In his book "The God Delusion," leading atheist Richard Dawkins famously argued that belief in a supernatural creator is irrational and that believing in God qualifies as a delusion, or "a persistent false belief held in the face of strong, contradictory evidence."
But the 70-year-old British ethologist was singing a different tune Tuesday during an appearance on BBC radio, when he invoked God to help him remember the full title of Charles Darwin's "On the Origin of Species," of which Dawkins is a great champion.
Dawkins appeared on BBC Radio 4 Tuesday to discuss a poll on Christianity in Britain that was commissioned last year by his organization, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.
The results of the poll suggest that Christianity has become largely irrelevant in Britain and uses as evidence, among other data, the fact that nearly two out of three people who consider themselves Christians cannot name the first book of the New Testament as the Gospel According to St. Matthew, according to the Irish Times.
However surprising (or unsurprising) that fact may be, one prominent British pastor argued it was highly inappropriate of Dawkins to use that fact to challenge people's "self identification" as Christians.
To prove his point, Reverend Giles Fraser, former canon chancellor of St. Paul's Cathedral, went on BBC radio with Dawkins on Tuesday and asked the staunch evolutionist to name the full title of Darwin's seminal work:
Giles Fraser: Richard, if I said to you what is the full title of 'The Origin Of Species', I'm sure you could tell me that.
Richard Dawkins: Yes I could.
Giles Fraser: Go on then.
Richard Dawkins: 'On The Origin Of Species' ... Uh. With, Oh God. 'On The Origin Of Species.' There is a subtitle with respect to the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.
Giles Fraser: You're the high pope of Darwinism … If you asked people who believed in evolution that question and you came back and said two percent got it right, it would be terribly easy for me to go 'they don't believe it after all.' It's just not fair to ask people these questions. They self-identify as Christians and I think you should respect that.
Dawkins was pretty close; the book's full title is "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life."
But his failure to summon the name on command has led a number of British media outlets to label the appearance as "deeply embarrassing" for Dawkins and claim "the High Priest of Darwinism doesn't know the title of his own secular bible."
Linda Woodhead, a professor of philosophy and religion at Lancaster University, wrote in the Guardian that Dawkin's poll shows Christianity in Britain is a difficult thing to define.
There's nothing new in Richard Dawkins's findings about the British way of being religious. But it's always good to be reminded of the findings of a poll commissioned by his Foundation for Reason and Science: that most of us are not "true believers" in either religion or in secularism, and that Britain is neither a religious country nor a secular one, but an interesting mix of both. That doesn't make us muddled, or woolly, or confused – it just makes us British.