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Letter to an Influential Atheist - by Roger Steer

Letter to an Influential Atheist

By Roger Steer

Letter to an Influential Atheist is an open letter from Roger Steer to Richard Dawkins challenging Dawkins’ vigorously proclaimed view that the theory of evolution by natural selection explains our existence and makes atheism intellectually respectable.

Richard Dawkins is Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford. His books have been extraordinarily influential even in the minds of thousands of people who have never read them.

Roger Steer decided to write his letter after reflecting on perhaps the most famous sentence Dawkins has ever written. Dawkins begins The Blind Watchmaker with these words: “This book is written in the conviction that our own existence once presented the greatest of all mysteries, but that it is a mystery no longer because Darwin and Wallace solved it, though we shall continue to add footnotes to their solution for a while yet.

Roger Steer is not a so-called “creationist”. He happily accepts that evolution by natural selection is a good description of the process which produces biological diversity. He has written the letter because Dawkins claims too much for evolutionary mechanisms. He tries to make them into a theory of “life, the universe and everything”, and a biological theory – even such a major insight as this – isn’t up to such Herculean tasks. It’s an abuse of science to take a good theory out of its scientific context and use it for ideological purposes.

Roger argues that Dawkins’ influential books distort his readers’ thinking in at least six ways.

First, despite the striking and assured tone of his famous sentence, Dawkins does not actually believe that Darwin and Wallace “solved the mystery of our existence” as from time to time he honestly admits.

Second, Dawkins misleads people by suggesting that Darwin and Wallace set out to solve the mystery of our existence: the truth is that the puzzle they sought to unravel was more modest.

Third, by repeatedly linking the two men’s names in the way he does, Dawkins implies that they drew from the theory of natural selection the same philosophical conclusions as he does: in fact they did not agree in their estimates of the explanatory power of natural selection and neither man agreed with Dawkins.

Fourth, Dawkins does not acknowledge how controversial the wider conclusions he draws from the theory of evolution by natural selection are among his own colleagues within the scientific community.

Fifth, in vigorously proclaiming his view that the theory of evolution has made atheism intellectually respectable Dawkins misrepresents the story of Darwin’s alleged “loss of faith” and totally ignores Wallace’s insistence on the universe’s essential spiritual dimension. And finally, Dawkins either misunderstands or deliberately caricatures the nature of Christian faith.

In correcting Dawkins flawed history, and in discussing the complexity of the human mind, human possession of consciousness, our life in an orderly universe, and the Christian understanding of creation, Roger Steer presents a compelling and interesting case for belief in God.

You can read some reviews of Letter to an Influential Atheist by visiting Amazon.co.uk Reviews, and also clicking on the Customer Reviews link. You will also find a debate about the book at http://www.bowness.demon.co.uk. or from Authentic Media, Box 1047, Waynesboro, GA 30830-2047, USA.

In 1800 a 15-year-old Welsh girl, Mary Jones, walked 28 miles, barefoot, across the side of a mountain to buy a Welsh Bible, for which she had saved six years, from a Methodist minister, Thomas Charles. Impressed, Charles persuaded friends to set up a society to provide affordable Welsh Bibles. The group quickly realised that Bibles in the language of the people must be made available not just in Wales, but around the world. They agreed to distribute the unadorned Bible, without note or comment, to transcend sectarian divides.

The subsequent achievements of Bible Society are astonishing: so much so that the elderly Mary Jones, aged 71, would donate a half-sovereign to the Society's appeal to print and circulate a million Chinese New Testaments. The Society whose formation she unwittingly triggered quickly attracted within its orbit kings, queens, a Russian tsar, an Ethiopian emperor, prime ministers - the list goes on.

This is the story of men and women of immense ability and courage. But above all it is the story of a book - the Book - and of the way it has broken through barriers of culture and language to set hearts on fire right around the world.

Roger Steer is the author of 12 books, including George Müller: Delighted in God, which has been continuously in print for nearly 30 years. He has been a trustee of Bible Society for many years. He lives in Devon, UK.

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