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Are Believers Delusional?
Richard Dawkins vs. David Quinn

DUBLIN, Ireland, OCT. 23, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Differences over the existence of God, free will and the effect of religion on the world triggered a spirited debate recently on Irish public radio.

The debate between Richard Dawkins, author of "The God Delusion," and David Quinn, columnist at the Irish Independent, took place Oct. 9 on "The Tubridy Show." The show was hosted by Ryan Tubridy and broadcast on radio station RTE Radio 1.

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Tubridy: Your most recent book is called "The God Delusion." Let's talk about the word delusion, just to put it into context. Why did you pick that word?

Dawkins: The word delusion means a falsehood which is widely believed, to me, and I think that is true of religion, it is remarkably widely believed.

It is as though almost all of the population, or a substantial proportion of the population, believe that they'd been abducted by aliens in flying saucers -- you'd call that a delusion. I think God is a similar delusion.

Tubridy: And would it be fair to say you equate God with, say, the imaginary friend, the bogeyman, or the fairies at the end of the garden?

Dawkins: Well, I think he is just as probable to exist, yes. And I do discuss all those things, especially the imaginary friend, which I think is an interesting psychological phenomenon in childhood. And that may possibly have something to do with the appeal of religion.

Tubridy: So take us through that a little bit, about the imaginary friend factor.

Dawkins: Many young children have an imaginary friend. Christopher Robin had Binker; a little girl who wrote to me had a little purple man. The girl with the little purple man actually saw him, she seemed to hallucinate him, and he appeared with a little tinkling bell, and he was very, very real to her, although in a sense she knew he wasn't real.

I suspect that something like that is going on with people who claim to have heard God, or seen God, or hear the voice of God.

Tubridy: And we're back to delusion again. Do you think that anyone who believes in God, anyone of any religion, is deluded? Is that the bottom line with your argument, Richard?

Dawkins: Well, there is a sophisticated form of religion. One form of it is Einstein's, which really wasn't religion at all.

Einstein used the word "God" a great deal, but he didn't mean a personal God, he didn't mean a being who could listen to your prayers or forgive your sins.

He just meant it as a kind of poetic way of describing the deep unknowns, the deep uncertainties of the root of the universe.

Then there are deists who believe in a kind of God, a kind of personal God who set the universe going, a sort of physicist God, but then did no more, and certainly doesn't listen to your thoughts, and has no personal interest in humans at all.

I don't think I would use a word like delusion for, certainly not for Einstein, and I don't think I would for a deist either. I think I'd reserve the word delusion for real theists, who actually think they talk to God and think God talks to them.

Tubridy: You have a very interesting description in "The God Delusion" of the Old Testament God. ... You described God as a "misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully."

Dawkins: Well, that seems fair enough to me, yes.

Tubridy: There are those who would say that's a little over the top.

Dawkins: Read your Old Testament if you think that. Just read it. Read Leviticus, read Deuteronomy, read Judges, read Numbers, read Exodus.

Tubridy: And is it your contention that these elements of the God as described by yourself are what has not helped matters in terms of, say, global religion and the wars that go with it?

Dawkins: Well, not really because no serious theologian takes the Old Testament literally, anymore, so it isn't quite like that.

An awful lot of people think they take the Bible literally, but that can only be because they've never read it, because if they ever read it, they couldn't possibly take it literally.

But I do think people are a bit confused about where they get their morality from. A lot of people think they get their morality from the Bible because they can find a few good verses -- parts of the Ten Commandments are OK, parts of the Sermon on the Mount are OK -- so they think they get their morality from the Bible. But actually of course nobody gets their morality from the Bible; we get it from somewhere else.

And to the extent that we can find good bits from the Bible, we cherry-pick them, we pick and choose them, we choose the good verses from the Bible and we reject the bad.

Whatever criterion we use to choose the good verses and throw out the bad, that criterion is available to us anyway, whether we're religious or not. Why bother to pick verses, why not just go straight for the morality?

Tubridy: Do you think the people who believe in God and in religion generally, who you think have -- you use the analogy of the imaginary friend -- do you think that the people who believe in God and religion are a little bit dim?

Dawkins: No, because many of them clearly are highly educated and score highly on IQ tests and things.

Tubridy: Why do they believe in something you think doesn't exist?

Dawkins: Well I think people sometimes are remarkably adept at compartmentalizing their mind, separating their mind into two separate parts.

There are some people who even manage to combine being apparently perfectly good working scientists, with believing that the Book of Genesis is literally true, and that the world is only 6,000 years old. If you can perform that level of double-think, then you could do anything.

Tubridy: But they might say that they pity you because you don't believe what they think is fundamentally true.

Dawkins: Well, they might, but we'll have to argue it out by looking at the evidence. The great thing is to argue it by looking at evidence, not just to say, oh well this is my faith, there is no argument to be had, you can't argue with faith.

Tubridy: David Quinn, columnist at the Irish Independent, show us some evidence please.

Quinn: Well, I mean the first thing I'd say is that Richard Dawkins is doing what he commonly does, which is he's setting up straw men, so he puts God in the same -- he puts believing in God in the same -- category as believing in fairies.

