The Root of All Evil?

The Root of All Evil?

Infobox Film
name = The Root of All Evil?

caption = Writer and presenter Richard Dawkins
director =
producer = Alan Clements
writer = Richard Dawkins
starring = Richard Dawkins,
Yousef al-Khattab,
Ted Haggard,
Richard Harries
music =
cinematography =
editing =
distributor = Channel 4
released = January 2006
runtime =
country =
awards =
language =
budget =
preceded_by =
followed_by =
amg_id =
imdb_id =

"The Root of All Evil?" is a television documentary, written and presented by Richard Dawkins, in which he argues that humanity would be better off without religion or belief in God.

The documentary was first broadcast in January 2006, in the form of two 45-minute episodes (excluding advertisement breaks), on Channel 4 in the UK.

Dawkins has said that the title "The Root of All Evil?" was not his preferred choice, but that Channel 4 had insisted on it to create controversy. ["The Jeremy Vine Show", BBC Radio 2. January 5, 2006.] The sole concession from the producers on the title was the addition of the question mark. Dawkins has stated that the notion of anything being the root of "all" evil is ridiculous. [ [ "Point of Inquiry" Podcast] . February 10, 2006.] Dawkins's book "The God Delusion", released in September 2006, goes on to examine the topics raised in the documentary in greater detail.

Part 1: The God Delusion

"The God Delusion" explores the unproven beliefs that are treated as factual by many religions and the extremes to which some followers have taken them. Dawkins opens the programme by describing the "would-be murderers . . . who want to kill you and me, and themselves, because they're motivated by what they think is the highest ideal." Dawkins argues that "the process of non-thinking called faith" is not a way of understanding the world, but instead stands in fundamental opposition to modern science and the scientific method, and is divisive and dangerous.


Dawkins first visits the shrine of Lourdes in southern France, where he joins a candlelit procession of pilgrims singing, "Laudate Maria!" He is particularly struck by the sense of group solidarity in their delusion, which he contrasts with the lonely delusion of believing that one is Napoleon, for example. At daybreak, Dawkins surveys the faithful queuing up for healing water, and says that they are more likely to catch a disease than find a cure. He speaks to an Irish woman who has found the experience beneficial.

Dawkins then quizzes Father Liam Griffin about the number of miraculous cures which have taken place over the years. Griffin reports 66 declared miracles and about 2,000 unexplained cures (out of approximately 80,000 sick visitors per year over more than a century) but claims that millions more have been healed spiritually. Dawkins remains sceptical, and remarks afterwards that nobody has ever reported the miraculous re-growing of a severed leg, the 'cures' invariably comprise afflictions that could have improved without any spiritual intervention whatsoever.

Faith versus science

Dawkins continues with a discussion of what he sees as a conflict between faith and science (see conflict thesis). He points out that science involves a process of constantly testing and revising theories in the light of new evidence, while faith makes a virtue out of believing unprovable and often improbable propositions. For an example of faith, Dawkins takes the infallible doctrine of the Assumption, which Pope Pius XII declared in 1950 by relying upon tradition. He contrasts this with the scientific method, which he describes as a system whereby working assumptions may be falsified by recourse to reason and evidence. Dawkins provides an example from his undergraduate study, when a visiting researcher disproved a hypothesis of a professor, who accepted the outcome with "My dear fellow, I wish to thank you, I have been wrong these fifteen years."

Dawkins then considers a scientific theory of great significance to him–Charles Darwin's theory of evolution–which he discusses by reference to his Mount Improbable analogy. The notion that the full complexity of life emerged either through blind chance or by the hand of an intelligent designer, he likens to leaping up the sheer face of a mountain in one bound. By contrast, he suggests that Darwin's theory of design by natural selection provides an explanation which is akin to climbing a mountain gradually, via a gentle gradient. Dawkins also comments that the design hypothesis raises another question: who made the Maker?

