Recently Salon Online Magazine (April 28, 2005) ran an interview with atheist and evolutionary activist Richard Dawkins. At least the writer of the piece, Gordy Slack, made his slant clear early on.
- Given his outspoken defense of Darwin, and natural selection as the force of life, Dawkins has assumed a new role: the religious right’s Public Enemy No. 1. Yet Dawkins doesn’t shy from controversy, nor does he suffer fools gladly. He recently met a minister who was on the opposite side of a British political debate. When the minister put out his hand, Dawkins kept his hands at his side and said, “You, sir, are an ignorant bigot.”
What a charming response from Mr.Dawkins! I would never think of denying common courtesies to those who would disagree with me or even call me an ignorant bigot. I was taken aback by Slack’s apparent assertion that the minister was, in fact, a fool. I was surprised that he proclaimed Richard Dawkins as Public Enemy Number 1 of the religious right. I guess I am not on that mailing list. I continue to be amazed that the level of discourse has reached such an ugly level.
Dawkins is concluding a two part series on British television called “The Root of all Evil?.” The program is Dawkin’s polemic about the destructive role of religion in modern history. In part two, “The Virus of Faith,” he attacks the teaching of religion to children, calling it child abuse. “Innocent children are being saddled with demonstrable falsehoods,” he says. “It’s time to question the abuse of childhood innocence with superstitious ideas of hellfire and damnation. Isn’t it weird the way we automatically label a tiny child with its parents’ religion?”
Well at least Dawkins isn’t pulling any punches. His vitriolic style does not lends itself to discussion. But if I could sit down with Mr.Dawkins I would have to let him know that hellfire and damnation was not the focal point of their upbringing. I would tell him that we did not force our sons into our faith but we did attempt to model what we believed. But he compares that to a virus that gets into the operating system of a computer and it cannot be stopped. Dawkins continued in the Salon interview.
“Similarly, the child brain is preprogrammed by natural selection to obey and believe what parents and other adults tell it. In general, it’s a good thing that child brains should be susceptible to being taught what to do and what to believe by adults. But this necessarily carries the down side that bad ideas, useless ideas, waste of time ideas like rain dances and other religious customs, will also be passed down the generations. The child brain is very susceptible to this kind of infection. And it also spreads sideways by cross infection when a charismatic preacher goes around infecting new minds that were previously uninfected.”
Dawkins is the self proclaimed arbiter of what is a good and bad idea, what is useless, and what is a waste of time. Rain dances and other religious customs? I feel like the cave man character (an analogy that I suspect Dawkin’s would love) on the insurance commercials…
(sniff)…”That is soooo condescending….”
Reading the interview made me think of Job’s response to his “friends”.
“I’m sure you speak for all the experts,
and when you die there’ll be no one left to tell us how to live.
But don’t forget that I also have a brain…” (Job 12, The Message)
Admittedly, by Dawkin’s evaluation, my brain is teeny-weeny. But it is large enough to discern arrogance and the same bigotry that Dawkin’s accused the minister of harboring. On the question of evolution Dawkins admits that, “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” (The Blind Watchmaker, W. W. Norton, 1986)
Okay, help out “bitty brain” here. If there is the appearance of design what is the problem with exploring that? Dawkin’s is convinced that he is right. But there are a number of very bright men and women who would argue with many of his assertions. For example, check out the Probe Ministry article about Dawkin’s book “A River Out of Eden” (A Darwinian View of Life – Probe Ministries).
So where does Dawkin’s think the opposition to evolution is coming from?
Continuing the Salon interview he answered, “It comes, I’m sorry to say, from religion. And from bad religion. You won’t find any opposition to the idea of evolution among sophisticated, educated theologians. It comes from an exceedingly retarded, primitive version of religion, which unfortunately is at present undergoing an epidemic in the United States. Not in Europe, not in Britain, but in the United States.”
Ouch! Retarded? Primitive? I hope he has gotten his refund from Dale Carnegie. He continued….
“My American friends tell me that you are slipping towards a theocratic Dark Age. Which is very disagreeable for the very large number of educated, intelligent and right-thinking people in America. Unfortunately, at present, it’s slightly outnumbered by the ignorant, uneducated people who voted Bush in. But the broad direction of history is toward enlightenment, and so I think that what America is going through at the moment will prove to be a temporary reverse.”
I once thought that the broad direction of history would be toward enlightenment. But that seems to me to be, if I may quote Mr.Dawkins, “saddling oneself with demonstrable falsehoods.”
Madeline Bunting, a columnist for the Guardian, wrote: “There’s an aggrieved frustration that [atheist humanists] have been short-changed by history – we were supposed to be all atheist rationalists by now. Secularization was supposed to be an inextricable part of progress. Even more grating, what secularization there has been is accompanied by the growth of weird irrationalities from crystals to ley lines. As G.K. Chesterton pointed out, the problem when people don’t believe in God is not that they believe nothing, it is that they believe anything.”
Or as the prophet wrote in Judges.
In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 21, NASB)
People like Richard Dawkins used to either intimidate or infuriate me. Now they just make me sad. His anger and contempt for me and what I believe is unfortunate. We could probably agree on some of his points about religion. I suspect that Jesus would agree with him on a few of those points as well. Part of what got Jesus crossways with the authorities was condemning a religion that had become hypocritical and proud. Jesus taught about a relationship with God. I am not ashamed to proclaim that relationship with Jesus. I am afraid, Mr.Dawkins, that I have succumbed to the virus. But don’t worry about a cure for me. I am feeling just fine.