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Sunday, July 24, 2005

dawkins was wrong

On September 15th, 2001, just four days after the worst terrorist attack ever on the United States, biologist Richard Dawkins penned an article for the Guardian explaining it all. According to Dawkins, the core problem was religion:
If death is final, a rational agent can be expected to value his life highly and be reluctant to risk it. This makes the world a safer place, just as a plane is safer if its hijacker wants to survive. At the other extreme, if a significant number of people convince themselves, or are convinced by their priests, that a martyr's death is equivalent to pressing the hyperspace button and zooming through a wormhole to another universe, it can make the world a very dangerous place. Especially if they also believe that that other universe is a paradisical escape from the tribulations of the real world. Top it off with sincerely believed, if ludicrous and degrading to women, sexual promises, and is it any wonder that naive and frustrated young men are clamouring to be selected for suicide missions?
As it turns out, this is not true. As Congressman Ron Paul points out while discussing the book, Dying to Win by Robert Pape, it's not religion at all that's the problem:
The clincher is this: the strongest motivation, according to Pape, is not religion but rather a desire "to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory the terrorists view as their homeland."
Pape did a study of 462 suicide attacks between 1980 and 2004 and the conclusions might be shocking to some but they are crucial if we are to put an end to horrible tragedies like the 9/11 attacks. Even Paul admits that prior to reading the book "[he]...assumed that the driving force behind the suicide attacks was Islamic fundamentalism."

The title of this post is a slam against Dawkings, naturally, but he's no worse than the vast majority of commentators who are all too prone to analyze things based on their pet peeves. Dawkins, an atheist, emphasized the religious aspect of the event but if he's a true scientist, he will be pleased to see that a rigorous study has been done and the true motivator of these horrible crimes is something that we can do something about. We don't have to convince the fanatics to give up their religion, all we have to do is stop occupying their countries.


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