Well, children stop believing in fairies when they stop being children, but they usually don't stop believing in God because belief in God, to my mind, is a much more rational proposition than believing in fairies or Santa Claus.

Tubridy: Do we have more proof that God exists than we do for fairies?

Quinn: I'll come to that in a second.

The second thing is that by compartmentalizing yourself, and he uses the examples of, well, you got intelligent people who somehow or other also believe the world is only 6,000 years old, and we have a young Earth, and they don't believe in evolution.

But again, that's a too stark an either-or. There are many people who believe in God, but also in evolution and believe the universe is 20 billion years old, and believe fully in Darwinian evolution, or whatever the case may be.

Now, in all arguments about the existence and nonexistence of God, often these things don't even get off the launch pad because the two people debating can't even agree on where the burden of proof rests. Does it rest with those who are trying to prove the existence of God? Or does it rest with those who are trying to disprove the existence of God?

But I suppose, if I bring this onto Richard Dawkins' turf, and we talk about the theory of evolution: The theory of evolution explains how matter, which we are all made from, organized itself into, for example, highly complex beings like Richard Dawkins and Ryan Tubridy, and other human beings. But what it doesn't explain, just to give one example, is how matter came into being in the first place.

That, in scientific terms, is a question that cannot be answered, and can only be answered, if it can be answered fully at all, by philosophers and theologians. It certainly can't be answered by science.

And the question of whether God exists or not, cannot be answered fully by science either. And commonly, and a common mistake that people can believe, is that the scientist who speaks about evolution with all the authority of science can also speak about the existence of God with all the authority of science -- and of course he can't.

The scientist speaking about the existence of God is actually engaging in philosophy or theology, but he certainly isn't bringing to it the authority of science per se.

Tubridy: Back to the first question, have you any evidence for me?

Quinn: Well I would say the existence of matter itself, I would say the existence of morality, myself and Richard Dawkins clearly have different understandings of the origins of morality, I would say free will.

If you're an atheist, logically speaking, you cannot believe in objective morality, you cannot believe in free will.

These are two things that the vast majority of humankind implicitly believe in. We believe for example that if a person carries out a bad action, we can call that person bad because we believe that they are freely choosing those actions. An atheist believes we are controlled completely by our genes and make no free actions at all.

 

Tubridy: What evidence do you have, Richard Dawkins, that you're right?

Dawkins: I certainly don't believe a word of that. I do not believe we are controlled wholly by our genes. Let me go back to the really important thing that Mr. Quinn says.

Quinn: How are we independent of our genes by your reckoning? What allows us to be independent of our genes? Where is this coming from?

Dawkins: Environment, for a start.

Quinn: But hang on, but that is also a product of, if you like, matter, OK?

Dawkins: Yes, but it's not genes.

Quinn: OK, what part of us allows us to have free will?

Dawkins: Free will is a very difficult philosophical question, and it is not one that has anything to do with religion, contrary to what Mr. Quinn says.

Quinn: It has an awful lot to do with religion, because if there is no God, there is no free will, because we are completely phenomena.

Dawkins: Who says there is no free will if there is no God? That is a ridiculous thing to say.

Quinn: William Provine for one, whom you quote in your book. I have a quote here from him. Other scientists as well believe the same thing, that everything that goes on in our heads is a product of genes, entity, environment and chemical reactions, that there is no room for free will.

And Richard, if you haven't got to grips with that, you seriously need to, because many of your colleagues have, and they deny outright the existence of free will, and they are hardened materialists like yourself.

Tubridy: OK, Richard Dawkins, your rebuke to that note if you wish.

Dawkins: I am not interested in free will. What I am interested in is the ridiculous suggestion that if science can't say where the origin of matter comes from, theology can.

The origin of matter is a very -- the origin of the whole universe -- is a very, very difficult question. It's one that scientists are working on, it's one that they hope, eventually, to solve.

Just as before Darwin, biology was a mystery, Darwin solved that; now cosmology is a mystery. The origin of the universe is a mystery, it's a mystery to everyone. Physicists are working on it, they have theories, but if science can't answer that question, then it's sure as hell theology can't either.

Quinn: Forgive me if I can come in here. It is a perfectly reasonable proposition to ask yourself, Where does matter come from? And it is perfectly reasonable as well to posit the answer: God created matter.

Dawkins: It is not reasonable.

Quinn: Many reasonable people believe this. It is quite a different category to say, "Look, we will study matter and we will ask how matter organizes itself in its particular forms," and come up with the answer: evolution.

It is quite another question to ask, Where does matter come from to begin with? And if you like, you must go outside of matter to answer that question, and then you're into philosophical and theological categories.

Dawkins: How can you possibly say God did it if you can't say where God came from?

Quinn: Because you must have an uncaused cause for anything at all to exist.

Now I see in your book, you come up with an argument against this that I frankly find to be bogus. You come up with the idea of a mathematical infinite regress.

But this does not apply to arguments about uncaused causes and unmoved movers, because we're not talking about math, we are talking about existence and existentiality. Nothing exists unless you have an uncaused cause, and that uncaused cause, and that unmoved mover, is by definition, God.

