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The Dawkins debate

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Richard Dawkins stoked the fires of religious debate with the publication of The God Delusion, but denied it made him a fundamentalist. Here's a selection of the 700 comments we received in response to his defence of atheism.

"We will always have a God but it is up to us to let this God evolve into a better God.

My concept of God would need no worshiping and would make no laws other than the law that we be good to others and preserve this earth and the rest of the universe. All other concepts of God eventually lead to cultism as has happened with Islam and Christianity and must be rejected."

Ted Baines, New York, USA

"I'm delighted to see that this brave, scholarly and well argued book has become a best seller. As Dawkins points out, there are a great many people out there who do not believe but are afraid to say so. Too many are afraid to criticise the various absurdities which still so dominate our lives.

When a man of his intellectual capacity and credentials makes such a forceful argument it emboldens other to do the same. This of course infuriates the religionists and their reaction is typically intemperate. In a thankfully bygone age Dawkins would have been tortured and murdered. It is their inability to silence such intelligent and rational discourse which infuriates them the most."

Paul Owen, Birmingham , UK

"Dawkins may be extremely intelligent. Thankfully, intelligence isn't the only human quality we should admire. I might mention humility, tolerance and generous human spirit for starters…irrespective of whether a person has faith or not."

Philip Oakes, London, UK

"Richard Dawkins IS a fundamentalist- pure and simple. And yes, he does shrill, rage and spew hatred. No better or worse than the average human. The difference between a Christian fundamentalist and a Dawkin fundamentalist is that the former says "God knows best", while the latter says "I know best".

This brings up the question- which Charles Darwin considered- as Dawkins is an evolved monkey (true evolution), how much faith should one place in the judgment of a monkey's brain?

I rest my case."

Fundamentalist, London,

"Both Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein believed in God - but they weren't as clever as Mr Richard Dawkins. Thank you Mr Dawkins for leading us on to the shining path of atheism - that godless religion that gave us the gulags and the 'great leap forward'."

R Smith , Manama , Bahrain

"The fact that religion is ubiquitous to all human cultures points to its possibly important role in our survival. This does not invalidate anything Dawkins says (I'm a big fan) but it suggests a different headline: more 'mirage' than 'delusion'."

Rob Wilard, Reading,

"To those who say, 'You cannot criticise religion without detailed study of learned books on theology", I reply : "Does that mean I can't crticise Hitler's death camps without detailed knowledge of 'Mein Kampf'?'"

David Ambrose, London,

"I have great respect and regard for Richard Dawkins. I have also seen too many lives ruined by the certainty of belief that many purveyors of religion espouse and thrust at their fellow humans. However despite all Dawkins' well reasoned arguments against religion I remain a believer. All our statements about God, including those of atheists are limited human constructions that can never truly describe God. All our conceptions about God are metaphors, open to change and ultimately false. Whether God is or is not isn't the main issue. Are we able to live with uncertainty regarding God's existence or non-existence?

Only those who are able to cope with the disturbing psychological effects of doubt and certainty are capable of living with an awareness of the provisionality and fragility of their convictions; those who cannot are forced to delude themselves that they possess a certitude which no mortal human being could ever have."

Malcolm Uren, Hayle, Cornwall

"What tiresome and ignorant nonsense.

1) Dawkins is absolutely correct to challenge religion extensively and in any way he wishes. That does not make him "fundamentalist", and this ridiculous accusation should also be challenged - essentially, its a tit-for-tat response lacking logic, context, and perspective.

2) The fact that Dawkins exposes the nonsense of religion does not in itelf mean he is any expert on spiritual ideas. He isn't - he's some kind of laboratory academic, with a career as a professional theorist. There's more on heaven and earth, to paraphrase Shakespeare, than you find in both the superstitious nonsense of religion and the nonsense of smug academia."

