Near the end of The God Delusion, in chapter 8, Dawkins makes his case for why religion is so bad, and why he feels morally obligated to be hostile toward it. He begins by addressing an accusation that many people, I being one of them, have made against the New Atheist Movement: “Doesn’t your hostility mark you out as a fundamentalist atheist, just as fundamentalist in your own way as the wingnuts of the Bible Belt in theirs?” (319).
Dawkins response is astounding:
“Fundamentalists know they are right because they have read the truth in a holy book and they know, in advance, that nothing will budge them from their belief. The truth of the holy book is an axiom, not the end product of a process of reasoning. The book is true, and if the evidence seems to contradict it, it is the evidence that must be thrown out, not the book. By contrast, what I, as a scientist, believe (for example, evolution) I believe not because of reading a holy book but because I have studied the evidence” (319).
“I am no more fundamentalist when I say evolution is true than when I say it is true that New Zealand is in the southern hemisphere. We believe in evolution because the evidence supports it, and we would abandon it overnight if new evidence arose to disprove it. No real fundamentalist would ever say anything like that” (320).
“As a scientist, I am hostile to fundamentalist religion because it actively debauches the scientific enterprise. It teaches us not to change our minds, and not to want to know exciting things that are available to be known. It subverts science and saps the intellect” (321).
Let’s look at these quotes. Yes, it is true that there certainly are fundamentalists whose faith rests on a simplistic “it’s-in-the-Bible-so-I-believe-it” mentality. On that point, I agree with Dawkins. A prime example of this is Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis organization. Does it “debauch the scientific enterprise?” Yes it does. Does it “sap the intellect?” Yes it does. Does it base everything on an oversimplistic (and I would add utterly wrong) understanding of Genesis 1-11? Yes it most certainly does.
Nevertheless, it is downright shocking to me that Dawkins apparently does not see any difference between fundamentalism and traditional, Orthodox Christianity. Apparently, he thinks that Ken Ham’s perversion of the Christian faith is, in fact, what the Christian faith has always been. In addition, Dawkins has this bizarre idea that the whole purpose of religion is to give scientific explanations for the natural world.
In this regard, Dawkins is exactly like Ken Ham—but the fact is, the Bible is not attempting to do science in the first place, and it certainly never even addresses the topic of evolution. In fact, as I have mentioned numerous times, there are a growing number of Biblical scholars and Christian scientists who are arguing that there is no contradiction between Christian faith and the biological theory of natural selection. Given these facts, I believe it is safe to say that the muddled thinking Dawkins displays in his very defense of himself not being an atheistic fundamentalist, in fact shows him to be just that…an atheistic fundamentalist.
Furthermore, for Dawkins to equate fundamentalists with all Christianity for all time has about as much logic as someone claiming that “all scientists” want to liquidate Jews and sterilize the handicapped, because the Nazi scientists did that back in the 1930s and 1940s. Yes, those Nazi doctors were scientists, but no, they do not represent the majority of scientists throughout history.
Why So Hostile Toward Religion? What? Because of Kurt Wise?
What makes Dawkins so hostile toward religion? Part of his answer is found in one name: Kurt Wise, a leading advocate of young earth creationism. Strangely enough, I have actually sat in on a lecture he gave during a Worldview conference one time. I remember listening to Wise and just cringing at the way he misinterpreted and butchered the text of Genesis. And let me be up front about him—as soon as he started talking about how Noah had dinosaurs on the ark, I had the same reaction that Richard Dawkins has: “The Kurt Wise story is just plain pathetic—pathetic and contemptible” (322). So what’s Wise’s story?