Colorado Springs

Next, Dawkins visits Colorado Springs to discuss the rise of fundamentalist Christianity in the United States. He visits the New Life Church, an $18 million worship centre where Pastor Ted Haggard at the time presided over a 14,000 strong congregation. Haggard was at the time chairman of the National Association of Evangelicals and, according to Dawkins, Haggard said he had a weekly conference call with United States President George W. Bush. [According to Jeff Sharlet, Haggard actually talked to Bush or his advisers every Monday: cite journal | author=Jeff Sharlet | title=Soldiers of Christ: I. Inside America's most powerful megachurch | journal=Harper's | volume=310 | issue=1860 | year=2005 | pages=41–54 p. 42. On November 3, 2006, Haggard resigned his positions: see Ted Haggard for details.]

Dawkins interviews Haggard and begins by likening the worship experience to a Nuremberg Rally of which Goebbels might have been proud. Haggard says he knows nothing of the Nuremberg Rallies and goes on to say that some evangelicals think of his services as something akin to rock concerts. Haggard said the Bible is true and doesn't contradict itself as science does. Dawkins contends that the advantage of science is that new evidence changes ideas, allowing the advancement of human knowledge, something religion does not allow. Steadily the exchanges become increasingly fractious.

Haggard says that American evangelicals fully embrace the scientific method, expecting it to show how God created the heavens and the earth. Dawkins asks if he accepts the scientific demonstration that the earth is 4.5 billion years old. According to Haggard, this is merely one view accepted by a portion of the scientific community. He goes on to contend that Dawkins's own grandchildren may laugh at him upon hearing this claim. Dawkins responds "do you want to bet?" Haggard insists that some evolutionists think that the ear or eye "happened by accident" and that "the eye just formed itself somehow." Dawkins replies that not a single evolutionary biologist he knows would say that, and that Haggard clearly knows nothing about the subject. In response Haggard implies that some evolutionists he's met have said that. The meeting takes a markedly contentious turn with Haggard asserting that "this issue" of "intellectual arrogance" is the reason why people like Dawkins, and others who dispute creationism, have a problem with people of faith. This scene ends with Haggard telling Dawkins that as he [Dawkins] ages he will find himself "wrong on some things, right on some other things", and so he shouldn't be arrogant.

As Dawkins and his film crew pack up to leave, there is a brief altercation in the car park. It is reported that Haggard ordered Dawkins's crew off his land with threats of legal action and confiscation of their recording hardware, along with the statement "you called my children animals." Dawkins retrospectively interprets this as saying that the evolutionary standpoint indeed amounts to saying that Haggard's flock were animals, which all humans are.

Dawkins then attends a meeting of freethinkers, where a biology teacher reveals that he has been labelled "Satan's incarnate" for teaching evolution, and another freethinker compares the present situation to the McCarthy era.


Finally, Dawkins visits Jerusalem, which he regards as a microcosm of everything that is wrong with religion. He is taken on a guided tour of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This church is considered by some Christians to be the site of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. Dawkins comments on what he calls the "edgy watchfulness" in the Old City. One area in particular lies under heavy guard: the Temple Mount, enclosing both the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. The same ground is also the site of the ancient Jewish Holy Temple, which has been a source of tension between the religious communities.

Dawkins listens to people from both sides of the divide – first, Jewish representative Yisrael Medad and then, the Grand Mufti of Palestine, Sheikh Ekrima Sa'id Sabri. [ In the caption, Sabri is mistakenly referred to as Amin al-Husseini, who was also Grand Mufti but died in 1974.] The two sides appear irreconcilable. Hoping to meet someone who might be able to see both viewpoints, Dawkins interviews Yousef al-Khattab, formerly Joseph Cohen, an American-born Jew who came to Israel as a settler before converting to Islam. After offering Dawkins a cheerful welcome, al-Khattab explains his views relating to the decadence of Western values.

