Richard Dawkins on Ecclesiastes

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Richard Dawkins: ‘I want all our children to read the Bible’

BY YUKIO STRACHAN

MAY 21, 2012 IN RELIGION
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Arch-atheist Richard Dawkins, who argues that the God of the Old Testament is a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser, thinks the government’s plan to send a free copy of the King James Bible to every state school in England is a great idea.

Last year, marked the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible.

To celebrate this occasion, the Guardian says that education secretary Michael Gove, hoped to send a free copy of the King James Bible to every school in the country by Easter.

“It’s a thing of beauty, and it’s also an incredibly important historical artifact,” Gove said of the 1611 translation. “It has helped shape and define the English language and is one of the keystones of our shared culture. And it is a work that has had international significance.”

As you could imagine, not everyone embraced Gove’s vision.

“This is not simply another piece of literature, it is the holy scripture of one particular religion,” Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said. “Is it really the job of the Government to be promoting one particular religion in schools that are increasingly multi-faith?”

Since schools were already “awash with Bibles,” he said, the National Secular Society suggested a compromise: a copy of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.

“I fear that many of these supporters of the project are more interested in the proselytizing opportunity than in the literary value of this book,” Sanderson said.

The Bible

kevinroose.com
The Bible

To let the Bible Society tell it, it’s the National Secular Society that’s guilty of proselytizing.

“National Secular Society has revealed its not-so hidden agenda,” the Society wrote in an op-ed, “to stop Britain’s children reading the Bible.”

But the government ran into another snag.

At the time of the announcement last November, the Department for Education estimated the cost of the scheme at £375,000 (585,821.00 US dollars), and sought philanthropic sponsorship.

However, the Department for Education’s plans ran into trouble in January when government sources reported that David Cameron had told Gove to avoid using taxpayers’ money for the £370,000 initiative. At the time, Gove had not found private philanthropists to sponsor the enterprise.

It has now emerged that leading millionaire Conservative party donors have clubbed together to rescue the plan by footing the bill, the Guardian reported.

But after hearing the news, one person was surprised he didn’t make Gove’s list of potential donors: atheist Richard Dawkins.

“For some reason the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (UK) was not approached for a donation in support of Michael Gove’s plan to put a King James Bible in every state school,” writes Dawkins in the Guardian. “We would certainly have given it serious consideration, and if the trustees had not agreed I would gladly have contributed myself.”

Richard Dawkins?

Dawkins even agrees with Gove’s assertion that the 1611 translation is a “thing of beauty.”

Ecclesiastes, in the 1611 translation, is one of the glories of English literature. The whole King James Bible is littered with literary allusions, almost as many as Shakespeare.

In The God Delusion I have a section called “Religious education as a part of literary culture” in which I list 129 biblical phrases which any cultivated English speaker will instantly recognise and many use without knowing their provenance: the salt of the earth; go the extra mile; I wash my hands of it; filthy lucre; through a glass darkly; wolf in sheep’s clothing; hide your light under a bushel; no peace for the wicked; how are the mighty fallen.

He adds: “A native speaker of English who has never read a word of the King James Bible is verging on the barbarian.”

Richard Dawkins?

This is the same arch-atheist whose best-selling book The God Delusion says that the Bible is “a chaotically cobbled-together anthology of disjointed documents, composed, revised, translated, distorted and ‘improved’ by hundreds of anonymous authors, editors and copyists, unknown to us and mostly unknown to each other, spanning nine centuries”

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction,” he writes in another passage, “jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Did Dawkins have a road to Damascus experience?

“I have an ulterior motive for wishing to contribute to Gove’s scheme,” Dawkins writes in his op-ed. “People who do not know the Bible well have been gulled into thinking it is a good guide to morality.”

“I have even heard the cynically misanthropic opinion that, without the Bible as a moral compass, people would have no restraint against murder, theft and mayhem.

The surest way to disabuse yourself of this pernicious falsehood is to read the Bible itself.”

Bingo.

Dawkins gives us examples:

●”Honour thy father and thy mother.” Well and good. But honour thy children? Not if God tells you, as he did Abraham in a test of his loyalty, to kill your beloved son for a burnt offering. The lesson is clear: when push comes to shove, obedience to God trumps human decency

●In any case, the commandment meant only “Thou shalt not kill members of thine own tribe”. It was perfectly fine – indeed strongly encouraged throughout the Pentateuch – to kill Canaanites, Midianites, Jebusites, Hivites etc, especially if they had the misfortune to live in the Promised Lebensraum. Kill all the men and boys and most of the women. “But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves” (Numbers 31:18). Such wonderful moral lessons: all children should be exposed to them.

●”Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy”: this commandment is regarded as so important that (as our children will learn when they flock into the school library to read the Gove presentation copy) a man caught gathering sticks on the sabbath was summarily stoned to death by the whole community, on direct orders from God.

Things for Dawkins aren’t any better in the New Testament, either. He says, “theologians will accept that the Old Testament is pretty horrible but will point with pride, and nods of approval from all sides, to the New Testament as a truly righteous moral guide. Really?”

●The central dogma of the New Testament is that Jesus died as a scapegoat for the sin of Adam and the sins that all we unborn generations might have been contemplating in the future. Adam’s sin is perhaps mitigated by the extenuating circumstance that he didn’t exist.

●But the unmistakable message is clear. We are all “born in sin” even if we no longer literally believe, with Augustine, that Adam’s sin came down to us via the semen. And God, the all-powerful creator, capable of moving mountains and of begetting a universe with all the laws of physics, couldn’t find a better way to lift the burden of sin than a blood sacrifice.

Dawkins adds: “Whatever else the Bible might be – and it really is a great work of literature – it is not a moral book and young people need to learn that important fact because they are very frequently told the opposite,” he writes. “Not a bad way to find out what’s in a book is to read it, so I say go to it.”

The Department for Education says copies of the King James Bible will be distributed to schools starting on May 14. All schools are expected to have received their copies by May 28.

