The new two-part series, to be shown on Channel 4, will compare Moses to Hitler and claim that God is racist. It will also argue that religion is a “backward belief system” responsible for terrorism.
The controversial films, which were produced by IWC creative director Alan Clements and written by Dawkins, are a polemic against faith and a stout defence of science.
Entitled The Root Of All Evil, the series shows Dawkins visiting theological hot-spots in Lourdes, Colorado Springs, the al-Axa mosque and an English faith school. In each case the presenter, who is an atheist, attempts to show that religion is an “elephant in the room” trying to subvert reason.
In the first film, The God Delusion, Dawkins claims that Lourdes, a Catholic pilgrimage destination in France, symbolises a belief system based on “delusion”. “If you want to experience the mediaeval rituals of faith, the candle light, the incense, music, important-sounding dead languages, nobody does it better than the Catholics,” he says.
Dawkins then travels to the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, where he hits out at the influence of “Christian fascism” and “an American Taliban”.
This is followed by an interview with Yousef al-Khattab, an American-born Jew turned fundamentalist Muslim, who clashes with Dawkins after saying he hates atheists.
In the second film, The Virus of Faith, Dawkins turns his attention to the effect he believes religion has on young people. “Innocent children are being saddled with demonstrable falsehoods,” he says.
More controversially, he states “sectarian religious schools” have been “deeply damaging” to generations of children. “It’s time to question the abuse of childhood innocence with superstitious ideas of hellfire and damnation ,” he says. “Isn’t it weird the way we automatically label a tiny child with its parents’ religion?”
Dawkins also questions the fundamental tenets of Christianity. On the idea of a spiritual creator, he says: “The God of the Old Testament has got to be the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous, and proud of it, petty, vindictive, unjust, unforgiving, racist.”
The author of The Selfish Gene then criticises Abraham, compares Moses to Hitler and Saddam Hussein, before calling the New Testament “St Paul’s nasty, sado-masochistic doctrine of atonement for original sin”.
The films are set to be controversial because Dawkins has made no attempt to disguise his contempt for religion. They come at a time when Tony Blair has signalled his support for faith schools, while he has also backed new laws to outlaw religious hatred.
It will also be controversial as the series was produced by Clements, who is married to BBC journalist Kirsty Wark. The Newsnight presenter caused a storm in 2002 when she called on head teachers to question the separate funding of Catholic schools.
Clements said : “ Programmes like this need to be made and watched. But I can’t take credit for the philosophy of it and the way it’s expressed.”
John Deighan, a spokesman for the Catholic Church, hit out at the programme’s denunciation of religion: “Dawkins is well known for his vitriolic attacks on faith, and I think faith has withstood his attacks. He really is going beyond his abilities as a scientist when he starts to venture into the field of philosophy and theology. He is the guy with demonstrable problems,” he said.
Mike Judge, of the Christian Institute, accused Dawkins of deliberately trying to be offensive. He said: “These comments are meant to be inflammatory and don’t bear any relation to the facts. Even today, church schools are over-subscribed. He’s prejudiced.”