Recently I stumbled across some videos being hosted on YouTube, a documentary produced by a Professor Richard Dawkins which I found to be quite fascinating. The documentary, called ‘The root of all evil?‘ is an interesting insight into religion.
The Root of all Evil?
The Virus of Faith
So is religion the root of all evil? No, it isn’t. That would probably boil down to a desire to advance one self over the rest of common society via whatever means necessary; in other words selfishness and greed. Then again, Dawkins was not arguing that religion was the source of all things nasty and wicked – the title was chosen by Channel 4 to stir up controversy and, apparently, Dawkins didn’t even like it much.
Yet the documentary (it’s almost an editorial piece in some respects) does go on to make some rather thought provoking points. Just what is the effect of religion upon human society? Does the good outweigh the bad? Do children gain all the necessary information to make a free willed choice? Most of all, the issue of how fundamentalist religious belief can actually flourish against the face of known scientific fact is looked into.
When you look at the overall picture, there is simply no impartial or even substantial evidence of any kind to support the existence of any sort of higher supernatural being (including god) – there’s pretty much the Bible and that’s it. The Bible, while the best selling book in the known world, is not exactly the most historically accurate of texts and clearly it’s contents go against known fact so it can hardly count as concrete proof. So what do you decide to believe? The story for which there is a small mountain of evidence for or for the one for which there is quite literally nothing? Not much of a choice when you think about it.
The entirety of The Root of all Evil? can probably be summed up in a quote from Steven Weinberg that Dawkins uses:
“I think that on the balance the moral influence of religion has been awful. With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil. But for good people to do evil — that takes religion.”
There will always be good people and evil people, that can’t be helped, yet some of the worst atrocities in human history have been done in the name of religion or on religious grounds. The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, Witch Trials, etc. Then there’s the kind of smaller stuff like trying to maintain the Sun orbited the Earth, killing people for daring to translate the Bible into English and other things designed to keep everyone in a pre-industrial society.
It seems quite clear that religion is merely an odd little leftover from when man thought that the Sun was a flaming chariot in the sky or being pushed along by a cosmic sized dung beetle. So why do people believe in some sort of higher spiritual power for which no proof for exists? Probably for the comfort value, as Dawkin’s points out, as it must be something of a relief to belong to some sort of larger group who hold similar beliefs (that way you don’t appear to be outright delusional).
Moderate religious people … well, there’s not much wrong with them really. They keep to themselves and don’t cause much fuss and that’s great; when people don’t bother others then they have the right to believe in whatever they like – frankly, it’s not really our business. It’s when you get the nutcase believers that, despite all logic and morality indicating something else entirely, it’s fine to start killing in the name of something that doesn’t exist where you get problems. Dawkin’s interview with a certain nutcase Islamic man was probably a fairly good indication of this divide – the guy was nuts, it’s that simple. Then again, he was just as nuts as the Evangelist Dawkins had words with at one of those absurd American Bible centers (Hint: If you honestly believe that the Earth was made in a matter of days and Humans walked side by side with Dinosaurs, you have got problems).
As stated, a lot of thought provoking points were raised – especially when it came to the matter of the mixture of church and state. Does any religious body have any right to influence the decisions of a government? If a certain group of people are delusional to the extent where they ignore scientific evidence and believe in the equivalent of the tooth fairy then on what grounds to they claim the authority to set the course of a country?
So was Dawkin’s documentary spot on? No, it wasn’t. While it serves as a fine introduction to dispel a lot of myths about Atheism and also help explain why there is no god/allah/buddha/giant flying spaghetti monster … well, a closer look at the actual evidence would have been nice; but then the evidence should be common knowledge to anyone who knows anything so it would probably have been nothing but a diversion from the more philosophical arguments. Likewise, Dawkins manages to come across as a bit of a hard-case during certain interviews yet how can any religion exist without harsh scrutiny of its beliefs?
In short, The Root of all Evil? serves as a fine introductory piece as to why fundamentalist religion is a pretty dangerous and undesirable thing and why the Atheists are probably right. Yet it is definitely not a comprehensive examination of very facet of the subject and certainly should not be regarded as such.
- The World of Richard Dawkins
- Wikipedia Entry: Richard Dawkins
- Wikipedia Entry: The Root of all Evil?