Dear Sir, (Letter to The Age)
When the American freethinker Robert Ingersoll was abused yet again by a group of bigoted christians, angry at his criticism of the bible, he responded by saying that arguments cannot be answered by personal abuse, that there is no logic in slander…should it turn out that I am the worst man in the world, he said, the story of the flood will remain just as improbable as before…So when your writer Barney Zwartz begins his review of Richard Dawkins latest book by characterising Dawkins as loud, opinionated, supercilious, and someone who shouts down other views, we can see precisely where Mr Zwartz is coming from. I wonder if Mr Zwartz has even met Mr Dawkins.
Mr Dawkins problem is that you cannot reason someone out of a position that he did not reason himself into. The God Delusion, Mr Dawkins latest book, is a tightly argued case for the fact that there is no evidence to suggest that god exists, that the scientific proofs quoted in holy books are nonsense, that the moral lessons of religion are often, but not exclusively evil, and that the history of religious practise is littered with acts of almost unimaginable savagery. Mr Zwartz counters these arguments by suggesting that Mr Dawkins is supercilious. Enough said. Or is it ? Surely we should expect better from someone who is a religious affairs editor ? If Dawkins puts forward page after page of facts to disprove the supposed existence of god, surely a religious affairs editor would respond with just one scientific fact proving gods existence – but I forgot, Dawkins is opinionated. When Dawkins describes the catalogue of atrocities committed by god in the bible, surely a religious affairs editor worth his salt would refute these calumnies, but dear me , Dawkins is loud. Religious practises today come in for whole chapters of criticism in Dawkins book, and one can imagine religious affairs editors all over the world leaping to a spirited defence of catholic condom policies in AIDS ravaged Africa, but no, Mr Zwartz points out that Dawkins is too clever.
Ian Plimer wrote an excellent book “Telling lies for god” and it does seem that Mr Zwartz has adopted this slogan as his personal credo. Mr Dawkins does not say that prejudice, violence, hypocrisy and exploitation would be eliminated if we eliminated religion. He does say that religious prejudice, religious hypocrisy, religious violence and religious exploitation would be eliminated if we eliminated religion, and this is obviously true. Mr Zwartz’s approach is not new by the way, Martin Luther said “What harm would it do if a man told a good strong lie for the sake of the good and the christian church”. When Mr Dawkins discounts the philosophical arguments for the existence of god as vacuous, I would be pleased to be given a counter argument, not an assertion that Mr Dawkins is wrong, without furnishing any evidence. But then I suppose if you are a religious affairs editor, you can get away with just calling the critic inept, it saves so much time.
Unfortunately, instead of ‘sticking to the knitting’ and relying on bigotry and character assassination, Mr Zwartz embarrasses both himself and the reader by suggesting that Dawkin’s criticism of cultism would be akin to a non scientist like Mr Zwartz dismissing Newtonian physics. I presume that Mr Dawkins would point out that Newtonian physics has not been disproved, but rendered a special, but valid case, by other subsequent thoeries. He would also no doubt welcome Mr Zwartz’s contribution, providing that any refutation was based on fact. We can imagine that he would be less enthusiastic if Mr Zwartz dismissed Newtonian physics on the grounds that Sir Isaac was loud, opinionated and supercilious.