How dare you call me a fundamentalist
The God Delusion
By Richard Dawkins
Edited by Andy Ross
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
You can't criticise religion without detailed study
of learned books on theology.
I need engage only those few
theologians who at least acknowledge the question, rather than blithely
assuming God as a premise. Most Christians happily disavow Baal and the
Flying Spaghetti Monster without reference to monographs of Baalian exegesis
or Pastafarian theology.
You attack crude, rabble-rousing
chancers rather than facing up to sophisticated theologians.
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.
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.
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.
I'm an atheist, but people need
What patronising condescension! 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.
True faith is greater than the ranters
William Rees-Mogg replies to
Professor Richard Dawkins
The Times, May 14, 2007
Edited by Andy Ross
I agree with Professor Dawkins, not to mention St Paul, in rejecting the
argument that people should be allowed their religious comfort, even if it
is not true.
However, there is one charge against Professor Dawkins
on which his defence merely confirms his critics. It is said that he “often
ignores the best of religion” and instead attacks what are called “crude
rabble-rousing chancers” rather than facing up to sophisticated theologians.
Professor Dawkins’s reply makes a significant concession to his
critics. He does not claim to have answered the argument for belief in God
at its best. He maintains that “the melancholy truth is that decent,
understated, religion is numerically negligible”, but that the world needs
to face the fundamentalists.
He makes an assertion that the vast
majority of religious believers are closer to the beliefs of American
evangelists or of bloodthirsty Islamic terrorists than to quiet and rational
religion. I believe it to be false. It is certainly false in England.
However, I object to Professor Dawkins’s methods of argument much more
than to his assertions of fact, mistaken though I think them to be. Dawkins
is a scientist, and a good one. He has been thoroughly trained in the
scientific method. That requires him to examine conflicting theories in
terms of their strongest arguments, not in terms of their weakest.
His tone is not like that of Charles Darwin himself; thoughtful, reflecting
detailed observation, sensitive in the search for truth. It is more like
that of Bishop Wilberforce in the Oxford debate of June 1860, in which the
bishop attacked Darwinism.
By Salley Vickers
The Times, September 1, 2007
Edited by Andy Ross
An Angelic Response to the God Delusion
This book is a piece of sheer heaven. It is deliciously wise, witty and
John Cornwell’s mouthpiece is a likeable
seraph. Cornwell clearly believes that angels are archetypal images that
dramatise the invisible realities. As such, they can act as symbols for the
formless elements of physics; but also for the creative imagination.
The seraph begins by politely nailing Dawkins’s first sleight of hand
which bundles all religious belief and practice into one crude bag that
supposedly equals fanaticism.
This is rather like suggesting that
all science is dangerous because it has brought nuclear weapons; or that all
education is mistaken because children have been whipped by so-called
It is child’s play to denounce a subject by pointing to
the myriad ways in which it may be misapplied. But it is faulty logic to
conclude that this is necessarily the fault of the set of ideas being
Next the seraph gently takes Dawkins to task for his breezy
disregard for serious theology. You cannot criticise a theory until you have
made some proper attempt to come to grips with it.
His account of
the Bible is equally undiscriminating. For a start, even the first readers
of Genesis would have distinguished between the fact of fact and the fact of
fiction, a distinction that escapes Dawkins.
Nor is the Bible “a
book” but, as the affable seraph points out, a miscellany of stories,
letters, polemic, histories, fables and certainly some great moral
Therefore, it is perfectly respectable to “pick and
choose” when reading the Bible, something that Dawkins takes Christians to
task for. For the ancients, a history would be a mixture of reportage,
received wisdom, narrative and story.
The life of Jesus is told in a
series of stories to convey the essence of a life that was demonstrably an
influential one and continues to be so. Just as Jesus told stories to get
across his points, the Gospellers told stories about him.
