Richard Dawkins: “The Emptiness of Theology”

Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 18, Number 2.

A dismally unctuous editorial in the British newspaper the Independent recently asked for a reconciliation between science and “theology.” It remarked that “People want to know as much as possible about their origins.” I certainly hope they do, but what on earth makes one think that theology has anything useful to say on the subject?

Science is responsible for the following knowledge about our origins. We know approximately when the universe began and why it is largely hydrogen. We know why stars form and what happens in their interiors to convert hydrogen to the other elements and hence give birth to chemistry in a world of physics. We know the fundamental principles of how a world of chemistry can become biology through the arising of self-replicating molecules. We know how the principle of self-replication gives rise, through Darwinian selection, to all life, including humans.

It is science and science alone that has given us this knowledge and given it, moreover, in fascinating, over-whelming, mutually confirming detail. On every one of these questions theology has held a view that has been conclusively proved wrong. Science has eradicated smallpox, can immunize against most previously deadly viruses, can kill most previously deadly bacteria. Theology has done nothing but talk of pestilence as the wages of sin. Science can predict when a particular comet will reappear and, to the second, when the next eclipse will appear. Science has put men on the moon and hurtled reconnaissance rockets around Saturn and Jupiter. Science can tell you the age of a particular fossil and that the Turin Shroud is a medieval fake. Science knows the precise DNA instructions of several viruses and will, in the lifetime of many present readers, do the same for the human genome.

What has theology ever said that is of the smallest use to anybody? When has theology ever said anything that is demonstrably true and is not obvious? I have listened to theologians, read them, debated against them. I have never heard any of them ever say anything of the smallest use, anything that was not either platitudinously obvious or downright false. If all the achievements of scientists were wiped out tomorrow, there would be no doctors but witch doctors, no transport faster than horses, no computers, no printed books, no agriculture beyond subsistence peasant farming. If all the achievements of theologians were wiped out tomorrow, would anyone notice the smallest difference? Even the bad achievements of scientists, the bombs, and sonar-guided whaling vessels work! The achievements of theologians don’t do anything, don’t affect anything, don’t mean anything. What makes anyone think that “theology” is a subject at all?

3 responses

  1. This guy makes me laugh. Humanity is always trying to better itself and in the process people are stepped upon, damage is done to innocent individuals and yes even religion gets it wrong as it tries to ‘better’ societies, because humans get it wrong! We all know Dawkins has a problem with religion but both scientific and theological activities are done with the best intention and often fall short. I won’t pretend to understand too much about theology but I found the statement: ”It is science and science alone that has given us this knowledge and given it, moreover, in fascinating, over-whelming, mutually confirming detail” to be very interesting. Science also finds a whole heap of absolutely useless information! It’s not all good science, and science is also abused daily by millions around the world for their own gain. Take the recent trend for taking multivitamins, there is very little evidence it does anything, and yet a few marketing guru’s develop strategies to sell millions of tablets every day! The same can be said when theology is mis-used for personal gain. At the end of the day theology is surely opinion? and so is science, and if Dawkin’s thinks it’s not then he needs to go and meet more scientists, and scientist who feel the same need to look at the history of science. We get it wrong…frequently. To think we are close to knowing it all now is naive! That is not to say that both are not based on the evidence, but that evidence can be wrong. As a christian I take theological opinion with a pinch of salt, and always try to ask for God’s advice, I want to find my own understanding and have my own relationship with God. The same applies to my science, you don’t always just take someone’s results as being correct, you repeat the experiment yourself to confirm them and continue with your own study. Just as people have commited awful atrocities in the name of religion because of bad theology, the crusades for example, equally science frequently does disgusting things too. I would refer to the early explorations into the understanding of human psychology where dog’s (pavlov’s) and then humans were electricuted for month, among other things. I feel that science and God (not religion, this is seperate as it is man made and thus flawed) are mutually exclusive, and the fact that so many scientist are christians is a testament to that. On a personal level the study of science and the human body opens up so many fascinating things, and the complexity reaffirms my faith, particularly metabolism. An argument against God could be why are so many people born with diseases, and an argument for science could be ‘look at how we’re curing such and such’ congratulations, give yourselves a pat on the back you clever scientist. But God is in it all, he doesn’t just bow out when we go exploring for our own understanding and solutions! People get it wrong all the time, Dawkins arguments are flawed and so are mine, and just as my argument irritates him and fuels his fire, his arguments fuel my passion for God, because I know my God is alive! He rests in me, gives me peace, tends to my needs. Unfortunately Dawkins doesn’t realise God is working in him too and using him whether he likes it or not. Dawkins’ argument is like bad science, it only presents the facts it wants to, in order for you to agree with him. God is not just in a book! he is in day to day life! I find it interesting Dawkins stalls to mention Scientist who have a religion, what percentage of scientists have a faith? if we removed their achievements where would science be? Please search science yourself and I pray that those who read this will open their minds to the possibility of God within it.


    1. Did you say religions try to better societies? (Loud laughter!!!) You must be joking! The objective of religion is to scare the masses out of their wits (into believing that they need to be saved) and with this false pretense religions take in more money than Wall Street. Religions are about control and profit. Science on the other hand is about finding the truth. When a certain theory is proposed and believed to be right it is tested over and over again. If at some point the given theory is proven false because of new discoveries (evidence) the old concept is either discarded altogether or modified accordingly. Religion on the other hand starts out with the “fact” that God exists, and then tries to fit the pieces to conform with the belief.

      I’m always amused when people say they want (or have) a relationship with God; really, with God? What God; where? Most people don’t even have a ‘real’ relationship with their parents, their partner or their children, and they want a relationship with God. What hypocrisy!

      I’m not sure if you’re aware, but Richard Dawkins is a world-renowned biologist, not some Mickey Mouse scientist wannabe who goes to Trinity College and gets a degree in “Creation Science.”


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