The Dawkins Delusion


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The lifting of Dawkins’s delusion began shortly after a public radio station in Berkeley, California, rescinded its invitation for the 76-year-old emeritus fellow at New College, Oxford, to come and promote his latest book.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.”

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  • Just One Voice

    Islamism? Hah, that’s funny.

    I’m a total outsider when it comes to philosophical debate and all of that. Yet, even from an outside view, people like Dawkins appear like nothing more than hamsters spinning their wheels. They invent new words, they think & talk in never-ending circles, and–my favorite–they stop talking not to listen to opposing sides, but only to think about what they’re going to say next.

    Perhaps, these behaviors are a part of the reason the Bible commands things like 2 Tim 2:23-25, James 1:22-27 and James 3:13 (plus many others that I’m not thinking of right now).

    • Scott

      I like the hamster metaphor! You are right about: “and–my favorite–they stop talking not to listen to opposing sides, but only to think about what they’re going to say next.” But I don’t believe all are like that (most maybe).

      The Holy Spirit is always at work and powerful though. Don’t forget that many prominent Christian thinkers are converted atheists (CS Lewis is one example) and today’s evangelist must speak the language of our secular society. One heart converted for Christ is worth 10,000 fruitless conversations on the hamster wheel of debate! : – )

      • HpO

        Testify, then, of any “one heart converted for Christ” resulting from the thoughts of “prominent Christian thinkers (who) are converted atheists” and from the speech of “today’s evangelist (who does) speak the language of our secular society.” Which, after all, is “worth 10,000 fruitless conversations on the hamster wheel of debate!”

    • jason taylor

      Really? To me people like Dawkins, appear like people enraged by injustice without a proper outlet.

    • HpO

      And how aren’t Christians in a “philosophical debate … hamsters spinning their wheels”, too?

      • Just One Voice

        Let’s look back at my comment: I see I didn’t specify Christians or non-Christian. So, I didn’t single out either crowd; just lumped ’em all together. I’m sorry but, I think your implied accusation is null.

        Again, I realize I didn’t specify exactly, but when I said “people like Dawkins,” I meant those intense ones that do it for a living all the time. So absolutely, Christians are NOT immune to the hamster-spinning disease. Just like we’re not completely immune to any other sin. Again, maybe this is why we’re commanded to avoid foolish arguments 🙂 2 Timothy 2:23-25

        The Christian faith will ALWAYS be more effective through acts of love & truth. 1 John 3:18 says, “let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk at all, just need to keep a tight reign on our tongues. Lastly, James 1:26-27 says, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

  • Scott

    I really like this article… I wish more colleges and universities would consider Stan’s suggestion. Let atheists like Dawkins debate Christian philosophers, scientists and other accomplished intellectuals in a public setting. I would think institutions that encourage freedom of thought and an open mind should welcome such an endeavor.

    • HpO

      Per Stephen Jay Gould’s advice, Richard Dawkins isn’t going to seriously take on such Christians because all they want is to be recognized. A waste of his time, in other words. What makes them think that bad of our, I thought, smart brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus in the academia?

  • HpO

    But you know this, brother Stan Guthrie, why Richard Dawkins won’t “debate Christian philosophers, scientists, and other intellectuals”. It’s because he’s taking Stephen Jay Gould’s advice seriously. Seeing as for all these guys, “what they seek is the oxygen of respectability”, why bother “giv(ing) them this oxygen by the mere act of engaging with them at all”? Coming to such debates, they “don’t mind being beaten in an argument. What matters is that we give them recognition by bothering to argue with them in public.” (Richard Dawkins,A Devil’s Chaplain, 2003, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, and Houghton Mifflin, page 218.)

    Therefore, my question to you is as to motive. Is it true that to “debate Christian philosophers, scientists, and other intellectuals” is to create for them this desperately craved air of reputability? Is that what they really want out of these debates with Richard Dawkins? – “respectability … recognition”?

    To be honest, I’m sensing a bit of that may be true when you judged him for “want of courage … a lack of intellectual rigor” in the face of “the theistic arguments for the existence of God.” Kind of like “Christopher Hitchens” who “barely engaged with the arguments of his Christian counterparts” but “was all hat and no cattle”? I mean, What must they do in order to get some respect around here, right? I hear you, but I don’t like what I’m hearing.