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Whatever you do, don’t call me an atheist.

It will probably come as no surprise to hear that, on the whole, I’m not a true believer. I don’t believe in God, Allah, Jesus, Mohammed, or any other higher power that is on offer. I have come to this belief (or lack thereof, as the case may be) after many years of thought and personal exploration. I don’t feel the need to “convert” religious people to atheism, nor do I feel a particular need to constantly argue about belief with them. Simply, they believe, and I don’t.

Recently, however, I’ve started including a caveat whenever religion is discussed – I don’t believe in God, but I’m not an atheist. The reason I’ve started doing so is because I find myself disinclined to be associated with some of the more famous atheist names, and some of the more recent atheist activities. I don’t believe in God, but I don’t believe in Dawkins either.

Richard Dawkins is a very talented and intelligent man. His books are interesting, compelling, and convincing reads. Broadly speaking, I believe the same things he does (i.e. in the existence of evolution, that evolution explains our development, that there is no higher spiritual power, etc). I don’t, however, believe that the best way to go about spreading your message is to be abrasive, combative, and, to a certain degree, as extremist as those you deride.

Due to his status as a prominent atheist and his obvious pro-evolution stance, Dawkins appears in countless interviews and programs. One such example, which I found particularly hard to watch, and which demonstrates my difficulty with Dawkins, is his interview with a creationist woman named Wendy Wright. I’ve embedded the first part here, you can follow on to watch the entire interview (7 parts) on youtube.

I found it genuinely difficult to watch this interview all the way through, and probably not for the reasons you might expect. Granted, the creationist is quite annoying and her laugh/dismiss way of answering each question gets old very quickly indeed. But equally annoying is Dawkins’ interview technique; he doesn’t address any of her questions, merely batting them away. Rather than addressing her points, he simply verbally bludgeons her for the duration of the interview. In short, while it is supposed to be an interview, it is actually two people talking beside each other, with neither listening to, or addressing the queries of, the other party.

The documentary “The Root of All Evil?” aka “The God Delusion” is another program which, in my opinion, misses the mark. In this program, Dawkins had the opportunity to address genuine questions and issues, but instead, he simply paraded the worst examples of extremist faith believers possible, to reinforce his own point that religion is the cause of all wrong. While it is true that there are extremist factions associated with almost every religion, the majority of followers of any religion are not represented by these extremists. Choosing only extremists to demonstrate what is wrong with religion is fundamentally flawed – it doesn’t really represent any of those belief systems accurately, and it only demonstrates the beliefs and practices of a minority of followers. Rather than consulting anyone with more moderate beliefs (i.e. one of the majority), Dawkins specifically selects the most extreme believers, knowing that it is much more difficult, if not impossible, to construct an argument for those extremist beliefs that would harm others, for example (who would really argue that it is correct to want all non-Muslims off the lands of Muhammed, and that it is acceptable to resort to violence to achieve that?).

What’s so annoying about this is that it is poor, lazy argument technique. It is harder to paint those with moderate beliefs, the majority, as crazed, dangerous, or insane, so he doesn’t try. And this is exactly the kind of argument that he will not tolerate from any believer, as seen recently in his reaction to the Pope’s comments with regard to atheism and Nazis. The Pope’s comments appear to be directed at atheist extremists, and while it is not made clear what he sees as an extreme atheist, what is clear is that he is, somewhat ironically, employing the same strategy as Dawkins – highlight the worst possible example, and imply that they are the majority. It’s sloppy, lazy, ignorant, and offensive to imply that simply because extremists exist that everyone who believes anything (even if that belief is no belief) agrees with the extreme views. And Dawkins is often as guilty of that as the various Creationists, Muslims, and religious leaders he interviews and rallies against.

I absolutely don’t support the Pope, or any of his declarations that seem to imply the worst of any who don’t believe in God, but that doesn’t mean that I think it’s acceptable to lower myself to his level by painting all religious people as fundamentalist extremist nutters. To do so will, ultimately, achieve nothing; no one will learn anything, it will only serve to prove to each side of the debate that they were right to assume the worst of the others.

