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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Do you agree with Richard Dawkins that religion is the "root of all evil"?

This is my response to an anonymous question from the Ask Me Anything page.

No, (I'm not aware of that quote) but I'm going to give an answer that Richard Dawkins may agree with.

First, lets go over some of the basics. Evil, in this case, obviously refers to what makes human beings act in an immoral fashion. It does not include natural incidents that are horrific like: hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes, that inflict a fair amount of suffering but are not agents of an evil intelligence (unless you are a Theist then the Devil or the all loving God may be the cause).

Our species suffers, in many ways, from our evolutionary past. Though our minds have accomplished acts of beauty such as Bach's Cello Suites and the Guggenheim Museum we are beset by instinctual drives of the beast as well as common errors of thinking that can lead to disaster. One of these instincts/errors is religion, but it is by no means the only one and I would argue religion exacerbates mankind's innate weaknesses.

Let's go with a common problem with our species - irrational obedience to authority. The Milgram Obedience Experiment (click here for full article) was done in 1961 and it was in response to the war crime trial of the Nazi Adolph Eichmann. Eichmann's defense was that, "he was only following orders." Milgram wanted to see if ordinary people are capable of extraordinary cruelty. He rigged an experiment where the subject (the "normal person") was told that they were in a study to test how punishment (electrical shocks) influenced learning. The subject would administer shocks to someone else (the learner - a person who was "in" on the actual nature of the experiment) in another room when the learner got a wrong answer. The shocks were labeled from slight shock to XXX. The shocks were fake, but  the results were... interesting.
As the experiment progressed, the participant would hear the learner plead to be released or even complain about a heart condition. Once the 300-volt level had been reached, the learner banged on the wall and demanded to be released. Beyond this point, the learner became completely silent and refused to answer any more questions. The experimenter then instructed the participant to treat this silence as an incorrect response and deliver a further shock.
The experimenter wore a white lab coat to accentuate their power/position and verbally told the subject things like, "The experiment requires that you continue."  The results? Sixty five percent  (yep that's a six and a five) were willing to give the maximum amount of shock.

Now, religion had nothing to do with this study, but this study has everything to do with institutions that run on the basis of authority, superstition, and the gullibility of it's members - otherwise known as religion. Religion is not the only institution that may cause it's members to obey without reason (the Nazis being the inspiration of this study), but religion innately (as against to the State) requires it's members to put on blinders to all of the faith's beliefs that just don't make any sense. Religion coerces it's members to obey. Religion is not democratic.

Religion isn't the root of ALL evil.

Religion IS one of it's pillars.


  1. Dawkins never said religion was the root of all evil. In fact, he stated he didn't like the title of the series "Root of All Evil" that he participated in because he didn't believe religion was the root of all evil simply because there is nothing that is the root of all anything. He states this in his book "The God Delusion" early on, if you need confirmation of this.

    Whoever asked you the question was either ill-informed or intentionally misleading. Par for the religious course, if you ask me.

  2. Well, consider that God himself decided to drown all of creation with the exception of his elect.

    Then of course you had the Crusades, the Inquisition, and all the nice little pogroms and political fuck ups that had the Catholic Church involved.

    Then of course you had the misogynist darlings like St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas and Albertus Magnus. I suspect those three men didn't get laid all that often with those attitudes.

    They could be said to be more apt to kick ass than to kiss it.

  3. @ Jake, I thought the question was a bit suspect, but thought the topic was something worth doing a post about.

  4. "With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion." – Steven Weinberg

  5. Fear is the root of all evil. Then religion came along to exploit fear.



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