Monday, 26 March 2007

Richard Dawkins - the Case for Atheism

HeIsSailing over at posted this video, asking for responses. Since my response turned out so long, I'm posting it here. For those of you who don't mind a little controversy, here's the video, a presentation by Richard Dawkins (author of The God Delusion):

Oh, I was so disappointed in this video. When it started off, I found myself cheering for Dawkins, despite the fact that he does not believe in a living God and I do. He was upholding reason and rational exchange over "the process of non-thinking called faith". Yay, Dawkins! This is not faith as the Bible presents it, but it is the faith that is presented by popular Christianity here in the West, and also by any of the other religions that feel the need to present anything. And while I think it's a bit over the edge to call religion the "root of all evil", I do believe that a lie that convinces people to do good things will eventually destroy even what it pretends to save. What is not true, no matter how it appears, no matter what good seems to come from it, is worse than an ugly truth. I see no merit in any philosophy that deceives people into doing good. Better, as Dawkins says, the "bracing truth" than a comfortable lie. I agree with his point that if God is a lie, he is a terrible lie!
But just when I was starting to feel that there was some hope - while he was obviously disgusted by the herd mentality of organised religion, his criticisms were valid, reasonable, challenging - Dawkins turned religious himself! His presentation, which is set up in the style of a documentary -giving it an air of journalistic "objectivity" - suddenly begins employing propaganda techniques, some of them very elementary ones. His comments about evolution become less and less scientific and more and more dogmatic and authoritative as the program progresses. The "fear" tactics he employs later in the video (the "huge challenge to our civilised values", the facts of evolution being "threatened") mirror those employed by the "non-thinkers" on the other side!
I expected him to begin by poking holes in popular belief (which isn't really as "popular" as he presents it after all!) and then progress with an appeal to reason and a rational presentation of his ideas. He waffles back and forth, first saying that science is always revising its answers, so that we can't really say that we "know", but that the beauty of that is that there are always ways to learn more (even if not absolutely) - I liked this! - but then his defense of evolution includes none of the facts, none of the evidence - just his assertion that it is not just a theory, but "fact", and his childish, "Wanna bet?".
At the first down-turn, I was confused. Then I thought, "Brilliant technique- he's going to mirror the style of the religious rant and then contrast it with rational debate!" He never did.
Mr. Dawkins says, in the voice of one warning of impending doom, that “irrational, militant faith is back on the march”. I applaud this revelation and Dawkins’ gravity is justified, but while we’re facing facts, how about this one – irrational EVERYTHING is back on the march! The religious freaks haven’t yet cornered the market on irrationality, as this video so sadly demonstrates.
Okay, Dawkins. I get your point - religious people are stupid. Look at how stupid! But if you're going to pull the rug out from under people, you have to replace it with something better.
I believe that someone who is shaken emotionally or nursing some hurt (okay, that's a lot of people these days!) might have their "faith" (whatever it was worth!) significantly shaken by a presentation like this. But I expected an appeal to the rational seeker, and I don't think this delivered at all.
I would have been happier with something that would shake people up on a rational level, because at least with reason, there is the hope of coming to something real. I would love to see people throw off religious hocus-pocus, the "suspension of disbelief" that Dawkins assures us is necessary to faith, and embrace the scientific method, however limited it is. Science, while imperfect, is honest. It appeals to the highest that is in humanity - reason, and the search for truth.
I am not a scientist, but if I believed it the only path to truth I most certainly would be one. I believe with my whole heart that sincere scientific inquiry will always give us the same answers as the Bible. One hundred years ago, it was common knowledge that racial differences included variations in blood. The Bible said we all had the same blood. Today, science has proved itself wrong and the Bible right. Not so many years ago, Bible critics said the book of Job was flawed because it talked about the sun traveling a circuit. Others defended it, saying the book wasn't supposed to be a scientific treatise, and that back then, people thought that the sun travelled around the earth. Then science progressed a little further and guess who was right? Turns out the sun has an orbit, too!
The fact that there are a lot of religious nuts out there is no more evidence that God does not exist than the fact that there are a lot of divorces proves that marriage is a bad thing. I’ll be the first person to admit that those of us who call ourselves Christians are the number 1 reason why God has a bad name. And whether I agree with other “Christians” or not in the vast idiocy we have collectively displayed in the name of “faith”, I’ll stand up and take it on the chin – if only someone will offer something better. How hard can it be?
Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. If he is THE TRUTH, you won’t have to find him in a church. You’ll find him in ANY honest inquiry into truth, whether that be the study of science, of history, of law, of art, of psychology, of philosophy. Insomuch as truth is accessible by any of these methods, so will Jesus be accessible. But no unified understanding falls on us randomly –it must be sought earnestly and energetically, regardless of how we go about it.
Mr. Dawkins, you are right about at least one thing. The God you are talking about does not exist. A God who would create a universe full of humming energy and warm personality and intricate complexity and intellectual humanity and then turn around and asked people to turn off their thinking and “just believe” is, if not evil, then ludicrous in the extreme.
And this is where we are ultimately left sitting if our idea of God is based on the culmination of human thought and the authority of religious leaders – with hatred, squabbling, pettiness, one-upmanship, and irrationality.
But (oh, how thankful I am for this dear, dear word!) BUT God – I will call him the God of the Bible, to differentiate him from the plethora of ridiculous ideas so-called God – he remains. It is his delight to reveal himself to humans through reasoned thought – that is why his chosen method is a book, the Bible. He doesn’t need to use it. Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses had not a shred of scripture between them. There are people throughout the world who have come to know God without ever knowing that his name is “God”. Although wherever people seek truth – him! – he is able to meet them, his desire is that we will all know him using that thing which most sets us apart as humans – the intellect.
Oh, Mr. Dawkins, I am not sorry that you throw away what you and others have called God. I am only sorry that you throw away reason.


