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Richard Ingrams: Atheism could do without Dawkins as its advocate


The motley gang of people writing to protest about the Pope's visit are not protesting just about the Pope. Even if they don't say so, they are protesting about religion in general. And many of them are not merely anti-religion, they are anti anything to do with the supernatural. They passionately want to believe that there is absolutely nothing in the world that cannot be scientifically explained.

This can become a bit of an obsession with some of them, as I have observed in the case of one of the anti-Pope protestors, Dr Jonathan Miller, whom I have listened to on the subject on more than one occasion.

But it applies in particular to the chief spokesman of the anti-Pope faction, Professor Richard Dawkins, who made a series of TV programmes recently not just to attack Christianity but to discredit all paranormal phenomena – telepathy, faith healing, even such ancient practices as water divining.

Rather than attacking Dawkins, the Pope and all his followers ought to encourage him, because his attacks are so intemperate, so ill-informed, that he gives atheism a bad name whilst reinforcing the faith of doubters and possibly even making converts to the church.

If the atheists hope to progress, they will have to silence Dawkins and find a more rational spokesman. And it will have to be someone other than Stephen Fry.

The baffling mistakes of the pathologist who examined David Kelly

The strange case of Dr Patel, the pathologist called in to perform the autopsy on Ian Tomlinson, continues to remain a bit of a mystery. How was it that this incompetent practitioner was appointed by the coroner with the apparent approval of the police?

Equally baffling is the case of Dr Nicholas Hunt. He was the pathologist in the David Kelly case, the man who recently described Kelly's death as "a textbook suicide". It has yet to be explained why a relatively inexperienced pathologist was given this job when Kelly's death was headline news all over the world. As it happens, Dr Hunt has been in the news recently in connection with another death, that of senior aircraft man Christopher Bridge, a serviceman killed in Afghanistan.

After Dr Hunt carried out the post-mortem examination at the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford, Bridge's mother complained that his report was riddled with mistakes. It said that he had three tattoos (when he had none). Height, weight, hair and eye colour were all wrong – leading her to believe that she might even have buried the wrong man. The mistakes, she said, had made her suicidal. Hunt had to issue three reports before he eventually got it right.

Balding has been vindicated but Gill's words will live on

"Few attacks either of ridicule or invective make much noise but by the help of those that they provoke." Dr Johnson's wise words have not been heeded by Clare Balding, the television horse-racing commentator who reported the television critic A.A. Gill to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) for referring to her as "the dyke on a bike" after she made a series about cycling.

I have to confess that I was unaware of the existence of Ms Balding and I was only dimly aware of the existence of A.A. Gill. But now, thanks to the Radio 4 news programme, I know that Balding is a lesbian and makes no bones of the fact, that Gill made a joke about this in his review, that Balding made an official complaint and that the PCC has reprimanded Gill and his paper, saying they had breached the Editors' Code of Practice (whatever that is) and had perpetrated "a pejorative synonym relating to the complainant's sexuality".

Balding may feel vindicated for all I know, but she must face up to the fact that for many millions of listeners, the only thing they will in future remember about her is Gill's pejorative joke.