 

Read more: http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/325204#ixzz2zpU7HkQD

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” How can you want more than that ?” Richard Dawkins and Bill Moyers

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Bill Moyers Interviews Richard Dawkins on NOW. 12.03.04 MOYERS: At least half of America is going to take issue with the cover story of the November issue of the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC magazine. There it is, with the provocative question boldly displayed, “Was Darwin Wrong?” The article inside answers just as boldly, “No. The evidence for evolution is overwhelming.”But try telling that to this red-state mom in Cobb County, Georgia in the suburbs of Atlanta.ROGERS: I believe that God created the world in six literal days about 6,000 years ago.MOYERS: She’s not alone. A recent CBS/NEW YORK TIMES poll found that more than half of Americans believed that human beings were created by God just as we are today, and 65% said that biblical creation should be part of the curriculum, along with evolution. These Bible-based beliefs about the origins of life are churning American politics.As USA TODAY reported recently, there have been efforts in 24 states this year to challenge the teaching of evolution in public schools. Because the Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that creationism is a religious belief and can’t be taught in public schools, this biblical worldview is being repackaged under a new banner.They call it “intelligent design,” the notion that our world is far too complex not to have been issued from some higher power. A school district in Dover, Pennsylvania has become the first in the nation to require that students be taught the theory of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution.With me now is a man who is puzzled by America’s seeming retreat from what science has to say about the world we live in. From his teaching base at Oxford University Richard Dawkins holds forth as one of the world’s foremost advocates for the public understanding of science. His books on the subject have been acclaimed by literary and scientific peers alike. They make science so clear and engaging that even a journalist like me gets it. My favorite among them is A DEVIL’S CHAPLAIN and now, the latest, THE ANCESTOR’S TALE: A PILGRIMAGE TO THE DAWN OF EVOLUTION.A zoologist by training, Richard Dawkins was recently described by an influential British magazine as his country’s leading public intellectual. Welcome to NOW.DAWKINS: Thank you.

MOYERS: What strikes me about this is that you have offered this trip back to the dawn of evolution at the very moment, in this country, there is a huge backlash against the very notion of evolution. Are you aware of walking into that buzzsaw of religion and politics here?

DAWKINS: Yes, I am. I mean I’m aware that the subject of evolution is, itself, controversial. I also feel that perhaps the fact that it’s a sweep of four billion years helps to get things in perspective. I mean, this is the real long-term view of life. Whereas temporary politics perhaps we cannot exactly shrug this off. But at least get it into perspective.

MOYERS: Even as you speak about the four billion years of evolution, I can hear minds going off in the audience that says, “Yes, but we can’t think that long. We’re concerned right now with this controversy in this country.”

One of the largest school districts in Georgia created a real stir, not long ago, when they insisted on putting a warning sticker on biology books saying, and I’ve got the exact quote here, “This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.” What’s your response to that?

DAWKINS: All materials should be studied with an open mind, studied critically, etcetera. I’m all for that. What’s wrong is to single out evolution as though that is any more open to doubt than anything else. Of course, in science, there have been sort of open to doubt and things that need to be discussed.

And, of course, everything needs to be approached with an open mind. But, among the things that science does know, evolution is about as certain as anything we know. And that, of course, as you know, is accepted by responsible educated churchmen, as well as scientists.

MOYERS: When you say it’s about as certain as anything we know, how do we know it?

DAWKINS: We know it from a massive evidence, not just fossil evidence, which is actually rather less important, nowadays, than molecular evidence. There’s a huge quantity of evidence. Everything about the distribution of animals and plants over the earth’s surface. The distributions on genes within the animal and plant kingdoms, everything points to the overwhelming conclusion that evolution is true. That doesn’t mean that every detail of the theoriesÖ the details are necessarily true. But the fact that we and chimpanzees are cousins, the fact that we and amoebas are cousins, is beyond all educated dispute.

MOYERS: What do we have in common with jellyfish?

DAWKINS: We have a huge amount of DNA in common with jellyfish. At the deepest level, all living things that have ever been looked at have the same DNA code. And many of the same genes. We can actually measure how long ago the common ancestor of jellyfish and ourselves lived. Well, I say measure… estimate.

MOYERS: Yeah.

DAWKINS: Öwith a fair degree of plausibility. There’s not the slightest shadow of a doubt that we are cousins of jellyfish, albeit, rather distant cousins.

MOYERS: But how do you account for the fact that human beings have this intimation of something beyond us that, you know, apparently a jellyfish doesn’t entertain?

DAWKINS: Well, we have big brains. We have all sorts of things that jellyfish don’t have. We have language, we have culture, we have music, we have mathematics, we have philosophy. And we have these intimations which you describe. We are a very, very unusual speciesÖ

MOYERS: What’s the source of those intimations do you think? Wishful thinking?

DAWKINS: Well, I really don’t know. I mean I think that when you’ve got a big brain, when you find yourself planted in a world with a brain big enough to understand quite a lot of what you see around you, but not everything, you naturally fall to thinking about the deep mysteries. Where do we come from? Where does the world come from? Where does the universe come from? Why can we think?

Those are very, very deep questions. And it’s natural for us to hanker after solutions to that. And many solutions have been offered. And I think that’s what you’re seeing when you talk about those intimations.

MOYERS: Is evolution a theory, not a fact?

DAWKINS: Evolution has been observed. It’s just that it hasn’t been observed while it’s happening.

MOYERS: What do you mean it’s been observed.

DAWKINS: The consequences of. It is rather like a detective coming on a murder after the scene. And youÖ the detective hasn’t actually seen the murder take place, of course. But what you do see is a massive clue. Now, any detectiveÖ

MOYERS: Circumstantial evidence.

DAWKINS: Circumstantial evidence, but masses of circumstantial evidence. Huge quantities of circumstantial evidence. It might as well be spelled out in words of English. Evolution is true. I mean it’s as circumstantial as that, but it’s as true as that.

MOYERS: As you probably know, back in 1987, our Supreme Court ruled that creationism, the belief that the earth was created by a transcendent God in six days 4,004 years ago, thereof, that the Supreme Court ruled that creationism was a religious belief that, therefore, could not be taught in public schools. So now creationism has been repackaged, as I’m sure you know, along the line of intelligent design, the notion that life on earth results from a purposeful design, rather than random selection. And that a higher intelligence is actually guiding this progress. Is there any circumstantial evidence to support that claim?

DAWKINS: I suppose it is possible that one might look at the evidence of life, as we see it on this planet, and try to find some sort of evidence that it was intelligently designed. The evidence that has been offered just doesn’t even begin to suggest that it is intelligently designed. Once you understand how Darwinism works, then you could easily see that that’s a far better, far more parsimonious, far more scientific explanation than intelligent design.

MOYERS: To what extent is this important? I remember the story of the professor who was talking about evolution in class, and the student raises his hand and says, “Professor what difference does it make if some distant grandfather of mine was an ape?” And the professor said, “Well, it would make a difference to your grandmother.” But other than that, what is the practical consequence of presuming this?

DAWKINS: Well, I’m not sure about practical consequence. I take a rather more poetic view that when you’re in the world, and you’re only in the world for a matter of some decades, to have the privilege of understanding where you came from, what your antecedents are, what the reason for your existence is, is such a magnificent privilege. That not to have that, even if it doesn’t actually help you in practice, even if the knowledge and understanding of evolution doesn’t actually help you to do whatever you do, and you play football, or be a businessman, or whatever it might be.

