Tuesday, October 02, 2007


Religion leads to Evil

From the smartest man on earth, Richard Dawkins (Ed. Note: not the cool one in Hogan’s Heroes) in Tuesday’s Washington Post: Richard Dawkins: OnFaith on washingtonpost.com

“There is a logical path from religious faith to evil deeds. There is no logical path from atheism to evil deeds”

…conveniently forgetting that such prominent non-believers as Joseph Stalin and Chairman Mao made the eradication of religion a key part of their assertion of total control. Since religion often acknowledges a higher authority than the state, it could seem a “logical path” for a non-believer who disagrees with such a hierarchical inclination to invoke various degrees of persuasion.

By persuasion, I assume you mean mass murder and expropriation of property.

I cannot agree with the first part of Dawkins' argument, though I agree with the second. No logical path leads to evil deeds either from the presence of religious faith or of atheism. Totalitarianism leads to evil deeds; atheism (which Stalin and Mao embraced and Hitler aggressively opposed) does not lead logically to evil deeds or to deeds at all.

Dawkins should have been a little more careful in his terms as well. Some religions (e.g. most forms of Buddhism, Jainism, etc.) do not postulate a deity, and the belief in a deity does not necessarily constitute or implicate "religious faith." Furthermore, religions don't necessarily focus on or even include "faith" as a present or at least significant element. The term "religious faith" reflects the creedal characteristics and history of Christianity; it shoehorns more awkwardly in the discussions of other traditions. This is not mere hair-splitting, but reflective of Dawkins' weak knowledge of religion as a category.

One of the things that leads me not to identify as an "atheist" is not the stupidity of some atheists, though some days that seems enough. It's that life is both short enough and complicated enough that one should live affirmatively, not defensively or reflexively in opposition to persons or concepts with which one has a fundamental disagreement. I would rather advocate aggressively for freedom and individual autonomy than be an "anticommunist" or "antifascist." I think that astrology is buncombe but am not an "antiastrologist" to use Sam Harris' example.

If you think that life from a secular viewpoint is beautiful, interesting, free, worthwhile, filled with positive opportunities - then advocate that, rather than identifying primarily as an opponent of those who disagree with some of your premises. Sam Harris gets this better than Dawkins does.
good points Bruce - I think Dawkins is just getting more and more strident as he seeks to stay ahead of the pack
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