Priest at HuffPo: Dawkins is dangerous and has damaged our culture

Amazingly, the link to the “religion” section at HuffPo seems to have vanished, so there’s no way to see its articles except by Googling “HuffPo religion”. This is good, for there’s no longer one-click access to the panoply of HuffPo pieces extolling all religions save fundamentalist Christianity, and the endless Islamsplaining articles by Carol Kuruvilla. Most of the pieces you get under “religion” seem to have been pulled from other sections of the site.

When I did the requisite Googling, however, I found a pretty odious piece, which you can get it by clicking on the screenshot below.  The author, Kerry Walters, is an retired academic and a Catholic priest. He’s quite prolific: his Wikipedia bio shows that he writes about three books a year (theologians can do that)—eight in 2013 alone. His latest is St. Teresa of Calcutta: Missionary, Mother, Mystic, (he should have added “Malefactor”), which appears to be a hagiography of the old charlatan.

Walters simply cannot abide Richard Dawkins, who’s now coming to stand for all bad things atheist and secular.

Walters begins his attack by going out of his way to pat atheists on the back—he avers that in his previous books he’s actually praised atheists, but only the Right Kind of Atheist. What kind is that? You know the answer:

People who have read my books and articles know how greatly I admire and learn from atheists who do the hard work of familiarizing themselves with the religious beliefs to which they object so that they can offer rigorous arguments against them.

Yes, he likes those atheists who have read the Bible, the Qur’an, and perhaps some Hindu scriptures, as well as some Christian theology. Well, Dr. Walters, I HAVE DONE THAT, and I still find religion a manmade set of fairy tales for which there’s not a bit of evidence.  Will you admire and learn from me? I don’t think so. What Walters is advancing is the Courtier’s Reply: that you can’t criticize religion unless you’re deeply familiar with scripture and theology.

And I agree that you have to know something about religion to criticize it—and to see its falsity. But the main criticism of religion by New Atheists is that its existence claims—about the existence of God, Jesus, and Allah, of Muhammad’s taking the Qur’an from an angel, of Joseph Smith being angel-guided to the golden plates, of the reality of the Resurrection and Moses’s journey in the wilderness—have no supporting evidence. Some of the existence claims are even contradictory among faiths: Islam, for instance, claims not only that Jesus was not divine, but that an impostor was crucified in his place. And the God-given moral codes are also contradictory. If religion is true, then there is at most one true religion.

But it doesn’t take much knowledge of scripture to realize two things. First, most adherents to religions don’t know their scripture. It’s well documented that atheists know more about the Bible than do Christians. Most believers don’t believe because evidence has convinced them that their faith is true; they believe because that they’ve simply been indoctrinated when young by parents and peers. So the claim of “brainwashing” that Walters finds so harsh and odious is in fact accurate.

Second, there is no evidence for the truth claims of religion. We have no substantive evidence (save the words in the Bible) that a Jesus person even existed, much less was divine, crucified, and resurrected. And, at bottom, the hold of religion on people depends on the existence of those truth claims. If Jesus wasn’t resurrected, if there was no Original Sin, if Mohammed didn’t take down dictation by Allah via Gabriel, then Christianity and Islam fall apart. Yes, they have moral codes, but those codes depend crucially on the authenticity of the religion’s truth claims.

I spent over two years reading theology, beginning with scripture and progressing through “folk theology”, as exemplified by C. S. Lewis, to the “sophisticated” lucubrations of people like Alvin Plantinga and David Bentley Hart. And the deeper you dig, the more bullshit you find. It’s excreta all the way down. Sophisticated theology provides no more evidence for God than does C. S. Lewis or children’s books on Christianity. There is no “there” there. And yes, I’ve read the entire Bible and Qur’an, and some Hindu theology, as well as part of the Book of Mormon (I couldn’t finish it).

To evade this factual disproof of religion’s strong claims, Walters simply defends faith as a virtue—it doesn’t need evidence:

Additionally, Dawkins trashes religious faith by inevitably conflating it with gullibility and superstition—it’s “weird,” “brainless,” “a crutch for consolation,” and a “cop-out.” These are soundbites that people who’ve never really bothered to listen to what serious students of religion say about faith typically toss around.

But it gets even sloppier. As an alternative to faith, Dawkins recommends reason. (Never mind that this is a tiresomely false dichotomy.) But he dubiously identifies reason with the scientific method, which he appears not to understand. Science’s methodology is specifically fitted to examine the physical world and generate hypotheses about it. As any good scientist will readily concede, science oversteps its mark and betrays its own methodology when it makes untestable metaphysical pronouncements. [JAC: like “there’s no empirical evidence for a theistic god”?] But Dawkins, in the name of science, does precisely this, claiming that science proves the through-and-through physical nature of reality—a metaphysical rather than scientific assertion.

Translation: “We don’t need no stinking evidence for what we claim is true.” Seriously, that’s all this says. As someone said, “It’s called faith because there isn’t any evidence.”

In the end, Walters simply doesn’t like three things about Dawkins. The first is his supposed ignorance of religion (see above).

The second is Dawkins’s tone, the supposed stridency that we hear so much about but is really just passionate writing. And, after all, a lot of “good” atheists, which I suppose include Bertrand Russell and Robert G. Ingersoll, were just as passionate. Wasn’t Russell’s classic treatment called “Why I am not a Christian”?

The stridency sniffed out by Walters includes this:

But Dawkins does neither. Instead, he gut-punches intelligence right out of the discussion.

To begin with, he demonstrates no real familiarity with scripture, instead cherry-picking passages from the Hebrew, Christian, and Muslim holy texts that, because they’re ripped out of context, easily make religion look stupid and cruel.

