 2011 New York Times profile of Richard Dawkins today, and one line jumped out at me. Dawkins just doesn’t get it. That’s not my high-handed dismissal of him; it’s what he says about himself. Here’s a snippet of the NYT profile:
Professor Dawkins’s closest intellectual ally on progressive evolution and convergence is Simon Conway Morris, the renowned Cambridge evolutionary paleontologist. And Professor Morris, as it happens, is an Anglican and a fervent believer in a personal God. He sees convergence as hinting at a teleology, or intelligent architecture, in the universe. Ask Professor Dawkins about his intellectual bedfellow, and his smile thins. “Yes, well, Simon and I have converged on the science,” he says. “I should think in the world there are not two evolutionary scientists who could rival each other in their enthusiasm for convergence.” As to Professor Morris’s religious faith? “I just don’t get it.”
The reaction that we Christian scholars face from our academic colleagues is sometimes hostility, but often just open-mouthed bemusement. They just don’t get it. How can anyone with the brains to snag tenure in a respectable institution of higher education still cling on to a belief in God and Jesus Christ which, it seems, is equivalent for Dawkins to believing that there are fairies at the bottom of the garden?
And that’s why part of our apologetic task and privilege as Christian academics is just to be around in the university, doing good, normal academic work and being a regulation human being with no wide-eyed hysterics and no foaming at the mouth. Many of our colleagues are soaked in an intellectual atmosphere which dictates that thinking people must have abandoned all that parochial, blood-soaked religion a long time ago, and in the normal course of life they receive no encouragement whatsoever to doubt that narrative. So one important step in beginning to pick away at the pervasive myth that thinking people can’t be Christians is just to show up to work each day and… be a Christian. Books like Kelly Monroe’s Finding God at Harvard: Spiritual Journeys of Thinking Christians can be helpful, but there’s nothing quite like having a living, breathing twenty-first century believer working in the lab or in the office next door to remind our colleagues that even for cynical academics faith is a live and respectable option.
In fact, “I just don’t get it” is not all that bad, as reactions go. It has already made significant progress from buying into the narrative that no thinking people sign up for Christianity any more.
The NYT profile is headlined “A Knack for Bashing Orthodoxy”. It could well describe the Christian academic’s attitude to the now orthodox patter that thinking people can’t be followers of Christ.