Monday, January 09, 2006

Richard Dawkins' "Root of all Evil"

In tonight's Channel 4 documentary Richard_Dawkins presents the irrational belief implicit in religious faith as the "Root of all Evil".

It is interesting first to note one's emotional reaction to this program. I am the son of a geneticist, and suffered aged five a Christian school where the teachers told me despite what I thought at the time was overwhelming evidence of evolution that the world was made in 7 days and all the creatures made rather than evolved. This kind of experience left its scars and I am attached to my rationalist atheist upbringing. So I find it easy to side with Dawkins finding religious idiots who (perhaps with careful editing) pillory themselves on camera by expounding their incredible views.

On reflection though it is not just ignorance that is the cause of suffering. I preffer suffering to Evil in this context, as it is somewhat more objective, and I share Peter Mullen's surprise at Dawkins' use of the term Evil. (Of course it is because "Root of all Evil" is a well known phrase, presumably from Timothy 6:10. 'For the love of money is the root of all evil'). According to the Buddha the "mental poisons" Greed, Hatred and Ignorance are the cause of suffering. In these religious fanatics and the wars they cause and perpetuate one sees plenty of hate and some greed (or at least grasping) as well as ignorance.

Does religious faith cause more suffering than a lack of religious faith? There seems to be a hypothesis here that we can at least test against the evidence.

In history there are plenty of atrocities in which the actions of small numbers of individuals have caused vast suffering.

Plenty of the perpetrators held irrational religious beliefs, here are some examples.


On the otherhand, while it can be argued that Mao Zedong held irrational beliefs, it was not irrational strictly religious beliefs that lead to the 25-60 Chinese and Tibetan casualties of the Great Leap Forward. Possibly the cause was more ignorance than hatred, while in the case of the Nazi genocide the cause on balance was probably more hatred.

I think we can agree that one must combat ignorance by objective enquiry, but also conquer our tendency towards greed and hatred as well if we are to reduce suffering. The fruits of scientific enquiry have had both positive and negative effects on suffering, however little scientific progress has been made so far as to methods by which we might reduce our hatred and greed.

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