Paul Dundon’s Weblog


A little cheese and a little whine

I Can’t Believe I’m Defending the Pope

As the forces of conservatism claw their way back to power, the neoliberal right in the US fosters its unholy alliance with Christian fundamentalism and US-European meddling in the Middle East inspires the reactionary elements of Islam, the prospects for liberal humanism look bleak. Once it seemed to be the ground on which the future would be laid; now it seems at risk of being a historical footnote.

These are times when those who are serious about liberal humanism must work hard to win hearts and minds hot for certainties in this our life and disenchanted with the dusty answers of Western materialism. We must show ourselves to be people of reason and respect, dedicated to truth and committed to a world built on freedom, tolerance, and understanding.

We must never be guilty of distorting the facts, or criticising from a place of ignorance. We must not stoop to smear and innuendo. We must prove ourselves able to reach out to our opponents and guide them from error to truth.

Which is why Richard Dawkins speech on the visit of Pope Benedict simply will not do.

Dawkins says:

…the Holy See’s claim to statehood is founded on a Faustian deal in which Mussolini handed over 1.2 square miles of central Rome in exchange for Church support of his fascist regime

This is untrue. The deal with Mussolini established the Vatican City, and not the Holy See. The Holy See has been recognised as a state-like body in international relations since medieval times. It had its own army up until 1870 (when it lost a war with Italy) and was considered a sufficiently potent political force a year later to spur a programme of legislation in Germany designed to limit its power and reinforce the position of the secular state. While it fails to meet international criteria for statehood, these criteria themselves are, relative to the Holy See, very recent. The Holy See functions as a state in international matters; it has formal diplomatic relations with 178 states; it participates in international treaties and is a member of a number of international bodies. It is a state in all but name and has been for longer than the USA has been in existence.

Dawkins says:

Don’t ask the British taxpayer to subsidize the propaganda mission of an institution whose wealth is measured in the tens of billions: wealth for which the phrase ‘ill-gotten’ might have been specifically coined. And spare us the nauseating spectacle of the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and assorted Lord Lieutenants and other dignitaries cringing and fawning sycophantically all over him as though he were somebody we should respect.

This is a fine sentiment, but must be applied consistently if it is to be applied at all; and if it is to be applied consistently, then it applies equally to many heads of state (one thinks immediately of George W Bush) to whom Dawkins has, to my knowledge, voiced no objection [UPDATE: I’ve done Dawkins an injustice here; see Piers Stephens’ comments below]. I can see no basis for the “tens of billions” figure; the research I have been able to locate puts the Holy See’s worth at ten billion USD at most – one fifth the personal wealth of Bill Gates.

Dawkins says:

although it is far from clear what there is in theology to be scholarly about. Surely nothing to respect.

The arrogance and ignorance of this claim is breathtaking. It is crystal clear to everyone but Dawkins what there is in theology to be scholarly about; the University at which Dawkins holds his post began its life as a school of theology, and theology is still taught there today. Some of the greatest minds in history have addressed theological questions, and some of the finest minds in universities today are dedicated to their pursuit. Theology may not be scientific, but neither are history, politics, philosophy or many other scholarly disciplines.

Dawkins says:

The unfortunate little fact that Joseph Ratzinger joined the Hitler Youth has been the subject of a widely observed moratorium. I’ve respected it myself, hitherto. But after the Pope’s outrageous speech in Edinburgh, blaming atheism for Hitler, one can’t help feeling that the gloves are off.

