Bart D. Ehrman
The Jesus Papers
The God Delusion Richard Dawkins Mar 2007
Bart D. Ehrman
Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew
Recouping our Losses
There are many variants of Christianity today, all Christians believe
in one god, with an option of a Holy Spirit and Jesus, but in the the
second and third centuries there were Christians who believed that
there was only one God, some believed in two, some in thirty, and some
in 365 gods. Some believed that the world was created by an
ignorant, subordinate divinity (why else would there be evil and
suffering) and some believed that the world was created by an evil god
to trap humans. Some believed that Jesus was both divine and
human, some believed that Jesus was only a God, wearing the "shell" of
a man. Some believed that Jesus was only a man adopted by god,
and some thought he was a man who was "reborn" when the God Christ
entered his body at baptism but was left behind when Christ left his
body on the cross, "why have you forsaken me?" And this was only
the start of the differences.
All of the Gospels were written anonymously many hears after the death
of Jesus. Only later did they become named after specific men.
There were many others in common use at that time (the first,
second, and third centuries) reportedly written by many other people
including Peter, Mary Magdalene, and Didymus Judas Thomas, Jesus' twin
brother. Others were written as late as the 5th century. It
wasn't until the Council of Nicaea in 325 and the Councils of Hippo and
Carthage in 393-397 that the current New Testament became relatively
close to what we have today.
Even though some elements of the early Christianities remain today, all
major Christian segments today have diverged from the one Christianity
that emerged victorious from the disagreements of the second and third
centuries. Then this victorious segment set about rewriting and
suppressing the history and documents of the other Christian faiths.
All Christian faiths today have a similar creed, a similar
theology and a specific New Testament composed of 27 books. It
wasn't until the 19th century that scholars started questioning the
accuracy of older documents.
Forgeries and Discoveries
Forgeries, pseudonyms, pseudepigrapha (written under a false
name), apocrypha (covered or hidden), and anonymous are all terms that
can (have) been applied to almost all of the early books in the New
Testament. There are no originals, much was passed down as oral
tradition and written down only hundreds of years later, however all
reflected what groups of people believed with the exception of tiny
amounts which may have been written as outright forgeries for personal
C1 The Ancient
Discovery of a Forgery: Serapion and the Gospel of Peter There
were many different Gospels between 100 and 400. Ehrman calls the
members of the group that later became the church in Rome the
The early writer Eusebuis tells of the writings of the Bishop of
Antioch, Serapion, who traveled to Rhossus and found the Christians
there using a gospel written by Peter. At first he approved it
but then later was persuaded that it contained objectionable material.
Serapion is then quoted as having written a pamphlet explaining
the problem and told them not to use it. That's all we knew until
1887 when the tomb of a monk who died between 800 and 1200 was
excavated in Egypt and it contained a large segment of the Gospel of
Peter. This segment is very anti-Jewish, accusing them of being
responsible for Jesus' death not the Romans and it supports the doceist
view, that Christ took over Jesus' body at baptism and left it on the
cross. According to other documents dating 300 to 1200 the Gospel
of Peter was mentioned more than the Gospel of Mark.
C2 The Ancient Forgery of a Discovery: The Acts of
Paul and Thecla
For a long time, around the year 500, Thecla was the most
important woman in Christianity, as important as Mary. She was
worshiped as a saint and martyr as the most important person outside of
the Trinity. However we know that the Acts of Paul, which
includes the Act of Thecla, was written by a presbyter (church elder)
in what is now Turkey as a teaching document. However
Tertullian, a proto-orthodox leader was very anti-woman and forced the
author to admit the tale was untrue. This is one episode that
points out the conflict between many early Christians who were
comfortable with women in leadership positions and many converts who
were powerful and did not believe that women should have any part in
leading the church. Many women at this time were unhappy with the
constraints of a patriarchal society and the proto-orthodox and later
the Christian leaders struggled with "putting them in their place".
They have been successful until fairy modern times.
C3 The Discovery
of an Ancient Forgery: The Coptic Gospel of Thomas I
find this chapter very confusing, it is not clear why the Gospel of
Thomas, which was discovered at Nag Hammadi in 1945 where it had been
buried for around 1,500 years and which seems to have been written
around 125 AD, is any more or less of a forgery than many of the other
books of the New Testament, many of which are more recent than
Thomas. It supports a more Gnostic view and was forbidden in 367
by the bishop of Alexandria.
C4 The Forgery
of an Ancient Discovery? Morton Smith and the Secret Gospel
There is some evidence to support the view that the noted
biblical scholar, Morton Smith, forged a document that purports to be
very old as a joke on his fellows. Unfortunately we shall
probably never know unless the original someday appears.
Heresies and Orthodoxies
At the beginning and for the first few centuries of the Christian
era there were many gods worshiped and most people were very tolerant
of other beliefs. As long as you made an appropriate sacrifice to
whatever gods were in vogue for the particular state, it was perfectly
appropriate to worship your personal god(s) any way you wanted.
The Christians and to a lesser extent the Jews rejected this and
refused to sacrifice to the Gods of the state. This was forgiven
for the Jews, they had been "different" for a thousand years. The
Christians were new, upstarts, and aggressive and were not forgiven.
Their lack of respect for the state gods made it easy to blame
them for "Act of God" catastrophes. They were sometimes attacked
by mobs and sacrificed in the arena as scapegoats for political
problems of the rulers. This was not common but it did happen.
There were also divisions within the Christian communities.
Since each sub-group "knew" the truth there were constant
arguments among them. Ehrman concentrates on four such groups,
the Jewish-Christian Ebionites, the anti-Jewish Marcionites, some early
Christian Gnostics, and the group that he labeled the proto-orthodox
which was to prevail.
C5 At Polar Ends
of the Spectrum: Early Christian Ebonites and Marcionites Jesus
was born, raised, preached, and died a Jew. As recently as 100
years ago this fact was still being debated. The question now is
what kind of a Jew? The leaders of the Jews in Jerusalem did not
like him. His disciples were all Jews. Some of them, some
time after his death, began to see him as more than just a Jewish
leader (prophet). Paul, who never met Jesus, was a leader in
this. He worked among the gentiles (pagans) and taught that one
need not be a Jew to be a Christian. This caused a major
division. Other writers have suggested that most of the disciples
and Mary were very opposed to this view but they remained in Jerusalem
and the surrounding area and that their followers were destroyed and
scattered in the Roman wars around 70 AD, in Egypt in 115, and in 135
again in Jerusalem. Followers of those like Paul who traveled to
Rome and to Turkey did not meet with this fate.