Yet, you die impoverished. You die having not had a proper life if you have failed to understand what’s on offer. And what’s on offer today, in the 21st century, is a huge amount, far more than any of our predecessors in previous centuries had. And so I think it’s rather like saying, “What’s the use of music? What’s the use of poetry?” They may not be useful, but what’s the point of living at all if you don’t have them. To me, that is firmly planted in the real world. The real world is so wonderful that I don’t want more than that. And I think there is no more than that. But anybody who thinks they want more than that, I’m inclined to say, “How could you possibly want more than the real world? If you only you could understand how grand and beautiful and immense, and yet still incomprehensible the real world is. How can you want more than that?”

MOYERS: Where does this poetic sensibility come in you?

DAWKINS: I’m shot through with it, all the way through. Everything that I write isÖ

MOYERS: I know, that’s obvious. But where does that come from? You were a choir boy I believe. You read the Psalms, sang the songs?

DAWKINS: Don’t try and make it come from religion. It certainly didn’t come from religion. No, I think it comes from science itself. It comes fromÖ

MOYERS: I mean I’m talking about the Psalms, I mean the literature.

DAWKINS: Yeah.

MOYERS: Psalms as the literature.

DAWKINS: I appreciate very much the literature of the psalms of Ecclesiastes, some of the prophets of Genesis I appreciate very much. But I don’t think that’s where the sense of wonder comes from. That’s just great poetry.

MOYERS: When you were drawn to science, but, at the same time, you write with the clarity that marches in the service of the English language. I just wondered where, that can’t just be DNA.

DAWKINS: Oh, of course it isn’t. It’s DNA filtered through the brain, education, culture. We both read the Bible, we both read Shakespeare, we both get to our language from sources which in, although they may ultimately, in some sense, be based upon DNA, it would be demeaning to say it’s just DNA. In the same sort of way you can say that a computer contains huge quantities of literature and knowledge and encyclopedias and dictionaries, but the computer is nothing but ones and naughts. High voltage and low voltage fluctuating up and down.

I mean you know, at one level, that’s true. But you know that that’s a totally inadequate description of what’s going on in the computer. And that’s the same thing about a human mind.

MOYERS: What do you think about scientists who try to reconcile science and religion?

DAWKINS: Well, I think there are various ways of doing that. And Einstein, for example, was, as you know, always using the word God. Einstein used the word God as a kind of personification, a sort of literary personification of that which we don’t yet understand. And so he recognized, and was awestruck by the deep problems of the universe, and the things that we don’t understand. And he used the word God for that. And Einstein described himself as a very religious man. And in Einstein’s sense, I too am a very religious man.

MOYERS: How is that?

DAWKINS: Because I too feel there’s something deep and incomprehensible, and so far, uncomprehended at least. But what Einstein was not, and what I am not, is a believer in anything supernatural. Because I think that actually brings it down to a lower level. I think that the level of Einstein, where he was actually awestruck by the universe, and by the fundamental unsolved problems of the universe. To bring that down to the level of a personality who takes decisions, who designs things, who listens to prayers, who forgives sins, all of the things that supernatural gods are supposed to do, I think it diminishes it, and demeans it.

MOYERS: I’ve often thought it rather presumptuous to imagine God concerned about the outcome of the New York Jets or a New York Giants game, or even an American election.

DAWKINS: Yes, exactly.

MOYERS: Yet, religion, by its nature, according to the Christian tradition is the hope for things unseen.

DAWKINS: Well, that’s the Christians’ problem. I mean, that’s not my problem. Why should you believe in something for which there is no reason to believe. Where it becomes positively dangerous is if you start fighting with somebody else who has a different faith from yours.

And each of you is equally convinced that you are right and the other one is wrong. And because, precisely because it appeals only to faith, and not evidence, there is no way you could settle the argument other than killing each other. Whereas, if you disagree, as two scientists disagree, two scientists can sit down together, look at the evidence, and say, “Oh, I was wrong. I overlooked that bit of evidence.”

Or, “Here’s a new bit of evidence just come in which shows that my previous theory was wrong.” Scientists, at least in principle, will come to an agreement when all of the evidence is in. But that’s not what faith-based people do. They say, “I know I’m right. End of story.” That’s dangerous.

MOYERS: Is this why there’s no place in your world view for the supernatural, for religious tradition and authority?

DAWKINS: No, that’s right. There is a place for religious literature, and religious art, and religious music.

MOYERS: Why?

DAWKINS: Because it’s so beautiful. I mean, the B minor mass, or the Sistine Chapel, or the book of Ecclesiastes are beautiful works of art.

MOYERS: So beauty is very important as a result of faith.

DAWKINS: Beauty arises out of human inspiration. Humans take their inspiration from where it’s going. And in many cases, it has, indeed, come from religion. I’m not so sure it really comes from faith as, in many cases, it probably comes from the money that the church was able to command in order to commission these works.

MOYERS: How do explain the fact that there seems to be no room, or little room in America today, for challenging this, you know, the great faith as we say? For challenging religious authority expression? People back away from it.

DAWKINS: I’m, yeah, I’m a bit baffled by that. I really don’t understand it. I mean it shows itself in the fact that I probably not a single member of Congress or the Senate would ever dare to say that they don’t believe in a supernatural God.

MOYERS: No atheist would be elected president.

DAWKINS: That’s right. But they must be there. I mean it’s just not reasonable, that in an advanced, educated civilization, the people who rise to the top politically would be different in this country than every other country in the western world.

MOYERS: Don’t underestimate Richard Hofstadter book on anti intellectualism as a main current in American lifeÖ

DAWKINS: I don’t. And it’s very clear that a politician, in order to get elected, has to pretend to believe in a supernatural God. That doesn’t mean they actually do. If you look at the figures for the scientists elected to the National Academy of Sciences. This is the elite of American scientists. Which means they’re the elite of the world scientists. And something like 90 percent of them don’t believe in a supernatural god. Ninety percent. Whereas, if you look at the population at large, it’s about 90 percent who do. Well, that’s an astonishing mismatch between the intellectual elite, and the rest of the population.

And if the Congress is 100 percent believers in supernatural as they allege, I just don’t believe it. They’ve got to be at least a certain way in the direction of the elite scientists. Because they’re obviously clever enough to get elected to Congress.

MOYERS: What do you think happens to a society that tolerates the belief that the universe was created in six days?

DAWKINS: Well, I’m all for tolerance, but I’m worried about a society where a sufficiently large number of the electorate can actually swing the vote, not of course that the age of the earth actually affects current politics directly. But it shows such a divorce from reality. Such an inability to apprehend the real world in which people live.