Joe, Manchester,

"I was brought up in a fundamentalist Christian group, but thanks to science classes in secondary school, I stopped taking the Bible literally in my early teens. However, like many people brought up as Christians, I still believed vaguely in a God. It wasn't until I had the happy chance of reading the God Delusion while studying statistics that, through Dawkins' 'teapot analogy', I was really able to comprehend quite how improbable is the notion of a God. I can fully understand the criticism that Dawkins receives. I too was once very defensive about my beliefs. With hindsight I see that I was merely ignorant. I applaud what Dawkins is trying to do. If knowledge is power, then I say people have a right to it. People shouldn't be denied that right on account of falsehoods dressed up as something mystical. Let people be told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. So help them... selves."

Harvey Alexander, London, UK

"Richard Dawkins is not being scientific. To make a statement like "most believers echo fallwell..." What kind of claim is that? it get's nowhere except fuel his opinion. This man is a parasite with his bitterness, just like the religious fundamentalists. There are rational faithfuls, their called "medieval philosophers." if he wants to tackle God he needs to define his terms and make his claims scientific."

Jeff Talsness, Minneapolis, Minnesota

"Richard Dawkins comes in the category of "empty vessels make most noise". And as usual, he ignores inconvenient objections. As for not dealing with theology, I would settle for Richard Dawkins understanding basic philosophy. If his work in biology is as poorly researched, I fear for the standards of British science."

antifrank, London, UK

"'Most believers echo Robertson, Falwell or Haggard, Osama bin Laden or Ayatollah Khomeini': what arrogant nonsense. Professor Dawkins uses this baseless premise as an excuse to indulge in his attacks on all believers, the vast majority of whom, I say, are far more "subtle and nuanced" than he allows."

Syd, Cambridge

"I believe in God. I believe because I have seen miracles that are inexplicable without God. I believe because if I didn't, I would have no reason to hope for a better world. Yes, religion has caused terrible atrocities, but the simple belief in God has not. One might also consider all the good believers do. We feed the hungry, give to the poor, etc. That is not to say that non-believers don't, but there is no need to make believers appear to be the cause of all misery. I am a well-educated, well-travelled, and well-read person, and I believe."

Jennie, Dinan, France

"The arguments that Christians use to support their belief in "God" could be used to support a belief in any sort of "god" held to have omnipotent powers. The question is, what sort of personality do believers attribute to their "God". That of the Christian "God" is vicious and repugnant."

Wes Jernigan, Tucson, Arizona

"Indeed Isaac Newton believed in God. He spent more time studying the Bible and making calculations of its timespans than he ever did on Maths and Physics, both of which he revolutionised. He didn't, however, revolutionise Religion, which remains pretty much as backward and pointless as it has ever done. He also spent a very great deal of time on Alchemy, but presumably we aren't suggesting that his judgment was wise on this, despite his great genius. At least Alchemy ultimately became Chemistry however. Religion is still - er - religion.

Einstein on the other hand, didn't really believe in any kind of God that theists would recognise. Despite his famous quote about God playing dice, he believed in a god which was no more than the ordering principle of the universe, "not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings."

Dawkins isn't as 'clever' as either man, nor would he pretend to be. For you see, the famous arrogance is only actually apparent to theists."

Paul Caira, London, UK

"Some people will say: "Why not let believers do as they wish instead of harassing them like Mr. Dawkins does while trying to make them change their minds? After all what's wrong if someone wants to believe in the 'Flying Spaghetti Monster'?"

Well, the problem is some believers have enormous power with which they can influence and dictate rules of behavior to the unfortunate followers. Think about the power of the Pope and the way he manipulates the behavior of millions: No abortions, no divorces, no civil marriages, no contraception, celibacy for priests and nuns. Entire Nations are under his dictates: Italy, Ireland, Argentina, Brazil, most of Africa."

