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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

We'd Be Better Off Without Religion

That was the motion proposed at a debate sponsored by The Times and organised by Intelligence Squared at Westminster Central Hall in London last night. One of the speakers supporting the motion was Richard Dawkins, and here's how the voting went, according to Ruth Gledhill, Religion correspondent for The Times ... The first vote was 826 votes for the motion, 681 against and 364 don't knows. By the end, the voting was 1,205 for the motion, 778 against and 100 don't knows.

Here below is a little from Ruth's column about the debate ...

The motion was: 'We'd be better off without religion.' On his [Dawkins] side were Professor AC Grayling and Christopher Hitchens. Against were Baroness Julia Neuberger, Professor Roger Scruton and Nigel Spivey. The incomparable Joan Bakewell was in the chair. At these debates, styled along the lines of Oxford and Cambridge debates but disappointingly less hecklesome, a vote is taken at the start and another at the end .....

Nigel Spivey, who teaches classical art and archaeology at Cambridge and Rabbi Neuberger were particularly anxious to emphasise their non-religious credentials. Julia repeatedly emphasised that she was so liberal as to be almost near to dropping off the edge, and Spivey likewise was keen to make sure we knew he was not one bit religious himself. Oh no. He was just enormously appreciative of the enormous contribution that religion had made to art and archaeology. The religious instinct was an intrinsic part of human nature, he said. It was either there because it was necessary for survival, in a Darwinian sense, or because it was an ineradicable side-product of some other essential gene. I felt here that I was a bit like a monkey, still in thrall to this strange religious gene, and Spivey was a zoo keeper, observing the phenomenon and its benefits. He had evolved to the point where he was aloof to it all himself, but he was happy to nurture and acknowledge it, especially when usefully caged in the prism of arts and architecture. Spivey actually opened the debate on the side of religion! I knew then we'd lost it .....

Not surprisingly, Dawkins had no difficulty at all destroying Spivey's argument. I suspect that they are in fact on the same side. 'Speak for yourself,' he said about the allegation that the religious gene is in us all. 'It is not a part of me. It is not a part of the great majority of my friends in universities in England and the US and elsewhere.' .... And as for Spivey's point that religion had given us the Sistine Chapel and other similar great works, Dawkins correctly pointed out that great artists painted about religion because the Church had the money to pay them. Even Hitchens was right to to note that every brick of St Peter's was paid for by a special indulgence .....

'There are very good grounds to believe there is no actual truth in the claims of religion. I rather liken it to a child with a dummy in its mouth. I do not think it a very dignified or respect-worthy posture for an adult to go around sucking a dummy for comfort,' said Dawkins, perpetuating a common but gross misunderstanding of why people need religion. Some of us, I suspect quite a lot, are not religious for comfort. It is because we need to be battered, reduced, to have our monstrous egos squashed so we can control them properly. Speaking entirely for myself here of course.

Dawkins also compared giving children a religious education to erecting in their minds a firewall against scientific truth, rather like a computer firewall against viruses. He was particularly upset about a well-known Christian geologist who had abandoned his science when it became clear it was not compatible with a literal reading of the Bible. 'He said that even if all the evidence in the world pointed against creationism, he would still be a creationist because that is what the word of God pointed him to.' Well I'd be upset if my son became a creationist but there is no chance of that, not in the Church of England at least.

Dawkins did not have to work very hard to win the argument last night ....

Interesting ... I'd like to see one of these debates sometime. Do they really change peoples' minds, as the voting results of this debate seem to show? One thing that occurs to me is that, as Ruth pointed out, the question was wether the world would be better off without religion, not better off without God. God without religion ... makes me think of that earlier post about the book Spiritual But Not Religious ... I wonder if a personal spirituality could flourish without an institutional religion as counterpoint? As to whether the world would be better off without religion, well, you can probably guess my opinion.


Blogger Liam said...

What a coincidence -- I was just listening to Richard Dawkins being interviewed on NPR. Whenever I listen to militant atheists, it seems as if I'm eavesdropping on an argument between the atheist and a fundamentalist opponent. I get bored hearing about them talk about whether or not there were dinosaurs on Noah's Ark.