In what follows, it’s unclear whether Dawkins is trying to:

(a) mount an attack on Ratzinger’s character because of his personal involvement in Nazism;
(b) mount a defence against a supposed claim, by Ratzinger, that “atheism is responsible for Hitler” (whatever that might mean);
(c) mount a weak ad hominem against Ratzinger on the basis that his personal involvement in Nazism makes invalidates his comments about it;
(d) make a strong ad hominem that Ratzinger cannot consistently hold the views he does on atheism and Nazism having been a member of the Hitler Youth
(e) show that Ratzinger’s views on Nazism and atheism are wrong

None of these is very satisfactory:
(a) is just a personal attack and accomplishes nothing
(b) is promising, but it isn’t clear that Ratzinger is making such a claim
(c) and (d) depend on which claims Dawkins wants to take issue with. Presumably he agrees with Ratzinger that Nazism was a bad thing; the disagreement (if there is one) lies in its relationship to atheism. So at best (c) and (d) are ad hominem variants of (b) or (e), and less satisfactory than (b) or (e) themselves
(e) this is the most promising, or would be, if Ratzinger articulated those views in his speech, but on the whole, he did not; but even if he had, if this is the case then his membership of the Hitler Youth is beside the point, and mentioning it – along with the claims of hypocrisy levelled later in the speech – is just smear and innuendo.

Dawkins says:

…his senior advisor is that Cardinal who takes one look at the immigration officials at Heathrow and concludes that he must have landed in the Third World

Bearing in mind that “third world” originally meant “everywhere but NATO, Australia and the USSR” it’s worth knowing that what Kasper actually said was: “England today is a secular, pluralist country. When one lands at Heathrow, one sometimes thinks one has landed in a third world country.” A poor choice of words, but solely a reference to racial diversity and not the insult the British press made it out to be.

Dawkins continues:

The poor man was no doubt prescribed a bushel of Hail Marys, on top of his swift attack of diplomatic gout – and one can’t help wondering whether the afflicted foot was the one he puts in his mouth.

I accept that humour is important in a speech, but humour at the expense of an elderly man, who may be genuinely ill, humour created by a continual and willful misconstrual of his words, just smacks of meanness.

Dawkins says:

At first I was annoyed by the Pope’s disgraceful attack on atheists and secularists, but then I saw it as reassuring.

The “disgraceful attack” amounts to the following passage:

Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live.

I also recall the regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a “reductive vision of the person and his destiny”

Taking this passage in context, it is part of an argument that Christian values underpin many of the virtues we prize in European culture. This is historically and philosophically accurate. It is a stretch to construe this as an attack on anyone; rather it is a way of pointing out the influence that Christianity has had in forming what we now regard as secular values.

We might ask, though, what Ratzinger means by “eradicat[ing] God from society” when Hitler often used appeals to religion in his speeches? The answer is that Hitler permitted the church to continue under the Reich in so far as the church was the instrument of the Reich. The church was denied any independent political voice; thus (in Ratzinger’s view) God was denied any voice in society.

And indeed, where the church did offer opposition to the Reich – opposition motivated by religious belief –  there was no hesitation on the Reich’s part in killing those involved. In Poland alone, nearly 2,000 Catholic clergy were murdered by the Nazis during WW2.

The Nazis were not the only force systematically exterminating religious opposition in the first half of the twentieth century. The Spanish Civil War saw over 7,000 clergy die because of their faith, and even this is a small number compared to the hundreds of thousands of Christians who died imprisoned in Stalin’s Gulags for their faith.

It is possible to argue that the Nazi regime was an atheist regime and that its crimes were atheist crimes but doing so would establish nothing more than that some atheists are wicked. I take it that this (that some atheists are wicked) is uncontroversial and I assume Ratzinger and Dawkins agree. However, taking the broader view we see in the early 20th Century a systematic persecution of theists per se by atheists per se which led to the death of tens of thousands. This seems to me to qualify unequivocally as atheist extremism.

Dawkins says:

It suggests that we have rattled them so much that they have to resort to insulting us, in a desperate attempt to divert attention from the child rape scandal.

To call the passage an attack is a stretch; to call it an insult is a leap. Further, there has been no attempt to divert attention from the child rape scandal; part of the pope’s visit was to meet with victims of abuse and he has spoken openly about the mistakes made by the church in dealing with the problem. He has expressed more contrition, and offered a more honest appraisal, than Blair has with Iraq or BP has with the Gulf disaster.