But what is
most worrying in the Dawkins ideology, as the gracefully admonishing seraph
points out, is the violently biased language in a book that claims to reveal
the deleterious effects of bias. Dawkins uses the image of a virus and
employs a Darwinian model to explain how cultural ideas spread.
only Professor Dawkins would remember that Socrates was deemed the wisest of
men because he “knew that he didn’t know”. Those who think that not knowing
is safer and more attractive than its opposite should treat themselves to
this elegant little book.
The Truth in Religion
By John Polkinghorne
Times Literary Supplement, October 31, 2007
An Angelic Riposte to The God Delusion
In God We Doubt
Confessions of a Failed Atheist
By John Humphrys
Religious belief is currently under heavy fire. The two books under review
aim to make a more temperate contribution to the debate.
Cornwell has hit on the amusing conceit of writing in the persona of Richard
Dawkins’s guardian angel. The book’s tone is gently ironic and its style
that of modest discussion. Cornwell points out that Dawkins makes no serious
attempt to engage with the academic discussion of religious thought and
practice. Theologians have wrestled with how human language can attempt to
speak about the nature of God, emphatically rejecting the idea that the
deity is simply an invisible object among the other objects of the world.
John Humphrys is respectful of religious belief. His approach is that of
one who remains open and questioning. Humphrys takes very seriously the
human experience of conscience, urging us to do some things and to refuse to
do others. Evolutionary thinking offers us some partial understanding of
this, with its concepts of kin altruism and reciprocal altruism. Humphrys
sees ethical intuition as the signal of a transcendent dimension in life,
which he values but does not know how to explain from an atheist point of
Both Dawkins and Humphrys rightly engage with the challenge to
theism that is represented by the existence of a world claimed to be the
creation of a good and powerful God, but which nevertheless contains so much
evil and suffering. Science shows that natural processes are inextricably
entangled with each other. The integrity of creation is a kind of package
deal. Only a world with sufficient reliability for deeds to have foreseeable
consequences could be one in which moral responsibility was exercised.
Fundamental to the discussion is the relationship between faith and
reason. Religious faith is not a matter of the unquestioning acceptance of
unmotivated belief. Faith is a commitment to a form of motivated belief,
differing only from scientific reason in the nature of the subject of that
belief and the kind of motivations appropriate to it. Science achieves its
success by the modesty of its ambition, only considering impersonal
experience open to repetition at will. The concept of reality offered by
scientism is that of a world of metastable, replicating and
information-processing systems, but it has no persons in it.
progress will be made in the debate about religious belief unless
participants are prepared to recognize that the issue of truth is as
important to religion as it is to science.
AR (2007) I like the idea of angels as symbols
of the formless elements of physics, somewhere in the mathematical murk of
the stringscape. Angels as avatars of our own souls, conceived as loopy
swirls in a hyperspace beyond our present scientific imagination, fly way
above the Darwinian jungle or the primordial soup of the macromolecular gene
Happy Newton Day!
New Statesman, December 13, 2007
December 25th is a date to celebrate not because it is the disputed birthday
of the "son of God" but because it is the actual birthday of one of the
world's greatest men.
A charismatic wandering preacher called Jesus
probably was executed during the Roman occupation, but nobody takes
seriously the legend that he was born in December. Late Christian tradition
simply attached Jesus's birth to a long-established and convenient winter
December 25th is the birthday of one of the truly
great men ever to walk the earth, Sir Isaac Newton. His achievements might
justly be celebrated from one end of the universe to the other.
AR This is such a poor joke, it's not even worth
On September 30, 2007, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and
Christopher Hitchens sat down for a first-of-its-kind, unmoderated 2-hour
discussion, convened by RDFRS and filmed by Josh Timonen. All four authors
have received a large amount of media attention for their writings against
religion. In this conversation the group trades stories of the public's
reaction to their recent books, their unexpected successes, criticisms and
common misrepresentations. They discuss the tough questions about religion
that face the world today, and propose new strategies for going forward.