A representatively screechy passage from his best-selling The God Delusion gives some idea of what I mean. The “God of the Old Testament,” Dawkins sputters, is “a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

No one who’s actually taken the time to read the Wisdom books, prophets, or large sections of the Pentateuch could possibly write such nonsense. This is the sort of wild exaggeration you hear only from people with huge chips-on-their-shoulders.

Umm. . . what about Dan Barker, an ex-evangelical Christian preacher? Barker’s just written a book, God: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction, which agrees 100% with Richard’s characterization, and in fact, goes through each of those 19 characteristics of God, showing how the Bible supports them. And yes, Dan knows his Scripture; he preached it for years.

Finally, Walters objects to Dawkins “coarsening the culture” by using strong language:

Having said this, however [to his credit, Walters says KPFA shouldn’t have deplatformed Dawkins], I also agree with KPFA: Dawkins’ remarks about religion, Christianity as well as Islam, have indeed been abusive, contributing to the coarsening and polarization of our culture. And lest you think, “Well, of course a priest would say that,” let me assure you that my objection has nothing to do with my faith and everything to do with my regard for reasoned and civil discourse.

When I say that Dawkins is abusive, I don’t simply mean that his harsh remarks about religion have hurt this or that person’s feelings. Feelings get hurt all the time in this world, a sad but inescapable fact. Better to grow a slightly thickened skin than to petulantly nurse an attitude of permanent grievance.

No, the damage Dawkins has done is cultural rather than personal. Dawkins has basement-lowered the tone of discourse when it comes to religion, thereby giving his adoring fan base permission to do likewise.

and

[A few years ago], I merely considered Dawkins a parvenu and a nuisance. But over the past few perilous months, with the rise of an “alternative” facts and “fake news” ethos in which truth is ignored and bluster reigns supreme, I’ve changed my mind. I now think Dawkins and his ilk are downright dangerous—not because they say nasty things about religion, but because they feed, in their own small way, our increasingly toxic culture of vituperation, distrust, and ignorance.

Voices like Dawkins’ oughtn’t to be silenced, as KPFA chose to do. But they definitely need to be called out and challenged.

What Walters seems to be saying here is that Dawkins needs to be more polite about—more respectful of—religion, and engage with sophisticated theology rather than religion as it’s practiced by the average person. Well, refuting Alvin Plantinga will have no effect on that average person, because they could care less about Plantinga. It’s more important to engage religion as most people practice it, and that means engaging its truth claims. Further, as I said above, reading Sophisticated Theology™ doesn’t give you any more confidence that the truth claims of religion are valid: it’s just C. S. Lewis dressed up in fancy language.

When Waters bangs on about Dawkins “damaging the culture”, and being “dangerous”, I sense that what he really means is an unspoken fourth criticism: Dawkins has been successful in turning people into unbelievers. There is absolutely no doubt about this, and this is what bothers Walters. That’s where the “danger” lies. Walters is losing his flock! People are starting to question and abandon the doctrines Walter preached his whole life!

Unbelief is growing throughout the West, and some of that is due to Dawkins. The “respectful” atheists—people like Robert Wright, John Horgan, or Michael Ruse—don’t deconvert anybody, because they’re always making nice with religion and, in fact, telling people it’s okay to believe in God. Most likely they don’t care about deconverting anyone, which is fine, but in the end what really scares people like Walters is not the presence of atheists, but the presence of atheists who turn believers into atheists. That is why Dawkins is “dangerous.”

100 Comments

  1. David Coxill
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Walters is a poo face

    • Ullrich Fischer
      Posted August 4, 2017 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for a well-thought-out, concise, critique of Walters. In many ways much better than Walters’ critique of Dawkins. 🙂

      • David Coxill
        Posted August 5, 2017 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

        Thank you ,i thought long and hard about the right combination of words .

      • David Coxill
        Posted August 5, 2017 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

        Thanks ,i thought long and hard about the right choice of words to use .

        • rickflick
          Posted August 5, 2017 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

          The commenters on this forum do tend to take care in expressing themselves. That’s one of the things that makes it a great site.

  2. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    … he writes about three books a year (theologians can do that) …

    Dorthy Parker got nuthin’ on you, man, in the mordant put-down department.

  3. Posted August 4, 2017 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    If your religion can’t survive the “shallow” arguments against it, then what is the point in discussing the “deeper ones”?

    Believer: There is this thing…
    Skeptic: Great, got any evidence?
    Believer: No, but I don’t need any because I have this thing called faith where I believe it anyways.
    Skeptic: Well, that’s silly. If you don’t mind I’m going to go ahead and not believe that and argue that your faith thingy is dumb.
    Sophisticated Believer: But you haven’t argued against every argument out there for the thing, you need to fully understand the thing completely, study it for years and contemplate its deep mysteries before you can even begin to dismiss it!
    Skeptic: Okay, do any of those deeper reasons involve evidence?
    Sophisticated Believer: No, of course not!
    Skeptic: Then, same thing, we have things that have evidence that I would much rather spend my time studying, and your thing makes people do horrible things, so, I’m going to dismiss it as silly.
    Sophisticated Believer: You’re ruining culture! FAKE NEWS! FAKE NEWS! Sad!
    Skeptic: What the F@$%! are you on about? Real News = Has Evidence, Fake News = Made Up Garbage passed as real, so, really, your thing is actually the Fake News here…
    Sophisticated Believer: Ack! Your voice! So shrill! Can’t listen! Oh the horror! Oh the stridency!

    • Curt Nelson
      Posted August 4, 2017 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      +

    • John Raykowski
      Posted August 4, 2017 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

      I so want to paste that to almost (almost) every ‘news site’ comment section I have or likely ever will encounter.

    • John Aylwin
      Posted August 5, 2017 at 4:17 am | Permalink

      +

  4. Frank Bath
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    ‘It’s excreta all the way down.’ Love you for this.

