Richard Dawkins on the Emptiness of Theology
Again accused of ignorance of theology. But what is there in “theology” to be ignorant ABOUT? Tell me 1 theological fact & I’ll learn it.
— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) December 24, 2013
I dare say Richard Dawkins would not recognize any proposed theological fact as a fact and therefore worth his learning. He has dismissed the content and value of theology for a while now. In 2006, for example, he wrote, “The achievements of theologians don’t do anything, don’t affect anything, don’t mean anything. What makes anyone think that ‘theology’ is a subject at all?”
For Dawkins, theology is empty because it isn’t true and has no use comparable to the uses of science. This is why it makes no sense to him to say he is ignorant of theology. There are no theological facts he could learn or uses of theology that could benefit him.
His move here is a dodge, of course. If I were to accuse Dawkins of being ignorant of theology, I would mean that he is ignorant of the content of the subject matter, not its truth or value. You can know a lot about a subject without believing a word of it or seeing anything objectively worthwhile in it. Comedian Ricky Gervais seems to get this. He chimed in after Dawkins, tweeting, “it’s like being ignorant of witchcraft or astrology or Dungeons & Dragons.”
If being ignorant of theology is like being ignorant of Dungeons & Dragons, then Dawkins has his answer. Being ignorant of the rules and setup and other content of Dungeons & Dragons might mean less to you than a set of colored, polyhedral dice, but if you write about the game or about the people who play it, then you ought to know your stuff. You ought to know that facts about D&D.
Dawkins disbelieves in theological matters, but he nonetheless writes about them. Despite his protestations to the contrary, theology does mean something to him. He cares enough about it to spend time and energy trying to convince people to put aside their belief in God. He knows that the belief in God and the theologies that give it support influence human behavior. He’s a scientist, after all. He ought to know those facts about theology that pertain to his analysis.