Dawkins says:

Adolf Hitler was a Roman Catholic. Or at least he was as much a Roman Catholic as the 5 million so-called Roman Catholics in this country today. For Hitler never renounced his baptismal Catholicism, which was doubtless the criterion for counting the 5 million alleged British Catholics today. You cannot have it both ways. Either you have 5 million British Catholics, in which case you have to have Hitler too. Or Hitler was not a Catholic, in which case you have to give us an honest figure for the number of genuine Catholics in Britain today – the number who really believe Jesus turns himself into a wafer, as the former Professor Ratzinger presumably does.

I really don’t know what to make of this argument. It looks like an attempt to construct a Hume’s fork on two premises (ie present the Catholic with two claims they want to be true but which are inconsistent):

(a) Catholicism in Britain is a politically significant movement because there are 5 million catholics;
(b) Hitler was not a Catholic

It fails, though, on two counts. First, there is no reason to resist the claim that Hitler was a Catholic (ie, the Catholic doesn’t care if (b) is true or not). There are good Catholics and there are evil Catholics. If Dawkins objects to this then he’s subject to the tu quoque and has to defend the claim that there are no evil atheists which I assume he doesn’t want to do. Second, the criteria for being catholic needed to make (a) work is caring what the pope says; and while we don’t know how many people are catholic under that definition, clearly Hitler was not. Further, it’s entirely plausible that many of the 5 million figure do indeed care what the pope says irrespective of their church-going practices or other beliefs. (My own parents, for example, were not churchgoers but would expect the government to treat the pope as a head of state). So a Catholic can safely reject (b) or embrace (b) without endangering the substance of (a).

I’m unclear what the criteria for being a “genuine Catholic” might be; but belief in transubstantiation (as opposed to the many more practical teachings of the church) seems a rather poor choice. In any event, the doctrine of transubstantiation is that the wafer takes on the nature of the body of Jesus, not that “Jesus turns himself into a wafer” – a poor characterisation of a philsophically subtle doctrine, presumably an attempt at humour, but this time one that smacks of ignorance and intolerance.

Dawkins continues:

In any case, Hitler certainly was not an atheist.

This is presumably to show that atheism cannot be blamed for Nazism, on the assumption that this is what the Pope’s speech is trying to do. Again, I don’t think it is; but since Dawkins spends the next few hundred words fleshing out his case, let’s grant the premise and continue.


In 1933 he claimed to have “stamped atheism out”, having banned most of Germany’s atheist organizations, including the German Freethinkers League whose building was then turned into an information bureau for church affairs.

Hitler’s relationship with religion appears similar to that of the Neocon hawks in the US – a useful tool for social cohesion. The full context of the quotation is:

“Without pledging ourselves to any particular Confession, we have restored faith to its pre-requisites because we were convinced that the people needs [sic] and requires [sic] this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out.”

There is nothing here to suggest that he was motivated by religious belief, personal or otherwise, rather than Realpolitik. Indeed, subsequent to “stamping out atheism” Hitler actively persecuted religious authorities wherever they spoke out against the Reich, and indeed tried to bring the church in Germany completely under the control of the Riech. In short, Hitler’s commitment to the church was simply as to any other instrument of power.

Dawkins says:

…he [Hitler] certainly knew his overwhelmingly Christian constituency, the millions of good Christian Germans with Gott mit uns on their belt buckles, who actually did his dirty work for him

If the criteria for being a “genuine Catholic” can be taken to extend to a belief in transubstantiation then presumably the criteria for being a Christian would extend to not killing Jews. Certainly, the criteria for being a good Christian (assuming that by this Dawkins means a Christian who is good rather than one who is good at being a Christian) would so extend.

Dawkins quotes at length from a speech by Hitler, and comments:

That is just one of numerous speeches, and passages in Mein Kampf, where Hitler invoked his Christianity.

