Wednesday, 23 June 2010

The God Delusion on Channel 4

I will try to keep this as far from a rant as I can. I'm watching Richard Dawkins on 4OD in a series called 'The Root of all Evil?', and it is fascinating.

I do have a problem with Dawkins, and I should confess that now, but my problem is not that he is an atheist; rather, it is that he sees things in very black and white terms. He views all religious experiences as being 'the first step to young men with bombs in rucksacks' and says that 'even so-called moderate believers are part of the same religious fabric [as Osama bin-Laden and the taleban]', and that all with faith 'encourage unreason as a virtue'.

The problem is that this view is so distorted that I wonder if he would recognise a 'so-called moderate' if he fell over one. You know, Professor Dawkins, there are some of us who agree with you that the world is over 4 billion years old, and that evolution is indisputable scientific fact.

In fact, I would go even further than that. I know many Christians who positively thrive on the scientific method in their theology. To be more accurate, I suppose I mean the Socratic method (one cannot, obviously, test philosophical and theological reasoning in a lab). Like Dawkins, I love the times when other people from my academic discipline are able to come together to argue, debate and maybe even change one another's views. This tradition, although I called it Socratic, is also a very important part of Jewish tradition. Christianity and Judaism thrive on debate, discussion and the idea that the Word of God is both unchanging and of constant relevance.

Richard Dawkins does say, in fairness to him, that he doesn't hate anyone. I'm not sure this is borne out by the bigoted language he uses. I find it is frequently offensive, and if he were to talk that way about any other group in society it would be considered so and not aired. However, I am glad he is able to broadcast and to talk. I am glad that he challenges fundamentalism where it becomes dangerous, but I worry that he doesn't see a difference between 'death cults of suicide bombers' and the average church, mosque, or synagogue attendee.

I don't pretend to know everything. I have deep questions about the world that my faith can't answer. Science isn't there to fill the gaps in my knowledge of God, and God isn't there to fill the gaps in my scientific knowledge.

I hope I have been able to communicate that I don't disagree with him on everything, but I feel like Dawkins uses poor methodology to research his atheist work. He refers only to the extremes, never to the religious folk who might actually agree with him on some parts of his research. I find it telling that he doesn't talk to someone like Karen Armstrong, a former nun and expert on the semitic/Abrahamic faiths, or Richard Holloway, formerly Bishop of Edinburgh and both a relativist and a moderate. Is he too scared that he can't challenge the middle ground?

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