Richard Dawkins has challenged David Cameron’s assertion that the UK needs to return to Christian ideals, calling the Bible “an appalling moral compass”.
On Friday, in a speech to celebrate the 400th birthday of the King James Bible, the prime minister said the New Testament had helped give our country "a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today,” adding that we should "actively stand up and defend" these Christian values.
However, speaking to Sky News, Dawkins, a renowned, scientist, author and atheist, said that Cameron is wrong to suggest the Christian Bible is going to “help us with our morals and our social wellbeing.”
“The Christian bible will help us with our literature,” said the author of The God Delusion. “It should therefore be taught in schools in literature classes, but it’s not going to help us with our morals, far from it.”
“The bible is a terrible moral compass, if you think about it. Of course, you can cherry pick the verses that you like, which means the verses that happen to coincide with our modern secular consensus, but then you need to have a rationale for leaving out the ones that say stone people to death if they break the Sabbath, or if they commit adultery. It’s an appalling moral compass.”
The Oxford professor reasoned that the ideas within the new testament - of crucifixion, of redemption, of a scapegoat who is put to death for the sins of all mankind – makes it a terrible social guide. “The sooner we leave Christianity and all other religions behind, from a moral point of view the better,” he said.
In an open letter to Cameron in the December edition of the New Statesmen, Dawkins questioned the prime minister's faith and that of most politicians.
"If you are like several government ministers - of all three parties - to whom I have spoken, you are not really a religious believer yourself," he wrote. "Several ministers and ex-ministers of education whom I have met, both Conservative and Labour, don't believe in God but, to quote the philosopher Daniel Dennett, they do "believe in belief".
Speaking on Saturday, Dawkins continued on the offensive, charging Cameron with falling into a trap by calling the UK a Christian country, but concluding that it is in a "terrible moral state".
"It seems like a paradox," he quipped. "If we are in a state of moral collapse, I don’t think Christianity or Islam is going to help. What we need is a better moral sense, which we get from moral philosophy. It’s absolute nonsense to say we need faith in order to be good.”
On Friday, Professor Dawkins' fellow atheist campaigner Christopher Hitchens died aged 62, following a battle with cancer. Along with Dennett and neuroscientist Sam Harris, Hitchens and Dawkins became known as The Four Horsemen of the Anti-Apocalypse, a group of atheist thinkers and writers offering, as Hitchens put it, "a push back to religious tyranny".
Watch The Four Horsemen in a roundtable discussion on religion, filmed in 2007.