What Richard Dawkins May Never Understand

What Richard Dawkins May Never Understand November 6, 2013

I’m truly grateful as ever for the following reflection from Peter Wehner, one of the evangelical public intellectuals who most commands my attention and respect due to his experience in the policy realm and his thoughtfulness in all areas:


In his interview with The New Republic, Richard Dawkins – after asserting several times that religious faith is “belief without evidence” – had this exchange with Isaac Chotiner:

IC: I am curious how much you try to convince people about religion. I am sure you have heard people say that you are a great advocate for science and others who say that you alienate people. Do you worry about that?

RD: There may be some people who are turned off, but I think there are a lot who are not. Possibly we need both approaches. When I sign books, I get lines of people and what they usually say is: “Thank you. You have changed my life.” I am really moved by that.

IC: These are people of faith?

RD: They are either people of faith who have lost their faith from reading my books, or they are people who had already lost their faith, and something about my books encouraged them to affirm that.

I wanted to deal with both statements by Dawkins, beginning with his claim that faith is belief without evidence. That’s actually not true. To take just one example, there certainly is a case to be made – not a dispositive case but certainly a serious one –that the resurrection was an actual historical event. (Dawkins might start with Professor N.T. Wright’s magnificent The Resurrection of the Son of God.)

To be sure, one cannot “prove” that Christianity is true. Of course one cannot prove with certainty that Socrates was a real person rather than a figment of Plato’s imagination, either. But there’s more to it than that. As the author of the book of Hebrews wrote, “faith is assurance of things hoped for, proof of things not seen.” And Jesus, in dealing with a skeptical Thomas, told him, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” So there is something in the nature of faith, qua faith, that requires belief that goes beyond the available empirical evidence. Why that might be so requires more of an explanation than I can do full justice to here.

For now, though, I want to turn to the special satisfaction Dawkins finds in playing a role in people losing their faith. When reading this interview it struck me as odd for a person to take such delight in trying to shatter the faith of others. It is one thing to be unsure of whether God exists or to have crossed into the world of outright atheism. But to commit a large part of your life to attacking God and those who believe in God strikes me as a strange obsession. And an indication, perhaps, that on some deep level, Dawkins carries some amount of upset at others for possessing something he does not. Whatever the case, something unusual is going on here.

Now I understand that Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, believes he is puncturing what he considers a pernicious myth. He is, after all, a man whose foundation’s mission statement includes understanding the natural world “in the quest to overcome religious fundamentalism, superstition, intolerance and human suffering,” and whose website features A Manual for Creating Atheists. Professor Dawkins’s atheism has an almost religious zealotry about it.

As for me, faith has never come very easily or naturally. I’ve grappled with theological questions from the moment I began exploring Christianity and they’ve been a part of my pilgrimage ever since. Long ago I understood that for me at least, a life of faith had to leave some room for some uncertainties, that questions I struggle with and inquiries I have appear to bother some others not at all. And so as one might imagine, when I look back over the course of my life, among the people for whom I am most grateful are the ones who have encouraged me along the way, who in taking the time to respond to my questions with some care and intellectual integrity while giving room for my puzzlements have dispensed a kind of grace unto me. (Philip Yancey once said that God has more tolerance of doubt than most churches.)

In all of this I’m reminded of a passage from John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, in which near the end of the journey we read this:

Thus they went along toward the Gate. Now you must note, that the City stood upon a mighty Hill, but the Pilgrims went up that Hill with ease, because they had these two men to lead them up by the arms; … They therefore went up through the region of the air, sweetly talking as they went, being comforted, because they safely got over the River, and had such glorious Companions to attend them. The talk that they had with the Shining Ones was about Glory of the place, who told them that the Beauty and Glory of it was inexpressible.

It turns out that there is a place of relief for pilgrims who are weary and faint in the way; and that for those of us of the Christian faith, the answer is at the foot of the cross. As for Richard Dawkins, one can only hope that one day he will make his own inner peace with those of us who can say, in the words of the old Irish hymn, Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, still be my vision, O Ruler of all.


Peter Wehner is a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He worked previously in the administrations of Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush, where he was deputy assistant to the President. He writes widely on political, cultural, religious, and national-security issues and is coauthor with Michael Gerson of City of Man and with Arthur Brooks of Wealth and Justice

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  • Jason Drew

    I think RD has a problem with the number of people who believe that God is all good without actual evidence of this. I think RD is worried about why they believe God is all good and the consequences that such beliefs can have…like believing that atrocities might be just God’s will so therefore ok.

    • Brian

      Why do you think that people believe that God is all good with out evidence? What kind of evidence are you looking for, exactly? When Dawkins has been confronted with the fact that Atheist regimes had killed more than 100 million people in just the last 100 years he dismissed the concern about the Atheist. He said those atheists were not reasonable men that acted rationally but were in fact subscribes to a form of religion. So cannot the religious claim that people that believe that God is all good and therefore atrocities in his name are justified are not religious at all but subscribing to a form of atheism? Or does the “No true Scotsman Fallacy” only work one way?

      All kinds of ideologies some using God some not have caused great harm to world and justified terrible crimes. For Dawkins to think that religion is particularly vulnerable to this problem is more than a little silly.

      • Jason Drew

        I was thinking of the many atrocities that God is said to have ordered or condoned that are to be found in the Bible stories. Yet so many people who believe they follow God (because they’re told they should) and love him with all their heart (because they’re told they should) and believe he is all good (because they’re often told he is) believe that all the things God oks in the Bible are therefore ok because it’s in the ‘good book’ which they believe is the word of God (because they’re told it is). They might not do those things themselves (until someone tells them God said they should) but…they too often believe that it’s all good stuff really and all who suffered or died deserved it or were taught a good lesson.
        Re: ‘evidence’ – I don’t see evidence in the Bible that God is all good. Similar ways of thinking go for other holy books.

        I’m not attacking all believers in God or holy books because different people, including believers, interpret the holy books in different ways. I do know however that Richard Dawkins is not at all comfortable with people believing that God and his actions are always good. This is a popularly preached belief and it can and does lead to some people doing atrocities in God’s name. I believe many of them actually do believe they are impressing God and their actions are therefore ok. As for those who are really atheists – well if RD dismisses them as having a religion because they go through the motions of practicing a religion then maybe that is his point?

        I am aware that I’m speaking in the same week that we remember those who fought and suffered in wars and conflicts and that in extreme times extreme measures are sometimes needed. I believe that many people only find the ability to carry out extreme measures in the belief that they will be forgiven by God and are maybe even carrying out God’s will. Maybe this is the reason the holy books are written and taught the way they are?

        By the way, in case you’re wondering, I’m not an atheist… I believe in and like lots of gods but the evidence shows that whether you feel their existence or not they are not all good…and certainly the written evidence shows that most gods would be ok with me saying that.

        • Brian

          Well atrocities is a strong charge. I suppose you have examples like the cruel killing of the Cannanites by the Hebrews the mauling of the child gang by bears for insulting and accosting Elisha that kind of thing I presume? I am correct in that?

