People will use any excuse to attack Dawkins

February 16, 2012 • 11:53 am

This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve seen published on HuffPo, and that’s saying a lot.  On Tuesday, Richard Dawkins was on BBC Radio 4 discussing his new poll showing that England was not nearly as Christian a country as everyone supposed (I’ll have more on that soon).  Debating the issue with Richard was Giles Fraser, former canon chancellor of St. Paul’s in London. Fraser took umbrage at one of the results of Dawkins’s poll, which showed that only 35% of Christians could identify Matthew as the first book of the New Testament (39% didn’t know).

By way of riposte, Fraser asked Dawkins to recite the full title of Darwin’s Origin.  Really, how many of us know that long title by heart? HuffPo reports:

Dawkins was pretty close; the book’s full title is “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.”

But his failure to summon the name on command has led a number of British media outlets to label the appearance as “deeply embarrassing” for Dawkins and claim “the High Priest of Darwinism doesn’t know the title of his own secular bible.”

But this is the worst part.  First, HuffPo reports what Richard said:

“‘On The Origin Of Species’ … Uh. With, Oh God. ‘On The Origin Of Species.’ There is a subtitle with respect to the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.”

He named the deity! Anyway, the HuffPo  (the “Religion” section, of course) leaped on that and called its report—wait for it:

“Richard Dawkins, famous atheist, appeals to God on radio program.”

All I can say to that is, “Jesus H. Christ, that’s pathetic!”

h/t: Sigmund

249 thoughts on “People will use any excuse to attack Dawkins

  1. The interview was on BBC Radio 4, not on BBC4 (which is a TV channel).

    This invalidates everything you have said about anything ever!

    1. No, for we scientists retain credibility by admitting our errors and moving on. Forgive me, TJR, for I have sinned, and I have made penance by fixing my post.

      Can I haz credibility nao?

      1. I’m afraid I can’t forgive you, I’m not God or Piers Morgan.

        However, I’m sure Ceiling Cat will forgive you.

        Have a puppy, but don’t eat it all at once.

    1. My preferred blasphemy is “Jesus H. Mahogany Christ on a G*d D*mn Pony!”

      At lease mahogany and ponies are real.

            1. ‘A’ for blaspheming two monotheisms in 5 words (croissant = crescent). ‘A*’ for anyone skewering the full trinity of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

  2. He said, when trying to remember the exact words that come right after the word “species”, “oh, God”. He’s probably just too polite to have said “oh shit, my mind’s gone blank”, but that was obviously what he meant.
    Besides, the comparison between remembering a long title like the full “Origins” one, and remembering the one word (Matthew) needed to identify the first book of the NT, is unfair.
    It’s also unnecessary to even know of “Origins” to understand evolution, since it was never regarded as the last, inerrant word on the subject, not even by its author.

    1. I missed that! It was in a box in the middle of the article, and I thought it was an ad. I’ve put in the exact words now, thanks!

      1. oder scheisse! mais plus comprends scheisse

        Franke Potente provides a perfect “scheisse!” in The Bourne Identity (movie).

    2. An on top of that, the point is that, self-identification aside, Dawkins doesn’t “lose” the right to be counted a Darwinist because he doesn’t have a laundry list of superficial “factlets” at his constant, immediate mental disposal (as Fraser’s reductio woyld imply). The point is that a committed x, where x is an assumed position and not something innate, will know and understand, at least to a certain degree, the content of the theories/doctrine attendant to x.

      Indeed, Dawkins was trying to get this meatier point across. The example of knowing the name of a book in the bible was not the crux of his argument.

      And it’s not a True Scotsman. Sometimes you do have to meet some criteria to be counted an x.

    1. No, it’s “H.”, which stands for “haploid.” Since he didn’t have a corporeal father, he had only a single set of chromosomes. . .

          1. This raises an interesting question: are higher organisms that reproduce parthenogenetically (some weevils, at least one lizard) haploids or diploids?

            Anyone know?


              1. Stop assuming that logic and evidence are the only ways of knowing! Science and faith are NOMA, dontcha know?

              2. Dr. C.: Another question: Do all eukaryotes have diploid chromosome arrangements, or do some have un-paired chromosomes? I guess I was assuming all but bacteria, archaea, and viruses were diploid …

              3. This frog is tetraploid, not diploid:


                For example…

                Also there are things such as B chromosomes:

                Also, there are haplodiploids:


                Also, there are plenty of eukaryotes that spend large amounts of their time as haploids, like yeast and ferns, to name only two. But off the top of my head, I can’t think of any organism that is eukaryotic and exclusively haploid. I’m probably just not remembering.

        1. It’s also correct. After all, Jesus was conceived by God and Jesus is God, so Jesus is his own father and therefore a mother-f….

          1. By that criterion I must be an extremely religious atheist. Any time I drop a hammer on my foot, or similar events, I invoke Jesus along with his active and varied sex life (which, oddly, seems to have been censored out of the Bible). I find this actually does help. [Nice quotemine there: ‘Atheist says appeals to Jesus really work’ 🙂 ]

            1. In addition to the epithet I gave above (used in humorous situations), I use improvised JC epithets when I get injured — whose length is directly proportional to how badly I hurt myself. For example…

              Jesus Chr-r-ristus Crispix Crackin’ Rastus Crispy Cracker Gay Bashin’ Bastard Nail Bitin’ Holy Goat F&%kin… etc., etc., etc.

              Reminds me of some physical comedy. Ask somebody “Hey — do you know what *this* is?” And open your hands up and make wild faces while frenetically biting at the palms of your hands. When your victim gives up, say “Jesus biting his nails.”

      1. “Christ in a sidecar” is used repeatedly in the works of Stephen King. Salem’s Lot may be where it has its earliest occurrence.

  3. You may be able to listen to the interview on BBC iPlayer. It was on the Today programme, at about 2h20m in.

    Richard said, iirc, “Oh, God… (mumble) … there was a subtitle…”

    Was Dawkins’s survey really restricted to just England or did it not in fact encompass the whole of the UK… ? 😉


  4. I seem to recall one of the six components of evolution that Professor Coyne spells out in his book is “full knowledge of the subtitle of On the Origin of Species.”

    So, this proves Jesus, right? QED?

  5. OMFG…. (Hey, I’m religious now too!)

    I’ll grant that Fraser has scored a point here. He has demonstrated that sometimes these sorts of details are not the things that matter, and that 65% of Christians failing to identify Matthew as the first book of the NT is maybe not really as significant a statistic as some of us would like to make it out to be. Okay, fair point, I’ll accept that.

    This business about it being “deeply embarrassing” for Dawkins is just silly, though. If that’s “deeply embarrassing”, then Fraser must be super-mega-embarrassed for the sorry state of Christendom in the UK. But see, that’s just the opposite of the point that was being made.