Indeed, one could argue that this has been shown by the Pope’s recent visit. The comments made in his speech about atheism rapidly overtook most of the other issues to do with his visit (e.g. child abuse, monies from fund-raising, etc.) and brought out the worst in all concerned, leading to the word Nazi being used more times in the last week than I have seen it used in several years previous. True believers from both sides (yes, atheist “true believers” too) spent the duration of the visit trading verbal blows, and by the time it was all over, both sides were convinced that their assessment of each other was correct. After all, did the Catholics not call atheists Nazis? And did those Nazi atheists not do all within their power to disrupt the Pope’s visit, up to and including threatening arrests, violence, etc? Well, no, not really. An ill advised comment in the Pope’s speech led to a ridiculous game of chinese whispers, resulting in people maintaining that the Pope had said outright that atheists are modern-day Nazis, and overreaction to internet chatter and personal opinion led to prominent atheists (such as Stephen Fry, Terry Pratchett, etc) being virtually tarred and feathered by newspapers, and even to people being arrested, to protect the Pope.

The demonisation of atheism in the media means that many people will believe that the Pope was right to compare atheists to Nazis, and that being an atheist means that you want to murder the Pope, declare anarchy in the Holy See, and redecorate with a combination swastika and pentagram theme. The demonisation of the Pope in the media (mostly internet based, to be honest) means that many people will believe that the Pope actively molested children himself, and that all young people should be kept at a safe distance, lest they be sucked in, molested, and warped by his papal-magnetic-child-bothering field, provided he’s not too busy spending money senselessly and denying any and all accusations.

Time and time again, both sides of the debate engage in the same ridiculous, over-the-top mud slinging, and afterwards, they go home, safe in the knowledge that they were right after all. Surely it is time for a new tactic? Would it not be more effective to ignore the ridiculous comments, and instead focus on the real issues (e.g. child abuse, money, etc)? Would it not be better to prove disparagers wrong by behaving in a dignified and mature way?

Argue against religious belief if you want, but please do so logically, rationally, and well. Using twisted, exaggerated, contorted examples of faith does no one any good, and merely serves to show that fundamentalists exist in every walk of life, even if they choose to call themselves atheists.

39 replies on “Whatever you do, don’t call me an atheist.”

A clarification: Point in fact, I am, indeed, an atheist. I don’t believe in God, and I haven’t for some time. I’m not sure if I ever did. When I say above that I’m not an atheist, perhaps I should have included quotation marks around it – I am, by definition, an atheist, but I refuse to be a rumour spreading, mud slinging, crazy atheist. I’m just someone who doesn’t believe in God.

I think you’re missing the point entirely. There is no such thing as religious moderation. You’re either religious or you are not. There is no inbetween. Dawkins learned this years ago and has formulated his strategic, logical and rational views thereof to speak exactly to this point.

I think a lot of people don’t understand this underlying philosophy and hold it against him as a shadow of doubt without looking into his logical and rational views thereof. I believe you made the same mistake.

Dawkins isn’t out to personally attack people, he’s out to destroy the “virus” that is ogranized religion. We need people like him because they get the rest of us to ask questions. However, what i don’t like about your blog post is that instead of asking more questions you jumped to conclusions. I think too many people make that mistake.

And, of course, you’re more than entitled to that opinion. Insofar as you say that I don’t understand, I will point to my own experience and education in an attempt to prove otherwise. I have a double honours degree in computer science and biology, and studied computational biology and bioinformatics for 2 years. This course specifically dealt with evolutionary biology, and I learned not only about the concepts of evolutionary biology, but the practicalities such as the lab work (both biology and computer based) needed to examine connections, generate phylogenetic trees, etc. In addition, I have also read all of his books, followed his media career by watching most of his interviews and programs where possible, and reading articles and blogs by him. With all of this in mind, I feel relatively confident in saying that I do understand his views quite well, and in many ways, better than the average reader.
With that said, while I understand his views, I don’t agree with the way in which he increasingly chooses to present them to the public. It is that, and not his fundamental points, with which I disagree.
In response to the assertion that I jumped to conclusions, I can only assure you that I wrote the above post after long thought, and many scrapped drafts. I rarely publish hurried posts, or posts that I’m not 100% happy with, so I’d like to think that in the post, I’ve considered the material available and drawn my own, reasonable conclusions from said material.