          I am more interested in your presumptions however. You say five times that people hold on to a faith based on the authority of (parents, teachers and such) alone. I don’t think that is correct. I certainly didn’t come to faith that way. I think most people believe God is good because that is the God they experienced. Not only that but a God that is not good would not really be a God as monotheists have understood God for thousands of years.

          Also do you not find that in the story of redemption, sacrifice and resurrection goodness? Would a God that was selfish and evil bring himself to die for a race that was even more selfish and evil and than he?

          • Nemo

            Technically, the Bible makes it clear that God was sacrificing himself to appease himself so he wouldn’t feel an overwhelming urge to torture everyone for all eternity.

            And how would an evil creator of infinite power and knowledge prevent it from being called “god”? After all, as a Christian, I suspect you believe in Divine Command Theory, which as the name suggests, posits that God decides what is good and what is evil because he is God and he said so. Thus, no deity could ever be evil. The bloodlust of Allah recorded in the Koran would be just if Allah were to exist. Same goes for the eternal torture performed by Yahweh, if you accept divine command theory.

          • Monimonika

            Brian: “Also do you not find that in the story of redemption, sacrifice and resurrection goodness?”

            In the Chick tract called “The Execution”, a man named Sonny clubs and kills an old man for his money. Sonny is arrested and shows absolutely no remorse for his crime, thus being sentenced to be hung. The night before his hanging, Sonny’s kind and loving mother has a talk with the Warden. The next morning Sonny is led out of the jail and is set free. Confused, Sonny asks why he is being set free and is told, “It’s been taken care of. Someone already died in your place.” Sonny asks who, and is told it was his mother who took his place.

            Obviously, the mother is the Jesus figure and her love for her son is awe-inspiring, but don’t you feel that something does not seem right at all with the story? The night before, the Warden had said to the mother, “I’m sorry, but the law demands death for that crime.” The mother then somehow convinced the Warden that it does not matter WHO dies for the crime, so long as there is a death to atone for the murder. Would you agree that the whole point of the guilty verdict and sentencing has been missed? What does the justice system achieve by executing an innocent person in the stead of a guilty person, as if they were interchangeable?

            Now ask yourself what kind of twisted justice system/cosmic karmic balancing act God has that deems punishing Jesus (the guy without sin) to be a satisfactory equivalent to punishing the guilty, sinful, group of humans that are in dire need of being taught a lesson? And while we’re at it, why does it have to be a death sentence with no chance for redemption (Jesus’s resurrection doesn’t count, since he wasn’t guilty and didn’t need to redeem himself of anything in the first place)?

      • RayIngles

        Point of information: Those were Communist atheist regimes.

        If you don’t think that distinction is important, can I ask why I can’t dismiss monotheism because of the abuses of radical Islam?

        • Brian

          It is true in the 20th century the only atheist regimes that we had were either Fascist or Communist and the Communists were far more bloody than the Fascists but we also have the example of the French revolution and the Directorate and then Napoleon and that was also a very unpleasant example. Some have claimed that China under the Confucius system was functionally Atheist but that is not a great advertisement for Atheism either. So we have a pretty solid track record that while Atheist regimes are quite rare they are fairly unpleasant to down right evil.

          We have not tired the kind of atheist regimes that a Dawkins, Dennet or Harris would desire but since Dawkins and Dennet think believers should be kept in zoos and Harris thinks that teaching one’s faith to your children should be seen as criminal child abuse I have an inkling that their regimes would be a bit less free and fair than the ones we currently live under.

          • RayIngles

            Brian –

            we also have the example of the French revolution

            That, we’ll note, actively and explicitly tried to set up a new religion.

            and then Napoleon

            Who was so markedly different from all the religious conquerors of history?

            since Dawkins and Dennet think believers should be kept in zoos

            Sorry, I can’t take your words seriously if you’re going to so willfully misinterpret and misrepresent their positions like that.

          • Brian

            If you read the article you cite here you would know that the religion they set had as their “god” the people and that reason and liberty were abstract constructs not gods. It was an atheist civic religion that had no supernatural element to it. The Cult of reason was about acting rationally for the greater good. They did not a do a very good job of pulling that off but that is what they were trying to do.

            As for Napoleon being no different then religious conquerors fine he was exactly like religious conquerors why should we then prefer atheists to lead us? They don’t seem to do any better then the religious. Also we need to remember that we are dealing only with Atheist regimes that have actually existed. Some ideal version of a atheist regime that exists in the imagination might be a very nice place to live. We just have not seen that happen in the real world.

            Finally Dennet advocates religions being caged and religious believers kept in “cultural zoos” what he actually met by that and what Dawkins means in his dehumanizing comments toward religious believers for instance, ““it is absolutely safe to say that if you meet someone who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked). . .”

            Its a matter of debate. And Dennet has resisted the charge that he means to coerce wicked and insane people to stop spreading their beliefs or put them in literal cages.

            I must note though typically when one meets a wicked, insane person that is very stupid one has to take steps to protect yourself from such a person. A wicked and insane person can do anything you know.

            A far too detailed discussion of this controversy can be found here: http://www.arn.org/docs2/news/BrightsDennettRea071303.htm

            I don’t think that I have willfully misinterpreted or misrepresented their positions. Given the power to stamp out religion I think Dawkins, Dennet and Harris would gleefully do so.

          • RayIngles

            As for Napoleon being no different then religious conquerors fine he was
            exactly like religious conquerors why should we then prefer atheists to
            lead us?

            Bingo! You got it!

            Atheists haven’t been substantially worse than other regimes. Hitler wasn’t an atheist (he was sort of a syncretist quasi-Pagan quasi-Christian who explicitly rejected evolution and thought Jesus was an Aryan) and led a decidedly non-Atheist regime, and killed millions with just as much brutality as any Communist regime. (Who also rejected evolution, BTW, and enforced Lysenkoism, leading to famines.)

            The closest thing we have to an atheist government is, in fact, the United States. No official religion, the founding documents make no reference to god(s) (rather a bone of contention at the time, actually) and based entirely on secular principles, etc.

            I don’t expect to change your mind, but I do think people should read what Dennett actually writes in that article you linked to and see if you’ve presented him fairly.

          • Brian

            Hitler was absolutely an atheist believing in no god of any kind. He did not believe that Jesus existed and therefore did not think he was an aryan. He promoted the German Christians as a way to undermine the churches, which he wanted to destroy and thought they were a joke but potentially a useful joke. He was a socialist and all the leading men in his circle believed in nothing like god or gods.

            To some extent Hitler was superstitious and many of the men around him were very superstitious and they were deeply involved in myth making and spectacle and symbolism but none of that interferes with their basic atheism.

            As to atheist regimes not being worse than more religious ones they were manifestly worse. The Czar Nicholas II after putting down a rebellion against his rule in 1905 killed just over 6,000 people in what was considered a brutal crack down against his opponents. Nicholas was extremely religious. Lenin the atheist killed 4,000,000 people before being sidelined by a stroke. Stalin killed near as many in Ukraine alone by knowingly starving the Ukrainian people and by moving city dweller out to the field farms of peasants he had killed for resistance to his rule.

            China has never seen anything like the 80 million killed by Mao or the less deadly but far more cruel Red Terror at the end of his reign. The Sandinistas were worse then the Somaza regime before it, Castro was worse than Batista and we could go on and on. So for the claim that they were no worse than more religiously inspired regimes before them is just false.