    Bah. So annoying.

    1. I’m not sure I agree that it doesn’t matter. If your religion has one Holy Book™ I think you might reasonably expected to know something as basic as that about it.

      Whereas the existence, let alone the full title, of On the Origin of Species is irrelevant to the truth of evolution. (Although it is important from history of science perspective, of course!) As we know, many biology students and even some evolutionary biologists haven’t even read it.


    2. The “fact” of Matthew being the first gospel is itself church dogma — a probably false belief that is part of the doctrine of Christianity. Critical analysis of the Bible suggests that Matthew is actually cribbed from Mark, the second gospel.

      Of course, if very few Christians know that Matthew is supposed to be the first gospel then even fewer will know that in all likelihood it’s actually not.

      I’m with Allan, this represents a real failure of Christians to understand their own faith.

  6. Every time I hear some unbelievable nonsense by a purveyor of religious mumbo, I do a face palm and say “oh, god”. If they’ll stop with the nonsense, I can stop with the “oh, god”.

  7. How humiliating for that blow hard know-it-all Dawkins. I don’t care for him at all. As chief atheit cheer leader he is bad for the movement.

    1. I hear the sound of screeching tires speeding off but I’ll ask anyway…


      How is it humiliating that he remembered the full title?

    2. “How humiliating” No, mildly embarrassing at the very most. “for that blow hard know-it-all Dawkins.” In the absence of an actual argument, resort to childish name-calling. “I don’t care for him at all.” I very much doubt he’s even aware of you at all. “As chief atheit[sic] cheer leader” There is no such post “he is bad for the movement.” Why, because he isn’t prepared to lie and dissemble to protect his position, as popes and Imams are wont to do?


    3. Cheer leader? Surely he’s one of our quarterbacks?

      (Anyone who knows anything about American football please feel free to correct me.)


    4. That there are those who think this episode has any substantial import or has done any real damage to Dawkins’ credibility, or to atheism in general, is sad.

      It was such a meaningless “oops.” Latching on to this belies desperation.

    5. Cant talk any sense so lets say bad things about Richard Dawkins, who perhaps
      may make mistakes but religion believes that a god and a son-Jesus=never says anything wrong, and must not be questioned. So god says destroy a city so Christains do as they are asked. How about the inquisition. TheChurch burnt ten thousand at the stake, nice eh..

      1. Actually, the Spanish Church handed the condemned over to the Authorities for them to burn the alleged apostates; not sure which of the two – the Church’s judicial killing or its implication of the state in its campaign of intimidation – is most morally repugnant.

        As a question of accuracy, the death figures are surprisingly low – 3,000 to 5,000 over the 350 years of its existence.

        1. I guess it was more a thought police – reign of terror thing. You only need to execute one person a month with attendant publicity to persuade almost everybody they should keep any dissident thoughts they may have to themselves and never, ever, say anything nasty about the authorities.

          1. Basically, yes, infiniteimprobabilit; there were expulsions, as well as Jews who decided to flee. Briefly, and therefore crudely, a lot of intellectuals fled. A descendant of a refugee was Spinoza himself, whose family fled the Portuguese Inquisition. The Roman Inquisition was relatively liberal and actually welcomed some Jews, so it’s an extremely uneven and complex story.

            There is a school of history which attributes the slow decline of the Spanish Empire to its persecution of the intellectuals and the atrophy of its imaginative conversation; a lot of them ended up in France or the Netherlands and contributed to the rise, economically and intellectually, of the Northern countries.

            There is a corollary in Gibbon’s (disputed) thesis that the fall of the Roman Empire was partially caused by the fact that its ruling families in the previous century had embraced clericalism, at the expense of their traditional military expertise, and thus were no longer in a position to defend its borders.

            No doubt both questions are far more complicated.

  8. It’s worth pointing out that the Dawkins Foundation question was even easier: it gave people four choices: Matthew, Genesis, Acts of the Apostles and Psalms, and asked “which of these is the first book of the NEW Testament?”. So they only had to recognise the right answer from four choices. And only 35% of *self*labelled* Christians got it right! 39% said “don’t know”.

    That is vastly easier than remembering the full title of OofS, which is a largely irrelevant historical detail.

    1. Wow, that was the question? Two of those books are Old Testament, and only one is a gospel — even if you didn’t know the gospel order, that would be enough to get the answer right.

    2. Indeed, if it’s a multiple choice question, then it’s amazing that only 35% Christians got it right.

      If it was not a multiple choice question, it would have been a bit of a trick question:
      ‘first’ book can refer to the order in which it appears in the New Testament (indeed Mathew), but also to the ‘oldest’ Gospel (written ‘first’), which would be Mark.

    3. If that’s the case, I would have expected a figure nearer to 25%, so, 35% is not too shabby, Xians, not too shabby at all.

      1. Wait a minute! “I don’t know” was also one of the possible answers, so Matthew should only have gotten around 20%. That’s even better. Everyone who said Matthew gets a gold star and eternal life.

  9. My respect for Prof. Dawkins increases in steady proportion to the hatred directed at him. Really. I would loathe to be the target of so much animosity; I am almost in awe of how the professor shakes it all off and remains a steady voice for reason.

    I could say the same about many of the ‘new atheists’, including Prof. Coyne. Keep it up, good sirs!

    1. Oh, and as if to prove my point, see comment 14 above — a constant flow of idiotic comments from people who can barely spell; God(!), how irritating!

  10. Jim West on Dawkins, “Richard Dawkins is a Liar.” Jim West is not happy with the research on religion conducted for the Dawkins Foundation…

    “Trusting research by Dawkins is like trusting satan to tell the truth.”

    Hector Avalos to Jim West:
    “Either retract your statement, or you may find yourself featured in an essay on the hypocrisy of Jim West’s research.”

    1. Why can people not get the plain facts right? There was no research by Dawkins; the poll was conducted by MORI, highly regarded in the UK.


    2. The reference to Satan telling the truth is interesting because, according to the Bible, he always does. God is depicted in the Bible as a persistant liar with a very poor record for keeping promises. Satan, on the other hand, is never caught lying.

      Besides, the poll was carried out by Mori. RDF commisioned it but if West has any evidence that it was deliberately skewed, we would like to hear it.

    3. I’ve replied the following to the original article (but I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets ‘lost’ in moderation hell):

      You’re able to discern the specific reasons why an individual theist becomes an atheist? Wow, that’s quite a talent you have there!

      If you can so firmly dismiss Dawkins’ poll as a lie, you have evidence to show us, and not merely your opinion, right? Put up or shut up.

