I did say in an earlier piece that I’d comment at greater length on Richard Dawkins’ two-part polemical documentary for Channel 4, The Root of All Evil?
A few days on and I’m not so sure that there’s much about the two documentaries, themselves, that needs to be addressed. It was what it was and either you take Dawkins’ views on board – which means you’re most probably an atheist – or you don’t. That’s very much the nature of polemics, you either agree with them or you disagree with them out of which basic position all further discussion proceeds by a fairly predictable course.
What been rather more interesting in the days since the second part has been the various efforts of ‘believers’ of one kind or another to leap to defence of religion in face of Dawkins’ programmes and, particularly, how poor a defence most of these commentators have succeeded in mounting – so its to this that I decided to turn my thoughts.
Let’s start with the [over]reaction of AA Gill in the Times:
Scientists all over the nation must hold their heads and groan whenever Richard Dawkins appears on television, as he did in The Root of All Evil? (Monday, C4). He is such a terrible advertisement, such an awful embarrassment, the Billy Graham of the senior common room. His splenetic, small-minded, viciously vindictive falsetto rant at all belief that isn’t completely rooted in the natural sciences is laughable. Dawkins is a born-again Darwinist, an atheist, so why is he devoting so much blood pressure and time to arguing with something he knows doesn’t exist? If it’s not there, Richard, why do you keep shouting at it? He looks like a scientific bag lady screaming at the traffic, and watching him argue with a fundamentalist Christian, you realise they were cut from identical cloth, separated at birth. Dawkins is, of course, the archetype of a man who protests too much, and I’d say he’s well on his way to, if not a Pauline, then at least a Muggeridgian conversion. Any day now, he’ll be back on telly quoting CS Lewis.
Well quite AA. But what did you think of the actual programme?
Those who know Gill’s work will recognise the style instantly. When you have nothing to say – which in Gill’s case is the vast majority of the time – simply break out the big book of ad-hominem attacks and sprinkle illiberally. ‘[S]plenetic, small-minded, viciously vindictive falsetto rant’ rather nicely sums up Gill himself, so much so that one half suspects that his real objection to this documentary lies in Channel 4 having given someone other than himself the opportunity to mount a solid prime-time rant and is therefore merely the literary equivalent of penis envy.
Whatever. Gill was ever the dilettante in his endeavours and there’s nothing in his comments to change that view.
Moving on, we find Dawkins getting right up the collective noses of the Evangelical Alliance, about which I’m sure he’s been having sleepless nights ever since.
There’s two or three beauties in this piece worth noting, starting with:
Dr David Hilborn, Head of Theology at the Alliance, said that Dawkins “signally failed to define key terms like ‘religion’, ‘evangelical’ and ‘fundamentalist’, showed no evidence of having engaged with scholarly sources at the interface of theology and science, and dodged any interaction with peers from the academic community who are believing scientists, or with theologians trained in the natural sciences.