Friday, 23 August 2013

Richard Dawkins - Hardline religious fundamentalist?

Richard Dawkins is probably the best known advocate of athiesm in the UK. He believes that science has disproved the existence of God and that all followers of religion are deluded and misguided. Many people agree with this view. For the record, I don't but this doesn't really have any bearing on why I find Mr Dawkins to be advocating a very harsh, cruel and divisive brand of athiesm. I believe in live and let live and I respect the right of everyone to make up their own mind about the existence or not of God. I have no objection to athiests setting out their case and having reasoned debate about it. I have no objection to them spending their money on adverts on the side of buses, if thats what they want to do. I do find people who want to convert me to athiesm after six bottles of wine a tad irritating and boring at times, especially I would never try and impose my views on them. If people want to know why I hold my beliefs, they are welcome to ask. They are welcome to outline their own views, they are welcome to debate them.

I regularly discuss religion with all manner of people, I have the belief that anyone who seeks to do good things and not harm others is on the right track, regardless of their system of belief or lack of it. I believe that anyone who seeks to use religion or athiesm to harm other people, or compel them to do things they don't wish to do to be evil. I believe we are all part of the same family and we should treat each other with  respect and dignity. People have used religion for many evil purposes throughout history, but I happen to believe that in countries where Athiesm was adopted, such as the USSR and China the same thing happened. I personally see religious disputes in the same light as football violence. I believe it to be tribal hatred, practised by idiots who have rather missed the point of it all. I would not associate myself with any view which seeks to discriminate against anyone on the basis of their religion. That is why I was shocked and moved to write this blog when I saw the following Tweet posted by Richard Dawkins

In effect Mr Dawkins is saying that he encourages families to ban contact between Grandparents and Grandchildren if the Grandparents are not athiests. I cannot imagine how hard this could possibly be for a Grandparent. It is cruel and unfair. My parents were both staunch Roman Catholics. Both of my elder brothers are athiests. My parents would have preferred my brothers children to be baptised. This did cause a little heartache to my parents, but my brother was not prepared to compromise and that was that. My father loved his children as much as he loved my sisters children who were all brought up in the faith. When my father died unexpectedly in 1987, the whole family was devasted. I cannot imagine the heartache that would
have been caused had my brother adhered to Mr Dawkins directive.

I believe that anything which drives wedges into families is evil and corrosive. We may not agree with the religious views of our siblings/parents/children etc, but we have to respect them and love them anyway. My brothers both disagree with my views on faith, but we would defend each other to the death and we respect each others right to hold those views. One would assume that most athiests subscribe to the view because they have a sound intellectual argument to support their views. They should also have an understanding of why their parents subscribe to a different view. Surely the correct way to deal with this situation is to say "Grandma believes this for these reasons, but we have a different view because...." using this approach will allow the child to think about the issue and decide on which road is right for them. I have always encouraged my children to think for themselves about such issues. I have suggested that whatever decision they make is informed and rational. I have no idea whether they will grow up to follow my faith. To be honest, it is their decision and whatever one they make, it will be the correct one for them and I will respect it.

I happen to believe that the existence of God is and always be impossible to scientifically prove or disprove. Belief is a matter of faith and for the individual to decide upon. As such I believe athiesm is simply another form of religion, albiet one with no deity. It is a system of belief. Whilst most athiests I know would recoil at Mr Dawkins suggestion, it does trouble me that in his role of as the Archbishop of Canterbury for athiests, he is spreading a message of hate and division. I support free speech and the right of anyone to hold whatever view they choose. I do however think that in light of his comment, I have formed the opinion that in some ways Mr Dawkins is a dangerous religious fundamentalist. In my book anyone who preaches division in families is someone who has gone too far.

********** Updated 12:43 ***********
Many thanks to Aaron Shaw who suggested I look at the full twitter exchange preceding this. When I see a tweet which I use in a blog, I will check it for a chain, but the one above had none. Mr Shaw rightly observed that there were two preceding tweets, which when read as an entirity change the meaning.

