The Loch Ness Monster’s Moustache

(or: The Terrible Consequences of Really Bad Arguments)


What follows is a sample first chapter of my book, The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist. If you enjoyed it, please do consider buying the full book, which is available both as a paperback and an ebook. It’s available online, or from all good bookstores. (You can also download a PDF of this sample chapter).


I remember the first time that I saw the bus. An old friend of mine had telephoned me out of the blue a few days before, and in a conspiratorial whisper had hissed: “You need to get down to London. There are atheist buses here”.

“Atheist buses?” I replied, bleary eyed. It was long past midnight. “How much have you drunk, Tom?”

“Only four pints,” Tom indignantly replied.

“Well, I’ve always personally thought that the slightly devil-may-care attitude to road safety of many London bus drivers tends to bring people closer to God, rather than drive them away.”

“This bus didn’t try to drive me away, it tried to drive over me. Admittedly I was lying semi-comatose in the road at the time—”

“I knew it!”

“—at Hammersmith and the atheist bus almost ran me over.”

“You do realise,” I explained, in the patient tone I reserve for small children and airline check in agents, “that just because a London bus almost flattens a liberal Anglican lying on a zebra crossing, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Richard Dawkins is resorting to hit-and-run attempts to keep the religious affiliation statistics favourable.”

“I’m used to being nearly run over, I’ve holidayed in France many times,”[1] snapped Tom. “But this was an atheist bus I tell you.”

“You’re sure about this?”

“Yes! Now come down to London and see. Besides, you owe me a beer from that time when you lost the bet about the Archbishop’s beard.”[2]

And so it was that I found myself, a few weeks later on a rainy July afternoon, standing among a crowd of damp tourists outside Oxford Circus tube station. We watched the traffic as cars, taxis, lorries, and the occasional sodden cyclist trundled past. And, then, at last, a bus rounded the corner. A big, red London bus sporting a huge advertisement on the side which announced in large, friendly letters: “There’s Probably No God. Now Stop Worrying and Enjoy Your Life”.

bus

Later, back in the comfort of a nearby pub, I did a little research.[3] It turned out that the bus advertisements had been sponsored by The British Humanist Association along with a group of secular celebrities, including the well-known Oxford atheist Richard Dawkins, and represented, in their words, an attempt to provide a “peaceful and upbeat” message about atheism. The advertisements promoted a website where those who browsed could while away their journey on the number 137 bus to Battersea reading about the joys of life without a belief in god.

The atheist bus is a good place to begin our journey because it illustrates two reasons why this book exists. First, because the slogan, despite its friendly pink letters, is a perfect example of a really bad argument. An argument so bad, so disastrous in fact that one has to wonder what its sponsors were thinking. More on that in a moment. But second, it illustrates how quickly bad arguments can disseminate, spreading like an infestation of Japanese knotweed into popular culture. For whilst many critics—including many atheist critics[4]—were quick to point out the flaws with “There’s Probably No God, Now Stop Worrying and Enjoy Your Life” nevertheless it has continued to pop up on the sides of buses not just in London but also around the world.

The bus advertisement typifies what’s come to be termed the “New Atheism”, a phrase coined back in 2006 by Wired Magazine to describe the group of media savvy atheists—men like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens—whose books attacking religion in general and Christianity in particular have sold by the truckload.[5] What’s new about the “New Atheism”? As many have pointed out, not so much its arguments, which tend to be old ones, but its tone—which is one of apoplectic anger. Why the anger? Well, I suspect partly because God was supposed to have disappeared a long time ago as the Great Secular Enlightenment trundled inexorably onward. As far back as 1966, Time magazine could slap a question like “Is God Dead?” on the cover (with the strong implication that the answer was ‘yes’). Today, however, religion is alive and well and shows little sign of disappearing.[6] The failure of God to roll over and die on cue has led to the denial, disappointment and anger that can be seen underpinning much of today’s more popular forms of atheism.

And my word, has the New Atheism become a popular movement. Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion, alone has sold several million copies.[7] Atheism has gained a voice and a confidence and that’s fine—in the past, it was tough to be an atheist, when most societies were overwhelmingly religious. Recently, however, there’s been a cultural volte-face in many Western countries, with atheism now seen as the default position. Many people assume that atheism is, indeed the only position for somebody who wishes to be considered educated, sophisticated, urbane and rational. This is precisely the way the media often plays the issue too—atheism is portrayed as scientific, contemporary and for those with brains, whilst religion is characterised as stuffy, outmoded and irrational, something for old ladies or fuddy-duddies.[8]

But there’s a problem. Well, several problems. Chief among them is this: that much of contemporary atheism thrives on poor arguments and cheap sound bites, advancing claims that simply don’t stand up to scrutiny. Like a cheaply made cardigan, they’re full of loose threads that if tugged firmly, quickly begin to unravel. Let me demonstrate what I mean by returning to that notorious bus advertisement: “There’s Probably No God. Now Stop Worrying and Enjoy Your Life”. Let’s ask a few critical questions about that claim for a moment. What’s wrong with it? Well, one might begin by noting the preachy, condescending, and hectoring tone.[9] I’ve known many atheists over the years whose chief beef with religion has been that they can’t escape it. If it’s not televangelists with perfect teeth, it’s church billboards with dodgy graphic design or giant advertising hoardings warning of hellfire and damnation. “You religious types insist on preaching at us,” is the complaint. Well, now the boot is very much on the other foot and the New Atheism is zealously evangelistic, not merely content with denying deities but offering health benefits at the same time (No worries! Enjoyment! Good hair!)

But there’s a deeper problem, too. For atheists like Richard Dawkins, God does not exist, right? That after, all, is what the very term “a-theist” means. Of course, there’s a myriad of other things that don’t exist: fairies, unicorns, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, successful England soccer squads,[10] or the Loch Ness Monster. But here’s my question: what’s the connection between the non-existence of something and any effect, emotional or otherwise? There probably are not any unicorns, so cheer up. The Flying Spaghetti Monster is just a secular parody, so take heart. There’s no God, so quit worrying. How, precisely, does that work? Somebody once remarked that a nonsensical statement doesn’t become coherent simply because you insert the term ‘God’ into it, so let’s illustrate the problem by rewording the atheist bus slogan for a moment:

There’s Probably No Loch Ness Monster. So Stop Worrying and Enjoy Your Life.

Imagine, for a moment, that you’re down on your luck. Life has dealt you a series of terrible hands and nothing seems to be going your way. You’ve recently lost your job. Your wife has just left you and taken the kids with her.[11] This very morning, a letter from your bank has arrived declaring you bankrupt. The doctor’s surgery has just rung to inform you that those worrying headaches are actually Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Oh, and you’re a Bradford City FC fan.[12] Life is really sucky. However, have no fear. Put all that aside. Fret no more. For there is hope. There is an end to all worries. “There is?” I hear you cry, wiping back the tears. Yes, there is. Because (are you ready for this?) the Loch Ness Monster doesn’t exist. Never mind the fact that you may be jobless, loveless, penniless and hopeless, doesn’t it warm the cockles of your heart to know that holidaymakers in Scotland can munch their sandwiches by Urquhart Castle and paddle their feet in Loch Ness, safe in the certain knowledge that no monster from the Jurassic will lunge from the deep and drag them off to a watery grave. So, are you feeling better now? No, probably not.

So the first half of the claim—no God, no worry—fails spectacularly. The second half doesn’t fare much better either: “Enjoy your life”. What could be wrong with that, unless you’re one of those masochistic religious types who prefer guilt to glee? Well, Francis Spufford nails this one perfectly:

I’m sorry—enjoy your life? Enjoy your life? I’m not making some kind of neo-puritan objection to enjoyment. Enjoyment is lovely. Enjoyment is great. The more enjoyment the better. But enjoyment is one emotion. The only things in the world that are designed to elicit enjoyment and only enjoyment are products, and your life is not a product … To say that life is to be enjoyed (just enjoyed) is like saying that mountains should have only summits, or that all colours should be purple, or that all plays should be by Shakespeare. This really is a bizarre category error.[13]

In other words, there is considerably more to life than just enjoyment. Indeed, the full gamut of human emotions spans the alphabet. To be fully, authentically human is to have experienced anger, boredom, compassion, delight, expectation, fear, guilt, hope, insecurity, joy, kindness, love, malice, nonchalance, obligation, peace, queasiness, relief, sensuality, thankfulness, uneasiness, vulnerability, wistfulness, yearning and zealousness.[14] Given all this, why does the atheist bus advertisement zero in on “enjoyment”? Now obviously I’m not privy to the interior mental state of those who penned the slogan, but I do wonder if it’s a symptom of a more general trend in our culture. One that says that the purpose of human life is to simply to be happy, to flit merrily from one experience to another in an effervescence of ecstatic enjoyment. Product after product is sold to us this way—buy this coffee, take that holiday, wear this shade of lip gloss—and you’ll be successful, popular and joyful. The atheist bus is simply riding the cultural wave—think like this, it says, and you’ll be happy.

But what if you’re not happy? What if you’re like my earlier example—jobless, friendless, penniless and hopeless. What if you’re at a point in your life where all is not smelling of roses, but rather suspiciously like a sewage farm on a hot afternoon? Indeed, half the world’s population lives on less than $2.50 a day and that amount is not going to keep you in lattes, lipstick or trips to Lanzarote, which means that if the advertisers are correct about where enjoyment is located, you’re in trouble, so you’d better pull yourself together. I stress you, second person singular, had better pull yourself together, because if the atheist bus slogan is right and there is no God, there’s nobody out there who is ultimately going to help with any pulling. You’re alone in a universe that cares as little about you (and your enjoyment) as it does about the fate of the amoeba, the ant, or the aardvark. There’s no hope, there’s no justice, and there’s certainly nothing inherently wrong with poverty, incidentally, so quit protesting. Life favours the winners, some get the breaks, and others get the sticky end of the stick. Still others get to make millions selling books on atheism, enough for a lifetime of lattes.[15] Enjoy your life? Nice work if you can get it.

The atheist bus advertisement illustrates the danger not just of poor arguments, but especially of argument by sound bite. It’s easy to lazily sloganize, to try to reduce complex arguments to something that fits on the side of a bus or sounds good on Twitter, but in so doing you usually miss nuance and depth. In fact, it’s worse than that: the temptation to sloganize can result in arguments that are not merely wrong but are utterly bizarre and have some terrible consequences when you turn them around. Let me further illustrate what I mean with an example from one of New Atheism’s Founding Fathers, Richard Dawkins. His publishing success helped to make atheism hip and cool again but whilst he has done terrifically well in print, his other cultural forays have not always been entirely successful. For instance, his attempt at a movie, The Unbelievers, bombed at the box office, whilst his faux pas on social media have become somewhat legendary.[16] The danger of being a celebrity is that fame can lure you into believing that every fluttering thought should be served up raw to the masses. It’s awfully easy, for example, to quickly tap out something like this on one’s smartphone:

Stalin, Hitler and Saddam Hussein were evil, murdering dictators. All had moustaches. Therefore moustaches are evil.[17]

I imagine your reaction on reading that is to think “huh?” Sans context, it does look a little baffling. Alas, I’m not entirely sure that adding context helps, but here goes. What Dawkins was trying to do via this tweet was to respond to his critics who have said that it’s a little troubling to try to label religion as the “root of all evil”,[18] given the many atheist mass-murderers who litter the historical record. If you’re trying to advance the claim that religion is bad and atheism is good, the likes of Saddam Hussein, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, or Mao Zedong are somewhat troubling, slugs on the otherwise pristine lettuce of atheism.[19] It’s one thing to point out the evils of religion (the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition being among the favourite whipping boys) but what about atheism’s own chequered history? Stalin was responsible for the deaths of some 20 million people, whilst the death toll for Mao’s regime is at least double that. These were avowed atheists, so what is the zealous young secularist to do? Enter Richard Dawkins’ tweet, one that he probably thought a brilliant rhetorical move. Sure, all of those mass-murdering psychotic despots were atheists, but that’s got nothing to do with their villainous genocidal tendencies. Yes, they had atheism in common, but they also had moustaches in common. Perhaps it was their facial hair, not their secular air, that led to them causing the deaths of tens of million of people.

