Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion caught me at the right time. I read it shortly after finishing school when I was already teetering on the edge of agnosticism, peering into the abyss of atheism. It was enough to push me over the edge. I went on to study philosophy at university, which only confirmed that, happily, Dawkins and myself were right: it is, it turns out, philosophically immodest to posit a God when none is needed!
I had largely stopped paying attention to what he and other so called ‘New-Atheists’ were saying, but the other day I came across a youtube video of a recent discussion between Dawkins and Mehdi Hasan at the Oxford Union. The video was interesting for two main reasons.
Firstly, Hasan, whose journalism I have always enjoyed and often agreed with, revealed himself to be a Qu’ranic literalist. When Dawkins, speaking aloud, assumed that Hasan did not literally believe in the Islamic miracle of Muhammad flying to the moon on a winged horse and splitting it in two, Hasan immediately replied that, in fact, he did. Perhaps I’m unaware of some pertinent nuances of the Islamic tradition, but this seems the equivalent of a Christian believing that God literally created the earth in seven days. It’s bonkers. So it’s kinda strange that he was the politics editor at the New Statesman, a magazine with a proud history of secularism and atheism.
The second interesting part of the exchange concerned the role atheism putatively played in the horrors perpetrated by Communism and Nazism. Hasan suggested that as both these ideologies were avowedly atheist, it bears some responsibility for their evils; to which Dawkins countered that because the evil done by these ideologies was not done in the name of atheism, it is not responsible. Having to have evil done in the name of atheism seems like quite a strong criterion for finding it responsible or not. If atheism could be found to have been a contributing factor to that evil in any way, then surely that would be enough to say it bears an according level of responsibility. And I don’t imagine it would be especially difficult to show that it had in fact been a contributing factor in some way. So maybe Dawkins is a little too unyielding on this point.
Anyway, for these and other reasons, the video is well worth a look.