            American has had nothing like an atheist government until the Courts started to move that way, to some degree, in the 1960s. Nor were we based completely on secular principles and of course the US government often went out of its way to promote religion and faith and religion has permeated nearly all political movements and causes thought out this country’s history. Also States could and did have State religions after the constitution was passed. Only the Feds were barred from having a State religion. People just came to believe that having a state religion was a bad idea and got rid of them. It was not a secular movement that did it either people thought it was healthier for the churches to be independent of that State.

            I also hope that people read my link. This is another one they should read too. http://www.arn.org/docs/johnson/dennett.htm

            My favorite quote from that piece on Dennet’s beliefs is this one: “Of course it is not freedom of speech that worries the parents,but the power of atheistic materialists to use public education for indoctrination, while excluding any other view as “religion.”
            If you want to know how such threats sound to Christian parents, try imagining what would happen if some prominent Christian fundamentalist addressed similar language to Jewish parents. Would we think the
            Jewish parents unreasonable if they interpreted “at the very least” to imply that young children may be forcibly removed from the homes of recalcitrant parents, and that those metaphorical cultural zoos may one day be enclosed by real barbed wire? Strong measures might seem justified if the well-being of everyone on
            the planet depends upon protecting children from the falsehoods their parents want to tell them.”

          • RayIngles

            Hitler was absolutely an atheist believing in no god of any kind

            Sorry, you are simply wrong here. I’ll grant he wasn’t a Christian, but he was very definitely a theist, speaking often, even in private, of a Creator (with a capital C). It was one of the reasons for his racism – he believed the races had been created separately.

            Comparing body counts of past pogroms to more recent ones is highly misleading, for a simple reason – technology. Better agriculture supports a larger population, and better weapons technology supports easier killing. (Simple example – machine guns allow one person to guard or execute many people.) Look at the Albigensian Crusade – can you honestly claim that, if either side had been given a nuke, they would have hesitated to use it?

            Even the body count of the Communists is inflated because they rejected evolution. You need to read up a little more on the Holodomor and the Three Lean Years – they killed most of those millions and it was because they went for Lysenkoism. Those large populations couldn’t exist without modern agriculture.

            American has had nothing like an atheist government

            Excuse me – America has not had a religious government. You kind of evaded the point there. Our government is not based on religion, and it’s worked out mostly okay. Indeed, it worked out so well that everyone agreed to adopt it for the states, as well.

            Nor were we based completely on secular principles

            John Adams disagrees with you: “The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example
            of governments erected on the simple principles of nature… It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the inspiration of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in
            merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses…”

            Indeed, a large number of religious people at the time were angry and upset that the Constitution didn’t make any reference to God or to religious principles.

            As to Johnson’s hyperventilating exaggerations of Dennett… I’m afraid I find it sad when people think context is everything when interpreting the Bible but are perfectly happy to yank words out of context when dealing with opponents. Try reading Dennett’s actual book, not just a hostile review of it.

          • Sagrav

            I’ll grant you the fact that the Communists were largely atheist in their personal beliefs, but the Fascists? Um, no. The Nazi’s loved to use religious iconography and myths to bolster their propaganda. Remember that Nazi belt buckles were commonly marked with the phrase ‘Gott mit uns’ or ‘God with us’.

          • Brian

            Nazi’s loved to use religious iconography and myths to bolster their propaganda. Exactly right how does that not make them Atheists? If I don’t believe God exists I can’t use symbolism, myths and propaganda? Why? Unlike the Communists Hitler who was a very strong atheist personally thought that subverting the church was better than attacking it directly. Stalin in extermis against Hitler’s war machine also turned to religious iconography, myths and propaganda to rally the Russian people to his cause. This in no way diminish him as an atheist he was simply using images that worked.

            Mussolini was also an atheist other Fascists were weird like Quisling or ethnic/cultural Catholics like Franco. It was true that many German followers of the Nazis were Christians at least in a cultural ethnic sense but it was also true the most effective domestic resistance to Hitler came from Christians. Saying the Nazis were Christians is a big stretch and saying that Hitler was Christian just goes against what the man said himself.

          • RayIngles

            Brian – there are more possibilities than “atheist” and “Christian” in the world. It’s easy to show that Hitler wasn’t a Christian. That is not the same thing as showing he was an atheist.

  • Dody

    What religious folks don’t understand is that Faith does not equal Spirituality. Faith is indeed belief without evidence … this is exactly what sunday school teaches little kids, and I know this from experience. On the other hand, there is much to be said for embracing a spiritual view of the world, i.e., an awe at the beauty and wonder that is to be enjoyed without attributing these things to a creator. I would welcome the opportunity to “help people lose their faith” if it means opening up their minds to reality … one less “faithful” means one less potential sunday school teacher brainwashing kids to believe in fantasy despite a complete and utter lack of evidence.

    • dalleng

      Spirituality is not “reality” only an acceptance of the present. Spirituality teaches no past and has no future. Always spinning like a top, stagnant on it’s one point. A vanity of your intellect. Faith presents hope and is a virtue lost on Spiritualists

    • Utar Efson

      For some, faith may be without evidence, but the word that Bibles render in to English in the New Testament means ‘loyalty based on past performance’ which is very much an evidence-based.

      Christians and honest seekers (the latter, sadly does not apply to many Nu-Atheist cultists) have an embarrassment of riches: immense historical records to back up the texts of the Old and New testament, texts from early church thinkers, archaeological and cultural evidence that reveals that in the past God intersected with humanity two millennia ago.

      The faith of my parents (medical professionals in case you wish to impute their intelligence or reason) led Utar to Christ. The bounty of evidence built Utar’s faith.

      Atheism, while appealing to human nature is an irrational act of denial.


      • axelbeingcivil

        Atheism is, generally speaking, a response to a significant lack of evidence of the supernatural. Claims of archaeological records agreeing with old texts – which they sometimes do, sometimes don’t – doesn’t provide any proof of actual divine interaction. Indeed, I am curious what your particularly credulous take on historical claims of divine intervention leads you to conclude at the discovery of historical cities like Troy.

  • Joseph McKinney

    “But to commit a large part of your life to attacking God and those who believe in God strikes me as a strange obsession.”

    From the point of view of a militant atheist, I don’t see where this is a strange obsession at all. Atheists get religiously persecuted and solicited daily, most of the time by people without intention and often by people who don’t even know they are doing so.

    For RD to proselytize continuously and ardently is no different than the continual and ardent proselytization commanded by the Bible and committed by its’ adherents.

    How is the joy of helping someone find god any more valid or righteous than the joy of helping someone shed him/herself thereof? It’s not, unless you not an objective 3rd party observer, but an interested participant in the debate, which it appears to me the author is.

    • ADM64

      I think the point being made is that advocating for reason is not the same thing as attacking religion. In one case, an individual stands for something; in the other, he is merely against something. Smashing the temples and tearing down fences may be satisfying, but in the end, it is merely destruction. And in life, as in poker, something always beats nothing. If the something is God or religion and the nothing is atheism (divorced from any sort of broader, coherent philosophy and standing merely for not believing in God), then religion is likely to remain with us for a long time. If Dawkins truly wants to make converts, it should be to reason and a rational – but as yet unstated – philosophy and not simply to the absence of belief. To me anyway, it seems he is more interested in smashing religion than advocating reason. And atheism as such is not a proxy for rationality, although some try to treat it as such.