You wrote off the entire aspect of “Atheism” on one vocal anti-theist. Hardly a logical or rational conclusion to make. Not only that, but can you cite any specific evidence in which the case he presents is wrong? or incorrectly presented?

Would we be better off just letting the pope call athiests natzis?

Would we be better off letting creationists teach creationism as science?

The reason I say you didn’t read his books or understand him is that he spends hundreds of pages in his latest books, speaches, writings and debates speaking about how there is no such thing as Religious Moderates. They *ALL* fall back to irrational, illogical and mystical beliefs.

Its hard to explain that to people without pissing off a few people, but i hardly hold that against him.

I don’t agree with him 100% either, just as I don’t agree with my wife 100%. It doesn’t mean i write off atheism in general or dissavow women in general 🙂

“…there is no such thing as Religious Moderates. They *ALL* fall back to irrational, illogical and mystical beliefs.”

Excuse me, but anyone can believe any damned irrational thing they like! It’s only when they try to insist that everyone else should believe the same irrational thing that anyone has any business getting in their way.

What is so wrong with that statement? Its the truth. The fundamentalists are like the tip of the iceburg while the “moderates” are the people floating under water that you can’t see. Its all the same ice berg in the end.

I never said religion is wrong or bad, i just stated its irrational, illogical and mystical.

How is it disingenous? The second you let “beliefs” trump logic you become irrational yourself. Everyone has the right to their own opions, however, you can’t have your own facts. If we spoke to the facts of the matter in a rational way it would be hard to refute Dawkins claims and if you did refute them you would have to have sufficient evidence for such and not just a “belief” thereof.

What’s disingenuous is your claim that you associated no negative value judgement with religion, when your entire position – which you helpfully repeat – is predicated on irrationality being undesirable.

In essence, you appear to be claiming that just because you have asserted that all X is Y and all Y is P, you cannot necessarily be inferred to have asserted that all X is P. I hope this makes it clear to you that your claim in this is illogical. Since you yourself have extolled the value of logic, I look forward to your retraction.

Unquestionable irrationality is the foundation for religion. I find that entirely undesirable and I retract absolutely nothing.

X vs Y? really? straw man…

Do you have any evidence that suggests irrationality is positive and logical? Irrationality not being based upon subjective beliefs, but verifiable facts.

Wouldn’t anyone who today claims the earth is flat be irrational? is it rational to support their claims even though the evidence says other wise? would that person be seen as logical??

@byron But everyone has beliefs which there is no evidence. How do you know the material world exists or that other people have thoughts and feelings like you do? Indeed what evidence do you have for the belief that you should not believe something without sufficient evidence?

“Do you have any evidence that suggests irrationality is positive and logical?”

You’re setting up a strawman. I said, and would say, no such thing. I merely pointed out a contradiction in your stated position, and I have to say – your reaction to my doing so is *quite* irrational, and highly emotive.

This is what I mean by fundamentalism. The point upon which I challenged you is relatively minor – I merely pointed out that you could not seriously maintain that you had not sought to paint religion in negative terms. In response, you seek to characterise me as arguing in favour of irrationality, which is unsupportable. As I stated – because I have disagreed with you on one small point, you now feel free to put me in the box marked “enemy of reason” without any further consideration of what I might have been saying.

That’s fundamentalism.

“Dawkins isn’t out to personally attack people, he’s out to destroy the “virus” that is ogranized religion.”

He isn’t succeeding. If anything, he’s shoring it up. Successful arguments need to be subtler, more nuanced, and at least a little prepared to engage and concede individual points in order to get the gist of the argument across. Dawkins can resemble a chess player who will never sacrifice even a pawn.