Ebionites: The name may have have come from a founder, Ebion or it may have come from the Hebrew word ebyon,
which means "poor". Early proto-orthodox writers called them
"poor in understanding" (stupid?) perhaps they took vows of poverty or
something. They were clearly Jewish-Christians, not the only
group but the ones that generated the most criticism. They
maintained that their beliefs were authorized by the original
disciples, especially Peter and James, Jesus' brother, who became the
head of the Jerusalem church after Jesus. They also did not
believe in Jesus' virgin birth but believed that he was "adopted" by
God at his baptism. Jesus was set apart because he kept God's
laws perfectly and was therefore chosen by God and then God raised him
from the dead. They believed that since Jesus offered himself as
a sacrifice that no additional animal sacrifices were necessary and
many became vegetarian. They did not accept the teachings of
Paul. Very little is known about the Gospels that they did use
other than the Old Testament.
Marcionites: Named after
Marcion, a second-century evangelist/theologian. The
proto-orthodox saw the Marcionites as much more of a threat than the
Ebionites as the Marcionites were based in Rome and were well funded.
Marcion was born in Sinope on the southern shore of the Black Sea
in about 100 AD. His father was said to be the bishop. He
made his money as a shipping merchant or ship builder. He came to
Rome in 139 and donated the money to build what was perhaps the largest
church in the world. He seems to have believed that Paul was the
chief spokesman for Christ. He saw Jesus as being the break
between the world of the Jews and the Old Testament and as a new
beginning. Jesus was not a man, he only "seemed" to have a fleshy
body. He wrote two books, one, the Antitheses
was his own work - a commentary describing his beliefs, and the other a
canon of scripture, arguably the first such in the Christian world.
His New Testament consisted of eleven books, most were the
letters of Paul, and one was the Gospel of Luke. The Old
Testament was definitely not included.
Marcion called the very first council of church leaders in Rome to
present his ideas. They rejected the ideas, excommunicated him,
refunded his money, and told him to leave. He returned to Asia
Minor and proceeded to spread his ideas. He was very successful
and as late as the fifth century orthodox bishops were warning of
worshiping with the Marcionite heretics. Ehrman suggests that
Jews were somewhat accepted because they were an ancient religion and
at that time there was a reverence for ancient ideas and relationships.
The proto-orthodox Christians were also somewhat accepted because
claimed descent from the Jews but the Marcionites rejected the Jewish
heritage. Perhaps this is why the Marcionites did not thrive well
except in outlying regions like Asia Minor and the proto-orthodox ideas
won out in the end.
"In the Know": The Worlds of Early Christian Gnosticism Gnosticism
is probably the most confusing variant of Christianity. Very
briefly they believed that they possessed hidden knowledge and this was
the pathway to salvation. There were many sub-groups and many of
them operated secretly from within other Christian churches.
Elements of these beliefs existed before Jesus and many believed
in several Gods. One specific belief answered the problem of evil
in the world by postulating a flawed god who created the earth and
Jesus came to earth with the knowledge of how to escape this world an
rejoin the pure God. The discovery of the Nag Hammadi books
increased our knowledge of this set of belief greatly.
C7 On the Road
to Nicaea: The Broad Swath of Proto-orthodox Christianity The
main commonality of the proto-orthodox Christians was their dislike of
the other brands of Christianity. However they did share several
characteristics. They glorified being martyred. They
believed in a rigid hierarchy and the supremacy of the Church of Rome
(many of the leaders were based there). They did not see
themselves as Jews but they traced their heritage back through the
Old Testament. They did not believe in individual
interpretation of faith, bishops, elders, or other church officials
were to interpret the faith.
Winners and Losers
There were many divisions with in the Jewish faith before and
during the time of Jesus. One thing that modern Christians forget
is that most of the letters of Paul were to church leaders in churches
that he had founded. Paul is finding them departing from the
faith that he personally believed. Even within his churches there
is a diversity of opinion. Only one thing is certain, there were
many arguments, the losers would likely end up being excommunicated and
the winners would write the history and destroy the gospels of the
C8 The Quest for
Following Marcion's canon of gospel there were many such gospels,
the most complete and well known that remains is the ten volume Church History that Eusebius published in 324/25 at the same time as the Council of Nicaea.
This document was driven by proto-orthodox beliefs and the need
to refute the arguments of the alternative understandings of the faith.
Interesting sidelight, like many others, Eusebuis felt that
Christian heresy began with Simon Magnus of Samaria who is mentioned in
Acts (8:9-13). Simon was impressed by the preaching of Philip but
when Peter and John came Simon tried to bribe them to be included in
the inner circle. From then on Simon's behavior became worse.
It was reported that Romans worshiped him and even set up a
statue to him on Tiber island with an inscription reading "Simone Deo
Sancto" meaning "To Simon, the Holy God". Unfortunately for the
story, the real inscription was found in 1574, it read, "Semoni Sanco
Sancto Deo", Semo Sancus was a pagan deity worshiped by the Sabines in
Rome. Eusebius repeatedly attacks Simon and shows how Simon's
efforts were thwarted at every turn. The importance is that it
frames how the orthodox would fight every other instance of heresy for
over 1,500 years.
Ehrman reports on the history of Christian criticism. He
discusses three people, Hermann Reimarus (1694-1768), F. C. Baur
(1792-1860), and Walter Bauer (1877-1960), and how these people
assisted our understanding of how modern day Christian beliefs became
established. Ehrman believes that there were four factors that
were important in the proto-orthodox beliefs becoming accepted:
Another factor which cuts across all of these is that they relied on
written texts, letters, books, canons of scripture, etc. They did
not rely on any mystical or personal experiences. This saves your
beliefs from being lost or changed and it allows you to destroy the
texts that you do not agree with.
- They claimed ancient toots for their religion.
- They rejected the practices of contemporary Judaism.
- They stressed a church hierarchy and this hierarchy determined all the affairs and beliefs of the church.
- They were in constant communication with one another and were
interested in affairs locally and in other communities. They were
interested in spreading their understanding of the faith very widely.
C9 The Arsenal
of the Conflicts: Polemical Treatises and Personal Slurs
The author describes some of the battles between the proto-orthodox and the other groups, the Ebionites, Marcionites, and the Gnostics,
Weapons in the Polemical Arsenal: Forgeries and Falsifications Jews
and Christians appear to have used written documents in their religion
more than any other religions in the Roman empire. Or at least
they seem to based on the number of documents found. Some of the
documents were probably designed as interesting tales, similar to what
we now call historical fiction. An example are the Infancy
Gospels. As time went on they began to acquire more religious
importance but they never became part of official doctrine.