  5. bric
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    This review of Dawkins’ latest book on Amazon UK has a rather similar spirit. The replies are hilarious
    ‘Richard Dawkins presents himself as a rationalist and scientist whereas he’s been no more than an apologist for atheism which is itself irrational.’ gives the flavour

    https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/customer-reviews/R2BTKSBI7GUZTV/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_rvw_ttl?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B071L84YXM

    • Posted August 4, 2017 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

      Dawkins is merely repeating the errors of elitist human beings from earlier times. He attributes 9/11 to the follies of religion whereas it was an expression of politics dressed up in religious language.”

      • Mark R.
        Posted August 5, 2017 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

        He attributes 9/11 to the follies of religion whereas it was an expression of politics dressed up in religious language.”

        Phew, I’m glad that’s sorted out.

  6. Posted August 4, 2017 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    My studies have not possibly been as deep as yours but there are questions that Mr. Kerry should have put to him. Questions like what is the transition mechanism for Original Sin? How was a born in a state of having disobeyed God’s commandments when I had taken exactly zero actions at my birth? Another question is why would an all-powerful god limit himself to creating a mummer’s human sacrifice (after having banned the practice) as a mode of forgiveness of Original Sin? What is the mechanism of that? How is it tied to a belief (the forgiveness is dependent upon a belief in Jesus apparently)? Why wouldn’t, say, a dove of peace decending from heaven landing on each of our shoulders delivering a message “You are forgiven” in dulcet tones have sufficed? I would pay attention to that!

    Why does religion look like every other extortion racket? (You want to be using dem knees for praying in the future; it would be a shame if sompthin happened to ’em?) The threat comes from their god, as does the solution and the reward, and none of them can be physically produced. (Claiming that the Indonesian tsunami is God’s punishment for homosexuality doesn’t count.)

    If these folks are offended by us “new atheists” aka the latest generation of atheists (not greatest, just latest), then they are going to be in a real hard place when we start asking the tough questions.

  7. Posted August 4, 2017 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    Reminds me of what Truman said. “I never did give anyone hell. I just told them the truth and they thought it was hell.”

  8. dabertini
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    “That is why Dawkins is “dangerous.””

    Actually people like Dawkins and PCC(e) are real life saviours.

    • Kevin
      Posted August 4, 2017 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      Richard Dawkins has helped give atheism a voice.

      The only justification to silence Dawkins is to prevent hurt feelings, either of the faithful or those who accommodate the faithful.

      He’s reminding people that heaven is un-real and they don’t like it. For that I give them a hearty Trump-SAD!

  9. Sastra
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    A few years ago], I merely considered Dawkins a parvenu and a nuisance. But over the past few perilous months, with the rise of an “alternative” facts and “fake news” ethos in which truth is ignored and bluster reigns supreme, I’ve changed my mind.

    Oh, dear. The gentleman seems to be in danger of ducking into the punch.

    If we’re going to talk about an ethos in which “alternative facts” reign supreme, look no further than the transcendent irresponsibility of metaphysical claims, which don’t have enough in them to be disproven but happily DO have enough in them to be embraced. Fake news itself rests on a heavy helping of faith. I don’t think the problems over the past perilous months have involved either too much skepticism or too much science.

    And a theologian complaining about a situation where “bluster reigns supreme?”
    Ahem.

    Many if not most of the problems involving the existence of God come well before we get into any of the individual religions or their holy books. Dawkins’ approach of examine the claim in light of modern science is completely legitimate.

    • Bob Murray
      Posted August 4, 2017 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

      Re the quote about ‘fake news’ etc. Is that a bit of a back-handed comparison with Trump?
      If so, the man is an absolute arse!

    • Diane G.
      Posted August 5, 2017 at 2:57 am | Permalink

      “Many if not most of the problems involving the existence of God come well before we get into any of the individual religions or their holy books.”

      Good point!

    • Mark R.
      Posted August 5, 2017 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

      I was going to highlight those two sentences as well, but you unpack it perfectly and I have little to add. I can say that muddled thinking creates muddled writing; this is the reason I have a really hard time reading theologian word-salad.

  10. busterggi
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    Yes, culture has been damaged horribly – why there have been no major inter-religion wars for years now, certainly not as per traditional culture.

  11. Dianne Marie Leonard
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    This reminds me of the video from the Secularism conference that you posted yesterday. The young man speaking, a former Muslim pointed at Dawkins, who was in the audience, and said something like If it were not for that man, I’d be fighting with ISIS today. Dawkins didn’t have to go to that conference, sponsored by Ex-Muslims of Britain. He did because he cares that Islam (and other religions) do a lot of harm in the world today, mostly to their own adherents. P.S. I too am angry at KPFA for cancelling Dawkins’ talk. I live in Berkeley and stopped supporting KPFA several years ago because of incidents like this–not checking their sources, presenting rip-and-read in the news, and so on.

    • Mark R.
      Posted August 5, 2017 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

      Very good point.

  12. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    … who do the hard work of familiarizing themselves with the religious beliefs to which they object so that they can offer rigorous arguments against them.

    What if it’s not the content if his beliefs that is being criticized, but his epistemology?

  13. Helen Pluckrose
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    This depressingly common argument is so arrogant and entitled. ‘You can only approach faith-based thinking and religion in the way it has been done by an academic elite for centuries – via theology, metaphysics and philosophy which assumes God exists.’ No. I wrote about this here: https://areomagazine.com/2017/05/15/where-now-for-new-atheists/

    • Craw
      Posted August 4, 2017 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

      Some of this reminds me of Hoppe’s ridiculous “Argumentation Ethics”. This for those unfamiliar with it is the claim that *by debating with a Libertarian of the extreme anarchist kind you concede he is right*.

