Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins has slammed claims that late notorious atheist Christopher Hitchens was contemplating conversion to evangelical Christianity before his death and accused Christians of "lying for Jesus."
Dawkins shared his frustration via Twitter, writing, "Insulting a dead hero who now can't defend himself...I suppose they think that's OK if you're lying for Jesus."
Taunton, the founder and executive director of The Fixed Point Foundation, writes that Hitchens, who died in 2011, became a close friend of his, and they went on two long road trips together, "with Hitchens reading aloud from the Gospel of John on one of them," according to AL.com.
"For the first time in his life, he [Hitchens] was engaging evangelical Christians," Taunton was quoted as saying. "He found them to be different from the veneer of Christianity in Britain. When he began debating these evangelicals, he began to like them."
The author continued, "I discovered Christopher is not defined by his atheism. Atheism is a negative and you can't build a philosophy around a negative. Christopher was searching for a unifying system of thought. They're accusing me of saying he converted. I make no such claim. It's not my claim that Christopher converted, it's that Christopher was contemplating conversion. I think I substantiate it in the book."
Taunton added: "One of the unifying factors with evangelicals was with Islam. Christopher could not get over the blindness of the left. He could never get beyond their willful blindness to the dangers of Islam. Christopher felt a rising alarm about Islam.
"I agreed with everything Hitchens said about Islam. I recognize that not every Muslim is a terrorist. But if you read the Quran and the Hadith, If you take those writings seriously, infidels must pay a tax, convert or die."
"Stories of deathbed conversions are always dubious, especially when they are recounted by the faithful, lack corroborating evidence, and involve a famous nonbeliever," writes Dawkins. "Such was the case of Charles Darwin, an agnostic subject to widespread (and false) conversion stories. Creationists still propagate the lie that Darwin embraced God on his deathbed. And such is now the case with the late Christopher Hitchens."
Dawkins also suggests that Taunton "is profiting from rumors-rumors he revived-that Hitchens might have been turning to God after learning he had terminal cancer."
He adds, "The book's title, too, clearly implies that [Hitchens] had a 'faith.' Well maybe he did, but it was in rationality, not religious malarkey."
However, when asked last month about the fairness of publishing such claims about Hitchens after his death, Taunton refused to back down: "The things that I relate, I think by and large I substantiate," he told Religion News Service. "What I am saying is this: If Christopher Hitchens is a lock, the tumblers don't line up with the atheist key and that upsets a lot of atheists. They want Christopher Hitchens to be defined by his atheism, and he wasn't."