Ever since its inception as an argument in the religion/atheism debate, "lying for Jesus" has become a favoured accusation lobbed by the most zealous atheists.
In fact, accusations of general dishonesty have often been central to the arguments of militant fundamentalist atheists. But in a column appearing on the Spectator website Melanie Phillips chronicles the tale of Dawkins flubbing this argument so badly he may never be able to use it again -- at least not with any trace of credibility.
The tale begins with a debate between Dawkins and Irish mathematician John Lennox in which Dawkins reportedly admitted that belief in God is a defensible belief.
"You can make a respectable case for deism," Dawkins admits. "Not a case that I would accept but I think it is a serious discussion that you could have."
Dawkins would insist that he hadn't really meant his comments as an admission that belief in a god could be respectably defended -- insisting that he was merely being sarcastic. As Lennox and Phillips would both note, Dawkins certainly said nothing at the time to indicate that he was being sarcastic, and had reportedly seemed sincere at the time that he said it.
But Dawkins was not yet finished.
Dawkins would go on to accuse Phillips of misrepresenting him in a column published on the Spectator site. He would even go so far as quoting her in a slide shown at a subsequent debate with Lennox:
"Arch-atheist Richard Dawkins is an evolutionist. But many are now asking whether the dyed-in-the-wool critic of religion may be, well, evolving in his views about God. You see, in a recent debate with theist and Christian John Lennox, he let slip what many would regard as a major blooper: he actually admitted that there might be a case for theism of sorts. This was a worldview change of seismic proportions. It was a most remarkable turnaround. For someone who had spent over five decades championing the atheist cause to all of a sudden renounce it was an incredible achievement."The problem, as it turns out, is that Phillips never wrote those words.
Those words were actually penned by Culture Watch's Bill Muehlenberg. Oops.
Dawkins would go on to accuse Phillips of "lying for Jesus" based on quotes that he was misrepresenting as hers. But his folly in doing so actually ran deeper than this simple fact.
As it turns out, Phillips is actually Jewish. One clearly pertinent detail is that Jews don't believe in Jesus -- or at least don't believe he was the prophesized Messiah.
"Lying for Jesus! Oh dear oh dear. Not only did Dawkins falsely accuse me of distorting his position, but he accused me of doing so because he assumed I was a Christian. Five minutes’ research maximum would have told him that I am a Jew. Either he thought that all the stuff written on Culture Watch by Bill Muehlenberg, who appears to be a devout Christian, was written by me; or he assumed that, since John Lennox is a Christian, anyone who supports John Lennox must also be a Christian. Either way, the man who has made a global reputation out of scorning anyone who makes an assumption not grounded in empirical evidence has assumed to be true something that can easily be ascertained to be totally false – thus suggesting that the mind that is so addled by prejudice it cannot deal with demonstrable reality is none other than his own."Those words at least actually were written by Phillips.
At the very least, Dawkins most recent flub has demonstrated precisely how eager he is to deploy his vaunted "lying for Jesus" argument, to the extent that he will rush to use it without even stopping to make sure that the words he's quoted were ever written or spoken by the person he's attributed them to.
Considering the high level at which Dawkins has conducted his scientific work it would be hard to believe -- nearly impossible -- that he was unable to tell Bill Muehlenberg' words from Melanie Phillips'.
Then again, considering Dawkins' history of weakly razor-thin arguments -- such as suggesting that astrology is akin to racism -- perhaps there is ample cause for doubt. It's of little surprise that Dawkins isn't nearly as bright as he and his supporters would like to have people believe.
One thing is for certain: Dawkins' "lying for Jesus" argument is now officially dead in the water. That certainly won't stop Dawkins or any of his supporters from using it -- they thrive on the ignorance of those they would convince, and on the alleged ignorance of anyone who believes in religion.
All that can be done is for those who oppose Dawkins and his virulent brand of atheism to remind people that he isn't nearly as bright -- or honest -- as he pretends to be.