Now, I read The God Delusion, and I enjoyed it greatly – but almost every word within it was familiar to me, because it almost exactly matched the arguments I used to see on alt.atheism back when I was 19 – pointless arguments grounded in mutual antagonism that never went anywhere and had begun to bore me silly by the time I was 20. That’s the problem, I think. For anyone who is neither an atheist nor a fundamentalist, Dawkins is offensive; for anyone who is an atheist, he’s engaged in an argument we’ve already resolved.

And quite honestly, given the utterly unyielding nature of his arguments now, I wouldn’t be remotely surprised to hear that he’s become an equally vehement exponent of Catholicism in twenty years. Those of us who are confident in our lack of faith can afford to give a little more ground – just as those who are most confident in their faiths tend to be on the more reflective ends of their religions.

If he was shoring up religion, why does religion fear Atheism so much?

Just how is Dawkins offensive? From my perspective he’s entirely “Defensive” answering to religious faith. The god delusion wasn’t a cheerleading book for any atheist movement, it was an answer to the questions that people of faith challenge atheists upon.

1.Atheists can be happy, balanced, moral, and intellectually fulfilled.
2.Natural selection and similar scientific theories are superior to a “God hypothesis”—the illusion of intelligent design—in explaining the living world and the cosmos.
3.Children should not be labelled by their parents’ religion. Terms like “Catholic child” or “Muslim child” should make people cringe.
4.Atheists should be proud, not apologetic, because atheism is evidence of a healthy, independent mind.

If you had the answers to all of that at 19 and 20 then more power to you.

As for his “unyielding nature” i’m not sure what he has to yield to. I think Dawkins is most confident in his lack of faith, so much so that he is whole heartedly anti theist.

Is there any answer I could possibly give to this that you wouldn’t dispute?

I grew up around fundies – was one myself until I choked on it at about 14. I learned to recognise them. The primary characteristic is that it isn’t sufficient for them to be right – everyone who disagrees with them must be wrong, and must be *shown* to be wrong. And there’s absolutely no arguing with them, because as soon as you disagree with them on one point, however slight, you’re in the “wrong” camp.

I’m not sure what you’re saying here. Dawkins doesn’t do opinion pieces, he’s very much about attacking the socially accepted “domain” and “Truths” of religion and turning them upside down where evidence to do so is strong enough to support his position.

You have your right to have your own beliefs, however, you can’t have your own facts. Logical debate and rational discussions can only come from the facts. If you have subjective views you hold as truths, its not the fault of Dawkins for not accepting them.

Right vs wrong is meaningless in Dawkins domain of evolutionary biology and statements thereof (its either proven right or wrong, not believed to be right or wrong). If you want to have a scientific philosophical view of morality then check out Sam Harris 🙂

One point, though: I would be delighted if you could furnish us with an exhaustive definition of “fact”.

Your comment made me chuckle because it was the one major thing that occurred to me. Surely the way to clear the name of atheists is by example, not by disassociating yourself with the concept.

I’ve had quite a few debates over the last few days with creationists and if the endgoal for Dawkins is to eradicate religion from school then he’s going about it exactly the wrong way. The reason why intelligent design made an appearance is precisely because theists perceive science as a threat. I believe that science cannot answer the question about the existence of a supernatural being precisely because science is not meant to deal with the supernatural, only the natural.

In his stridency, Dawkins has given a lightening rod to those fears and many debaters on the side of evolution (including myself) are regularly tarred as merely Dawkins’s sheep.

One comment in his defence, however: I think that his current stridency is borne from a deep frustration at people like the lady in the video (it’s ironic that I posted this video on my blog for the opposite reason 🙂 ). I don’t believe that he was “batting away” her questions, I think that it was her persistent refusal to deal with his direct answer on a point of fact (and even push on as if he had accepted her inaccurate portrayal of evidence) that resulted in his refusal to move on. He even admitted as much at one point in the interview.

Sorry Colin can I pick you up on one thing there:

“The reason why intelligent design made an appearance is precisely because theists perceive science as a threat.”