Another example is the alleged letters between the Roman
philosopher Seneca and Paul. These seem to be trying to raise the
prestige of Paul. These seem to have been written in the fourth
It would appear that one of the tactics used by many of the Christian
religions was to make small changes in the Gospels that others used and
then use these changes to argue against the other groups. They
were also not above making small changes in their own documents and
using these to support their beliefs. There are numerous examples
where wording suddenly appears in most documents after a specific date
but never before. These almost always support a particular
Invention of Scripture: The Formation of the Proto-orthodox
By the middle of the second century there were many, perhaps
hundreds, of documents that some people claimed were sacred. It
wasn't until 367 that Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria, wrote a
letter proposing that the 27 books of our current New Testament be
accepted as valid scripture. Actually there was no official,
churchwide pronouncement until the Council of Trent in the mid 16th century. The list of Athanasius received a major
supporter in 393 when Augustine of Hippo supported it at the Synod of
Hippo and it was then summarized at the Synod of Carthage in 397.
That settled the issue in North Africa but other churches slowly
came around to this view including the church in Rome and the more
Losers, and the Question of Tolerance The
Jews had many conflicts with the Romans, mainly political, from the
time of Christ until the destruction of Jerusalem. Christians
were sometimes persecuted from late in the first century until about
249 which was primarily religious. In 249 the Emperor Decius
tried, but not efficiently or consistently, to eliminate Christianity
throughout the empire. This continued until about 312 with the
Emperor Constantine. In 325 he called the Council of Nicaea which
brought agreement on the major points of faith and practice. At
this time Christians composed perhaps 5 to 7 percent of the population.
By the year 400 perhaps 50 percent of the population had become
Christian. This is not to say that the issues were all settled by
The major feature were mapped out but many details were not
settled. They are not settled today. As soon as most of the
old issues had been settled, new ones arose to take their place.
One very disturbing factor was that of tolerance. The
Romans were very tolerant of different religions. The problem
they had with Christians was that the Christians refused to be tolerant
of other religions. Everyone was expected to make at least a
surface show of obedience and sacrifice to the state Gods, Christians
refused. Jews also refused but they were an ancient religion and
respected for this fact. The proto-orthodox Christians were very
intolerant. We don't know much about the tolerance of the other
groups, the Ebionites, Marcionites, and Gnostics
The book contains a five page list of the major Christian Apocrypha
discussed with their dates and contents. It contains 21 pages
of notes, seven pages of bibliography, and a six page index.
The Jesus Papers
Subtitle: Exposing the Greatest Cover-Up in History
C1 Hidden Documents
A number of years before the writing of the book, the author was
asked to quietly photograph some of the contents of two wooden trunks
in a back room of a London bank. The trunks contained numerous
sheets of cardboard to which pieces of papyrus had been taped.
These were written on in either Aramaic or Hebrew and were
accompanied by Egyptian mummy wrappings inscribed in demotic - the
written form of Egyptian Hieroglyphics. He was told that the
documents were being sold to an European government and that the film
would be used as a "sample" to prove the value of the documents to help
in consummating the deal. The author kept a copy of the
photographs and gave them to a researcher at the British Museum for
evaluation. When he heard nothing he went back an found that the
researcher had left and no one knew anything about the photographs.
He presented this as a demonstration that there are many ancient
documents in existence but a lot of them are hidden because of the
politics, religion, and money involved. Religions: Muslims, Jews,
and Christians (mainly Catholics) and governments: mainly middle
Eastern Muslim, Israel, France and others are very involved in this
commerce but none are very concerned about free and open access to
C2 The Priest's Treasure The chapter describes some of the events surrounding the Abbé Béranger
Saunière, the priest at the village of Rennes Le
Château in Southern France. He plays a major role in Holy Blood, Holy Grail.
Some history: In the early 15th century there were three
popes claiming power. At a Council of Bishops meeting in
Constance the bishops decided that the pope in Rome was the supreme
During this time the Vatican States were the size of a small country.
Following the war between France and Austria the Catholic
Hapsburg forces were defeated and the Vatican states were reduced to
The city of Rome and a small amount of surrounding land. This the
bishops still held power over the pope held until 1869 at the First
Vatican Council. This was a very contentious affair with no
secret votes and much pressure and threatening of loss of income.
After two months the issue of papal infallibility was raised.
Some of those who disagreed were subjected to house arrest and
physical violence. Even after this the proposal was only
passed(?) by 49% of those voting but a majority vote was declared and
on July 18, 1870 the pope was declared infallible. Then two
months later, on Sept. 21, 1870, Italian troops entered Rome and seized
everything except Vatican City.
In the early 1890's, Alfred Lilley, a major figure in the Church of
England was asked by former student to come to Paris to help in
translating a confusing document. Reportedly the document
contained the statement that Jesus was alive and well in the year 45
and was living in Alexandria on a small plot of land beyond the city
walls. Following this, Abbé Saunière, who
was presumably the discoverer of the document, returned to Rennes Le
Château with a mysterious source of income. Shortly
thereafter the Catholic Church became very concerned with regulating
C3 Jesus the King
According to toe gospels it would seem that everyone except the
disciples wanted Jesus dead or at least out of the way. The
Romans evidently just wanted him out of the way, they "washed their
hands" of him. He was Crucified between two "criminals" or
However there are several problems here. Crucification was the
normal Roman punishment for political crimes -for sedition.
Stoning was the Jewish punishment for religious crimes - dissent.
Modern bibles say that Jesus was crucified between two thieves.
The original text identifies them as "lestai" which translates or brigands but was the official name for the "Zealots"
- Judaean freedom fighters; the Romans considered them terrorists.
They objected to the Roman (following the orders of Herod)
practice of naming priests. The Zealots wanted priests selected
from "the line of Aaron". Jesus was "of the line of Aaron" on his
mothers side. Barabbas, released as a feast day amnesty by
Pilate, was described as a "lestes"
in Greek (John 14:40). Simon the Zealot (Luke 6:15) is another
example as is Judas Iscariot, a member of the Sicarii - small curved
knife - a group of assassins within the Zealots.
Herod captured Jerusalem in 37 BC. From then until his death in 4
AD he executed all the members of the Jewish nobility that he could
capture. In 4 AD an uprising led by Judas of Galilee broke out.
When it was finally crushed by the Romans some 2,000 Jews were
crucified for sedition. Jesus, a descendant of Aaron (priests)
and of David (kings) was born into this environment.
C4 The Son of the Star
The Zealots were actively opposing the Romans for over 130 years.