That I really worry about the judgments that people will make in other fields, such as when they come to when they comeÖ When you think about how young the world is supposed to be, according to this view, it’s 6,000Ö it’s less than 10,000 years old. This means the entire universe began sometime after the middle stone age. I mean, what kind of a grasp on reality does that suggest?

MOYERS: But don’t you think people who say they believe in that, or they think they believe in it, don’t you think they are not really sure, and that what they’ve substituted for that kind of a certainty, is the consolation that they find in belief. I mean religion as consolation is a very powerful forceÖ

DAWKINS: It is. But it’s one thing to get consolation from a belief that there is a supernatural being who looks after you, perhaps takes care of you when you’re dead, that kind, that gives consolation.

How can it be consoling to believe in something which is just straight counterfactual? Just simply goes against the facts? Mind you, I just read recently that a substantial number of people who voted Republican this time believe that there is evidence that weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq.

They believe they were actually found in Iraq. It’s one thing to say, “I believe there were weapons of mass destruction. But they were spirited over the Syrian border or something. They were smuggled away.”

That’s not what they’re saying. They’re saying they believe they have been found. Which contradicts everything that the evidence shows. I’m worried about people who are so out of the real world, that they delude themselves about evidence. Not about their opinions. But about evidence.

MOYERS: My favorite essay, in my favorite book of yours, A DEVIL’S CHAPLAIN, is the letter you wrote to your daughter when she was 10 years old. The title of it is “Good Reasons and Bad Reasons for Believing.” Would you read the last paragraph of that letter?

DAWKINS: I’d be pleased to.

“What can we do about all of this? It’s not easy for you to do anything because you are only 10. But you could try this. Next time somebody tells you something that sounds important, think to yourself, ‘Is this the kind of thing that people probably know because of evidence or is it the kind of thing that people only believe because of tradition, authority or revelation?’ And next time somebody tells you that something is true, why not say to them, ‘What kind of evidence is there for that?’ And if they can’t give you a good answer, I hope you’ll think very carefully before you believe a word they say. Your loving Daddy.”

MOYERS: Thank you very much.

DAWKINS: Thank you very much.

 

 

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Third Article

Al Mohler article:

FRIDAY • October 26, 2007

The Dawkins Delusion

“I do not, by nature, thrive on confrontation,” declares Richard
Dawkins, the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of
Science at Oxford University and one of the world’s leading skeptics
concerning Christianity and belief in God.

Dawkins is well known as an intellectual adversary to all forms of
religious belief–and of Christianity in particular. He is one of the
world’s most prolific scientists, writing books for a popular audience
and addressing his strident worldview of evolutionary theory to an
expanding audience. Put simply, Richard Dawkins aspires to be the
“devil’s chaplain” of Darwinian evolution.

All this is what makes Dawkins’ denial of a confrontational approach
so ludicrous. It is simply false at face value. This is a man who has
taken every conceivable opportunity to make transparently clear his
unquestioned belief that the dominant theory of evolution renders any
form of belief in God irrational, backward, and dangerous.

Dawkins set out the basic framework of his worldview in best-selling books including, The Blind WatchmakerClimbing Mount ImprobableUnweaving the Rainbow, and, most famously, The Selfish Gene. Now, in The God Delusion,
Dawkins brings his attack on Christianity to a broader audience.
Interestingly, Dawkins’ new book is released close on the heels of two
similar works. Fellow skeptics Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett have
written similar books released since late summer. Taken together, these
three books represent something of a frontal attack upon the legitimacy
of belief in God.

There are few surprises in The God Delusion. Dawkins is a
gifted writer who is able to popularize scientific concepts, and he
writes with an acerbic style that fits his purpose in this volume. His
condescending and sarcastic tone set the stage for what he hopes will
be a devastating attack upon theism.

Dawkins admits his “presumptuous optimism” in hoping that his book
will cause persons to set aside their faith. “If this book works as I
intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it
down,” he asserts. Time will tell.

Though The God Delusion is intended more as an attack upon
theism than as a defense of evolutionary theory, the framework of
evolution is never far from Dawkins’ mind. In his opening chapter, he
argues that most legitimate scientists–indeed all who really
understand the issues at stake–are atheists of one sort or another. He
defines the alternatives as between a stark atheism (such as that
Dawkins himself represents) and a form of nonsupernatural religion, as
illustrated by the case of Albert Einstein. “Great scientists of our
time who sound religious usually turn out not to be so when you examine
their beliefs more deeply,” he explains. As examples, Dawkins offers
not only Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking but also Martin Rees,
currently Britain’s Astronomer Royal and President of the Royal
Society. According to Dawkins, Rees “goes to church as an ‘unbelieving
Anglican . . . out of loyalty to the tribe.’” As Dawkins explains, Rees
“has no theistic beliefs, but shares the poetic naturalism that the
cosmos provokes in the other scientists I have mentioned. He cites
Einstein to the effect that he was a “deeply religious
nonbeliever”–moved by the majesty of the cosmos but without any
reference whatsoever to a supernatural being.

As Dawkins explains, real scientists are naturalists. As
such, they eliminate entirely the question of a supernatural being’s
existence. “The metaphorical or pantheistic God of the physicists is
light years away from the interventionist, miracle-wreaking,
thought-reading, sin-punishing, prayer-answering God of the Bible, of
priests, mullahs and rabbis, and of ordinary language. Deliberately to
confuse the two is, in my opinion, an act of intellectual high treason.”

As Dawkins then makes clear, his attack upon belief is explicitly and exclusively directed toward belief in supernatural
gods. As he explains, “the most familiar” of these deities is Yahweh.
Put simply, Dawkins holds no respect for those who believe in the God
of the Bible, whom he describes as ruthless, cruel, selfish, and
vindictive.

Accordingly, Dawkins does not understand why social etiquette requires respect for those who believe in God.

In one of the central chapters of his book, Dawkins attempts to
accomplish two simultaneous purposes: to undermine the intellectual
movement known as Intelligent Design and, in a twist of its logic, to
suggest that belief in God is itself a refutation of the very notion of
an intelligent design. As Dawkins sees it, “the existence of God is a
scientific hypothesis like any other.” As he sets out his case, he
denies that there could be any legitimate basis for belief in
God. The very notion of a supernatural agent flies directly in the face
of his presuppositional naturalism. Therefore, by definition, such a
God cannot exist and those who believe in such a God prove their
intellectual inadequacy or gullibility.

In accordance with his own evolutionary theory, Dawkins acknowledges
that the universe displays appearances of design. Nevertheless, he
suggests that these appearances are false, and that any example of
apparent design is actually due to the Darwinian engine of natural
selection. He considers the traditional proof for God’s existence
offered by the philosophers and rejects each out of hand. Finally, he
considers the argument that the existence of God can be proved by
Scripture–but then launches a broadside attack upon Scripture itself.