I accept that a particularly ardent, paranoid and deluded group of theists do just that, but that sentence implies that all theists do so, or that perceiving science as a threat is an inherent part of theism. This isn’t the case.

Other than that, I agree with what you said.

Michael, you’re right, I meant “some theists”. The major mistake I was making in the debates was assuming that they even care about intelligent design being scientific or not, they really want to prevent science from becoming a monster that wipes out religion. I don’t believe that the majority of scientists hold this view any more than I think that all theists believe science is a threat, as you say…

True enough, and in fact some people said as much to me on Twitter. I suppose that, to be honest, I should have made it clearer in the blog. I was going to go back and edit it, but since I had already published it, it seemed a bit ingenuous.
The fact is, I am an atheist, by virtue of the fact that I don’t believe in God. I try to be consistent in my views, and not to bludgeon people with them, because otherwise it would just be laughable for me to rebuke evangelical religious believers for doing so! I suppose that my intention was not to imply that I was disassociating myself from the concept, but rather from the perception of “extreme atheist”. And, while I can understand how he would have gotten frustrated in that particular interview (I certainly was frustrated just listening to it), I think that he would be better served by channelling that frustration elsewhere. He is extremely intelligent, and a prolific writer – surely there are better ways for him to get the message across than by appearing boorish on tv screens across the nation?

I see it differently.. He rarely if ever attacks anyone personally, he just attacks the concepts of modern religion. Its only the social norm to feel personally attacked when someone makes fun of your religion.

However, to put it into perspective, i see plenty of Christians who only make fun of Islam or Buddhism or Judaism or Hinduism and vice versa, yet they only take offense when someone makes fun of THEIR religoin.

The same could be true for someone trying to defend NO religion. We’re all human! 🙂

Also, I hardly see his shows as “boorish” hehe.. “Boorish” is sitting through a Roman Catholic Wedding for 2.5 hours

In other words, you buy into the pejorative view of atheism in this blog post and it does no one any good but give credence to the pejorative view thereof.

What are your thoughts on Sam Harris? Hitchens? Other “notable” atheists?

I wholeheartedly agree. Can I extend the call from your final paragraph to those who would argue for religious belief as well?

It’s such a shame that attention has been drawn from real issues, such as child abuse, HIV/AIDS, reconciling factions involved in sectarian conflict, and so on, and diverted towards unconstructive “religion iz teh evil” type arguments.

Whilst I very much admire Dawkins for his exposure of dangerous and cultish evangelism, I am still unable to find any basis for the extrapolative conclusion that all religion is automatically bad. The standards for evidence seem to slip when it comes to bashing faith groups: unrepresentative samples, arguing from an emotional basis, quote-mining/cherry-picking/context-stripping of religious texts, appealing to popularity (how many times has this poll http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2006/dec/23/religion.topstories3 been trotted out?).

I’ve been thinking about writing a blog post going into this in more detail. But I must admit I’m rather wary of the reaction I’d get. It can be lonely being a moderate sometimes! Maybe though, having seen this, I might finally do so. I feel inspired to actually try to organise my thoughts on this issue into something coherent. Thanks!

Point of clarification: I’m not an atheist. I’m a Christian, and have been committed so since I was 18, mostly as a result of the supportive, intelligent, thoughtful church environment I was brought up in. Here, I was actively encouraged to question, challenge and discuss the meanings of bible stories, particularly in the context of the modern world, and not just blindly follow what the minister said during the sermon. Sadly, my personal experience of churches since then has been varied and not very positive. However, my stance is that while there is still some of that left in the church, it’s worth hanging on to, with the hope that it’ll grow again.

I find discussions of the kind shown here between Dawkins and Wendy Wright intensely annoying and I wasn’t really sure why until I read this. I thought it was because Wright was just annoyingly unmoving but you’re right, Dawkins isn’t really helping here; it’s just two people desperate to have the world believe what they do and it really achieves nothing at all.

I could care less what Creationists think, other than finding their views sometimes odd, but I do resent the evangelism that has them telling me I’m a bad person and wanting to sell their religion to me – even the Pope is coming to my country and telling me that not believing in his god makes me somehow wrong – and that’s exactly what Dawkins is doing.

