Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Root of all Evil?

Last night on BBC 4 was the premier of The Root of all Evil? a program presented by Dr. Richard Dawkins asserting that Religion is the root of all evil.

His premise seems to be that faith, any kind of faith, is the condition that brings about the fertile ground into which the seeds of extremism are sown. The mere presence of religion is what gives us the extremism that causes religious intolerance.

In an interesting exchange that he uses to illustrate his point, Dr. Dawkins goes to the New Life Church in Colorado Springs and talks with the Pastor Ted Haggard. In the exchange, the Pastor tells the Scientist to have whatever beliefs he wants but not to be so arrogant. His tone and expression belies the message. I can only say to the Pastor that he needs to remove the beam from his own eye before attempting to remove the splinter from his neighbor's eye.

In a fit that can only be described as an extreme display of self-righteousness the Pastor informs Dr. Dawkins that unlike science, his faith is based on one, sacred, complete, unchanging and completely coherent Truth. When Dr. Dawkins asks if the Pastor truly believes The Bible to be a complete and coherent structure for belief, the Pastor asserts that The Bible contains no errors and is completely incontrovertible and non-contradictory.

I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but I suggest that the good pastor actually read this book. A cursory glance at it reveals these statements to be untrue. Is, for example, God the jealous, spiteful, vengeful and war-like monster he is portrayed as in The Pentateuch or the kind, loving and benevolent father-figure from the sky portrayed in The Gospels? But one needn't even read the entire Pentitude to discover discrepancies. Genesis contains discrepancies before you even get a few pages into it.

"In the beginning..." begins chapter one. The book goes on to give a detailed timeline for the creation of the world. All leading-up to the creation of man and woman simultaneously on day six after-which God takes a bit of a breather. Good, great, fine. Light and dark, then sky and ground, plants and animals, then eventually on day six, man and woman created from nothing but the divine word and will. Now we know the sequence of the creation. Right?

"In the day that the lord, God made the heavens and the earth..." chapter two of Genesis tells us the lord basically looks around for things to put on the earth. Having the waters to rise out of the ground and having nobody to till the ground "the lord, God created man out of the dust of the ground..." (Genesis 2:7) and then he goes on to make the plants. Man created alone and before all the gardens have been planted. What? Man and no woman and before the plants and animals? Sorry, pastor... looks like there is a contradiction within the first few pages!

This is not to say that I agree with the good Doctor. I have to say that the Pastor had a point. The Scientist is guilty of hubris at the deepest level. He also seems to have forgotten the one golden rule of science: "Absense of proof is not proof of absence."

I have to say being a centrist in all things is some times a burden I find that must endure. (My cross to bear if you will.) Dr. Dawkins' assertion that the world would be a better place without religion ignores that while basically good people can be driven to do bad things by blind faith to dogma, there is also a positive effect of religion. There are some cases where basically bad people are prevented from doing bad things by fear of divine retribution.

While I believe that all religions need to lighten-up and realize that not a one of them could possibly have the ultimate and universal truth, they all serve a purpose. Let's quit arguing about the elephant, guys! In the end, Science and Religion are opposite sides of the same coin. One should never confuse the one for the other, they may serve the same master, but they are doing different jobs. Science is there to explain the unknown. Religion is there to explain the unknowable.

Dr. Dawkins' ideal Utopia of a purely Scientific, Atheistic world is one that (thankfully) can never be. You will, I pray, never get humans to rid themselves of the belief in the divine. A little less extremism would be a good thing, though.

Where ever you are, have a great day - explore the things you can see - believe the things you believe!

Don Bergquist - 10-January-2006 - Thames Ditton, Surrey, United Kingdom


mary bergquist said...

COREY is of the same belief. Religon, and Zealots are the root of all that is bad in an otherwise good world.


SJ Austin said...

You have an interesting take on this unfortunate battle between faith and science. I appreciate your perspective as a centrist.

As a bit of a theologian myself--ultimately anyone who makes a statement about God becomes a theologian to some degree--I try to remind people that the nature of the creation accounts (yep, there are two) in Genesis is probably not intended to be literal historical record. I'm honestly not sure why people read Genesis 1 as if it were a history or science textbook, since it has no markings to suggest it is either. :-)

Anyway, glad to see someone is thinking rationally about this and respecting both "sides" of the debate. My hope and prayer is that someday the faith and science communities can have meaningful dialogue. Now that would be a miracle!

Oh, and I think you mean "Pentateuch." ;-)

Don Bergquist said...


How right you are... Thanks for the correction. I have corrected it in the blog entry above. You have also convinced me to write more on this topic. I'll most additional comments on Tomorrow's entry.