For many years now Richard Dawkins has been working like a demon, you might say, to discredit all belief in God. He has now said that he wants to have the Pope arrested when he comes to Britain for later this year for covering up "crimes against humanity".
Most atheists I know are great people, sticking to the truth as they see it. Most also remain open to new possibilities and acknowledge that they are not entirely omniscient, and are respectful to those who think differently to themselves.
Dawkins, however, often seems to have only contempt for the majority of human kind who, unlike him, do believe in the spiritual. His selective campaigning about political issues makes me wonder: is he really an objective seeker of truth, or is he someone who just hates and wants to undermine Judaeo-Christian principles?
Dawkins has many times tried to say that Einstein was not spiritual in the way most people understand it. Yet Einstein said this:
"My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind."
Here is perhaps the most important scientist of all time, with an incredibly profound mind, but with the humility to acknowledge how feeble and frail the human mind really is. Our universe is far from explained and the more our scientific knowledge increases, the more mysterious our reality seems to be. It is untrue to say that the settled explanation of our universe is that it is a meaningless accident that functions solely on mechanistic principles.
Richard Dawkins has become a sort of Messiah for some atheists. He is an evolutionary biologist. I'm not sure why he feels that expertise in such an arcane field gives him authority to pronounce on spiritual questions. But, if biologists hold the keys to heaven, people may wish to consider the thoughts of Nobel Prize winning microbiologist Werner Arber, or eminent geneticist, Francis S. Collins, who led the Human Genome Project. Both are believers in God, and both find evidence for the divine in science itself. The debate about the reality of the spiritual is fascinating and is of profound importance to human kind, but Dawkins increasingly only brings to it noise and hatred.
Dawkins is right to be angry about the awful cover up of child abuse in the Catholic Church, but he seems to have a tendency himself to be very selective in the issues he shouts about, and those he remains silent about. In that sense, he can be seen to hush up the many horrendous crimes committed by atheist ideologues in the 20th century.
Many earlier atheistic ideologies despised Jewish and Christian thinking, and were often obsessed by natural selection. The Nazi ideology, for example, was inspired in part by philosophers like Nietzsche who proclaimed that "God is dead" and that Christian morality was a "slave morality", not befitting an "uebermench". Atheistic communism, as manifested in the Soviet Union, hated religion, "the opium of the masses" and it brought about the murder of millions more in Gulags and purges.
As recently as 1979, the Cambodian genocide killed 1.7 million people. These were murdered by communist atheists. War crimes tribunals are now being set up in Phnomh Penh. The Tibetan people continue to be persecuted by an atheistic tyranny. It is perfectly reasonable to be critical of the many bad things done in the name of religion, but I don't see Dawkins loudly decrying the actions of atheists in Cambodia or Tibet. Why? Because his preference appears to be to emphasise religiously motivated barbarism over the many wrongs prompted by some atheistic ideologies.
Many now see Dawkins as something of a narrow-minded fundamentalist himself, increasingly redolent of a man with no sense of smell going around shrieking to everyone that their sense of smell is a delusion.
Perhaps Dawkins imagines that by promoting his grim personal philosophy as the ultimate truth, and by viciously attacking ancient moral systems upon which Western Civilization is founded, he will bring about some sort of atheist utopia. He seeks to magnify wrongs done by religions, and to breeze over the immense horrors brought about by some atheist belief systems. Yet we have seen what atheist utopias can look like.
Atheism is not new: the ancient Greeks knew it well, and in the 1600s Bacon said "a little philosophy inclineth a man's mind to atheism, But depth in philosophy bringeth men's mind about to religion." What is new about atheism's current incarnation is its increasing virulence and disrespect for other ways of thinking.
Yet some say this New Atheism is endangered; not necessarily philosophically, but demographically. This seems to be especially true in Europe, which is a far more secular place than the United States.
Ed West of the Daily Telegraph in the UK, recently noted that: "Across the western world the fertility rate of religious conservatives far outstrips that of non-believers, so much so that modern liberal secularism is endangered. That, anyway, is the thesis of Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?, a fascinating new book by Eric Kaufmann... It may well be one of the most significant books of our era.
"It used to be taken for granted that, just as liberal democracy meant the end of history, so it also meant the end of religion. Once people became rich, educated and sexually liberated, they left irrational beliefs and other such nonsense behind. Christianity declined steadily from the mid-19th century but it wasn't until the 1960s that European societies were able to fully abandon the emotional baggage of their civilisation's infancy, and especially its repressive attitude to sex.
"But if what Kaufmann is saying is true - and the demographic data suggests it is - then the contraceptive Pill was not so much secular Europe's liberation as its cyanide tablet... New Atheists comfort themselves with the idea that religious people will continue to drift their way, like rustics to the city, but the figures do not bear this out....
"It's happened before: Kaufmann believes that Christianity's rise from 40 followers to 6 million within three centuries had less to do with conversions that with higher birth rates, since the Christians rejected such pagan practises as polygamy and infanticide.
"Today we view the ancient world's attitude to infanticide as barbaric and incomprehensible, but perhaps future generations will look at our attitudes to abortion in the same way - that's not because pro-lifers would have won the argument, simply that (in addition to the effect of the Pill) abortion is killing the atheists of tomorrow."
Is atheism being de-selected by natural selection? The more militant New Atheists appear to have a lot in common with the more fanatical religious fundamentalists, in that both are marinated in fear and hate, posses an iron certainty that they alone are right, and seek only to mock and deride those who think differently to themselves. These people create a lot of noise, and do not contribute meaningfully to a most fascinating debate about our universe and our place in it.
The picture painted by Eric Kaufmann of future society divided clamorously between fundamentalist atheists and dogmatically religious groups is not pretty. Perhaps all sides ought to ponder Hamlet's phrase, "there are more things on heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophies." For as soon as we begin to think that we have all the answers, we are wrong, and curiosity and wonder dry up.
Yet secularisation has brought society the ability to expose the hidden actvties of religious authorities. A theocracy is as bad a place as a secular dictatorship. Both science and our shared wisdom is of profound importance to all of us. Atheists, believers, agnostics all have a huge amount to contribute to building a better society. Some of the most moral people I know are atheists, and some of the least moral are fervent believers. Neither side has a monopoly on truth or on virtue. But it is in a spirit of co-operative discourse that truth is best served, and sadly nowadays Dawkins appears to bring only discord, thereby making the truth ever more distant.
I am sure he is sincere in believing his own preaching; but in reality he cannot and does not know the ultimate truth about the universe and the nature of mankind. And history shows that societies without a shared moral compass can be deeply destructive to human life, happiness and well-being. He claims the verdict is in, but the jury is out. The only clear truth is that his cold and premature verdict can bring human beings profound suffering and despair.
Perhaps the most apposite warning for Dawkins comes from Einstein himself:
"Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods."
Dawkins seems to feel that he has unravelled the mysteries of the universe. He is not the first to suffer from that delusion, and he will not be the last. As the ape-descended Dawkins struts around imagining that he knows the workings of every dimension of an infinitely complex universe from his tiny perch on this speck of a planet, the gods, in which he disbelieves, must be laughing big time.
See here for an interesting radio debate between Richard Dawkins and David Quinn.
Follow Rory Fitzgerald on Twitter: www.twitter.com/roryfitzgerald