All Dawkins is doing here is demonstrating the point that Hitler used religion as a tool of political control and manipulation. He has not made a case for Hitler’s theism or otherwise; and he has certainly not shown whether or not Hitler’s beliefs are motivated by or consistent with theist or atheist positions.

Dawkins regroups:

It would be unkind to prolong this point, but Ratzinger’s speech in Edinburgh on Thursday was so disgraceful, so hypocritical, so redolent of the sound of stones hurled from within a glass house, I felt that I had to reply.

It isn’t clear what point Dawkins feels it would be unkind to prolong, but the use of unkind here, coupled with the charges of hypocrisy, suggest that what Dawkins has been trying to do so far is to undermine Ratzinger’s character, rather than his thinking; that he has been mounting a personal attack rather than an intellectual one. This is just a waste of everyone’s time. Even if we grant that besmirching Ratzinger’s character is a productive exercise, Dawkins has done a very poor-to-middling job of it.

Dawkins says:

Even if Hitler had been an atheist – as Stalin more surely was – how dare  Ratzinger suggest that atheism has any connection whatsoever with their horrific deeds? Any more than Hitler and Stalin’s non-belief in leprechauns or unicorns.

This is the point where Dawkins reveals his confusion (or ignorance, I’m not sure) about what religion is. To be religious is to make a series of commitments: ontological, historical, social, political and ethical. When Ratzinger is criticising atheism, his arguments are not levelled at people who fail to make particular ontological or historical commitments; it is levelled at those who fail to make particular social, political and ethical commitments. Now there is almost certainly confusion in Ratzinger’s thinking here – he is, one might assume, conflating the absence of social and political commitment (ie, not being a member of the church) with the absence of ethical commitment. But he certainly isn’t saying that anyone’s non-belief in an existential diety is to blame for the horrors of Nazism.

Dawkins asserts:

There is no logical pathway from atheism to wickedness.

This is untrue, although I have to emphasise that the logical pathway from theism to wickedness is every bit as compelling.

If one takes atheism as simply a refusal to make a particular ontological commitment, then it looks as if there is no logical pathway to wickedness. But as we have noted already, atheism has the wider connotation of a refusal to make a particular ethical commitment also. The atheist is at liberty to invent their own moral code in a way that the theist (in this richer sense) is not. An individual developing their own moral standards is prone to all sorts of failures which lead to wickedness.

We don’t see this in our society because the vast majority of people are educated into an ethical code grounded in centuries of religious practice and make an ethical commitment to some variant of Judaic morality. From this point of view, Dawkins is not an atheist at all, but an Anglican who doesn’t believe in God. It is easy (but mistaken) in this context to think that the humanist values the atheist adopts are genuinely secular; the truth is that US-European morals are just the ten commandments in jeans and a t-shirt.

Dawkins says:

Unless, that is, you are steeped in the vile obscenity at the heart of Catholic theology. I refer (and I am indebted to Paula Kirby for the point) to the doctrine of Original Sin. These people believe – and they teach this to tiny children, at the same time as they teach them the terrifying falsehood of hell – that every baby is “born in sin”. That would be Adam’s sin, by the way: Adam who, as they themselves now admit, never existed. Original sin means that, from the moment we are born, we are wicked, corrupt, damned. Unless we believe in their God. Or unless we fall for the carrot of heaven and the stick of hell. That, ladies and gentleman, is the disgusting theory that leads them to presume that it was godlessness that made Hitler and Stalin the monsters that they were. We are all monsters unless redeemed by Jesus.

This passage is so charged with rhetoric that it isn’t clear what is being said. We can, however, identify a number of things going on:

  • A (somewhat inaccurate) statement of the doctrine of Original Sin
  • An imputation of this view to Ratzinger
  • An inference that Ratzinger holds that this position provides for a logical path from atheism to wickedness
  • A claim that the doctrine is taught to “tiny children”
  • An dramatisation of this position (“We are all monsters unless redeemed by Jesus”).