      A summary here https://mises.org/library/argumentation-ethics-and-liberty-concise-guide

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted August 4, 2017 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

        I started reading that link but it lost me at –
        “Instead, Hoppe took what was valuable in the Apel-Habermas approach and melded it with Misesian-Rothbardian insights to provide a praxeological-discourse-ethics twist on the standard natural-law defense of rights.”

        But I would note that Dawkins has refused to debate William Lane Craig on the (IMO perfectly valid) grounds that debating the man to some extent legitimises his beliefs – or at least implies that WLC’s beliefs have enough weight to be considered.

        cr

        • rickflick
          Posted August 4, 2017 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

          This Christian ‘philosopher’ is an apologist for genocide. I would rather leave an empty chair than share a platform with him.

        • Diane G.
          Posted August 5, 2017 at 2:59 am | Permalink

          😀 (re quote)

    • rickflick
      Posted August 4, 2017 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

      Excellent write up. I’ll reproduce the comic section:

      https://i2.wp.com/areomagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/m5xamup.jpg?resize=441%2C245&ssl=1

      • Diane G.
        Posted August 5, 2017 at 3:00 am | Permalink

        Oh is that ever a good one!

  14. Paul S
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Walters is using the little people argument on himself. He doesn’t like Dawkins because he makes religious belief look stupid.
    Some things are too foolish to be polite about no matter how many people believe them to be true. Moon landing deniers, Holocaust deniers, Flat Earthers….
    If that’s what you bring to the party you’re going to get laughed at and ridiculed. I don’t need to familiarize myself with all the nonsense to tell you you’re delusional, I just need one tiny piece of evidence, just one.

  15. DrBrydon
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    . . . I merely considered Dawkins a parvenu. . . .

    Oh, dear, a parvenu! That word, I am sure, says more about the ecclesiastical gentleman and his pretentions, than it does about Dawkins. Use that word a lot at Gettysburg College, do they?

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 4, 2017 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      Also seems an inapt description of Dawkins, who was to the manor born.

      • Diane G.
        Posted August 5, 2017 at 3:02 am | Permalink

        Exactly what I thought when I read that.

    • Mark R.
      Posted August 5, 2017 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      Yes, it adds to the tone of pretension that permeates this crappy article.

  16. Desnes Diev
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    “To begin with, he demonstrates no real familiarity with scripture, instead cherry-picking passages from the Hebrew, Christian, and Muslim holy texts that, because they’re ripped out of context, easily make religion look stupid and cruel”

    To cherry-pick verses in order to support their faith, isn’t how believers are doing most of the time? Dawkins do better than that: he reads what the text really says and doesn’t try to instil the words with delusions.

    • Graham
      Posted August 4, 2017 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

      That passage struck me too. As a product of the English education system various priests and vicars taught me about the ‘holy’ bible over an eleven year period. Yet now, almost daily people such as Jerry are pointing out passages in the bible which these State-sanctioned brainwashers omitted to mention at any point in those eleven years. When it comes to cherry picking they are the masters.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted August 4, 2017 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

      I was also struck by that. How exactly do you, for example, justify the killing of children via bear attack? Oh yes, they called an old man “baldy”. Putting it in context makes it okay! FFS. SMH.

      The Bible and Qur’an are full of “context” that make them worse, not better.

      • darrelle
        Posted August 4, 2017 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

        They have blind spots all over the place. Some that have been decades or even centuries in the making. Take a look at this brief exchange I had a while back with a proudly devout Christian. The Christian was responding to a Quora question, Would people and the world be that much more unkind (and worse) if Christianity did not exist?

        Christian: “Christianity is call the religon of love, even mockingly by its enemies. Early Christians were discribed as sharing everything but their spouses. Christ told us to love one another as he loved us, and that when we served the least of these (prisoners, orphans, widows, foreigners, etc.) it was as if we served him, so I think so. And yes of course lots of so called religious people don’t conduct htemselves as commanded.”

        Me: “Christ also said to bring before him anyone who didn’t agree to worship him and kill them. That is not any kind of love that I would wish on my worst enemies.

        Christianity is many things but a religion of love is not one of them. I often wonder how many Christians have read the bible cover to cover rather than excerpts provided by their religious leaders or popular among their peers.

        For Christianity to be considered a religion of love by any reasonable, unbiased interpretation you would have to discard something on the order of 90% of the Bible. Minimum. If that were to happen, if some branch of Christianity were to achieve that, at that point what reason would there be to consider themselves Christians anymore?”

        Christian: “I’m a biblica scholar Darrell. I can’t think of anywhere Christ told people to kill. Could you provide me with references? And references for the 90% of the bible that would have to be ignored?”

        Me: “No, in Luke 19 Jesus wasn’t literally commanding his followers to bring unbelievers before him and slay them. I understand that he was relating a parable. No what Jesus was saying was much nastier. According to many of your fellow Christians what Jesus meant was that upon his return he himself would destroy all unbelievers and sinners.

        For example, per a biblical authority of some respect among many Christians, John Gill . . .

        bring hither, and slay them before me; which had its accomplishment in the destruction of Jerusalem, when multitudes of them were slain with the sword, both with their own, and with their enemies; and to this the parable has a special respect, and of which Christ more largely discourses in this chapter; see Luke 19:41 though it is true of all natural men, that they are enemies to Christ; and so of all negligent and slothful professors, and ministers of the word, who, when Christ shall come a second time, of which his coming to destroy the Jewish nation was an emblem and pledge, will be punished with everlasting destruction by him; and then all other enemies will be slain and destroyed, sin, Satan, the world, and death: “

        That commentary is pretty typical of other interpretations by notable Christian biblical authorities. No doubt there are other interpretations within Christianity as one would expect given the 33,000 + sects and counting.

