Richard Dawkins is in a really bad mood. I’ve been reading his “Lying for Jesus,” as well as his ‘Open Letter to a victim of Ben Stein’s lying propaganda.”
Dawkins’ problem is that he published a best selling slam against Christianity. Now, however, his bestseller may be eclipsed by a blockbuster documentary slamming the evolutionary establishment. In a competition between a book and a movie, the movie usually wins. Such is the pop cultural survival of the fittest.
Dawkins’ two reaction pieces are unintentionally revealing and entertaining. To begin with, there’s the puzzling title.
Who, exactly, is lying for Jesus? One of Dawkins’ villains is Mark Mathis. Is Mathis lying for Jesus?
Why would Mathis be lying for Jesus? Is Mathis a Christian? Is Expelled a movie about Jesus?
Another one of Dawkins’ villains is Ben Stein. Is Stein lying for Jesus? Unless I’m mistaken, Stein is a Jew, not a Christian. He’d have no more reason to lie for Jesus than Woody Allen.
Does Dawkins know what he’s talking about? Sorry—that’s a redundant question.
Dawkins says he was “conned” into taking part in the project. Indeed, “Mathis tricked a number of scientists, including PZ Myers and me, into taking prominent parts in the film.”
For the sake of argument, let’s assume this is true. Why is Dawkins so offended?
In the God Delusion, he admits that “It is pretty hard to defend absolutist morals on grounds other than religious ones” (232).
Since he repudiates moral absolutes, why does he think that Stein or Mathis did anything wrong, even assuming that they secured his interview under false pretenses?
Moreover, what does it say about Dawkins’ intellectual security, or lack thereof, if he would only submit to an interview on condition that the questioner is in the tank for Dawkins? Can Dawkins only hawk his wares to a sympathetic audience?
He is also offended that Mathis banned Myers from attending a prescreening of the film. But, in terms of evolutionary ethics, what moral imperative did Mathis violate?
Dawkins has said that “we are hosts for DNA parasites which are our genes.”
So, when we translate Dawkins’ indignant allegation into cool, scientific terms, what apparently happened is that one parasitic host (Mathis) was guilty of ousting another parasitic host (Myers) from a prescreening.
Where’s the evolutionary manual on social etiquette that governs social transactions between one parasitic host and another?
Dawkins even says that “Ben Stein and his unscrupulous colleagues” have done “a wicked, evil thing.”
Can a parasitic host be “wicked”? Does this wickedness attach itself to the host proper, or to the wicked genes which commandeered the hapless host—like sneaky aliens in Men in Black?
Dawkins says the film is “dull, artless, amateurish, too long, poorly constructed and utterly devoid of any style, wit or subtlety.”
Well, I suppose that’s always a risk when you interview a guy like Richard Dawkins.
Dawkins says “The whole tone of the film is whiny, paranoid -- pathetic really.”
That’s a funny charge coming from a man who squeals about how he was duped by a Hollywood humorist.
“The narrator is somebody called Ben Stein. I had not heard of him, but apparently he is well known to Americans, for it is hard to see why else he would have been chosen to front the film. He certainly can't have been chosen for his knowledge of science, nor his powers of logical reasoning, nor his box office appeal (heavens, no), and his speaking voice is an irritating, nasal drawl, innocent of charm and of consonants.”
Dawkins only succeeds in making himself look stupid when he ventures such an ignorant and easily correctible statement about Ben Stein’s résumé.
Dawkins is also offended by the way the film draws a connection between Darwinism and Social Darwinism:
“As I have often said before, as a scientist I am a passionate Darwinian. But as a citizen and a human being, I want to construct a society which is about as un-Darwinian as we can make it. I approve of looking after the poor (very un-Darwinian). I approve of universal medical care (very un-Darwinian).”
“I have many times written (for example in the first chapter of A Devil's Chaplain) that I am a passionate Darwinian when it comes to the science of how life has actually evolved, but a passionate ANTI-Darwinian when it comes to the politics of how humans ought to behave.”
That’s a very ironic disclaimer. Here’s a man who prides himself on being a brave, unyielding rationalist; a man who nobly follows the facts wherever they lead, heedless of the consequences—all delivered in his stiff upper lip accent:
“There are all sorts of things that would be comforting. I expect an injection of morphine would be comforting... But to say that something is comforting is not to say that it's true.”
“This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous - indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose.”
“The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”
“If it's true that it causes people to feel despair, that's tough. It's still the truth. The universe doesn't owe us condolence or consolation; it doesn't owe us a nice warm feeling inside. If it's true, it's true, and you'd better live with it.”
But as soon as someone draws a logical or historical connection between Darwinism and Social Darwinism, he chickens out. Like all unbelievers, Dawkins is living a lie. His official creed commits him to moral nihilism, but he constantly reverts to a moralistic posture which is at odds with his grim worldview. He stares into the abyss, blinks once or twice, and then runs weeping and screaming back to his sandbox.
He accuses the Social Darwinist of committing the naturalistic fallacy. But that’s the problem. Since an unbeliever can’t infer “ought” from “is,” naturalistic evolution uproots the foundations of all morality. There is no imperative for socialized welfare or healthcare.
“Anyone who thinks that has any bearing whatsoever on the truth or falsity of Darwin's theory of evolution is either an unreasoning fool or a cynical manipulator of unreasoning fools.”
Correct. However, Dawkins is in no position to take umbrage at guilt-by-association tactics. That’s his stock-and-trade. He constantly attacks the Christian faith by exhuming the usual suspects, viz. the Inquisition, the Crusades, &c. If he really believes that atrocities committed in the name of Christianity undermine Christianity, then atrocities committed in the name of evolution undermine evolution.
“Hitler could fairly be described as a Social Darwinist, but all modern evolutionists, almost literally without exception, have been vocal in their condemnation of Social Darwinism.”
But that misses the point. The question at issue is not whether they condemn it, but whether they are entitled to condemn it.
Because Ben Stein is a Jew, he naturally takes a pretty personal interest in the ethical implications or applications of Darwinism—vis-à-vis the Final Solution. Why wouldn’t he? Why shouldn’t he?