Jesus was crucified between the year 30 and 36 depending on your
source, in 38 there were Jewish riots in Alexandria, in 44 James, the
brother of Jesus was executed, a Jewish revolt in Alexandria results in
thousands of deaths in 66. Between 66 and 73 there is a war is
Judaea, in 70 the temple in Jerusalem is destroyed and in 73 Masada is
destroyed. In 115 Jews outside of Judaea revolted. The
leader in Egypt was a Jew named Lucuas who claimed to have been "of the
line of David" and who was also described as the king of the Jews.
This revolt was put down in 117 with the destruction of the
Jewish community in Egypt. In 131 a large Jewish force under
Simon Bar Kochba "the Son of the Star" attacked the Romans and
reconquered Judaea. The Romans came back in 133 and in 135
they killed Bar Kochba and routed all of his troops. Biagent
makes the point that "the star of Judaea" was commonly thought of being
the king of the Jews, the leader who was a descendant in the line of
C5 Creating the Jesus of Faith
Contrary to modern Christian illustrations, Jesus did not have
blond hair and fair skin that never burned. He wasn't followed
around by disciples recording every word of the living god. He
was a Jew, a dark Palestinian. He and his followers had religious
documents, they were the books we now call the Old Testament.
Around 135 - 155 the Christian writer Justin Martyr writes
that the term "Holy Scripture" was reserved for the books of the law
and the prophets and that the Gospels were to be used in church to
support their faith but were not considered inspired writings.
In the second century BC the Aramaic word meshiha (messiah) became to be associated with Jewish kings descended from King David. The Greek word christos is basically a translation of meshiha, and the word Mestsias is a transliteration of the older word. The word Jesus derives from Yeshua
(Joshua) but it can mean "the deliverer" or "the savior"; it could be
just a title. There is extremely little evidence for an actual
person named Jesus. The earliest fragments of the New Testament
(John) date from 125. Paul's letters, supposedly written between
50 and 60 do not show up in the archaeological record until about 200.
And Paul never met Jesus, they are about Paul - not about Jesus.
The only documents outside of the Christian tradition are that
Pontius Pilate, during the reign of Tiberius, executed a Jewish
"messiah" who was a political rebel and was therefore crucified.
Was this man Jesus? - There is no historically explicit information.
Biagent goes on to the differing views of Christianity that existed up
to the fifth century, this is covered in more detail in the above book,
Ehrman's Lost Christianities. Biagent is much more anti-church, especially the church in Rome.
C6 Rome's Greatest Fear
This chapter is one of those, "bad people doing bad things"
tirades. It starts out on Aug 5, 1234 when followers of Dominic
de Guzman, including the local Bishop, took a woman who was dying and
carried her on her own bed to a meadow and burned her alive for heresy.
Dominic founded the Order of the Dominicans, he was cannonized as
a saint in 1234. The Dominicans became the main force behind the
Inquisition. In 1908 the Inquisition became the Sacred
Congregation of the Holy Office and then in 1965 it was again renamed
as th Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Prefect of
this Congregation, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope in April
2005. Biagent discusses many aspects of the Inquisition and then
moves on to the attitude of the church towards women.
Most of the early church leaders were married, Priests were allowed to
marry for over 1000 years, and many other facts relating to the
importance of women in the early days of Christianity were brought up.
C7 Surviving the Crucifixion
This chapter discusses Jesus' activities from his entry into
Jerusalem until the crucifixion and offers alternative interpretations
of the biblical accounts.
C8 Jesus in Egypt Now
we come to the most speculative part of the book. Biagent
postulates that Jesus (with his family) travel to a thriving Jewish
community in Egypt where he is trained and initiated into the beliefs
of this community. He stays there from sometime in his childhood
until shortly before his age 30 which would be around the year 27
or 28 when he brings his ministry back to the Jerusalem area. To
be sure there is scattered (evidence / circumstance) which is sited to
support this but there is extremely little historical evidence to
support anything concerning Jesus.
Jesus debates the priests of the temple when he is 12 (Luke 2:41-47) -
why only Luke? Matthew, Mark, and Luke say that Jesus lived in
Nazareth - there is no evidence that Nazareth even existed until the
third century AD. There are many reports of Jesus having traveled to
Persia, Afghanistan, or India. Again, very little evidence.
Both Hosea (11:1) and Matthew (2:15) "call my son out of Egypt."
A legend called "The Vision of Theophilus" places the holy family
in Egypt and tells of the places they visited and the miracles that
were performed along the way. Theophilus was patriarch of
Alexandria and leader of the Egyptian church from 385 to 412.
There is a great deal of evidence to support the claim that there
was a thriving Jewish community in Egypt and the Coptic (and Gnostic)
Christians were based there. The Dead Sea scrolls and Nag Hammadi texts support
C9 The Mysteries of Egypt
This chapter is not directly related to the rest of the book.
It covers (briefly) the interpretation of the beliefs of ancient
Egypt and of the prevalence of the belief in secret places and secret
C10 Initiation Again
this chapter seems not to be directly related. It begins in May
2001 with a trip that the author took to Baia, a small port town in the
northwest corner of the Bay of Naples in Italy. He an
archaeological expert were to explore a tunnel cut into the volcanic
rock. The tunnel was excavated perhaps 2,600 years ago. It
was used for hundreds of years, then filled with rubble and
re-discovered in 1958 but not explored until 1962. The Italian
government had not allowed any serious exploration until 2001.
The best evidence suggests that the tunnel was filled with rubble
in 37-36 BC by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, a Roman general and admiral at
the time of Augustus Caesar and the grandfather of Nero. At that
time he was building a fleet and training his soldiers in lakes Avernus
and Lucrina for the Sicilian war.
In Vergil's Aeneid, Aeneas
visits the Sibyl of Cuma and asks for directions to the
underworld, "The way downward is easy from Avernus." she replies.
When Hannibal conquered the area in 209 BC he also made a point
of sacrificing at a sacred site near Lake Avernus. To shorten it
down, the author reports much circumstantial evidence that this tunnel
is indeed the passage to the underworld, which ended at a spring of
volcanic hot water. Unfortunately what occurred there was "secret
knowledge" and either never written down or destroyed as heretical
Archaeologists have discovered thin gold plates in some graves near the
ancient city of Thurii in Italy which had been founded by Greeks in 442
BC. The inscriptions in Greek were presumably to guide the dead
on their journey through the underworld. The writings are very
similar to those in the Egyptian "Book of the Dead." Perhaps
there was a strong tradition of underground or hidden knowledge that
extended through Italy, Greece, and Egypt.
