January 27th 2018

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Loy Yang just latest critical asset to go offshore

EDITORIAL Behind the power shift in the Middle East

CANBERRA OBSERVED Freedom of religion just an afterthought?

GENDER POLITICS Family Court washes hands of gender-dysphoric kids

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Western sanctions have forced Russia to upskill

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS China exerts soft power on our southern neighbour

ENVIRONMENT Senate committee puts marine life before people

SEXUAL ABUSE Royal commission report ignores cause of abuse

HIGHER EDUCATION Critical thinking and the culture of skepticism

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS U.S. urges Taiwan rearmament to counter China threat

PHILOSOPHY A reflection on thoughts of Richard Dawkins

MUSIC Group theory: A good band is greater than its parts

CINEMA Darkest Hour: A long time till dawn

BOOK REVIEW 'Populism' and the new social divide

BOOK REVIEW Poems outshine dross of inept introduction



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reflection on thoughts of Richard Dawkins

by Hal G.P. Colebatch

News Weekly, January 27, 2018

Since shortly after my church boarding school failed, despite what then appeared to me to be its chaplain’s and headmaster’s best efforts, to convert me to Atheism, I have been looking, like some Bravo swaggering down the Rialto, for an atheist publication or argument that would be a foeman worthy of my intellectual steel. Not with a great deal of luck so far.

In a famous passage Professor of Atheism Richard Dawkins has written of his beautiful dream of a religionless world in which there would be:

“No suicide bombers, no 9/11, no Crusades, no witch hunts, no Gunpowder Plot, no Indian partition, no Israeli/Palestine wars, no Serb/Croat/Muslim massacres, no persecution of Jews as ‘Christ-killers’, no Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’, no shiny-suited bouffant-haired televangelists fleecing gullible people … no Taliban to blow up ancient statues, no public beheading of blasphemers …”

Imagine what an idyllic 20th century we would have had if Professor Dawkins’ Godless world had actually existed! Apparently the only blemishes upon it would have been 100 million dead killed by militantly atheistic communism on various continents, about 12 million dead murdered by the anti-religious Nazis (I don’t mean killed in battle, I mean murdered), and then the various war casualties, including those of the Boer War, the Russo-Japanese War, World War I, the Chaco War, World War II, various conflicts in Africa and a few others.

That is a total death-toll, at a rough guess, of at least 200 million, in conflicts and massacres which were either brought about by the militantly anti-religious and Godless, or at least in which religion played no part.

Auschwitz and the Gulag existed not because there was no God but because men had forgotten God. In any case it is a ludicrous category error to equate “public beheading of blasphemers” with, say, the average suburban Baptist church as being all “religion”.

A first-year philosophy student would be ashamed of succumbing to such a conceptual fallacy. It is on a par with the profoundly stupid proposition that offensive wars and defensive wars (like the Crusades) are morally equal.

An Amazonian rainforest Indian may be “religious”. So may learned Western philosophers like, say, Pascal and Descartes, or C.S. Lewis, steeped in a couple of thousand years of the Western tradition of thought, or a Bible-reading astronaut. Without judging which is superior, who, except possibly Professor Dawkins, would suggest that their mental universes were identical and could be treated with the same contempt?

The suggestion that more science will liberate man from superstition and cruelty can be answered by a single fact that must fill anyone who contemplates it with horror. A German doctoral degree is not easily awarded. To obtain one bespeaks intelligence and education far above average – and more than half the participants at the Wannsee Conference, which put the Holocaust on a production-line basis, had doctor’s degrees!

Go forward to the 21st century, and the hundreds of thousands (at least) starving in North Korea and Zimbabwe, and dying in the endemic wars and famines in Africa – religion ain’t the reason.

Or go back to the 19th century. Without religious wars there would have been only the militantly atheistic French Revolutionary Terror, the Napoleonic Wars, every other major war in Europe, such as the wars of German and Italian Unification, the colonial and imperial wars in Africa and India, endemic cannibalism in the Pacific and parts of Africa (the Maoris did not eat the gentle Chatham Islanders one and all because they had a different religion but because they were hungry) and the American Civil War.

The American Civil War entailed a fair bit of suffering, a hint of which, for those with imagination, is conveyed by the fact that after the war the fifth-largest item on one state’s budget was the manufacture of artificial limbs. Religion was not a significant cause of any of these affairs.

This, of course, takes no account of the fact that in a religionless world, religion could have played no part in mitigating any of this, nor, by establishing the first systems of international law and permanent diplomatic services (set up by the Vatican), in preventing conflicts that were in fact prevented, nor taken part in providing education, including establishing and protecting the first universities, no part in setting up hospitals, orphanages etc. (I haven’t noticed too many atheist orders setting up hospitals and orphanages, for some reason.)

There is no evidence there would have been any impulse to abolish slavery, which was common all over the world until Christian nations began the move against it. As a matter of fact, there would probably have been no modern medicine. No ancient statues for the Taliban to blow up, either. Probably no art of any kind. In a world with “no Crusades”, there would probably have been no modern Europe or Western civilisation.

Also, in a religionless world, there would have been no Professor Dawkins, at least not as a professor. As a matter of fact, with no universities established by the Church, there would have been no professors at all, which may or may not have been a good thing. No one to discover the Big Bang (until modern times the Church was a greater patron of science than all other institutions combined).

But at any rate, Professor Dawkins’ academic specialty, on which he built his academic career before turning to professional atheism, was genetics, a science discovered by Gregor Mendel, a Catholic monk and abbot, experimenting with plants in a monastery garden.

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TRANSGENDER: one shade of grey, 353pp, $39.99

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