Al-Khattab has two major concerns. Firstly, he wants all the non-Muslims off the lands of Muhammad. Secondly, he is concerned about the manner in which women are dressed. He doesn't want to see women dressed "like whores," as he puts it, or "bouncing around on television topless." When asked for his thoughts on the September 11 attacks, he traces the blame back to the creation of the state of Israel. He also takes the opportunity to advise Great Britain to "Get your forces off our lands, fix your society, and fix your women."

Russell's teapot

Dawkins rounds off this episode with a presentation of Bertrand Russell's celestial teapot analogy. He argues that just because science has not yet answered every conceivable question about the universe, there is no need to turn to faith, which has never answered anything of significance.

Part 2: The Virus of Faith

In "The Virus of Faith", Dawkins opines that the moral framework of religions is warped, and argues against the religious indoctrination of children. The title of this episode comes from "The Selfish Gene", in which Dawkins discussed the concept of memes.

ectarian education

Dawkins discusses what he considers as the divisive influence of sectarian education, with children segregated and labelled by their religion. He describes the Hasidic Jewish community of North London as cloistered away from external influences such as television, with children attending exclusive religious schools. He questions Rabbi Herschel Gluck to find if their culture allows children to access scientific ideas.

Gluck believes that it is important for a minority group to have a space in which to learn and express their culture and beliefs. Dawkins states that he would prefer traditions taught without imposing demonstrable falsehoods. Gluck emphasises that although the students believe that God created the world in six literal days and have studied evolution in school, the majority will not believe in it when they leave the school. Gluck contrasts the tradition of Judaism with scientists who "have their tradition". Dawkins's facial expression at this point seems to suggest he is taken abackFact|date=April 2008 at the assertion that science is based solely on “tradition”. Gluck then goes on to contend that it's called the "theory of evolution" rather than the "law of evolution". [A theory in common usage can mean a conjecture, while in science it means a testable explanation. To a philosopher a law can prescribe how the world should be, but a scientific law is a generalization based on empirical observations.Fact|date=April 2008] When Dawkins points out that the term is used in a technical sense and describes evolution as a fact, Gluck suggests he's a “fundamentalist believer”. However, when Dawkins asks Gluck how many children from his school have grown up believing in evolution, Gluck is lost for words, and eventually admits that most of them probably don't.

Dawkins expresses concern about increasing religious influence in British schools with over 7,000 faith schools already and the government encouraging more, so over half of the new City Academies are expected to be sponsored by religious organisations. He says that the most worrying development is a new wave of private Evangelical schools that have adopted the American Baptist Accelerated Christian Education curriculum, and as an example calls on Phoenix Academy in London. [ [ Phoenix Academy] independent Christian schools: [ Ofsted description] ] Dawkins is shown around the school by head teacher Adrian Hawkes and remarks on how the teaching material appears to mention God or Jesus on almost every page; such as a reference to Noah's Ark in a science textbook. Hawkes responds by saying that the stories could have a lot to do with science if you believe in them, and that the science he was taught at school is laughable today. As an example, he mentions that he was taught that the moon came from the Earth's ocean and was “somehow flung out into space” during the early years of the Earth's life. Dawkins says that it should have been presented as a strong current theory. [A similar hypothesis, generally referred today as the giant impact hypothesis, is still accepted today: see [ NASA fact sheet] on the origin of the moon.] Another lesson talks about AIDS as being the "wages of sin", so Dawkins inquires whether this might not be mixing health education with moralistic preaching. Hawkes responds that without a law-giver, “Why is rape wrong? Why is paedophilia wrong?” and that if people believe they can get away with committing bad deeds then they will tend to do them. Dawkins responds to this claim by asking Hawkes if the only reason he doesn't do these things is that he's frightened of God and subsequently suggests that this attitude is characteristic of the warped morality that religion tends to instil in people.

Religion as a virus

Next, Dawkins discusses specifically the idea of religion seen as a virus in the sense of a meme. He begins by explaining how a child is genetically programmed to believe without questioning the word of authority figures, especially parents – the evolutionary imperative being that no child would survive by adopting a sceptical attitude towards everything their elders said. But this same imperative, he claims, leaves children open to "infection" by religion.

