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← The atheist who tried to steal Christmas

Paula Kirby's Avatar Jump to comment 16 by Paula Kirby

Having been present at both Richard's Oxford discussion with John Lennox AND the lecture that John Lennox gave in Scotland the following week, in which he completely and dramatically misrepresented what Richard had said at the Oxford event, I always follow articles by Lennox and/or Taunton (they seem to be pretty interchangeable) with considerable interest, simply from a 'Spot the Misrepresentation' point of view.

Here are a few in this article that leap out at me immediately:

This time, Oxford University's professional unbeliever is out to spread holiday cheer with a new children's book, The Magic of Reality. Christmas is, after all, the season of magic, and lest children confuse sugar plum fairies and flying reindeer with the observable and repeatable, the professor has loaded neither toys nor goodies on his sleigh but a heavy dose of "rational skepticism." So gather around, children, and hear a new tale of Christmas.

Er, really? MoR is a Christmas book? Is that why it was published in September in the UK, and October in the USA, and makes (so far as I can recall from memory) no - or virtually no - reference to Christmas, and has no Christmas images on its cover? Just because Larry Taunton got it as a Christmas present (Santa probably thought he needed it), doesn't mean it was written for Christmas, or is a Christmas book. Since the whole premise of Taunton's argument seems to be that Richard Dawkins set out to destroy the spirit of Christmas for children, the whole article does rather collapse on this point.

Disregarding all nuances of religious beliefs and practices, Dawkins seems to think that the Amish might just as easily have flown planes into the Twin Towers as a band of radical Muslims.

Indeed? Astonishingly, Taunton appears to have forgotten to provide a link to where Richard has said, or even suggested, any such thing. He also appears to have forgotten that Richard quite regularly makes it clear that he thinks radical Islam the worst and most dangerous, by a long way, of the many varieties of religion on offer. Forgotten? Or simply chosen to misrepresent?

Furthermore, he repeats his error of seeing religion as monolithic. Jewish traditions are lumped with those of the Tasmanians, the Christian story of Jesus with that of Cinderella, because one is as absurd as the other.

Well, this one isn't a misrepresentation, at least. Indeed, he seems to have understood rather well: one myth is very like another in terms of its explanatory power, or lack of it. So sorry Richard didn't single out your particular religion for special treatment, Larry: but you see, when it comes to explaining reality to children, your religion is just as inadequate and downright unhelpful as the others. It is not Richard's fault that your religion is fiction.

Never mind, kiddies, that it was the Judeo-Christian tradition (not Cinderella) that gave rise to the very science Dawkins occasionally practices and the civilization from which he draws most of his moral and intellectual sensibilities.

Now, now, Larry. Doesn't your religion have a commandment saying, 'Thou shalt not steal'? I'm sorry, but you simply cannot claim science and morality and intellectual sensibilities for Christianity. They are not Christianity's property. Here's a clue: all these things ALSO exist and arose in societies that didn't historically practise Christianity. It is simply and plainly dishonest to look back and say, 'In centuries gone by, just about everyone in our country was Christian. Therefore everything they did arose because of Christianity. For far too long the religious have been getting away with this hijacking of all that is good in humans - such as their quest for knowledge and their innate sense of morality grounded in empathy with others - and then phonily attributing it to their particular religion: no matter how much or how bloodily their particular religion fought to quell such impulses in the past.

When Lennox, a mathematician and philosopher of science, asserted that the museum had a Christian heritage, Dawkins heaped scorn on the very idea. He carried the point by sheer force of personality, but he was wrong. The museum was, in fact, founded with money from the sale of Bibles. Contributors deemed it an appropriate expense and means of glorifying God and his creation. But Dawkins would have none of it.

Did he? Really, Larry? 'Heaped scorn'? Are you sure? You chaired the event, and recorded it and put it out on DVD afterwards, after all, so you are in a good position to know exactly what was said, and how, and whether it constituted 'heaping scorn' or not.

Taunton is quite right that Richard contradicted Lennox's assertion that the museum was probably dedicated to the glory of God, and also that Richard was mistaken in that - something he later acknowledged, when it was pointed out to him. But 'heaped scorn on the very idea' ? I have a transcript of that whole event. It has proved useful on several occasions when either Taunton or Lennox have been trying to put their own spin on events that evening, and I quote from it again here:

JL: ... I believe this building was probably dedicated to the glory of God ...
RD: No it wasn’t, actually [laughs]
JL: Wasn’t it? Oh right
RD: Rather the reverse!