Does that work? In a word, “no”. Listen to me very carefully here. I have no intention, none whatsoever, of laying the blame for what these men and others like them did at the feet of my atheist friends. But my point is this: we can read the writings of brutal tyrants such as these and discover what they themselves said about their motivations. For example, Stalin once stated: “You know, they are fooling us, there is no God … all this talk about God is sheer nonsense”. But Stalin was not content with mere words, he also acted on them. In 1925, Stalin actively encouraged the founding of the League of Militant Atheists which for over twenty years acted out its slogan “The Struggle Against Religion is a Struggle for Socialism”. It began with popular campaigns in the media against religion, aiming to persuade citizens that religion was irrational and toxic. But soon, things became considerably more violent:

Churches were closed or destroyed, often by dynamiting; priests were imprisoned, exiled or executed. On the eve of the Second World War there were only 6,376 clergy remaining in the Russian Orthodox Church, compared with the pre-revolutionary figure of 66,140. One dreadful day, 17 February 1938, saw the execution of 55 priests. In 1917 there were 39,530 churches in Russia; by 1940, only 950 remained functional.[20]

Similar stories could be told of about Pol Pot, or Mao Zedong, or numerous other atheistic dictators. When I lived in Europe, I frequently travelled and taught in former communist countries such as Hungary or Romania and heard story after story of the violence that had been endemic before the Iron Curtain fell in 1989. One woman in Bucharest told me how she’d missed out on large amounts of education as a child, because her parents were religious. They’d been given a stark choice by the Communist authorities: give up your faith, or give up your child’s education.

Here’s the problem, then, for Dawkins’ attempt to claim that the atheism of Stalin is unimportant. When we look at Stalin’s actions, his atheism seems entirely central, quite frankly. When he came to power, Stalin did not ban razor blades and announce a pogrom against barbers, but he did burn churches and synagogues and have thousands of religious leaders arrested, tortured and executed. Yet if Dawkins is right, we can ignore all of this. We can lay aside what Stalin did and said—ignore Stalin’s very own reasons—and instead often a random explanation of our own making, one that suits our own purposes. Look, Stalin had a moustache![21] Don’t look at his atheism, look at his facial hair!

The problem is that like all terrible arguments, this cuts both ways.[22] Let me illustrate what I mean by considering Dawkins himself. Why do you suppose that he wrote his atheist manifesto, The God Delusion? If you read the preface of the book, he claims that it was to advance atheism, to persuade people to abandon religious faith, and to raise “atheist pride”. But of course, those are his explanations and as Dawkins helpfully reminded us with Stalin, you can’t simply take a person’s own words and assume they are, well, gospel. So what should we do? Well, perhaps we should, à la Stalin’s moustache, settle on something purely at random to explain The God Delusion—perhaps Dawkins’ predilection for garishly coloured neckties, or his fondness for prawn cocktail.[23] However, that would be woefully simplistic. We can be way more scientific than that. Listen to these words from another atheist writer, the philosopher Patricia Churchland:

Boiled down to the essentials, a nervous system enables the organism to succeed [at] four [things]: feeding, fleeing, fighting and reproducing … Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost.[24]

