Chapter 8 Summary
Chapter 8 is Dawkins’ argument for why religion is not just something we should dismiss and ignore but rather actively oppose. Religion is not just wrong, it’s dangerous.
Religion glorifies unquestioning faith and belief regardless of the evidence. So it is diametrically opposed to science and learning and tries to suppress them. In fact, “fundamentalist religion is hell-bent on ruining the scientific education of countless thousands of innocent, well-meaning, eager young minds.” Atheism, on the other hand, embraces evidence and fact and is not based on blind faith.
Religion also teaches moral absolutism where there is absolute good and evil. This philosophy is dangerous because it creates persecution and injustice against those that are morally “bad.” Dawkins proceeds to give numerous examples including persecution of homosexuals, violence against abortion providers, and various hateful quotes from the “American Taliban” (e.g. Ann Coulter) who represents modern Christian absolutists.
Dawkins concludes by arguing that all religion is the problem, not just “fundamentalists” or “radicals.” After all, faith itself is “evil precisely because it requires no justification and brooks no argument.” Further, religious extremism is not a perversion of some “real, decent religion” because there is no “demonstrable standard to pervert.” In other words, all religion is wrong, whether radical or not.
Chapter 8 Response
Dawkins continues to incorrectly define faith as belief despite the evidence, perhaps in the hope that if he says it enough, people will believe it. In asserting this definition, he sets up his favorite false choice: you either support ignorant religion or educated science. Logic and Light has addressed this issue here and here and clearly shows that Dawkins is just plain wrong logically, factually, and historically. Christianity is not opposed to science but was actually a driving force behind the development of modern science.
Dawkins’ hypocrisy is on full display as he attacks and demonizes religion for teaching moral absolutism and breeding intolerance. Seriously? One can hardly imagine a more intolerant person than Mr. Dawkins and he is clearly convinced that religion is absolutely wrong and morally corrupt despite his denial of moral absolutes! That is his whole point for Chapter 8.
Further, the “evidence” Dawkins uses to prove his point is extremely weak. He points to shocking quotes from the so-called “American Taliban” and others that have written letters to him to illustrate the evils of absolutism. If the best evidence he has are ignorant quotes from extremists (e.g. Ann Coulter is not a spokesperson for Christianity!) and fanatics, that even Dawkins’ admits are not consistent with the religions they espouse, he is in trouble.
Dawkins’ discussion of abortion is another example of his gross mischaracterization of an issue to try and indict absolutism. First, Christianity does not oppose a woman’s sovereignty over her body. In fact, this is a human right, not just a woman’s right. But the issue to be decided is whether or not the unborn child is a human being. If it is, Christianity teaches that the right to life trumps the right to sovereignty.
But rather than deal with this issue honestly, Dawkins distorts the pro-life side. He argues that pro-lifers are opposed to anything that harms the potential for life. In so doing, “even resisting rape could be represented as murdering a potential baby.”1 Seriously? Such a statement is despicable and a gross distortion of the truth. The pro-life movement is not concerned with potential life, but with protecting actual life, which its proponents believe an unborn child represents.
Finally, Dawkins’ assertion that all religion is bad again illustrates his “unquestioning faith” straw man and his hypocrisy. There is no question that certain religious radicals have perverted their faiths and done terrible things. But these are done by very small minorities within the faith community. They are the result of evil and disturbed people, not religion. Why does Dawkins give atheism a free pass for the terrible things some atheists have done? Perhaps because most atheists don’t do terrible things. He should apply the same standard to Christians.
As to his statement that even moderate religion has “no demonstrable standard to pervert,” I have to wonder if he has ever actually read the Bible. When Jesus says that the greatest commandments are to love God and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:26-40), is He not creating a demonstrable standard? What about when Paul describes how Christians should display “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23)? Wouldn’t the world be a much better place if people, including Mr. Dawkins, acted in these ways?
Chapter 9 Summary
Chapter 9 discusses why the teaching of religion to children is a form of abuse. Dawkins goes so far as to say that being brought up Catholic is arguably more psychologically damaging than being sexually abused. He further states that “children have a right not to have their minds addled by nonsense, and we as a society have a duty to protect them from it.”
Chapter 9 Response
Honestly, by this point, I’m just getting tired of answering Dawkins’ ranting. To compare raising a child in a religion to sexual abuse is absolutely inexcusable. Mr. Dawkins was raised in a religious home. Would he honestly prefer to go back in time and be molested instead?
Further, his assertion that society has a responsibility to “protect” children from religion should send a shiver down your spine. Presumably, “society” here should be read as “government,” since it is through governments that most societies typically assert and enforce such things. So Dawkins believes that government should have more responsibility for teaching children right, wrong, and “truth” than parents! How can anyone believe this? Does government have a good track record of guarding the truth and being free of corruption? This is just an unbelievable and indefensible position.
