Last night Channel 4 broadcast a show hosted by Rod Liddle that was highly critical of the new atheism. I watched it and thought it was really good. No surprise there, as I am a fan of Liddle's journalism and he was preaching to the choir. It was also good to put some faces to several names. I had never seen Michael Burleigh or Denis Alexander before.
Liddle made four points. The first was that the new atheism is an intolerant creed with its fair share of nutters. He met a man in New York carrying a plackard outside St Patrick's Cathedral saying "God Does Not Exist" in an exact counterpoint to the "The End of the World Is Upon Us" plankard carriers we all know and love. He also met an intense woman who runs American Atheists and bears an unnerving resemblence to Ann Coulter. She had her own cable show on which Liddle appeared as a guest. Liddle himself is the man for whom the word shambolic was invented. He has bad hair, bad teeth and appalling dress sense. The least appealing aspect of the Trouble with Atheism were the frequent shots of Liddle walking up and down, clutching his chin and looking thoughtful. Frankly, thoughtful is not a look that he can do.
His second point was that science has nothing to say about whether or not God exists. Of course, this is true and Liddle found plenty of scientists ready to say it. John Polkinghorne and Denis Alexander appeared and demonstrated that there are plenty of religious believers who are distinguished scientists. This led to the quote of the show. Peter Atkins, a neo-atheist, was asked what he made of scientists who believe in God. He called them sad half-scientists. This made him look like a prat.
Liddle's next point was the weakest. He noted that Darwin's Origin of Species is a sacred text to neo-atheists and set out to find if the scientific theory of Darwinism was nearing its sell-by date. This made me nervous. Liddle's anti-creationist credentials are unimpeachable, but I still thought that he was falling into a trap that will allow neo-atheists to caricature him as anti-scientific.
His last point was the best. At the end of The God Delusion, Dawkins sets out a new ten commandments. They are, frankly, a bit wishy-washy. Dawkins admitted as much as said that the point of morals is that they change and are specific to particular cultures. Peter Singer was wheeled in to make the same point. Liddle used this as his cue to examine the periods in history when Christian morality was overthrown for a more 'rational' alternative. Michael Burleigh supplied us with the shocking facts on the French Revolution and we saw how Francis Galton's eugenics had led directly to the Nazi's Final Solution. Dawkins denied that anyone killed because of atheism but Liddle had already shown that this point (actually untrue) was irrelevant. The point, which I have made before, is that when you throw out our moral system, or undermine it by claiming all is relative, you open the door to horrors far worse then you would imagine possible.
Dawkins ended the show by admitting that maybe human beings are so weak that they need religion to guide them. St Augustine would have agreed.
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