Dear Professor Dawkins,
Continued from part #1.
In the Preface of your book, "The God Delusion" you wrote:
"In January 2006 I presented a two-part television documentary on British television (Channel Four) called Root of All Evil? From the start, I didn't like the title. Religion is not the root of all evil, for no one thing is the root of all anything." (Dawkins, R., "The God Delusion," Bantam Press: London, 2006, p.1)
Thank you for conceding that "Religion is not the root of all evil" (my emphasis)! But then given that you profess that, "I care passionately about what is true and I never say anything that I do not believe to be right":
"In one respect I plead to distance myself from professional advocates. A lawyer or a politician is paid to exercise his passion and his persuasion on behalf of a client or a cause in which he may not privately believe. I have never done this and I never shall. I may not always be right, but I care passionately about what is true and I never say anything that I do not believe to be right. I remember being shocked when visiting a university debating society to debate with creationists. At dinner after the debate, I was placed next to a young woman who had made a relatively powerful speech in favour of creationism. She clearly couldn't be a creationist, so I asked her to tell me honestly why she had done it. She freely admitted that she was simply practising her debating skills, and found it more challenging to advocate a position in which she did not believe. Apparently it is common practice in university debating societies for speakers simply to be told on which side they are to speak. Their own beliefs don't come into it. I had come a long way to perform the disagreeable task of public speaking, because I believed in the truth of the motion that I had been asked to propose. When I discovered that members of the society were using the motion as a vehicle for playing arguing games, I resolved to decline future invitations from debating societies that encourage insincere advocacy on issues where scientific truth is at stake."(Dawkins R., "The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design," W.W Norton & Co: New York NY, 1986, p.xiv)
I am surprised that if you thought the title was false on a major international TV documentary that you were to present, you went along with it anyway. You sound no better (if not worse) than the "lawyer or ... politician" that you despise above for being "paid to exercise his ... persuasion on behalf of a client or a cause in which he may not privately believe."
But putting that aside, there are other problems with your claim that religion (if not "the root of all evil") is evil.
The first such problem is your use of the vague term "religion." The fact is that there is no such thing as religion in general, but only particular religions. As your fellow Oxford University professor, theologian Alister McGrath has pointed out, "it is seriously misleading to regard the various religious traditions of the world as variations on a single theme" since "There is no such thing as religion. There are only traditions, movements, communities, peoples, beliefs, and practices that have features that are associated by many people with what they mean by religion" (my emphasis):
"There is a growing consensus that it is seriously misleading to regard the various religious traditions of the world as variations on a single theme. `There is no single essence, no one content of enlightenment or revelation, no one way of emancipation or liberation, to be found in all that plurality' (David Tracy). John B. Cobb Jr also notes the enormous difficulties confronting anyone wishing to argue that there is an `essence of religion': `Arguments about what religion truly is are pointless. There is no such thing as religion. There are only traditions, movements, communities, peoples, beliefs, and practices that have features that are associated by many people with what they mean by religion.' [Cobb, J.B. Jr, "Beyond Pluralism," in D'Costa, G., ed., "Christian Uniqueness Reconsidered: The Myth of a Pluralistic Theology of Religions," Orbis: Maryknoll NY, 1990, pp. 81-84] Cobb stresses that the assumption that religion has an essence has bedeviled and seriously misled recent discussion of the relation of the religious traditions of the world. For example, he points out that both Buddhism and Confucianism have `religious' elements - but that does not necessarily mean that they can be categorized as `religions.' Many `religions' are better understood as cultural movements with religious components.The idea of some universal notion of religion, of which individual religions are subsets, appears to have emerged at the time of the Enlightenment. To use a biological analogy, the assumption that there is a genus of religion, of which individual religions are species, is a very western idea, without any real parallel outside western culture - except on the part of those who have been educated in the west, and uncritically absorbed its presuppositions." (McGrath, A.E., "Christian Theology: An Introduction," , Blackwell: Cambridge MA, Second Edition, 1997, pp.531-532)
By the way, you may be interested in Professor McGrath's next book, "The Dawkins Delusion" announced on his website (although presumably that should be "February 2007"):
"MAJOR FORTHCOMING BOOK: The Dawkins Delusion - a response to Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion - will be published by SPCK in February 2006." [sic]
You can also hear an online lecture by Professor McGrath on your book at City Church of San Francisco: Open Forum with Alister McGrath, October 22 , 2006 "Is God a Delusion? Atheism and the Meaning of Life." There is also another version of basically the same lecture at Berkeley University: Alister McGrath on Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion" although I have not listened to that particular lecture.
A second problem for you in your claim that religion is evil is that of your own personal rational consistency (or irrational inconsistency). According to you, while "Theologians worry away at the `problem of evil'" in fact for atheists like you, "The universe we observe has ... at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good" (my emphasis):
"Theologians worry away at the `problem of evil' and a related `problem of suffering.' ... On the contrary, if the universe were just electrons and selfish genes, meaningless tragedies ... are exactly what we should expect, along with equally meaningless good fortune. Such a universe would be neither evil nor good in intention. It would manifest no intentions of any kind. In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. As that unhappy poet A.E. Housman put it: `For Nature, heartless, witless Nature Will neither care nor know.' DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music." (Dawkins, R., "River out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life," Phoenix: London, 1996, pp.154-155. Emphasis original).
So according to you, religion cannot be evil (let alone "the root of all evil") because "there is, at bottom ... no evil"! (my emphasis)
I will deal with a third problem of your claim that religion is evil, namely your physical determinism (e.g. "we dance to its [DNA's] music" above), in a future post.
Continued in part #3.
Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
Genesis 9:8-17. 8Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: 9"I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10and with every living creature that was with you-the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you-every living creature on earth. 11I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth." 12And God said, "This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth."17So God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth."