Charlie Spiering reports for Crisis magazine
about the Rally for Reason, which featured a bunch of people without
ultimate purpose who randomly gathered to and emote and to talk, by
complete chance, about their accidentally shared hatred of religion,
which they insist, with great intensity, is beneath them and is not
worthy of their attentionother than, of course, holding a six-hour
gloomy rain clouds hung low over the Washington Monument, the rally
quickly degenerated into open mockery of religion and people of faith.
motherf-, f the mother- pope,” sang Musician Tim Minchin as he
played profane songs on the piano for a laughing and cheering crowd.
Few religions remained unscathed while cruel spokesmen of reason roundly ridiculed Mormons, Buddhists, Christians, and Muslims.
Perhaps some of the talented people involved thought it was a Rally for Ridicule and Rage? Apparently so:
the laughs turned into malaise as the event drew to a close. Famed
atheist headliner Richard Dawkins labored through a speech that quickly
really believe that when a priest blesses a wafer, it turns into the
body of Christ?” he said, ridiculing Catholics. “Are you seriously
telling me you believe that? Are you seriously saying that wine turns
Hawkins challenged his fellow atheists to expose people who still cling to their faith in spite of their doubts.
them, ridicule them in public, don’t fall for the convention that we’re
far to polite to talk about religion,” a frustrated Dawkins continued,
“Religion is not off the table. Religion is not off limits. Religion
makes specific claims about the universe, which need to be
substantiated. They should be challenged and ridiculed with contempt.”
Mockery and ridicule aren't, of course, owned and copyrighted by
atheists; you'll find plenty of Christians who are jerks, oafs,
blockheads, fools, loons, and all-around louts. But I've never heard,
say, the Pope or Billy Graham or some other significant, recognized
leader of particular Christian churches or groups say, "Mock them,
ridicule them in public" and so forth. But, really, is anyone that
surprised? Dawkins might be a fine biologist, but when it comes to
religion and philosophy, he's not just the emperor without clothes, he's
the proverbial atheist without argumentsthat is, real arguments. He
has learned that mockery, ridicule, and contempt are the best tools for
spreading the religion of anti-religion, since it distracts from all of
the nagging questions and robust arguments that otherwise might have to
be addressed. Dr. Edward Feser, himself once an atheist, has written:
Oddly, the rhetoric of the New Atheist
writersRichard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher
Hitchens among the most prominentsounds much more like that of a
fundamentalist preacher than like anything I read during my atheist
days. Like the preacher, they are supremely self-confident in their
ability to dispatch their opponents with a sarcastic quip or two. And,
like the preacher, they show no evidence whatsoever of knowing what
they are talking about.
And, of course, Feser demonstrates this in detail in his challenging, sometimes caustic, and always rollicking book, The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism.
Another author who has taken Dawkins, specifically, to task (or to the
philosophical wood shed, as it were) is the Thomist Fr. Thomas Crean,
O.P., author of God Is No Delusion: A Refutation of Richard Dawkins.
It is more pithy and less caustic than Feser's excellent book, ideal
for folks wanting a clear and relatively short guide to the main errors
bandied about by Dawkins. I interviewed Fr. Crean back in 2008; here is part of that interview:
Insight: Dawkins' field of expertise is biology. How would you rate him
as, first, a philosopher, and, secondly, as an apologist for atheism?
I do not think he is very interested in philosophy. He refers
occasionally to Daniel Dennett, but that is about all. He seems to take
materialism as self-evident, but he doesn't make any serious effort to
explain thought or free will. He refers at one point to St. Thomas's
"five ways", but his discussion of them is extremely cursory, with major
misunderstandings. There is no mention of Plato or Aristotle in his
book. His impatience with "religion"is such that he is not really
disposed to weigh carefully any arguments in its favor, which is
obviously the very reverse of a philosophical frame of mind.
an apologist for atheism he has some useful qualities, such as passion,
a tone of conviction, a desire to make converts, ready invective and an
apparent concern for the psychological (I almost said "spiritual")
welfare of those whom he is trying to convert. On the other hand his
stridency must surely reduce his influence with some people, and his
lapses of logic with others.
