The Richard Dawkins debate
I didn't see the tv documentary which Richard Dawkins presented a few days ago, having gone to bed early for an early start the next morning.
For those who know me, or are at least avid readers of this blog, they will not be surprised to read that Richard Dawkins makes me feel uncomfortable. Not because I believe that he could be right! (He could, but my faith is too strong for that) Nor is it because of his strong and outspoken athiestic beliefs (I mean, if I can't handle that, I might just as well become a reculse), my main problem with him is the same problem with which even some athiests find that they have with him. Notably his attitude towards believers.
I won't comment on the actual documentary (Not having seen it, that would be crass), but I will articulate my concerns over his general approach from what I have seen.
In his entry on Wikipedia, his comments following Sept 11th were somewhat shocking for me in terms of agression and forcefulness. I recall reading them in a newspaper at the time. He stated that:
"Many of us saw religion as harmless nonsense. Beliefs might lack all supporting evidence but, we thought, if people needed a crutch for consolation, where's the harm? September 11th changed all that. Revealed faith is not harmless nonsense, it can be lethally dangerous nonsense. Dangerous because it gives people unshakeable confidence in their own righteousness. Dangerous because it gives them false courage to kill themselves, which automatically removes normal barriers to killing others. Dangerous because it teaches enmity to others labelled only by a difference of inherited tradition. And dangerous because we have all bought into a weird respect, which uniquely protects religion from normal criticism. Let's now stop being so damned respectful!"
Aside from the fact that they strike me as comments I might expect from a zealous sixth-former in a debating society, as opposed to a serious academic, it is a bit silly.
Okay maybe I am being a bit unkind and showing my faith up by stating that, but my way of thinking on this is that there are many in the name of athiesm (Mao, Stalin) who have committed great acts of cruelty, just as much as, maybe even more so, than the Inquisition etc.. Besides for every Oliver Cromwell there is John Milton. For every Ian Paisley, Mother Theresa. For every Pat Robertson, Dietrich Bonhoffer, and outside Christianity, for every Osama Bin Laden there is Ysuf Islam. Dawkins comments struck me as somewhat sweeping and grossly unfair and is a reminder that for most of his critics, it isn't his convictions, but his general attitude towards his opponents in debates.
Then there is his refusal to debate with creationists because such a thing might give them credibility. This is a fair point for someone of his stance to make (and I am not one of these people who takes the Bible 100% at face value. Few do, otherwise you would be able to spot Christians who have had lustful thoughts by the fact that they are blind or have one eye). For example, who in their right mind would be happy to stand for election and share a hustings with other candidates that includes a BNP Candidate! But failure to attack head-on by standing up with the courage of your convictions can make a martyr out of one's opponents. If I had Dawkins athiesm, I would, albeit carefully, take on all comers in all debates, but Dawkins seems unable to do this!
Finally, the one defence I have of him is that I don't think he is quite the demonised figure many of his opponents seem to make him out to be! Yes he is arrogant, narrow-minded and downright insufferable, but he can be polite and courteous. I also trusts he is more conscise than Johann Hari who stated in one of his columns that he saw The Passion of the Christ and found it anti-semitic. I challenged him on this via e-mail, referring to one of the good guys being called a Jew as an insult by a Roman Guard, who was seen to be utterly sadistic. He admitted in reply that he left about a third of the way through.
Besides (returning to Dawkins), anyone who has had Douglas Adams among their closest friends and marries one of the actresses who played one of Doctor Who's more enchanting companions can't be all bad ;).