C11 Experiencing the Source
In this chapter some of the Jewish traditions and their
relationships to the traditions of Babylon and Mesopotamia reaching
back 4,000 years or more. Some of these were remarkably similar
to passages in The Book of Enoch
which was first discovered by James Bruce in 1768 in Ethiopia.
Much of this is mystical in nature. Records of its
existence are in Christian documents of the second and third centuries
before being banned in the forth and fifth centuries. Portions
were later discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls.
C12 The Kingdom of Heaven
Jesus spoke to the masses beside the Sea of Galilee. He
always taught by means of simple parables. Later when he was with
his disciples he was asked why? He answered that parables are
designed for the masses, but for his disciples he had a deeper truth,
"It is given unto you to know the mystery of the kingdom of heaven"
(Matthew 13:11, Mark 4:11, Luke 8:9-10). There are two levels of
knowledge, one for the masses and one for the initiates. This inner
teaching concerned the "mystery of the kingdom of heaven." This
is remarkably similar to the mysteries of Greece and Egypt. Later
Christian writers refer to "secret" or mysterious gospels, one of which
was written by Mark but he gave it only to the Church in Alexandria.
Clement, the Bishop of Alexandria writes of this in about 195 AD.
Several other sources for this concept are cited.
C13 The Jesus Papers
A description of the events surrounding the discovery and
publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Also a description of some
of the illegal trading in ancient documents. This is much more
difficult to evaluate because of the extreme difficulty in tracking
down sources. The only thing that can be positively concluded is
that both the Vatican and Israel (Catholics and Jews) have much to
loose, very little to gain, and do not want to cooperate in discovering
C14 Trading Culture
Another chapter detailing problems in dealing with people who
have (or at least say they have) ancient documents and finding ways by
which these documents may become public. Most of the owners want
the highest price possible and they also have specific religious
agenda, many against Jews (Israel) or Catholics. They are very
10 pages of bibliography, 15 pages of notes, and 9 pages of notes.ß
The God Delusion Richard Dawkins Mar 2007
Preface The Preface
is a brief description of why Dawkins wrote this book and a brief
review of the chapters and how they support his reasons. It ends
with the obligatory thank you's.
Reviewers comment: If you have read any of the many books by
Dawkins you know that he is a very forceful author and he documents his
arguments very well. If you are very religious and don't like
negative comments about your religion - stop right here and never read
any of Dawkins' books. He is very plain spoken, very literate,
and doesn't pull any punches.
One book that I have read and Dawkins doesn't cite is
Primack, Joel R. & Nancy Ellen Abrams, The
View from the Center of the Universe.
This presents a very interesting viewpoint that humans need a cosmology
that supports their beliefs. Primack and Abrams suggest that a
failure of cosmology to answer their questions was a partial cause for
the break between religion and science. As astronomy widened the
gap between the universe and individual humans, many had nothing in
which to believe except "Gods". They present a view that puts
humans back into the universe and shows them to be players in the
middle of the entire universe. A very interesting book
C1 A Deeply Religious Non-Believer
Deserved Respect Many writers describe a spiritual
experience while lying on a lawn and either looking up at the sky or
down at the grass. It leads some to the priesthood and some to
science. It is the same experience, why the different
destinations? He discusses the writings of Einstein and Sagan and
some of the responses to them.
Why is it that you can disagree with anybody or anything and have
a right to your opinion, but when you criticize a religion or a
religious movement you are "not showing respect for peoples religious
beliefs?" As H. L. Mencken said, "We must respect the other
fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we
respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart."
It is legal for members of the Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao
do Vegal to drink hoasca tea which contains an hallucinogenic drug but
not for cancer patients to use cannabis for nausea and discomfort
during chemotherapy. Why?
C2 The God Hypothesis
The God of the Old Testament is a very nasty guy. Some
Christians believe, "Gentle Jesus meek and mild." The God
Hypothesis: "there exists a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who
deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it,
including us." The Dawkins Hypothesis: "Any creative
intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into
existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual
Multiple gods are discriminated against in Western religion and
law. But who can tell? What is the Trinity? how about
saints? The issue is very confused.
Christianity and Islam both are offshoots of Judaism. Gore
Vidal, "The great unmentionable evil at the center of our culture is
monotheism." The Abrahamic God is a personal God. An
alternative, the Deist God, is a hyper-engineer who would up the
universe, said that it was good, and walked away.
The United States was not founded as a Christian Nation. A
treaty with Tripoli, drafted in 1796 under George Washington and signed
in 1797 by John Adams states, "As the Government of the United States
of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion;
..." This treaty caused no dissent at the time. Benjamin
Franklin, "Lighthouses are more useful than churches." Dawkins
discusses the extreme prejudice against atheists in America.
The Poverty of Agnosticism
There is a case to be made for certain types of agnosticism, the
evidence is not yet in, I will decide later. Dawkins doesn't
think this is the case for God, enough evidence is already in.
How about the case of, "I really could care less and I don't want
to argue the point.
Steven Jay Gould's term for Non-Overlapping MAgisteria. The
view that religion and science don't exist in the same plane, they
don't influence one another. Maybe so, he will consider the issue
when religion stops talking about anything that can ever influence the
physical world beyond setting up the conditions for the Big Bang - and
he is not sure about that.
The Great Prayer Experiment In an experiment reported in the American Heart Journal
in April 2006 three different church congregations prayed for patients
in three hospitals. There was no difference in the recovery rate
between those who were prayed for and those who were not. However
the recover rate for those who knew they were being prayed for was less
than those who did not know they were being prayed for. Perhaps
the stress of knowing that they were being prayed for was too much for
The Neville Chamberlain School of Evolutionists OK, I am missing a few points of British politics. I don't get this section.
Little Green Men
The Drake equation - we are slowly chipping away at the
uncertainties in several of the terms. Arthur C. Clarke's Third
Law, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from
magic." Aliens would perhaps show characteristics of Gods, but
they would still show evidence of being products of an evolutionary
process. They may however exploit and hide their science - just
like Christian missionaries - to convince us of their "power".
C3 Arguments for God's Existence
Thomas Aquinas' "Proofs"
Aquinas presented five proofs. The first three, the Unmoved
Mover, the Uncaused Cause, and the Cosmological Argument are all very
similar to the old Achilles and the Tortoise argument and are asking a
false question. The fourth proof, Argument from Degree, simply
says that all things differ, and the most different is called God.
Just another limit theory, it simply states an end of a series.