        Additionally, in the context of whether or not the proposition that “Christianity is a religion of love,” is a reasonable interpretation of the bible, I fail to see how Jesus relating violent parables intended to teach his followers that really bad things are going to happen to people who don’t accept him is significantly better than if he had been directly telling his followers to bring unbelievers before him and slay them. In absolute terms yes, a threat of violence intended to coerce is not as bad as commanding to kill, but neither is the least bit compatible with a religion of love.

        Having said that, by all means please proceed in evolving Christianity into a more loving religion.”

        The Christian has an interpretation that she believes is what her god intended and she thinks it avoids leaving her god being responsible for an obviously immoral act. She doesn’t seem to even notice that the interpretation she believes entails at least a comparable, if not greater, moral failing in her god as the literal interpretation she opposes.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted August 4, 2017 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

          Interesting exchange. I think you won that one!

          Every now and then I like to watch the Intelligence Squared debate about whether religion has made the world a better place. Stephen Fry and Christopher Hitchens, speaking against the motion, won the debate. Of course.

          • darrelle
            Posted August 4, 2017 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

            Oh yeah, that Intelligence Squared debate was a virtual slaughter. Fry & Hitchens made a great team.

      • Posted August 5, 2017 at 11:30 am | Permalink

        Ah context! In what context was the Canaanite Genocide a loving act? In what context does forcing a rape victim to marry her rapist or stoning her to death because she didn’t scream loudly enough, become the act of a loving father?

        Oh yes! Depriving them of life or liberty because life lived freely under the sanctimonious shunning and victimisation of ‘loving’ Christians would make life unbearable.

        THAT love!

    • Posted August 4, 2017 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

      You’ve missed out the the most telling part of that bit:

      No one who’s actually taken the time to read the Wisdom books, prophets, or large sections of the Pentateuch could possibly write such nonsense.

      He does the exact negative of Dawkins. God is lovely as long as you only read the bits of the Bible in which he does not do nasty things.

      The trouble is that you can be as nice as pie almost all the time but people will insist on judging you by the one time you sadistically drowned everything on Earth except the contents of one boat.

      Peter Sutcliffe killed thirteen women*. That means that for the vast majority of nights of his life, he was perfectly fine and peaceful. If he had written a diary, you could read “large sections” of it and come away with the impression he was not a serial killer.

      * God told him to kill those women allegedly. No Christian has ever come up with a convincing argument to explain why their relationships with God should are considered real, but Peter Sutcliffe’s should not.

      • Diane G.
        Posted August 5, 2017 at 3:07 am | Permalink

        Nice analogy. 🙂

  17. BobTerrace
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Walters is running scared. He realizes that reason and science are wiping away religious superstition and dogma and that soon there will be no place for him in the world.

    • Taz
      Posted August 4, 2017 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

      I also detected the stench of fear in his writing.

  18. Posted August 4, 2017 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    H.L. Mencken: “The way to deal with superstition is not to be polite to it, but to tackle it with all arms, and so rout it, cripple it, and make it forever infamous and ridiculous. Is it, perchance, cherished by persons who should know better? Then their folly should be brought out into the light of day, and exhibited there in all its hideousness until they flee from it, hiding their heads in shame. True enough, even a superstitious man has certain inalienable rights. He has a right to harbor and indulge his imbecilities as long as he pleases, provided only he does not try to inflict them upon other men by force. He has a right to argue for them as eloquently as he can, in season and out of season. He has a right to teach them to his children. But certainly he has no right to be protected against the free criticism of those who do not hold them. He has no right to demand that they be treated as sacred. He has no right to preach them without challenge.”

    Of course, he got a lot of complaints about not being polite enough, too.

    • BobTerrace
      Posted August 4, 2017 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for that quote.

      +1

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted August 4, 2017 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      Excellent quote for the circumstances.

    • Diane G.
      Posted August 5, 2017 at 3:09 am | Permalink

      +3

    • rickflick
      Posted August 5, 2017 at 8:12 am | Permalink

      See also, Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, by Susan Jacoby. A source for the long history of heroes like Mancken and Robert Ingersoll.

  19. Carlos N Velez
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    Walters sounds like someone desperately trying to defend their entire career & livelihood, like the buggy whip maker extolling the superiority of horses over automobiles.

  20. Martin Knowles
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    “A few years ago], I merely considered Dawkins a parvenu and a nuisance. But over the past few perilous months, with the rise of an “alternative” facts and “fake news” ethos in which truth is ignored and bluster reigns supreme, I’ve changed my mind.”

    Does this mean he changed his mind about alternative facts and embraced the fake news of theology because the truth is dangerous? What on earth is Walters so afraid of?

    • Diane G.
      Posted August 5, 2017 at 3:10 am | Permalink

      Yeah, I read that 2nd sentence thought, man, what an own goal.

  21. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Dawkins is on some occasions very nice to religious folk, depending on who they are.

    In the TV documentary “God Delusion”, he’s impeccably polite to the archbishop of Canterbury and the Vatican astronomer George Coyne, but quite savage with Ted Haggard.

    He has appeared on Brit talk shows which discuss contemporary issues and have a panel of a rabbi, priest, minister, and atheist. He is always impeccably polite.

    If you’re looking for coarseners of culture, I guess you could tackle the authors of the musical “Book of Mormon” (although since it’s also brilliant with some good points behind it, I’m not that worried about it’s coarseness.)

    I have some modest reservations of my own about how well RD knows religion, but this fellow isn’t all that knowledgeable about RD. And “cherry-picking passages” is something many religious critics of the New Atheists have done as well.

    I tend to think over time a critic of religion wants to deal with both popular religion and Soph/Theo.

    =-=-=
    Re: “Yes, they have moral codes, but those codes depend crucially on the authenticity of the religion’s truth claims.”
    I would say about 40% of Christianity’s moral code depends on it’s truth claims, the virtue of faith, the belief that pre-born infants but not animals have souls, etc. But quite a lot of it comes from pagan philosophy.
    For example, The Catholic Church’s “just war” philosophy is taken entirely from Cicero. (It is expounded in the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the 2004 Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.) It is in no way dependent on belief in anything in the Nicene Creed.

    =-=-=

    It is largely because I think there is no consistent concept of God in the Old Testament that I respectfully disagree with Barker and Dawkins.

    • Craw
      Posted August 4, 2017 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

      Well, to be fair it is unlikely any recent Archbishop of Canterbury has really been a believer.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted August 4, 2017 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

        From ‘Yes, Prime Minister’ – The Bishop’s Gambit:

        James Hacker: Humphrey, what’s a Modernist in the Church of England?
        Sir Humphrey Appleby: Ah, well, the word “Modernist” is code for non-believer.
        James Hacker: You mean an atheist?
        Sir Humphrey Appleby: No, Prime Minister. An atheist clergyman couldn’t continue to draw his stipend. So, when they stop believing in God, they call themselves “Modernists”.
        James Hacker: How could the Church of England suggest an atheist as Bishop of Bury St Edmunds?
        Sir Humphrey Appleby: Well, very easily. The Church of England is primarily a social organization, not a religious one.
        James Hacker: Is it?
        Sir Humphrey Appleby: Oh yes. It’s part of the rich social fabric of this country. So bishops need to be the sorts of chaps who speak properly and know which knife and fork to use. The sort of people one can look up to.

        http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0751836/trivia?tab=qt&ref_=tt_trv_qu

        cr

    • Diane G.
      Posted August 5, 2017 at 3:15 am | Permalink

      “It is largely because I think there is no consistent concept of God in the Old Testament that I respectfully disagree with Barker and Dawkins.”

      Huh? Have you read The God Delusion? How about Godless?

  22. Graham
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    “the scientific method, which he appears not to understand.”

    He’s seriously trying to say that an Oxford University science professor doesn’t understand the scientific method?

    Ooooh Kaaay [Backs quietly out of room]

  23. Tom
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    About 20 years ago I began looking into the origin of the christian religion, outside the faith itself, anywhere in recorded history.
    Suffice it to say there is no evidence.
    All the earliest texts have been destroyed or altered. What we have now is what certain christians chose to edit and preserve.
    It is very strange and sad in the 21st century that otherwise intelligent people choose not to investigate the roots of their own faith. Even the early christian writers considered faith alone was enough only for the illiterate masses and the majority of christians in the West today are by no means illiterate.
    Apparently the fact that these writers could not honestly find their saviour in history was so compelling that they had to invent another sort of “history” which was a good idea at the time but makes little sense now.

  24. Michael Fisher
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    My favourite Kerry Walters book title on Amazon is “Merciful Meekness: Becoming a Spirituality Integrated Person”

    DESCRIPTION: “Here is a clear, concise and judicious examination of the bedrock Christian moral principles of mercy and meekness that leads the author, a professor of philosophy, to affirm their essential integration if we are to become complete Christians. Dr. Walters redefines and synthesizes the Christian principles: mercy and meekness together are virtues compatible, complementary, and essential to our pathway to union with Christ…”

    • Mark R.
      Posted August 5, 2017 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

      I threw up a little…thanks 🙂

  25. sambricky2013
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    I personally would like to thank professor Dawkins for corrupting my culture. For without him we have had to search harder for the knowledge he has shared with us

  26. Randy schenck
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    His claim that Dawkin’s views do not count because he does not know enough about religion to have a view is just bogus. So all the people who buy into religious and promote it are what, PhDs with great education in theology. What about Dan Barker or John Loftus and many more. I did not care for religious when I knew nothing and now I know allot more and it has not changed my result one inch. In fact, it just confirms my first impression.

    • Diane G.
      Posted August 5, 2017 at 3:19 am | Permalink

      Indeed. The more you know the worse it gets.

  27. eric
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Without responding to every point of his, two that immediately come to mind are:

    1. If we say faith without evidence is a bad thing, and you say it’s a good thing…then can we at least agree that Christianity is such a faith, yes? I suspect Dawkins and many other atheists would be perfectly fine just letting the statement “Christianity is founded on faith without evidence” stand on its own, with no editorial commentary about the value of faith being required at that point.

    2. If someone called me culturally dangerous, I think the only proper response is “thank you for the compliment.”

  28. darrelle
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    No surprises for me, this is exactly the kind of nasty, supercilious excreta I expect coming from a Catholic priest. I know the set of all Catholic priests comprises a wide range and I’ve no doubt that some are wonderful people. But nearly every one I have met looks just like this one does in this article.

    By this point in my life I can barely tolerate them. For example a friends funeral a few years ago. The Catholic priest spent 2 or 3 minutes talking about my friend and the next 20 running the RCC’s age old con on the guests, telling us how sinful, inadequate and unable to cope we all were and only he could get us right with big daddy. I was that close to doing something about it.

  29. John Mahoney
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, a small nit to pick, it should be “could not care less” or “couldn’t care less” rather than “could care less”. Richard cares. Thanks for you incisive critiques and calling it like you see it.

  30. BJ
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    “The ‘God of the Old Testament’ Dawkins sputters, is ‘a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.’

    No one who’s actually taken the time to read the Wisdom books, prophets, or large sections of the Pentateuch could possibly write such nonsense.”

    Bullshit. I know the Old Testament very well, having been forced to study it as a child, and I agree completely with this analysis. And it doesn’t show that Dawkins has cherry-picked anything, as the author attempts to convince us.