      Dawkins is a brilliant scientist and a very good writer on science; when he ventures into politics, ethics and economics, to the extent that he has, he espouses a kind of mushy leftism with more than a few hints that he favors a regulated economy. Perhaps he equates small government, individualism and capitalism with religion because they are both seen as right-wing in the US. In any event, in biology, he can understand how spontaneous order can arise through purely natural processes but in economics he seems to advocate some version of intelligent design, which is in contradiction to all of the political-economic evidence of the last 100 years. What this means to me is that his rationality is not applied as consistently in all areas as he might think. Christopher Hitchens was just as bad as he was to the end a socialist and impervious to evidence contradicting judgments he’d formed about public figures with whom he disagreed.

      • RayIngles

        Smashing the temples and tearing down fences may be satisfying, but in the end, it is merely destruction.

        Let’s put it this way: As soon as there’s an “Office of Unicorn-Based Programs” at the White House, I’ll start working to disabuse people of the idea that there are unicorns, too. And that won’t necessitate advocating for horse-based programs, either.

        In other words, believing that religion is wrong, and frequently causes waste and harm, can quite adequately justify opposing it.

        • ADM64

          If you could demonstrate that the zealous, single-minded pursuit of the destruction and disabusing of faith as such would lead to the embrace of reason, I would fully agree with you. I have not seen such evidence. What I have seen is that a lot of people have chosen to use atheism as a proxy for rationality and thus take advantage of the obviously non-rational nature of religion to provide themselves with a basis of personal moral and intellectual superiority over anyone who disagrees with them. There are many reasons why people oppose religion and they are not, by any means, because they value reason more.
          My post was therefore not an advocacy of religion/faith, it was an observation about the way movements tend to work and particularly about the psychology of true believers – whom incidentally are characterized by their zeal and failure to respect reason fully, not their faith or secularism as such. My observation and reading of the “New Atheists” leads me to that conclusion about them.

          In my judgment, simply claiming very broadly that religion is “wrong” without elaboration is nothing more than an assertion no different as such than claiming unicorns exist. In the last century, wholly secular movements – one of which claimed to be rational and scientific – killed upwards of 120 million people. If half the zeal with which the modern atheist movement attacks religion were as equally devoted to attacking socialist movements, I’d have more respect and trust for its motives. Communism and fascism in all their variants were “wrong” and “caused harm and waste” but I see much less emphasis on them in the cultural and intellectual landscape. Marxism is utter nonsense and yet commands academic respectability to this day. The thing is, though, that simply attacking communism or fascism would not suffice to put something better in their place. Indeed, fascists hated communists and vice versa, which only proves the point. One need not look at such extreme examples though: Keynesian economics was flawed in theory and failed in practice in the 1970s, and in Japan in the 90s (and arguably did not work even during the Depression). Sound academic research explained why and led to Nobel prizes when the reality mirrored the predictions. And yet, what did everyone turn to in 2008? There is not a White House office of Keynesian economics per se (and wasn’t under the Bush administration either) but there is in practice. Demonstrating against it would not, though, point the way to the correct economic theory.

          • RayIngles

            And if you could demonstrate that “atheism” was the same thing as “the zealous, single-minded pursuit of the destruction and disabusing of faith as such”, then I would agree with you.

            If half the zeal with which the modern atheist movement attacks religion were as equally devoted to attacking socialist movements, I’d have more respect and trust for its motives.

            Communist movements of the type you describe are thoroughly discredited today, already. It’s no more a potent political force than unicornism. There isn’t much in the way of serious efforts to impose or even really promote them in the West. Socialism is not necessarily the same thing, and in any case lots of things are called ‘socialism’ that don’t qualify.

          • ADM64

            I never said that atheism was the zealous single-minded pursuit of the destruction of faith. I said that Dawkins et al (and indeed your own responses so far) demontrate a greater desire to smash religion than to build reason i.e. that this seems to be their primary objective, and you seem to agree with them. Atheists come in a lot of stripes philosophically and politically. That’s because atheism as such is simply the rejection of a belief in God and faith. The opposite concept would be theism. However, there are no theists as such (even Deists don’t quite qualify): all religious people believe in something more specific than God and faith. The New Atheists collectively don’t seem to have a coherent alternative philosophy. They seem to think it is enough to demolish faith. Given the breadth of their public writings and actions, I would suggest the onus is on you to demonstrate that is not the case. To my knowledge, the only prominent atheist who advanced and advocated for an actual philosophy was Ayn Rand, and she’s been dead for a long time and is not properly included in the New Atheists.

            Given that Marxism remains a widely supported intellectual construct in academia and its assumptions have crept into huge areas of public policy and discourse, and given that our government is in the process of effectively nationalizing healthcare, I do not share your view of socialism’s death. People who would be dead set against communism see no contradiction between that and the view that government should “manage” and “regulate” rather than plan the economy, create jobs and the like, and would deny their views constitute socialism. The distinction between socialism and communism, while real, isn’t very large. Current western politics, I would suggest, remain dominated by essentially democratic socialist assumptions, whether they are called that or not. I would also suggest that the nationaist form of socialism i.e. fascism, still seems to have legs, albeit without the racialist and violent elements. I’m curious, though, as to your definition of socialism as it would tend to bound the discussion.

            Nothing I’ve written has said one way or the other whether I’m an atheist or a theist; you seem to think otherwise. The most you’d be able to take from my posts about my own views is that I favor reason, small government and capitalism.

          • RayIngles

            I said that Dawkins et al (and indeed your own responses so far) demontrate a greater desire to smash religion than to build reason

            And then you asked me to prove the converse, (“the onus is on you to demonstrate that is not the case”) rather than you offering to substantiate your assertion.

            The New Atheists collectively don’t seem to have a coherent alternative philosophy.

            Why do you assume they all must have the same philosophy? Representatives of many different religions have been gathering to protest what they see as a loss of religious freedom in the U.S. lately; must they all agree on every particular to oppose something?

            Anyway, can you not read Dennett, for example, who actually is a philosopher, for at least one example? As another alternative, what are your thoughts on “atheism+”?

            On a side note, again, you have equated “Marxism” and “socialism”. “All property publicly owned” is simply not the same thing as “community ownership or regulation of major industries”.

            And regulation is not the same thing as socialism, either. I’m actually much more in favor of the Dutch healthcare model than anything so far proposed here in the U.S. (Einstein is alleged to have said that “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler”. I think regulation should be as minimal as possible… but not less than that.)

            But this is a side issue to the real debate, and not one that I’m particularly interested in pursuing. Feel free to have the last word on it if you like.

            (Well, okay, one more word, but it circles back to the main issue. Is “opposing socialism” the same thing as “promoting capitalism”?)