When it comes to the fundamentals of the Christian faith, Dawkins
displays absolute amazement that any intelligent person could even
entertain the notion that such teachings might be true. Pointing back
to the nineteenth century, Dawkins asserts that the Victorian era was
“the last time when it was possible for an educated person to admit to
believing in miracles like the virgin birth without embarrassment.” He
adds: “When pressed, many educated Christians today are too loyal to
deny the virgin birth and the resurrection. But it embarrasses them
because their rational minds know it is absurd, so they would much
rather not be asked.”

Since Dawkins considers the existence of God to be nothing more than
a scientific hypothesis–just like any other–he presents his case that
“the factual premise of religion–the God Hypothesis–is untenable.” In
other words, “God almost certainly does not exist.”

So why do so many persons believe in Him? Consistent with his
evolutionary worldview, Dawkins must offer a purely naturalistic
interpretation for the origin and function of religion. He argues that
religion must be, like all other human phenomena, a product of
Darwinian evolution. Nevertheless, he understands that the existence of
religious belief poses some interesting Darwinian questions. “Religion
is so wasteful, so extravagant; and Darwinian selection habitually
targets and eliminates waste,” Dawkins explains. Therefore, there must
be some fascinating Darwinian explanation for how religious belief
emerged and survives. Citing his colleague Daniel Dennett, Dawkins
suggests that religious belief is “time-consuming, energy-consuming”
and “often as extravagantly ornate as the plumage of a bird of
paradise.” He sees no good in it at all. “Thousands of people have been
tortured for their loyalty to a religion, persecuted by zealots for
what is in many cases a scarcely distinguishable alternative faith.
Religion devours resources, sometimes on a massive scale. A medieval
cathedral could consume a hundred man centuries in its construction,
yet it was never used as a dwelling, or for any recognizable useful
purpose.”

In his own twist, Dawkins argues that belief in God is simply a
by-product of some other evolutionary mechanism. He suggests that one
possible source of belief in God (understood in purely physicalist and
natural terms) is the need for the brains of children to accept on
faith the teachings of their elders. Thus, he argues that evolution may
have “psychologically primed” the human brain for some form of belief
in God. Nevertheless, whatever function this may have served the
process of evolution in the past, Dawkins now believes that it has
become a dangerous liability.

“I surmise that religions, like languages, evolved with sufficient
randomness, from beginnings that are sufficiently arbitrary, to
generate the bewildering–and sometimes dangerous–richness of
diversity that we observe. At the same time, it is possible that a form
of natural selection, coupled with the fundamental uniformity of human
psychology, sees to it that the diverse religions share significant
teachers in common.” In the end, Dawkins sees all these forms as
dangerous.

Along the way, Dawkins insists that morality is not based in
absolute truth but in a consequentialist form of reasoning that is
itself a monument of evolutionary development. He plays with categories
and concepts–no doubt intentionally–in order to confuse the question.
Christians do not argue that those who believe in God always act in a
way that is morally superior to those who do not. Atheists may behave
better than Christians. This is to our shame, but it does not pose an
intellectual challenge to the validity of the Christian faith. The more
urgent question has to do with how any form of moral
absolute–including even a prohibition on murder or incest–can survive
if all morality is merely a natural phenomenon of human evolution.
Dawkins simply embraces the relativity of morality, arguing that this
explains why Christians are so dangerous. Believing in moral absolutes,
Christians are led to defend the sanctity of human life at every level
and to believe that, of all things, the Creator actually has set forth
moral commandments and expectations concerning our sexuality. Dawkins
rejects these ideas altogether.

At the same time, he suggests that the morality revealed in the
Bible is actually immoral when judged against the enlightened standards
of our current moral Zeitgeist. Furthermore, Dawkins argues
that modern persons do not actually derive their morality from the
Bible, no matter how much they may claim to do so.

In a sweeping rejection of biblical Christianity, Dawkins expresses
outrage at the morality of both the Old and New Testaments. “I have
described atonement, the central doctrine of Christianity, as vicious,
sado-masochistic and repellant. We should also dismiss it as barking
mad, but for its ubiquitous familiarity which has dulled our
objectivity,” he asserts. Dawkins would dispense with the Ten
Commandments and replace these with a new set of commandments more
attuned to modern times. Among his proposed commandments are these:
“Enjoy your own sex life (so long as it damages nobody else) and leave
others to enjoy theirs in private whatever their inclinations, which
are none of your business;” “Do not discriminate or oppress on the
basis of sex, race or (as far as possible) species.” Another of
Dawkins’ commandments hits close to home: “Do not indoctrinate your
children. Teach them how to think for themselves, how to evaluate
evidence, and how to disagree with you.”

Amazingly, Dawkins denies that he is himself an absolutist.
Accordingly, he expresses incredulity at the fact that he is seen as a
particularly ardent opponent of Christianity.

“Despite my dislike of gladiatorial contests, I seem somehow to have
acquired a reputation for pugnacity towards religion. Colleagues who
agree that there is no God, who agree that we do not need religion to
be moral, and agree that we can explain the roots of religion and of
morality in non-religious terms, nevertheless come back to me in gentle
puzzlement. Why are you so hostile?”

Dawkins denies that he is a “fundamentalist atheist.” “Maybe
scientists are fundamentalists when it comes to defining in some
abstract way what is meant by ‘truth.’ But so is everybody else,” he
insists. “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.”

In the end, Richard Dawkins will surely fail in his quest to turn
theists in to atheists. His book represents nothing fundamentally
new–just the same old arguments repeated over and over again. Dawkins
is quick to label his intellectual adversaries as fundamentalists, but
he conveniently redefines the term so that it does not apply to his own
position. He claims to live life solely on the basis of scientific
evidence, but is so fundamentally committed to the theory of evolution
that we cannot take his protestations to the contrary seriously.

The God Delusion is sure to garner significant attention
in the media and in popular culture. Dawkins, along with the other
fashionable skeptics and atheists of the day, makes for good television
and creates an instant media sensation. In one sense, we should be
thankful for the forthrightness with which he presents his arguments.
This is not a man who minces words, and he never hides behind his own
argument. Furthermore, at several points in the book he correctly
identifies weaknesses in many of the arguments put forth by theists. As
is so often the case, we learn from our intellectual enemies as well as
from our allies.

