January 13, 2006


Is religion the root of all evil?: Richard Dawkins' attack on religion ended up giving atheist humanism a bad name. (Neil Davenport, 1/13/06, Spiked)

What of its reputation had survived the first few hundred million corpses?

Dawkins is wrong about God (Roger Scruton, The Spactator)

Faced with the spectacle of the cruelties perpetrated in the name of faith, Voltaire famously cried ‘Ecrasez l’infâme!’ Scores of enlightened thinkers have followed him, declaring organised religion to be the enemy of mankind, the force that divides the believer from the infidel and thereby both excites and authorises murder. Richard Dawkins, whose TV series The Root of all Evil? concludes next Monday, is the most influential living example of this tradition. And he has embellished it with a striking theory of his own — the theory of the religious ‘meme’. A meme is a mental entity that colonises the brains of people, much as a virus colonises a cell. The meme exploits its host in order to reproduce itself, spreading from brain to brain like meningitis, and killing off the competing powers of rational argument. Like genes and species, memes are Darwinian individuals, whose success or failure depends upon their ability to find the ecological niche that enables reproduction.

The beauty of the theory, taken on its own terms, is that it demonstrates that Abrahamic monotheism is kind of like the coackroach, fabulously adapted for near eternal survival, while Darwinism is sort of like the Dodo bird, doomed to a brief and ridiculous existence by obvious maladaptation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 13, 2006 11:50 AM

From the article:

"For such an avowedly staunch humanist, Dawkins' own assessments can come across as anti-human."

Here, Captain Obvious rolls his eyes and taps his foot.

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at January 13, 2006 12:03 PM

As much as survived of Christianity's name after the 100 years war.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 13, 2006 12:21 PM

Robert: How many Christians were there at the end of 100 years war? And how many atheists are there now?

Posted by: b at January 13, 2006 12:23 PM


Exactly. Judeo-Christianity moves from one triumph to the next and stands regnant and unchallenged today as the only way to organize a decent society.

Dawkins chosen system murdered hundreds of millions and now is just committing suicide, properly appalled at its own ugliness.

Posted by: oj at January 13, 2006 12:28 PM

Does Rbt mean the 30 years war?

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at January 13, 2006 12:34 PM

I don't recall the Hundred Years' war as having much of a religious component to it (other than St. Joan of Arc); it certainly wasn't sectarian, seeing as it came well before the Reformation.

Posted by: Mike Morley at January 13, 2006 1:13 PM

Ok, the 30 years war. The one between Catholics and Protestants that wiped out 30% of the population of Germany.

Regnant and unchallenged? You need to look around more.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 13, 2006 1:23 PM


From which Germany rose to be a great nation, until it became secular and immolated itself.

Posted by: oj at January 13, 2006 1:30 PM

Whether its Dawkins, Madlynne Murray Ohare, Polly Toynbee or pretty much any usenet/chat room atheist, why are atheists such nasty and unpleasant people?

Posted by: bplus at January 13, 2006 1:32 PM

There's nothing to temper their self-importance.

Posted by: oj at January 13, 2006 1:41 PM


Medieval pogroms, the Inquisition, the thirty years war...what would you do without them? Then what? I think you are grossly over-simplifying 17th century politics, but let's give you the benefit of the doubt. What atrocities in the West in the last 350 years do you lay at the feet of Christianity either doctrinally or at the instigation of the Church?

If you ask us that about atheistic materialism/rationalism, we have some more up-to-date examples.

Posted by: Peter B at January 13, 2006 1:53 PM

More importantly, what would we have done without them? The Inquisition worked.

Posted by: oj at January 13, 2006 2:13 PM

The Thirty Years' War was more about the internal politics of German principalities and the Hapsburg empire than it was about religion. The religious stuff was the excuse everyone used to start all the fights they were looking to start.