To clear up the tiny children point: teaching practices vary from community to community but a straw poll of my Catholic friends and relations around the country suggests that Original Sin is not taught to young children, and indeed, not taught very consistently at all. As one put it: “[I] Don’t think we teach it in primary [school] these days, at least not in infants’ [school] … we do [teach about] baptism but more as a way people are welcomed into the Lord’s church family and not about sinning.”

And indeed, where it is taught there is a good chance that the actual doctrine, and not Dawkins’ version of it, will be taught. The doctrine does not state that we are born wicked; it states that we are born with our passions in such a state that they often lead us to want things that are not in our best interest. Original sin is not personal sin, but it explains how we can at once be disposed to sin and error and divine in our underlying nature. The dramatisation is quite unwarranted: personal sin distinguishes the good from the wicked, but original sin distinguishes the human from the divine. There is no implication that we are monsters unless redeemed.

Now since the doctrine as Dawkins elaborates it is not actual teaching, it follows that Ratzinger does not hold that position, and ipso facto cannot invoke it in an argument about wickedness.

It would be disingenuous for me, however, to say that Ratzinger might not make some argument about the relationship between atheism and wickedness which invoked original sin. The argument is, though, more subtle than anything Dawkins entertains. The case would be something like: without the active involvement of Christ’s grace in people’s lives, they are prone to temptation and error in matters of right and wrong, by virtue of original sin. A failure to acknowledge this vulnerability magnifies the problem, and creating social orders bases on the adequacy of people’s ability to distinguish right from wrong magnifies it still further. This is not, we should note, an argument about accepting the teaching of the church but rather an argument about participation in the sacraments of the church and one’s personal relationship with God. On this view, the wickedness of Nazism was not the wickedness of Hitler, it was the wickedness of the millions willing to accept him as the ultimate moral authority – to place a man in a position which should have been held by God. When a theist does this, we may at least charge him with inconsistency or hypocrisy, but there is no such braking force to be applied to the atheist.

I don’t know if this argument works, but it makes it clear that the issue is how, as a society, we distinguish right from wrong. This is a question with good and bad answers from both sides of the theist / atheist divide, but for the atheist there is a case here to answer; indeed, it is perhaps the theist position which the humanist must take most seriously and work hardest to dispel. The caricature of the argument which Dawkins presents here accomplishes nothing, neither recognising the importance of the issue nor making any sort of case for humanism.

Dawkins says:

Joseph Ratzinger is an enemy of humanity.

This rather comes out of the blue. Even if Ratzinger is guilty of hypocrisy in his Edinburgh speech, this would hardly make him an enemy of humanity. Dawkins goes on to explain his position, though, in the paragraphs that follow, enumerating the groups Ratzinger has injured. I cannot disagree with what Dawkins says about women, the Anglican church, and condom use in Africa; but it is only really the last of these which comes close to making Ratzinger an enemy of humanity – barring women from the priesthood and poaching vicars from the Queen, while objectionable, do not make the man a supervillain.

Dawkins says:

He is an enemy of children, whose bodies he has allowed to be raped and whose minds he has encouraged to be infected with guilt. It is embarrassingly clear that the church is less concerned with saving child bodies from rapists than with saving priestly souls from hell: and most concerned with saving the long-term reputation of the church itself.

The best figures suggest that, in the US, Catholic priests were responsible for abusing about 180 minors each year. These are not trifling figures, but deserve comparison with some others. In the UK alone, for example, there are about 1,800 cases of sexual abuse of minors each year, mostly by family members. This is less than the 2,500 children killed unlawfully by Brazilian police in 2004 (the only year for which figures are available); and those 2,500 children were just a handful of the 100,000 living homeless around Rio de Janero. And even this is only half the number of children bought and sold – usually as part of the sex industry – across international borders every year. The Catholic church may be an enemy of children, but if it’s children we’re concerned about, there are lots of other problems we really need to be considering first.

