Friday, November 10, 2006

My critique of Dawkins' "The God Delusion" #3

Dear Professor Dawkins,

Continuing from part #2

[Graphic: The Black Book of Communism,]

with the Preface to your book, "The God Delusion" in which you wrote:

"But I was delighted with the advertisement that Channel Four put in the national newspapers. It was a picture of the Manhattan skyline with the caption `Imagine a world without religion.' What was the connection? The twin towers of the World Trade Center were conspicuously present. Imagine, with John Lennon, a world with no religion."

You don't have to "Imagine a world without religion" (my emphasis). There is today in the 21st century "a world without religion" in one of the last atheistic communist regimes still remaining, namely North Korea.

That `idyllic' "world with no religion" has "one of the worst human rights records of any nation," "ranks ... last out of 159 countries in terms of citizens' freedom." This "world without religion" has "detention camps with an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 inmates" in which "torture, starvation, rape, murder and forced labour" are routine policy, resulting in an "annual mortality rate" which "approaches 20% to 25%" with "An estimated two million civilians ... killed by the government." In "one camp, chemical weapons were tested on prisoners in a gas chamber" and "pregnant women inside the camps are often forced to have abortions or the newborn child is killed" (my emphasis):

"Human Rights Amnesty International and other human rights organizations, including the North American Free Speech Association, accuse North Korea of having one of the worst human rights records of any nation, severely restricting most freedoms, including freedom of speech and freedom of movement, both inside the country and abroad. The State of World Liberty Index ranks North Korea last out of 159 countries in terms of citizens' freedom. North Korean exiles have testified as to the existence of detention camps with an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 inmates, and have reported torture, starvation, rape, murder and forced labour. Japanese television aired what it said was footage of a prison camp. In some of the camps, US officials and former inmates say the annual mortality rate approaches 20% to 25%. An estimated two million civilians have been killed by the government. A former prison guard and army intelligence officer said that in one camp, chemical weapons were tested on prisoners in a gas chamber. According to a former prisoner, pregnant women inside the camps are often forced to have abortions or the newborn child is killed. The government of North Korea refuses to admit independent human rights observers to the state." ("North Korea," Wikipedia. References omitted).

Your fellow Oxford University professor, molecular biophysicist-turned theologian Alister McGrath

[Graphic: Revd Professor Alister McGrath, Wycliffe Hall, Oxford]

has noted that an even worse example of such "a world without religion," namely the "between 85 million and 100 million" `liquidated' by the atheist regimes of "Lenin and Stalin" and this "dark side of atheism" has been "airbrushed out of Dawkins' rather selective reading of history" and "Dawkins has curiously failed to mention, let alone engage with, the blood-spattered trail of atheism in the twentieth century" (my emphasis):

"Everyone would agree that some religious people do some very disturbing things. But the introduction of that little word `some' to Dawkins' argument immediately dilutes its impact. For it forces a series of critical questions. How many? Under what circumstances? How often? It also forces a comparative question: how many people with anti-religious views also do some very disturbing things? And once we start to ask that question, we move away from cheap and easy sniping at our intellectual opponents, and have to confront some dark and troubling aspects of human nature. Let's explore this one. I used to be anti-religious. In my teens, I was quite convinced that religion was the enemy of humanity, for reasons very similar to those that Dawkins sets out in his popular writings. But not now. And one of the reasons is my dreadful discovery of the dark side of atheism. Let me explain. In my innocence, I assumed that atheism would spread through the sheer genius of its ideas, the compelling nature of its arguments, its liberation from the oppression of religion, and the dazzling brilliance of the world it commended. Who needed to be coerced into such beliefs, when they were so obviously right? ... And yes, atheism liberated people from religious oppression, especially in France in the 1780s. But when atheism ceased to be a private matter and became a state ideology, things suddenly became rather different. The liberator turned oppressor. To the surprise of some, religion became the new liberator from atheist oppression. Unsurprisingly, these developments tend to be airbrushed out of Dawkins' rather selective reading of history. But they need to be taken with immense seriousness if the full story is to be told. The final opening of the Soviet archives in the 1990s led to revelations that ended any notion that atheism was quite as gracious, gentle, and generous a worldview as some of its more idealistic supporters believed. The Black Book of Communism, based on those archives, created a sensation when first published in France in 1997, not least because it implied that French communism - still a potent force in national life - was irreducibly tainted with the crimes and excesses of Lenin and Stalin. Where, many of its irate readers asked, were the `Nuremberg Trials of Communism'? Communism was a `tragedy of planetary dimensions' with a grand total of victims variously estimated by contributors to the volume at between 85 million and 100 million - far in excess of the excesses committed under Nazism. Now, one must be cautious about such statistics, and equally cautious about rushing to quick and easy conclusions on their basis. Yet the basic point cannot really be overlooked. One of the greatest ironies of the twentieth century is that many of the most deplorable acts of murder, intolerance, and repression were carried out by those who thought that religion was murderous, intolerant, and repressive - and thus sought to remove it from the face of the planet as a humanitarian act. Even his most uncritical readers should be left wondering why Dawkins has curiously failed to mention, let alone engage with, the blood-spattered trail of atheism in the twentieth century - one of the reasons, incidentally, that I eventually concluded that I could -no longer be an atheist.' (McGrath, A.E., "Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life,"Blackwell: Malden MA, 2005, pp.112-114. Emphasis original).

Remember that you claimed that, "I ... care passionately about what is true and ... never say anything that I do not believe to be right" and "I ... distance myself from professional advocates" (my emphasis):

"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).

yet you are presumably making a lot of money by being a professional advocate for atheism, calling and working for "a world without religion," yet completely ignoring what Jesus called, "the plank in your own eye":

Mat. 7:3-5. 3"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."

namely the far worse track record of such worlds "without religion," in the atheistic regimes of the 20th and indeed 21st centuries!