Posted by: Mike Morley at January 13, 2006 2:50 PM

I owe you a longer dissertation on "the consequences of ideas" at the Daily Duck, but I think that you are way over-ascribing the horrors of the 20th century to secular rationalism/materialism, as you under-ascribe, per Mike Morley's artful dodge, the horrors of the Christian era in Europe to the consequences of the Christian idea.

As Mike mentions, people do things out of a variety of motives, they are not one dimensionally driven by singular ideas. To borrow an example from our late Commander in Chief, they are "compartmentalized".

OJ, so the only sin that the Soviet Matierialists commited is that they failed? All those millions of deaths would have been justified had they succeeded in installing a worker's paradise?

bplus, this isn't being nasty, it's healthy debate.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 13, 2006 3:16 PM


Obviously if any of the secularisms had worked they would, by Darwinian definition, have been justified. Instead secularism is a catastrophic failure as an adaptation and, therefore, a Darwinian failure. The most delicious failure is, of course, that the Darwinian meme fails the test of Darwinism.

Posted by: oj at January 13, 2006 3:22 PM


daniel was referring to Dawkins. No one thinks you're an atheist.

Posted by: oj at January 13, 2006 3:24 PM

pretty much any usenet/chat room atheist

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 13, 2006 3:37 PM

"30% of the population of Germany"

That's not a bug, that's a feature!

Posted by: Bob at January 13, 2006 4:30 PM

Please! Communists may be atheists and materialists, but atheists and materialists aren't necessarily Communists. And I don't think "humanist" applies to Communism, either. It just muddies the waters to lump everything together.

Posted by: PapayaSF at January 13, 2006 5:52 PM


They're all just rationalisms and all evil.

Posted by: oj at January 13, 2006 6:12 PM

The little I have read by Dawkins (one chapter of one of his books) tells me I would be wasting my time to read further.

His one big idea, the business about the "meme," of course, is not his, but Spencer's. Like Spencer, from whom he has lifted his concept of a whole piece, and unlike oj, Y.O.S., and other commenters above, Dawkins blythly disregards the evolutionary success of the God-meme which has informed the West.

It was the gift of the Jews at first, grafted to branches from Greece and Rome by the Sect of the Nazarenes, Acts 24:5, and it is what has brought us all this way. It is not an accident that our footprints are on the moon.

Not any old theism will do, the "meme" that works is the one that balances spirituality and rationality, balances "church and state," thus limiting the power of both, and controls the individual with inner values while leaving him free to think and create.

To we always get it right? Of course not. Are we better off than we would be without it? You betcha dupa. (COULD NOT RESIST IT!)

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 13, 2006 8:35 PM


When people talk about religion as the cause of all wars, they're usually thinking about the Thirty Years War and the Crusades as the paradigms. The Crusades, you gotta give 'em that point, but the Thirty Years War is a bit more complicated than that. Just pointing it out is all.

BTW, do you think you can seriously argue that WWI was a religious war? (Only if "nationalism" is a religion.) WWII? The Franco-Prussian War? Vietnam? The War of the Roses? . . . There's too many counter-examples to sustain the "religion causes war" meme?

Posted by: Mike Morley at January 13, 2006 11:04 PM

The problem with this whole discussion is that the perspective is wrong. Ideas do not cause men to be murderous, tyrannical or bellicose. Men are that way regardless of the ideas that they hold. Neither ideas, philosophies nor religions cause men to behave badly, they are always only excuses.

The real question about ideas, philosophies and religions is whether they can motivate men to behave virtuously.

The slave trade is a good example. It was eternal feature of commerce in all societies until English protestants decided that it was wrong and needed to be abolished.

It is virtue that is rare and needs to be accommodated. Vice is in every man's heart and needs to be suppressed.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at January 14, 2006 2:27 AM



Posted by: Peter B at January 14, 2006 6:45 AM

What Peter said.

Posted by: Mike Morley at January 14, 2006 9:02 AM

Robert: Well done.