          • ADM64

            Since you asked a couple of questions and gave me the last word, I will answer your questions.
            I don’t assume all atheists must have the same philosophy; I expect that people who are genuinely committed to reason will reach general agreement on fundamental principles and concepts even if they disagree on specific issues. I would agree with you that people who share concern over a common specific issue can come together to oppose something but that it is harder for them to unite to fight for something. Thus an atheist Marxist and an atheist capitalist and an atheist moderate could all agree to oppose the introduction of religious teaching in the public school system.

            Regarding Marxism versus socialism, yes there is a difference. However, public control/regulation of industry without actual public ownership is really a difference of degree rather than kind, at least in my view. Ownership is about control.

            Regarding regulation, I would agree it is not the same thing as socialism but only depending on the nature and degree. I have no problem with actual laws to govern public space that cannot otherwise be owned (e.g. laws regarding air quality). I have no problem holding people accountable for injury to other people’s person or property. I draw the line at any prior regulation that violates the presumption of innocence or that does not address a condition that cannot otherwise be avoided in the ordinary course of events (like air pollution). I am opposed to the regulation by government of wages, prices and the like, specific product regulations, or the general impairment of the freedom to contract. An enormous amount of our regulation falls into these categories. Once the government starts telling you how to conduct your business (or personal life), it has crossed the line. More broadly, when the government attempts to “manage” the economy via tax or fiscal policy, it has crossed the line into socialism.

            I did like your Einstein quote.

            With respect to your question whether opposing socialism is the same as promoting capitalism, the answer is no. That is why even the so-called fiscal conservative movement has been so unsuccessful even when it wins elections.

            Regarding atheism, my views are that there is no rational basis for believing in God and the burden of proof lies with those claiming His existence. Faith and reason are very different things. I think though, that there are many ethical teachings in Judeo-Christianity that have merit on rational terms. Thus, any religious teaching intended to apply to our actual life on earth should be evaluated on its rational merits and not simply dismissed because it is an article of dogma derived from faith. Broken clocks are still right twice a day after all. I also think that one Biblical truth that needs consideration in this debate is that “man cannot live by bread alone.” All humans – even those who claim otherwise – organize their lives around a set of assumptions that constitute a philosophy. Religion provides a ready-made set of answers to the fundamental questions and that is why it has persisted throughout human history. I think we would do well to consider that aspect of humanity’s nature and thus answer the question of why people believe in better terms than that they’re idiots. There are aspects of human experience that are highly uncertain and between that and a seeming need for something transcendent (by which I mean overarching and abstract not necessarily mystical), religion fills a void for many. Unless this need is understood and addressed, I stand by my view that religion will be with us for a long time.

    • Mack Enchesee

      “Atheists get religiously persecuted and solicited daily”, but that’s a good thing.

      • Nemo

        Mack! I thought you were crazy when I first started reading your posts, but now I can see you are brilliant! An excellent, well written Poe to mock the sort of far right fundamentalists who think everyone they don’t like is in cahoots. Well done, good sir.

  • Pat Robertson, Bryan Fischer & Tony Perkins are the real zealots.

  • Mack Enchesee

    Dawkins is really transperent scum. He revels in being the know-it-all in the room. The smartest man. The collectivist-progressive who is always smarter, better and morally superior. He is smug and contemptable. This collectivist-progressive ideology is the most profoundly destructive force on earth because it’s goal is the destruction of the acceptence of the world of free thinking and free ideas. No free will. Submit or be destroyed.

    • Sagrav

      In what way has Richard Dawkins attempted to destroy you? Remember, being mocked and derided is not the same thing as being destroyed.

      You have every right to believe silly things. Everyone else has a right to point out that you believe silly things.

      • Mack Enchesee

        Dawkins would be proud. Spoken with just the right amount of smug contempt.

        • Dorfl

          If someone speaks to you with smug contempt, then you get spoken to with smug contempt. That’s all that happens.

          You’re still not being forced to submit, or threatened with destruction.

    • Benjamin Funar

      That’s quite a mean spirited characterization of Dawkins. Prior to 2005, there were few public leaders or intellectuals that could say they disbelieved in god. The first openly nontheist member of Congress was Pete Stark in 2007. There are still 6 states which prohibit atheists from holding office and there’s a long history of discrimination against atheists.

      Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and a few others took the lead on arguing the obvious. That we’re all atheists about Thor, Isis, Zeus, Quetzalcoatl and that letting go of the last bronze age mythical god shouldn’t be grounds for discrimination. In fact it reflects a very rational choice in the face of the enormous modern evidence that shows those bronze age superstitions to be the creation of non technologically savvy men and not some universe, man creating deity.

      They then went further and made the case that to believe in these bronze age gods (Yaweh, Allah, Jesus) is unnecessary and irrational.That seems to be where they offended the religious and triggered reactions like Mack’s that they are being elitist snobs.


      It’s a difficult truth that The Bible, Koran & Torah tell a false story about the origin of the world and of man (Dawkins expertise). Instead we find a vast array of evidence that support an ancient earth in an even more ancient cosmos that has progressed through numerous cataclysms by very simple and comprehensible principals.

      It gets kind of awkward when you have to believe that a deity chose to do a hack job on the “real” 600,000 word origin story and then contrived to create a massive fraud of quadrillions of fossils, stars, DNA, rocks, minerals, photons that reveal an ancient, cataclysmic past. Ironically, any technologically advanced society that examined this vast evidence in a non superstitious manner would be granted many of the deity’s miraculous powers.

      Weird…. maybe even irrational to believe a deity would do that. Or then the deity lied. Again. Maybe it’s irrational to claim supernatural authority on social, political, scientific or ethical issues in the modern era when you’re supernatural foundation is so demonstrably fraudulent (one way or the other).

      • Mack Enchesee

        Baloney. (I mean that in the most respectful way.) It’s all about protecting the collectivist narrative.

        • Benjamin Funar

          I notice that you use that “Collectivist Narrative” phrase a lot in your replies on this site. I wonder what you mean by that?

          I went and read a couple blogs that seem to rant endlessly about this fictional semi communist, semi fascist ideology that is supposedly taking over this country. Is that what collectivist narrative means?

          It seems to me that the country we live in is vastly more influenced and controlled by billionaires and corporations that by populist ideologies.

          How exactly is it that an idea like “collectivism” is supposed to be gaining popularity and political influence? Does it offer something better or is it so insidious that it can disguise itself and trick people into believing it’s a good thing and then this idea morphs into something bad. ???

          • Mack Enchesee

            You know it. Richard Rorty is famous for it…“a new conception of what it is to be human.”This new conception, Rorty reveals, rejects all claims to “knowledge of God’s will, Moral Law, the laws of History or the Facts of Science.” All the better, exhorts Rorty, to make “shared utopian dreams” the guide to pragmatic and progressive politics. If this is new for you I recommend you catch up on your Rorty and Rawls.

          • Benjamin Funar

            Alright, that was an interesting journey. Rorty seems like post modernist BS that I thought got discredited by the Sokal hoax in 96. It appears there are some intellectuals that were influenced by him but none that get much traffic these days. There are also UFO believers and moon landing hoaxers out there too, and while they exist they aren’t really driving any successful social agenda (accept anti-science).