Robert Collu, Quartu SE (CA), Italy

"Dawkins seems to be getting more desperate by the day. I think "The God Delusion" will turn out to be a giant own goal for him. In choosing to attack God Dawkins as shown to himself to be intolerant, blinkered,nasty and always breathtakenly arrogant. I hope he finds salvation in Jesus Christ before it is too late. Secular fundamentalism will certainly fail."

Phil C, Weston, United Kingdom

"Richard Dawkins believes God does not exist. I believe God does exist. Each of us has a fifty percent chance of being right - or wrong. Neither of us can prove our case. End of story, and PLEASE, end of all this idiotic fuss about it."

jane, London, UK

"As an evangelical christian I have no problem with criticism or debate over the truth of my beliefs; however I am disapointed when they are caracatured to be something they are not. Evangelical, does not equal fundamentalist nor is it remotely equivalent to osama bin laden. Neither does it mean I cannot change my mind. Evangelicals, as aposed to other christians, believe simply that the bible is true. What value is a religious book that is not true? This does not mean that we all agree on every aspect of the bible, key doctrines yes, but all no (young earthism is not a required article of belief). This is not a fault with the bible, but with our own imperfect ability to understand and comprehend. Furthermore faith is not blind belief in spite of clear evidence to the contrary, this would be foolish and of no merit morally. Faith is holding to what you have found to be true when circumstance or mood would make it easier or more convenient to give up; perseverance in the face of obstacles"

Matthew Petticrew, London,

"Religion is defined as 'association of the weak-minded'. According to Marx, it is 'the opium that corrupts the mind'. It is sheer fun to watch how these Evangelical hysterics sacrifce this known world for an unknown Paradise. Dawkin's book impeccably eliminates those delusions from our mind. We have seen how God 'appeared to the US president and inspired him to invade Iraq'. King Solomon called 'a God of Wisdom'. Bible teaches about a 'God of Love'. Mother Teresa called it "God of Mercy'. And Bush calls it a 'God of war, death and destruction'. In fact, God is the source of all problems. And the name of the problem is God."

mathew, Mumbai, India

"The comments here are more interesting than the article. If I follow them correctly, the universe is indifferent to our suffering but must be revered, while God, when dealing with His own creation as He desires, is given the human characteristic of viciousness. Christians cannot repudiate the Bible. Without wishing to enumerate all the proofs, if Christ, who is God incarnate, authorised the universal Church to teach, and the universal Church teaches that the Bible is authentic, and exegetes confirm that God did x or y, then so be it. Facts are facts and intellectually honest Christians have to accept them as much as Darwin apparently accepted the brutality of nature. A corollary, however, is that, as far as ethics are concerned, the universal Church does not teach us that homicide, for example, is permissible (though the State does have the authority to punish crime)."

Kevin, London,

"I suspect that Richard Dawkins would still dismiss the beliefs and experiences of billions of thinking people even if Jesus appeared in person and performed miracles just for him. This is inconsistent with being open-minded and open to scientific enquiry and intelligent debate. Curiously, the evidence shows that whilst Dawkins might hate God, God loves Dawkins."

A Christian, Bristol, England

"Just because professor Dawkins does not believe in God, does not mean that the Most High ceases to exist. Atheists appear to me to go to extraordinary lengths to deny what is so clear to the believer; the existence of miracles is an obvious example. These lines are from Dostoyevsky, "The Brothers Karamazov": "A true realist, if he is an unbeliever, will always find the strenght and ability not to believe in a miracle, and if faced with a miracle as an undeniable fact, he will sooner disbelieve his own senses than admit the fact."

On the other hand, I know that there are many people who really are after the truth: "ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you..... "

Michael, Harrogate, UK

"I am a Muslim and believe 'passionately' that 'everything' must be questioned as the truth is infallable. It is this principle that is lacking in the practice of modern day religions that undermines the credibility of those religions. I was raised by my Muslim parents to question everyting (thank God... no punn intended) in order to arrive at and recognise the truth. I have used this to not only question religion, but to question politics and politicians. Maybe your next book coud be 'The Politician Delusion'.

For those (including yourself) who like to consider themselves as intellectuals, try reading any of the Holy books and apply your 'Question everything' intellect - dont let the media educate you... if you did, then surely wyou wouldnt have the 'question everything' mentality?"

seth, cambs, uk

"If 'survival of the fittest' really IS the order of the day then why was Hitler accused of being an evil man? It makes no sense why do we save the baby born premature by treating it & puting it in an incubator; why do we bother with disabled people to keep them alive or treat people for disease!

Why do we waste our money on the likes of Dawkins by buying his books or even give him houseroom! I don't see that the guy has anything to offer the world. He is an incipid man that has a gripe against religion. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that all this is due to something that happened when he was a child! I would have more time for the guy if he was to do something that was actually useful to society - like some voluntary work in a hospice or a spinal unit.

As for accusing him of being a fundamentalist - well we can't as he doesn't have any fundamentals - he is of no fixed position. He does seems to have a passionate hate for religious people though!"

Kevin Ash, Ashford, Middlesex

"Richard Dawkins and his ongoing battle against religious belief is fine for light entertainment but has no real academic merit. To try and argue about religious people's beliefs on a basis of science and logic is a pointless task; the religious of this world have their beliefs based on faith and not logic, and they freely admit it. No matter what logical map Professor Dawkins draws up (and let us stop pretending he is the first to do so), he will not convert the ardent supporters of religion. Instead, he seems content to merely preach to the choir, a self-congratulatory celebration and reminder to all atheists that they are indeed cleverer, or at least saner, than all those religious people."

Abioye A Oyetunji, London, UK

"Great. While people are arguing about religion and whether or not a deity exists, there are millions of people living in abject poverty, under crushing oppression, and our climate is changing in ways that even we do not fully yet understand.

There are much more important priorities in our world than trying to figure out how many angels are dancing on the head of a pin...."

James, San Francisco, California, USA

"Might I suggest how jealous those of us who do not live in the U.K. are at this discussion. Here is disagreement, deep and profound, and yet nobody has issued threats, conjured tortured endings for those who disagree nor, (I hope) do they seem bent on running out and beating someone over the head for thinking differently. No one is in danger here. No one risks imprisonment, death, mutilation, humiliation, shame, shunning, etc. The very possibility of this discussion, which is ultimately, material proof of the possibility, validity, rationality of doubt is itself something to marvel at. If Richard Dawkins has allowed us all to see that we can disagree on this, and lo, the world hasn't exploded yet, then we can probably manage to disagree quite calmly about everything else. Further, if Richard Dawkins is the means by which those who have been feeling abandoned in the solitude of their doubts gain courage and or even curiosity, then viva Dawkins."

Hakima, New York,

"I am an atheist and I agree with your critics Professor Dawkins. I gave up reading your book a third of the way through as I just coudn't stand the strident tone of your prose any longer. It was not dissimilar to being ranted at by the Hyde Park Corner soap-boxers - except I didn't get the opportunity to heckle! You make many valid points but the manner of their making turns off those who would be your supporters. By all means, let's show the world that religion of all kinds is just meaningless mumbo-jumbo, but let's do it with cogent argument and debate. Your fundamentalist approach is just as bad as the fundamentalist evangelicals who would convince us the opposite is true."

Bob H, Glasgow, UK

"Dawkins' problem as an atheist fundamentalist is that he can't prove that God doesn't exist, not least because all matter in the universe bears the hallmark of being created. Out of nothing?Moreover, some living organisms are irreduceably complex, and if evolution were true, we would expect to see far more evidence of intermediate ape/humans. It would also have to be proven that the resurrection of Jesus is the greatest hoax in all history. Websites such as demonstrate that this cannot be so. Most people, even in a secular country such as Britain believe in God and for good reason."

