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A review of a recently broadcast two-part TV documentary on religion presented by Prof Richard Dawkins, broadcast on Channel 4 network in the United Kingdom, 9 & 16 January 2006
Richard Dawkins, perhaps the world’s best-known evolutionist and the Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University in the UK, is a man with a mission. He gives every indication of being absolutely driven to rid the world of ‘The God delusion’ and ‘The virus of faith’—the shocking titles of the two one-hour ‘documentaries’ broadcast on the UK’s Channel 4 network.
The series’ title itself, The root of all evil? is jarring. The title is borrowed from 1 Timothy 6:10 and the teaching that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Dawkins instead is suggesting that religion itself (especially Christianity) can be the root of all kinds of evil. An alarmist Dawkins declares that it can have an especially corrupting influence on young people.1
Such documentaries are often picked up by TV networks in other lands, and so it would come as no surprise if Dawkins’s diatribe against biblical Christianity will eventually appear in countries like the USA and Australia.
Surprisingly, and encouragingly, despite being given two hours of prime-time TV, Dawkins actually does not come out of the documentaries very well. Madeleine Bunting, writing in the Guardian (a left-leaning UK newspaper not noted for its support for evangelical Christianity) described Dawkins’s documentaries as ‘a piece of intellectually lazy polemic not worthy of a great scientist.’2 So it is not only the creationists who are criticising Dawkins.
If Bunting is right in her analysis, as I believe she is, how does this ‘intellectual laziness’ come across on TV? It is seen in the large number of unsubstantiated allegations that he made in both segments, which must have had the more-honest atheist evolutionists cringing with embarrassment.
Episode One —‘The God Delusion’—starts with the statement that ‘there are would-be murderers who want to kill you and me’. These murderers are the religious fundamentalists. He begins by criticising Islamic fundamentalists, but soon gets his teeth into his real target: Christians. Perhaps half of episode one and nearly 80% of episode two is spent criticising Christians. He deliberately equates Christianity with Islamic terrorists.
Like all who fare poorly as debaters, Dawkins mixes fact with supposition (he treats his suppositions as facts) to make his points—perhaps hoping that we as viewers will not spot the difference. For example, in an attempt to persuade us that science and faith are diametrically opposed, he asks: ‘How do we know that the earth is four-and-a-half billion years old and that it orbits the sun that nourishes it?’ Religious accounts of the origin of the world and of life, he argues, are not testable. Dawkins confuses operational science, which is capable of reproducible testing, with his version of origins science, which is not. Because we know that it is a fact that the earth orbits the sun and receives energy from it, we are expected to accept from him that the earth is four-and-a-half billion years old. [For a recent AiG article on the age of the earth, see RATE Research Reveals Remarkable Results—A Fatal Blow to Billions of Years.] A scientist’s belief in the age of the earth, however, is ultimately presuppositional. For young-earth creationists, they cite the scientists in the RATE group who have shown that the existing data on radiometric dating methods are compatible with our presupposition of the truth of the book of Genesis and a young earth.
Dawkins continued: ‘How do we know that these dinosaurs are hundreds of millions of years old? The answer is evidence—tons and tons of mutually supporting evidence,’ he triumphantly replies, while the screen shows him searching through drawer after drawer of sample tubes. The viewer is to infer that these tubes contain the experimental proof required—part of the ‘tons and tons of evidence’. An objective person would note that whenever someone claims to have ‘tons and tons of evidence’ for his or her position, usually this is hiding the fact that there is little or none at all.
Dawkins, though, manages to find about 60 seconds to try and provide at least some of the ‘tons and tons’. He starts by ridiculing belief in ‘a designer God, who fashioned the world in just six days’ (the emphasis was there in his voice; those three words, incidentally, make up the title of my upcoming book). He merely offers up a comment about ‘a gradient of evolution. All we have to do is put one foot in front of the other.’ So there is his evidence in a nutshell—he proposes that there is a gradient of evolution.
Yet visit any natural history museum and you will see that many of Dawkins’s colleagues are embarrassed by past claims of gradual evolution.3 So-called ‘tree structures’ for horse evolution, for example, have replaced the discredited linear version. The only similarity, in my opinion, between the official view of evolutionary diagrams and Dawkins’s claims of gradual evolution is that both concepts are without convincing evidence.
Dawkins’s final attempt at evidence—that believing in a Designer God requires us to ask ‘Who made the designer?’—is a puerile comment from a supposedly highly intelligent man.
Dawkins is not a man of patience. This was demonstrated by his visit to the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA. In an extraordinary interview with its pastor, Ted Haggard, Dawkins’s opening gambit was to accuse Haggard of orchestrating a service like a ‘Nuremberg Rally’ (massive Nazi rallies in that German city held in the 1930s). ‘Dr Goebbels would be proud’ of churches like Haggard’s [where AiG–USA President Ken Ham spoke many years ago] was his offensive remark. Haggard came across as a man of warmth and humility. His warm demeanour seemed to enrage Dawkins, whose questions and comments became more and more angry. Haggard’s telling rebuke to Dawkins was: ‘You will find yourself wrong on some things and right on some things, but, please, in the process, don’t be arrogant.’ Haggard had, for me, summed up Dawkins quite well: his manner (witnessed so often on TV and in his writings) can only be described as exceptionally arrogant.
In his second programme (16 January), Dawkins claims to be concerned about children. He says: ‘I am very worried about the religious indoctrination of children’.
Dawkins claims that there is a morality apart from religion, but can give no basis for an objective existence to that morality and thus how children should be brought up with acceptable morals. Of course, Christians have a morality, and the Apostle Paul says it comes from God (Romans 1:20).
