The New Atheists Researchers Crusade against American Fundamentalists

In the United States, atheists are becoming an ostracized minority. But now evolutionary biologists are trying to turn the tables: According to their argument, religion is the source of evil. Morals and selflessness are not God-given – they are the result of evolution.

When Richard Dawkins, a zoologist at Oxford University, steps up to the altar he seems visibly pleased to see the pews in the church fully occupied. In the best Queen's English, he reads from his book: "The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully."

At first his words are greeted with laughter, and then with resounding applause from his audience of 600. Despite the venue, the spectacle that took place last Thursday in the First Parish Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts was in fact the opposite of a religious service. Indeed, if the man delivering the sermon had his way, he would in fact be jettisoning religious faith altogether.

Richard Dawkins is a passionate believer in the theory of evolution, and he has written countless books in which he explains it to his millions of readers. Now, at the age of 65, Professor Dawkins is presenting his legacy to society in his latest book, titled "The God Delusion."

With the zeal of a scientist, Dawkins explains why "there almost certainly is no god" and calls upon the faithful to renounce their faith. "You can be an atheist," he tells his audience, "who is happy, balanced, moral and intellectually fulfilled."

The packed church in Cambridge (a frequent venue for authors reading from their works) isn't the only place where Dawkins' message is resonating with surprisingly large numbers of people. His broadsheet against religion strikes a nerve in an era characterized by conflict among the world's religions. The book has quickly shot up the bestseller lists in Great Britain, Canada and the United States. In the coming weeks, the author plans to embark on a book tour beginning on the American East Coast and ending in California.

A faith-based president

Professor Dawkins will have his work cut out for him as he traverses the country from the Atlantic to the Pacific. According to a recent survey conducted by Newsweek, 92 percent of Americans believe in one god. And historian Arthur Schlesinger is convinced that the presidency of George W. Bush is the "first faith-based administration in American history."

With God's help, Bush led his country into a disastrous war against Iraq. And the anti-American sentiments blossoming throughout the world are to a large extent attributable to the fact that many people are simply fed up with the stubborn and holier-than-thou attitudes of America's self-styled "born-again Christians."

It's no coincidence that Dawkins, one of the sharpest critics of religion, hails from liberal Oxford. But Dawkins is certainly not alone among scientists who have recently taken to exposing the dangers and absurdities of religious. Nor is he the first to get involved in politics.

The day after Sept. 11, 2001, Sam Harris, a doctoral candidate in neuroscience at the University of California at Los Angeles, sat down to write a book some might call heresy. Harris's theory was that the world's major religions are simply incompatible and that they inevitably cause conflict and "now prevent the emergence of a viable, global civilization."

Harris was convinced that conditions in his own country are dreadful for those who dare to criticize the faith of a fellow citizen. He wrote that the consequences of such action are devastating for the critic, and that the "danger of religious faith is that it allows otherwise normal human beings to reap the fruits of madness and consider them holy."

Take, for example, young Muslims flying airplanes into skyscrapers in the name of their religion or American Christians bombing abortion clinics. From his point of view, these people were no extremists who had merely misunderstood their religion. On the contrary, their actions were based on literal interpretations of their respective holy scriptures. According to Harris, these religious texts are little more than anthologies of violence, acts of vengeance and edicts that instruct the faithful to murder anyone who does not adhere to their respective faith.


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