Okay, a few things that occur.

1. You’ve lost me already in the title. I’ve really never seen the term “atheist” being used to describe a political position, or a membership of some club which you can renounce if its leaders or other members start going a way you don’t like. The way I’m familiar with the word, if your answer to the question “Is there a God?” is “No”, then you’re an atheist. Denying the term because of other atheists you don’t approve of seems as silly as if I tried to deny being white because of some of the shit white people have done in the past (and I’m pretty sure that’s collectively worse stuff than anything Dawkins is guilty of). It’s just a descriptor. You can be an atheist and not like Richard Dawkins. You can be an atheist and not have heard of Richard Dawkins.

2. In doing this, though, and giving up on atheism in its entirety because of the things you disagree with about Richard Dawkins, are you not over-simplifying your portrayal of the entire movement, and painting it all with an extremist brush, in precisely the same way you criticise him for doing to religious groups? A major part of your problem with him is the way he acts as if all believers were fundamentalist nutters, but the way you talk about atheism here seems to be doing exactly the same thing.

3. In particular, there’s an implied dichotomy in the first paragraph which seems to split the movement into the atheists who are happy to live and let live, be nice to everyone, and keep their opinions to themselves, and the other atheists who can’t stop arguing the point with any believer they encounter, want to convert everyone else, and are basically the equivalent of Christian evangelical missionaries. It’s not explicitly stated, and I doubt you’d actually hold to this idea yourself, but it’s an assumption that can be read into the way you phrased the first few lines.

The major unstated premise there, which I have a problem with, is that sitting quietly and letting everyone else believe whatever they want to believe without bothering them is a more commendable approach, compared to tiresomely trying to argue your own point of view. And I really don’t agree with this. I have religious friends with whom the subject of their faith and my lack of it never even needs to come up in discussion. I’ve had chats with creationists at work where I’ve tried briefly to explain evolution, but then left them to it and got back to gossiping with them about the latest episode of Dexter.

But standing on a platform and denouncing someone else doesn’t always make you a tedious, self-obsessed, ideological zealot. Sometimes it just means you’ve noticed that thousands of children have been sexually abused over the course of years, and the head of the organisation responsible for covering it up is being greeted with reverence by our elected government. Or that blind religious faith has inspired people to murder each other in numbers not really possible with secular humanism. And that these are things about which it’s worth expressing disapproval.

4. I questioned this earlier on Twitter, and you repeat in this post your aversion to being “as extremist as those you deride”. The extremists of the religions Dawkins is deriding are, at their worst, sexually abusing children, covering up the sexual abuse of children, and blowing up themselves and others. I get that you don’t like his debating style, but I don’t see how this is in keeping with any sense of perspective.

I have to say I agree with you on this. I would still call myself an atheist but usually I slip the word passive into the ensuing explanation of how I’m anti-religion not anti-theist. Atheist’s are one of the most mistrusted people in society, a label that the majority don’t deserve. I do admire Dawkins, his latest book on evolution is a fantastic read but he can go over the top on the atheism front, for example trying to suggest “Brights” as the new name for atheist. Unfortunately, like other groups we are stereo-typed by the most extreme among us (because that sells newspapers), the rest of us must deal with the flak

Great post. What I’m hearing a lot on both ‘sides’ recently is a desire to stop all the childish point scoring and enter a more grown up discussion. That can only be a good thing in my opinion.

If Dawkins was “childish” in his view or debating thereof i don’t think he would have the prestigious following, debate or lecture & book circuit he has. Even Seminaries and Theological institutions invite him to debates. I’d say he’s a very humble and well mannered man considering the people & force he is up against 🙂

That’s an appeal to popularity. Evangelist preacher Billy Graham and homeopath Dana Ullman have large and “prestigious” (which is a subjective term you haven’t adequately defined) followings. Doesn’t make them right.