    4. Smirk… Had to lay down the obvious… I’m sure my comment (which is in moderation) will never see the light of day.

      MosesZD17/02/2012 at 08:55

      Your comment is awaiting moderation.

      Three comments? You’re not even relevent.

    5. Had to double dip…

      MosesZD17/02/2012 at 09:01

      Your comment is awaiting moderation.

      Ah, the old “No True Scotsman” fallacy right of the bat… My, my, my… If I remember right, during all that study to become an ordained lay minister, the Pharisees said the same about Jesus and his apostles.

      Funny that… Haters will hate… And Pharisees will be Pharisees, even 2,000 years later…

  11. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, a thread on blasphemous exclamations; I expect the Aussies, with their gift for imaginative slang, to post a few choice items when they wake up.

    1. After a busy day my granddad used to say he’d been “up and down like a whore’s drawers on a Hebrew High Holiday”.

      He wasn’t anti-semitic I don’t think. I have no idea where it came from.

  12. Of what importance is it that Dawkins can’t remember a title? The religious have to get it in their heads that “the Origins of the Species,” is not the holy book inspired by god of atheists. We appreciate Darwin but the science of modern biological evolutionary theory has progressed beyond the ideas that he set forth. My message to the religous is that it is time that they progress as well. Over a thousand years of entrenchment in a barbaric superstition is more than enough. It is time to embrace reality.

    1. “Stephen Bayley was once described as ‘the second most intelligent man in Britain’.”

      And some people have the gall to accuse Richard of being intellectually arrogant!

      “[Bayley]is one of the world’s best known commentators on modern culture.”

      Who is this again?

      “Read more about him at”

      No, thanks.


    2. Ah, the old “atheism produced North Korea (Stalin, etc.)” canard. NK’s head of state is obviously and openly revered as godlike. This is not atheistic behavior, as anyone smart enough to be called Britain’s second most intelligent man should be able to figure out for himself.

      What a terrible piece of writing.

  13. Oh Prof Dawkins, why didn’t you simply say “Darwin’s book is not the bible of evolutionary biology. It is not a religion and there is no such thing. Hence, your comparison is completely ridiculous. That being said…”. As someone with way more afterwit than actual wit, I can relate.

    RDs problem is that he is a scientist, and his modus operandi is honest discussion, and thus he is way to nice for this kind of things. A politician wouldn’t even have entertained the possibility of honestly answering that question for a millisecond.

    1. I wouldn’t say that Dawkins has way more afterwit than wit. He has had some really good responses, most famously,

      There’s no particular reason to pick…the Judeo-Christian god in which by the sheerest accident you happen to have been brought up and ask me the question, “What if I’m wrong?” What if you’re wrong about the great Juju at the bottom of the sea?

  14. Fraser took umbrage at one of the results of Dawkins’s poll, which showed that only 35% of Christians could identify Matthew as the first book of the New Testament (39% didn’t know).

    This was a favourite theme of Christopher Hitchens:

    And I went on his show and I chatted on, and I said what I thought, what I’ve told you, that half the time when you meet people who say they are churchgoing Christians, they don’t know what they’re supposed to believe, they don’t believe all of it, they have a lot of doubt, and they go to church largely for social reasons. I told him it’s been a really long time since I’ve met a Catholic who really will say, “Yes, I believe in the virgin birth.” And the guy said, “Well, hold it right there. I very much do believe in the virgin birth. I absolutely do believe in it.” And I said, “No, I don’t think you do. Nice try, but I don’t think you really do believe in it. I think you feel you ought to, but you don’t, if you examine yourself.” And he said, “You’re wrong. I absolutely believe in the Immaculate Conception of Jesus Christ.” And I said to him, “Do you not know that the virgin birth is a different thing from the Immaculate Conception?” And he said, “It is?” And I said, “Yes, the Immaculate Conception is of the Virgin Mary herself.”

  15. I thought the Matthew question was supposed to be the real softball question that every Christian would be able to get right. The 35% figure is even more damning when you consider that, on a four way multiple choice question, a figure of 25% could be acheived by people just guessing.

  16. It does not surprise me 1 bit that their argument has no shred of content, again,…indeed, pathetic, and anything but new.

  17. Paula Kirby, who was largely responsible for liaising with MORI on behalf of RDFRS UK, and who wrote our two Press Releases, put a long comment on about the ‘Matthew Question’. Here’s the relevant part:

    “Given that the Bible-inspired lobbyists have a tendency to try to claim the support of the total number of Christians recorded in the Census, it is perfectly legitimate to explore how familiar those Census-Christians are with the Bible. It’s not the kind of question you can ask in those terms, because the answers would be too subjective. ‘How well do you feel to know the Bible’ with the possible answers of ‘Very’, ‘Fairly’, ‘Not very’, ‘Not at all’ and ‘Not sure’ would tell us practically nothing.

    So, instead, we wanted a simple test that would shed some quantitative light on the issue. So we decided to go for a straightforward, factual question, with a simple, unambiguous answer, which we really should be able to assume that anyone with even a very limited knowledge of Christianity should be able to get right. We wondered, for instance, about giving a list of 4 ‘commandments’ and asking respondents to identify the one that wasn’t in the Ten Commandments. But we rejected that on the basis that, in order to answer that, they’d need to be familiar with all ten, and we wanted to make the question as simple as possible, so that the results would be as meaningful as possible.

    Had we picked a question about the Old Testament, no doubt Giles Fraser et al would now be shrieking that it wasn’t fair because it’s the New Testament that’s at the heart of Christianity, and they’d be trying to claim that more people would have known the answer if it had been about that.

    If we’d asked which was the last book of the New Testament, Giles Fraser et al would now be shrieking that it wasn’t fair because it’s the Gospels that are at the heart of Christianity, and they’d be trying to claim that more people would have known the answer if it had been about them.

    So we asked the most basic question we could think of. A question that, really, just about anyone in the western world should know the answer to, Christian or not. (I’d be really amazed if at least 90% of the atheist users of this site couldn’t have just given the answer to it right off the top of their head, even without the multiple choice to help them.)

    “What is the first book of the NEW Testament?” (Note that the questioner was instructed to emphasise the ‘NEW’). 4 answers to choose from. 2 of them (Genesis and Psalms) very prominent books from the OLD Testament. The other one (Acts of the Apostles) not a gospel, so another bit of a clue there, since the New Testament opens with the 4 gospels, and respondents therefore only really needed to recognise that Matthew was the only gospel listed among the answers, even if they (astonishingly) didn’t know it was the first.

    If anything, my reservation was that the question was too easy, the answer too obvious.

