Why blame religion for Alan Turing's prosecution?

Alan Turing was a British scientist who committed suicide in 1954 after being convicted of homosexual acts. In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins lists this in his chapter on bad things that results from religion. As usual, he doesn’t offer any reasons for doing so. Since we have several Dawkins fans on this board, perhaps one of them can explain the thinking.

In the 1950’s the Church of England had actively taking a role in fighting for legalization of homosexuality in Britain and opposing the laws that criminalized it. In fact it wasn’t just the Church of England. Every major church with a significant presence in Britian had endorsed the viewpoint that homosexuality should be legal. (John A. T. Robinson’s book Christian Freedom in a Permissive Society discusses the position that the various churches took on the issue.) Unfortunately for British homosexuals at the time, the secular government did not follow the recommendations of the churches, and homosxuality remained against the law until 1967. Hence it seems to me rather odd to blame Christians for a law that they were fighting against, particularly since it was a secular institution that refused to change the law.

Why do you think the law existed in the first place? Think it was illegal in pagan Greece and Rome?

That some religions are ok with gay marriage doesn’t eliminate the fact that there would be no significant opposition to it today without the influence of religion.

This doesn’t hold water, however. Numerous societies without religious prohobitions on homosexuality have (and still have) harsh sanctions or punishments for it.

Such as? And have they been “infected” from the West?

This is untrue. Many countries and institutions that were militantly atheistic were also strongly opposed to homosexuality. The Soviet Union is one obvious example. It’s true that left-wing atheists in western society generally support gay rights today, but they only came to that position after Christians did. Given the evidence, it’s more likely that there would never have been a significant movement towards gay legalization without the influence of Christianity.

However, this thread is about Turing’s case in particular. If the Church of England (or the Roman Catholic Church, or the Presbyterian Church, or the Lutheran Church, …) had gotten their way, Turing would not have been prosecuted. But he was prosecuted by England’s very secular government.

I’d be willing to give Dawkins some slack on this, and I’m not especially a fan of his, though I am of Turing.

Dawkins is most vulnerable when he tries to argue that religion necessarily causes violence. I think human bigotry is more innate than that, and that Dawkins shouldn’t waste his time with it. I have noticed that every attempted rebuttal of The God Delusion fixates on that one rather unimportant aspect of the book. There is really no room to attack him on his central EOG points, so they jump on his critiques of religion as a social institution instead. If he’d left that stuff out, they’d have nothing to attack him on.

Of course, it’s a trivial and unimportant point of rebuttal. Proving that violence is not innate to religion does not prove that gods therefore exist. So yeah, Dawkins takes it too far with that angle, but so what?

Dawkins’ anti-religious writings tend to be filled with poorly researched claims, unsubstantiated assertions, and sloppy philosophy. So much so that the prominent atheist philosopher Michael Ruse famously said, “The God Delusion makes me ashamed to be an atheist…” (as quoted by Alistair McGrath in a critical review of that book).

This is one such example of Dawkins’ poorly researched and poorly substantiated claims.

I flipped through that book at a Borders once. It’s actually one of the rebuttals I was thinking of when I said that all the focus on is the sociological stuff, though I think it might have had a little warmed over cosmolological blather in it too. Dawkins is vulnerable on the sociology, but untouchable on the science. He really doesn’t get into philosophy.

Not true. For example, Greg Koukl’s analysis of The God Delusion does touch on that point, but it spends a great deal more time on other problems within the text. Similarly, the book that I mentioned earlier (The Dawkins Delusion) does tackle that point, but only in one chapter. The rest of the book covers entirely different ground. And Dr. William Lane Craig’s brief response to his book doesn’t even mention the point which you raised (though it admittedly alludes to it at the very end).

For that matter, you have the well-known evolutionary biologist, H. Allen Orr. Orr is an atheist, just as Dawkins is, yet he took great issue with the book. In Orr’s review, he did not dwell on the “religion -> violence” argument either; rather, he devoted considerable space to other shortcomings of the book. He even went so far as to say,

“But as I made clear, I have no problem with where Dawkins arrived but with how he got there. It’s one thing to think carefully about religion and conclude it’s dubious. It’s another to string together anecdotes and exercises in bad philosophy and conclude that one has resolved subtle problems.”

So no, it is absolutely untrue that “If he’d left that stuff out, they’d have nothing to attack him on.” Nor is it true that “every attempted rebuttal of The God Delusion fixates on that one rather unimportant aspect of the book.” Disagree if you wish, but Dawkins’ detractors – both theist and atheists – complain about a great deal more than just that one point.

Oh, yes, he does. The entire book is one big exercise in philosophy – sloppy philosophy, but philosophy nonetheless. His reasoning may be informed by scientific claims, but that does not make it any less philosophical.

Heck, the very question of God’s existence is philosophical in nature, as is the “problem of evil” which Dawkins cited. So is his dismissal of the teleological argument and his invocation of the anthropic principle. To say that Dawkins didn’t really engage in philosophy is both false and simply foolish.

I’ve read the book. There’s very little philosophy in it. He adopts the position the existence of God is a scientific question, and yes he addresses the classical arguments for God, but he addresses them only scientifically. His scientific arguments are not touchable. Craig certainly did not address them. He only whines that Dawkins arguments don’t prove there’s not a God and tries, lamely, to argue that everything in the universe is “compatible” (whatever that means) with a God, which is really a vacant objection. Even if it were true, the universe is no more compatible with gods than it is with all-powerful leprechauns or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

It is probably worth pointing out that Dawkins had a wife with whom he had a daughter who turned to a Fundamentalist brand of Christianity and insisted upon bringing up the daughter in that faith. Although the woman in question is now dead, this seems to have scored a very permanent scar on Dawkins psyche, and on the issue of religion he has a very personal axe to grind.

He’s also a little wacky occasionally on topics that are tangential or ancillary to his primary areas of expertise, particualrly evolutionary psychology and neurophysiology, most notably his promotion of the idea of memes as actual discrete and repeatable neural structures, for which there is no evidence whatsoever.

I like Dawkins, and in general I think he’s good at presenting concepts of natural selection (and tend toward a gene-centric approach to the fundamental mechanic of selection and inheritance), and frankly I agree esthetically with most of his sentiment on the topic of religion, but he’s frequently out to lunch when it comes to rationale arguements when it comes to his most aggressive screeds.


This is little more than the converse of Phillip E. Johnson’s attack on the science of evolution based on philosophical principles.

Dawkins may avoid invoking Aristotle, Kant, Heidegger, or Wittgenstein in his arguments, but his entire text is an appeal to use only science to examine the world–and that is a philosophical principle. He might be (coincidentally) correct, but his argument is, basically, bad philosophy.

How is it a “philosophical” argument to use what works ? Science works. Religion doesn’t. Religion reveals nothing of the world; if you want to actually understand the world, you need to toss out religion and use science.

How is it not? I agree with you that discarding science in favour of religion is (IMO) nuts, but let’s not pretend that it isn’t a philosophical position (as almost all stances are).

What evidence would this be? Certainly there were atheistic societies that had in in for gay people. And then you have ancient Greece and Rome, pantheists, who were relatively ok with it - and I might note relatively ok with it until the advent (ho ho!) of Christianity. As much as you seem to enjoy attributing all the good in society as coming entirely and necessarily from Christianity, I don’t believe this particular one is something you can claim.

A question. I have not read the books you have read, but there is (and I assume was) a rather significant difference between “the Chuch” as including the head bodies/priests and so forth, and “the Church” as includes the general believers/churchgoers. After all, the Catholic, Anglican et al. churches today preach tolerance from their highest levels - yet it does not always seem to make its way down to the individual members. I would add also that you seem to be taking the government’s secularity as it is today, rather than as it was then.

Seeing as “philosophy” means “the love of wisdom”, surely the only truly philosophical position is discarding religion in favour of science.

If every position is a philosophical position, then calling something a philosophical position or an argument a philosophical argument is pretty meaningless. “I’d rather be right than wrong” seems rather more basic than philosophy.

It’s my understanding that the homoerotic cultural practices of Greece were decidedly NOT anything like our modern understanding of homosexuality as an orientation. Likewise, the Roman tolerance was just that…tolerance. And a rather tenuous tolerance at that. Just because the emperors were debauching themselves with other men doesn’t mean your average Gaius on the street was going to get away with it.