Yesterday I reported on a HuffPo hit piece about Richard Dawkins by an academic and Catholic priest named Kerry Walters. I sent the links to Richard, who of course is used to this kind of thing, but wanted to set the record straight about some of Walters’ misrepresentations of his words (Dawkins pulls no punches, calling them “lies”). Richard’s response, which I publish with permission, is below (indented):
There’s not much left of Kerry Walters by the time Jerry Coyne has finished dealing with him. I would add only this.
Walters wrote the following. “Dawkins is also a master of outrageously unjustified moral claims about religion: religious education, he says, is child abuse, religion is responsible for most terrorism (a claim, by the way, that’s time and again proved to be not at all self-evident), and faith makes people “ignorant, stupid, insane, or wicked.” I’ll take his three allegations in order.
First, far from saying religious education is child abuse, I have been a strong and frequent advocate of religious education. I’ve repeated, to the point of tedium, that children need to be taught about religion so they can understand history, current affairs and art. More particularly, I have advocated education in the King James Bible, without which you can’t take your allusions in English literature.
I am opposed to indoctrination in just one particular faith, such as is done in British state-supported faith schools of many denominations. However, I don’t think I’ve ever called even that “child abuse.” What I have called child abuse, and do so again without apology, is terrifying children with threats of hell, and labelling children with the faith of their parents: “You are a Catholic child” or “You are a Muslim child” etc. I have ridiculed this practice by comparing it with “You are an existentialist child” or “You are a logical positivist child” or “You are a Gramscian Marxist child”. I have said that the very phrase “Catholic child” should sound as aversive as fingernails on a blackboard. The proper phrase is “child of Catholic parents.”
Second, the claim that religion is responsible for most terrorism. I agree that it is not self-evident and I have never said it was. I do think an extremely strong case can be made for it, and that is all I have ever said or implied.
But it is Walters’ third allegation that disturbs me most because it is a damaging lie. How could I possibly have said “faith makes people ignorant, stupid, insane, or wicked”? To do so would be to insult such respected friends as the former Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and the former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks. If Kerry Walters had read more carefully, he would have noticed this: I wasn’t talking about people of faith but people who don’t believe in evolution! Here are my exact words, in a book review in the New York Times. “It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).” I was careful to add that ignorance is by far the most likely cause of non-belief in evolution. We are all ignorant of many things. I am ignorant of baseball and Polynesian nose flutes. In the time of Martin Luther, the Catholic church regarded ignorance of the Bible as a positive virtue. Though neither a virtue nor bliss, ignorance is no crime. In the light of that and the proven fact of evolution, “Anti-evolutionists are ignorant, stupid or insane” becomes not an insult but a simple statement of fact. An evolution-accepting Catholic like Walters cannot logically deny it.
I have paid Walters the compliment of assuming that he accepts the fact of evolution. Yet his garbling of my statement — missing what, for him as a Catholic, ought to be the massive distinction between people of faith on the one hand and fundamentalist creationists on the other — might be revealing if not positively damning.
Anyway what he wrote is a damaging lie against me. I believe it is customary for a lie that is damaging to elicit a public apology. No doubt it will be forthcoming and I shall accept it graciously.
I’ll put a link to this post on the HuffPo site, and we’ll see about that apology. . .