Dawkins: You just defined God as that. You just defined the problem out of existence. That's no solution to the problem. You just evaded it.

Quinn: You can't answer the question where matter comes from, you as an atheist.

Dawkins: I can't, but science is working on it. You can't answer it either.

Quinn: It won't come up with an answer. And you invoked a "mystery argument" that you accuse religious believers of doing all of the time. You invoke it for the very first and most fundamental question about reality. You do not know where matter came from.

Dawkins: I don't know, science is working on it. Science is a progressive thing that is working on it. You don't know, but you claim that you do.

Quinn: I claim to know the probable answer.

Tubridy: Can I suggest that the next question, it is quite appropriate, is on the role of religion in wars. When you think of the difficulty that it brings up on the local level, Mr. Dawkins, do you believe the world would be a safer place without religion?

Dawkins: Yes I do. I don't think religion is the only cause of war, very far from it. Neither the Second World War, nor the First World War were caused by religion, but I do think that religion is a major exacerbator, and especially in the world today, as a matter of fact.

Tubridy: OK, explain yourself.

Dawkins: Well, I think it's pretty obvious if you look at the Middle East, if you look at India and Pakistan, if you look at Northern Ireland, there are many, many places where the only basis for hostility that exists between rival factions who kill each other is religion.

Tubridy: Why do you take it upon yourself to preach, if you like, atheism -- and there's an interesting choice of words in some ways. You've been accused of being something like a fundamental atheist, if you like, the high priest of atheism. Why go about your business in such a way that you try to disprove these things? Why don't you just believe in it privately, for example?

Dawkins: Well, fundamentalist is not the right word. A fundamentalist is one who believes in a holy book, and thinks that everything in that holy book is true.

I am passionate about what I believe because I think there is evidence for it. And I think it's very different being passionate about evidence from being passionate about a holy book.

So, I do it because I care passionately about the truth. I really, really believe it's a big question, and it's an important question, whether there is a God at the root of the universe. I think it's a question that matters, and I think that we need to discuss it, and that's what I do.

Quinn: Ryan, if I can say, Richard has just come up with a definition of fundamentalism that suits him. He thinks that a fundamentalist is someone who has to believe in a holy book.

A fundamentalist is someone who firmly believes that they have got the truth, and hold that to an extreme extent, and become intolerant of those who hold to a different truth. Richard Dawkins has just outlined what he thinks the truth to be. It makes him intolerant of those who have religious beliefs.

Now in terms of the effect of religion upon the world, I mean at least Richard has rightly acknowledged that there are many causes of war and strife and ill will in the world, and he mentions World War I and World War II.

In his book he tries to get neatly off the hook of having atheism blamed, for example, for the atrocities carried out by Joseph Stalin, saying that these have nothing particularly to do with atheism.

Stalin, and many communists who were explicitly atheistic, took to view that religion was precisely the sort of malign and evil force that Richard Dawkins thinks it is, and they set out from that premise to, if you like, inflict upon religion, as sort of their own version of a final solution, they set to eradicate it from the earth through violence, and also through education that was explicitly anti-religious.

And under the Soviet Union, and in China, and under Pol Pot in Cambodia, explicit and violent efforts were made to suppress religion underground, religion was a wicked force and we have the truth, and our truth would not admit religion into the picture at all, because we believe religion to be an untruth. So atheism also can lead to fundamentalist violence, and did so in the last century.

Tubridy: Can we let Richard in here?

Dawkins: Stalin was a very, very bad man, and his persecution of religion was a very, very bad thing. End of story. It has nothing to do with the fact that he was an atheist.

We can't just compile lists of bad people who were atheists and lists of bad people who were religious. I am afraid that there were plenty on both sides.

Quinn: Yes, but Richard you are always compiling lists of bad religious people. You do it continually in all your books, and then you devote a paragraph to basically try to dissolve atheism of all blame for any atrocity throughout history. You cannot have it both ways.

Dawkins: I deny that.

Quinn: Of course you do it. Every time you are on a program, talking about religion, you bring up the atrocities committed in the name of religion, and then you try to minimize the atrocities committed by atheists because they were so anti-religious, and because they regarded it as a malign force, in much the same way as you do. You are trying to have it both ways.

Dawkins: Well, I simply deny that. I do think that there is some evil in faith, because faith is belief in something without evidence.

Quinn: But you see, that is not what faith is. You see, that is a caricature and a straw man, and it's so typical. That is not what faith is. You have faith that God does not exist.

Dawkins: What is faith?

Quinn: Wait a second. You have faith that God doesn't exist. You are a man of faith as well.

Dawkins: I do not. I've looked at the evidence.

Quinn: I've looked at the evidence too.

Dawkins: If somebody comes up with evidence that goes the other way, I'll be the first to change my mind.

Quinn: Well, I think the very existence of matter is evidence that God exists.

And by the way, remember, you're the man who has problems believing in free will, which you tried to very conveniently [push] to one side earlier.

Dawkins: I'm just not interested in free will, it's just not a big question for me.

Quinn: It's a vast question because we cannot be considered morally responsible beings unless we have free will. Otherwise we do everything because we are controlled by our genes or our environment. It's a vital question.