The tone of the book is strident, the content of the book is
bracing, and the attitude of the book is condescending. Nevertheless,
Dawkins insists that his strident attack upon the faith is limited to
words. “I am not going to bomb anybody, behead them, stone them, burn
them at the stake, crucify them, or fly planes into their skyscrapers,
just because of a theological disagreement,” he insists. He even allows
that “we can retain a sentimental loyalty to the cultural and literary
traditions” of organized religion, “and even participate in religious
rituals such as marriages and funerals,” he asserts. Nevertheless, all
this must be done without buying into the supernatural beliefs that
historically went along with those traditions.” Further: “We can give
up belief in God while not losing touch with a treasured heritage.”All
this raises more questions than Dawkins answers. If belief in God is so
intellectually abhorrent, why would anyone want to retain the
traditions associated with these beliefs? Why does Dawkins acknowledge
that all this amounts to “a treasured heritage?” It must be because, in
the end, even Richard Dawkins is not as much of an atheist as he
believes himself to be. If Dawkins is so certain that theism is dead,
why would he devote so much of his time and energy to opposing it? A
man who is genuinely certain that Christianity is passing away would
feel no need to write a 400-page book in order to urge its passing.

 

________________


Fourth Article

“Merry Christmas” —- Richard Dawkins Says More than He Means

TUESDAY • December 19, 2006

Roger Kennedy of The New York Times wondered how some of the “New Atheists” now popular in the media and bookstores would be observing the “holiday” season. Presumably, these vigorous opponents of Christianity would treat the observance of Christmas like a disease and stay as far away as possible.

Not so, it seems. Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith and the more recent Letter to a Christian Nation has a Christmas tree in his living room, complete with ornaments. As Kennedy explains, Mr. Harris and his wife are observing “a (relatively) holly, jolly atheistic Christmas.”

More:

“It seems to me to be obvious that everything we value in Christmas — giving gifts, celebrating the holiday with our families, enjoying all of the kitsch that comes along with it — all of that has been entirely appropriated by the secular world,” he said, “in the same way that Thanksgiving and Halloween have been.”

Well, the problem is evident in Mr. Harris’ judgment that gift giving, family gatherings, and “kitsch” represent “everything we value at Christmas.” He can speak for himself, of course, but that is not the sum total of what Christmas means for Christians. That statement reveals a great deal more about Sam Harris than about Christmas. Christians can do without the gifts and gatherings, but not without the remembrance and celebration of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, seriously-minded Christians should be far more offended by the kitsch than Mr. Harris is.

Richard Dawkins, the Oxford professor who aggressively opposes all belief in God as dangerous, seems to agree with Sam Harris. As Kennedy explains:

Mr. Dawkins, reached by e-mail somewhere on a book tour, was asked about his own Christmas philosophy. The response sounded almost as if he and Mr. Harris — and maybe other members of a soon-to-be-chartered Atheists Who Kind of Don’t Object to Christmas Club — had hashed out a statement of principles. Strangely, these principles find much common ground with Christians who complain about the holiday’s over-commercialization and secularization, though the atheists bemoan the former and appreciate the latter.

“Presumably your reason for asking me is that ‘The God Delusion’ is an atheistic book, and you still think of Christmas as a religious festival,” Mr. Dawkins wrote, in a reply printed here in its entirety. “But of course it has long since ceased to be a religious festival. I participate for family reasons, with a reluctance that owes more to aesthetics than atheistics. I detest Jingle Bells, White Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and the obscene spending bonanza that nowadays seems to occupy not just December, but November and much of October, too.”

He added: “So divorced has Christmas become from religion that I find no necessity to bother with euphemisms such as happy holiday season. In the same way as many of my friends call themselves Jewish atheists, I acknowledge that I come from Christian cultural roots. I am a post-Christian atheist. So, understanding full well that the phrase retains zero religious significance, I unhesitatingly wish everyone a Merry Christmas.”

The self-identified “post-Christian atheist” argues that Christmas long ago ceased to be a “religious festival.” He dislikes silly Christmas songs on the basis of aesthetic judgment (a judgment shared, by the way, by many Christians) and is happy to “wish everyone a Merry Christmas.”

How charitably secular of him. Nevertheless, Professor Dawkins should be more careful. He obviously misses a fascinating irony here. The title “Christ” is a transliteration of the Greek word for “the anointed one” — the Messiah. He mocks the holiday but declares the fact that Jesus is the Messiah every time he wishes anyone “Merry Christmas” — whether that is his intention or not.

The book of Ecclesiastes declares that “the voice of a fool [comes] through many words” [Eccl. 5:3]. For Richard Dawkins, it just takes two words. Merry Christmas.

 

____________________

Fifth  Article

An Argument Against the Atheists — Dinesh D’Souza on Christianity

TUESDAY • November 6, 2007

“Today’s Christians know that they do not, as their ancestors did, live in a society where God’s presence was unavoidable. No longer does Christianity form the moral basis of society. Many of us now reside in secular communities, where arguments drawn from the Bible or Christian revelation carry no weight, and where we hear a different language from that spoken in church.”  That is the opening salvo from author Dinesh D’Souza in his new book,What’s So Great About Christianity.

D’Souza’s book is written, at least in part, as a response to the frontal attacks on Christianity launched by figures such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris.  He writes with a clear and uncluttered style and his arguments should attract considerable attention.

D’Souza chides believers for taking “the easy way out,” sheltering themselves in Christian intellectual enclaves rather than engaging the issues.  They live separate secular and sacred lives without recognizing that this is incompatible with the Gospel.

Here is how he sees the challenge:

This is not a time for Christians to turn the other cheek. Rather, it is a time to drive the moneychangers out of the temple. The atheists no longer want to be tolerated. They want to monopolize the public square and to expel Christians from it. They want political questions like abortion to be divorced from religious and moral claims. They want to control school curricula so they can promote a secular ideology and undermine Christianity. They want to discredit the factual claims of religion, and they want to convince the rest of society that Christianity is not only mistaken but also evil. They blame religion for the crimes of history and for the ongoing conflicts in the world today. In short, they want to make religion – and especially the Christian religion – disappear from the face of the earth.

In fact, the new atheists are frustrated that belief in God has not passed away.  They had great confidence that the theory of secularization would promise a new secular age, with belief in God relegated to humanity’s past.  Nevertheless, this isn’t happening.  Europe may be overwhelmingly secular, but Americans are still a deeply religious people — even if this does not represent an embrace of authentic Christianity.

Meanwhile, traditional religion is growing all over the world.  The world is not becoming more secular, but more religious in a myriad of forms.

D’Souza sees this in his own personal story:

I have found this to be true in my own life. I am a native of India, and my ancestors were converted to Christianity by Portuguese missionaries. As this was the era of the Portuguese Inquisition, some force and bludgeoning may also have been involved. When I came to America as a student in 1978, my Christianity was largely a matter of birth and habit. But even as I plunged myself into modern life in the United States, my faith slowly deepened. G.K Chesterton calls this the “revolt into orthodoxy.” Like Chesterton, I find myself rebelling against extreme secularism and finding in Christianity some remarkable answers to both intellectual and practical concerns. So I am grateful to those stern inquisitors for bringing me into the orbit of Christianity, even though I am sure my ancestors would not have shared my enthusiasm. Mine is a Christianity that is countercultural in the sense that it opposes powerful trends in modern Western culture. Yet it is thoroughly modern in that it addresses questions and needs raised by life in that culture. I don’t know how I could live well without it.