His final proof, the Teleological Argument or Argument from
Design is nothing more than the precursor to the Creationism -
Intelligent Design discussion. That argument hasn't been tenable
The Ontological Argument and other a priori arguments Aquinas' arguments are a posteriori, that is based on inspection of the world. a priori arguments are based on pure(?) reason, no facts. The ontological argument
was first proposed by St Anselm of Canterbury in 1078. I am
confused but it seems to state that you can think of a being so perfect
that it cannot exist in the real world that proves that such a perfect
being must be god? Dawkins is not impressed, me either. He
goes on to throw a lot of humerus mud at the argument. He
recommends http://www.godlessgeeks.com/LINKS/GodProof.htm .
The Argument from Beauty God inspired the great artists, well maybe, but the Church certainly paid them to create their art.
The Argument from Personal "Experience"
Humans are "constructed" (basic biology and neurology) to
recognize things, imagining a tiger and taking evasive action when he
really wasn't there costs very little, to not recognize him when he is
there is sudden death. We imagine a lot of stuff that really
isn't so. Several illustrative examples are presented.
The Argument from Scripture
Our current bibles were highly selected, there are thousands of
documented errors of transcription, using the bible as history has many
problems. See the books by Bart Ehrman and others.
The Argument from Admired Religious Scientists
In the past it is reported that many scientists were believers,
the fact that for them to have publicly stated that the did not believe
in God would have meant dismissal if not death after charges of heresy
is presumably not relevant. Current studies show that only a very
few prominent scientists believe in God.
There are other arguments, based on the cost of guessing wrong and
probability but these are based on incomplete assumptions or personal
bias in assigning probabilities.
C4 Why There Almost Certainly is No God
The Ultimate Boeing 747
Fred Hoyle was quoted as stating that the probability of life
originating on earth is about the same as the probability that a
hurricane, sweeping through a junkyard and would assemble a 747.
Hoyle was a good cosmologist but he certainly didn't know much
Natural Selection as a Consciousness-Raiser
After Darwin it has become increasingly difficult to ignore the
processes of evolution as it relates to the diversity and relationships
of life on earth.
Irreducible Complexity Dawkins has covered this in his book Climbing
The difference between irreducible complexity and reducible
complexity depends entirely on your point of view. As Dawkins
would say, walk around to the other side of the mountain.
The Worship of Gaps
Gaps in the fossil record are commonly used as examples of the
failure of evolution. Unfortunately these gaps keep getting
filled in. How small do the gaps have to become before they give
up? This is a self defeating argument.
The Anthropic Principle: Planetary Version
God designed the solar system so that life could live here.
The latest estimates are that there at least 300 billion billion
planets in the universe. If the chance of life arising on an
empty planet is 1 in a billion, that still leaves 300 billion planets
where life will probably arise. And thats just the kind of life
that would live on earth.
The Anthropic Principle: Cosmological Version
There are at present six known physical constants that presumably
govern how matter and energy interact in the universe. The
theological argument holds that they were "tuned" to their precise
values by God to allow for life in the universe. This is so far
out physics that there is no real possibility of an argument. It
is essentially the gap at the far end of the continuum. There is
just not evidence one way or another to either counter or explain this
The chapter ends with a description of a conference that he was
somewhat tricked into attending. He also inserts six points,
covered in the chapter, which contain the central argument of the book.
C5 The Roots of Religion
- One of the greatest challenges has been to explain how the complex universe arises.
- The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design
to actual design. Just because humans design things doesn't mean
that nature does also.
- The design temptation is false, because it immediately calls up the question as to who designed the designer.
- The most ingenious and powerful solution so far was discovered by Darwin and is called natural selection.
- We don't currently have an equivalent idea for explaining the physical world, the physicists have not discovered one.
- Physicists should keep looking for an equivalent idea but even if
they never find one their current ideas are better than the concept of
an intelligent designer.
The Darwinian Imperative To
explain something in a Darwinian sense you have to demonstrate that the
structure or behavior is useful in terms of natural selection. It
must give the organism some benefit. However the benefit is
expressed in terms of the survival of genes (or memes -heritable
replicators) that the individual shares. Since religion is common
in human behavior and in many cases is dangerous - either for the
person or for his offspring (celibacy etc.), why does it seem to thrive?
Direct Advantages of Religion
There is some evidence that religious beliefs sometimes reduce
stress but this effect is small and cannot be the whole reason.
Religion provides comfort but you have to show that that religion
is useful in providing more grandchildren to demonstrate a Darwinian
benefit. Dawkins makes the point that religious behavior is
probably a side effect of other characteristic that provides some
Here the arguments show that it might be possible for this to
occur, counter arguments show that the opposite may well happen.
Religion as a By-Product of Something Else
Moths fly into a flame, how could such "self-immolation behavior"
be selected for by natural selection? It isn't, before humans, the
only bright lights were stars and the moon. Moths use these for
navigation. If they would fly at 30º to the moon and they
fly at 30º to a fire, they will spiral into the flame. This
behavior is not a death wish, it is a normal navigation tool reacting
to a changed environment. If religion is by-product of something
else, what is that something else?
Dawkins' hypothesis is that children uncritically learn almost
everything they are told, they are gullible. They do this because
they must learn so much before they become adults and leave the
protection of their elders. Their powers of critical evaluation
do not arise until much later. Therefore good advise and poor
advise (religion) both get believed. As the Jesuits boast, "Give
me the child for his first seven years, and I'll give you the man."
Psychologically Primed for Religion
Many psychologists believe that children have a tendency towards
a dualistic theory of mind and that we are innately predisposed to be
creationists, children are likely to assign purpose to everything.
The philosopher Daniel Dennett postulates a three-way
classification of trying to understand behavior of entities. The
first is the physical stance, you can predict behavior using physical laws. It always works but it can be very slow. The second is the design stance
and it is simpler to predict behavior if we understand the design.
Things designed to be guns shoot bullets, you don't have to
understand the physics of gunpowder. The third is the intentional stance.
What is the intention of the object? If you see a tiger,
what is it's intention? Never mind the physics of tooth enamel or
the design of claws, limbs, teeth, just escape NOW! The intentional stance
makes for faster decision making when speed is of the essence.
However most of our current lives do not involve escaping from
tigers, etc. Our hard wiring, our genes, haven't caught up with
our current environment.
Other items are brought up such as falling in love. The section
ends with several quotations from Martin Luther. "Whoever wants to
be a Christian should tear the eyes out of his reason." "Reason
should be destroyed in all Christians."
Tread Softly, Because you Tread on My Memes
Evolution can occur using genes, computer viruses, and memes
(units of cultural inheritance). Dawkins suggests that most
religions have evolved from their origins by means of meme transfer.
