I like this:
Richard Dawkins has been right all along, of course — at least in one important respect. Evolution has indeed dealt a blow to the idea of a benign creator, literally conceived. It tells us that there is no Intelligence controlling the cosmos, and that life itself is the result of a blind process of natural selection, in which innumerable species failed to survive. The fossil record reveals a natural history of pain, death and racial extinction, so if there was a divine plan, it was cruel, callously prodigal and wasteful.
For the full context, which I don't like so much, see here. The Wall Street Journal printed separate and independently written articles from Karen Armstrong and Richard Dawkins on the question, "Where does Evolution Leave God?" Each knew that the other one was writing to the same commission, but neither saw the other's article prior to publication.
Predictably, perhaps, I prefer the article by Dawkins, not only for its substantive content but also because of its typical lucidity. By contrast, I find much of what Armstrong has written unintelligible, perhaps incoherent, and (where some meaning can be discerned) misleading about the history of Christianity and of Abrahamic religion in general.
For all that, this particular quote, which contains most of the first paragraph, states the most important point in the whole discussion. My only quibble is that would have been more accurate to say something like "the diversity of life", rather than just "life", in the third sentence, since evolution is not a theory of how life first began but of how it diversified and developed the kinds of quasi-design that we see in nature.
The fourth sentence, though, is the most salient, and she phrases it well. Importantly, this is Armstrong's own view, not a view that she is attributing to someone else so she can attempt to refute it.
Dawkins himself does not make this sort of point, perhaps because he is not so much interested in whether there is a loving and providential (or "benign") God as whether there is a God at all. I think he underestimates the immense force of the point Armstrong opens with - it does not rule out any kind of God at all, but it is a devastating point for anyone wishing to defend the typical sort of religious belief in a loving and providential, yet all-good and all-powerful, deity, the sort of "benign creator" that Armstrong refers to. The facts about evolution should be sufficient to make literal belief in that kind of God an untenable position for anyone who takes them seriously. Any religious organisation that bases its claim to authority on access to the thoughts and desires of such a God cannot be taken seriously. The political implications are enormous.
I won't always be so kind towards Armstrong, and will have some more to say about this brief Wall Street Journal piece in one or more later posts. But kudos to her for her crystal clarity in stating such a crucial point about the relationship between religion and science.
Note that Armstrong defends a particular (rather mystical) brand of religion. But she does not claim that all religion is compatible with science. Nor does she mince words about the nature of the incompatibility between science and what is (though she does not concede this, of course) the main form of religion that is likely to be encountered in actual churches and mosques. This is from someone who evidently considers herself a kind of theist, even if the God she believes in is something transcendent, and apparently ineffable and impersonal, whose nature she can't put into words (since it's "indescribable"). That part is all murky - even incoherent - but I wish that all non-believers were as prepared to be as clear and frank as Armstrong manages in the opening sentences of her article.
Imagine. If Dawkins had written exactly those sentences - leaving out the "Dawkins has been right" bit, of course - he would have been castigated for them by a gaggle of accommodationist atheists. He'd be "shrill" and "strident". I guess there's still time for Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum to chide Karen Armstrong for her incivility. Quick, before her words become last week's news.