Richard Steel, Dudley, UK

"Religion is the outworking of faith. Faith is being sure of what one hopes for and certain of what one does not see. Mr. Dawkins is sure of his hope that God does not exist and certain that not seeing Him is proof of His non-existence.

True atheism touts the "absence of belief" conjecture, which is akin to the "absence of being". For only absence of being (nonbeing) can produce absence of beliefs (nonbelief). For nonbeings, atheists certainly do warp the fabric of space and time. But, in the event they do return to reality, they have their own faith to reconcile.

Having denied his finitude (i.e. religion), Mr. Dawkins and his followers cannot admit there is a faith element to believing in not God. Therefore, his understanding of 'religion' has earned him the well-deserved title of "Megalomaniac." He truly takes his personal omnipotence, omniscience and godhood seriously."

Van, Balt. , USA

"Thomas Beecham said "most people do not understand music, they just like the noise it makes". And the same can be said of religion. Many derive comfort from it, others say it satifies man's inate spiritual dimension, others like the language and the music of its rituals. Those (mostly men) who have rammed religion down the throats of others, have, throughout history, given rise to most of the world's conflicts. Those who simply profess their faiths within themselves have done no harm to anyone, and should be respected. Those "fundamentalists" who have caused us such pain, misery and discomfort have retarded the "ascent of man" and deserve the wrath of all. The God thing is appealing as an idea, but not as a fact."

John Lancaster, Belgrade,

"1. I find it ironic that those slamming Dawkins for holding forth on religion without familiarizing himself with the Bible, have obviously not bothered to read The God Delusion prior to holding forth on Dawkins! Had they read his book, they would realize that Dawkins is a savvy and erudite critic, with a sound grasp of Biblical exegisis. He quotes the Bible extensively in support of his case.

2. What is this spurious distinction between "religion" and "irreligion"? Central to Christian doctrine - even liberal Christain doctrine - is the notion that millions of non-believers will be consigned to the firy pit of Hell, to suffer eternally for their "sin" at the hands of this supposedly loving god, Jehovah! There is no way to sugar-coat this utterly abhorent, divisive and unforgiving doctrine."

Paul Hayward, Leamington Spa, UK

"Why are so many hooked on the evil infiltrating the heart of religion instead of the wonders of the real thing? Interesting."

Father Bryan Storey, UK

"The crux of "The God Delusion" is Chapter 4 which seeks to show that it's almost impossible that God exists, yet in the crucial section on cosmology the author fails to introduce the work of Stephen Hawking who is the foremost living theoretical cosmologist. Does he not understand Hawking's work or is he uncomfortable with Hawking's findings? If space and time commenced at the formation of the universe, then whatever caused the universe to come about must exist outside space and time. If the cause of the universe exists outside time then it cannot have any origin. This is where the author's central argument about infinite regression crumbles, because the cause of the universe itself does not need a cause, and therefore no degree of improbability can be attached to it."

PeterB, Lincoln,

"The living cell is complex structure that includes so many interactive dimensions that to believe these all came together by chance is so improable that even the most inteligent scientist looks like a buffoon if he/she expects us to believe such hypothetical nonsence. That these cells then gathered together ,and witrh no fore plan, designed the amoeba, let alone the human being is so outrageously obsurd that one must doubt the sanity of those that believe in this nonsense."

Muhammad Junaid, Abu Dhabi, UAE

"Just a word about humility: Kneeling and praying to a "god" isn't humility - it's grovelling. Claiming to have a god who will reward believers with paradise and send non-believers to hell is not humility but sheer arrogance. - True humility is accepting the fact that we do not and cannot answer ultimate questions about our existence. True humility means looking in awe at the wonders of nature and the universe in which we are so microscopic. True humility is being answerable to our own consciences (and not to some invented god) for everything we do and trying to make the world a better and more peaceful place to live in."

