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Leading bishop hits out at Dawkins for reducing ‘faith into ignorance’

A leading Church of England bishop has condemned the atheist Richard Dawkins for reducing “faith into ignorance” in his latest book.

The criticism by Bishop of Swindon, Dr Lee Rayfield, who is regarded as a rising star heading for one of the top five posts in the established church, is significant because the bishop is a leading scientist who worked at the top level of medical academia until his ordination in in 1993.

In his new book, The Magic of Reality, Richard Dawkins avoids the ranting tone that did so much to offend faith communities in his atheist polemic The God Delusion.

But his dismissal of some of the miracles held as sacrosanct by many believers as no better than fairy tales will nevertheless anger many religious leaders. His criticisms include a swipe at the beliefs of Islam, as well as Judaism and Christianity.

Dr Rayfield, a former lecturer in immunology at Guy’s and St Thomas’s hospitals in London, told The Times: “Richard Dawkins has such a gift for making science interesting and enjoyable which shines through in extracts from The Magic of Reality.

“It is such a shame that the sense of awe, wonder, and indeed mystery, that he opens up so jars with his dismissal of any who do not regard evolution as a complete explanation of existence. Professor Dawkins invariably collapses myth into falsehood and faith into ignorance. For many of us, including large numbers of scientists, the magic of reality not only inspires wonder but worship.”

In his comments in the book, particularly in the last chapter on miracles, Professor Dawkins makes his contempt clear. Referring to Christianity as merely one among hundreds of religions around the world, he says: “To take just one example, there is a legend that, about 2,000 years ago, a wandering Jewish preacher called Jesus was at a wedding where they ran out of wine. So he called for some water and used miraculous powers to turn it into wine - very good wine, as the story goes on to tell us.”

In a reference also to a journey believed by Muslims to have been taken by the Prophet Mohammed, he continues: “People who would laugh at the idea that a pumpkin could turn into a coach, and who know perfectly well that silk handkerchiefs don’t really turn into rabbits, are quite happy to believe that a prophet turned water into wine, or as devotees of another religion would have it, flew to heaven on a winged horse.”

If the Cana miracle were true, he says, it would violate some of the deepest scientific principles known. “Molecules of pure water would have to have been transformed into a complex mixture of molecules, including alcohol, tannins, sugars of various kinds and lots of others.”

He adopts a similar tone towards the 1917 miracle of Fatima, recognised as legitimate by the Vatican in 1930, when a 10-year-old girl in Portugal and her two cousins claimed to have seen a vision on a hill.

Professor Dawkins writes: “The children said the hill had been visited by a woman called the “Virgin Mary” who, though long dead, had become a kind of goddess of the local religion. According to Lucia, the ghostly Mary spoke to her and told her and the other children that she would keep returning on the 13th of each month until October 13th, when she would perform a miracle to prove she was who she said she was.”

If subsequent events involving the sun had occurred as claimed, writes Dawkins, “Either the earth would have been kicked out of its orbit and would now be a lifeless, cold rock hurtling through the dark void, or we’d have careered into the sun and been fried.”

He metes out similar treatment towards biblical stories such as the creation, Noah’s Ark, Sodom and Gomorrah and the Tower of Babel. The story of the walls of Jericho is dismissed as one of countless “earthquake myths”, such as the belief by some Siberian tribes that the earth sits on a sledge, pulled by a god called Tull, who causes an earthquake whenever he scratches his fleas, or by some West African tribes that they live on a giant’s head who causes an earthquake whenever he sneezes.

In an interview with The Times tomorrow, Professor Dawkins says he is in favour of teaching children about religion but he says it is “wicked” to identify children with the religion of their parents. He praises Anglican schools as “less likely to indoctrinate than any other”.

[Moderators' note: This is the complete article. The original can be found here (paywall)]



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