There Are New Atheists in Foxholes, Part 1

As part of an extra-long holiday weekend read, we bring the first of a three-part series. Richard Dawkins sees Christianity as more socially beneficial than many woke pastors do.

By William Dembski Published on May 25, 2024

Richard Dawkins has an endearing habit of rewriting history. For almost four decades, from the mid-1970s onward, he wrote of the human genome as mainly junk. It suited his Darwinism to do so, underscoring how evolution cobbles living forms together opportunistically, and that waste and inefficiencies in the genome are simply part of the messy process that is Darwinian evolution, focused as it is on natural selection acting on random variations.

And then in the early 2010s the results of the ENCODE project were announced, showing that hardly any human DNA, and perhaps none of it, was functionless. And so Dawkins claimed that this result — showing an overwhelming absence of junk in the genome — was consistent with Darwinian evolution. Natural selection, it seems, was more efficient and less messy than previously suspected. For the account of his flip-flop, see Chapter 7 of my book The Design Inference (the second edition, coauthored with Winston Ewert).

The Arsonist Wistful for the Building He Helped Burn Down

Dawkins’s flip-flop regarding junk DNA pales when compared to his flip-flop in recent weeks regarding Christianity. He now calls himself a “cultural Christian,” saying he prefers Christianity to Islam, and especially enjoys Christmas carols. And while he cheers the waning of Christian faith as such, he intimates a longing for things Christian that are disappearing from the culture.

Critics have been quick to jump on the irony here since Dawkins, as the leading voice for atheism in the English-speaking world (if not in the world as a whole), has helped bring about this waning of Christian faith. But let’s be careful not to give him too much credit. Christians, through their own ineffectiveness in Christian education, have been complicit in helping Dawkins’s crusade against the Christian faith. I’ll say more about this later. In any case, here is Dawkins, the newly minted cultural Christian:

I remarked that Dawkins has the “endearing” habit of rewriting history. His habit is endearing because in rewriting history he admits, albeit tacitly and shamefacedly, that he got things wrong. Junk DNA doesn’t exist. Okay, for forty years he said it did. But let’s quietly ignore that. Christianity isn’t all bad, and he regards himself (now) as a cultural Christian. Okay, for decades he railed against all religions and didn’t offer Christianity any special exemptions. But let’s pretend he wasn’t quite so doctrinaire.

Warm Fuzzies Won’t Substitute for Cold, Clear Thinking

Dawkins’s softening attitude toward Christianity is more curiosity than substance. It makes no difference toward undoing the damage he did in promoting atheism or toward restoring credibility to the Christian faith. For that sort of change, it’s going to take more than warm sentiments about Christianity, sentiments long submerged in Dawkins’s psyche but only now percolating to consciousness. I want in this essay to discuss what more is needed to restore credibility to the Christian faith, but let’s be clear first where Dawkins was on Christianity in his prior life.

The current Dawkins is one who has mellowed with age. He no longer seems to be the stark, tough-minded Dawkins that made his reputation. This Dawkins would write in River Out of Eden:

The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.

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Or consider how he characterized the God of the Old Testament in The God Delusion:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

Dawkins has stressed in subsequent conversations that this Old Testament God, as he portrays Him here, is a literary fiction and that a real God, if He exists at all, might be kind and loving (consider, for instance, his conversation with Ben Stein in the documentary Expelled).

The Root of All Evil

And yet let’s be clear, the tough-minded Dawkins of the past was not a cultural Christian. He had no use for religion, period. Perhaps the clearest place where Dawkins showed himself to be implacably opposed to religion was in a two-part British television documentary that came out just before the publication of The God Delusion. That documentary was titled The Root of All Evil? That phrase is taken from 1 Timothy 6:10 in the Bible, where the Apostle Paul identifies the love of money as the root of all evil.

Dawkins, in the documentary, substitutes “religion” for “the love of money.” Religion now becomes the root of all evil. The documentary is worth viewing because it makes clear that the tough-minded Dawkins of the past was an equal-opportunity hater of religions, indiscriminate in his disdain for faiths of all kinds. Here are the two parts of that documentary. If you only have time to watch one, watch the first. In it, Dawkins inveighs equally against Islam and Christianity. Indeed, you will be hard-pressed from watching this documentary to conclude that one religion is any better or worse than the other.

Religious faith, as far as Dawkins was concerned back when he made this documentary, was a pernicious virus that needed to be eradicated. Certainly, he has played his part in helping to undermine religious faith, and Christianity in particular, in Europe and North America. But I don’t want to give him too much credit. Rather, I want to give the credit, or blame, where it belongs — namely, on the ineffective education that Christians have permitted to be inflicted on their children, which has enabled people like Dawkins to achieve the influence they have in undermining faith.

But first, it’s worth pointing out a further irony. It’s not just that Dawkins laments the loss of cultural Christianity. He also laments the rampant loss of reason, truth, merit, free speech, critical thinking, and respect for science in the academy and wider culture. In other words, he laments the turn from modernity to postmodernity, from truth-based inquiry to make-it-up-as-you-go inquiry, from sober, rigorous habits of mind to minds at home in an insane asylum. And yet he’s probably done more than any other current figure to bring about this shift.

Parts 2 of this essay will appear tomorrow.


William A. Dembski is a founding and senior fellow of the Center for Science and Culture and a distinguished fellow of the Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence.

Originally published at Reprinted with permission.

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