In this astonishingly bleak passage, Churchland is trying to argue that human beings are just like any other animal, driven by our basest, most primal instincts to feed, fight, flee or, ahem, reproduce. Our cherished belief that we are concerned with truth or meaning is just an illusion, a trick played on us by our DNA in order to get us to cooperate.[25] Impressed? You should be, after all this is ScienceTM. Well, actually it isn’t, it’s philosophy wearing a false nose, rubber ears and masquerading as science. But nevertheless, let’s apply Churchland’s four options to the vexed question of why Dawkins wrote The God Delusion. Perchance he wrote it for reasons of feeding. After all, the book has presumably funded numerous hearty dinners at places like Gees in Oxford,[26] indeed the sales figures suggest that Dawkins won’t be found shopping for groceries at Lidl for some time to come. Alternatively, perhaps the book was written for purposes of ­fleeing. Should Dawkins be startled by a bunch of militant Mennonites in a darkened Oxford alley, he can fling it at them, yell “Permian extinction”, and whilst they’re thumbing through the extensive index,[27] he will have time to scarper. The third of Churchland’s options, fighting, is a little harder to see, but it occurs to me that The God Delusion is a brick of a book, so one might certainly wield the hardback edition quite usefully in a pub brawl. And finally, what about reproducing? Well, one can easily imagine how “I’m a famous author, don’t you know” could open many a hotel room door at the kind of secular conferences frequented by pretty young sceptics. In short, we can ignore every single one of Dawkins’ protestations that he wrote The God Delusion to advance atheism and come up with our own reasons. What goes for Stalin, goes for Dawkins. Mous-touché, one might very well say.

You will be very relieved to learn that all of the above is in jest. But there is a serious point. A very serious point and it’s this: the thing about bad arguments, about sound bites without substance, is that they are extremely vulnerable to satire. They may look clever, bright and shiny when you first hear them, especially if they are accompanied with an Oxford accent or the jangle of PhDs and titles. But stick a pin in them and they deflate quite rapidly.

So how can we learn to spot which arguments are good ones and which are not? One of the tests is to see what happens when one transfers an argument to a different setting. This is what we have just demonstrated with “There’s Probably No God, Now Stop Worrying and Enjoy Your Life” and “Moustaches Are More Dangerous Than Atheism”. When one pokes at them a bit—and especially when you try applying them to something else, you quickly see the flaws. They are both examples of not just weak arguments, but extremely bad arguments. In fact, arguments so terrible that you wonder what possessed people to place them on buses, reproduce them in print, or tweet them to a million hapless followers. When you see such things in the media, or hear them on the lips of friends, don’t be afraid to ask a few questions, tug at loose threads, to gently expose them for what they are.

One last thought. I come at this discussion as a Christian philosopher, but I have been struck by how many of my atheist friends are deeply embarrassed by these terrible sceptical arguments.[28] I have lost count of how many times I have quoted Richard Dawkins at atheist friends only to have them roll their eyes, eject steam from both ears and retort “Please don’t assume we’re all like him” or “I won’t wave Fred Phelps at you if you don’t pin the New Atheists on me”. And that’s a very fair point. Although I do wish a few more of my atheist friends would speak out, so that the media and the Twitter crowd realised there are more thoughtful secularists out there.

And so the aim of this book is simple: to clear away some of the weeds of bad arguments so that a more sensible dialogue can be had. Because here’s the thing: the ‘God Question’ is arguably the most important question that anybody can think about. Whether or not God exists is not a mere intellectual curiosity, up there with “What’s the ten trillionth digit of PI?” or “Did Newton invent the cat flap?”, but a question that has implications for every area of our lives, not least because it is directly tied to the question of meaning: is there something that we are meant to be, or is a life spent playing computer games and eating pizza as valid as that spent fighting poverty or serving the cause of justice?

At the beginning of The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins is very honest about the chief aim of his own book:

If this book works as intended, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down. What presumptuous optimism! Of course, dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads are immune to argument, their resistance built up over years of childhood indoctrination using methods that took centuries to mature.[29]

That’s a clever paragraph, when you think about it. If you read Dawkins’ book and don’t become an atheist, it’s not that the arguments were as suspect as a $50 Rolex from Tooting Market but because you’re an ignorant brainwashed cretin, your head so full of woolly thinking that there’s no room for the fresh winds of ReasonTM to waft through. My aims for this book are a little more modest (and, I trust, a little more optimistic) than those of Dawkins. If you come to this book as an atheist, my hope is simply that you will at least commit to being a thought-through atheist—perhaps a doubter, rather than a sceptic, somebody who is willing to think deeply and think well. (It has been remarked that the difference between a doubter and a sceptic is that a doubter is somebody who hopes there might be an answer; a sceptic hopes that there isn’t). Abandoning bad arguments is a great way to begin.

