Tom Gilson

Richard Dawkins’ Anti-Scientific Hypocrisy

In honor of Richard Dawkins’ refusal to debate William Lane Craig tomorrow, I’m re-posting a piece I wrote for the Newport News Daily Press early in 2007, highlighting his hypocritical willingness to ignore science when it suits his purpose. This article was also published at BreakPoint.

Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion has been a New York Times bestseller for more than twenty weeks [as of the original writing]. Why so popular? Dawkins is the professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, and in some ways he is remarkably well suited for a job like that. His writing is marvelously clear and engaging. His early book, The Selfish Gene, an explanation and defense of evolutionary theory, has been called the best popular-level science book ever written.Dawkins.jpg

He leads the “Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science” and calls his website “A Clear-Thinking Oasis.” He pointedly contrasts his own rationality with what he calls religion’s irrationality. His attacks on religion are shrill. For example: through one full chapter of The God Delusion, he maintains that teaching religion to children is child abuse. This is not just an arresting figure of speech, an exaggeration to make a point; Dawkins soberly compares religious upbringing to sexual abuse, and finds religion the worse of the two.

The famous scientist supports this with no systematic data, just a few pages of anecdotes, stories of people who suffered at the hands of ill-advised religious education. Stories like that, sadly, can be found; but what do they represent? If religious training is thought to be child abuse, an obvious scientific hypothesis follows: Children with religious upbringings should show some of the symptoms that are typical of abused children.

These symptoms are well known. They include fear, panic attacks, eating disorders, depression, low self-confidence, irritability, difficulty relating with others, substance abuse, and so on.

Not every abuse victim experiences most or all of these, but outcomes like this are typical. If a religious upbringing equals abuse, there ought to be signs that something like this happens to children of religious families.

There are data to test that hypothesis. It was published well before Dawkins’ book, so he had ample opportunity to know what science had to say. Christian Smith, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill [now at Notre Dame], led a massive, authoritative study called the National Study of Youth and Religion. The results were published in the 2005 book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Eyes of American Teenagers (with co-author Melinda Lundquist Denton), published by Oxford University Press (yes, that’s Dawkins’ university). It is the best study of its kind to date.

This study sorted its 3,290 participants into levels of religious involvement: the Devoted, the Regulars, the Sporadic, and the Disengaged. Because America’s predominant religious groupings are Christian, the “Devoted” and “Regulars” were predominantly Christian—Protestant and Catholic. Therefore these results can fairly be taken as relating specifically to Christianity. (Results for other religions are hard to determine from the data.)

The closer teenagers were to “Devoted” rather than “Disengaged,” the less they engaged in these negative behaviors:

Habits: Smoking, drinking, marijuana use, TV watching, pornography use, “action” video game use, R-rated movies;

At school: Poor grades, cutting classes, getting suspended or expelled;

Attitude: Bad temper, rebellious toward parents;

Sex: Early physical involvement, including number of partners and age of first sexual contact.

Those more “Devoted” on the scale showed more of these positive outcomes:

Emotional well-being: Satisfaction with physical appearance, planning for the future, thinking about the meaning of life, feeling cared for, freedom from depression, not feeling alone and misunderstood, not feeling “invisible,” not often feeling guilty, having a sense of meaning to life, getting along well with siblings;

Relationships with adults: Closeness with parents, number of adults connected to, feeling understood by parents, sensing that parents pay attention, feeling they get the “right amount of freedom” from parents;

Moral reasoning and honesty: Belief in stable, absolute morality; not pursuing a “get-ahead” mentality; not just pleasure-seeking; less lying to parents and cheating in school;

Compassion: Caring about the needs of the poor, caring about the elderly, caring about racial justice;

Community: Participation in groups, financial giving, volunteer work (including with people of different races and cultures), helping homeless people, taking leadership in organizations.

The findings are overwhelming. On page after page, chart after chart, on every one of the ninety-one variables studied, the closer teens were to the “Devoted” end of the scale, the healthier their lives were. These are the results of Dawkins’ “child abuse.” This is what he complains is so bad for children.

H. Allen Orr wrote, “[Dawkins] has a preordained set of conclusions at which he’s determined to arrive. Consequently, [he] uses any argument, however feeble, that seems to get him there.” In other words, he sees just what he wants to see. It’s ironic—that’s what he accuses believers of doing.

What can we conclude? This study suggests (though its methods cannot prove) that growing up Christian is a very good thing. Concerning Dawkins and his book, we can easily see that his attack is falsely based. We also see that this “rational” scientist ignored science and clear thinking to make the point he wanted to make.

Twenty weeks a bestseller. For those who bought the book and found it persuasive, this should provide serious doubts about its credibility. (Other reviewers have found flaws on a similar scale throughout the book.) For followers of Christ who have been concerned about the bluster raised by books like this: This, like other baseless attacks, will pass. The Christian faith has stood for a long time; it will withstand this, too.