The continent of Europe is now the great exception — the secular continent.  D’Souza explains:

Then there is Europe. The most secular continent on the globe is decadent in the quite literal sense that its population is rapidly shrinking. Birth rates are abysmally low in France, Italy, Spain, the Czech Republic, and Sweden. The nations of Western Europe today show some of the lowest birth rates ever recorded, and Eastern European birth rates are comparably low. Historians have noted that Europe is suffering the most sustained reduction in its population since the Black Death in the fourteenth century, when one in three Europeans succumbed to the plague. Lacking the strong religious identity that once characterized Christendom, atheist Europe seems to be a civilization on its way out. Nietzsche predicted that European decadence would produce a miserable “last man” devoid of any purpose beyond making life comfortable and making provision for regular fornication. Well, Nietzsche’s “last man” is finally here, and his name is Sven.

D’Souza’s strongest analysis comes when he considers the true character of the new atheism.  It is, he suggests, a “pelvic revolt against God.”   In other words, it is a revolt against Christian morality — especially sexual morality.  This is not a new observation or argument, but D’Souza makes it exceptionally well:

My conclusion is that contrary to popular belief, atheism is not primarily an intellectual revolt, it is a moral revolt. Atheists don’t find God invisible so much as objectionable. They aren’t adjusting their desires to the truth, but rather the truth to fit their desires. This is something we can all identify with. It is a temptation even for believers. We want to be saved as long as we are not saved from our sins. We are quite willing to be saved from a whole host of social evils, from poverty to disease to war. But we want to leave untouched the personal evils, such as selfishness and lechery and pride. We need spiritual healing, but we do not want it. Like a supervisory parent, God gets in our way. This is the perennial appeal of atheism: it gets rid of the stern fellow with the long beard and liberates us for the pleasures of sin and depravity. The atheist seeks to get rid of moral judgment by getting rid of the judge.

D’Souza’s argument here is very insightful.  These atheists are not so much struggling with intellectual doubts but feel limited by moral constraints.  They are repulsed by the very idea of divine judgment, so they get rid of the Judge.

Christians will find Dinesh D’Souza’s latest book to be both interesting and helpful.  His apologetic model is G. K. Chesterton, and he writes with a similar style and verve.  I found his argument that Christians should embrace evolution while rejecting Darwinism to be unconvincing and unhelpful.  The dominant model of evolutionary theory is just as atheistic and incompatible with Christianity as classical Darwinism.

Nevertheless, the book is filled with interesting and helpful arguments offered by a Christian intellectual who is heavily engaged in the great battle of ideas.  What’s So Great About Christianity is a helpful addition to our public debate.

 

 

Sixth  Article

______________

AL Mohler article:

TUESDAY • November 21, 2006

The New Atheism?

2006 has been a big year for atheism. The release of several major books–all widely touted in the media–has put atheism on the front lines of current cultural conversation. Books such as Richard Dawkins’The God Delusion, Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, and Sam Harris’Letter to a Christian Nation are selling by the thousands and prompting hours of conversation on college campuses and in the media.

Now, WIRED magazine comes out with a cover story on atheism for its November 2006 issue. In “The New Atheism,” WIRED contributing editor Gary Wolf explains that this newly assertive form of atheism declares a very simple message: “No heaven. No hell. Just science.”

WIRED is itself a cultural symbol for the growing centrality of technology in our lives. On the other hand, the magazine is not simply a celebration of emerging technologies nor a catalogue of soon-to-be-released marvels. Instead, the magazine consistently offers significant intellectual content and it takes on many of the most controversial issues of the times. Considering the relatively young readership of the magazine, the decision to put atheism on the front cover indicates something of where they think the society is headed–at least in interest.

Wolf accomplishes a great deal in his article, thoughtfully introducing the work of militant atheists such as Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett. At the same time, he probes more deeply into the actual meaning of the New Atheism as a movement and a message.

At the beginning of his article, he gets right to the point: “The New Atheists will not let us off the hook simply because we are not doctrinaire believers. They condemn not just belief in God but respectfor belief in God. Religion is not only wrong; it’s evil. Now that the battle has been joined, there’s no excuse for shirking.”

In order to understand the New Atheism, Wolf traveled to visit with Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett. His interviews with the three are illuminating and analytical.

He met Dawkins in Oxford, which Wolf describes as the “Jerusalem” of human reason. Accordingly, he labels Dawkins “the leading light of the New Atheism movement.”

In one sense, this is hardly news. Richards Dawkins, Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, has been the most ardent and well-publicized intellectual opponent of Christianity for decades now. He was first famous for the evolutionary argument he presented in his best-selling book, The Selfish Gene, now decades old. In his more recent work, Dawkins appears to have left his scientific career something in the background as he attempts to write as something of a philosopher and (a)theologian.

Dawkins’ new book, The God Delusion, reached the best-seller list in recent weeks, and he has made media appearances on everything from the mainstream media to Comedy Central. Unlike many journalists, Wolf understands what makes Dawkins unique. It is not so much that Dawkins is attempting to convince believers that they should no longer believe in God. To the contrary, Dawkins is attempting a very different cultural and political move. He wants to make respect forbelief in God socially unacceptable.

“Dawkins is perfectly aware that atheism is an ancient doctrine and that little of what he has to say is likely to change the terms of this stereotyped debate,” Wolf writes. “But he continues to go at it. His true interlocutors are not the Christians he confronts directly but the wavering nonbelievers or quasi believers among his listeners–people like me, potential New Atheists who might be inspired by his example.”

As Dawkins explains himself, “I’m quite keen on the politics of persuading people of the virtues of atheism.” The Oxford professor also understands that atheism is a political issue as well as a theological question. “The number of nonreligious people in the US is something nearer to 30 million than 20 million. That’s more than all the Jews in the world put together. I think we’re in the same position the gay movement was in a few decades ago. There was a need for people to come out. The more people who came out, the more people who had the courage to come out. I think that’s the case with atheists. They’re more numerous than anybody realizes.”

For a man who is supposedly an exemplar of the humble discipline of science, Dawkins is capable of breathtaking condescension. Consider these words: “Highly intelligent people are mostly atheists . . . . Not a single member of either house of Congress admits to being an atheist. It just doesn’t add up. Either they’re stupid, or they’re lying. And have they got a motive for lying? Of course they’ve got a motive! Everyone knows that an atheist can’t get elected.”

Note his argument carefully–highly intelligent people are most likely to be atheists.

The political dimensions of Dawkins’ thought become immediately apparent when he speaks of how children should be protected from parents who believe in God. “How much do we regard children as being the property of their parents?,” Dawkins asks. “It’s one thing to say people should be free to believe whatever they like, but should they be free to impose their beliefs on their children? Is there something to be said for society to be stepping in? What about bringing up children to believe manifest falsehoods?”

Wolf has successfully captured the essence of what animates Richard Dawkins. He is an evangelist for atheism.

“Evangelism is a moral imperative,” Wolf explains. “Dawkins does not merely disagree with religious myths. He disagrees with tolerating them, with cooperating in their colonization of the brains of innocent tykes.” As Dawkins sees it, belief in God is a dangerous “meme.” Dawkins is famous for arguing that memes serve as a major driving force in evolution. Memes, cultural replicators like ideas, can spread like a virus through society. Wolf understands that Dawkins claims to believe in democracy and freedom and thus accepts “that there are practical constraints on controlling the spread of bad memes.” Nevertheless, “Bad ideas foisted on children are moral wrongs. We should think harder about how to stop them.”

In a very real sense, Richard Dawkins grabs the headlines precisely because he is willing to say what many other atheists think. Indeed, he is willing to say what other atheists must think, but are unwilling to say for one political reason or another. Dawkins is spectacularly unconcerned about public relations.

On the link between evolution and atheism, for example, Dawkins is unrepentant and direct–evolutionary theory must logically lead to atheism. While other evolutionists argue before courts and in the media that this is not so, Dawkins states that he cannot worry about the public relations consequences.

As he told Wolf: “My answer is that the big war is not between evolution and creationism, but between naturalism and supernaturalism. The ‘sensible’ religious people are really on the side of the fundamentalists, because they believe in supernaturalism. That puts me on the other side.” As Wolf explains, Dawkins himself insisted that the word “sensible” should be in quotes. In other words, Dawkins seems to have less respect for theological liberalism than for those who are theologically orthodox. At least the true believers know what they truly believe.

This attack on religious moderates is what made The End of Faith, Sam Harris’ 2004 book, so interesting. Harris, whose second book,Letter to a Christian Nation, was released just weeks ago, argues that religious moderates and theological liberals function as something like “enablers” of orthodoxy and fundamentalism. As Wolf keenly observes, the New Atheists oppose agnostics and liberal believers as those who help orthodox believers build and retain a cultural powerbase. Agnostics and theological liberals may be fellow travelers with the atheists, these figures admit, but they actually serve to confuse rather than to clarify the issues at stake. On this, the New Atheists and orthodox believers are in agreement.

Sam Harris is even more apocalyptic than Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett. He argues that, unless belief in God is eradicated, civilization is likely to end in a murderous sea of religious warfare. As an alternative, Harris proposes a “religion of reason.” As he explains, “We would have realized the rational means to maximize human happiness. We may all agree that we want to have a Sabbath that we take really seriously–a lot more seriously than most religious people take it. But it would be a rational decision, and it would not be just because it’s in the Bible. We would be able to invoke the power of poetry and ritual and silent contemplation and all the variables of happiness so that we could exploit them. Call it prayer, but we would have prayer without [expletive deleted].”

Wolf helpfully offers his version of such a prayer: “that our reason will subjugate our superstition, that our intelligence will check our illusions, that we will be able to hold at bay the evil temptation of faith.”

Harris’ self-proclaimed religion of reason bears uncanny resemblances to the features of New Age thought–something that offends many of his fellow New Atheists. Still, Harris’ books have sold by the thousands and he has transformed himself into a poster child for militant atheism. Like Dawkins, Harris sees time on his side. “At some point, there’s going to be enough pressure that it is just going to be tooembarrassing to believe in God.”

The third major figure in Wolf’s article, Daniel Dennett, teaches at Tufts University. As Wolf explains, “Among the New Atheists, Dennett holds an exalted but ambiguous place. Like Dawkins and Harris, he is an evangelizing nonbeliever.” Wolf describes Dennett as offering more humorous examples and thought experiments than Dawkins and Harris. “But like the other New Atheists, Dennett gives no quarter to believers who resist subjecting their faith to scientific evaluation. In fact, he argues that neutral, scientifically informed education about every religion in the world should be mandatory in school. After all, he argues, ‘if you have to hoodwink–or blindfold–your children to ensure that they confirm their faith when they are adults, your faith ought to go extinct.’” Like Harris, Dennett believes that something like a religion of reason might be possible. But, in some contrast to Dawkins and Harris, Dennett does not see faith as something that can be intellectualized away. To the contrary, he sees belief in God to have served an evolutionary purpose. Even as he now believes that evolutionary purpose is no longer helpful, he argues that such an evolutionary feature is not likely to be eradicated quickly. Therefore, Dennett suggests replacing belief in God with something of a secular substitute.

In his wide-ranging article, Wolf considers the emergence of the New Atheism from multiple perspectives. He deals not only with Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett, but with a host of others, including some who believe in God. He understands that the New Atheists stand in contrast with the older atheism more in terms of mood and mode of public engagement. He also understands that those who attempt to rebut the New Atheism on scientific grounds can find themselves facing considerable complexity. As Wolf explains, when defenders of faith accept science as the arbiter of reality, atheists are left “with the upper hand.”

Throughout the article, Wolf also admits his own doubts. He seems to identify himself more with agnosticism than atheism, and he reveals some discomfort with the stridency of the New Atheism.

In his words: “The New Atheists have castigated fundamentalism and branded even the mildest religious liberals as enablers of a vengeful mob. Everybody who does not join them is an ally of the Taliban. But, so far, their provocation has failed to take hold. Given all the religious trauma in the world, I take this as good news. Even those of us who sympathize intellectually have good reasons to wish that the New Atheists continue to seem absurd. If we reject their polemics, if we continue to have respectful conversations even about things we find ridiculous, this doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve lost our convictions or our sanity. It simply reflects our deepest, democratic values. Or, you might say, our bedrock faith: the faith that no matter how confident we are in our beliefs, there’s always a chance that we could turn out to be wrong.”

The very fact that Wolf remains unconvinced by the arguments promoted by the New Atheists is itself significant. What Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett–along with the other New Atheists–really demand is that society must place itself in the hands of a new and militant atheistic priesthood. Science as defined by these new priests, would serve as the new sacrament and as the means of salvation.

What this article reveals is that those arguing that human beings need to be saved from belief in God are facing a tough sell–even in WIREDmagazine.

 

________________

 

 

 

___________________

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