It seems that the whole situation is a little more complex than I originally assumed. What I hadn't realised was perhaps how accurate my description of Mr Dawkins as the Archbishop of Canterbury of Athiesm actually was. I find it truly bizarre that someone would tweet him about a family row. Whilst I can understand his initial response, does it really help? It strikes me that the mother and daughter are both similar characters, who have issues backing down. If I had a row with my daughter, I most certainly wouldn't email the Pope. Mr Dawkins response is extremely hard line. As none of us know the background and what caused the fallout, as it is unlikely to be a single issue, it is a bit difficult to draw too many conclusions, but Mr Dawkins clearly does not feel at all constrained.

In his comments, he mentions things that families don't fall out over. I know families who have fallen out over all of the things he mentions. Politics, food and sport have caused all manner of issues. Even music, I know loads of families where musical difference have caused punch ups. Look at the Davies brothers in the Kinks.

Aaron Shaw is right that I misinterpreted Mr Dawkins tweet, but I am not sure that his response is any less fundamentalist. Surely he has merely given reinforcement to a family feud over religion. If it was between a Catholic Mum and a Protestant daughter,  he would surely have reacted different. As one of the protagonists belonged to his faith, he took sides, without any knowledge of the full background. I'd say that is a fairly fundamentalist world view.

My view. Girls, get over yourselves and start thinking about the daughter/grand daughter rather than this silly grandstanding. 


MadeinEnglandFashion said...

Hey. They be much I find to agree with/disagree with in your post but to say he 'encourages families to ban contact between Grandparents and Grandchildren if the Grandparents are not atheists' is simply wrong on a point of fact. A complete misunderstanding.

It was in reference to the tweet before it "My daughter will not let me see my grandchildren [because of my non-belief]"

He was commenting on an incident in which a religious woman would not allow her mother to see her children because of her mother's non belief. He was pointing out that it would be very unlikely that anything else (food, politics etc) would lead to this level of division in a family other than religion. That we may all adhere to tribalism of one kind or another, but that religion is particularly potent and therefor, in his view, poisonous.

Whether your overall assessment is fair or not, this really isn't an example of it.

AndrewEvansMusic said...

He was, in essence, saying that religion (in this case) had driven a wedge between a family which you agree is 'evil and corrosive'.

Rog T said...

I have updated this post as I missed two preceding tweets, which change the context completely. I think these issues are important, but it is also important to tell the full story, hence the update.

Ditto the above. You were right to point out the lack of context. I hope the update has corrected this

AndrewEvansMusic said...

Sorry, both those comments were me - this is the proper me!

I'm sorry to say, but even in your correction I feel you're completely wrong on this matter (like I said, I might find things to agree with but given it's this matter that moved you to blog in the first place, I think that's the most important thing).

If the two people were Protestant/Catholic, his claim that religion is divisive would still stand completely (arguably twice as much). It would still meet your criteria for something evil and corrosive.

Ron said...

I'm a bit confused by the logic: "atheism is simply another form of religion .... It is a system of belief"
so atheism is a system of beliefs of dis-beliefs, a system of disbelief of beliefs? or what?
but there is another problem. it is the old black crows problem. if all crows are black then anything black is a crow. so any system of beliefs according to Rog is a religion, which of course makes nonsense. because basically we are not discussing beliefs, but ideologies. the belief in god is only one aspect of (nad for many not the most important one) an this ideological system we called religion. and now i've to join a meeting so i'll leave you with that.

Rog T said...


Had I seen the tweets which lead up to the original blog, I probably wouldn't have bothered writing a blog at all. It is my policy not to remove blogs once up, simply to explain if I have modified my view as a result of further information. Sometimes this can make posts seem rather odd, but at least people don't read things and think "he's changed that???"

The comments added reflect my view of the exchange and I hope acknowledge that I misinterpreted the tweet as a result of not seeing the full conversation.

I find much of what Richard Dawkins says of a similar tone to other people of other faiths who are absolutely convinced they are right.

He generally irritates me, in the way that many fundamentalists do. I know people who agree with him think that he is marvellous but I think that he fails to acknowledge the fact that most of the things he blames on religion are simply down to human nature.

I think if there were no religion, we'd simply argue about political ideology or find new ways to be unreasonable. This is what happened between China/USSR.

I happen to believe that rampant capitalism and right wing extremism is a far bigger problem than anything you could blame on religion. I also don't think that the religious right are religious or right. I think they are a menace.

AndrewEvansMusic said...

Far more admirable to leave a mistake up and open to scrutiny than to take it down or backtrack. 'When the facts change, I change my mind'.

