Amazon.com Widgets

« The Price of Atheism | Main | Links With Your Coffee - Saturday »

Dawkins Responds To Fundamentalist Charge


Excellent response to the many who make the bogus "you're just as much a fundamentalist as the religious", well done Richard

How dare you call me a fundamentalist

The right to criticise 'faith-heads'

The hardback God Delusion was hailed as the surprise bestseller of 2006. While it was warmly received by most of the 1,000-plus individuals who volunteered personal reviews to Amazon, paid print reviewers gave less uniform approval. Cynics might invoke unimaginative literary editors: it has “God” in the title, so send it to a known faith-head. That would be too cynical, however. Several critics began with the ominous phrase, “I’m an atheist, BUT . . .” So here is my brief rebuttal to criticisms originating from this “belief in belief” school.

I’m an atheist, but I wish to dissociate myself from your shrill, strident, intemperate, intolerant, ranting language.

Objectively judged, the language of The God Delusion is less shrill than we regularly hear from political commentators or from theatre, art, book or restaurant critics. The illusion of intemperance flows from the unspoken convention that faith is uniquely privileged: off limits to attack. In a criticism of religion, even clarity ceases to be a virtue and begins to sound like aggressive hostility.

A politician may attack an opponent scathingly across the floor of the House and earn plaudits for his robust pugnacity. But let a soberly reasoning critic of religion employ what would, in other contexts, sound merely direct or forthright, and it will be described as a shrill rant. My nearest approach to stridency was my account of God as “the most unpleasant character in all fiction”. I don’t know how well I succeeded, but my intention was closer to humorous broadside than shrill polemic. Restaurant critics are notoriously scathing, but are seldom dismissed as shrill or intolerant. A restaurant might seem a trivial target compared to God. But restaurateurs and chefs have feelings to hurt and livelihoods to lose, whereas “blasphemy is a victimless crime”.

You can’t criticise religion without detailed study of learned books on theology.

If, as one self-consciously intellectual critic wished, I had expounded the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus, Eriugena on subjectivity, Rahner on grace or Moltmann on hope (as he vainly hoped I would), my book would have been more than a surprise bestseller, it would have been a miracle. I would happily have forgone bestsellerdom had there been the slightest hope of Duns Scotus illuminating my central question: does God exist? But I need engage only those few theologians who at least acknowledge the question, rather than blithely assuming God as a premise. For the rest, I cannot better the “Courtier’s Reply” on P. Z. Myers’s splendid Pharyngula website, where he takes me to task for outing the Emperor’s nudity while ignoring learned tomes on ruffled pantaloons and silken underwear. Most Christians happily disavow Baal and the Flying Spaghetti Monster without reference to monographs of Baalian exegesis or Pastafarian theology.

You ignore the best of religion and instead . . . “you attack crude, rabble-rousing chancers like Ted Haggard, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, rather than facing up to sophisticated theologians like Bonhoeffer or the Archbishop of Canterbury.”

If subtle, nuanced religion predominated, the world would be a better place and I would have written a different book. The melancholy truth is that decent, understated religion is numerically negligible. Most believers echo Robertson, Falwell or Haggard, Osama bin Laden or Ayatollah Khomeini. These are not straw men. The world needs to face them, and my book does so.

You’re preaching to the choir. What’s the point?

The nonbelieving choir is much bigger than people think, and it desperately needs encouragement to come out. Judging by the thanks that showered my North American book tour, my articulation of hitherto closeted thoughts is heard as a kind of liberation. The atheist choir, moreover, is too ready to observe society’s convention of according special respect to faith, and it goes along with society’s lamentable habit of labelling small children with the religion of their parents. You’d never speak of a “Marxist child” or a “monetarist child”. So why give religion a free pass to indoctrinate helpless children? There is no such thing as a Christian child: only a child of Christian parents.

You’re as much a fundamentalist as those you criticise.