Chapter 10 Summary
Dawkins concludes The God Delusion by describing how God and religion have existed throughout time to fill one of four “gaps” we face. These gaps are explanation (how and why we came to be), exhortation (moral instruction), consolation, and inspiration. Dawkins discusses how science superseded religion in regards to explanation and that religion fails to provide exhortation. Now he focuses his attention on consolation and inspiration.
God may be able to provide consolation, in a similar way to an imaginary friend or a placebo. Because “false beliefs can be every bit as consoling as true ones, right up until the moment of disillusionment.” But since religious people aren’t excited to die, they must not really believe what they claim to believe anyway. So the consolation provided by religion is rarely genuine.
In terms of inspiration, Dawkins admits this area is subjective. But he makes the case for why atheism and science are very inspirational to him. Science has taught us so much, and yet we are just scratching the surface. The physical and quantum worlds are absolutely fascinating and he is thrilled to live at a time when humanity is pushing the limits of understanding. Consequently, at least for him, science again far outperforms what religion can provide.
Chapter 10 Response
In his concluding chapter, Dawkins again totally misses the mark. He is quite wrong, as we have seen, that science has replaced religion in terms of explanation and exhortation. His arguments fall equally flat on consolation and inspiration.
Dawkins’ argument that Christianity provides little or no consolation because Christians aren’t excited to die is weak on several points. First, we have to distinguish between a fear of death vs. a fear of dying. The process of dying can be unpleasant or painful, so it is natural to wish to avoid it. Secondly, Christians believe life is a gift from God and that He put us here for a purpose, so it is entirely consistent to want to live as long as possible. Further, Christians may wish to avoid death to spare their loved ones pain or the unknown hardships of living without a potential caregiver. We must also remember that theologically speaking, death is unnatural and originated as a punishment, so it should be expected that Christians try to avoid it. Finally, even for the Christian, death is a transition to something that is at least partially unknown. Fear of the unknown is normal. So at the end of the day, Dawkins’ argument can be answered in at least five different ways.
As for inspiration, Dawkins is quite right that science is amazing. Many famous, Christian scientists (e.g. Newton) agreed and used science to unlock the fascinating wonder of God’s creation. Where Dawkins goes wrong is that he forces an incorrect either/or choice between science and religion. In fact, both can be and are true. In other words, so-called “final” and “efficient” causes can exist and work together. But, as Paul points out in Romans 1, Dawkins is content to stop and observe the marvel of creation but ignore the Creator.
After reading all of The God Delusion, a few things become very clear. First, Dawkins hates the very idea of God. Secondly, he is more interested in defending his version of reality than in finding actual truth. Thirdly, Dawkins seems to believe in an “ends justifies the means” ethic and is willing to distort practically anything to banish religious thought.
Dawkins’ hatred of God is evident in many ways. He creates countless straw men of God and proceeds to viciously attack them. Against these targets, he is very effective at proving his point. The problem is that he attacks a god that doesn’t exist. In fact, neither I nor most Christians believe in the god that Dawkins disproves. As Frank Turek points out, Dawkins is actually attacking the same kind of Old Testament idol that the Bible itself refutes!2
Further, since Dawkins rejects all religions, he groups them together and treats them the same. Dawkins is quite right that most of these religions are false and worthy of being shown for what they are. But one cannot throw out the proverbial baby with the bath water. As we have already discussed, the rejection of a lot of wrong answers does not necessitate the rejection of the right one. And Christianity has tremendous evidence to support its truth, which Dawkins conveniently ignores.
In ignoring the evidence for Christianity, creating straw men, and distorting Christian beliefs, Dawkins shows that he is not interested in finding truth. Rather, he finds Christian doctrine and morality to be distasteful, so he must prove them false. So his true motives are based more on his personal tastes, emotions, and worldviews than on objective fact. As Pascal states “People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.”3 Dawkins does not find the idea of an omnipotent, moral Creator who holds us accountable to His standards to be attractive at all. So he rejects it and then makes the “evidence” fit his desired conclusion.
In chapters four and five, Dawkins makes his case for morality without God and he seems to believe that he is a moral person. I have no doubt he believes this to be true. But in looking at the totality of The God Delusion, it is clear that he does not have a high degree of integrity at all. He willfully and knowingly distorts Christian beliefs, ignores evidence, glosses over glaring problems of his own worldview, and displays stunning hypocrisy. While I doubt he would say “the ends justify the means,” his work clearly illustrates that he believes it to be true. Lying and misrepresenting is OK if it gets people to deny God. In so doing, Dawkins shows that he is the one succumbing to self-delusion. And no amount of PhDs, articulate arguments, or best-sellers can change that.
- Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin 2006. 339
- Turek, Frank. Stealing from God: Why atheists need God to make their case. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress 2014. xxi (Introduction).
- Ibid, Pg. 112.