Dawkins on religion: A self-defeating argument

A farmer once had a watermelon plant that was always being raided by local kids. One day he decided to do something about it, and put a sign beside the plant: “1 watermelon poisoned’. He went to bed that night feeling particularly clever. When he woke up the next day, the sign had been changed. It now read: ‘2 watermelons poisoned’. Sometimes our solutions can be too clever by far.

Christians hold that Christianity is grounded in evidence. They claim that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the basis for Christianity. People may become Christians for many different reasons, but Christians agree that Christianity is based on evidence.

Not so Elisabeth Cornwell. Cornwell claims that all religion can be explained through evolutionary processes. Though Christians think they believe what they believe based on evidence, Cornwell points to evolution as the cause. On Richard Dawkins’ website she outlines her proposed explanation for the rise of religion. Quoting from many of Dakins’ books, Cornwell suggests that small adaptions over a long period of time put in place the building blocks of primitive religion, such as language, tool-making, purpose and kinship. Though today those who hold to Christianity think they do so in a reasonable manner, based on evidence, the actual fact is that they have fallen for an evolutionary throwback in their brain that needs to be outgrown. In other words, though they think they hold something true based on evidence, what is actually believed can be explained purely by evolutionary theory, and is in fact false.

This seems like such a stroke of genius that one could hardly disagree, surely? We must abandon these beliefs because they can be explained by evolutionary process. But here comes the rub. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. The exact same argument could be made against atheism. Atheists believe that they hold things to be true based on evidence. One could construct an evolutionary account of the rise of atheistic thought. If Christianity can be dismissed on account of an evolutionary past, so can atheism, as can science, relationships, literature and every form of human thought. It’s a poisoned watermelon, a cancer to knowledge that, once released, unstoppably undermines everything we hold to be true. Far from being clever, it’s intellectual suicide.

One can understand the atheist desire to write off religion as an evolutionary throwback. It is a near-universal of human experience. But it would be far wiser for the atheist to listen to the Christian than invent evolutionary tales that undermine all human thought.