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Why Professional Atheists Like Richard Dawkins Are Wrong About Religion
Richard Dawkins, founder of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science,promotes his new book at the Seymour Centre on December 4, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. Richard Dawkins is well known for his criticism of intelligent design.
Credit Don Arnold/Getty Images

Why Professional Atheists Like Richard Dawkins Are Wrong About Religion

To claim that we don't need God to be good people is like rejecting farms because we can get food from the supermarket, yet this is just the kind of ignorant mistake made by Richard Dawkins and other professional atheists.

To claim that we don't need God to know we have to be good people is like thinking that we don't need farms because we can get fruits and vegetables from the supermarket.

To claim that all religion is foolish because people disagree about religious matters is like thinking that we should do away with clothing because different people wear different things.

And to claim that religion is anti-science because some religious leaders reject obvious scientific truths is like demonizing all musicians as bigots because Wagner was antisemitic.

[sharequote align="center"]In the interest of informed debate, perhaps Dawkins and others like him should open their eyes.[/sharequote]

Yet last night CNN aired a prime-time special report on atheists that yet again gave voice to this kind of ignorant and infantile analysis of religion.

Headlined by the well-known professional atheist Richard Dawkins --- a man who wears a t-shirt in his Twitter profile photo that announces "Religion: Together we can find a cure." --- the hour-long feature highlighted the centrality of religion but muted the voices of religious experts.

The show plucked at viewers' heartstrings by introducing John and Diane Gormley, a deeply religious couple in Georgia whose son David had left Christianity and founded an atheists' group. A series of on-screen interviews portrayed two parents tormented by their child's path in life, and a child haunted by his parents' rejection. The clear implication was that religion causes rifts between parents and children, and that families would be happier without it.

Yet CNN could equally have quoted Malachi 4:6 or Luke 1:17, both of which recognize the pain of family discord and hope for a day when the hearts of parents will be turned to their children. The Gormleys aren't victims of religion. They're victims of bad religion.

By analogy, a television show about professional mobility might highlight a husband and wife in rural America who run a small locksmithing service and who are distraught when their only son leaves to become a lawyer in the big city. But it's obviously foolish to blame locksmithing for any unhappiness here.

This kind of flawed analysis nonetheless finds a home when professional atheists discuss religion.

On Twitter, Dawkins commented that the atheist son here, David Gormley, is a "hero" and a "huge improvement" over his religious parents. By reinforcing CNN's one-sided premise in this way, Dawkins does a disservice to the Gormleys in particular and to religion and even atheism more generally.

We find another example of misinformation in CNN's teaser sound-bite: a man shouting preacher-style, "Can I get a Darwin," presumably instead of "Can I get a Hallelujah."

The claim here is that religion is anti-science. Certainly some religious leaders reject science. But so do some politicians, along with a growing number of atheist parents and other random members of modern society. Even the late Steve Jobs eschewed the medical establishment in favor of folk remedies. Yet the only movement that is held responsible for everything its members do is religion.

Dr. Albert Einstein, for instance, was both a world-class physicist and a deeply religious man. More generally, lots of great scientists embrace religion. It's only the ignorant would-be scientists who think that religion is a threat to progress.

We see a pattern here. Professional atheists --- perhaps unknowingly --- pick a single religious practitioner such as Mr. Gormley on CNN and use that person to represent all of religion. Worse, they use that person as an authoritative source of information about religion.

But lots of people embrace something they do not fully understand. Even the devout cannot be expected to be experts in how religion works, any more than concert-goers are all experts in acoustic technology or coffee-drinkers experts in food engineering. The way to understand religion is not by asking religious people but, rather, by asking scholars of religion.

And in any event, one thing is abundantly clear: people like religion, even if they may not know why.

Ironically, Dawkins frequently returns to a position of demanding evidence before he'll believe in something. Yet for some reason he refuses to see that literally billions of people take comfort in religion. What more evidence could he want that religion has value?

CNN asked Dawkins what he would say to people who didn't like the show about atheism. Dawkins responded on-air: "Grow up!"

In the interest of more informed debate, perhaps Dawkins and others like him should instead open their eyes.

RELATED CONTENT: Watch the author's TEDx Talk

A frequent speaker at churches and synagogues, Dr. Joel M. Hoffman is author of the popular "And God Said: How Translations Conceal the Bible's Original Meaning" and, most recently, "The Bible's Cutting Room Floor: The Holy Scirptures Missing From Your Bible." He can be reached through his website at www.Lashon.net.

Feature Image Credit: Credit Don Arnold/Getty Images

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