Rick Warren and Richard Dawkins on Purpose

42 color blind test

In modern, mainline, American Christianity, the concept of purpose seems to have become synonymous with a fulfilling life in Christ.  No doubt it feels really good to think that, in the words of Rick Warren, “[I am] not an accident and [I] matter to history and to the universe.”  But when I stand outside at night and I look up at the clear sky and see the thousands of stars that I am capable of seeing with my naked eyes, I have to wonder if we are just deluding ourselves thinking that way.

Inspired by an earlier conversation, here are two opposing views on the subject of “purpose.”

First in chronological order is Rick Warren, author of the best-seller The Purpose Driven Life, which he is not embarrassed to say is the best-selling book of all-time, second only to the Bible.  To make it clear, I did not choose this video because I agree with his position, ideas, or theology.  While selling books does not necessarily testify to the truth of its contents, it does mean that Rev. Warren does have something to say on the topic of purpose.

Some thoughts on Rick Warren:

  • “Spiritual emptiness is a universal disease.” Really?  I know plenty of people who say they have not given this a second thought.
  • “I don’t personally have enough faith to be an atheist.”  Yet another attempt at humor?
  • “The purpose of influence it to speak up for those who have no influence.”  I can agree with that one, at least in principle.
  • “God never does a miracle to show off.” (See yesterday’s post)
  • Warren says that “God smiles when he sees you be you.”  I wonder if he would have made that statement in a prison, to a room full of atheists, or in an open session of Congress.

Second, as his talk was recorded much more recently, is Richard Dawkins, author of the highly acclaimed book The God Delusion, which, while not having sold nearly the copies of Warren’s book, may have something very important to say to atheists and theologians alike.  Again, this video choice is not to imply agreement, but to foster conversation with two very different perspectives.  On initial reaction, it is difficult to even see that these two men are addressing the same topic.

{Begin this video at 8:46 for relevant material to this conversation}

Some thoughts on Richard Dawkins:

  • “The question of purpose does not necessarily need an answer.”  Well, perhaps in some aspects, but I do think that there is something to say about purpose, though not likely what many other American Christians would agree with.
  • I appreciate the “stab” at Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron.  These two are doing so much to put the whole of Christendom to shame!
  • Purpose in developing and changing (farming/domestication) for human purpose.  Evolution says that species develop and change for the purpose of survival.
  • The concept that in some cases there is an absence of premeditated purpose.
  • Scientifically: “A body is a survival machine programmed to preserve and propogate the genes that ride inside it.”

Then perhaps the heart of the differences between the two are highlighted in Dawkins’ discussion of “Goal Subversion.”

  • It can be dangerous when implacible faith is involved.
  • It can be an exhilarating liberation.

As a fundamental perspective difference, it would seems that Rick Warren not only supports “goal subversion” (although he would likely use a different term), he actually embraces it as a way to challenge people toward “right living.”

As an aside, to further flesh out the point that Dawkins presents about the banana, you may want to watch this video that has “completely changed my life.”

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About Aaron Gardner

Aaron is a counselor and student of the Bible, passionate about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. He lives in central Indiana with his wife, one-year-old son and their two dogs. View all posts by Aaron Gardner

7 responses to “Rick Warren and Richard Dawkins on Purpose

  • Sabio Lantz

    Thanks Aaron, Dawkin’s video is great education for any Christians who still read your posts (smile). But Aaron, you said, “Evolution says species develop and change for the purpose of survival “. This reveals some deep levels of misunderstandings you may have. The mechanism of evolution is survival, but there is no “purpose”. So you see, your use of this, only exacerbates this who problem unnecessarily. You illustrate well why people are intuitively confused on this issue.

    This is the confusion of language which tricked philosophers for centuries. For example, Greek and then European philosophers were confused because “IS” is used for both of these sentences: “The man is big” and “The man is here”. Finally someone realized that the word “is” is used very differently in both cases. Abstractions are the home of many confusions.

  • Sabio Lantz

    Concerning Warren:

    I agree with him on many issues. Especially when he states that emptiness can still occur when we look good, feel good and have the good. His emphasis of giving is wonderful. Thus I can do a generous translation on much of what he says.

    However, his view of how the human mind works seems mistaken at an important level. He says “everyone is betting their life on something.” He has a gambler’s world view. He also chastises people for not having systematized their worldviews. He assumes we all have ONE worldview.

    Our minds are complex and don’t have just one view, and when we put forth just one views we are often putting forth a lie about much which is within us. (see my view Many Selves to clarify if interest).