No, please, do not mistake passion, which can change its mind, for fundamentalism, which never will. Passion for passion, an evangelical Christian and I may be evenly matched. But we are not equally fundamentalist. The true scientist, however passionately he may “believe”, in evolution for example, knows exactly what would change his mind: evidence! The fundamentalist knows that nothing will.

I’m an atheist, but people need religion.

“What are you going to put in its place? How are you going to fill the need, or comfort the bereaved?”

What patronising condescension! “You and I are too intelligent and well educated to need religion. But ordinary people, hoi polloi, Orwellian proles, Huxleian Deltas and Epsilons need religion.” In any case, the universe doesn’t owe us comfort, and the fact that a belief is comforting doesn’t make it true. The God Delusion doesn’t set out to be comforting, but at least it is not a placebo. I am pleased that the opening lines of my own Unweaving the Rainbow have been used to give solace at funerals.

When asked whether she believed in God, Golda Meir said: “I believe in the Jewish people, and the Jewish people believe in God.” I recently heard a prize specimen of I’m-an-atheist-buttery quote this and then substitute his own version: “I believe in people, and people believe in God.” I too believe in people. I believe that, given proper encouragement to think, and given the best information available, people will courageously cast aside celestial comfort blankets and lead intellectually fulfilled, emotionally liberated lives.


 

Comments

I've been called a fundamentalist Atheist too. I don't know what that means. Atheists don't believe in gods so fundamentalist Atheists must really not believe in gods. It's just pathetic rhetoric vomited by the religious and pussy footed Atheists who really just want those non-religious people to shut up.

I'm getting "Blasphemy is a victimless crime" printed on a T-shirt. That is one of the best lines I've heard in a while. Thanks for the great post Norm.

Curse those fundamentalist SantaClause-ists!

It's just pathetic rhetoric vomited by the religious ... who really just want those non-religious people to shut up.

They should drop the bible for a minute and pick up a dictionary.

user-pic
A politician may attack an opponent scathingly across the floor of the House and earn plaudits for his robust pugnacity. But let a soberly reasoning critic of religion employ what would, in other contexts, sound merely direct or forthright, and it will be described as a shrill rant

There are a number of problems with this analogy.

Primarily, a member of the House attacking his opponent is an agent of the people, operating among peers. Dawkins is not.

We also expect a bit of histrionics from politicians. Doesn't mean we necessarily approve of it, but we have come to expect it. Even though we know it's basically WWF for concerned citizens.

And isn't this the very attitude everyone claims to revile? The partisan bickering, the mudslinging, the filibustering and rhetoric. Should we aspire to that?

Sorry Dawkins, doesn't work. I'm a proud atheist and I recognize Dawkins for the self-important windbag that he is. To me he embodies all that can be wrong with educated people: he's arrogant, he's dismissive, he's condescending. Nobody likes a person who acts like that - no matter how smart or right he may be on the subject.

It's particularly ridiculous that Dawkins is not arguing facts. He's arguing a spiritual decision - a realm in which the only way to convince someone is to sway them to your side. His approach? Call 'em idiots.

Lecturing someone about why there isn't a god and how they're foolish for believing it is just as bad as lecturing someone about why you think there is a god, and how they're foolish for not believing.

I'm not surprised that he and his followers don't see it. Jerks don't know when they're being jerks.

You miss the point of Dawkins' comment - he isn't saying that he's on par with some form of elected representative, he's saying that political discourse expects strong adverserial critiques; were I to write 'The Socialist Delusion' and criticise socialism, people may think that my argument was tosh but they wouldn't call me 'intolerant' merely for criticzing a political position.

If persuasion really was the only way to change someone's spiritual position, then everyone would admit that they had made a Kiekegaardian leap of faith to find God, as no facts were used to find that God. Yet most religious people do not; they make claims about the world, about morality and about human nature that can be countered with facts and reason. It isn't simply a spiritual decision that ignores things out in the world.

