Thoughts on Dawkins
Just wanted to highlight an excellent article on Neuroanthropology about Richard Dawkins.
I saw Dawkins speak in October and was very non-plussed by the whole experience, since then I’ve wanted to write a very similar article. The article captures what I wanted to say with eloquence. This piece is not just reflective of Dawkins but a larger cultural trend. When he was at IU, he answered a barrage of pretty terrible questions from a mostly groveling audience. (“I am an atheist, but you are my God” was said and is admittedly the most ridiculous exemplar, but the general tone was maintained.)
One of the key problems is that Dawkins seems to rail against a very particular kind of theism – that of the omnipotent, omnipresent “guy in the sky” which can rail down thunder and lightning in a feverish outbreak of fury. I don’t think that’s what the majority of people conceptualize when they see the divine. When Dawkins answered a question about life’s purpose, he got at what a lot of people agree with – a general sense of wonder and marvel at the infinite complexity of life, and the immense grandiosity of the universe.
Also, he asserted that the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and other religious leaders have no problem with evolution and their faith coexisting. You cannot study biology without evolution, and to accept creationism as scientific fact is raw ignorance. Instead of focusing arguments on polarization like theism vs. atheism, why not just strike at the core? Ignorance and bigotry are terrible in any incarnation, but are not a direct result of having any theistic conviction.
If Dawkins (and other new atheists) aim to make the world more “scientific” the emphasis should not be on any epistemological claim that replaces religious belief with scientific “belief”. Rather, they should teach people to engage the world, to challenge their beliefs, wrestle with them and question them. By teaching people to accept science as something “to believe in”, we gain nothing except struggles when scientific “doctrine” is found to be a misunderstanding – as has happened at countless junctures in the history of science. By teaching engagement we can challenge our assumptions boldly and discover the next step on the long path to truth. Carl Sagan puts this desire eloquently on the first pages of Cosmos: “If we long for our planet to be important, there is something we can do about it. We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and by the depth of our answers.”