It would be easy to assume that the last 3 chapters of Dawkins’ The God Delusion were simply tacked on as further rants, less important than his main arguments. After all, he has in the previous chapters proven – to his satisfaction, at least – that God’s existence is highly improbable and that morality is more moral when not based on Scripture. What more is there to say?
I believe, however, that these chapters show us where Dawkins has been headed all along. He is not content to simply state his case, to make a few converts (or un-converts?) and then live and let live. Dawkins really seems to be at war with the God he doesn’t believe in, and with any religious expressions of belief in Him and wants to do all he can to eliminate these beliefs.
Chapter 8, entitled “What’s Wrong with Religion? Why be so Hostile?” begins with his denial of a desire for “confrontation,” or “gladiatorial contests” and especially his denial that he is “a fundamentalist atheist” (pages 317-19). “Fundamentalists,” he tells us, “have read the truth in a holy book … and … nothing will budge them from their belief … By contrast, what I, as a scientist, believe … I believe not because of reading a holy book, but because I have studied the evidence” (page 319). Case closed? I have the facts and you don’t!
But does Dawkins really have all the facts? Is all the evidence on his side? I’d like to raise some objections:
1. All the evidence that Dawkins has is empirical evidence based on his observations of the material universe. He is as he has told us, “a dyed-in-the-wool monist” (page 209). There is no room for any external evidence. In his thinking there cannot be any!
2. Though he claims to “have studied the evidence,” he has interpreted the evidence to meet his previous conclusions. His monistic materialistic views color his interpretations, just as those of the religious fundamentalists he scorns.
He writes about “the dark side of absolutism” (page 323) and gives examples of the horrors of Islamic blasphemy laws – even those enacted against Christians. He goes on to cite similar acts within “Christendom” (pages 323-26). He likes the phrase “American Taliban” used to describe the actions of the religious right in their opposition to homosexuality and abortion. He even admits that his assumption of a consensus on morality was “rosy-spectacled” (page 323). While I would agree with Dawkins on many of these rants, I fear that he doesn’t see that he himself is advocating a sort of anti-religious absolutism.
His attack on the pro-life people is especially chilling to me. While I would partially agree with him that “many of those who oppose the taking of embryonic life also seem to be more than unusually enthusiastic about taking adult life” (page 329), most do not fit the judgment. He discusses the “difference of perception” and tells us that “Strong opponents of abortion are likely to follow a non-religious consequentialist morality” (page 335).
“One school of thought cares about whether embryos can suffer. The other cares about whether they are human” (page 336), is a good summary of the conflict. It is very clear that Dawkins puts himself in the former. Earlier on the same page he compares the suffering of an embryo to the greater suffering of a sheep or cow in a slaughterhouse. This is the logical conclusion of Dawkins’ Darwinian ethics. If an embryo is simply “a little cluster of cells” (page 336), then what am I? What is Richard Dawkins?
Later he tells us that “The granting of unique special rights to cells of the species Homo sapiens is hard to reconcile with the fact of evolution” (page 339). Earlier (DAWKINS’ GOD DELUSION, 6), I said that Dawkins hadn’t carried out his thoughts to their logical ends. Here he has. He has denied the humanness of man. The ethical consequences of this are horrifying!
Though he rants on through the rest of chapter 8, it is in the next chapter that he really gets frightening: “Childhood, Abuse and the Escape from Religion.” Here he makes his case that parents or religious groups should not be allowed to indoctrinate children in their faith. He quotes his colleague the psychologist Nicholas Humphrey, “We should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe, for example, in the literal truth of the Bible or that the planets rule their lives then we should allow parents to knock their children’s teeth out or lock them in a dungeon” (page 367).
He begins this chapter with a supposedly true story of a six year old child of Jewish parents in Bologna, Italy, who was forcibly kidnapped by papal police in 1869 and brought up as a Roman Catholic. This he tells us was a common event in Italy at the time (page 349 ff). This he presents to us as a horrible evil and we rightly agree.
But isn’t Dawkins advocating the same thing? The Roman Catholic authorities felt they were acting in the child’s best interests in removing the child from what they felt were false religious influences. Dawkins, while not advocating kidnapping, feels that a child should be somehow removed from “abusive” indoctrination by its parents and taught that religion is “something for her to choose or reject – when she becomes old enough to do so” (page 382).
He bemoans the fact that in America Amish parents have the right to raise their own children in their traditions. “There is something breathtakingly condescending, as well as inhumane, about the sacrificing of anyone, especially children on the altar of ‘diversity’ and the virtue of preserving a variety of religious traditions” (page 372).
In chapter 10, he returns to the idea that he has dealt with previously, that perhaps religion fills, “A Much Needed Gap” and that is why it was part of our evolution.
I’ve finally finished reading The God Delusion and I must admit I’ve had my consciousness raised (Dawkins’ phrase). I had felt that Atheists were few, as Dawkins himself claims. But he has convinced me that they are more than a few and they are influential, even though he denies the fact. The number of “authorities” he quotes, as well as of those who wrote the three pages of enthusiastic blurbs tells me this.
I also see that men like Dawkins (though hopefully not all Atheists) have an agenda. They desire to see other religions eliminated. They have built their own god, whether it is called Darwinian Natural Selection, or Science, or Monism, or whatever, and want everyone else to conform to their beliefs.
The picture that comes to my mind is of a present or recent atheistic state, such as China, or North Korea, or the Soviet Union, where atheism is enforced -- or of a future dystopia such as in Huxley’s Brave New World, or Orwell’s 1984. Interestingly Dawkins refers to Orwell’s book and its word “thoughtcrime” (page 325) in his argument against religious mental abuse. He doesn’t see that he himself is advocating applying the term to religious thinking.