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 14, 2006 9:26 AM

Robert S,

Well stated. My challenge to OJ regarding the comparable destructiveness of the Christian meme to the Materialism meme was to pose the question that if the horrors of the 20th century are all to be chalked up to the consequences of one set of ideas labelled "Materialism", then should we not also chalk up to the regnant idea of the pre-modern era, "Christianity", all the horrors that took place on its "watch"?

Another mistake made in attempting to ascribe consequences to ideas, or memes, is that the memes in question are not mutually exclusive, but can coexist within the same worldview.

To listen to OJ's and others rants about the destructive consequences of the materialist worldview following in the wake of Darwin, Marx and Freud, you would have to believe that people became athiest en-masse upon encountering these ideas and then set about the destruction of European society. That's not what happened. Many religious people adopted the new worldviews and integrated them with existing racial and religious prejudices.

One of the foundational elements of the eugenics movement was the work of 19th century ministers in the "Social Gospel" movement in the US, like O.C. McCulloch, who saw genetic degeneracy as a major cause of social pathologies. Father Charles Coughlin was a strong supporter of Nazi Germany and their treatment of the Jews in the pre-war period. Many religous Germans gladly supported and fought for the Nazi cause during the war.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 14, 2006 12:53 PM

Robert S:

Yes, bad ideas justify murder and make it more likely. The idea that Man is not Created by God excuses makes even the notion of murder silly. All killing is allowed, some even required depending on the ideology adopted.

Posted by: oj at January 14, 2006 12:56 PM

Robert D:

Of course Christianity gets credit for its killings. They just weren't horrors. Punishing heresy and infidels made Christendom great.

Posted by: oj at January 14, 2006 12:59 PM

OJ, with apologists like you, Christianity needs no enemies.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 14, 2006 1:52 PM

Of course it doesn't need apologists. Do you apologize for America?

Posted by: oj at January 14, 2006 2:02 PM

I didn't say it didn't need apologists, I said it didn't need enemies. Your defense of Christianity is more damaging than any attack by an atheist.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 14, 2006 2:04 PM

We have enemies and they need to be defeated--that's been the point of the Age of Reason, as we crushed them. Atheism hasn't damaged Abrahamism--vice versa.

Posted by: oj at January 14, 2006 2:06 PM

Who were the enemies in the 30 Years War? The Catholics or the Protestants?

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 14, 2006 2:27 PM

The notion that a nation's government depended for its legitimacy on a Papal imprimatur. It was fought to vindicate one of Christ's central teachings: render unto Caesar....

Posted by: oj at January 14, 2006 2:34 PM

That's a pretty costly bill for a theological dispute. So by your reasoning the Catholics were the enemy. The Catholic church promulgated a falsehood in direct violation of Christ's teaching, and the consequence of that falsehood was the death of hundreds of thousands of people. And yet we should not hold the Catholic Church accountable for that falsehood?

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 14, 2006 2:53 PM

It wasn't a falsehood, just a misreading. We worked it out rather amicably in the end, to everyone's benefit. We'll teach Islam the same lesson without much more difficulty. No one ever told us figuring things out would be easy.

Posted by: oj at January 14, 2006 3:02 PM

Oops! Communism doesn't work! We misinterpreted the historical process. Oh well, we learned a lesson, no harm done.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 14, 2006 3:32 PM

Yes, the motivation of Communism was in many ways admirable and the experiment was always likely to be run. However, in its rationalist/materialist denial of God and Creation it was so anti-human that it was certain to be a murderous and pointless exercise. It would have been better if we'd crushed it sooner.

Posted by: oj at January 14, 2006 3:37 PM

If humans are God's creation, wouldn't being anti-human be anti-God, and vice versa?

Posted by: jdkelly at January 14, 2006 4:21 PM

And if they aren't then who cares what happens to any of them other than yourself?

Posted by: oj at January 14, 2006 4:29 PM

You either care or you don't, what does God have to do with it?

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 14, 2006 5:30 PM

Everything. If there's a God then you matter. If there's not then only I matter to me and I don't matter.

That's why Judeo-Christianity works and secularism doesn't.

Posted by: oj at January 14, 2006 5:32 PM