Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The root of some amount or other of evil

Don't know whether anyone caught Richard Dawkins' programme "The Root of all Evil?" on channel 4 on monday night. I gave him up until the first break before I decided he was being too silly to waste time on. His argument was something along the lines of "Here are some people who have faith in silly things... therefore all faith is silly. Some people who have faith use it as an excuse to kill people... therefore all faith is evil and is responsible for all(/most/some) [more on this below] evil. QED"

I hope that this isn't just me being vindictive, but hearing Vine wipe the floor with him last thursday lunchtime on the wireless was one of the most entertaining experiences of my life. Beginning with Vine questioning the statement "the root of all evil", Dawkins first said that he wouldn't defend that to the hilt, to which JV naturally expressed incredulity at the appropriateness of using it as a title. From here on you could hear Prof Dawkins squirming:

RD: I think that religion is the root of a very great deal of evil.

JV: It's not the same thing [as the root of all evil].

RD: Let's move on to the next point then.

JV: Well, no. Let's not. Let's stick with this. Your programme is called the root of all evil...

RD: It's boring what it's called.

JV: But surely it is a false statement.

[Loooooong pause]

RD: Let's go on.

JV: But it's the title of the programme.

[Another long pause]

RD: It is the title of the programme, it is a title which is partially defensible...

JV: Well "all" is not partial.

RD: I agree with you. [More annoyed] I agree with you, now let's move on.

JV: Well I'm confused about this - you're saying the title is wrong, but it's partially defensible, or what?

RD: Yes

JV: So how can you defend a false statement?

RD: This is such a boring discussion [it was this statement, most of all, that made it clear how confused Dawkins was, as the discussion's entertainment value was roughly equivalent to the "goodness" of the cakes made by a certain Mr Kipling], why can't we talk about the programme itself?

At this point Professor Rich had the bright idea of cutting his losses and just launching into what his argument was (religion encourages people to take actions which they can excuse themselves from having to justify). But Vine wasn't quite willing to let him off the hook...

JV: If, it's not the root of all evil as you have now conceded, is it your argument that it is the root of most evil or just some evil?

RD: Yes, I think probably most evil in the world today, if you look at the violence in the world, if you look at the wars in the world, I would think it's the root of most evil, yes.

JV: If we say it's the root of most evil, how do you explain that the three greatest mass-murderers of the last century, Stalin, Mao and Hitler, did not have a religious creed at all.

RD: Hitler was a Roman Catholic and he justified his hatred of the jews on Christian grounds. Stalin was an atheist, no doubt about that. However, it would be completely false to suggest that Stalin or indeed Hitler did what they did because of any tendency to atheism, the same goes for Mao. Religious people will justify evil on religious grounds. Atheists who do evil things just happen to be atheists, just as they happen to have moustaches.

Now, I see three glaring flaws in Dawkins' argument here:

1) He says "Religious people will justify evil on religious grounds" and "Atheists who do evil things just happen to be atheists". Hitler justified much of his evil on supposed (ie. supposed by Hitler) scientific grounds (supposed science being Dawkins own discipline).

2) His claim that atheists who do evil things just happen to be atheists is false. Their atheism is itself a belief that they will not ultimately be held to account by a morally and powerfully superior being. This gives them the psychological freedom to do as much evil as they please without any consideration of any undesirable consequence for them.

3) Mao didn't have a moustache.

Anyway, a couple of minutes later we had:

JV: So, you accept then that your comment that religion is the root of most evil is also wrong.

[Do not adjust your radios, despite this yawning chasm of a pause]

RD: Errrrrm. No. I don't think I would accept that because I am talking about history as a whole including today when Stalin is fortunately gone, and including the whole sweep of history when most of the wars, at least in European history, could be put down to religious differences.

And so on, with more and more clutching at haybales...


At 4:31 AM, Blogger dan said...

is there any way of listening to the interview? i tried looking for it but couldn't find it.

i've been quite satisfied at the ridicule that's come dawkins way in the press about this series. i tried reading the blind watchmaker once but only got a few chapters in cos his arrogance just wound me up so much. he's one of the biggest religous zealots i've ever come across.

At 5:23 AM, Blogger Si said...

It was on the radio 2 player, but they only have the previous week at a time so it'll be gone by now I'm afraid.


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