            Paul Bloom’s new book “Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil” has little to do with Rorty and has much to say about how we are a moral animal, endowed by natural selection with a rudimentary moral compass that is easily disrupted by fairness, greed, lust, envy and pain. That scholarship seems far more relevant and worthy of public discourse here in the 21st century than any ruminations on 2,000 year old bronze age fairy tales. That doesn’t forward any collectivist ideas but it does advance one of it’s tenants; namely that God isn’t necessary for morality.

    • Collins

      I agree with Benjamin here. I don’t like Dawkins. But I don’t think it’s helpful to cast him in apocalyptic terms. It does come across as mean.

  • Benjamin Funar

    It’s the 21st century and bronze age mythology and bronze age ethics don’t have much relevance to our modern technological society. RD is simply trying to point out that there is little value in those bronze age myths and they hold back understanding and utilizing the incredible progress we’ve made since then. We’ve long since eclipsed bronze age ethics with much more sound models that account for the frailty of the human mind to make good judgment. We no longer enslave, treat women as property, condemn children to the authority of abusive or negligent parents, or apply universal moral codes without the full context of the events and people involved.

    We live in a society where millions fight passionately over issues never mentioned in those bronze age books (abortion, gay rights, stem cell research) and yet they justify their zeal on them. RD is basically doing his best to point out that’s dishonest, irrational and nonsensical.

    We don’t reference the Pilgrims when counseling people about family issues, we don’t reference ancient Egyptian beliefs when constructing buildings, we don’t reference Roman methods when doing math. Why we give special credence to Palestinian bronze age myths in our modern 21st century society is absurd and an anachronism we need to move past to handle the real challenges of the 21st century. It’s fine to practice ancient rituals, just like it’s fine to do civil war re-enactments, those that do should have no special voice in society because of it.

    • Collins

      This is affectionately known as “arguing by the clock,” or “chronological snobbery.” In short, your argument goes “if it’s old, it’s irrelevant.” That’s rhetorically persuasive to a lot of people…but it’s philosophically absurd. It assumes that progress is inherently good. It really depends on what that progress is.

      • A Quantum Computer

        His point was not “if it’s old, it’s irrelevant.” Trying reading the post again, this time with the aim of comprehending it.

        • Collins

          His opening line is that “It’s the 21st century and bronze age mythology and bronze age ethics don’t have much relevance to our modern technological society.” His closing comment is that we don’t reference [insert older, less “progressed” way of doing X] because, I think the implication of what he’s saying is, “we’ve advanced past those ways of doing things.”

          Then this: “Why we give special credence to Palestinian bronze age myths in our modern 21st century society is absurd and an anachronism we need to move past to handle the real challenges of the 21st century.”

          I definitely see the tone of these comments as “we’ve made progress, therefore let’s discard everything that we’ve progressed beyond because it is inferior to where we are now.” I think that’s at least an unfortunate tone because all ethical reasoning builds on itself. All ways of understanding being human build on previous ones. Much like evolutionary biology–we don’t discard single celled organisms as being insignificant just because we’re way beyond that from an evolutionary standpoint.

          If you have a completely different reading of the tone of what he’s saying, I’m all ears 🙂

          • Benjamin Funar

            It’s not chronological snobbery. Pythagoras, Euclid, Sun-Tzu are all examples of ancient thought models that are still 21st century relevant. The Bible, Torah or Koran are interesting historical documents but as ethical treatise on the condition of man in the world, they’ve been significantly surpassed and upgraded. Reference Maslow, Rogers, Kant, Locke, Hobbs, Haidt, Rawls, Pinker, or Kahnemen and you have included a vastly more comprehensive, accurate and up to date model of thought about humanity and our moral or ethical behavior, norms and standards. A public discourse on that body of work would be highly relevant in the 21st century, but our attachment to aggrandize bronze age religious thinking prevents that.

            Referencing the Bible, Koran or Torah for history, cosmology, archeology, astronomy, mathematics, biology, sexuality, health or any other scientific topic and you’ve done the equivalent of referencing Dr Seuss for medicine. They are so thoroughly factually inaccurate as to be nonsensical and even dangerously wrong. They’re not progenitors (i.e. a cell to an organism) they’re factually inaccurate, bronze age era superstitious nonsense. RD is trying really hard to get religious people to keep their religion in their personal lives and leave it out of the public sphere where it has no business.

          • A Quantum Computer

            All ears but no brains, apparently. He contrasted features of older and more modern views on human nature and morality. It’s these differences that cause him to discard the older worldviews in favor of newer ones, not the mere fact that they’re old. All this would be clear to you from his post if your mind weren’t so hard at work twisting his words around so that you could use them to build straw men.

          • Collins

            Well, that’s snark, but not substance.

            There are two things going on in this discussion that caused me to comment: gross over-confidence in our ethical progress, and discarding old beliefs not based on their lacking truthfulness, but rather based on some murky assessment of perceived “irrelevance.”

            Regarding our ethical progress—yes, I’d say we have made some positive cultural changes and Benjamin lists out some obvious ones. But I would also point out that I think you’d be hard pressed to say that our actual inclinations are any different from people in the past. For example, I still think the kinds of internal attitudes that lead to slavery are still very much present (greed,racism). Maybe we just have [sorta] successfully limited the expression of those feelings in recent decades. So I think that raises a very good question of whether we’re actually better people or whether we just have better ethical theories. But that’s a rabbit trail and this is a discussion thread on the interwebs where people *always stay on topic (lame joke, no?)

            Anyway, in the original post Benjamin gives the example of how we’ve progressed ethically in our “21st
            century, modern technological society” over-against the “bronze age” myths and ethics in religious texts (and to that tidbit, I simply have to say…none of the texts referenced are part of the Bronze Age, but that’s beside the point).

            Now, consider the following example:

            1) Jesus of Nazareth argued that we ought to “love our neighbors as ourselves”

            2) Being a product of his ancient times, however, Jesus probably believed that the sun moved instead of the earth, that there were literal pillars that held up the earth, that the sky was really a big dome, etc. He probably didn’t have any understanding of neurophysiology.

            3) In our own sophisticated time, we know that Jesus was wrong about all these physical phenomena and that
            such beliefs are really irrelevant to our modern understanding. We “know” some things that Jesus didn’t.

            4) Therefore, since we in our modern, technological society know Jesus was wrong about science, we
            shouldn’t trust his ethics. We ought not
            to trust that we should “love our neighbors as ourselves.”

            I’m sure it’s obvious this is a textbook example of missing the point. This is confusing the legitimate progress we’ve
            made in some areas of knowledge (science) with refuting the claims of previous ages in other areas of knowledge (ethics). That’s just bad logic and I highly doubt Benjamin or the Quantum Computer would agree that this is a reasonable way of thinking. But I do think it’s a suppressed premise in the scheme that is presented.

            That’s why these ancient “myths and ethics” DO belong in public discourse. Until you can actually prove the claims that they make wrong—we shouldn’t discard them. I’m sure some of the claims we could attack. I don’t think any modern ethicist advocates returning to blood sacrifice to establish a contract. No doubt we as a society have made progress in the fight against slavery. And no, I
            don’t think we should use the Bible as a biology textbook or a treatise on physics or a handbook on healthy eating (Because who doesn’t love bacon?). But ancient ways of thinking are a lot more relevant than often are given credence. We can evaluate them on a case by case basis. But we can’t just say the Bible, Q’uran, and
            Torah are ethically irrelevant because we have scientific knowledge in a variety of fields that they just didn’t have.
            That lengthy list of philosophers and behavioral economists I think would take to task any such suggestion. Science does shed light on things (I’m a chemical engineer, I flipping love science…I do it daily). But it’s not the totality of knowledge.