    You are right, Warren’s model may work for believers, but we can still believe in a reflective loving life without his gambler, monolithic worldview. As just one example, see my essay on Glorious Insignificance.

  • Aaron

    Thanks for the clarification on “purpose” in re: to Dawkins. I actually thought that my statement was an adequate paraphrase of his position, and was not intended to be a reflection.

    As for your comment on Warren, I just have to say: 🙂 . Seriously, there is much that I disagree him about, and your agreement tells me that you are as open to dialogue and conversation as I had previously thought… thanks for that.

    I have actually been harassing Warren on Twitter for some time… he actually sent me a direct message back this week (although I am not entirely sure that I understand his comment)! I have intended to invite him to this conversation, once it kind of got started… and if he would take the tome to respond.

  • Sabio Lantz

    Rick Warren’s Mistakes
    Gambler Mentality: As I mentioned above, he view that our worldview is a gamble.

    2. One-Way Mentality: As related to #1, Warren thinks the correct Gamble is Jeeeeesus ! He does not see how other models could give a meaning-filled life where one dies with satisfaction.

    3. God Designed Mentality: Warren is right to see acknowledge that humans have certain general mental structures (namely the need for healthy relationships — we are social animals). Further, he is right to stress the importance of paying attention to these structure in order to build a meaning-filled life. He is wrong to think our nature is God Designed. He is wrong to think therefore the whole God-Package must come with it including his Bible and his God.

    4. God Loves Us Mentality: Well, of course I don’t believe in his God. But even if I entertained for a second, the glaring horrible suffering argument jumps out. There is no way to test if this statement is true — it sounds empirical, but in the end, Christians really mean he will put us in Heaven when we die. Because their god does not give them better health, better relationships, more money or more happiness than people who don’t believe in their god. Studies show this.

    I thought it bizarre that “TED” invited Warren to speak. Was it because of his money which he can donate to their projects? Was it because now because of his money that he hob-nobs in circles of thinkers? It was very odd — I would love to have seen the audience faces during many of his religious comments.

    I also found it bizarre how he bragged about his tithing and his great book.

    Did others notice things? Aaron, do you agree or disagree with these points.

  • Aaron

    It may be interesting for you all to know that I believe that my publicity of this post and my criticisms of his position, or rather his lies based around Christianity, have prompted Rick Warren to block me from following him on Twitter!

    Interesting in part because he was actually responding to my tweets for a while, so it would be no surprise to me that he has visited this blog and found my comments offensive… or he saw it out of context and decided that I must be an atheist.

    Either way I am taking his rejection as a feather for my hat! 😀

  • Sabio Lantz

    Congratulations on your Twitter Censor !
    Congratualations on being treated like a filthy atheist !
    We should give you an honorary atheist-for-a-moment badge for your site !

  • RBH

    Let me pick up on what Sabio said in the first comment. He wrote

    But Aaron, you said, “Evolution says species develop and change for the purpose of survival “. This reveals some deep levels of misunderstandings you may have. The mechanism of evolution is survival, but there is no “purpose”. So you see, your use of this, only exacerbates this who problem unnecessarily. You illustrate well why people are intuitively confused on this issue.

    If the “purpose” of development and change of species is “for the purpose of survival,” it is a singularly unsuccessful mechanism. To a good first approximation every species that has ever existed is extinct, having failed in that purpose. Only a tiny minority of species that ever existed exists now, and it is virtually certain that all extant species will be extinct within a few million years. On the data, it’s the “purpose” of species to go extinct! That does not mean that some won’t leave descendant species; many will, many won’t. Lineages persist (sometimes) while species are temporary.

    In these sorts of discussions there is a persistent conflation of “purpose” and “function.” Development and change (a problematic gloss of evolution) functions to allow lineages to persist, but that in no way implies that’s the purpose of them. The persistence (or failure to persist) of biological lineages is a by-product of a mechanical algorithm, the differential reproductive success of lineages that differ in heritable characteristics. Consider the sorting by size of water-born gravel through a rapids in a river. Larger heavier bits of gravel are deposited closer to the foot of the rapids, while smaller lighter bits are deposited further downstream. The ordered sorting of the gravel as a function of size is a by-product of hydrodynamics. It is not the purpose of fast-flowing water to sort gravel by size; it occurs as an automatic by-product of the physics of the system. Similarly, it is not the purpose of differential reproduction as a consequence of heritable variation (evolution) to produce persistent lineages; it is a consequence — an automatic by-product — of the variation/selection algorithm that is the process of evolution. Evolution functions to produce lineages that persist as an automatic b-product of the process; it is not the purpose of evolution to do so.

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