I do agree, however, that Dawkins can yet be offensive. He confuses people calling him offensive just because he passionately attacks religion, and people that call him offensive because of the way that he attacks religion; he seems to think that the latter are all the former. You can passionately attack religion without being offensive; quite often, Dawkins' fails to do this.

"I've been called a fundamentalist Atheist too (...) It's just pathetic rhetoric vomited by the religious and pussy footed Atheists." -- Doug

Absolutely dead on. Well put.

"You can passionately attack religion without being offensive; quite often, Dawkins' fails to do this. -- Magpie

What the hell kinda idiocy is this -- Dawkins "FAILS" in not being offensive when he criticizes religion? You're saying this in a time when the Papacy has described criticism of the Catholic Church as TERRORISM?!

Offense is in the eye of the beholder.

That's exactly why atheists shouldn't offend: statements such as the Pope's are moronic, and are going to win him few converts. I suppose that the issue is one of outreach - does Dawkins want to encourage theists to renounce faith, or merely embolden atheists? If the latter, then I have no problem with how he says what he does.

If the former, then Dawkins must still say exactly the things that he says (especially his scathing critique of the old testamnet God)but change how he says it. For example, shift the emphasis away from 'theists are deluded' to 'atheists aren't deluded'. Such a rhetorical ploy isn't dishonest and doesn't change the content of his message, but does make it more approachable to the the faithful.

.......

Carl Sagan said it best:

'Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence'

this works both ways y'all...

r o b

.......

It may be a matter of his personal style being misinterpreted. He is British, after all, and has a ligtning fast brain with fast comprehension. So a combination of a liguistic accent associated w/ a social class in the Uk.

I notice the fast way of speaking acceptable in NYC is misinterpreted all the time in the Western US as being "arrogant". (personal experience, btw)

Dawkins has an energetic composure that I personally like very much, but may bother other people. Great wit is not always appreciated, and sometimes misinterpreted as condescending.

Imagine if his cultural style was more on the lines of Southerner Bill Moyers? In part it may be a case of "Its not what you say but how you say it."

Combined with the subject he is addressing....

"TeaForTheTillerman" said: Nobody likes a person who acts like that...

--Speak for yourself, dude!

Under the topic "I’m an atheist, but people need religion" Richard Dawkins wrote:

In any case, the universe doesn’t owe us comfort,

That's off-topic

and the fact that a belief is comforting doesn’t make it true.

That's off-topic, too.

The God Delusion doesn’t set out to be comforting, but at least it is not a placebo.

Nobody doubts the value of "The God Delusion", at least not in the context of this topic.

I believe that, given proper encouragement to think, and given the best information available, people will courageously cast aside celestial comfort blankets and lead intellectually fulfilled, emotionally liberated lives.

Oh, yes. I believe that too. For about as much as, perhaps, 2% of the "people" on this planet. Perhaps not even that much.

I am sad to say that introducing (forging, if need be) new "lite" versions of religions for consumption by the masses may yield far better results, and do so far quicker, than talking to them about encouragement to think, best information available, celestial comfort blankets, intellectual fulfillment, emotional liberaton, and similar "rational mumbo-jumbo" (to paraphrase Mr. I. Jones.)

The "people" do not want to think, the very process of thinking hurts their brains. The "people" do not need information, they need entertainment. The "people" will rather give away their lifes than their celestial comfort blankets. The "people" care less about intellectual fulfillment than they care about having 57 channels on TV. The "people" have no use for emotional liberation, they thrive on emotional slavery.

Rationalism is, like it or not, an elitist movement, and it will continue to be so as far in the future as I can see. So, it is fine and dandy to have our --practically private-- little talks about how to change the world, but please, let us not talk about the "people". We are not the "people", and the "people" do not want to have anything to do with us.

Navigation

Support this site

Google Ads


Powered by Movable Type Pro

Copyright © 2002-2017 Norman Jenson

Contact


Commenting Policy

note: non-authenticated comments are moderated, you can avoid the delay by registering.

Random Quotation

Individual Archives

Monthly Archives