Richard Dawkins doesn’t love me. In fact if we were ever to meet and discuss the merits of theism and atheism in private, a conversation for which, despite selling millions of copies of his ostensibly philosophical polemic ‘The God Delusion’, he would be woefully ill-equipped for, I am quite sure he would not love me one bit. Not even if the typical moral relativist’s oft-wished-for scenario of an Earthly utopia populated by sexually liberated polygamous bisexual organic farmers were to unfold; Dawkins still wouldn’t love me one bit.
Despite this, I was the recipient this past Tuesday, as I drove down a beautiful rural road on my way to work, of a wonderful St Valentine’s Day gift from Oxford’s foremost expert on wasps: a belly laugh so deep it was almost a coccyx laugh. He was a guest on ‘Today’ on Radio 4 (listen here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_9696000/9696135.stm) in order to publicise some research carried out by his foundation which in his, to put it mildly, skewed, opinion calls into question the veracity of the claim that Britain is a Christian country. The method of the study had been to ask self identified Christians questions on various aspects of Christianity and from the results indicating, for example, that 60% of his sample do not read the Bible, he drew the conclusion that people who say they are Christian shouldn’t be taken seriously and that the results “pull the rug” from underneath anyone who claims Britain is a Christian country.
Now, Dawkins can have no real warrant for this claim unless he first of all considers what it means to be a Christian country. He seemingly takes it for granted that the philosophical outlook of a country is determined purely by the extent of knowledge, on all aspects of a particular outlook, possessed by those natives who claim to live within the prescribed philosophy of the outlook. I wonder how many factory workers in Russia in 1935 were fluent in the detail of GOSPLAN (Stalin’s state planning organisation) strategy or could have told you on the spot that ‘Position of the Communists in Relation to the Various Opposition Parties’ is the title of the last chapter of Marx’s ‘The Communist Manifesto’? If the numbers were low would Dawkins disagree that Russia was a Communist country in 1935? The truth is that Britain’s culture and public institutions have been so shaped by the influence of Christian beliefs that to say that it is not a Christian country is as ridiculous as saying that Stalinist Russia was run by the Moonies.
Listen to how Dawkins never let go of his simplistic view of what determines a person’s right to identify with a particular ideology. His own stupidity backfired when the Reverend Fraser turned the tables and asked him if he could give the full title of Charles Darwin’s ‘The Origin of Species’. The following exchange occurred:
Dawkins: Yes I could.
Fraser: Go on then.
Dawkins: On the Origin of Species…uh…with…(nervous sigh) I can’t…On the Origin of Species…(pause)…um…there, there is a subtitle…uh, withup, with respect to the pre, the preservation of favoured species in the fight, in the struggle for life…
Fraser: You’re the High Pope of Darwinism!
The actual title (courtesy of a quick web search) is ‘On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life’ and for what it’s worth I would probably have answerred only slightly more incorrectly than Dawkins. The point to take away is that whilst Dawkins’s inability to provide the full title of the book which forms the bedrock upon which his life’s work is built is hilarious, it doesn’t change the fact that he is a Darwinist. He is one of the foremost Darwinists in the world. He is also a zealot, a coward and, on the evidence of this interview, too proud and incapable a debater to change strategy or graciously concede any ground whatsoever during a debate, even when a person of severely limited capacity for observation (ie a dumbass) could tell that he’s being spanked.
The Reverend Giles Fraser, former Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, handled Dawkins admirably although it was far from the rhetorical evisceration which Dawkins was vulnerable to. As the Reverend alluded to during the interview, it would of course be better from a Christian point of view for people who identify as Christian to have a fuller understanding of their faith than was found to be present in the sample population of the (flawed) study. I find it deeply frustrating to compare the comprehensive catechetical education my parents received to the comparatively uncertain and diluted religious education I received myself and wouldn’t be that suprised to find that Dawkins’s study was accurate regarding the level of knowledge among Christians. Dawkins has inadvertently shone a light on this genuinely important topic but, as is his wont, he makes outrageous claims regarding the deleterious effect of the data on religious belief and (even more so) the relevance of Christianity to the uncertain but not quite amorphous notion of British morality. Let’s hope that the increasingly invidious actions of this obnoxious buffoon inspires self identifying Christians everywhere to shore up their knowledge of the faith.