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Are Believers Delusional? (Part 1)

10/24/2006 - 5:45 AM PST

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Richard Dawkins vs. David Quinn

DUBLIN, Ireland, OCT. 24, 2006 (Zenit) - Differences over the existence of God, free will and the effect of religion on the world triggered a spirited debate recently on Irish public radio.

The debate between Richard Dawkins, author of "The God Delusion," and David Quinn, columnist at the Irish Independent, took place Oct. 9 on "The Tubridy Show." The show was hosted by Ryan Tubridy and broadcast on radio station RTE Radio 1.

Here is the first part of a transcription of the show.

* * *

Tubridy: Your most recent book is called "The God Delusion." Let's talk about the word delusion, just to put it into context. Why did you pick that word?

Dawkins: The word delusion means a falsehood which is widely believed, to me, and I think that is true of religion, it is remarkably widely believed.

It is as though almost all of the population, or a substantial proportion of the population, believe that they'd been abducted by aliens in flying saucers -- you'd call that a delusion. I think God is a similar delusion.

Tubridy: And would it be fair to say you equate God with, say, the imaginary friend, the bogeyman, or the fairies at the end of the garden?

Dawkins: Well, I think he is just as probable to exist, yes. And I do discuss all those things, especially the imaginary friend, which I think is an interesting psychological phenomenon in childhood. And that may possibly have something to do with the appeal of religion.

Tubridy: So take us through that a little bit, about the imaginary friend factor.

Dawkins: Many young children have an imaginary friend. Christopher Robin had Binker; a little girl who wrote to me had a little purple man. The girl with the little purple man actually saw him, she seemed to hallucinate him, and he appeared with a little tinkling bell, and he was very, very real to her, although in a sense she knew he wasn't real.

I suspect that something like that is going on with people who claim to have heard God, or seen God, or hear the voice of God.

Tubridy: And we're back to delusion again. Do you think that anyone who believes in God, anyone of any religion, is deluded? Is that the bottom line with your argument, Richard?

Dawkins: Well, there is a sophisticated form of religion. One form of it is Einstein's, which really wasn't religion at all.

Einstein used the word "God" a great deal, but he didn't mean a personal God, he didn't mean a being who could listen to your prayers or forgive your sins.

He just meant it as a kind of poetic way of describing the deep unknowns, the deep uncertainties of the root of the universe.

Then there are deists who believe in a kind of God, a kind of personal God who set the universe going, a sort of physicist God, but then did no more, and certainly doesn't listen to your thoughts, and has no personal interest in humans at all.

I don't think I would use a word like delusion for, certainly not for Einstein, and I don't think I would for a deist either. I think I'd reserve the word delusion for real theists, who actually think they talk to God and think God talks to them.

Tubridy: You have a very interesting description in "The God Delusion" of the Old Testament God. ... You described God as a "misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully."

Dawkins: Well, that seems fair enough to me, yes.

Tubridy: There are those who would say that's a little over the top.

Dawkins: Read your Old Testament if you think that. Just read it. Read Leviticus, read Deuteronomy, read Judges, read Numbers, read Exodus.

Tubridy: And is it your contention that these elements of the God as described by yourself are what has not helped matters in terms of, say, global religion and the wars that go with it?

Dawkins: Well, not really because no serious theologian takes the Old Testament literally, anymore, so it isn't quite like that.

An awful lot of people think they take the Bible literally, but that can only be because they've never read it, because if they ever read it, they couldn't possibly take it literally.

But I do think people are a bit confused about where they get their morality from. A lot of people think they get their morality from the Bible because they can find a few good verses -- parts of the Ten Commandments are OK, parts of the Sermon on the Mount are OK -- so they think they get their morality from the Bible. But actually of course nobody gets their morality from the Bible; we get it from somewhere else.

And to the extent that we can find good bits from the Bible, we cherry-pick them, we pick and choose them, we choose the good verses from the ...

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