Thursday, December 30, 2010

Back on Dawkin's Ass

I want to pick on Richard Dawkins a bit more.  I don't feel a bit bad about hammering away at him time and time again because on one hand he fairly begs for the attention and on the other hand I have no quarrel with his actual scientific work, work he abandoned for his current crusade against religion.

In each of his books on religion, Dawkins justifies his crusade by saying over forty per-cent of Americans take the bible literally, and he takes this large number as a great threat because they spread their views on their children and they have, (he thinks) vast political power.

This idea that American Christians have vast political power is quite wide-spread.  You see it all over the English-speaking world, and even in the Muslim world (although they have quite a different view on it).  From reading Dawkins' books, one could get the idea there is a great pending threat coming from the Christians of the United States.

There are a number of points he omits though that I'd like to make quite clear.

First, this forty per-cent figure fluctuates wildly, and has for the last fifty years.  Asking people whether they take the bible literally covers quite a lot of ground, from the miracles of Jesus to the whale swallowing Jonah.  Whether these people believe in all these things or just some of them isn't covered in that forty per-cent figure.

Secondly, unlike Dawkins own country, the UK, the United States places a constitutional restriction on religion, preventing it from ever acquiring the power of the state.  This restriction has held strong despite its many challenges over the years, including most recently, the judge in Alabama who wanted to display the ten commandments in his court house, but was over-ruled by one of the most conservative supreme courts in decades and forced to remove them.

This separation of church and state is probably responsible for the growth of religion in the United States, which is also home to the greatest diversity in types of religion on the planet.  It fights for the concept of free thinking and free believing, which I posit is an even greater good than Dawkins' love for science.

Dawkins loves to point out that there are museums in the United States devoted to spreading the idea of creation as told in the book of Genesis as fact.  This is true, there are two larger ones and many very small ones.  I don't think Dawkins has ever visited these though or he'd know they're a rather pathetic joke.  He also fails to mention that the second largest creation museum (the one in Florida) was shut down when the owner went to jail for income tax evasion, leaving us with only the one in Kentucky to contend with.

In Dawkins' own country of the UK there are museums dedicated to garden gnomes, the Loch Ness Monster and the active practice of Druidism, but somehow he doesn't see these as an equal threat.

American Christians are politically active yes.  Dawkins sees this as a great threat to the world.  American Automobile Dealers are also politically active, as are American Diary Farmers, American Steel Workers, American Nut Growers and American Shopping Mall Owners.

Politically active American Christians have supported candidates who won (they nearly always support one or the other of the final two candidates) but they have never elected their own candidate.  Mit Romney was their man in the last presidential election and he was brushed aside by John McCain.

In his books, Dawkins clearly sees Americans as crass and backward.  We are.  We also have done more with science than any other nation in the history of the world.  Out of the U.S.A. came the electric lamp, the motion picture, the airplane, the atomic bomb, flights to the moon and mars and, most recently, the internet.

Americans may very well be crass and backwards, but we've managed to be pretty productive as well. Darwin's Evolution which Dawkins spent most of his life studying and advocating isn't in any danger from the U.S.  There are those of us in the U.S. who are quite fond of Dawkins when he applies the science he loves so much, but not quite so when he spends his days evangelizing for it.  Science has a built in evangelic system: it works, and it's fairly easy to demonstrate it works.  That's all the evangelizing any concept needs. 

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