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The Root of All Evil?Television review

The Root of All Evil?
Channel 4 (UK) production featuring Professor Richard Dawkins

I sometimes disagree with my friends about Dawkins' approach to debating religious people. I have seen him be extremely (and unnecessarily) rude to people who have been expressing their faith, and this can come across as arrogance and bullying. This sort of conduct can often be counterproductive and provide ammunition for those who claim that atheists are either boorish buffoons or people who are just pushing a religion of their own. (In some cases these impressions are correct, of course.) Before the DVD arrived at my place I had read two reviews of the program, one written by a scientist and one by a believer, and what I had read had prepared me to have my prejudices about Dawkins reinforced. All I can say is that the reviewers either watched another version of the show or playing the thing upside-down relative to England changes things. (Perhaps it's the Coriolis force (the one which makes the water go down the other way in the bath) acting on the DVD player. This could explain why DVDs from one region won't play in another, but I digress …).

Professor Richard DawkinsYes, Professor Dawkins was firm with the people he talked to, even on the occasions when his politeness and patience were obviously being stretched, but the people he talked to deserved firmness. It is rare that anyone challenges religious nutcases about their faith (and there were several nutcases exhibited here), but it is interesting and informative to see the rationalisation that can go on to justify belief not only without evidence (because that is what faith is) but belief in the face of contrary evidence. It was scary, but not surprising, to see that the principle of the end justifying the means is still in good health, as well as the hypocritical notion that religious texts are absolutely inerrant in those places where the reader or preacher likes what is written but are just allegorical guides elsewhere.

Dawkins likens religion to a virus, and in some ways I agree with him. It seems to be something that people catch, particularly children who catch it from their parents. He makes the point that children are labelled by the religion of their parents but you would be thought mad (or at least a little strange) if you insisted on classifying children by the political parties their parents vote for, the types of cars the parents drive, or the music styles that the parents prefer. All of these are choices, and religion should be a choice also. Nobody is born with beliefs and faiths, but children are born with the innate need to obey authority figures. This is so that parents can pass on knowledge about dangers and other lifestyle matters of importance, and we would not be here unless our ancestors managed to avoid falling off cliffs and being eaten by wild animals. It is sad to see this evidence and product of our evolution being misused to propagate unscientific and often ridiculous ideas. It is of course much worse when children are not only taught nonsense but are quarantined from any other children (and even adults) who might have been taught different things.

This an excellent program. If you get a chance to see it on your local station, don't miss it. I do have one small quibble with the consistency of Professor Dawkins' opinions, though. He seems to believe that nothing good or even useful has ever come or could ever come from religion. I wonder if when he is walking around the grounds of his employer, Oxford University, he ever gives a thought to who might have started the teaching there in 1096. But that was a long time ago.


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