Conversely, if you come to this book as a religious believer, my hope is it will encourage you not to be afraid of some of the atheist sound bites that are frequently hurled like brickbats from various directions in our culture. If you can learn to laugh at bad arguments and their flaws, their mystical power evaporates and you can see them for the paper tigers that they are. I also hope that I might encourage you to see past the ranting of the New Atheists to recognise that there are thousands of far more open-minded atheists out there, people who are friendly, good-humoured and open to discussion. What the world needs more than ever is a reasonable dialogue between those who believe in God and those who have questions or doubts (however deeply held), not a clash of fundamentalisms.

So wherever you stand as you start this book—atheist or agnostic, seeker or sceptic, doubter or disciple—I hope that we can all agree that when it comes to the big questions of life, we need more than sound bites. Let’s aim instead for a grown up, proper conversation about the things that matter the most and leave the buses to the fundamentalists.


10book_bannister

That was a sample first chapter of my book, The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist. If you enjoyed it, please do consider buying the full book, which is available both as a paperback and an ebook. It’s available online, or from all good bookstores.

books-barnesandnoble   books-amazon books-apple


For Further Reading

  • Vox Day, The Irrational Atheist: Dissecting the Unholy Trinity of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens (Dallas, TX: BenBella Books, 2008)
  • John Lennox, Gunning for God: Why the New Atheists are Missing the Target (Oxford: Lion, 2011)
  • Alister McGrath, Why God Won’t Go Away: Engaging with the New Atheism (London: SPCK, 2011)
  • Francis Spufford, Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense (London: Faber & Faber, 2013 [2012])

Footnotes

[1]      It has been remarked that you can tell which European city you are in by how the motorists treat pedestrians. In London, motorists generally stop for you. In Rome, they weave around you at disconcertingly high speeds. In Paris, they change direction, accelerate and aim at you, seeing it as some kind of competitive sport.

[2]      I’d once bet Tom a beer that the magnificent beard sported by the previous Archbishop of Canterbury had been a fake. Tom had met Rowan Williams at a literary festival and had conclusively proven it was real, winning the bet along with a police caution and a restraining order.

[3]      A writer’s euphemism for “I looked it up on Google”.

[4]      See e.g. Julian Baggini, ‘Yes, life without God can be bleak. Atheism is about facing up to that’. The Guardian, 9 March 2012 (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/mar/09/life-without-god-bleak-atheism).

[5]      See the article by Gary Wolf, ‘The Church of the Non-Believers’. Wired Magazine, Nov 2006 (http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.11/atheism.html, accessed 11 September 2013). There’s also a good survey in Vox Day, The Irrational Atheist (Dallas, TX: BenBella Books, 2008) 5-26.

[6]      See section six of Rodney Stark, The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became The World’s Largest Religion (New York: HarperOne, 2011).

[7]      Largely helped, at least in North America, by his British accent. As an Englishman living in Canada, I have lost count of how many people have remarked to me after lectures, “You could have said anything in that accent and I would have been impressed.” They always look crestfallen when I point out that this is not a compliment.

[8]      It also used to be the case that religious believers were associated with poor fashion sense, but several of the New Atheists have taken admirable steps toward redressing the balance in that regard.

[9]      Which when I first saw it, struck me as sounding a bit like a slightly grumpy, elderly uncle: “There’s probably no dessert, young man, so stop dawdling and eat up your sprouts”.

[10]     The English specialize in inventing sports, then getting beaten by the rest of the world at them. I like to think this displays not so much a lack of sporting prowess as modesty; we like to give other nations a chance.

[11]     If you’re a parent of teenagers, feel free to reword this to “left the kids with you”.

[12]     These cultural references are tough, aren’t they? For Canadians, think of the Toronto Maple Leafs, or for Americans, think of the Chicago White Sox. I’ve concluded that the only reason people follow teams like these is either that misery loves company, or because masochism never entirely goes out of fashion.

