Richard Dawkins: The Root of All Evil

thegoddelusion.jpgRichard Dawkins’ new book, The God Delusion, has received some mixed reviews.

For Joan Bakewell, Dawkins’ theory of why religious belief has persisted through the ages – that it is meme which has become become outdated because evolutionary biology makes faith unnecessary – is “interesting”. She applauds the “arch-enemy…[of Creationists and believers]” for his attack on the irrationality at the heart of religion and religious intolerance, which are “staging a global comeback of terrifying proportions”.

Perhaps it is partly because Dawkins’ theory is based on his concept of memes that Andrew Brown found the book “incurious, dogmatic, rambling and self-contradictory“. For Brown, “it’s a shame” to see Dawkins “reduced to one long argument”.

The Guardian published an extract from the first chapter of the book last weekend; below is The Root of All Evil, Dawkins’ recent two-part BBC documentary about religion.

Part 1

Part 2

Update: Jeremy Paxman interviews Dawkins for Newsnight’s book club (via Pharyngula):

6 thoughts on “Richard Dawkins: The Root of All Evil

  1. Explaining Christianity to an Intellectual Atheist

    There was a discussion between two scientists in New York City back in 1996. The topic they discussed was the evolution of human beings. Richard Dawkins, one of the scientists, is a zoologist who published a book called The Selfish Gene. In this book he describes life as a conveyor belt for this selfish gene that is struggling to survive. He says in this book that everything we hold most dear acts of love, the beauty of a peacock’s tail, the birth of a newborn could be explained by the selfish gene’s struggle to survive. Also Dawkins once stated, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”
    The other scientist in the discussion was Jaron Lanier. He is a computer scientist, musician, and a provocative thinker on evolution, morality, and ideas. He has no basic quarrels with the theory of evolution, but does not believe it’s the most apt metaphor for our lives. According to Lanier natural section is only a part of the human story, and we are more than just the accidental result of evolution. He says what’s best about us and civilization may be our ability to thwart evolution.
    Lanier argued that it is hard to find a basis for our morality in nature from where we evolved and some people feel that if they accept evolution it would lead to a moral vacuum. He says nature is evil and every time we help a needy person or make it possible for a handicapped person to live and pass on their genes, we’ve succeeded in defying the process that created us.
    Dawkins says that nature is simply indifferent to human concerns and that we are unique in the animal kingdom. We have brains big enough not to follow the dictates of the selfish gene.
    He says if it leads to a moral vacuum that’s just tough. We must face up to the truth.

    Psychoanalytic Theory
    Sigmund Freud depicts personality as shaped by an ongoing conflict between people’s primary drives, particularly sex and aggression, and the social pressures of the civilized society. According to Freud, we are born with a vast reservoir of instinctual drives called life instincts (such as hunger, thirst, and sex) and death instincts (such as aggression and destruction). These biological drives are instinctual and largely unconscious. Also the biological drives are very selfish and seek immediate gratification. As we grow older we realize that immediate gratification is not always possible so we learn to cope with the real world. Freud called this the reality principle. He theorized that we composite our morality from the standards of parents and society. According to Freud moral inhibition or “should nots” of behavior stem from punishment and “shoulds” of behavior we receive approval and/or reinforcement.

    Kohlberg’s Theory
    Kohlberg’s theory of moral development has 6 stages. In the 1st stage children behave in certain ways to avoid punishment. In the 2nd stage they behave in certain ways to obtain rewards. At this low level children have no morality. In stage 3 moral behaviors are the desire to help others or gain their approval. Stage 4 is to help maintain the social order. Stage 5 of morality is to affirm the values agreed on by society, including individual rights and the need for democratically determined rules. In stage 6 individuals are guided by universal ethical principles even if their act’s conflict with society’s rules. Kohlberg suggests that people are encouraged to advance to higher levels of morality by exposure to the more advance moral reasoning of others.

    My Conclusions
    One theory states that our parents and society teach morality to us with punishment for bad behavior and rewards for good behavior. This seems like a very weak foundation for our morality to be based on. With this basis for morality a person may steal if they thought they would not get caught. A very powerful nation may invade a weaker one, steal its resources and enslave its people if it thought that no other country could stop it. Kohlberg says there is no morality in society if people obey laws simply to avoid punishment. He says our morality advances as we observe higher morality in others. When we are first born we are basically immoral. Richard Dawkins refers to this as the selfish gene that we are all born with. Freud calls it the instinctual drives. So how do we be come moral?
    Well the first step in becoming moral individuals started at the beginning of human civilization. The first thing a society had to do was to establish rules to live by. For example, at the beginning of the Israeli Nation they receive the Ten Commandments, which they believed, came directly from God. With these laws society had written rules that defined what was moral and what was immoral. But written rules are not enough to help us advance to higher levels of morality. We need to observe higher morality in someone else and this is what Jesus Christ has done. Jesus Christ was born without the self-gene and the instinctual drives that we were born with and that is why when we look at the life of Christ it seems so radically unselfish. By simply believing in Christ and studying his life it increases the morality of the individual. This is the mission of Christ, to advance mankind to the final stage of morality by guiding individuals to universal principles even if those principles conflict with society’s rules.

    Matthew 4:16 & Isaiah 9:2
    The people living in darkness
    have seen a great light;
    on those living in the land of the shadow of death
    a light has dawned.

    Have you seen the Light?

  2. Yo,

    Religion teaches virtue. With virtue (particularly humility) comes an awakening of the human spirit and an active conscious morality. Secular morality is a pride based mindset based on the Kohlberg-type theories.

    Why do we download mp3s and feel fine about it? The spirit doesn’t care about capitalism.
    Why do some people not? Kohlberg

    Where does compassion come from? Spirit.

    Hey but I’m compassionate and all that but I just don’t believe in God/The spiritual dimension? Your spirit believes, your mind does not. Spirit and mind not aligned = anxiety.

    Is this post insulting to anyone? Well that depends, what type of people feel insults.

  3. You mistake what religion teaches.

    Essentially, religion teaches control through violence. It would be nice if religion was all about compassion, but it’s not. Religion is all about obedience.

    What is the core of x-ian belief? “Do this, or be damned.” Sure, it is couched in terms of “love” and “grace” but the core is still the same threat: before you die, you must respond to this meme we call the “love of God” with complete surrender, or else “He” will cast you into everlasting torment. Do what we say, or else.

    Am I missing something here? Any x-ians out there who would actually dispute this assessment? I grew up spouting this doctrine for enough years, that I think I’ve pretty much got it.

    Doesn’t that seem like only a threat, designed to coerce obedience and thralldom? Isn’t that a convenient way to ensure continuation of the meme, and economic security for the administrative apparatus of the belief? Seems pretty obvious to me.

    Sure, there are other things that are supposed to follow from this obedience, but at it’s core, x-ianity teaches “do this or else.”

    Does this response offend xians? Well, now you may begin to understand why some people feel upset by your proselytizing. Your core message is a primal threat of ultimate violence, nothing more. How else should one respond?

  4. It’s a pity that you had to spew out that horrible doctrine of condemnation for so many years. Have you not tried to search the truth rather than just abondoning it.

    No one is going to rot in hell everlasting. That is a doctrine from the dark ages that was kept alive to control people with fear. Shameless!!!

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