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Echoing Dawkins – Don’t Call Us Fundamentalists Thursday, July 26, 2007

Posted by Henry in anti-fundamentalism, atheism, Bible, Chinese, Christianity, Dawkins, faith, fundamentalism, God, Islam, Judaism, Koran, rationality, reason, religion, Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion.

Richard Dawkins has lately written an article titled “How dare you call me a fundamentalist” as a response to some of the main criticisms he received for his controversial bestseller The God Delusion. Here I will add my own arguments to what Dawkins has already said, because when rational people criticise god and putting religion in perspective, they get unfairly judged, and this we must address.

The criticisms made on Dawkins are in bold.

I’m an atheist, but I wish to dissociate myself from your shrill, strident, intemperate, intolerant, ranting language.

How you feel about the tone and language of the book is entirely up to you. Some might find it clear and concise. I find it to be passionate and blunt, and I think blunt is a much better and objective description of the tone and language of the book.

Take the first chapter for example. The one line where I can find people might find it offending is this line:

The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naive.

Now seriously, how shrill and intolerant is this? Try replacing the words “a personal God” with something else say “United Nations” or “the Live Aid concert”. Does it make a difference?

I offer this advice to people who feel the book is arrogant and condescending: read it again (or at least some of it), and you might come to feel differently about it as the first time might come as a shock.

You can’t criticise religion without detailed study of learned books on theology.

The book is not ignorant on theology and various aspects of religion – see Dawkins’ own explanation – this alone should settle this particular criticism. I would add that you need not to be a scholar to highlight the obvious problems of religion, such as the blind faiths people have in ancient scriptures that drive them to happily hurt and kill others for no other reason than religion. There is a difference between criticising something while being completely ignorant (such as simple-minded creationists), and being knowledgeable enough.

I think most readers here realise the dangers of the North Korean dictatorship going down the path of developing nuclear weapons, and would anyone say that detailed studies are needed on the history, politics, technical capabilities, nuclear physics and so on before we criticise the regime?

You ignore the best of religion and instead…

This book was written to pinpoint the problems of religion and the invalidity of god, not to present a fair assessment of religion. Would you present the arguments from the opposite side when you are in a debate? Just think how politicians debate each other.

You’re preaching to the choir. What’s the point?

Firstly, no, Dawkins states that he is writing to the fence-sitters and the general public. And now with the benefit of hindsight, we know that the book has reached the bookshelves of millions, and the likes of Dawkins and Hitchens have repeatedly said that even the religious have read the book for whatever reasons. Secondly, even if it was designed to preach to the choir, it would be a good thing. It is time to have the non-believers come out and speak out against the dangers of blind faiths.

You’re as much a fundamentalist as those you criticise.

People who make this claim need to sit down and think about what it means to be a fundamentalist. Dawkins said it correct – fundamentalism is not the same as passion. Fundies will not blink for one moment in the face of evidence and reason – in fact, they would twist and spin everything into their compartmentalised thinking. Worse, they are willing to kill and die for their faith.

I’m an atheist, but people need religion.

No, the simple fact that there are many atheists out there refutes this claim completely. The Chinese need no beliefs in a deity or multiple deities for thousands of years – instead they have two philosophical systems in Buddhism and Confucianism. When people are in dire need of comfort for whatever reason, how is it known that they turn to religion? Often family and friends provide the best comfort. In the face of tragedies and disasters, people have been known to lose faith in religion and/or god. When people are in emotional needs, they need love and compassion, which can come from religion, but not always.

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1. Atheist Perspective » Take some responsibility, stop blaming Dawkins - Thursday, July 26, 2007

[…] just found an article posted at Evolution Space where Dawkins responds to some of the criticism about tone. I think it’s relevant and worth […]

2. blueollie - Friday, July 27, 2007

A couple of comments:

1) I reject astrology, yet I haven’t studied it in detail. 🙂

2) I AM a fundamentalist; I belive that you should believe in what you have conclusive evidence for. 🙂

3. ES - Friday, July 27, 2007

Very nice. I particularly appreciate the “you can’t criticize religion unless you are a religious scholar” argument. Doesn’t this suggest that the average person shouldn’t accept it without being a religious scholar? That’s simply ridiculous as there are many areas of life where one can assess the summary of the evidence without devoting one’s entire life to the study of the topic. The difference with religion compared to most topics is that it has so rarely been criticized in the past. Dawkins and other outspoken atheists are looking to change that and present the summary of the evidence from the other side, that’s all.

4. h3nry - Saturday, July 28, 2007

Thanks for the comments… blueollie’s analogy to astrology is clever indeed!

5. Peter G - Sunday, July 29, 2007

Dawkins isn’t wrong, but one can still question whether he’s making an entirely positive contribution to the cause of humanism, which might be better served at the moment by an alliance between atheists and religious moderates against fundamentalism of all kinds. I think at this point it’s more important to be promoting tolerance than anyone’s idea of right thinking. But I could be wrong.

I’m also not sure if Dawkins understands that for many religious moderates the actual tenets of belief are to a large extent relegated to the background; they’re concerned with the social, moral and psychological dimensions of their faith — living a Christian (or whatever) life. A few, like Bible scholar Robert Price, expressly state that the Gospels are no more than an illuminating collection of myths; most simply don’t consider the matter deeply, but they’re not going to let the contents of the Bible stand in the way of their acceptance of modern science or an enlightened attitude to matters like homosexuality. If prodded, some of these people would probably admit their doubts about the actual existence of God, but I fear the aggressive atheism of Dawkins et al may push them in the wrong direction.

6. Anders Gardebring - Monday, July 30, 2007

I have never understood the argument that you need to study theology before critizising religion. Do I need to study tooth-fairyism before arguing there is no such thing as the tooth fairy?

7. Skeptical Dragon - Saturday, March 1, 2008

It certainly *helps* to be very familiar with the religion(s) you are criticizing. Some of the most adamant fundamentalists have apparently little or no knowledge of the history of their religion, what it actually says in their holy books (outside of selected passages) or the fact that the holy books have serious discrepancies within themselves and over the various translation over the centuries.
Sometimes, its as simple as “why are you quoting from the Old Testament so that you can ignore what that famous guy in the New Testament says to do?”
Nonetheless, there’s a level of secular civility that *no* religion should be exempt from (glancing over at Europe’s gutless slip into ‘sharia’ mysogyny) and I hope the “sensitivity PC” idiots get over their weird form of ‘relativism’ quickly

8. John Bay - Saturday, May 10, 2008

This article rejects the statement “you can’t criticize religion unless you are a religious scholar” and I agree. But in debating evolution, scientists frequently make this same argument. They claim that you can’t point out the flaws in evolutionary theory unless you are an expert. But I disagree. I believe science allows me to critique evolutionary theory the same as Dawkins or others would point out the flaws in religious fundamentalism. Do you agree?

9. Anthony the Scientist - Saturday, June 25, 2016

Richard Dawkins … how can such an otherwise intelligent man believe in the pathetic anti-science of evolution? A human being’s potential for self-delusion knows no bounds.
Some atheists are so determined to be rid of the God who created them that they’re willing to believe anything but the truth … such as a theory of evolution that’s as “scientific” as Little Green Men on Mars. Come in, sucker!
As Romans Chpt 1 says about atheists, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools”.

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