Ratzinger’s personal record on this issue is ambiguous: on the one hand, he centralised responsibility for investigation of abuse claims, making it much more difficult for diocese to cover them up; on the other, he seems to have been responsible for covering them as a matter of policy to begin with. He personally pursued many investigations, however, including those of senior figures, and gained a reputation for doing so rigourously; and he has subsequently made it clear that criminal law in this area should take precedence over any clerical privilege. There is much to criticise in what he has done, but much to be welcomed also.

Dawkins says:

He is an enemy of gay people, bestowing on them the sort of bigotry that his church used to reserve for Jews

I presume that the reference to Jews here relates to the “Christ killer libel” mentioned earlier in the speech, but if so then Dawkins is flatly wrong. There is no Catholic doctrine which blames gay people for any crime; no teaching which encourages their vilification or persecution. Indeed, the catholic church encourages those in pastoral roles to be sensitive to the possibility of homophobic prejudice and bullying and to condemn it wherever the see it. Of course, the Catholic attitude to homosexuality is not the liberal one (and it isn’t one I agree with) but it is a long way from being one of outright condemnation.

If Dawkins is simply accusing the Pope of being inflexible on this issue, then that surely counts as the most fatuous charge he could possibly lay – the defender of a global faith cannot simply change his views to match the times. All values, as Bennet says, are old-fashioned; that it what makes them values.

Dawkins says:

He is an enemy of the poorest people on the planet, condemning them to inflated families that they cannot feed, and so keeping them in the bondage of perpetual poverty. A poverty that sits ill with the obscene riches of the Vatican

Quite apart from its failure to disentagle family size from factors like meddling by Anglo-American governments in the politics of developing nations and the egregious behaviour of institutions like the WTO, this is the sort of claim that drives conservatives wild and paints liberals in the worst possible light. I disagree with the Catholic position on contraception – and happen to know that not all priests promote this teaching in the field – but it remains the fact that parents are responsible for the size of the families they raise. The notion that people just have children by accident if there are no contraceptives available is grounded in an assumption of a profound abrogation of personal responsibility – and a correspondingly low opinion of human dignity –  which even Dawkins ought to find offensive.

Dawkins says:

He is an enemy of science, obstructing vital stem-cell research, on grounds not of morality but of pre-scientific superstition.

The Church’s objection to stem-cell research extends only to embryonic cells. I am in no position to comment on how vital such research is, compared, for example, to similar research involving adult cells, to which the Church has no objection, but it seems that the word vital here may have more rhetorical force than logical ground.

What is more worrying, however, is Dawkins’ dismissal of the church’s position, which is that embryos count as human persons, with all the rights of a human person. Whether or not we agree with this claim, it is indupitably a moral one. Dawkins’ rejection of it as “pre-scientific superstition” is troubling on three counts. First, it isn’t clear how the claim can be “pre-scientific” in that it relies on a scientific understanding of conception. Second, the characterisation of this view as “superstition” presumably invites the same characterisation of any view not grounded in empirical science – views like a belief in human rights, the valuing of individual liberty, and indeed, confidence in the scientific process itself. But most worrying is Dawkins’ assumption that any view not produced by his apparently rather narrow view of what counts as moral discourse can simply be waved aside as “superstition”.

Dawkins says:

Finally, perhaps of most personal concern to me, he is an enemy of education. Quite apart from the lifelong psychological damage caused by the guilt and fear that have made catholic education infamous throughout the world, he and his church foster the educationally pernicious doctrine that evidence is a less reliable basis for belief than faith, tradition, revelation and authority – his authority.

The theme of “lifelong psychological damage” is one to which Dawkins refers elsewhere, but for which he offers no evidence. While my own Catholic education was eventful, I don’t believe it caused me any more trauma than I would have experienced at the local comprehensive. On the other hand, I have spent more than a few hours with people in or close to tears as a consequence of the esteem-flatening demands of the Oxford tutorial system.