Kurt Wise himself admits that as a Christian, when he started really studying biology, he realized that the biological evidence did not jive with what he read in Genesis—and so he purposely chose to reject the biological evidence and started to make it his life’s mission to “prove” the creation account in Genesis was scientifically and historically true. So when Dawkins says that is pathetic and contemptible, I actually agree with him. What Dawkins fails to see, though, is that Kurt Wise does not represent traditional Christianity in any way, shape, or form. In fact, he only represents the view of a small splinter of American fundamentalism. But apparently Dawkins cannot tell the difference between this one sub-group within the American brand of Protestant Christianity and the greater Orthodox and traditional Christian faith of the past 2,000 years.
And Then There’s Jerry Falwell and Pat Roberston…and Fred Phelps
In addition to Wise, Dawkins has problems with televangelists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Roberston. Jerry Falwell once said, “AIDS is not just God’s punishment for homosexuals; it is God’s punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.” Pat Robertson has also said countless goofy things over the years as well. We could probably add more to the list of crazy televangelists. Any thoughtful person should have a major problem with men like these.
Dawkins, though, chooses to focus on Fred Phelps from the Westboro Baptist church. He cites what Phelps and his crew put on their poster-boards when Coretta Scott King died: “God Hates Fags and Fag-enablers! Ergo, God hates Coretta Scott King and is now tormenting her with fire and brimstone where the worm never dies and the fire is never quenched, and the smoke of her torment ascendeth up forever and ever.” (328)
Any reasonable person will see how horrible that kind of rhetoric is. Fred Phelps is a deranged and hateful nut. Yet Dawkins responds by saying, “It is easy to write Fred Phelps off as a nut, but he has plenty of support from people and their money” (328).
Wait a minute. What? Now, I don’t object to Dawkins objecting to guys like Falwell, Robertson, and most certainly Fred Phelps. But what I object to is Dawkins trying to convince people that men like that represent traditional Christianity. What he is doing is the equivalent of saying something like, “Since David Duke ran on the GOP ticket, therefore all Republicans are Klansmen.” Feel free to think up other examples, but the point should be obvious. Dawkins isn’t trying to rationally critique historical Christianity. He’s a one-man smear campaign.
And Let’s Not Forget Mother Teresa, and Her Fanatical Group, Operation Rescue!
Dawkins even let’s into Mother Teresa: He mocks her when he says, “Mother Teresa of Calcutta actually said, in her speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, ‘The greatest destroyer of peace is abortion.’ What? How can a woman with such cock-eyed judgment be taken seriously on any topic, let alone be thought seriously worthy of a Nobel Prize?” (330).
Wow…Dawkins can’t take Mother Teresa seriously…on any topic…because she views abortion as evil! Her life-long self-sacrifice to the poorest of the poor in Calcutta means nothing to Dawkins. As far as he’s concerned, she opposes abortion, therefore she’s an idiot! Seriously, what can you say to that? I can respect anyone who holds a different view than me on abortion, as long as that person shows sensitivity and a real concern over the topic of abortion. But apparently Dawkins just cavalierly dismisses anyone who is pro-life as being a moron. Such a comment reflects a whole lot more on him than it does on Mother Teresa.
Dawkins then holds up as a poster child for the Christian religion, none other than Randall Terry, founder of “Operation Rescue”—the group that advocates violence against abortion doctors and the blowing up of abortion clinics. And let’s not forget Michael Bray and Paul Hill, the former who advocates the execution of adulterers, and the latter who himself was executed for the murder of an abortion doctor. These are the people whom Dawkins holds up as “typical” Christians.
Why do I mention them? Simple. In Dawkins’ mind there is very little difference between Mother Teresa, Randall Terry, Fred Phelps and Jerry Falwell. Who in their right mind doesn’t have a problem with that? What would our opinion be of someone who said, “Gandhi, Stalin, Benny Hinn—they’re all pretty much the same!”? Would we take that person seriously? I think not. So why do people take Dawkins seriously?
It should be quite obvious by now that Dawkins’ book The God Delusion is not exactly a great example of coherent, critical thinking. It is sensationalistic propaganda with the purpose of, not of seeking and clarifying the truth, but rather driving a particular agenda, and may the facts be damned.