Ignatius Insight: Throughout God Is No Delusion
you point out numerous errors of logic and fact in Dawkins' work. In
your opinion, what are some of the most egregious of those errors? Based
on his book, what sort of research did Dawkins put into studying
Christian history, theology, and philosophy?
I think one of his worst faults is the tendency to reason in a circle.
For example, to explain why religion is so widespread even though in his
opinion it is irrational, he says that it is evolutionarily useful.
Why? Because it helps survival if, in general, one tends to adhere to
the philosophy if life that one has once adopted. But the question at
issue is precisely why so many people adopt theism as their philosophy
of life, rather than atheism. So his explanation amounts to saying that
theism is so widespread because so many people adopt it.
suspect that he did very little research into Christian sources before
writing his book. He quotes occasionally from the 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia,
which is of course available on the Internet. Sometimes his
misunderstandings of it are quite funny, as when he quotes a passage in
the entry on "Purgatory" called "proofs of Purgatory", where the author
has referred to the immemorial Christian custom of praying for the dead.
Professor Dawkins seriously supposes that the author intended this as a
'proof' that would convince an atheist such as himself!
is perhaps more surprising is that he has not done more research using
anti-Christian sources. I should have expected that there would have
been more about the Crusades, for example, or the Inquisition. But in
fact he doesn't seem to be very interested in history, any more than in
You can also read an excerpt from the book,
a selection that addresses the question, "Why, if religion is
irrational and pernicious, is it so widespread?" It is an excellent
example of how clear thinking and the application of
philosophically-sound logic clears away the rhetorical smoke screens
that Dawkins employs repeatedly, whether in books or (even more so) in
public. Or, from Dr. Feser:
Dawkins is equally adept at refuting straw men. In his bestselling The
God Delusion, he takes Aquinas to task for resting his case for God’s
existence on the assumption that “There must have been a time when no
physical things existed”even though Aquinas rather famously avoids
making that assumption in arguing for God. (Aquinas’s view was instead
that God must be keeping the world in existence here and now and at
any moment at which the world exists, and that this would remain true
even if it turned out that the world had no beginning.) Dawkins assures
us that Aquinas gives “absolutely no reason” to think that a First
Cause of the universe would have to be all-powerful, all-good,
all-knowing, etc.; in reality, Aquinas devoted hundreds of pages,
across many works, to showing just this. Dawkins says that the fifth of
Aquinas’s famous Five Ways is essentially the same as the “divine
watchmaker” argument made famous by William Paley. In fact the arguments
couldn’t be more different, and followers of Aquinas typicallyand
again, rather famously (at least for people who actually know something
about these things)reject Paley’s argument with as much scorn as
evolutionists like Dawkins do.
And those are only (some of) the errors on pages 7779.
find similar howlers throughout the works of the other New Atheists.
Their grasp of the chief arguments for the existence of God and related
matters is, in short, comparable to the scientific acumen of the
college sophomore who thinks the lesson of Einstein’s revolution in
physics is that “it’s all relative, man”or that of the fundamentalist
preacher of my opening example. It’s that bad.
Perhaps the most illuminating anecdote that I've read from those covering the Rally of Really Evolved Emoters was this, as reported by Cathy Lynn Grossman of USA Today:
Adam Savage, co-host of Mythbusters on the Discovery Channel, said there really is someone who loves and protects him and watches over his actions -- "It's me!"
Imagine a world in which your existence and the existence of everyone
and everything else is accidental and has no purpose. Imagine that you
are the final arbiter of what is of any worth and meaning. Imagine that
you have no need to answer to anyone else, and no reason to pursue a
greater goodas what is "good" is what you decide is best for you alone.
Imagine that death holds only cold, dark unconsciousness. Imagine that
it is all about you, you, you. You have then imagined hell. But, hey,
don't let that reality dampen your rally.