    However, the author has done some cherry-picking himself.

    “…Dawkins’ remarks about religion, Christianity as well as Islam, have indeed been abusive, contributing to the coarsening and polarization of our culture.”

    Bwahahaha. Oh mahy, Such language! I do believe I have the vapahs! I must find my faintin’ couch…

  31. Posted August 4, 2017 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    Piffle, ideological/faith-based gobbledygook and piffle!

    rz

  32. Posted August 4, 2017 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    Piffle, ideological/faith-based gobbledygook and piffle!

    rz

  33. rickflick
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    “the Book of Mormon (I couldn’t finish it)”

    Has anyone ever finished it? I honestly doubt Joseph Smith has actually read it other than when he fabricated it.

    • BJ
      Posted August 4, 2017 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

      Of course he read it.

      In a hat!

  34. Vaal
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    (My emphasis)

    because they could care less about Plantinga.

    Oh noooo, Prof Ceiling Cat, not you too!

    My faith has been wobbled (nervously rubs rosery made of cat hair balls…)

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted August 4, 2017 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

      See the response to comment #29 (xqcd generally farting in the direction of language police).

      • gijswijs
        Posted August 4, 2017 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

        I’m all for adding references to xqcd, but I don’t think it’s language policing when it comes to could/couldn’t care less.

        I think it’s helpful to point out when someone is accidentally saying something else than what he appears to be saying, and in this case even the exact opposite of what he appears to be saying.

        The same goes for literally vs. figuratively

        My definition of language policing is pointing to spelling errors that have no effect on the meaning of the text.

        Personally, I welcome even the latter. I’m not a native speaker so I can only learn from it. If the language policing isn’t judgmental, I think it’s actually polite to point out the errors. It’s like a pro bono editor.

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted August 5, 2017 at 1:06 am | Permalink

          @gijswijs Are youj Dutjch perchjance?

          Here’s a nice long thread from eight months ago [635 comments] on “Grammar that irks” – something to get your canines [oops] into. Note that PCC[E] is agin “could care less.”
          https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2016/12/19/grammar-that-irks/

          So what the Ceiling Cat is going on you ask me?

          It’s obviously a devilish ploy. It’s part of his mission to get his WEIT “followers” ticker to his magic number of 50,000. It stands at 49,594 now & he wants to cross the finish line in a lightening Bolt surge pre-India!

          He tryed dead babys & that failed, so now it’s dirty tactics with the old grammar ploy! Grammar controversy generates morer comments than just about anything.

          🙂

          • Michael Fisher
            Posted August 5, 2017 at 1:11 am | Permalink

            Dam! I used “ploy” twice – I hate that.

            • rickflick
              Posted August 5, 2017 at 6:59 am | Permalink

              That’s OK, we knew you meant ‘scheme’ the second time. 😉

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted August 5, 2017 at 1:28 am | Permalink

          @GvD Great Scott. Well, I go to the foot of our stairs, I was right!

        • Diane G.
          Posted August 5, 2017 at 3:26 am | Permalink

          And while we’re pointing out errors…Ahem–it’s xkcd…

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted August 4, 2017 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

      Me too.

      cr

  35. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    I am sorry that people like Walters are scared and take the current cultural climate as an opportunity to increase polarization. But atheists, “Dawkins and his ilk”, are not going away by uttering the old and weary religious “shut up” demand.

    I find it ironic that a theologian like Walters would attempt to characterize a world famous – scientifically as well as publicly – scientist like Dawkins as not understanding the methods of his science. And that said theologian would do so by a know-nothing-by-itself philosophical description. (Containing a nugget of fact, since testing is pivotal. Still.) I do not see any argument from Walters that Dawkins has not already responded to in the preface to my copy of “The God Delusion”.

    Except possibly this beaut, which show that Walters have not kept up with the science he attempts to rely on:

    “But Dawkins, in the name of science, does precisely this, claiming that science proves the through-and-through physical nature of reality—a metaphysical rather than scientific assertion.”

    Sadly for everyone, Dawkins did not put this to a rigorous test, he put a bayesian probability of 0.9 against Walter’s god. However we now know from testing in the LHC 2012 and on that “the through-and-through physical nature of reality” append to everyday physics of standard particles on a standard dark matter and dark energy background.

    Walter is now putting his god into the exotic, non-characterized physics of black holes. The problem with his gods-in-the-black-holes argument is that such magical agencies are forced to largely affect the distant universe by heat radiation, and that they – despite being the most long lived objects in the form of supermassive black holes – will eventually evaporate and die. Unless Walter’s gods are already natural they will be conquered by nature and rubbed out. Seems to me Walter’s god is “but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more: it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.”

  36. Chris Swart
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

    Intolerably smug, like many of his ilk.

  37. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    Just another insignificant god-botherer who thinks he can reap some street cred by attacking a big-name atheist.

    If it wasn’t for PCC mentioning him here, would anyone here even have heard of Kerry Walters?

    (Not that I’m criticising PCC for this post, someone’s gotta do it…)

    cr

  38. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

    “These are soundbites that people who’ve never really bothered to listen to what serious students of religion say about faith typically toss around.”

    Another weekend thought is that when we come up against fairy tales and cryptozoology (or more distantly astrology, homeopathy et cetera) we are never much concerned about listening to the “serious students” of said beliefs. We first try to localize pertinent descriptions and observations, where the internal mumbo-jumbo can be helpful, and then we test: where is the evidence that this is a phenomena?

    Walters magical cryptoanthropology/cryptophysics – let us sum up as cryptonature – does not merit what he claims.

