Over the years, Richard Dawkins has made a pretty good living by trashing God. Dawkins, an ethologist and evolutionary biologist, says in his anti-religious diatribe “The God Delusion,” “When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called Religion.”
When the Englishman’s main target appeared to be Christianity, all seemed well. Dawkins accepted the book royalties, media appearances, and accompanying notoriety as his due. His, after all, was the party of science, of rational thought, of rigorous adherence to evidence. But when Dawkins began to aim his fire at the religion of Muhammad, his progressive peers, in the blink of an eye, switched his business card from atheist hero to Islamophobic bigot.
Nobody was more surprised than Dawkins, who realized too late that he had been living in his own delusion. It turns out that the New Atheism begets at least as many obscurantists as “religion” does.
The lifting of Dawkins’s delusion began shortly after a public radio station in Berkeley, California, rescinded its invitation for the 76-year-old emeritus fellow at New College, Oxford, to come and promote his latest book. It seems that certain folks in this progressive mecca had gotten wind of the professor’s incendiary remarks about Islam, and were saying that they had “hurt people.” Among many other comments, Dawkins had tweeted in 2014 that people should “always put Islamic ‘scholar’ in quotes, to avoid insulting true scholars,” and adding, “True scholars have read more than one book.”
More seriously, Dawkins has averred that Islam represents “the greatest force for evil in the world today.”
While the general manager said that the station “emphatically supports free speech,” he added, “We believe it is our free speech right not to participate with anyone who uses hateful or hurtful language against a community that is already under attack.”
One suspects that the general manager (and many secular progressives) had no problem with the countless hateful and hurtful quips by Dawkins directed at Christians (and Jews)—such as this gem: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
But now, in his own defense, Dawkins is trying to employ something quite new to him: nuance. In an open letter to the radio station, Dawkins said he has never attacked Islam, only the scientific ignorance, misogyny, and homophobia of Islamic “scholars” and apologists. Dawkins added, “Far from attacking Muslims, I understand—as perhaps you do not—that Muslims themselves are the prime victims of the oppressive cruelties of Islamism, especially Muslim women.”
Apparently the irreligious Dawkins, like many of his fellow secular leftists, believes he can divine the difference between true Islam and what he dismisses as mere “Islamism.” Two questions come to mind: (1) Do the Muslims he mocks agree with him? (2) Has he ever constructed such a large escape hatch for Christians? If God is only a “delusion,” it’s hard to take his distinction seriously. As he has said, “I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.” If that’s not a hurtful (not to mention wildly inaccurate) statement, I don’t know what is.
One thing is certain: Dawkins—like other public atheists—is starting to see the hypocrisy of his leftist fellow travelers. “I am known as a frequent critic of Christianity and have never been de-platformed for that,” he said to those accusing him of politically incorrect heresy. “Why do you give Islam a free pass? Why is it fine to criticise Christianity but not Islam?”
Perhaps the left’s inadvertent endorsement of Muslim sharia (in the context of its continual flouting of the Christian faith without consequence) reflects not just a desire to protect a supposedly oppressed religious minority but a fear of reprisal should Muhammad’s name or religion be profaned. One need only ask Salman Rushdie, the editors at “Charlie Hebdo,” or Ayaan Hirsi Ali what can happen to those who speak ill of the “religion of peace.”
Along with this want of courage goes a lack of intellectual rigor. In National Review, Elliot Kaufman writes that the New Atheism “was always fundamentally unserious. It does not even try to address the theistic arguments for the existence of God.”
I can attest to that. During a 2009 debate I moderated in Dallas on the topic “Does the God of Christianity of Christianity Exist, and What Difference Does It Make?” the late Christopher Hitchens fulminated aggressively against the “dictator” God of the Bible but barely engaged with the arguments of his Christian counterparts. To my surprise, “Hitch” was all hat and no cattle.
So here’s a gentle suggestion. Echoing my colleague John Stonestreet, “I say, let Dawkins speak.” Better yet, let him debate Christian philosophers, scientists, and other intellectuals on the merits. We’ll gladly give him a platform if he’ll deign to engage us—and we promise not to get our feelings hurt. Why?
Because this may be the only way Dawkins ever recovers completely from his delusion.
Images courtesy of Wikipedia and Mariner Books, respectively. Illustration designed by Heidi Allums.
Stan Guthrie is an editor at large for Christianity Today and for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview. His latest book is “The Seven Signs of Jesus: God’s Proof for the Open-Minded.”