See also this April 2009 update: Reality and Religion’s Real Child Abuse  

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6 thoughts on “Richard Dawkins’ Anti-Scientific Hypocrisy

  1. Yes. Teaching children like this is child abuse obviously!

    But if you’re a new atheist, you get a pass to indoctrinate children with anti-religion.

    Tom. I recommend checking my review of Dawkins’s latest book, a children’s book.

  2. Suppose you were taking a college course and the first day of class, the professor told everyone, “Your grade is going to be based solely on the final. And, I am going to give you a copy of the exam I’ll be using, with all the correct answers.” Do you think you would be able to ace the course?

    Essentially, that is what William Lane Craig offers all his opponents. Go to his web site, read some of his papers, listen to some his debates and you’ll quickly discover that Craig uses the same arguments over and over again. All an opponent, then, would have to do is learn those arguments and come up with some good counter arguments.

    It should be fairly easy, then, for someone with expert knowledge to prepare for a debate with Craig. You may not be able to win outright, but you should be able to at least hold your own. And holding your own, in your supporter’s eyes, would undoubtedly be seen as an overwhelming victory. Nevertheless, some of of Craig’s more recent opponents, Sam Harris and Lawrence Krauss, did not appear to be very well prepared at all. Harris couldn’t even defend himself against attacks Craig launched against Harris’ own book, The Moral Landscape.

    Richard Dawkins of course declined a debate with Craig, even though the topic of the debate was to be one of his own books, which he claimed had some irrefutable arguments. I can guarantee you that the critique that Craig gave last night about Dawkin’s best seller, The God Delusion, was virtually the same critique that he has given before.

    I don’t see how declining the debate benefitted Dawkins, especially when even other atheists are now calling him a coward.

    Personally, it confirms to me once-for-all the phoniness and shallowness of the so-called new atheist movement. It’s nothing more than a pseudo-intellectual facade.

    For those who are interested, here is a recap of last nights “empty chair” debate:

  3. @JAD:

    I don’t know… I’ve never been in a formal debate, but I imagine they must be incredibly difficult – even for an expert, and even for a seasoned public speaker.

    So while Craig almost never raises a new argument in his debates, he’s almost never up against an opponent who has comparable experience.

    Imagine two golfers – both know layout of the course and they know all the holes, so there will be no surprises for either. One plays once or twice every couple years, if that, and the other has spent over a decade playing at least several times per year. Who is going to make the better showing?

    That being said, preparation is key, and there’s an inexcusable lack of it on the part of most of Craig’s opponents.

    But.. there’s been a handful of opponents who have put up a good showing (none of them are “new atheists”). Luke from Commonsense atheism has a list of a few (though the list of “Bad” and “Ugly” are much longer):

    Wes Morriston also put up a good fight arguing against the Kalam (though he is a theist). I find many of his objections to the Kalam rather persuasive, and some of the best around.

  4. Dawkins published a blog explaining exactly why he won’t share a podium with Craig. Unfortunately I can’t copy and paste the link with this phone but if you Google Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science it should be easy to find.

    As to this blog about whether indoctrinating children into a religion is child abuse, you do bring some very interesting information to the table. But one possibility you didn’t include was, what if the information being taught to kids isn’t true? Wouldn’t teaching false information be a form of abuse?

  5. I’m well aware of Dawkins’ published explanation. It bears every mark of being a poor excuse. He presented an argument to explain why he won’t argue with Craig. It was a potshot from a distance. If he had any courage he would have said it where Craig could answer.

    Would teaching false information be a form of abuse? Let’s think that through. Are there any parents in all of history who have taught their children only true information? I don’t think so. Does that mean every parent through history has been a child-abuser? To say that would be to do violence to the meaning of parenting, not to mention doing an opposite sort of violence to the meaning of the word “abuse.”

    Of course you beg the question by intimating that Christianity is essentially false, but we need not go into that here. The fact remains that Dawkins’s claim of child abuse is denied by empirical fact, and that he hypocritically, unscientifically ignores that empirical reality.

  6. I love this comment by Rabbi Moshe Averick:

    “In an article written for Edge in 2006, Dawkins explained that in a materialistic, deterministic universe, “blame and responsibility” [emphasis mine], “indeed evil and good” are nothing more than mental constructs and “useful fictions,” that are “built into our brains by…Darwinian Evolution.” Atheistic philosopher Michael Ruse heartily agrees: “Morality is an illusion put in place by your genes to make you a social cooperator.” If there is no metaphysically existent good and evil, if atheism implies amorality, if morality is a useful fiction and an illusion, if in objective reality life has no meaning and no value; why exactly is Dawkins so morally indignant about a war that took place 3,300 years ago and a modern Christian theologian’s rather dispassionate and thoughtful attempt to understand the meaning of that war?”

    Dawkins also believes that God is a fictional character. Why is he so upset by a fictional character? I wonder does Darth Vader upset him as much as God does?

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