Accentuate the positive
Book Reading, ‘The God Delusion’ by Richard Dawkins.
Institute of Education, London, 9 October 2006
Last week my partner Marion and I attended this reading organised by FoyleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s at the Institute of Education in Bloomsbury. The Logan Hall seats almost a thousand and the venue was sold out, with many disappointed non-ticket holders turned away.
The event followed a format that Dawkins has used before. He and Lalla Ward, his wife, take turns to read out sections of the book, and after three quarters of an hour or so Lalla leaves the podium and Professor Dawkins invites questions. They are a good Ã¢â‚¬Ëœdouble-actÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ and the rhythm and juxtaposition of the selected text strongly reinforces the Dawkinian message.
We were both surprised when Mr Foyle, who introduced the evening, asked those sitting in the auditorium to declare their attitude to God. However, it was interesting to note that from this initial show of hands there were very few believers or agnostics in the audience. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d guess 90% voted Ã¢â‚¬Ëœdefinitely no GodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ so this really was a case of preaching to the converted. If you feel such an evangelical phrase inappropriate here, Dawkins has said he wants his book to persuade wavering creationists to abandon Ã¢â‚¬ËœThe AlmightyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢!
The readings were unsurprisingly full of the powerful scientific logic that Dawkins is so famous for, and the audience of atheists clearly enjoyed the compelling and persuasive dismissal of all things godly. It was indeed a pleasure to listen to the elegantly crafted text, especially as enunciated by Lalla, who has now fully graduated from DoctorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s to ProfessorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s assistant. (UK television buffs will know she played opposite Tom Baker, the fourth Dr Who).
Talking about the event later, we agreed that it was disappointing that a large part of the evening centred on quoting from and ridiculing the Old Testament, this being largely taken from chapter seven of the book. As one questioner put it towards the end of the evening, surely this was an easy target. We know these ancient texts are full of ludicrous and hideous stories that tell of a repugnant and vengeful God. Of course some of the tales raised a few laughs but bashing the Bible to combat Bible-bashers is a fairly pointless exercise. We also wondered what the handful of Christians in the audience would make of hundreds of atheists laughing heartily at their God being exposed as a misogynist promoter of gang rape and infanticide. Its not that the criticism is misplaced, rather that there was something slightly undignified about the spectacle.
The reduction of the argument to imply that belief in the Christian God and therefore by implication an acceptance of the nonsense of the Old Testament is a little shallow. Dawkins is surely above all that and at his brilliant best when using science and logic to explain evolution and promote a worldview based on scientific evidence. It is this, underpinned by a clear philosophical rejection of the need for supernatural belief in a post Darwinian world, which makes reading and listening to Dawkins so rewarding.
For me the best part of the evening was an attack on the growth in faith schools and their attempts to dilute the theory of evolution. The Ã¢â‚¬ËœIntelligent DesignÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ lobby need to be undermined, especially in the light of evidence given by Dawkins that multi-millionaire creationists have seed funded Academy Schools and exploited the opportunity given by BlairÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s misplaced desire to widen educational choice.
I cannot believe that the Roman Catholic clique at the centre of Government fail to see that by promoting faith schools they increase division in society. Perhaps their real agenda is not about widening choice but resisting the rise of secularism, and they see the cost and damage to society arising from their policies as an acceptable price.
So letÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hope DawkinsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ new bestsellerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s main achievement will be as a valuable counter to the dangerous entrenched views of cynical Christian political leaders. Promoting the idea that a fair and equitable society is best achieved without religion is a far more positive and valuable message than simply mocking Hebrew Scriptures.
See the forum button at the top of this page for a discussion about the book