Richard Dawkins Speaks About the Problem with Metaphors

On October 12th, 2012, Richard Dawkins received the “Emperor Has No Clothes Award” at the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s annual convention. The award goes to someone who “make[s] known their dissent from religion.”

The video of his talk is now online and it’s worth a view. Dawkins begins speaking at the 14:30 mark and the transcript is available. In the speech, Dawkins talks about the problem with bad metaphors (and those who end up believing they are actually true):

Imagine you are God. You’re all-powerful. You’re all-loving. So it is really, really important to you that humans are left in no doubt about your existence and your loving nature, and exactly what they need to do in order to get to heaven and avoid eternity in the fires of hell. It’s really important to get that across. So what do you do?

If you’re Jehovah, apparently this is what you do. You talk in riddles. You tell stories which on the surface have a different message from the one you apparently want us to understand. You expect us to hear X, and instinctively understand that it needs to be interpreted in the light of Y, which you happen to have said in the course of a completely different story 500, 1,000 years earlier.

Instead of speaking directly into our heads, which God has presumed the capability of doing — simply, clearly and straightforwardly in terms which the particular individual being addressed will immediately understand and respond to positively — you steep your messages in symbols, in metaphors. In fact, you choose to convey the most important message in the history of creation in code, as if you aspired to be Umberto Eco or Dan Brown.

Dawkins also speaks about the problem of God in American politics and offers his belief that President Obama is not really a Christian — pure speculation, he admits, but one that doesn’t ultimately matter since Obama is a politician and politicians in America have to at least pretend to respect religious faith even if they don’t find it credible or helpful.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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