Posted by: buckleyr | February 18, 2009

Dawkins’ Hostility

dialogueIn Chapter 8 of Dawkins’ The God Delusion, he attempts to explain why he is not only a non-believer, but also why his views toward religion are so hostile, unlike those of many of his atheist colleagues. Not only does he find issue with religious fundamentalists, but he also actively fights against the ideas of religious moderates as well. As I was quite interested in knowing why he would engage in such a confrontation myself, I am glad I chose to present on this chapter. In my opinion, Dawkins makes several legitimate points that should certainly be discussed in the debate between believers and the New Atheists. However, I have criticism with his argument and the ways in which he goes about it.


Dawkins begins his argument by attempting to dispose of the idea that he himself is a fundamentalist, completely shut off to viewpoints other than his own. He claims that religious fundamentalists “know they are right because they have read the truth in a holy book and they know, in advance, that nothing will budge them from their belief.” By giving examples of schools and faculty, Dawkins makes the claim that fundamentalism inhibits our quest to seek and gain more knowledge. It eliminates the need to continue to ask questions and work diligently until we find the answers. I agree that this type of thinking is not only unwise, but also dangerous. It is certainly important for a person to not merely accept teachings that have been passed to her or him as a child, but to question everything in order to come to deeper understanding and wisdom. I believe this to be the case not only in the context of religion, but in all aspects of one’s life. Dawkins differentiates himself from this fundamentalist type of thinking in claiming that as a scientist, he is open to correction. He examines evidence which has not yet been contradicted, and also says that when a scientific claim is proven wrong, it is corrected. Therefore, as a scientist, he is open to gaining new knowledge that could contradict his previous beliefs. However, he still seems somewhat fundamentalist in that he only relies on science and is closed off to all other types of evidence and viewpoints. Dawkins believes science to be the only “true” basis for belief.

Dawkins continues to explain his hostility toward religion by discussing the many tragedies and disasters that have occurred due to religious absolutism. Again, Dawkins’ point is attractive. Especially during this time of global violence, who can deny the wars, mass murders, and hatred that have been caused by members of most all forms of religion (Christianity included)? Dawkins mentions many contemporary examples of people who have been sentenced to death for blasphemy. He continues his discussion with not only the Afghan Taliban, but also the American Taliban, which seems to possess the same qualities of sheer cruelty and bigotry, quoting narrow-minded religious and political leaders and their humiliatingly politically incorrect statements. I am unsure of the context of these quotations, but I question it and wonder if it’s fair that he use such statements in his argument.

Dawkins continues to highlight the popular issues and controversies in religion today by discussing homosexuality and the sanctity of human life. He is right in that he finds a contradiction in the many Christians who claim to be loving and welcoming individuals, yet not only disapprove of but actively condemn those of homosexual orientation. His concern is the type of morality that this particular type of religious faith inspires. Furthermore, he mentions adamant pro-lifers who murdered a doctor that performed an abortion. They took a life because they wanted to defend life? I think most pro-life Christians would agree with Dawkins that this was the wrong course of action. Dawkins has a legitimate concern with his worry in what some people are willing to do in the name of religion.

As an American and theist, it is not only embarrassing but frustrating to be identified in the same category as persons such as these. I am sure that most of us probably feel this same frustration when we read Dawkins. The actions that he mentions are all those of religious extremists. Most believers do not condone such behavior and disapprove of it as much as Richard Dawkins and the New Atheists do. In an online debate, John Lennox responds to Dawkins’ tendency to lump all religious people into the same category. Lennox notes that Dawkins wants to be distinguished from violent atheists such as Stalin and other such regimes, but why does he have such a problem realizing that there are very distinct groups of theists as well. Furthermore, Dawkins fails to mention the fact that many of the world’s tragedies have been caused by atheism as well. By eliminating all religion, we certainly would not even begin to eliminate all violence from the world. It is unfair to blame the foundations of all the problems of the world on religion because people commit acts of violence for many other reasons as well. As Heyse said in her presentation, this is a human problem.

Dawkins’ final point is directed at the vast majority of believers: religious moderates. He claims that moderates cannot deny some blame for the harmful actions of the extremists. To Dawkins, moderation in faith fosters fanaticism by providing a climate where it can flourish. This climate discourages a questioning of faith, and encourages respect for all beliefs. It “teaches children that unquestioned faith is a virtue. You don’t have to make the case for what you believe. If somebody announces that it is part of his faith, the rest of society, whether of the same faith, or another, or of none, is obliged, by ingrained custom, to ‘respect’ it without question”(346). I would argue with Dawkins that not all moderates believe that acceptance and unquestioning faith is in fact a virtue. I have always been encouraged to question my own beliefs and what I have been taught and to constantly search for truth. However, I agree with Dawkins that at times moderation, even the type that I have grown up with, can foster the climate which he describes. By feeling obliged to accept another’s beliefs without question, we do to a point make room for extremists to manifest their beliefs in destruction and murder without doing more to prevent such tragedies. This criticism is a good one, and one that I think religious moderates should consider further. Still, Dawkins’ tendency to make overarching claims about the theists of the world undermines the credibility of his argument.

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