HeIsSailing said...

Thanks for the review, JennyPo. I think you are right in that the video was not really aimed at those who fervently believe. I think the intent was not to present his side of the argument, rather to show the dangerous side to faith. I think you initially have to agree with him to follow his thesis. A classic book on Evolution by natural selection which is more relevant to presenting his argument is Dawkins' book 'The Selfish Gene' written some 30 years ago now.

Yes, I also think calling relgion the root of all evil was a bit much. What happened to the love of money??

In the end, I don't think this review will change many minds. But it does show his righteous anger at what is undeniable hatred and destruction done in the name of religions, and with that I do agree. Maybe stuff like this should not offend Christians so much then serve as a wake-up call that this is how much of the world views those with fervent faith. So what are the truly faithful, the true Christians going to do about it?

HeIsSailing said...


Sorry, I did not mean your review will not change minds, I meant the video will not change many minds.

joeyanne said...

I think you ask good question, heissailing, "What are the true Christians going to do about it?" But I do not think it is a matter of what to do about it. If we try to ram our "true Christianity" down people's throats, we will become like those in the video - all three. Our journey to find God is a personal one. Yes, we should share our discoveries with others, but even Jesus knew that there were those who were truly searching for God and those who were just waiting to scramble His words. We are told not to "cast our pearls before swine" and I think politicizing Christianity is doing just that.

Jim Jordan said...

Good eye for the dogmatic atheist guy!

What are the true Christians going to do about it?"

I think the case of the Bereans is our best model. They checked everything that was spoken against the Word...daily. That should be the motto.

Politicizing Christianity is done by making unholy alliances i.e. corrupting part of your message to tow a party line. Being for the invasion of Iraq (a biblically unsound stance)hurt the cause of Christianity. I feel that it's directly because of that the election of 2006 saw a victory for the party that holds abortion as its sacred cow. Corruption has consequences.

Therefore we shouldn't clam up. The first rule of the Berean Political Action Committee is to ban "conservative", "liberal", and any other type of political preferences. The Word alone.

BTW - 2 Tim 6:10 says "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs."

HeIsSailing - Love of money is not THE root of ALL evil, but A root of ALL KINDS of evil. Don't feel bad. It's the most misquoted of all Scripture verses.

Great post, Jenny. Keep up the good work.

jennypo said...


I do agree with Dawkins about the dangerous side of what he terms "faith" - I don't give it so high a name. I would love to see that kind of "faith" shaken and revealed for the humbug that it is, but Dawkins gave me hope in his opening that he would substitute reason for it, and that is why I was so disappointed in this video as it progressed. I don't blame him for being an atheist. Far better to be an atheist with the door open to reason than a pastor with the door shut. But he paid only lip service to rationality.
Videos like this may well win converts to atheism (!) but those they win willl be no more thinking atheists than they were thinking Christians, more's the pity.

jennypo said...

Sorry, I missed answering your question. I think joeyanne is right. We as Christians are not called to defend God, or "spin" his thoughts to the world. Those who seek him will find him in this age as they have through countless ages past under different pressures. What we are called to do is to worship him, to follow him, to love not our lives unto death, to seek Christ. If he is indeed truth, beauty, love - and if he indeed has the power to transform us so that we, despite ourselves, can show who he is, then those who seek those things will see him without our having to mount a campaign.