Dawkins is obviously a brilliant scientist, but his ideas about theology are very simplistic, almost infantile. He was saying that if a creator God existed, he would have to have be very complex and thus evolved from something more simple -- which means he can't change gears to approach divinity from a different perspective than he approaches science, or imagine that that's even possible. It shows he hasn't the slightest knowledge of theology. I remember thinking, "what a moron!"

5:13 PM  
Blogger victor said...

An Act of Thanksgiving Prayer

God I thank you for having created me. I thank You for having redeemed me by Your Son and for having made me a Child of Your Church.

If Richard Dawkins or anyone else don’t agree with this short prayer of my religion then what could I possibly do or want to do about IT?

6:17 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:55 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Victor :-)

6:56 PM  
Blogger Cura Animarum said...

Richard Dawkins is my arch nemesis. He ruined my Discovery Magazine subscription for me and seems to enjoy slamming religion of any kind rather than real science. That became my complaint with the Magazine in general. Something like five articles in the past year all chanting the same "And this means there can be no God" type of theme.

The biggest complaints that are ever lodged by Dawkins or anyone else angainst religion or God always seem to revolve aorund a very fundamentalist of as Liam suggests, infantile view of religion and theology. No one ever seems to want to explain, or understand the RC perspective that the two disciplines are complimentary rather than mutually exclusive. It's very frustrating.

2:22 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


your nemesis :-)

1:28 AM  
Blogger Cura Animarum said...

I think it's healthy for everyone to have a nemesis...I like to think of Dawkins as my Side Show Bob. ;o)

7:57 AM  
Blogger PV said...

Thanks for the post Crystal.

You know my opinion on guys like Dawkins.:-)

I really wonder why is the idea of God so distressing for them? Or the idea of religion? Spirituality without religion? They must be kidding.

12:49 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Paula,

I do kind of wonder why Dawkins is is so driven ... it's almost like an anti-religious crusade :-)

3:16 PM  
Blogger Amy Blackwelder said...

I just saw this and have to say it-

Everyone missed the most important point here -No ONE has the right to tell me what to say, think or believe. I respect science and the scientific minds of that side; however, I do not respect the position taken.

What you are essentially saying is to abolish religion. How is this done practically? I don't believe they or the voters even fully understand the implications of that position! Do we next make laws forbidding it? Exterminate those who do? Hitler rose to power through votes and laws too. 

Further the religious side forgets to mention how Japanese scientists experimented on Korean pregnant women and serial killers who are not religious, and the male scientists who when they couldn't determine that chimps had language sent them to into medical labs, and the Cambodia non religious leaders who massacred the monks and Cambodian people, and the the communist Chinese who massacred the religious Tibetans. (The comment that atheist communist are following an ideal and this somehow makes this religion is bull crap.)

The point of the religious side is that Religion is an EXPRESSION not a cause. If religion dod not exist we would not live in an utopia! GET REAL! We'd have different cliques, different groups, different ostracizing and all the other hate and crap, because that is a human condition- not a religious one.

You accept evolution right!? You see the behavior of chimps right!? Do you really think those genes somehow magically would disappear without religion? GET REAL!!

To answer Hitchen, what do I want for my child? A world of freedom, of choices. Not a world that tells her what she can or cannot think or say and believe because it contradict what he thinks.

Simply because Dawkins and Hitchens do not perceive a reality with ghosts or angels does not mean those who do-- now become null and void. There experiences matter too!

And Dawkins commenting that "Religion doesn't apply to him. " So!? Does that mean it should be abolished for those billion with whom it does! What gives him or the others this right!

To Hitchens who claims Theravada Buddhism -the teaching of the elders- is not religion. I lived in Thailand for over 7 years, and yes it is very interconnected to supernatural ideas. Ghosts- afterlife- reincarnation-gods-antigods-karma- and even a mythology that holds Buddha walked when born. And homosexuality is also frowned upon! Not that you would know this because it is not in their culture to tell you. The Buddhist are full of ribbons on trees signifying ghosts are there and foods/drink given to the ghosts of their ancestors to keep them appeased. You have a knowledge for science, but like many Westerners you have no clue about the orient.

And to the middle dude who said to the Jewish man -how dare you we can teach our children these things too- you missed the point! He wasn't telling you what you can teach your child, he is talking about HIS OWN! The point is how DARE YOU tell him or others what they can teach their children!!

7:59 PM  

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