Rowan versus Richard Dawkins

God bless Rowan WIlliams. Few leaders in the church if any do I respect more. However, in this interview with Richard Dawkins, he makes a fatal flaw.

Rowan says that God, as creator, “shapes the entire process” of evolution. For the purposes of this discussion I have no real problem with this statement.

Dawkins then supplements Rowan’s comment by adding, “by setting up the laws of nature in which context the entire laws of evolution take place.” And Rowan nods his head in agreement. This leads to a further discussion about the laws of nature, or the laws of physics, in which both men tacitly agree that there is something called “the laws of nature.”

This is my qualm with how Rowan proceeds. I think that a much better approach would have been for him, right at the point which Dawkins brings up this idea of the laws of nature, to say something like, “I am fine with that idea as long as what you mean is really just a convenient way of referring to patterns that we discern in the world that repeat themselves more or less consistently over time. However, I do believe that God is actively “behind” these so-called laws of nature such that every time an apple falls from a tree, it is God who is somehow willing or causing that apple to fall.” (This is not to deny the reality of secondary causation, by the way.)

He could have invoked GK Chesterton, who said that every time the sun goes up, it does so because God tells it to, and when it does, God excitedly says, “Oh, do it again! Do it again!”

To give too much ground to an abstract and distant (from God) set of laws of nature is to give the impression that Deism is true. Deism, the very topic of Dawkin’s book _The Blind Watchmaker_.

Much to Dawkins’ chagrin, Scripture and Christian tradition do not at all imply that the world is like a machine that God wound up and set in motion.

Rather, the world is an enchanted place, “charged with the grandeur of God” and God’s active presence. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it: “God’s works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.”

Incidentally, to see what one of Dawkins’ atheistic comrades Christopher Hitchens thinks of Rowan Williams, see here.


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What’s the fatal flaw here? I think his take on the miraculous is spot on: ‘It is not, if you like, the suspension of nature, but the opening of nature itself opening up to its depths…’ It is poetic language, as he says, but nature itself bears a poetic character, if it is conceived of as creation. Perhaps you mean that Williams doesn’t challenge Dawkins’s failure to realize the social construction of his concept of ‘nature’ or that he gives him a pass on ‘fact’ and ‘value’ or on the neutrality of secular reason? I suppose that makes his position look relatively weaker, but had the challenge been issued, you can bet that Dawkins would have edited those bits out. One of Dawkins’s most alarming qualities as an evangelist for atheism is his utter lack of a sense of fair play.

On the last point, Dawkins is fond of making incredibly aggressive comments, which are just empty blasts of wind, such as, ‘Science is interesting, and if you don’t agree, you can f–k off.’

Please elaborate. I’m not sure what the fatal flaw is. Jesse and I watched it and thought Rowan held his own ok considering the context.

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