  39. kelskye
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

    I used to spend time arguing with people about why criticism of religion doesn’t require delving into theology – the problems of a specific religious belief are pseudo-problems without the underlying assumptions being vindicated – but I realised this was a waste of effort. You’re talking about people who are looking for any excuse to dismiss a critic as a valid one. Thus if you show that something hasn’t addressed a specific area of thought, that’s what you can point to as confirmation you aren’t dealing with a serious critic.

    Herman Philipse’s God in the Age of Science really drove home the necessity of Natural Theology as the edifice Revealed Theology must be built upon. But that won’t matter to anyone who is merely trying to sustain a belief in God rather than demonstrating that belief. That’s why they call it faith…

    • Posted August 5, 2017 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

      You are completely correct in assessing the real reason behind the hatred of Dawkins: that he has converted people of faith to nonbelief. But you should go one step further: it is the cogency and validity of Dawkins’ arguments that believers fear, not just the person making the arguments. The believers recognize quite well that their own arguments for a deity or creationism have no evidence and that most intelligent people will realize this, some on their own and some after hearing what Dawkins has to say. In sum, the believers are outclassed and on the defensive and have nothing to fall back on, much less any prospect of providing evidence.
      I actually celebrate the attacks of believers on atheists because it shows that they are mighty nervous, lack intellectual underpinnings and armor, and every day wake up finding fewer and fewer adherents to any faith. This is comforting to me; it gives me faith in humanity and its ability to separate
      fiction from fact. Of course this doesn’t mean the adversaries are giving up; it means that they will double their attacks and use even more flimsy methods to save their sinking ship, hence the virulent attacks on Dawkins, the embodiment of truth and reason. But it was ever thus in human history. Slings and arrows will continue to be flung but the
      path ahead keeps getting cleared of the
      religious clutter and muddled thinking.

  40. larry sullivan
    Posted August 5, 2017 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    a big thumbs up

  41. Lee
    Posted August 5, 2017 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    Very well written essay. Thank you, Prof. Coyne.

    I just have one comment. You have said on several occasions (including your essay here) that there is no evidence for religion. If by that you mean “no evidence in support of religion”, I agree. However, I would argue that there is a great deal of evidence which bears on the truth of religious claims, even the esoteric claims that would otherwise seem beyond the reach of science.

    For instance, I would argue that evidence which supports a materialistic explanation of life and existence is also evidence against supernatural claims about those things. At the very least there is the “explaining away” effect that lowers the probability of one explanation when evidence is found for a competing explanation which adequately accounts for the data, since the prior probability of both being true is lower than the probability of either one being true by itself. More likely (it seems to me) however is the fact that the materialistic / supernatural explanations are not just conditionally independent, but somewhat mutually exclusive, in the same way that the hypotheses “Bob shot Bill” and “Fred shot Bill” are mutually exclusive given that Fred’s body has only one bullet hole in it. If Bob’s finger print is on the murder weapon, that is both evidence that Bob shot Bill, and it is evidence that Fred did not shoot Bill.

    This would seem to apply even (or especially) to claims that would seem outside the scope of scientific verification. For instance, Joseph Smith claimed that the papyri in his possession were written by the patriarch Abraham, and he also taught the preexistence of human spirits. He claimed knowledge of both matters by virtue of his status as a prophet. While the preexistence of spirits would seem hard to disprove, the fact that Smith was completely wrong about the papyri undermines his claim to be a prophet, which in turn undermines his teachings about the preexistence of spirits, since it goes to the source of his claim to divine knowledge. Put another way, the claim about the historicity of the Book of Abraham and the claim about the preexistence of spirits are conditionally dependent given Smith’s claim to be a prophet. Evidence against Smith’s claims about the Book of Abraham is also evidence (albeit indirect) against his other prophetic claims.

    Summary: There is in fact a lot of scientific evidence against the truth claims of religion, including those claims that would otherwise seem to be outside the purview of science. Religion’s poor historical track record on getting things right is highly relevant to the evaluation of its present claims.

    • Lee
      Posted August 6, 2017 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

      I’m sorry Prof. Coyne- you didn’t say “there’s no evidence for religion”; you said “there is no evidence for the truth claims of religion”. I was careless in my comment. The point I tried to make was that there is also substantial evidence *against* the truth claims of religion, even the claims that would be difficult to directly test and evaluate.

      For what it’s worth, another line of evidence is the lengths to which the religion apologist go to try to build their case. For instance, the Book of Mormon makes many strong claims (e.g. an economy in ancient America based on gold and silver coinage; extensive steel manufacture, horses and wheeled vehicles, languages derived from ancient Hebrew) about which Mormon archaeologists have gone searching for evidence and come up completely empty handed. They have gone over all the data with a fine tooth comb, and the best they can come up with are rationalizations and misdirection, and a model of scientific inquiry that would be equally appropriate for proving the existence of elves and hobbits as for Nephites and Lamanites.

      Without these efforts there could be room for honest doubt- could there be some stone left unturned that might produce a smoking gun of evidence for BofM claims? But I trust that there are no stones left unturned at this point, and that sophistic reasoning is all they have left to back their claims. Since this is the best the best and brightest among them can do, is this not further evidence that their claims are specious?

      It seems to me that such a outcome is predictable when the researchers already know the “truth” and are unwilling to consider alternatives. They may even believe that it’s acceptable to twist and smudge the truth for a higher purpose, to avoid introducing doubts in the minds of church members who might be struggling with their faith. (“But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck…”) Being a predictable outcome, it seems to me that this is also evidence pertinent to the truth claims of the Mormon church, and in fact any churches that indulge in sophistry to back up their truth claims.

  42. Christa Simmons
    Posted August 6, 2017 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Awesome article……. I see the evidence in my husbands church.
    Filled with senior citizen but leaving most of the pews empty.

  43. Posted August 9, 2017 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Quaerere Propter Vērum.


%d bloggers like this: