Totalitarianism. I’d let slide Lennox’s use of the word once, but not twice.
The purpose of these posts is to criticize God’s Undertaker, so I’ve no intention to write post after post in defense of the words and tone used by the New Atheists. They are old enough and ugly enough to look after themselves. That said I really can’t let Lennox get by with misrepresenting them as intolerant, strident blackguards who wish to fill gulags with religionists just to score cheap points for himself. And even if they are, he needs better quotes or shouldn’t so obviously bend the words used in the ones he’s chosen.
Lennox quotes Dawkins: It is fashionable to wax apocalyptic about the threat to humanity posed by the AIDS virus, “mad cow” disease and many others, but I think the case can be made that faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate [emphasis mine] (15). Lennox shortly follows with “many atheists are far from happy with the militancy, not to mention the repressive, even totalitarian overtones of such views” (15). That’s the totalitarian I was willing to give him for free. But then on page 18 he repeats with “Dawkins may well be right about the difficulty of accomplishing his rather ominously totalitarian-sounding task of eradicating faith in God among scientists.”
Now, anyone with a high schooler’s ability to read can see that in the first quote Dawkins isn’t forcing anyone to stop believing their faith. Nor does he have any state or private apparatus to do so, so ‘totalitarian’ is way out of line. Dawkins language is actually pretty wishy washy as he uses “I think the case can be made that faith is” rather than the direct “I think faith is”, and “one of the world’s great evils” rather than “the world’s greatest evil”. And as Lennox has read The God Delusion then he’d know that Dawkins is still open to evidence for God. One of the chapters is named with the equally wishy washy ‘Why there almost certainly is no God’, and Dawkins also described his disbelief on a scale up to 7 as about 6.8 or 6.9.
Clearly Lennox use of totalitarianism is to draw the erroneous connection in the reader’s mind with the old chestnut that totalitarian regimes headed by dictators who were atheists did the horrors they did in the name of atheism. This weaselly misuse of language irritates me immensely. Lennox’s case should be strong enough to stand on its own, without the need for such underhand tactics.
And with that we bid adieu to 2012. Happy New Year and see you in 2013.