March 29, 2012
The Root of All Evil is a television documentary, written and
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 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
The God Delusion, released in
September 2006, goes on to examine the topics raised in the
documentary in greater detail.
Part 1 - The God
"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 program 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.
1. 1. Lourdes
Pilgrims at Lourdes
Dawkins first visits the shrine of Lourdes in southern France,
where he joins a candlelit procession of pilgrims singing, "Laudate
Mariam!" 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
Dawkins remains skeptical, 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
1. 2. 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 improvable and often improbable
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,
dear fellow, I wish to thank you, I have been wrong these
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
Dawkins also comments that the
design hypothesis raises another question: who made the Maker?
1. 3. 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. 
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
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
Dawkins responds "do you want to
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 labeled "Satan's incarnate" for
teaching evolution, and another freethinker compares the present
situation to the McCarthy era.
1. 4. Jerusalem
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
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. 
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
When asked for his thoughts on the
attacks, he traces the blame back to the creation of the state
of Israel. He also takes the opportunity to advise Great Britain
to "take your forces off our lands, correct yourselves, fix your
society, fix your women."
1. 5. Russell's teapot
Dawkins rounds off this
episode with a presentation of Bertrand Russell's celestial
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
In "The Virus of Faith", Dawkins opines that the moral framework of
religions is warped, and argues against the religious indoctrination
The title of this episode comes from
The Selfish Gene, in which Dawkins discussed the concept of
2. 1. Sectarian education
Dawkins discusses what he considers as the divisive influence of
sectarian education, with children segregated and labeled by
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
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 emphasizes 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 aback 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". 
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
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. 
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.  Another lesson talks
about AIDS as being the "wages of sin", so Dawkins inquires
whether this might not be mixing health education with
Hawkes responds that without a
law-giver, “Why is rape wrong? Why is pedophilia 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 instill in people.
2. 2. 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
skeptical 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
 - 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 program 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
2. 3. 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
civilized person should find poisonous. 
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 favors 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
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.
2. 4. Secular morality
Finally, Dawkins searches for an explanation of morality based
upon evolutionary biology, which he considers more hopeful than
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,
life-affirming in a way that religion can never be.
The Jeremy Vine Show, BBC Radio 2. January 5, 2006
Point of Inquiry Podcast. February 10, 2006
According to Jeff Sharlet, Haggard actually talked to Bush
or his advisers every Monday: Jeff Sharlet (2005). "Soldiers
of Christ: I. Inside America's most powerful megachurch".
Harper's 310 (1860): 41-54. p. 42. On November 3, 2006,
Haggard resigned his positions: see
Ted Haggard for details.
In the caption, Sabri is mistakenly referred to as
who was also Grand Mufti but died in 1974.
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.
Phoenix Academy independent Christian schools:
A similar hypothesis, generally referred today as the giant
impact hypothesis, is still accepted today: see
sheet on the origin of the moon.
Dawkins, Richard (2006). The God Delusion. Transworld
Publishers, 169-172. ISBN 0-5930-5548-9. P 361
Religious "morals" the source of social ills in The Times