He suggests that Scientology was completely intelligently
designed and that Mormonism started that way but that it has evolved
since its founding by Joseph Smith. He uses the Cargo Cults of
the South Pacific as specific example.
C6 The Roots of Morality: Why Are We Good? Why do some Christians have such "paroxysms of hatred against those who don't share their faith?"
Does our Moral Sense have a Darwinian Origin? Many
people argue that our sense of right and wrong can be
derived from our Darwinian past. Genes are selfish, however they
can only reproduce in a body and in the company of many other genes.
Genes are selected in concert with other genes. This
results in the seemingly counter intuitive behavior as kin selection
and reciprocal altruism. Especially in humans with the benefit of
language two more behaviors have arisen, reputation and conspicuous
generosity. One problem with these, they arose in small family
and tribal situations. Not all behaviors appropriate to these
situations can be easily scaled up to work perfectly in a national or
A Case Study in the Roots of Morality
Marc Hauser (Biologist - Harvard) has done a series of studies of
he reactions to moral dilemmas. He found no differences in the
conclusions reached by atheists, religious believers, and members of
widely varying cultural groups. His conclusion: many of our
"moral" values are based on our evolution are not related to our
culture or our stated beliefs.
If There is No God, Why be Good?
Rephrased: "Do you really mean to tell me the only reason you try
to be good is to gain God's approval and reward, or to avoid his
disapproval and punishment? Thats not morality, that's just
sucking up ... " In the absence of God would you really commit robbery,
rape, and murder, are you that much of an immoral person? What
keeps going on the straight and narrow, is it God watching you or is it
the police watching you? Sam Harris in his Letter to a Christian Nation
presents some statistics. Of the 25 cities with the lowest rates
of violent crime, 62% are in Democrat states and 38% in Republican
states. Of the 25 most dangerous cities, 74% are in Republican
states and 24% in Democrat states. 3 of th 5 most dangerous
cities are in the conservative Republican state of Texas. The 12
states with the highest rates of burglary are Republican. 24 of
the 29 states with the highest rates of theft are Republican. Of
the 22 states with the highest rates of murder, 17 are Republican.
C7 The 'Good' Book, and the Changing Moral Zeitgeist
There are two ways in which scripture might be a source of
morals. One is by direct instruction, ex. the Ten Commandments
and the second is by providing a role model, ex. Jesus. Dawkins
is not impressed by either. See Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture.
The Old Testament
The story of Noah, were all of the other people evil? including
all of the children? How about all of the animals, what did they
do wrong? Is the God of the Old Testament such a sloppy and
uncaring God that He can't just target the "real" sinners with say a
lightning bolt or heart attack? Shades of "The War on Terror"
where we have to kill 600,000 Iraqis to get two men, Saddam and bin
Laden and then we miss one.
The stories of Lot (Genesis 19), chapter 19 of Judges, Abraham (Genesis
12: 18-19 and 20: 2-5), Abraham's sacrifice if Isaac (Ishmael for
Muslims), Jephthah (Judges 11), Moses and the Midianites
(Numbers, 31:18 as one example), crimes punishable by death (Leviticus
20 and Numbers 15). All of these document the "morality" found in
the Old Testament. The only people who would agree with these
today are the Taliban and some Christian conservatives.
Is the New Testament any Better?
The New Testament doesn't have the really bad examples as the Old
Testament does but it does seem to emphasize sexuality to a very
Love thy Neighbour
The study of an Israeli psychologist, George Tamarin.
Tamarin quotes the story of Joshua and the battle of Jericho to
Israeli schoolchildren and asks if Joshua and the Israelites acted
properly. 66% said yes, 26% said no, and 8% said partially.
Then he told the same story to other groups of Israeli
schoolchildren but changed the name of Joshua to "General Lin" an
Israel with "a Chinese kingdom 3,000 years ago." The results were
7% approval and 75% disapproval. The point, and he uses
additional examples from Northern Ireland, is that morality devoid of
labels is relatively constant. What religion does is to add labels so
that morality does not get in the way of the desires of religious
The Moral Zeitgeist
Examples from "The New Ten Commandments" with a few others either
added in or replacing, women being given the vote, changes in racism,
acceptance of "collateral damage" in war, and sexuality are given to
show how the morals of the entire world are changing over time.
"Times, they are a changing."
What about Hitler and Stalin? Weren't they Atheists?
Stalin was an atheist, Hitler was a Catholic. Stalin,
Hitler, and Saddam had mustaches (so did Teddy Roosevelt) but these
facts(?) prove nothing about causality. Nazi belt buckles were
inscribed with "Gott mit uns". People sometimes do bad things,
the mere fact of professing a particular belief does not seem to be a
good predictor of the ability to do either good or bad things.
C8 What's Wrong With Religion? Why be So Hostile?
Dawkins is widely perceived as being hostile toward religion.
This may be true, but it doesn't manifest itself as bombing,
beheading, stoning, burning at the stake, crucifying, or flying planes
into skyscrapers to make his point. He (and other atheists) limit
themselves to words.
Fundamentalism and the Subversion of Science
"Fundamentalists know they are right because they have read the
truth in a holy book and they know, in advance, that nothing will budge
them from their belief." A scientist believes not because of
reading a book but because he/she has studied the evidence. "When
a science book is wrong, somebody eventually discovers the mistake and
it is corrected in subsequent books." Biologists believe in
evolution because the evidence supports it, and they would abandon it
overnight if new evidence arose to disprove it. One of the
tragedies of fundamentalist religion is that it tries to ruin the
education of thousands of innocent young minds.
The Dark Side of Absolutism
One of the most serious crimes in the Old Testament and in many
Islamic countries is blasphemy and apostasy. Blasphemy is saying
something against a religion and apostasy is thinking something against
a religion. In 1922 in Britain, John William Gott was sentenced
to nine months of hard labour for blasphemy and in 2005 a Christian
group tried to bring blasphemy charges against the BBC.
Faith and Homosexuality Too many ugly examples to quote. Fundamentalist religionists seem to be capable of more hate than any other group.
Faith and the Sanctity of Human Life
It is not human life they wish to preserve, it is only unborn
human life. All other forms of ending human life after it has
been born are joyously accepted.
The Great Beethoven Fallacy
There are numerous stories about Beethoven (and others), his
parents were syphilitic and tubercular, his older sibling had died or
birth defects, should this pregnancy be terminated - "You have just
murdered Beethoven." These statements are all false. Of course an abortion in 1888 would have prevented
How "Moderation in Faith Fosters Fanaticism" If the mere mention of faith and religion did not immediately
turn off our critical facilities and if children were taught to
question and think through their beliefs, it is likely there would be
no suicide bombers, clinic bombings, or killing of doctors.
