Nicholas Kristof’s “Modest Proposal for a Truce on Religion,” and responses by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and others

Nicholas Kristof in a column at the New York Times, as quoted at Darwiniana:

KristofnicholassmallIf God is omniscient and omnipotent, you can’t help wondering why she doesn’t pull out a thunderbolt and strike down Richard Dawkins.

Or, at least, crash the Web site of That’s a snarky site that notes that while people regularly credit God for curing cancer or other ailments, amputees never seem to enjoy divine intervention.

“If God were answering the prayers of amputees to regenerate their lost limbs, we would be seeing amputated legs growing back every day,” the Web site declares, adding: “It would appear, to an unbiased observer, that God is singling out amputees and purposefully ignoring them.”

That site is part of an increasingly assertive, often obnoxious atheist offensive led in part by Professor Dawkins — the Oxford scientist who is author of the new best seller “The God Delusion.” It’s a militant, in-your-face brand of atheism that he and others are proselytizing for…

More here. Responses by Harris, Dawkins, others in the New York Times:

To the Editor:

Re “A Modest Proposal for a Truce on Religion,” by Nicholas D. Kristof (column, Dec. 3):

HarrisContrary to Mr. Kristof’s opinion, it isn’t “intolerant” or “fundamentalist” to point out that there is no good reason to believe that one of our books was dictated by an omniscient deity.

Half of the American population believes that the universe is 6,000 years old. They are wrong about this. Declaring them so is not “irreligious intolerance.” It is intellectual honesty.

Given the astounding number of galaxies and potential worlds arrayed overhead, the complexities of life on earth and the advances in our ethical discourse over the last 2,000 years, the world’s religions offer a view of reality that is now so utterly impoverished as to scarcely constitute a view of reality at all.

This is a fact that can be argued for from a dozen sides, as Richard Dawkins and I have recently done in our books. Calling our efforts “mean” overlooks our genuine concern for the future of civilization.

And it’s not much of a counterargument either.

Sam Harris
New York, Dec. 3, 2006
The writer is the author of “The End of Faith” and “Letter to a Christian Nation.”

To the Editor:

Dawkins1_1Nicholas D. Kristof is one of many commentators to find the tone of the newly resurgent atheism “obnoxious” or “mean.”

Ubiquitous as they are, such epithets are not borne out by an objective reading of the works he cites: Sam Harris’s “Letter to a Christian Nation,” my own “God Delusion” and (I had not been aware of this splendid Web site; thank you, Mr. Kristof).

I have scanned all three atheist sources carefully for polemic, and my honest judgment is that they are gentle by the standards of normal political commentary, say, or the standards of theater and arts critics.

Mr. Kristof has simply become acclimatized to the convention that you can criticize anything else but you mustn’t criticize religion. Ears calibrated to this norm will hear gentle criticism of religion as intemperate, and robust criticism as obnoxious. Without wishing to offend, I want “The God Delusion” to raise our consciousness of this weird double standard.

How did religion acquire its extraordinary immunity against normal levels of criticism?

Richard Dawkins
Oxford, England, Dec. 4, 2006

More letters here.  Response from Daniel Dennett at

Dennett_5Presumably Mr Kristof chose the most inflammatory passage he could find in Richard Dawkins’ book to illustrate his point about how “mean” and “obnoxious” the tone is, and what he came up with is Dawkins’ short but appalling list of some of religion’s blemishes: from the Crusades and witch-hunts of yore to today’s 9/11, honor killings and “shiny-suited bouffant-haired televangelists fleecing gullible people of their money.” Good riddance to them all, says Dawkins. Would Kristof choose to defend any of these, or is he just shocked that Dawkins would be so impolite as to remind the devout of these dishonorable episodes? There is nothing “dogmatic” or “fundamentalist” about Dawkins’ tone; he is simply speaking truthfully about matters that most people have trained themselves not to mention, or else to allude to in mealy-mouthed terms.

And much more interesting debate on religion here at