I am sure many users of this site will have witnessed Richard heaping scorn on ideas before now. If this was meant to be another example, it was a decidedly feeble one. Both his comments were a laughing, lighthearted interpolation, 7 words in total - not enough to 'heap' anything. As anyone present on the night or who had seen the DVD of the event would know. That includes you, Larry Taunton.

Nowhere has this mimicry been more laughably apparent, however, than in Dawkins' efforts to proselytize children. In 2009, he helped launch — no kidding — an atheist summer camp. One imagines children roasting marshmallows as Dawkins reads some titillating passage from The Origin of Species or, more likely, The God Delusion. That must not have worked out too well, so the professor wrote The Magic of Reality, which is, in effect, The God Delusion for kids (though somewhat more insightful and less bombastic).

Oh goodness, where to start?

So what if Richard had helped to launch an atheist summer camp? Are atheists to fight against the religious indoctrination of children with one arm tied behind their backs? But in fact, he didn't. The Camp Quest idea was not Richard's; he played no part in setting it up and no part in running it. His sole involvement was a modest 3-figure donation to cover the cost of sending a camp leader on a short training course on how to make learning fun for children. That was it. For Taunton to turn that into an image of Richard trying to foist TGD onto children is just ludicrous. It took me a moment to work out what it reminded me of, and then it came to me: it's a level of dishonesty and personal spite that is highly reminiscent of Alister McGrath's nasty little book, The Dawkins Delusion.

As for Magic of Reality being TGD for kids, the accusation is laughable! Taunton himself points out that, in it, Dawkins treats all myths in exactly the same way: religion is not singled out. MoR is not about religion. It is a young person's introduction to science, and the sections on mythological stories that were at one time seen as 'explanations' of the natural world form only a small proportion of each chapter: indeed, the chapter on atoms has no myth section at all (since none of the gods or other mythical characters mankind has invented ever knew about atoms). I can only suppose that the science sections went whizzing over Taunton's head and that he therefore failed to register them.

Of course, it was Dawkins who labeled as child abusers those parents and teachers who instruct their charges in a given view of life.

Naughty, naughty, Larry. What happened to 'Thou shalt not bear false witness'? Dawkins has labelled two types of religion-related behaviour as 'child abuse'. One is telling children they will burn for eternity in hell if they don't believe. The other is labelling a child a 'Christian' or a 'Muslim' etc before the child is old enough to have made her own choices in the matter. Nowhere has Richard said anything that could be fairly paraphrased in the way Taunton has done here.

And I really have to ask. Why do believers so often resort to such blatant dishonesty and such grotesque distortions in order to make their points? The more I read by Christians, the more disgusted I am with Christianity, and certainly the more contemptuous I am of Christians' claims that morality stems from their religion! Stop lying, stop twisting, stop distorting, stop misrepresenting - until you do, you have no right to even an equal claim on morality, let alone a superior one.

And yet The Magic of Reality does precisely that. According to Dawkins, it is meant to be read by children or, better yet, by parents to their children. It is a sort of anti-religious catechism.

No. It's an introduction to science. The fact that science and the scientific method are in themselves antithetical to religion is entirely down to religions being the product of human imaginations rather than a quest for evidence and reason. If you don't like that, Larry, blame the people who invented them. Meanwhile, science education will continue - despite the best efforts of Christians like you.

On the contrary, Dawkins would rob children of the true magic of life: meaning.

No, Larry, not meaning. Neither meaning nor morality depend on your fables. Meaning comes from whatever inspires us, whatever makes us feel our lives are worthwhile. It is something we make for ourselves. The sheer arrogance of suggesting that another person's life can have no meaning if they don't subscribe to your particular set of beliefs is just breathtaking: Christian humility at its finest. And frankly, if the 'meaning' of your life leads to the production of lame, unoriginal, dishonest articles such as this one, then perhaps it's time you found a different one.

Tue, 27 Dec 2011 20:54:09 UTC | #903095