Dawkins meets the psychologist Jill Mytton who suffered an abusive religious upbringing in the Exclusive Brethren [Dawkins, Richard (2006). The God Delusion. Transworld Publishers, 169–172. ISBN 0-5930-5548-9. P 361] – she now helps to rehabilitate similarly affected children. Mytton explains how, for a child, images of hell fire are in no sense metaphorical, but instead inspire real terror. She portrays her own childhood as one "dominated by fear." When pressed by Dawkins to describe the realities of Hell, Mytton hesitates, explaining that the images of eternal damnation which she absorbed as a child still have the power to affect her now.

Then Dawkins visits Pastor Keenan Roberts, who has been running the Hell House Outreach programme for 15 years, producing theatre shows aimed at giving children of twelve or older an indelible impression that "sin destroys". We see rehearsal scenes depicting doctors forcing an abortion on a woman despite her changing her mind, and a lesbian gay marriage ceremony presided over by Satan in which the women swear to “never believe that you are normal” and Satan cites First Corinthians 6 as God saying homosexuality equals sin. Roberts absolutely and unapologetically believes the scriptures about sin, and when Dawkins questions this basis for morality, replies that it is a faith issue.

Biblical morality

Next, Dawkins questions whether the Bible really does provide a suitable moral framework, and contends that the texts are of dubious origin and veracity, are internally contradictory and, examined closely, describe a system of morals that any civilised person should find poisonous. [ [ Religious "morals" the source of social ills] in The Times] He describes the Old Testament as the root of Judaism, Christianity and Islam; and, as example, readings are given of Deuteronomy 13 which instructs believers to kill any friend or family member who favours serving other gods, and Numbers 31 where Moses, angered at the mercy his victorious forces show in taking women and children captive, instructs them to kill all save virgin girls, who are to be taken as slaves: an act Dawkins describes as genocide. Dawkins also questions another story from Judges 19 in which a lesser character, an old man, offers his maiden daughter out to an angry mob of "wicked men" to be raped and humiliated to save his male guest from being raped by the "wicked men". In Dawkins's opinion, the Old Testament God must be "the most unpleasant character in all fiction."

Dawkins then discusses the New Testament which, at first, he describes as being a huge improvement from the moral viewpoint. But he is repelled by what he calls St Paul's nasty sadomasochistic doctrine that Jesus had to be hideously tortured and killed so that we might be redeemed – the doctrine of atonement for original sin – and asks “if God wanted to forgive our sins, why not just forgive them? Who is God trying to impress?" He says that modern science demonstrates that the alleged perpetrators Adam and Eve never even existed, undermining St Paul's doctrine.

Dawkins then interviews Michael Bray who interprets the Bible literally – he would like to see capital punishment enforced for the sin of adultery, for instance. Bray was a friend of Paul Hill, who was executed in 2003 for murdering a doctor who performed abortion and the doctor's escort, James Barrett. Bray defends Hill's actions and speculates that he is now "doing well" in Heaven. Later, Dawkins converses with his friend Richard Harries, the former Bishop of Oxford and a liberal Anglican. Harries sees the scriptures as texts which should be read in the context of the time they were written, and interpreted in the light of modern insights. Dawkins asks Harries about his attitude towards miracles – does he believe in the Virgin Birth, for instance? It's not "on a par with" the resurrection, says Harries.

ecular morality

Finally, Dawkins searches for an explanation of morality based upon evolutionary biology, which he considers more hopeful than ancient texts. Together with the evolutionary psychologist Oliver Curry, he discusses the primordial morality to be found among chimpanzees. Curry explains his view that we don't need religion to explain morality and if anything it simply gets in the way. Instead, he claims, a more convincing explanation is to be found in the concepts of reciprocal altruism and kin selection.

After briefly addressing the rise of secular values, Dawkins goes on to discuss morality with the novelist Ian McEwan. McEwan takes as his starting point the mortality of human life, which he says should naturally lead to a morality based on empathy – one which he claims should confer upon us a clear sense of responsibility for our brief span on earth.