    So when I first saw the results, I could hardly believe my eyes. The largest proportion of Christians hadn’t even attempted an answer but had gone straight for ‘Don’t Know’. 39% of them. Only 35% knew that the answer was Matthew. Remember – they weren’t asked to pluck the answer out of thin air: this was a multiple choice question, so they actually had the correct answer in front of their eyes and only needed to recognise it when they saw it. Only 35% of them did so.

    That is an absolutely devastating result for those who are desperate to claim that there is widespread reverence for the Bible and its teachings, and support for public policies based on them, or even who want to claim Christianity still has a real hold on the nation. Only 35% of Christians even recognised the name of the first book of the New Testament.

    What’s more, Giles Fraser et al know it’s absolutely devastating too. They can see exactly how embarrassing it is for them and exactly what it says about the dire lack of even the most basic knowledge about Christianity among the people they try to co-opt as supporters. And that, of course, is why GF went to such extraordinary lengths to try to deflect the damage of it onto Richard yesterday, and why parts of the media have been so eager to focus on that deflection. The idea that asking a Christian, sitting comfortably at home with a friendly interviewer and no pressures of either an audience of millions or a ticking clock, with their mind already on Christianity-related subjects, to recognise the correct one-word name of one of the most important books in what’s meant to be their Holy text, from a list of 4 options is remotely comparable to a hostile encounter, on air, in which Richard is asked to recall from memory the full 21-word title of a book almost never referred to in those terms, when his mind is currently fully focused on something else, is the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard for a very long time.

    But my point is that it’s a measure of how desperately Giles Fraser needed to prevent audiences registering the very damning results from the Matthew question. Let them have their fun right now: that statistic is not going to go away. 64% (1% ‘preferred not to say’) of UK Christians couldn’t recognise the first book of the New Testament from a list of 4 options.

    If 64% of Christians can’t even recognise the name of the first book of the New Testament from a list of 4 options, then what does that tell you about how often they open a Bible? How well they know it? And how much they base their lives and attitudes on it?

    The Matthew question is devastating. The more I think about it, and the more I see the way ‘the opposition’ are squealing about it, the more I like it. They’re squealing because they know it’s devastating and they are desperately, desperately trying to undermine it. If it were really the silly, meaningless, pointless question and result that they’re trying to say it is, they simply wouldn’t bother.

    The only reason they’re working so hard to undermine the Matthew question is that it really, really hurts.”

    1. I suppose that their only remaining argument is that very few people are aware of the contents of Origin, either.

      But then we aren’t trying to base the whole of public policy and morality on it. We just want it to be the basis of a single scientific discipline: biology.

      1. “We just want it to be the basis of a single scientific discipline: biology.”

        Not even that, the basis of biology is the evidence. And a book such as Futuyma’s “Evolution” would be way more relevant to today’s student than the OofS. Darwin’s OofS is only the historical basis, not the basis.

        Another way of saying that is to imagine evolution today if Darwin had never existed and the OofS never written. Well, Wallace’s ideas would have spread and been developed, and we’d be in pretty much the same place today.

        Now try imagining Christianity without Jesus or the New Testament. This shows that comparing the Bible to the OofS makes no sense; it only makes sense to someone who doesn’t understand science.

    2. Why is Richard Dawkins referring to himself in the third person?

      …to try to deflect the damage of it onto Richard yesterday,…

      … in which Richard is asked to recall from memory the full 21-word title of a book…

      1. That’s what I wondered, at first. But I think the huge majority of the post is written by Paula Kirby. RD just wrote the first paragraph. Still, quotation marks within quotation marks are confusing.

    3. The question is more well phrased than perhaps its authors realize, in that it works with all recensions of the Bible. Various branches of xtianity have somewhat different sets of books in their bibles, and some branches group together as one certain books that others split apart.

      But they all have Genesis, Psalms, Matthew, and Acts, and they all have them in pretty much the same places.

      This is a distinct matter from the varying textual bases for different recensions of the Bible. The most notable example of that is that the RCC bases its OT on the Greek Septuagint, whereas the Protestants base their OT on the Hebrew Masoretic text.

  18. Stupid headline from HP, but Fraser’s retort was clever and to the point: some details don’t matter. The only problem is that it draws a parallel between a religious text and a scientific treatise, but I guess he wouldn’t be worried about that.

          1. You know what? I just might.

            Paula Kirby is 100% right that the results of the survey show poor familiarity with the Bible and are therefore embarrassing to Christians and Christian apologists in the UK. They are however nowhere near as embarrassing as she makes them to be, and for two related reasons. First, the question itself does not touch on a significant tenet of faith or a central event in the Bible; it is merely about structure. It’s not even like you have to read Matthew before reading the rest, which would then make it sensible to expect that people recognise it as the first book.

            Second, even if Christians don’t read the Bible themselves, they may get their teachings second-hand. Indeed, I suspect most of them do, in churches. If somebody goes to church every Sunday, pays attention, and never opens the Bible in the mid-week, s/he could still be a devout Christian and still fail on the Matthew question. In this way the survey may seriously underestimate the degree to which UK Christians are knowledgeable about their faith.

            But wait, there’s more. The reason I even bother to write all this is because I’m irked about a disingenuous ploy Paula Kirby employs here: she repeatedly claims the question is extremely easy, in effect preventively ridiculing whoever says it isn’t or, worse yet, didn’t know the answer. Well, I’ll bite: the question isn’t very easy on the face of it (it’s far from difficult, too, of course), and the multiple-choice answers do not provide as much clue as she claims they do.

            The question isn’t extremely easy on its own for the reason I wrote about above: it’s about structure of a document that’s not meant to be read linearly or in the whole, and which is more often listened to than actually read. As to the clues contained in the answers: yes, Genesis and Psalms are prominent books of the Old Testament. However, Psalms are a title that a NT book could conceivably have. I can think of a dozen of OT books the titles of which give a much clearer hint of their provenance than the mild “Psalms”. And yes, Genesis belongs unmistakably to the Old Testament, but it’s also the first book of OT and the Bible, and however strongly the interviewer emphasises the NEW, the first reflex of many people will be to go with Genesis.

            This *is* nitpicking and makes for a slightly embarrassing read, I admit, but is necessary to properly re-evaluate how easy the question really was. I must say that the two above points combined with Paula Kirby’s comment make it difficult for me to convince myself that the multiple choice was not subtly loaded as a matter of design.

            In conclusion: the survey addresses a legitimate question, and the results are embarrassing to the Christians. Their importance is, however, vastly overstated by the RDFRS.

            Disclaimers: I am an atheist, anti-clerical, grew up in a Catholic country in an atheist family, never been a believer, work in evolution, knew the answer to the question.

            If you reply, please check back in 12-24hrs — I’m going to sleep now, and have work&football tomorrow.