            [My bonus point is that I think a lot of times some religious people have a hard time admitting that they can learn anything outside of their religious texts. I think that guys like RD have a hard time admitting that you can learn anything outside of labs]

          • Grotoff

            Where does Benjamin argue that “love your neighbor as yourself” has been refuted by modern ethicists? He’s arguing that values like “suffer not a witch to live” have been. That’s the point here.

            Ethicists since Jesus have responded to, argued with, and expanded on his message. Only referencing his work is like trying to understand government by only referencing Locke. It’s immature, reductive, and futile.

          • A Quantum Computer

            Collins: “Therefore, since we in our modern, technological society know Jesus was wrong about science, we
            shouldn’t trust his ethics. We ought not
            to trust that we should ‘love our neighbors as ourselves.’

            I’m sure it’s obvious this is a textbook example of missing the point. This is confusing the legitimate progress we’ve
            made in some areas of knowledge (science) with refuting the claims of previous ages in other areas of knowledge (ethics). That’s just bad logic and I highly doubt Benjamin or the Quantum Computer would agree that this is a reasonable way of thinking. But I do think it’s a suppressed premise in the scheme that is presented.”

            Genuinely annoying response here, Collins. No one is making the argument you’ve mentioned here, explicitly or implicitly. You’re just building straw men since the actual argument that was presented is not as easy to refute.

            No one is saying we ought to throw out all the ethical principles in this or that holy book because Jesus didn’t know about dopamine. What people are saying is that the ethical principles set forth in the Bible and other religious texts can be found in lots of modern literature and that the modern stuff is better by far, as it (1) generally includes the “good stuff” from religious books such as the Bible, (2) includes more inclusive and fairer principles than can be found in books such as the Bible, (3) doesn’t include all the “unethical ethical” principles and mumbo-jumbo that religious books contain, and (4) discusses ethical principles within a context of scientific, evidence-based information about human behavior, cognition, neurophysiology, and so on. Because we have this, we don’t need ancient holy books for ethical guidance. They should still be used as tools to study history, literature, changes in human thought over time, and so on, but it’s really tough to see how they’re necessary or even suitable for the building of a good ethical framework at this point in human history. Modern books and other aspects of modern culture can get the job done much better without loading one up with as many unethical principles and senseless notions about how the world works.

    • lottasplainin

      What peer-reviewed studies have scientifically confirmed that we are using valid units of measure to assess “value?”

      • Benjamin Funar

        A good starting place is the work of Jonathan Haidt. There are TED talks, public lectures and a good Wikipedia summary to start with. He and about 80 peers like him have published about 400 papers over the past 7 years on those types of topics. We are developing a scientific understanding of the brain and evolutionary basis for ethics, morality, political beliefs and even spiritual beliefs. It’s an exciting time in the study of what makes us human. I’d also recommend Daniel Kahneman, Stephen Pinker and Daniel Ariely to round out Haidt’s brilliant work.

  • bdlaacmm

    When St. John records the words, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” he is not saying there is something praiseworthy about believing without seeing. This is merely John’s version of the Great Commission. The passage is essentially the same as “Go and make disciples of all nations.”

  • lottasplainin

    Music, classical and otherwise, has been a huge part of my life for decades. I play in a pretty good orchestra. My dad was close to tone deaf. He understood that something meaningful to many people was going on that appeared to be connected with excellence in some way, but it did not speak to him. But he respected it. Dawkins, by contrast, strikes me as a guy who would be positively offended by others finding music meaningful. He would say: “look, there’s no scientific evidence of any kind that it contains any of the elements you claim it possesses. We can put it on an oscilloscope and prove decisively that it’s just noise. Granted there may some apparent regularity to it at times, but your claim that it has inherent meaning available only to some people is a complete fairy tale, without proof, and one that makes me very angry. Even worse, you musicians never cease to try to ensnare young folks into falling for and perpetuating your fairy tale. This is intolerable, and I’m going to attack all of you for it until my dying day.”

    • Benjamin Funar

      That’s a full on ad hominem attack. Dawkins never said that and your example is a total straw man with no connection to his arguments or reasoning. Music and religion are human behaviors/expressions with much value to human beings. They are beautiful, fascinating, wonderful creations of man.

      And, no one, tries to deny another person freedom or access to medical treatment or imposes a musical litmus test on politicians because of their musical tastes or preferences. We are all free to enjoy the music we like, engage with it however we want, recommend it to friends, celebrate it and honor it. A perfect example of what we should do with religion. Treat it like we treat music. And never use it to justify a political, scientific or medical position, policy or explanation.

      That’s the key issue RD and I have with religion. It gets misapplied to things it has no business being applied to.

  • ortcutt

    The question is whether someone chooses to be epistemically responsible or epistemically negligent. Faith is epistemic negligence, nothing more, and Dawkins is simply encouraged by the fact that more and more people are choosing to live epistemically responsible lives.

  • Guest

    My appreciation goes out to the author for writing “evangelical public intellectuals” in the first sentence. I was able to move on to another site without wasting my time here.

  • Sample1

    I’m at a loss as to what the author is trying to impart in less than 700 words here. Against my better judgement I plodded on past the red flag of “evangelical public intellectuals” in the first sentence only to discover a second red flag:

    >Why that might be so requires more of an explanation than I can do full justice to here. (Wehner)

    And here we have it. The proverbial special pleading of “if only I had more time or space I could make a compelling case for my position” trope. The fact is, Big Faiths have had millennia to make there cases. Their influence is the West (and arguably in State theocracies like Iran & the Vatican) is in decline.

    Fortunately, many people of faith have an apocalyptic belief that the world is proceeding “according to divine plan” and as a result harbor, I would say, a lovely apathy for furthering their own religious desires in society. In other words, the faith virus is ironically slowly eradicating itself. One can expect a few convulsive opinion pieces here and there as the death throes ensue, but the curtain is closing on faith.


  • Mark

    I’m confused. The author says this:

    “..beginning with his claim that faith is belief without evidence. That’s actually not true.”

    And then concludes his case for this not being true with this:

    “So there is something in the nature of faith, qua faith, that requires belief that goes beyond the available empirical evidence.”

    Am I the only one who reads that and thinks he’s actually arguing FOR Dawkins’ position?

  • sderamus

    Evidence for the resurrection? No. There is no serious evidence for the resurrection. People who believe this god man rose from the dead 2000 years ago are just deluded. As well as people who believe that asclepius, baal, osiris and a host of other dying and rising gods did. It’s absurd. The whole trick seems beneath the dignity of a supreme being. The sooner we give up religion, the better off we will be.

  • Grotoff

    There’s something beautifully convenient about the Bible containing an actual skeptic who makes a reasonable request to Jesus, aka prove it, and then the Bible goes on to say that people who don’t ask for proof will be blessed. It’s almost preciously naive.

