Richard Dawkins is one of the preeminent scientists in the world. An Oxford professor and paleontologist by training, Dawkins is, because of a series of vigorously argued books and numerous speaking appearances, a famous public figure. But his atheism owes not just to his hard scientific evidence; Dawkins believes that religious belief is fundamentally irrational and has ravaged mankind from the Crusades to September 11. Religion continues to lead to war, bigotry, sexism, and child abuse.

Dawkins’s books and lectures have drawn letters from people reminding him of the less extreme forms of religion, such as the views expressed in the writings of Paul Tillich and Diedrich Bonhoeffer. But he claims that the decent, understated sort of religion is “numerically negligible.” What predominates instead are the likes of Pat Robertson, Jerry Fallwell, Ted Haggart, Osama bin Laden, and Ayatollah Khomeini.

It isn’t just fundamentalists and fanatics who rule the roost, either. There are nonviolent but fundamentalist Christians who are so passionately opposed to evolution and any science that threatens their world view that their minds cannot be changed. He quotes Kurt Wise: “If all the evidence in the world turns against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist, since that is what the word of God indicates.”

Dawkins provides his own version of the same words: “If all the evidence in the universe turns against creationism, I would be the first to admit it and I would immediately change my mind. As things stand, however, all available evidence — and there is a vast amount of it — favors evolution.” He says both the fundamentalist and he have a passion, but his passion is based on evidence; their passion flies in the face of evidence and is truly fundamentalist. Want to contradict evolution, he asks rhetorically? He quotes a fellow scientist as saying, “Find me fossils of rabbits in the pre-Cambrian period.”

One of the common ideas that Dawkins hears is that people need religion — humanity has a need for comfort. But he asks: Isn’t there something childish about the notion that the universe owes us comfort? In fact, he quotes Isaac Asimov in saying that if we inspect every piece of pseudoscience — from astrology and tarot cards to contacting mediums and palmistry — you will find some kind of comfort, too. Asimov’s remark about the infantilism of pseudoscience is just as applicable to religion. Inspect every bit of pseudoscience and you will find a security blanket — a thumb to suck on or a skirt to hold. Moreover, it is astonishing to find how many people fail to understand that X is comforting does not imply that X is true.

A related complaint to the notion about comfort is the idea that life must have a purpose. The human soul requires that X has a purpose, Dawkins’s readers tell him.This provi

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