            1. I think you’re being way too gentle on Christians, here, vHF.

              The phrase, ‘Matthew, Mark, Luke and John’ even has a poetic rhythm to it, easy to recall.

              Satiric and secular equivalent: who was the first Beatle?
              a) Paul
              b) George
              c) Ringo
              d) John
              e) Bert

              Any bets that amongst the general population 35% would get John, even without the multiple choice?

              1. I have never been gentle on Christians and I resent the implication 🙂

                Honest to God I didn’t know John was the *first* Beatle. Kinda proves my point.

              2. You’re in my hypothetical 65% group, then vHF. At the moment, I’m winning with 50% (i.e., me), admittedly a small sample.

                Perhaps, Lennon was right when he said the Beatles were bigger than Jesus.

              3. Now, let’s be careful here. I’d say John was the first Quarryman. But since The Beatles origin was really just a name-change, there was more than one first Beatle. However, there was only one Beatle. And no, I’m not counting George Martin!

              4. We seem to be coming over all theological about the Fabs. Weren’t those loveable mop-tops and groovesters the John, Paul, George and Ringo of 1964? John, the first Beatle! No?

                I withdraw the survey question! It’s all too much.

              5. After, withdrawing my earlier question I now reinstate this one (joke). Ant, have you considered a second career in psephology?

              6. @ Dermot

                No — until recently I didn’t even know what one was! 😉

                Mind you, when I left school, the job I’m doing now didn’t even exist!


            2. Well, bravo for replying, vHF!

              I still disagree with you. Yes, it’s possible that someone could be a faithful Christian and never read the Bible, but the chances of them having avoided being told what the Gospels – central to the Christian faith – were at school, in Sunday school, in sermons, &c., &c. seem remote. You woulldn’t even have had to remember the order to answer the question correctly, just to know the names.

              And I’m with Paula in considering it an easy question. I thought so even before discovering that it was multiple choice.


              1. I agree. Also, if someone is journeying to church every Sunday, but they don’t realize the opening book of the NT is Matthew they should, doubtless, reevaluate their faith.

            3. The bar for someone to check the “Christian” check box is really very low. There are a lot of people who equate having been exposed to some amount of Jesus-talk as a child makes you one. My mother used to insist that I was a Christian in spite of my non-belief because I was confirmed as a Lutheran when I was 13 and thus have “Christian values”.

              People like that end up with inflated numbers. People like me slap our heads.

              1. Yes, but you’d not self-identify as one. Or tick Lutheran on a census form.

                I think one of the points raised by Dawkins survey, and one of the ideas behind the BHA’s Census Campaign, was that the Census question was a leading one: It prompted people who wouldn’t positively self-identify as a Christian to provide that answer to meet the implied expectation that you have a religion. As is evidenced by the reasons people cited in the RDF/MORI survey – my parents were, I was baptised…

                Much like the other patients on the ward when I was in hospital a year or so back. When they were going through the admission forms with a nurse, everyone of them – 5 or 6 in all, so not statistically significant! – answered the religion question with, “Church of England” – but not one of them didn’t qualify it with something like, “I suppose”!

                The survey tends to quantify those who are Christian-I-suppose.


              2. Well _I_ wouldn’t self-identify that way, but most people don’t spend time obsessing about science and atheism. A lot are too timid or uninformed to _not_ check that box. Inertia governs a lot of box-checking. They ask those questions here in the US, too. And lots of closeted atheists go along because… Well, they are in the closet.

              3. Reminds me of the old joke about the Army recruiting sergeant –
                Sergeant: Religion?
                New recruit: ‘aven’t got one.
                Sergeant: Right, C of E. Next!

            4. vHF: No effing way. Every Sunday school kid is taught to memorize the books of (at least) the New Testament. Not being able to answer this question shows, very clearly, that these people did not even have a passing familiarity with the Bible. As noted, their supposed ly foundational document of their religion.

  19. I think Dawkin’s poll about Christians being unable to identify the first book of the New Testament tells us what most I think Atheists have long suspected: that Christians don’t read the bible.

  20. Of course, atheists are not allowed to reject religion until they have read bucket loads of sophisticated theology.

    While believers are welcome even if they cannot name a single book in the work they hold up as a shining moral example and the Word of the God they worship.

    1. Well, it makes perfect sense.

      If you want to believe, you don’t have to think, but you need to be clever to be an atheist.

    1. Just don’t bother with the right hand column and it’s OK. But do be careful — look right and your brain withers.

  21. So what the results of the question about the first book of the NT really tells us is that churches are really lousy places to learn facts.

    Second, my personal thinking on how I remember the order of the first books is because of the movie “Blazing Saddles”:
    “We will now read from the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, [bomb crashes through window] and Duck”

  22. If you actually listen to the discussion, a link is provided in the Huffington Post article, Giles says, in complaining about what real knowledge is gained by knowing or not knowing the first book of the New testament, “Richard if I were to ask you what the full title of the Origin of Species is, you could give to me right?”Then Dawkins confidently replies, “yes, I could.” Giles then simply calls him on it by saying, “well, go on.” Daqwkins fumbling reply follows. Seems Dawkins stuck his own foot in his mouth. Are some making more out of it than they should, yeah, but when I first heard it a few days ago, I did think it was pretty funny. The God reference just added to the irony.

    1. This Giles Fraser is an interesting character. Yet another member of the religious species which preaches on Radio 4’s ‘Thought for the Day’ and which often turns up on WEIT, he was party to one of the most predictably imperspicacious decisions of recent memory; the agreement of St. Paul’s Cathedral to the temporary encampment of the anti-capitalist protesters in front of the shrine.

      It was he who resigned over the issue when the manifestants, in entirely foreseeable fashion, wouldn’t move on after a few weeks. Or perhaps he was just fed up with his absurd and self-satirising Trollopian job title.

      His Christianity reminds me a lot of Johnny Cash’s, grudgingly truculent, gloomy and it appears to give him no solace or happiness; and then he feels the urge, via the radio, to inflict it on us commuters from time to time. Misère, misère.

    2. Ray, accommodating?

      Giles misses the most prominent distinction.

      If the Bible is the literal, inerrant Word of God can any knowledge about it be considered trivial?

      A science book, no matter how influential, is not the Word of God. So, the entire title of Darwin’s The Origin of Species can be adjudged as inessential if one is cognizant of the essential components of his theory. However, no aspect of the otherworldly declarations of God can be considered useless, huh?

      1. Fraser is a fairly liberal Christian, not an inerrantist. However he should be well aware that in almost all liturgical churches such as the Catholic and Anglican churches most of the gospels are read aloud in a three year cycle over the Sundays (first year Matthew, second year Mark, and third year Luke with John scattered throughout) so people attending these churches should be aware of the names of the gospels.