    As an addendum, it is a priori impossible to “make a historical case for the resurrection”. You might as well say that there’s a historical case for the flying asetic in Assisi or for the vision to Caesar telling him to cross the Rubicon. History is about attempting to peer through the biases of chroniclers and examination of primary documents to reconstruct what probably, likely, happened. A miracle is automatically the least likely occurrence. Ask yourself, if it were a Hindu or Muslim miracle claim, would you give it equal credence?

  • Nemo

    Dawkins’ dislike of religion is no different from how many people despise Jar Jar Binks or the Twilight books. Religion has a much larger role in the world than those last two examples, so amplify the hatred accordingly, and Dawkins is the logical result.

  • Y. A. Warren

    Only an idiot doesn’t see that humanity has always attempted to identify the “special spirit” of humans. Too bad that Richard Dawkins apparently doesn’t believe in the science that shows special spiritual brain activity. He is a bully toward those who need to put familiar faces and names of all that they encounter in order to feel comfortable.

    There are many who are a-theists only in the sense that they don’t adhere to the limiting definitions of “The Sacred Spirit” (Sacred Energy) manifested in all the physical universe and beyond.

  • axelbeingcivil

    This article made me wince. There is so little empathy in it, so little desire to actually step outside the perspective of the author’s own life and consider why others might feel the way they do, that it devolves rather quickly into accusations that someone might disagree or proselytize purely out of spiteful envy, rather than a particular reason.

    First, let’s correct one particularly notable error here: Atheists, even those most adamant in their beliefs, are not attacking God, any more than someone who unveils the truth that Santa does not exist or bring children presents is in any way attacking Santa Claus. Pointing out how unlikely it is for a being to exist is not an attack on that being itself; it’s merely trying to convince the believers in that being that it doesn’t.

    Your comparison early on in the text declares that, while one cannot prove Christianity, one cannot also prove Socrates existed, which is an amusing kind of thing to admit in a defense of one’s beliefs so soon after suggesting that one could, indeed, provide at least an argument grounded in facts in favour of one’s beliefs (see: The suggestion of the Resurrection as a demonstrably historic event). However, it’s an interesting comparison to draw attention to: Why are there so many atheists and not a-Socratists?

    The answer, outside of philosophy and history classes, is obvious to anyone who can step outside their own perspective: We live in a society inundated with religion; one where people make judgements, set laws, and act in accordance with religious ideals constantly. While this might often be quite benign (who could dispute that giving to charity or feeling compassion for others is both beneficial to the self and society?), it is rarely entirely so. Often, quite the opposite. Within your own country, the United States, it was not until 1961 – within living memory – that Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas were forced – not chose to but were forced – by the case of Torcaso v. Watkins in the United States Supreme Court to remove religious belief as a mandated requirement for people to hold office. In 1997, Silverman v. Campbell in the South Carolina Supreme Court showed that even that ruling did not completely eliminate such things, as it was only then that the courts ruled that oaths to God as a requirement for employment in the public sector were unconstitutional.

    Religious and spiritual beliefs of every stripe have measurable and often tragic impacts on the world every day; sectarian violence is a particularly obvious one, but the smaller and less noticed damage is everywhere and far more often ignored. Superstitions like fortune-telling, that one must receive guidance through prayer, in “traditional healing” styles that have not been thoroughly tested, etc., cost the economy dearly, as well as the health of the people involved in many cases. Far more devastating are the demise of young children in the homes of those parents who refuse to treat easily treatable illnesses, because they believe their deity would punish them for doing so.

    Is it not reasonable to react against this? Is it not rational to do so? If you live your day-to-day life in a society where your most simple attempts to teach the best available scientific evidence for the origins of our species – and, indeed, all life on this planet – is met by people loudly shouting that not only are you a liar because of a mythic origin story in the texts of a particular religion, but that you are a vile sinner who deserves eternal suffering and damnation for doing so, would you not be inclined to try and sway people to your point of view?

    Mr. Wehner, this article you wrote today is harmful; it’s utterly myopic and devoid of empathy, written in a state of mind that refuses to look outside itself and see that other people who disagree with it might be acting on entirely reasonable motives beyond jealousy or mindless aggression. People who disagree with you are not crude animals; they have reasons and beliefs all their own. That someone who has worked in government administrations and is a senior fellow at an ethics and policy center would not acknowledge this in a piece of writing meant for the public is deeply distressing.

    Please, please, please, take a moment to step outside of yourself and reflect on what it might be like to be in other people’s shoes. Your life might be better for it.

  • Thin-ice

    Why does the author feel so threatened by Dawkins?

    And this claim: “there certainly is a case to be made – not a dispositive case but certainly a serious one –that the resurrection was an actual historical event.”

    Really?? If you take away the New Testament, there is ZERO extra-biblical evidence for the resurrection, or any of the other related events: eg, hundreds of long-dead zombies rising from their graves and walking the streets of Jerusalem. And no Roman or Jewish historians heard a thing about this event?

    The mere fact that he worked alongside Reagan, Bush Sr and Bush Jr makes me wonder about his objectivity and gullibility.

  • axelbeingcivil

    Hm. I wrote a rather long and detailed response to this article and the post isn’t here now, even though a reply I made to another comment is. Was there a glitch? Was it deleted? I am curious.

  • Brian Westley

    To take just one example, there certainly is a case to be made – not a dispositive case but certainly a serious one –that the resurrection was an actual historical event.

    And you want me to take you seriously?

  • luksan

    “And an indication, perhaps, that on some deep level, Dawkins carries some amount of upset at others for possessing something he does not.”

    That seems like a strange theory. Why would an atheist be jealous of a person of faith unless they were incapable of becoming a person of faith themselves? And if they are incapable of becoming a person of faith, why did God make them that way?

  • brewster101

    This is the sort of smarmy dishonest hand-wringing that we’ve come to expect from Christians. Why do some atheists seem so zealous or angry at religion? This very question could only come from a person who is in the oppressive majority. Do you similarly ask “Golly, why are some blacks so angry, why don’t they want to be good friends or ‘integrate’ with the white people, who only 50 years ago (and even worse for 300 years before), were clubbing blacks upside the head for sitting in the wrong bus seat, coming into the wrong restaurant, drinking from the wrong fountain, wanting something ‘uppity’ like an education or a decent job, wrongly arresting and convicting them of a crime because they were black?” You really want to know the answer to your questions, Mr. Wehner? Then go to Saudi Arabia, or Pakistan, and try being a proud Christian there. Just a few months is all it will take for you to understand, but then imagine, living under it from birth. Of course, it will never be the same, because you could easily flee to a more Christian-friendly nation, where you are not just ‘tolerated’, you are the majority in power. Maybe you grew-up in a progressive community and you truly are ignorant rather than dishonest. If so, let me remind you, there are 10,000 mini-theocracies, little Pakistans, across the USA, with populations ranging from 200 to 12000, where Christians have behaved and continue to behave little better than a ‘kinder, gentler’ Taliban towards infidels, skeptics, darkies, slant eyes, spics, rag heads, and other undesirables who dare to question or have different beliefs. Pray, sir, pray HARD that when the infidels are in power, we will have forgotten how you treated us.