Dawkins finishes by arguing that atheism is not a recipe for despair but just the opposite; rather than viewing life as a trial that must be endured before reaching a mythical hereafter, an atheist sees this life as all we have, and by disclaiming a next life can take more excitement in this one. Atheism, Dawkins concludes, is life-affirming in a way that religion can never be.

Uncut interviews

Many of the interviews used in "The Root of All Evil?" were compiled on a three-disk DVD set entitled "The Root of All Evil? The Uncut Interviews". Dawkins introduces the DVD by saying, "the full interview where you saw people's hesitations and slowings-down and pauses for thought were revealing and, I thought, fascinating." The footage included on the DVDs includes interviews with Jill Mytton, Ian McEwan, Bishop Harries, Michael Bray, the cast and director of Hell House, Alister McGrath, Adrian Hawkes and Rabbi Gluck. The Yousef al-Khattab and Ted Haggard interviews were not included for legal reasons.


Critical reception

Writing in the "New Statesman", Dawkins stated that Channel 4's correspondence in response to the documentary had been running at two to one in favour.Richard Dawkins, 2006. " [ Diary] ." "New Statesman".] Journalists including Howard Jacobson had accused Dawkins of giving voice to extremists, [Howard Jacobson, 2006. " [ Nothing like an unimaginative scientist to get non-believers running back to God] ." "The Independent".] a claim Dawkins responded to by noting that the National Association of Evangelicals has some 30 million members, and also that he had invited the main UK religious leaders to participate, but they all declined.However, Alister McGrath, a Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University, was interviewed for the program, but was not included in the documentary. [ [ AlterNet: MediaCulture: The Dawkins Delusion ] ] McGrath claimed to have made Dawkins "appear uncomfortable" with his explanations of religious belief and the implication, made by McGrath, was that Dawkins's program showed journalistic dishonesty. In a lecture at City Church of San Francisco McGrath said that his interview was cut because he said things that did not promote the message that Dawkins and the producers wanted to get across. [ [ Open Forum ] ] The McGrath interview, together with other interviews not shown in the programme "The Root of All Evil?", was released in the DVD "Root of All Evil? The Uncut Inverviews". [ [ Root of All Evil? The Uncut Inverviews [6 - $25.00 : Zen Cart!, The Art of E-commerce ] ]

The religious journalist Madeleine Bunting produced a scathing review for "The Guardian", in which she described the documentary as "a piece of intellectually lazy polemic not worthy of a great scientist." [Madeleine Bunting, 2006. " [,5673,1681235,00.html No wonder atheists are angry: they seem ready to believe anything] ." "The Guardian".] In "The Tablet", Keith Ward criticised Dawkins for what he considered to be an indiscriminate and simplistic approach to religion. [Keith Ward, 2006. " [ Faith, hype and a lack of clarity] ." "The Tablet".] But praise came from Johann Hari for "The Independent", who said "We have never needed Richard Dawkins more than now." [Johann Hari, 2006. " [ Why Richard Dawkins is heroic] ." "The Independent".]

Professor Keith Ward's book "Is Religion Dangerous?", responding to the Dawkins programme, analyses the claim that religion does more harm than good and suggests that "such assertions ... ignore the available evidence... and substitute rhetoric for analysis". [Ward, Keith, "Is Religion Dangerous?" p8 ]

ee also

*The Enemies of Reason - a Channel 4 2007 documentary written and presented by Dawkins as a successor of The Root of All Evil?
*The Genius of Charles Darwin - a 2008 documentary written and presented by Richard Dawkins
*Criticism of religion


External links

* [ "The Root of All Evil?"] at
*imdb title|0774118
* [ "The Root of All Evil"] (Part 1 at Google Video)
* [ "The Root of All Evil"] (Part 2 at Google Video)
* [ Dawkins interview of McGrath]
* [ Google link to The Root of All Evil]

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