        1. My previous point: how can Fraser, not God, know what is worth knowing and not knowing in God’s book?

          I think we are in agreement, but I do want to address this statement:

          “Fraser is a fairly liberal Christian, not an inerrantist.”

          That is just not true. Fraser, as a priest and christian, is compelled to have faith the Bible is the literal and inerrant word of God, in some configuration. He may not believe the Universe was fashioned in six days, but he presumes on faith that Jesus was the offspring of God and that Jesus cashed in his chips for the iniquities of humankind.

          To reiterate, Fraser, as a christian, must believe that some sections of the Bible are to be taken literally and are without error (Jesus life and resurrection). While he may ignore and reject other portions of the Bible–maybe the flood–he, as a christian, cannot escape accepting the life, teachings, and resurrection of Jesus as the literal and inerrant word of god.

          1. In fairness to Erp, Persto, I assume he merely means that Fraser is politically liberal and, judging from his appearances on Radio 4, I would be amazed if he were an inerrantist. As with a lot of the Anglican leading clergy, he, in all probability, eclectically chooses which stories to believe.

            As a young man, he was a member of the Socialist Workers’ Party (or some similar left wing organisation). He is now interested in underlining the Christian moral dimension in capitalism (remember St. Paul’s is in the centre of the banking parish); and that comes pretty close to political liberalism in my book.

            1. All I know about Giles Fraser is he is a priest of the CoE.

              I agree that he is not an inerrantist in the traditional sense. However, to be a priest he is obliged to believe some sections of the Bible are to be interpreted literally and are without error. Most likely the NT gospels. So, in that sense, he is an inerrantist.

              I am just pointing out the inconsistencies of a man who believes the Bible contains–at least, in some sections because he is a priest–the literal and inerrant word of God, but attempts to claim that certain aspects of those very sections are not worth knowing.

  23. An analogous question would be:

    Professor Dawkins, which was the first book on evolution:
    1) “Why Evolution is True
    2) “The Theory of Evolution”
    3) “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life”
    4) “Evidence as to Man’s Place in Nature”

  24. lolz. Yeah I don’t know why he even bothers explaining his position at the care and detail that he does. He should just start reminding the faitheads that they ain’t 6 years old! And to just snap out of this fairy tale.

  25. Self-identified Christians not being able to pick the first book of the New Testament from a multiple choice, to be fair, I think is analogous to an American, for example, not being able to pick Washington as the first president of the USA. Has anyone done such a survey? I suspect comparable results, which would merely be an indictment of the general public’s ignorance.

    Of course if you give the same survey to atheists, you’d get much better results, proving what we already know. 🙂

  26. I read that “god” as in standard English, where the “g” is pronounced like the “fu” in “Fukishima”, the “o” is pronounced as the “u” in “Fukishima”, and the “d” is “o” is pronounced as the “k” in “Fukishima”.
    Obviously, the “h” is silent in “ghod”, the whole being pronounced as “fuck”, to rhyme with “Bishfuck”, a locally prevalent group of public idiots.

    1. Oh Ghod, I suppose I should apply my newly-awarded ordination certificate to that and describe myself as Father (or mother, whichchever makes you more relaved) Aidan, as I am now a Minister of the Church of The Flying Spaghetti Monster. I’m even re-reading the Gospel, out of reverence for our beliefs.

  27. I can still say “‘lipsmackinthirstquenchinacetastinmotivatingoodbuzzincooltalkinhighwalkinfastlivinevergivincoolfizzin’..PEPSIIII” off the top of my head with no need for a warning at any time. I have no idea what this adds to the discussion. Maybe it belongs in the free will thread?

    1. The only possible response to that is to say Llanfairpwllwgyngychgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.

      (Honestly from memory, so maybe not 100%.)


      1. I count one transposition and one deletion. Finding them is left as an exercise to the reader.

        But well done, all the same.

      2. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious? I prefer the newspaper headline when Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC (known as Caley) had a surprise victory over Glasgow Celtic FC:

        “Super Caley go ballistic, Celtic are atrocious”

  28. I must say it is exceedingly appeasing, and ironic, to behold the unabridged unfamiliarity with the Bible of so many “believers.” They have a lone 1,000 or so page book–well, a collection of books–to retain and they are unable to obtain that holy grail. How embarrassing? It only fortifies my view, and Asimov’s, that the Bible, read de rigueur, is the most puissant efficacy for atheism ever developed, which is why, it appears, believers never read it, much less, properly.

    In addition, most Christians don’t study the Bible because they are told the Bible by those who have a vested partiality in perpetuating and strengthening it as a celestial declaration. Most believers probably are unfamiliar with the biblical books of Daniel and Matthew, but they know the whole kit and caboodle about Max Lucado and C.S. Lewis. So, what eventuates is a Lilliputian–yes, I am bringing Swift into this–segment of adults(accommodationists, apologists, and theologians) equip and capacitate a much larger, pun intended, segment of adults(preachers, priests, missionaries, teachers, and politicians) to persist in bludgeoning the most rudimentary, despotic, intellectually trammeled, and treacherous worldview ever devised onto unwitting children and the ill-informed, impoverished masses by utilizing fear, deceit, occludation, and maleficence. Goddamn “shame, everlasting shame.” I could, almost, suffer Christianity and the Judeo-Christian-Islamic worldview if the preponderance of its practitioners were comfortable adult neophytes; rather then the brainwashed and the destitute.

    Maybe, Christians should adhere to the decrees of their only “holy book”, which, apparently, they do not know:

    “Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun–all your meaningless days.”

  29. Oh, in case anyone hasn’t found the link in the PR, this is the raw data for the survey.

    (And look, Jerry, it does include Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as England! 😉 )

    I found the following responses interesting:

    • I believe in God and I believe that Christianity is the only true way of knowing him : 17% (Q19)

    • I have accepted Jesus as my Lord and Saviour : 15% (Q51)

    • Yes, I consider myself to be a religious person : 45% (Q54)

    • I genuinely try to follow the Christian religion : 31% (Q55)

    I have been criticised elsewhere for presuming to define what a “true” Christian is, but I think that those answers touch on at least some of the most important parts of what I’d recognise as Christianity… 


    1. “(And look, Jerry, it does include Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as England!)

      Maybe they couldn’t find anyone who could say LlanfairPG to get tickets to the principality? 🙂

      1. Fair point! I should have said “as well as England — and Wales!” as England & Wales were covered in the same Census.

        But Wales is only a principality, not a kingdom, and thus there’s no red dragon in the Union Flag, just the cross and saltires of the three kingdoms. Although the Fitzgerald saltire was never a flag of Irish kings. But the whole flag thing is a rat-hole of nationalistic machinations, so… enough said.