[13]     Francis Spufford, Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense (London: Faber & Faber, 2013 [2012]) 8.

[14]     I tried hard to find a feeling beginning with “x”, I really did, but the best I could come up with was “xenophobic”. It staggers me there aren’t more emotions beginning with “x”. I blame the French, that usually works.

[15]     Or by charging people $100,000 to have a private breakfast with you: see Andrew Brown, ‘The bizarre – and costly – cult of Richard Dawkins’, The Spectator, 16 August 2014 (Available online at http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/9286682/the-bizarre-and-costly-cult-of-richard-dawkins/).

[16]     See Brendan O’Neill, ‘Let the fate of Richard Dawkins be a lesson to you all – Twitter brings out the worst in humankind’, The Telegraph, 13 March 2014 (online at http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/brendanoneill2/100263460/let-the-fate-of-richard-dawkins-be-a-lesson-to-you-all-twitter-brings-out-the-worst-in-humankind/).

[17]     Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins), 2 March 2014, 5:14pm, https://twitter.com/RichardDawkins/ status/440233751965364224.

[18]     That was the title of Dawkins’ 2006 TV series that later got expanded into The God Delusion. Personally, I always thought that the root of all evil was folk music.

[19]     Hitler is a somewhat unique case. Christians and atheist apologists are both occasionally guilty of suggesting Hitler was a card-carrying member of the opposite side, but the truth is that Hitler seems to have cobbled together a unique set of beliefs, drawn from religion and science and mashed up to produce a toxic nationalistic myth. When you read the history of the Third Reich, what you discover is that nobody comes off well. Too many Christians and atheists stood by and did nothing, whilst there were also brave men and women of all beliefs who took a stand. One famous Christian example is the German pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose stance against the Third Reich ultimately led to his death. See Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2010).

[20]     Alister McGrath, Why God Won’t Go Away: Engaging with the New Atheism (London: SPCK, 2011) 51; see also Roger Moorhouse, The Devils’ Alliance: Hitler’s Pact with Stalin, 1939-1941 (London: Bodley Head, 2014).

[21]     In the light of Dawkins’ tweet, it’s curious to observe that Pol Pot and Mao Zedong actually appear to have spent most of their life clean-shaven. Either Dawkins is privy to some collection of antique photographs unbeknownst to historians, or it’s worse than we thought: Pol Pot and Mao Zedong knew their moustaches would betray them as potential mass murderers, so they carefully bleached their facial hair so fine that it couldn’t be seen. Am I the only one who thinks that Invisible Killer Moustaches sounds like an amazing title for a Hollywood blockbuster?

[22]     Unlike Stalin’s razor.

[23]     He has the shellfish gene.

[24]     Patricia Churchland, ‘Epistemology in the Age of Neuroscience’’, Journal of Philosophy 84.10 (1987) 544-553, citing 548.

[25]     Of course, that begs an excellent question: if human beings are unconcerned with truth, why did Churchland bother typing that sentence? Or any sentence? Why go through the pretence of arguing for anything? If she were consistent, Churchland ought to quit teaching, take up jogging and kick-boxing, and spend any remaining free time munching cheeseburgers and seducing undergraduates.

[26]     Try the sea bass.

[27]     Unless they have the Kindle edition with them and can simply hit ‘search’, in which case he’s basically toast.

[28]     See e.g. Theodore Dalrymple, ‘What the New Atheists Don’t See’, City Journal 17.4 (2007) (online at http://www.city-journal.org/html/17_4_oh_to_be.html).

[29]     Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (London: Transworld, 2006) 28; a similar rhetorically sophomoric strategy is pursued by Peter Boghossian, A Manual for Creating Atheists (Durham, NC: Pitchstone Publishing, 2013) 51, who suggests that if you disagree with him, it’s not because his arguments are poor, but because you’re brain-damaged.

Dr. Andy Bannister is a popular speaker, author and broadcaster. Andy is the Director of the Solas Centre for Public Christianity and an Adjunct Speaker with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. Andy speaks and teaches regularly throughout the UK, Canada, the USA, and the wider world on issues relating to faith, culture, politics and society.