This is part 2 of my thoughts concerning Dr Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion. I anticipate that there will be two more articles, the next being on Chapter 4, Why There is Almost Certainly No God and Chapter 5, The Roots of Religion. As Dr Dawkins says This (Chapter 4) is the main conclusion of the book so far. Various questions follow (p158), my interest in the book kind of wanes from there. I really am not that interested in the Crusades, or the Salem Witch Trials*, or Dawkins anachronistically claiming that all inhumanity in human history flows from its religions, while all nobility in human history had no connection with religion. Such special pleading is not solid reasoning, but a stacking of the deck and an outflow of Dawkins’ “anything but God” commitments.
In my previous article, I made the following observation concerning Dawkins’ approach to his subject: all Christians (or Jews or Muslims, as he makes no distinction between these groups …) are exactly like this. On page 36, he offers a justification for this. He says there is an inevitable retort to this book, one that would … – as surely as night follows day – turn up … ‘That God Dawkins doesn’t believe in is a God I don’t believe in either …’ … This distraction is worse than irrelevant. Its very silliness is calculated to distract attention. To make sure the subject is properly focused, he adds: I am not attacking any particular version of God or gods. I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented.
To be fair to Dawkins, such distracting techniques are prevalent in argumentation today (to my embarrassment, much of what he places in the mouth of the religious accurately reflect what they say**), and to be balanced, a read of this book will demonstrate that unfair argumentation is not the “magisterium” of only one side of this discussion. While I understand the desire to eliminate nonsense, there is still an unfairness about using such a broad database of man’s inhumanity to man coupled with the fact of the universal religiosity of man (a point I hope to come back to in a later post) to make all man’s inhumanity religion-based (it seems to me there is a more natural explanation for man’s inhumanity than “it is alien behavior imported by the imposition of religion”). It leads to picking and choosing what will be his “representative” examples. So, you have the post-book youtube videos of Dr Dawkins giggling as he reads ugly, profane and violent correspondence from “religious” people, implying that there are no religious people who responded to him well or who think these writings to be evil (not to mention his dramatic pauses of moral shock at the religious’ comments showing that sanctimony is also not the sole “magisterium” of one side of this discussion). Or, in terms of the book, the evoking of evil to make sure that no religious idea be thought well of or even taken on its own merits (Dawkins’ editorial note: “Weak point; mention 9/11 or the crusades”.) I suspect that Dr Dawkins would find it unacceptable were someone to present the worse of scientific behavior as typical, be it Nazi experiments, Japanese live autopsies or Dr Moreau who, though he is a fictional character, you just know there are some scientists who think like him.
Dawkins also goes in for cherry-picking of American history. One of the issues he addresses is the common notion that America is “a Christian Nation” (Those who do not wish to go that far will mention that most of the founding fathers were Christians so the original documents must be interpreted in that light.) Though he repeatedly says (I believe correctly) that the founders were secularists (they chose to make the government separate from religion), his argumentation is that many of the fathers were Atheists, a bogus claim to say the least. He argues that many of the founders, being Deists, were they to be alive today and had atheism as a viable societal option, would choose to be Atheists. The point of this exercise in anachronism and speculation being that given his commitment that Religion is the root of all evil, he has to muster those who have acted nobly to the Atheist side (I mentioned in the first article Dawkins pronouncement that Martin Luther King Jr was influenced by Gandhi dismissing not only Christ’s influence on both of them, but also Gandhi’s devotion to Hinduism, a religion). The founding fathers included many what we would call Evangelicals today. They had strong beliefs in God, In Christ, and in the Authority of God’s Revelation. They also took courage in their hands and “held these truths to be self-evident”. The nobility of the ideas at the founding of America was as much a product of these men as of Jefferson or Paine or Franklin.
Those who wish to have America as a “Christian Nation” have their own cherry picks as well. Dawkins makes the astute observation that in times of greater faith, Deists were considered close to atheists while today “they are contrasted with atheists and lumped with theists” (p 38). And so, founders are selectively quoted when they say something that can imply their faith in God (I’ve read Thomas Paine, one of our more anti-christian founders quoted like this) if only to imply that being Deists they were at least closer to believing in the Christian God than what we have today. Going in the opposite direction, recently, there were headlines when a state school board voted to change their history books to totally downplay the role that Thomas Jefferson had in the founding of The United States. Seriously, how is this any different than Dawkins’ tactics?
*Once, in response to some skeptic bringing up the Inquisition, I said “those guys would all probably be dead by now anyways”. My point being that almost all of these examples are smoke screens. My skeptic friends can talk all day, every day about such things and they have nothing to do with them. They were not in (or a victim of) the Crusades, they know of no one who was in (or a victim of) the Crusades. It is a way to protect themselves from personal involvement in the very important, personal question of what he has to do with God.
** Is it really true that a $2.4 Million study was funded by the Templeton Foundation to pray for certain heart patients while not praying for others to see what difference there might be in recovery stats (pp 61-66)? Apparently so and it was published in the April 2006 issue of American Heart Journal. This is horrible and not for Dawkins suggested reason, The study was opposed by theologians, perhaps anxious about its capacity to bring ridicule upon religion (p.63) nor when on page 65 he says that theologians only objected to the study after it failed. Dr Dawkins constantly wishes to eat his cake and have it too – those who participate in the study are (rightfully) ridiculed, but those who refuse to sanction it are also ridiculed. The concept that a study like this would be considered a blasphemy (on the level of the atheist demanding that God be strapped into a scientific chair for his amusement) does not seem to occur to Dr Dawkins.