These considerations aside, it is hard to take seriously Dawkins’ characterisation of the Church’s attitude to education and authority. Dawkins seems to be suggesting here that the Pope would regard his views on, for example, astrophysics, as trumping those of Steven Hawking. I can see no evidence of this, or anything like it. Quite the reverse: Historically, the Church has been a strong, if occasionally troublesome, patron of scientific research and education, with significant research taking place at Catholic universities and promulgated outside Europe by the Jesuit order. Since 1936, the Church has sponsored the Pontifical Academy of Sciences to promote the progress of science – very much the same aim as Dawkins’ foundation – and that institution boasts a number of world-renowned scientists (including Hawking) in its membership.

There are certainly Christian churches of whom the same cannot be said – those who believe in the literal truth of biblical creationism, or that the earth is only a few thousand years old. But it is these groups, and not Ratzinger, who are the enemies of education.

This is a long blog post and has taken more work than I suspect Dawkins put into his speech to begin with. I hope, though, that it gives a good idea of the depth of Dawkins’ errors, both factual and strategic. Factual in that many of the claims he makes are just plain wrong; strategic, in that all his errors and innuendos do is to undermine his own position. I am no great friend of Catholicism and am genuinely alarmed at the rising influence of intolerant and mendacious religious groups and the prospect of a reactionary society. But Dawkins’ brand of humanism is too arrogant, too uncharitable, too slipshod in its thinking to be a worthy alternative.


Filed under: Philosophy, Politics

5 Responses

  1. […] My partner’s just published a thorough and thought provoking response to Richard Dawkins’ speech on the Pope’s visit to the UK on his blog. It’s well worth a read. […]

  2. Daniel McNulty says:

    Good work.
    Dawkins, along with all who profess to hold extremist views , should be challenged rigorously, rationally and repeatedly.
    The emotive language that he uses hints towards a personal attachment to his beliefs.
    This tends to encourage a blurring between a belief that is held as a result of a rational process and one that is held due to the intrinsic nature of the individual (‘I believe this because I have arrived at a conscious conlusion’ rather than ‘I believe this because it is part of what makes me what I am’).
    In my experience, this inhibits the rational debate he would claim to support as, in order to amend one’s views, one would need to alter one’s identity in the world.
    Psychologically, this takes enormous strength, effort and time and I would point to the inconsistancies in the above blog to support my accusation.

    More please.

  3. Elizabeth Dunn says:

    A fascinating read Paul and shamingly thorough to those of us who just shout at the newspaper, television or radio every time Dawkins appears. As regards your initial concern about damage to liberal humanism- it seems very unlikely given that in no genuine sense could RD be described or understood as ‘liberal’.

  4. Daniel Hill says:

    What an amzing post, Paul! A definitive rebuttal on every single point — fantastic work!

  5. pauldundon says:

    From the estimable Piers Stephens (!/profile.php?id=1234973597):

    Splendid stuff, Paul, really thorough and rigorous! As Daniel says, pretty definitive. I should say that in fairness to Dawkins, he did object to Dubya’s state visit to Britain in 2004, and not quietly – I well recall a scathing letter he c…ontributed to the “Guardian” telling Bush in no uncertain terms that he was not welcome and just why – but at the same time, you’re quite correct that his response to the Pope as opposed to Bush and various other leadership figures was seriously intemperate and disproportionate. Frankly I wish Dawkins would go back to what he’s good at, namely writing accessible biology books, and leave the celebrity atheism stuff alone. Even his valid points are usually ones that were better made by Enlightenment philosophers a couple of centuries ago, and in this part of the world especially, his attempts to equate science with atheism often play into the hands of the worst irrationalists you can imagine. In communities where the belief that religious faith supports morality is deeply held, having someone like Dawkins say that evolution rules out belief in God is music to the ears of Pat Robertson & company, since it gives them an easy pass to the moral high ground! In helping students to realize that they can keep their Christian faith without needing to oppose science, I’ve actually had a lot more help from pro-evolution Papal encyclicals than I have from Richard Dawkins.

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