Even one of your Darwinist colleagues, Andrew Brown, comments in a review of your book about your excuse that "Individual atheists may do evil things but they don't do evil things in the name of atheism":

"Dawkins is inexhaustibly outraged by the fact that religious opinions lead people to terrible crimes. But what, if there is no God, is so peculiarly shocking about these opinions being specifically religious? The answer he supplies is simple: that when religious people do evil things, they are acting on the promptings of their faith but when atheists do so, it's nothing to do with their atheism. He devotes pages to a discussion of whether Hitler was a Catholic, concluding that `Stalin was an atheist and Hitler probably wasn't, but even if he was the bottom line is very simple. Individual atheists may do evil things but they don't do evil things in the name of atheism.' Yet under Stalin almost the entire Orthodox priesthood was exterminated simply for being priests, as were the clergy of other religions and hundreds of thousands of Baptists. The claim that Stalin's atheism had nothing to do with his actions may be the most disingenuous in the book, but it has competition from a later question, `Why would anyone go to war for the sake of an absence of belief [atheism]?'-as if the armies of the French revolution had marched under icons of the Virgin, or as if a common justification offered for China's invasion of Tibet had not been the awful priest-ridden backwardness of the Dalai Lama's regime. One might argue that a professor of the public understanding of science has no need to concern himself with trivialities outside his field like the French revolution, the Spanish civil war or Stalin's purges when he knows that history is on his side. `With notable exceptions, such as the Afghan Taliban and the American Christian equivalent, most people play lip service to the same broad liberal consensus of ethical principles.' Really? `The majority of us don't cause needless suffering; we believe in free speech and protect it even if we disagree with what is being said.' Do the Chinese believe in free speech? Does Dawkins think that pious Catholics or Muslims are allowed to? Does he believe in it himself? He quotes later in the book approvingly and at length a speech by his friend Nicholas Humphrey which argued that, `We should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe, for example, in the literal truth of the Bible or that planets rule their lives, than we should allow parents to knock their children's teeth out.' But of course, it's not interfering with free speech when atheists do it.' what Dawkins was famous for. It's a shame to see him reduced to one long argument from professorial incredulity. " (Brown, A., "Dawkins the dogmatist." Review of The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins, Bantam. Prospect, October 2006).

which apart from being self-contradictory to your previous claim that, according to your "Darwinian View of Life," "there is, at bottom ... no evil..." (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).

it is a blatant example of the fallacy of special pleading, i.e. an "attempt" by people "to apply a `double standard', which makes an exception to the rule for themselves-or people like them-but applies it to others" (my emphasis):

"People are most tempted to engage in special pleading when they are subject to a law or moral rule that they wish to evade. People often attempt to apply a `double standard', which makes an exception to the rule for themselves-or people like them-but applies it to others. They usually do not argue that they, or their group, should be exempt from the rule simply because of who they are; this would be such obvious special pleading that no one would be fooled. Instead, they invoke some characteristic that they have that sets them apart; however, if the characteristic is not a relevant exception to the rule, then they are engaged in special pleading." (Curtis, G.N., "Special Pleading," The Fallacy Files, 10 June 2006).

Continued in part #4.

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).

Genesis 10:1-5a. 1This is the account of Shem, Ham and Japheth, Noah's sons, who themselves had sons after the flood. The Japhethites 2The sons of Japheth: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech and Tiras. 3The sons of Gomer: Ashkenaz, Riphath and Togarmah. 4The sons of Javan: Elishah, Tarshish, the Kittim and the Rodanim. 5(From these the maritime peoples spread out into their territories by their clans within their nations, each with its own language.)


Renee said...

I've been doubting for days; should I buy The God Delusion, or not? Dawkins crusade is becoming slightly tiresome, as I've mentioned briefly on my blog today ( On the other hand...

Stephen E. Jones said...


I would not buy it unless you have a good reason, e.g.:

1) you agree with Dawkins' atheism and want to know his main arguments against God and religion to support your atheist position; or

2) like me, you disagree with Dawkins and want to know his main arguments against God and religion to critique his atheist position.

However, apart from the fact that atheism is false and Christianity is true [], and so Dawkins is yet another `blind man leading other blind men, so they will together fall into a pit' (Mat 15:14; Lk 6:39); it is a large book and if you find "Dawkins crusade ... tiresome" then I would have thought there would be many other less tiresome books to buy and read first.

For example, Alister McGrath's "Dawkins' God" and his forthcoming "Dawkins' Delusion." That way you can learn both what Dawkins' main arguments against God and religion are and their refutation!

Stephen E. Jones

Anonymous said...

My son-in-law gave me a copy of the God Delusion for my birthday (he is an orthopaedic surgeon,raised in a legalistic "Christian" cult which burnt the whole family)My daughter is a committed Christian, as I am. The God Delusion is a tedious book that I couldn't be bothered finishing. My son-in-law wants to debate with me, and I am really grateful to those who have the time and intellectual energy to succinctly post arguments that refute some of Dawkin's contradictions and poorly researched points - which appear to me to be downright lazy. Thanks for your critique, Stephen.

Stephen E. Jones said...


Thanks. I regret that I did not have the time to go right through Dawkins' book and fully expose its ignorant and fallacious arguments.

But then even Dawkins' fellow atheists have partially done that:

"`_The God Delusion_ makes me embarrassed to be an atheist, and the McGraths show why.' Michael Ruse, Professor of Philosophy, Florida State University" (McGrath, A. & McGrath, J.C., "The Dawkins Delusion?," SPCK: London, 2007, front cover).

Stephen E. Jones