          1. Maybe those are better regarded as petty kingdoms.

            I don’t think they weren’t recognised as “true kingdoms” by the middle ages. 😉


              1. Good references. ‘Cyning’ – Old English ‘king’, ruler – etymologically derived from ‘cynn’ – ‘kin’.

  30. Which religion wants its adherents actually reading its book though?

    I think Giles Fraser’s “maybe they get their bible in church” excuse is both true and quite telling.

  31. As a child I learned not to use the Lord’s name in vain, not because it was irreligious, but because it made the user sound crude and impolite. So, I never did even though I’ve been an atheist for about sixty years. I still never use it in vain, but now I occasionally use it for shock value when making an emphatic point. My Christian friends, on the other hand, always used their Lord’s in vain without any thought to what they had been taught as a child. And, they were never conscious of doing it.

    1. Well, I confused at least one of our twin sons by counselling them against “Oh, God!” and “Jesus Christ!” Up to their late teens they thought that my wife and I were Christians, if rather liberal ones, for that and other reasons. (In retrospect, I wish we’d been more open about our disbelief… Although they both arrived there anyway, having figured things out for themselves, we found out only recently that the other had been quite anxious about what we’d think…)

      OTOH, one of my fellow research students used “Jesus Christ!” all the time — even after he became an evangelical Christian (after Bill Graham came to our university).


      1. My dad attempted roughly the same with us. We never really knew whether he was some form of esoteric Christian; turned out he was an atheist, who had been effectively banished by the Bishop of Derry and told that he would never be able to find a job in the Catholic diocese again. Rather too self-abnegatingly, my dad never shared this with me.

        I tell my kids (11 and 13 years old) that they should decide what religion they are when they are adults; they are much too young to make the step now. Brunch…interrupted post.

        1. Well, it didn’t help that my wife was ostensibly a Christian when we married (in church!), that the boys were baptised, that we used to go to church when we visited my wife’s parents (although I never took communion, on the basis that I was – “am” — a Catholic; would the host transubstantiate?!), …

          Of course, my wife’s parents are both faithful Anglicans, and it took her a long time to overcome the inertia of her upbringing and sense of obligation to her parents… I can’t recall what box she ticked in the 2001 Census — but we all ticked “no religion” in last year’s!


          1. Marx: The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.

            The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.

            Never more true than in the religion we learn at our mother’s knee.

            1. Nice!

              “….In like manner, the beginner who has learned a new language always translates it back into his mother tongue, but he assimilates the spirit of the new language and expresses himself freely in it only when he moves in it without recalling the old and when he forgets his native tongue.”

          2. My wife still gives Jesus his orders for the day every morning. And we got married in a church. What appeals to my sense of irony is that I just found my maternal grandfather’s wedding certificate in my late father’s effects – he (gramps) was a Congregational / Presbyterian / Methodist lay preacher, very fundie – and he got married in a registry office!

      2. Adam: We are 100% open with our sons and make sure the know the real reasons why. We also have instructed them in the beliefs and rituals of most of the world’s religions (for comparative anthropology value and to point up how weird, silly, and diverse they are).

        But, we have also advised them not to swear (in the religious sense and otherwise) to prevent their being considered crude, ignorant, or insulting. Basic social factors.

        We’ve also warned them about how seriously most religious people take their nonsense and to avoid the subject, generally.

        1. JBlilie,

          That’s pretty much what we ended up doing. I must say, this is the first time Ant’s surprised me. What is more important than assisting one’s children in navigating the philosophical swamps?

          It is admittedly a fine line to walk between exposure to parental opinions and “indoctrination.” We have to always bear in mind that our children are evolved to take what we say as golden, at certain periods of their development, and that we need to be very careful that we are above-all emphasizing (and demonstrating) the importance of critical thinking skills rather than anything that could be called a “belief.” But I think it can be done, and the good thing is that being at odds with most of one’s society in this respect leads to endless “teachable moments,” if nothing else.

          But I don’t wish to cast any aspersions upon your child-rearing, Ant. I’m well aware (though it’s hard for me to understand) of just how many “mixed marriages” there are out there; and that my sex, especially, tends to be the most susceptible to woo-influence. Which is to say that atheist female partners, at a typically young, marrying age, anyway, may be hard to come by. Kudos to those who are able to throw off superstition as adults.

          Indeed, one of my only reservations about being upfront about my philosophical (lower-case p) outlook with my kids was the worry that, in a society with so very few admitted unbelievers (speaking of the USA, of course), I might be severely limiting their already difficult quest of ever finding “soul-mates.”

          So far, son, age 26, and daughter, age 20, seem to be faring well, knock on wood. (<–irony fully intended.)

          (Re swearing: I've told my kids simply to consider the audience. IMO, cussing's a great response to certain annoyances, and I encouraged my daughter to get mad rather than cry. But she's well aware of when it's OK to vent and when it's not. [Seriously, how much of a rock do you have to be living under, these days, to be *shocked* by traditional swearing?])

          1. Well, life would be terribly dull if we were entirely predictable!

            Cast aspersions as you will. What can I say? I was not the person then that I now am. For a long time, although I’d long since abandoned the RCC and theism generally, I was a laissez-faire agnostic atheist. It was only in the past couple of years that my atheism crystallised into the gnu variety, triggered by arguments with fundies and Creationists on Twitter and my discovery of gnu atheist blogs… (and websites!)

            I’d probably amend what I said before: I think I was open with my sons (now both 21yo, btw), just not active. I’d have answered any “navigational” questions frankly (if they’d only asked!). Nevertheless, I was sure that they’d figure it out for themselves. (When they were much younger they went from, “The Easter Bunny is you isn’t it?” to “There’s no Father Christmas either, is there?” in a couple of minutes.)

            I never anticipated, though, that they’d feel unable to talk about it when they did. So, yes, with hindsight, I wish I’d encouraged that.


            1. You were brought up in the RCC? Say no more! You have overcome much more than I ever had to deal with.

              As for me, I was brought up by casual, going-through-the-motions, liberal U.S. Protestants, and clicked with atheism the first time I heard it was an option; sometime around late elementary school, I’d say. (They didn’t do it on purpose, but–thank you, Mom & Dad, for failing to adequately indoctrinate me!)

              As for raising children–we’d all do a much better job if we had another chance once we’d stumbled through our “practice set.”

              My children were never shy about questioning. Once when my mother-in-law flew out to visit us, while my daughter was still young enough to be in the back of the car in a child seat, I remember her (daughter) piping up with, “Mom, why don’t we go to church?” Have to admit I did temporize then. Something like, “let’s talk about that when we get home, eh?” But, over the years, I came to realize my m-i-l was apparently mostly agnostic herself! How lucky can you get?

