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Do you have to read up on leprechology before disbelieving in them?

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[Below is the full, un-edited letter originally sent to The Independent]

Sir: Peter Stanford ("Doubts about Dawkins",14 September) writes that the recent books by Christopher Hitchens and me "deserve a decent response. But how to fashion it?" A decent start would be to read them. Page 1 of The God Delusion would suffice to demonstrate that I don't "caricature all church-goers as simple-minded fundamentalists" (Google: "Affection that I still retain for the Church"). Of course the church-goers that Stanford or I meet socially are not simple-minded fundamentalists. Unfortunately they are heavily outnumbered, especially in the most powerful country on Earth where nearly half the population believes the universe began after the domestication of the dog, and a slightly smaller proportion yearns for a Middle East Armageddon when they'll be raptured out of their clothes and "up" to Heaven. These people have the vote and we all live with the consequences, which are made all the more dangerous by the equally simple-minded fundamentalists of the Islamic world.

The "response" that Stanford recommends, by John Cornwell, does not display a very Christian standard of decency, as Stanford will discover if he Googles "Honest Mistakes or Willful Mendacity". He may have better luck with some of the other thirteen "replies" that have been published, under titles that monotonously permute "Dawkins", "God" and "Delusion", many in jackets that are equally derivative (Google: "The Fleas are Multiplying").

Cornwell's slighting of my reading list is singled out for special praise by Stanford. This is a stock criticism. It assumes that there is a serious subject called Theology, which one must study in depth before one can disbelieve in God. My own stock reply (Would you need to read learned volumes on Leprechology before disbelieving in leprechauns?) is now superseded by P Z Myers' brilliant satire on the Emperor's New Clothes (Google "Courtier's Reply").

Stanford's trump card is his observation that "religion is not primarily about belief, as we understand the word today, but faith." Religion, as he sums it up, "simply isn't about facts." Exactly. I couldn't have put it better myself.

Richard Dawkins

[Also see this forum post by Richard, which is a follow-up letter to The Independent highlighting some errors.]



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