You seem to have downgraded him from being an actual religious fundamentalist to someone who sounds a bit like them sometimes and irritates you in the same sort of a way. Atheists (and I assume Dawkins) are convinced only that no case has been made to prove the existence of a God.

Human nature, godless communism, free markets and the religious right (or wrong) are all topics that deserve more attention than I can provide right now...

Jim said...

There are also some subtler misrepresentations. In the opening paragraph we have this:

"He believes that science has disproved the existence of God"

I very much doubt you could you provide an article where Dawkins has stated this belief. At best it is an oversimplification but unfortunately an oversimplification to the point of being a misrepresentation.

Now, if I paraphrase, In the God Delusion (I read it over a year ago and this is from memory but I'm pretty sure I have it basically right), he claims that a universe with a God should be different from one without and that it should be possible to investigate the universe to see if this is the case. This is in response to NOMA type claims which put forwards the idea that science and religion have non-overlapping magisteria and therefore can be considered separately.

Regarding the disproof of God, to my knowledge he has never claimed any such thing. He will have said, in so many words, that there is not enough evidence for God to justify the statement that a God exists. But saying there is a lack of proof for the existence is not the same as saying that a God has been disproven.

The closest you might find from Dawkins is an argument that there are many claims that can never be disproved (see Russel's teapot amongst others) but that the burden of proof lies with the person making the claim, not with the person asking for evidence for the claim.

I'd encourage you to read some of Dawkin's works. I think if you were to you'd find him much more thoughtful, agreeable and less abrasive than he's portrayed in The Telegraph. Climbing Mount Improbable (which is about evolution rather than religion) might be a good place to start. He won't claim that naturalistic evolution disproves God, but he might observe that the theory of evolution can explain speciation without requiring a God. Not the same thing at all.


Rog T said...


You make a couple of assumptions. You encourage me to read Dawkins work. I have. You assume I am an idiot because I disagree with you and I am uneducated. I don't assume you are an idiot because you disagree with me and I make no assumptions as to what you have read.

I have no issues with Dawkins scientific observations, I just disagree with his conclusions. The statement you make " He will have said, in so many words, that there is not enough evidence for God to justify the statement that a God exists." can easily be turned around to justify the existence of God.

As these things are matters of belief, I find such arguments pointless. I don't really think anyone has to justify their private beliefs. If they seek to impose their views on other people, the burden of proof should be on them, so as far as I am concerned as Dawkins seeks to proselatise for Athiesm, the burden of proof is on him.

It appears to me that Dawkins makes interesting philosophical arguments, but these are a long way from being game, set and match. You may disagree, but please don't assume I am an idiot who is unaware of his writings.

I would also ask you to reconsider the suggestion that I have misrepresented anything. I've expressed a personal viewpoint. If I was seeking to misprepresent anything, I would have deleted your comment. As it is I am quite happy for people to read it and if they are unfamiliar with the works of Dawkins, to be informed of good source material.

In my opinion Dawkins is worthy of study. I think that if it is approached with an open mind, it can help clarify ones views about religion. In my case, I concluded that Dawkins rather missed the point. I apologise if that seems like heresy, but I have to be honest.

Jim said...

Rog, having never met you I don't think you are an idiot, and I have no reason to think as such.

The misrepresentation comes from statements such as ""He believes that science has disproved the existence of God". If you can show that this isn't a misrepresentation then by all means please go ahead and post somewhere where Dawkins has made this claim and I'd happily retract with an apology.

My implication that you have not read his works stems from attributing to him things which he has never said. If you have read his works then I'm surprised you would say he has made claims that he has never made.

I certainly agree, as would any secularist, that everybody should be free to take up whichever religion they choose, for whatever reason. I really hope it works for you and for the most part I find Christianity relatively benign. I certainly wouldn't put any effort into trying to convince you to give up your religion because I consider it your private affair.

If by "impose" you mean force, to my knowledge, Dawkins has never tried to impose his views on other people. Nor would I.

In almost every other regard, it is the job of the person making the positive claim to provide the proof. The minimum atheist position is not that no gods exist, it is a rejection of the statement that a god exists. This is an important distinction and those aren't the same thing. Understanding this is just a means of understanding the atheist position, I'd say that without understanding what atheists believe it is naieve to write articles criticising this group.