              It’s enormously satisfying to end up with freethinking children.

              1. It’s enormously satisfying to end up with freethinking children.

                Amen to that! One of my proudest “dad” moments occurred when my son, who was working toward Eagle Scout status in the Boy Scouts, “clicked” onto the reason his father never became a scout leader, that the BSA was homophobic, and that the BS was hostile to atheists. He wrote a brilliant resignation letter.

              2. That’s especially impressive as he had to have been very involved to get to the Eagle Scout level. Kudos to you and your son!

  32. Oh, no, Richard is human? How incredibly disappointing and humiliating! My entire life and conceptual world have become a black hole. How can I live another minute? Gasp …

    Seriously, only emotionally retarded and probably intellectually deficient people use the “gotcha” ploy to feel better about themselves and attempt to discredit others. Therefore, as Ceiling Cat might say, phuk dems.

  33. EVERYONE here is wrong. the first actual gospel that appears in the book, is freaking MARK. Mark is the earliest one, Matt and Luke derive most of their sources from Mark, and something bible scholars call the Gospel X. Matth. may be the first book in order now, but not orginally.

  34. I heard this & it made me furious with Fraser. Forgive me RD, but when you get to 70+ inevitably you have to hesitate sometimes to recall even familiar facts. This is a whole lot different when you are under only 47 as Fraser is. Ageism.

  35. How low can these religious bigots get. I always say Oh God, but it means nothing. FOr which god am I referring to I wonder. Ithought there were nearly two thousand gods. I think I am referring to a pagan god.

    1. I’ve made a concerted effort to expunge “god” from my lexicon, with some success. It very rarely escapes me now.

      Now, “jumpin’ fuckin’ Jesus on a pogo stick”, that’s different! ;^)

      1. I’ve recently (past 2+ years, in honor of Blasphemy Day) tried to become an equal opportunity blasphemer with “Jesus fuckin’ Mohammed”.

  36. To paraphrase Eagleton , listening to Richard Dawkins talking to believers is like listening to an ornithologist talk to people who don’t know what an eagle is.

    How come Giles Fraser is full of praise for sophisticated theology and the necessity of reading books full of meaningless drivel, while deriding the names of the Gospels as trivial details, not worth learning?

    1. I think Giles Fraser is being seriously misleading and patronising when he says:

      …having a few silly little questions to trip people up.

      From the press release:

      Just a third (32%) believe Jesus was physically resurrected; half (49%) do not think of him as the Son of God.

      Oh, yes! Silly little questions, really trivial in relation to the christian faith.

        1. Guess they don’t know their Nicene or Apostle’s Creeds either, do they (despite the fact that they speak them if they attend!)

  37. This tactic is aimed directly at the uneducated and/or unintelligent mob. To anyone else, it will appear transparently stupid, irrespective of whether they are christian or atheist. I mean, most everyone here would probably (hopefully) cringe if an atheist tried the same on a christian to produce some faux embarrassment

    1. Surely a Christian, ignorant of basic facts about their scriptures, should be embarrassed about that? Which is probably Fraser’s motive for trying to catch out Dawkins.

  38. Heck, you can go into any motel in the U.S. & find a copy of ‘On the Origin of Species etc.’ in the desk drawer.

      1. On the Origin of Species would be a better choice! 😉

        But it might be futile to buy a copy for every school library… they’d just be burned along with the D&D books.


  39. It just shows how vacuous the poll conducted by Dawkins was and that polling continues to be a lazy way to do serious social science research. It misses all that is really interesting about peoples’ beliefs and values. Serious research takes ethnography, and that takes time. Polling is research on the quick. But, sadly, we live in a time when polling is deemed serious research and we are confronted daily with the results of polls, as if they told us anything really interesting about beliefs and values.

    1. As Dawkins stated, “When it comes to belief, practice or even the most elementary knowledge of the Bible, it is clear that faith is a spent force in the UK, and it is time our policy-makers woke up to that reality and stopped trying to impose beliefs on society that society itself has largely rejected.”

      Also, the poll revealed, undeniably, a dearth of fundamental biblical knowledge among a substantial number of believers in the UK.

      How is this vacuous?

    2. What would be “really interesting about peoples’ beliefs and values” that this poll doesn’t tell us? Oh, and politically relevant?


      1. I understand where you’re coming from, Ant, and I haven’t looked into the detail of the survey, but one criticism is that it is merely a snapshot of opinions; I think that a similar survey could be done before the next census and every ten years thereafter to construct a database of change. I see no reason why the RDFRS wouldn’t consider this.

        I also think of the 1930s mass observation project which traced a more in-depth perspective of individuals’ changing experiences; it was relaunched in 1981, courtesy of the University of Sussex, and must contain relevant information. I think that sort of research would tell you how ‘peoples’ beliefs and values’ change over time and therefore be ‘politically relevant’, as well as academically so.

        All the best.

        1. Well, yes, it is a snapshot, but one that provides a very clear picture of the reality behind the current political Christian-nation posturing.

          To me, the more telling part of the survey isn’t the lack of religious belief amongst self-identifying Christians, but their social attitudes:

          • More oppose than support the idea of the UK having an official state religion, with nearly half (46%) against and only a third (32%) in favour. The same pattern is repeated with the question of seats being reserved for Church of England bishops in the House of Lords: 32% of respondents oppose, with only 25% in favour.
          • Most (57%) think state-funded schools should teach knowledge about the world’s main faiths even-handedly, without any bias towards any particular religion, and without trying to inculcate belief.
          • Three in five (59%) Christians support the legalisation of assisted suicide in the case of terminally ill adult patients where certain safeguards are in place, with only one in five (21%) opposing it.

          The last is particularly significant given how the bishops in the House of Lords have nixed assisted dying legislation.

          That mass observation project sounds interesting. But how would it properly track changes over generations? And immigrations, for that matter?


        2. From the BHA’s CEO Andrew Copson:

          There is clearly a vast gulf between the views of what we might call “census Christians” and the politicians, politicised Bishops and Christian lobby groups that claim to speak on their behalf. Those that argue for religious exemptions from equality laws, reductions in the abortion time limit, Bishops in the House of Lords, confessional education in state funded schools, or keeping marriage for a man and a woman only, do so without the support of the majority of those calling themselves Christian in Britain today.

          The surprise results from the 2001 Census, which saw over 70% of those in England and Wales ticking the Christian box (mostly for cultural rather than religious reasons as other research has shown) have been widely used ever since by politicians and lobbyists to justify any number of divisive and discriminatory policies. Today’s [RDF/MORI Ipsos] research confirms that those justifications have been without foundation and future governments should recognise that fact.


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