I love Richard Dawkins’ writings. With the exception, that is, of The God Delusion. Though having said that I admire his courage in publishing it extremely. This is a book that glows with sincerity. How God would love to have him on his team. Nevertheless, I’ve never read so much nonsense in my life. How did such a great writer come to write such a book? He caricatures religion and then condemns the gross caricature in which no intelligent believer believes, he has completely misunderstood Aquinas especially Aquinas’s argument from design, has no idea of what the Christian doctrine of the Redemption is, thinks prayer is asking a little man inside your head to stop it raining on the day of the church garden party, and his only interest in the Bible is hunting down examples of God behaving badly, which it is not difficult to do. I want to discuss all these aspects in subsequent blogs. But for now I want to talk about Dawkins on the moral zeitgeist. The complacency of these chapters astonishes me. In these pages the book would escape from error into comedy, were it not that the implications of such complacency are so tragic.
With the decline of religion and the rise of science the moral zeitgeist, thinks the Professor, is gradually and irresistibly improving. In the nineteenth century sailors thoughtlessly extinguished the dodo by clubbing this gentle creature to death for sport. Nowadays ‘such behaviour would be unthinkable’ and the loss of a whole species would be regarded as a tragedy. You might think that atheists too have their moral monsters. What about Hitler and Stalin? Hitler was anti-Semitic because he had been brought up as a Catholic and Stalin had been an Orthodox seminarian.
I find all this amazing. Richard Dawkins must know better than anybody that many of his scientific colleagues think that we have not merely extinguished the dodo but are well on our way to extinguishing half the species that exist during our lifetimes (Proceedings of the American National Academy of Sciences October 2008, but many other sources too). The great majority of climate scientists are forecasting a devastated earth if we don’t set about quitting fossil fuels decisively and immediately. You might have thought that in the light of such dire warnings people would have been worried to death about their childrens’ future. But not a bit of it. Beside the economy climate hardly registers as a political hot topic. How can you explain such folly? In my view, this destruction of planet earth and so many beautiful life forms that it contains, because we are too – what is it? lazy? stupid? mesmerized like rabbits in headlights? – too whatever we are to quit fossil fuels and all the rest of our destructive practices, this is the greatest evil mankind has ever committed. We are destroying the very earth and it is we who are doing it.
Dear Richard Dawkins, I address you urgently. Humankind and all the other species unfortunate enough to share our planet with us are in grave peril. Despite my lack of enthusiasm for The God Delusion I admire you greatly because, among other reasons, you are the greatest scientific communicator in the world. Could I put it to you that Bicknell’s thrush and the beluga whale and the chequered skipper butterfly, let alone every human child in the world, need the extraordinary sincerity of your voice more than religious fundamentalists do? I do so wish you would campaign to awaken humanity to the abyss into which it is now so blindly peering instead of obsessing on and on about religion, and, even worse, congratulating us because, such sensitive souls as we now are, we are so very, very sorry about the dodo.
Tailpiece: alas, alas Hitler was anti-Semitic because he had been brought up as a Catholic. The Church’s record on this issue as on so much else is simply appalling. But could there have been other influences as well? Just a teeny weeny mention of Hitler’s Social Darwinism?