C9 Childhood, Abuse and the Escape From Religion
In 1858 Edgardo Mortara, a six-year-old child was legally seized
by the papal police acting on orders from the Inquisition. His
family was Jewish but a baby sitter had once sprinkled some water on
his head and said, "I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the
Son and of the Holy Ghost." He was taken to the local Catechumens
house and raised as a Catholic. This was not uncommon at the time
and always happened in the same way. Why did Jewish parents hire
Catholic girls as servants? Because Jews could not work on the
sabbath but Catholics would. Of course the Priests could not
understand the distress of the family, they were forbidden from having
families and of course they knew
that their faith was the only true faith. The parents could of
course have had their child back at any time if they would have been
Physical and Mental Abuse
Abuse of children (priestly or other) now is taken to mean sexual
abuse. We should not forget the other forms of physical and
emotional abuse that children over the centuries have been forced to
endure at the hands of priests, nuns, and Protestant fundamentalists.
In Defense of Children
An extended (5+ pages) of how parents, politicians, priests, and
judges penalize (or kill) children because of the religious beliefs of
authority figures without any effort to find out what the children
might want or consideration of what would be best for the child.
An Educational Scandal
I am amazed, somebody is complaining about money spent on
faith-based education and they are not talking about American
fundamentalists or Islam. Dawkins is complaining about Prime
Minister Tony Blair's support of a faith-based school in Britain that
is teaching literal biblical creationism.
Why is it OK to indoctrinate children into a religion before they
are old enough to understand what is going on and to make up their own
minds. Why can we call a child a "Protestant child", or a
"Catholic child" but we would never call one a "liberal child" or a
"Republican child"? They should all be called "a child of X
parents" where you fill in the blank for X.
Religious Education as a Part of Literary Culture
The teaching of comparative religion is a very good idea.
Children should know that the bible even when taken as a work of
art is the basis for much of western art and culture. There are
many biblical passages scattered through all of western literature, one
who is not at least somewhat familiar with the bible will miss much of
the richness of the literature.
C10 A Much Needed Gap?
It has been said that religion fills four main values in human
life: explanation, exhortation, consolation, and inspiration.
Explanation has been taken over by science, exhortation means
moral instruction (chapters 6 and 7) and this chapter will cover the
Binker See Binker in A. A. Milne, Now We Are Six.
Is religion the grown up version of an imaginary friend? Is
it possible that "The Voice of the Gods" that speaks in one's mind was
thought in our early history to be real has been gradually reduced to
imaginary friends for very young children?
It may be that religion has the power to offer consolation for
grieving people. That still doesn't prove that religion is true.
Friends, therapists, and loved ones also have the ability to
console. If we believed the message of religion, why don't we go
to the bedside of a dying friend and say, "I am so happy for you, you
will finally get to see your parents again and please give my love to
Uncle Robert." If you are going to Heaven anyway, why not speed
up the process a little, just like we do with dogs and cats.
Perhaps they don't fear dying so much as the process of dying.
If you meet someone who is passionately opposed to mercy killing
or assisted suicide, you can bet a good sum that they will turn out to
be religious. What is there to fear, is it anxiety that maybe you
are scheduled to go to Hell? If life is to be meaningful, it is
you who must make it so, don't depend upon others.
Inspiration Again, it is our life to lead, the universe is filled with wonderful things. We just need to accept them as real.
The Mother of all Burkas
A burka is a black garment worn by oppressed women which has only
a tiny slit for them to look out at the world. (They are forced
to wear this by men. If it was a truly religious thing, men would
wear them also.) The burka can be represented by the earth's
atmosphere where the slit represents the tiny viewing portal of visible
light. Science gives us the opportunity to see thousands of such
tiny slits in the atmospheric burka. Humans without the
augmentation of science are ill equipped to see, feel, hear, etc. or
sense much of the reality of the universe. We need to remove our
burka of the mind to sense the true magnitude of the universe.
Appendix Dawkins presents a
list of organizations for individuals who need support in escaping from
religion. The list will be maintained and updated on
There are 8 pages of books cited or recommended, 12 pages of notes, and 7 pages of very small print (3 columns) index.
Critical Comments These comments were made after discussing the book with an acquaintance.
Dawkins is a very argumentative person. He makes his points very
well and points out the fallacies in the arguments of his most vocal
opponents. In scientific fields this may well be the best
approach. However when arguing with (or about) religion I don't
think this is always the best approach. There is so much
variability in religion that no single approach works the best for all
believers / adherents.
My view of religion, and the moral values that are associated with
religion, have been on a gentle upward trend for the last 5 to 6
thousand years. Some behavioral scientists may put "ethical"
behavior originating back many millions of years ago. Some
possible milestones along the way might be 150 kya with the origin of
H. sapiens. 6 mya with the origin of Homo, 40 mya with the origin
of primates or even back as far as "Good Mother Dinosaur" more than 65
mya. I view religion as a codifier and teaching device for morals
and ethics, not a driver for them. Religions generally follow the
ethics of the culture, sometimes, sometimes following.
At any given time, the members of a given religion will form a
distribution, perhaps a normal curve, with some way ahead of the moral
curve; call them saints and (some) prophets, etc. The great mass
in the middle exhibit the "standard" morality of the time, and a few
bottom feeders; call them inquisitors, moral majority, Nazi's, etc.
As time gos on the overall moral level of the society or culture
rises. This is not a smooth process, there are surges forward
when we have a Jesus, a Gandhi, or a Martin Luther King. There
are surges backward when we have a Hitler, Stalin, or an Idi Amin.
Whether the overall trend is linear or a slowly accelerating
exponential curve I leave to others to quantify. I expect that it
is an exponential curve based on my understanding of the factors.
Genetic before civilization and forming communities, social from
civilization until widespread literacy, and technologically from
printing, newspapers, mail service, photography, mass communication
(radio and TV), to the internet. We all tend to be more moral or
ethical when someone is watching.
Dawkins seems to be taking dead aim at the bottom feeders of religion.
Most of the rest uf us have friends or family who are deeply
religious. A gentle and tactful warning against the most
destructive of the hate and control mongers will probably be more
effective than a direct attack on their religious beliefs. Did I
enjoy this book? Absolutely. Would I recommend to all of my
friends and relatives? Absolutely not! However I would use
some of his ideas phrased somewhat more gently.