Richard Dawkins and His Selfish Meme
By Pat Shipman
New York Sun, April 23, 2008
Edited by Andy Ross
Proclaimed brilliant for its portrayal of the "gene's-eye view" of
evolution, Dawkins's book inverted the focus of natural selection, from
Darwin's weight on species to Dawkins's emphasis on the gene itself.
Dawkins argued that the crux of natural selection is whether a
particular gene — not an individual or a group of individuals — replicates
itself in future generations. Those genes that are not replicated into the
future have failed at evolution, and those that produce many copies of
themselves have succeeded.
In Dawkins's view, the organisms
containing those genes are merely "lumbering robots" or "survival machines"
that house and carry genetic information. The implication is that
selfishness pays off, and altruism does not.
Some predicted that this
book would be the death knell of the idea of group selection. Has the book
in fact killed off group selection ideas?
Group selection and kin
selection are not dead. In 2007, David Sloan Wilson, professor at
Binghampton University, and E.O. Wilson (no relation), a professor emeritus
at Harvard University and a Pulitzer Prize winner, proclaimed that Dawkins
had celebrated the death of group selection prematurely.
asserted persuasively that altruism and cooperation can be adaptive if they
are directed toward relatives who share a suite of one's genes (kin
selection) or if relationships can be established within a group in which
cooperation is rewarded with future reciprocity.
competition between groups is more significant than that within a group,
natural selection can operate on multiple levels, from gene to kin group to
species and perhaps beyond. The evolutionary disadvantage to the individual
must be weighed against the evolutionary advantage to its larger group (kin,
population, or even species). Since altruistic behaviors do occur, evolution
must operate at both the higher (between-group) as well as the lower
This multilevel view of evolution accords well
with a concept espoused by the late John Maynard Smith, formerly an emeritus
professor of the University of Sussex, and Eörs Szathmáry, professor at
Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest. The pair suggested that evolutionary
history is marked by major transitions that correspond to successively more
complex levels of organization.
A favorite example of such a
transition is the development of eusociality, the most extreme instance of
group selection, on which E.O. Wilson is one of the world's experts.
Eusocial species (termites, ants, wasps, naked mole rats, and others) live
in large colonies in which many individuals forego reproduction to assist a
single queen. Wilson's classic 1975 book Sociobiology attributed eusociality
to the close genetic relationship along the colony members.
now suggests that eusocial behavior evolves in rare species that have the
flexibility to be reproductive or not, and that live in circumstances
inhibiting the dispersal of nests. Once forced to live together rather than
founding new colonies, species preadapted to cooperation successfully adopt
eusociality precisely because it is evolutionarily advantageous.
quip sometimes called Orgel's Second Rule is "Evolution is cleverer than you
are." Evolution is apparently cleverer than Richard Dawkins, because kin and
group selection do exist — and pay off. However, an essential aspect of
being a scientist is to test your theories against new data, and Dawkins's
selfish-gene concept spurred a great deal of hard thought and data
collection that have been used to test his hypothesis.
works are so lucid and so stunning, Dawkins's ideas have assumed a life of
their own. His powerful metaphor of the inherent selfishness of the gene was
misunderstood by many and often taken deeply to heart. The picture of
evolution offered by Dawkins, which many found bleak, also contributed to
the growth and stridency of the intelligent design movement to undercut the
teaching of evolution in public schools.
Unfortunately, his warnings
against taking moral and ethical lessons from scientific findings were not
universally heeded. The benefit to science of his selfish gene meme in
triggering a new understanding of the magnificent complexity of evolutionary
processes must be weighed against the harm the book has done.
AR (2008) Multilevel group selection sounds
convincing to me. Among such groups in Homo sapiens are the fertility cults
associated with the Abrahamic God (the god of our fathers — Goof). All life
is genocentric — Dawkins. Human life celebrates its genocentricity in
fertility cults that drive their followers to go forth and multiply. Such
behavior is inexplicable from the standpoint of the rational individualist.
A proof that humans are genocentric is their devotion to goofy cults. This
deserves a slogan — Goof is great and Dawkins is his prophet!