You also mentioned in an earlier comment that Dawkins “spends hundreds of pages in his latest books, speaches, writings and debates speaking about how there is no such thing as Religious Moderates” as though this volume of output makes him right. It doesn’t; I refer you to Messrs Graham and Ullman again as examples. What matters is the substance, the quality of the argument. I would appreciate some clarification as to how this argument goes. If there really is no such thing as “religious moderates” then allow me to be the first.

Something else doesn’t quite sit right with me: you say there’s no such thing as a “religious moderate” and then seem to imply that this means there’s no such thing as “atheist extremism”? Have I misunderstood something? Could you clarify?

I found the video you posted intensely frustrating to watch. I simply don’t understand why people feel the need to set up evolution and creation in opposition. There is nothing inconsistent in believing that God created the universe in which evolution occurred. It’s a false dichotomy. Pope Benedict himself commented on this topic:

“Currently, I see in Germany, but also in the United States, a somewhat fierce debate raging between so-called ‘creationism’ and evolutionism, presented as though they were mutually exclusive alternatives: those who believe in the Creator would not be able to conceive of evolution, and those who instead support evolution would have to exclude God. This antithesis is absurd because, on the one hand, there are so many scientific proofs in favour of evolution which appears to be a reality we can see and which enriches our knowledge of life and being as such. But on the other, the doctrine of evolution does not answer every query, especially the great philosophical question(s)[.]”

In spite of how intelligent, well-spoken, and qualified Prof. Dawkins is, all Ms. Wright would have had to do to defend her beliefs would have been to acknowledge the strength of his scientific position but also present a complementary religious position. In trying to go up against him on scientific grounds, she simply showed her own ignorance and lack of training because she had to continually side-step Prof. Dawkins’s questions – and, when she didn’t side-step his questions, her direct responses showed that she has virtually no understanding of the scientific issues involved.

The only point at which I thought Ms. Wright presented herself very well was when she said that everyone should be treated with respect, regardless of whether or not they were, for instance, disabled. Her strong and clear rejection of utilitarianism only really came out, though, because Prof. Dawkins persisted in trying to get to the heart of what her ultimate objections to evolution were (refusing to be distracted by her repeated insistence that there isn’t enough evidence to support evolution, as clearly he knows otherwise).

Finally, to make a brief response to your comments on the Pope: I trust you realise that much of his mentioning of Nazis came in the context of the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. Hearing a German pope condemn the evils of Nazism and pay tribute to the bravery of British pilots is not insignificant for British people, even today, and was clearly a goodwill gesture. Regarding his comments on religion and society, he spoke out against intolerance of all kinds. Given your stated desire for balanced discussion of these topics rather than fiery polemic, I would have thought that would be welcome.

In AJ Jacob’s book The Year of Living Biblically, he talks to the chairman of an atheist society. “What’s it like chairing meetings of a group of free thinkers”, he was aked. “It’s like herding cats”.

The Church (whether headed by bishop, televangelist, imam or guru), like any human institution, is about power and protection of power. It takes a concerted effort to fight against it. But this is where the curse of the cat-herder kicks in. The strategy may be agreed, but the tactics are going to push and pull in all directions.

So what’s agressive for one is merely assertive to another, and we all go home shaking our heads.

In AJ Jacob’s book The Year of Living Biblically, he talks to the
chairman of an atheist society. “What’s it like chairing meetings of a group of free thinkers”, he was aked. “It’s like herding cats”.

The Church (whether headed by bishop, televangelist, imam or guru),
like any human institution, is about power and protection of power.
It takes a concerted effort to counter it. But this is where
the curse of the cat-herder kicks in. The strategy may be agreed, but the tactics are going to push and pull in all directions.

What’s agressive for one is merely assertive to another, and we all go home shaking our heads.

I tend to agree with you. I enjoy Dawkin’s work, but the ones on religion are the ones I enjoy least.

Most religious people accept evolution nowadays, and most of them have heard most of the arguments he marshals against religion. He’s preaching to the choir, to use a totally unsuitable metaphor.

Wherever religious belief comes from, it sure as heck doesn’t come from logic, reason and evidence. You are hardly going to dissuade anyone just by putting forward a logical argument.

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