Interestingly, a Dawkins’ interviewee summed him up to a tee. A Rabbi Gluck told Dawkins that he (Dawkins) was ‘a fundamentalist believer’ in evolution!
Dawkins next port of call was the Phoenix Academy in London, England. This school uses the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) curriculum (see School of Tomorrow produced in the USA, or Christian Education Europe in the UK). It is a curriculum that I know well, and have personally used, and there are other worthy biblically based curricula which attempt to go some way towards addressing many of the problems of secular education (which I have outlined in my article Error in the UK Classroom).
Just before Dawkins arrives at Phoenix, viewers are shown a scene where we are led to believe that he is travelling by Tube (the colloquial term for the London Underground railway system) on his way to the school. As he gets on the train, he says: ‘We live in the midst of a religiously inspired terror …’. The juxtaposition lacks subtlety for Britons, as he connects Bible-believing Christians to the Islamic fanatics who carried out the dreadful bombings on the Tube on 7 July 2005.
Dawkins interviews the Phoenix Academy principal, Mr Adrian Hawkes. Hawkes gave a robust defence of his faith after Dawkins’s accuses his school of ‘slipping religious superstitions back into science’. Unfortunately, Hawkes let the Christian side down somewhat by admitting that he didn’t know if God had made the world in seven days or not (we will overlook the fact that Genesis says God made the world in six days, not seven). It is little compromises like these on which Dawkins pounces.
Dawkins repeatedly professes to be concerned about children’s education. ‘Why should he [Hawkes] impose his personal version of reality on children?’ he asks. But what right does Dawkins think he has to recommend that my children be brought up in a classroom environment devoid of God (i.e. an atheistic one) in government-run schools? This is a point that appears to elude him. For any Christian who may sympathise somewhat with Dawkins’s concerns about education, let us recall that, in the Bible, education is the responsibility of the parent—and specifically the father—not the state. Dawkins’s concept of state-sponsored atheistic education is actually not dissimilar from that practised in the former Soviet Union.
How Dawkins expresses his concern is seen in the images he chooses. In the schools Dawkins visited, many of the children’s faces are obscured by ‘pixelation’ (to protect their anonymity). Dawkins thinks they are too young to be associated with belief systems. But one child’s face is not pixelated. There are frequent shots of a young mother with a toddler of about two; perhaps they are relatives of Dawkins or family friends. While the mother has apparently given Dawkins permission to film her child (the child is only a toddler and can’t speak for herself), by Dawkins’s own standards, suppose that child grows up and becomes a Christian and does not want to associate herself with the views expressed in the TV programme.4 How can Dawkins possibly have the informed consent of that child to be filmed? Dawkins constantly maintains that for children to be taught religion is abusing their rights. He maintains that an association with faith is being imposed on them against their will that they may not welcome later in life. In the same way, however, Dawkins himself has imposed an association with radical atheism on the little girl in the film.
Dawkins closes his documentary with an analysis of Bible teaching—most of what he states is nonsense, but some is surprisingly astute. He uses prejudiced one-liners, like:
Where Dawkins suddenly becomes astute is in his recognition that Christian theology should actually rest on a belief in a literal Adam in Genesis. Of course, Dawkins maintains that Adam did not exist, but he is able to answer an imaginary Christian theologian:
Oh but of course the story of Adam and Eve was only ever symbolic, wasn’t it? Symbolic? Jesus had Himself tortured and executed for a symbolic sin by a non-existent individual. Nobody not brought up in the faith could reach any verdict other than barking mad!
Compromising Christians who want to believe that Adam is a metaphor should take note! Dawkins is right to see the theological connection between a historical Adam and the crucifixion of Jesus for sinful humanity.
Dawkins suggests that ‘not all Christians are rooted in the soil of scripture’. He is, regrettably, correct in this. It was no surprise that his next interview, after making that comment, was with Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford. Harries is notorious for what he does not believe (he admitted to Dawkins that he doesn’t accept, for example, the virgin birth), as well as for some of his left-leaning beliefs (he is a known advocate of homosexual rights, having wanted to appoint the openly gay Jeffrey John as one of his assistant bishops). It is well known that Harries is prepared to ‘cherry-pick’ which bits of the Bible he wants to accept and which he opposes. Although the interview with Harries is civilised, Dawkins, in his commentary, has little respect for him. He observes: ‘The moderate believers are fence-sitting. How do they decide which parts of the Bible are literal and which parts are allegorical?’ How indeed! Good point.
There is much more that can be said in opposition to Dawkins’s views expressed in these two films. It is, however, worth noting in passing that Channel 4, a commercial network that nonetheless had an element of public service requirement in its inception, has given two hours of prime-time TV scheduling to a position thought of as extreme even by other evolutionists. Because so much time was spent specifically criticising evangelical creationist Christianity, Answers in Genesis (UK/Europe) will be requesting the right for airtime to reply. But don’t hold your breath! The UK media often appears to take a pride in its refusal to broadcast the views of evangelicals. The attempts by Dawkins and his ilk to equate us falsely and libellously with the 7/7 and 9/11 bombers unfortunately seem to carry weight with much of the broadcast media in the UK.
‘How is it, asks Richard Dawkins, that despite science having exposed old religious myths, militant faith is back on the march? The mechanism for perpetuating beliefs that Dawkins describes as leading to murderous intolerance, is by imposing religion on children who are too inexperienced to judge it for themselves.’
‘We wouldn’t categorise children according to their parents’ political stance, says Dawkins, since they are too young to make up their minds about such matters. But we segregate them in sectarian religious schools, where they are taught superstitions drawn from ancient scriptures of dubious origin, which promote a “contradictory and poisonous system of morals”.’