Richard Dawkins’ new show is on tonight. The Root Of All Evil is entertaining. If you believe yourself to be intelligent-ish, and are somewhat anti-fundamentalism and pro-science, it’s obviously a joy to watch a well-read academic who understands logical argument debate a succession of hardcore religious types who have little concept of logic, argument or evidence.
I have a major problem with Mr Dawkins, though: he’s too often guilty of the same fallacy as the people he argues with. He believes there is a necessary conflict between Religious Faith, which is silly and rubbish and responsible for all that is bad, and Science, which is more or less the opposite. And sure, speaking as someone who’s never been touched by faith, this take is superficially tempting.
Sometimes, people try and counter this kind of argument by taking it the other way round – roughly, “the likes of Stalin and Hitler were just as bad as any deists, so you atheists should shut up”. This is a stupid point, in that Stalin and Hitler succeeded because people had the same blind faith in them that they have in deities, while the humanists and scientists were generally the ones being sent to gulags and concentration camps. If anyone makes this point, they’re probably Glenn Reynolds (I’m told ‘Glenn Reynolds’ is a generic term for ignorant right-wingers who believe themselves to be centrists, although I’m unsure where it derives from).
However, there are clearly also people in real life who profess a belief in a higher power, who are humanists and believers in the scientific method and whose position is not logically ludicrous. So we can pretty much conclude that faith is a necessary, not a sufficient, condition. To be the kind of Creationist-y fundamentalist loon that Mr Dawkins despises, you don’t just have faith, you have to have faith combined with a strange set of beliefs and character traits. As long as society discourages people from getting the latter, deterring faith is as unimportant as it is impossible.
Worse, by conflating the issues of is-science-roughly-right (clue: yes) and are-people-with-faith-all-awful (clue: no), Mr Dawkins happily perpetuates the same “having religious faith entails believing every word of drivel written by some drugged up goat molester 3000 years ago” nonsense that the rednecks want everyone to believe. Intellectual masturbation has its price…