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Richard Dawkins's English Inquisition

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The Spanish Inquisition was about testing the sincerity of people's Christianity. Now we have Richard Dawkins in England aiming to test the sincerity of Christians there. The difference is that he wants to get rid of the idea that England is a Christian country.

There are several funny things about the interview Dawkins gave the BBC to describe his new "scientific" survey (it must be true, it's "science"). One is that Dawkins thinks that the ignorance and non-practice of self-identified Christians -- about half the population of nominal Christians in the UK -- is evidence of actual non-belief. But is failure, for example, to know the name of the first book of the New Testament a good test? He was asked as a comparable matter if he, as the world's most famous Darwinist/evolutionist, knew the subtitle of Darwin's great book on evolution. He said, rather peevishly, that he did. But when pressed, he didn't. (It's "by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life.")

He was uncomfortable having the spotlight turned on himself, of course. But as a thought experiment, let's follow up and suppose a survey that asked people if they accept the "theory of evolution." Of those saying yes, ask them the name of the famous book by Charles Darwin on the subject (not the subtitle, the actual title). How many people do you think would get the title, and get it right (On the Origin of Species). Then ask how many had read it? Rather a smaller percentage, I suspect, than those self-identified Christians who have read the Bible in full or in part.

A nice follow-up question would be to ask those who "accept the theory of evolution" if they can say what that theory is. You would get quite a collection of responses, many contradictory, I think. Ask them further if evolution was the result entirely of natural causes or if God had a role in it, and see the spectrum of concepts there. In other words, if you think Christians are ignorant, try talking to evolutionists.

A more trivial question of my youth was, "What is the longest word in the English language?" The answer (at least back then) was "antidisestablishmentarianism," which is merely the historic position of those who opposed efforts to remove the Church of England as the established church of the realm. This whole issue seems rather arcane, doesn't it? Except that for Richard Dawkins, the cause he cares about most is opposing religion -- especially Christianity -- and that makes him a passionate modern advocate of disestablishmentarianism. His heart is much more in anti-Christianity than in any scientific case for Darwin's theory of evolution.

Listen to the BBC interview here.

Image credit: Francisco de Goya, "Scene from an Inquisition," Wikimedia Commons.