Professor Richard Dawkins is a clever chap, and a scintillating writer. Some who read The God Delusion will be bowled over by his rhetoric. But, as various replies have been showing, there are significant gaps in his knowledge and serious flaws in his argument. For example, in attempting to demonstrate the extent to which people do Bad Things in the name of religion, he asserts that, conversely, ‘individual atheists may do evil things but they don’t do evil things in the name of atheism’ (p278).
Mike Starkey, in his helpful Grove book Whose Delusion? Responding to The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, comments that Dawkins’ claims in this regard ‘are either breathtaking in their ignorance of history, or else deliberately written to mislead readers who know little of history. The claim that nobody has done evil in the name of atheism is bizarre to anybody with even a sketchy knowledge of, say, the French Revolution (where unspeakable acts were carried out explicitly under the guise of throwing off the shackles of religion), or the Cultural Revolution in Mao’s China-Tibetan monasteries being a particular victim of that regime. And the claim that no atheist would destroy religious buildings is astonishing to anybody with any knowledge of the USSR, where thousands of churches were bulldozed, blown up or burned down, or turned into museums and factories in the name of atheism. In 1967 the Marxist regime in Albania announced that all the country’s religious buildings, including 2,169 churches, mosques and monasteries, were being closed or destroyed, and that all religious practices were illegal. Religion was only allowed back in 1991. ‘
Andrew Brown, in his review of Dawkin’s book, makes a similar point: ‘under Stalin almost the entire Orthodox priesthood was exterminated simply for being priests, as were the clergy of other religions and hundreds of thousands of Baptists. The claim that Stalin’s atheism had nothing to do with his actions may be the most disingenuous in the book, but it has competition from a later question, “Why would anyone go to war for the sake of an absence of belief [atheism]?”—as if the armies of the French revolution had marched under icons of the Virgin, or as if a common justification offered for China’s invasion of Tibet had not been the awful priest-ridden backwardness of the Dalai Lama’s regime.’
And that’s just the start.