alan, cologne,

"The arrogance of Christians and theists in general, who "know" what is unprovable, is astounding. Especially as cognitive science keeps pushing the boundaries, and is beginning to explain some of the ways our senses, thoughts and emotions stem from neuronal activity. This includes not just our usual emotions (anger/rage, pleasure, lust, love, laughter etc), but also "out of body" and other bizarre experiences. Ultimately it may well explain how, why and where people experience their concept of God. Now where would Christian certainty be in the face of that!"

mathew, adelaide,

"Dear Matthew, You say, 'The arrogance of Christians and theists in general, who "know" what is unprovable, is astounding,' but you do not tell us what you believe is unproveable and why. If you already believe that the existence of God is unproveable, then logically, according to your worldview God does not exist. but can you account for your appeal to the laws of science as objective in a world in which there is no Absolute upon which these absolutes can rest. The fact that you know the rules by which we must have this debate - i.e. the laws of logic - is one proof that although you do not 'believe' in the God Who is Personal Absolute and Necessary in your heart of hearts you know Him.

Surely it is arrogant of atheists to deny that they believe in the Personal, Absolute and Necessary Being and then use logical, mathematical, ethical and scientific absolutes to try and disprove His existence, when on the foundation of their worldview, they have nothing to say."

Richard Tallach, Perth, Scotland UK

"The problem with this discussion is that we have not produced an adequate definition of God. It seems to me that the only definition we can make that is universal enough, is that God is infinite and God is eternal. If I accept God in these terms then surely I am going to define my God in terms that are meaningful to me. If I choose the same set of values Father Storey, then apparently I am in good company. If how ever my selection of values from the infinite set differ from Father Storey's I am sadly mistaken. Perhaps there is a danger here that, if we accept a God we do so using an image we have defined.

The atheist says that outside of the self-definition he sees no evidence that God exists and there is no likelihood of evidence being found in the future. The agnostic says that as of now no there is no evidence that God exists, however that does not mean that at some future time evidence may be found.

For my part I would rather say that I do not know if God exists."

Bob Gibson, New York, USA

"The Catholic Catechism definition of God is more than helpful. He's the Supreme Being who alone exists of Himself and is infinite in all perfections. Aristotle and St Thomas Aquinas outline five ways by which we can come to an acceptance of Him. I am not original in saying that the third way is pivotal and adequately compelling proof, ( obviously short of testube!) but compellingly reasonable. Nothing finite without the necessarily invisible Infinite. From nothing, there's nothing. If there's something, adequate explanation is required . I don't think we need to go on giving book lists, our qualifications or raising doubts about backgrounds ( easily verifiable). We need to address Professor Dawkins' main point, clear for all to read. Don't get encouraged to get lost among the trees while looking for the wood. He says God is a delusion. I say only many delusions in the mind through negligence of the first Commandment, clear in human Conscience can induce such absurd statements."

Father Bryan Storey, Tintagel, UK

"This debate is going nowhere until the atheists accept that science's foundations are based on the philosophy of naturalism or materialism which says "nature is what nature is" and "nature is made up of particles". It follows from this that matter had to do its own creating and that the means of creating must exclude external power (such as God). Science has been unable to prove this assertion yet bases all its findings on assumptions made about "nature" which behaves the way it does because it does. Why "nature" exists, why nature behaves as it does and not in other ways and how chance and random interaction can create anything of ever increasing complexity like "evolving lifeforms" are questions not to be addressed. Dawkins concedes as a zoologist that the simplest organisms contain immense amounts of genetic material and that natural (a deceptive word because it is meaningless as a explanation) selection cannot demonstrate any information creating power."

Peter Hollander, Canterbury, England

"The question of the existence of a creator - an intelligent agent who made the universe - is on a par with the paradox of how absolute nothing can become something (the most intractible problem of cosmology). Even science is faced with seemingly unanswerable questions that lie at its foundations. As long as such mysteries remain (and there are many more) there will always be room for the possibilty that 'God' - in some sense - exists."

Robert Nield, Hartford, Cheshire



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