One of the staple criticisms of Richard Dawkins—the Official Lightning Rod of New Atheism™—is that his stridency turns people away from evolution as well as from atheism, so that he actually converts people into both creationists and, if they were originally nonbelievers, religionists.
The former criticism is nonsense, of course. I’ve never in my life met someone who told me, “You know, I’d accept the truth of evolution if only Dawkins would shut up about atheism!” In contrast, there are hundreds of people whom Richard has drawn to the truth of evolution through his many books and lectures on the topics. For those who says he’s hurting the cause of science, let them adduce some evidence!
Until today, the other criticism—that his strident and shrill “militancy” has the same counterproductive effect on nonbelievers, turning them into Goddies—has also gone unevidenced. But there was, again, plenty of evidence to the contrary. Exhibit 1 is what used to be called Dawkins’s “Converts Corner,” now called simply “Letters, Converts“. There are 120 pages of these, each page containing 12 letters. If you do the math, that’s 1440 people who wrote in, most testifying that Richard’s writings, especially The God Delusion, helped wean them from their childish superstitions. And until now that mountain of evidence completely refuted any claims that Richard turned atheists into believers.
Now, however, we have precisely two testimonies of how Richard has changed atheists back into believers.
They’re both recounted in an article in the Torygraph by Damian Thompson, “Is Richard Dawkins leading people to Jesus?” That’s a pretty provocative title given that the “people” number two—or rather, as we’ll see, 1.25.
Here’s Thompson’s first story about a friend:
My schoolfriend Michael – an atheist for decades – rang me the other night and told me he’d returned to the Catholic Church. “And you’ll never guess who converted me,” he said.
“No! It was Richard Dawkins!”
He explained that he was, and is, a huge admirer of Dawkins the biologist. (I’m with him there: I read The Blind Watchmaker when it first came out and was blown away.) “But then I read The God Delusion and it was… total crap. So bad that I started questioning my own atheism. Then he started tweeting.”
Like a loony on top of the bus, no?
Well, this person’s atheism must have been pretty shaky to begin with if it was finally overturned by tw**ts. After all, the strongest argument for atheism, the lack of evidence for Gods, isn’t much affected by what Richard says on Tw**ter. And if “Michael” said that The God Delusion was “total crap,” well, even if he didn’t like the lack of Sophisticated Theology™ in that book, it’s hard for me to see anything there that would drive someone into the arms of Jesus. It’s as if you read a bad critique of homeopathy on the internet by someone who, say, mistook it for herbal medicine, and became so incensed that you started taking homeopathic medicine. As with God, the lack of support is widespread if you simply look beyond one source. There are, after all, more books on atheism than just The God Delusion.
Thompson also links to an article by Judith Babarsky at the “Dead Philosophers Society” at the Holy Apostles College and Seminary, “Reading Richard Dawkins led to my conversion.” An excerpt:
Truthfully, I found [The God Delusion] a waste of my time as it afforded me no cogent arguments concerning the existence or non-existence of God. In fact, not only was Dawkins disrespectful of opinions other than his own, I found his statements about Jesus to be so ill-informed (and, mind you, I was no fount of scholarly information myself) that I resolved to actually learn something about Jesus Christ.
Reading Dawkins challenged me to go beyond my comfort zone and honestly confront the issues holding me back from a full commitment to faith. My sense of The God Delusion is that it is written as a testimony to Dawkins’ belief system (which I call fundamentalist atheism) and that the author cherry picks convenient quotes to bolster his opinion that esteemed scientists (such as Einstein) couldn’t possibly be ignorant enough to actually believe in a supernatural God, no matter what they may have said to the contrary. In fact, anyone with any intelligence at all couldn’t possible believe in a supernatural God. Dawkins is preaching to his atheist choir and evidently they loved the book based on their many five-star recommendations of it. But in that sense, Dawkins is no different than the many Christian authors who write in a similar manner. There is a pre-judgment that whoever disagrees with the premise of the book is, essentially, an idiot! Well, I don’t like to be called an idiot.
. . . And that was the beginning of the last leg of my journey to conversion to Catholicism.
Babarsky gets this wrong: Dawkins wasn’t preaching to the choir, but to those on the fence. And the evidence (yes, that’s right, evidence) suggests that he was extraordinarily effective. The notion that he was calling believers “essentially, idiots” is Babarsky’s own take, not something Richard says in this book. Her “conversion” was apparently based on a reflexive reaction to her own offended sentiments.
Unfortunately, Thompson misrepresents this letter, for at the beginning Babarsky says this:
Recently returned from a Mission Trip, we headed straight to our family week long beach vacation. On fire from my week in Canada surrounded by mostly Catholics, I must have appeared overly zealous to my eldest stepdaughter. An avowed atheist, she recommended I read Richard Dawkins’, The God Delusion, which had been suggested to her by her fallen away cradle Catholic boyfriend. Never one to shrink from a challenge to my admittedly unexamined faith in one God, I was intrigued and logged onto Amazon to check out the book. I immediately bought it and began reading.
She was already religious, and not just superficially so, as she’d been on a “Mission Trip.” She was also primed for Catholicism. All Dawkins’s book reportedly did was give her the shove to fully embrace the Catholicism she must have been contemplating.
So let’s calculate. If we count Babarsky as, say, 0.25 of a reverse convert, since she was apparently a committed Christian to begin with, we have 1.25 reverse converts to Christianity here, compared to about 1440 converts to nonbelief. The ratio of Dawkin’s effectiveness, then, if you count a ratio of 1 as “neutral” (as many converts to nonbelief as to belief) and 0 as “totally ineffective” (no converts to nonbelief, some to belief) is 1152. I’d say that’s a high index of effectiveness!
But Thompson, riding the Journalistic Gravy Train to Hell, must conclude otherwise (you can’t praise Dawkins in the Torygraph), and ends his piece like this:
If I were a conspiracy theorist, I might conclude that Prof Dawkins secretly converted to Christianity decades ago, and then asked himself: “How can I best win souls? By straightforward argument, or by turning myself from a respected academic into a comic figure fulminating against religion like a fruitcake at Speakers’ Corner, thereby discrediting atheism?”
Really? REALLY? Dawkins has converted over 1100 individuals to nonbelief for every person he’s reportedly turned to Christianity. How does that make him effective as a tout for Jesus?
I don’t like to call people names here, but Thompson, in this last paragraph, not only completely distorts the facts, but gratuitously insults a gentle though passionate man, one deeply wedded to reason who, because of that, has attracted the opprobrium of faitheists and underemployed journalists everywhere. I’ll equate Thompson to the south end of an equid facing north.