by Denyse O'Leary
Ever since American Microsoft billionaire Charles Simonyi paid for his chair at Oxford in the Public Understanding of Science, zoologist Richard Dawkins has promoted atheism and an extreme form of Darwinism as the best way of doing science. In recent years, however, he has become best known for using his chair to promote atheism, rather than for promoting science ideas. His actual ideas, the selfish gene and the meme (a hypothetical mental variant of the hypothetical selfish gene) have not fared well under analysis, but no matter. He promotes atheism, and for many people, that is enough.
Dawkin's whole discussion of the naturalistic explanation of religion assumes that such an explanation renders the beliefs thus explained illusory. But if a naturalistic explanation for a belief renders it illusory, and all beliefs can be explained naturalistically, then atheism too can be explained naturalistically, and is therefore illusory. He who lives by naturalistic explanations must die by them.
All of Dawkin's explanations seem stifled and contrived by his own ideological materialism. He uses his naturalistic world view as a Procrustean bed into which he tries to fit everything, however much he has to hack and stretch it to fit. And what a small bed it is.
The second problem with Dawkin's book is the condescending tone with which he dismisses the arguments of those with whom he disagrees. One religious argument is "amusing, if rather pathetic," another "a joke," another "silly," and another "a grotesque piece of reasoning." This glib attitude particularly plagues the section of the book dealing with the traditional arguments for Christianity.
In either case, Dawkins makes clear that anyone who thinks that there is a mind or purpose behind the universe is not to be appeased:
Scientists divide into two schools of thought over the best tactics with which to face the threat. The Neville Chamberlain 'appeasement' school focuses on the battle for evolution. Consequently, its members identify fundamentalism as the enemy, and they bend over backwards to appease 'moderate' or 'sensible' religion (not a difficult task, for bishops and theologians despise fundamentalists as much as scientists do). Scientists of the Winston Churchill school, by contrast, see the fight for evolution as only one battle in a larger war: a looming war between supernaturalism on the one side and rationality on the other. For them, bishops and theologians belong with creationists in the supernatural camp, and are not to be appeased.
He belongs to the latter school, of course, so the clergy who accommodate Darwinism will get no quarter from him, even if they can sneak by National Center for Science [Darwinism] Education . His intolerance has been noted by almost everyone, and a number of thoughtful critics have come forward - as might be expected in any situation where they are free to do so.
It is never a surprise to find Dawkins full of indignation. In his new book, The God Delusion, he has turned the full force of his intellect against religion, and all his verbal skills as well, and his humane learning, too, which is capacious enough to include some deeply minor poetry. Truly this book is a sword which turneth every way, to judge by the table of contents at least. There is no doubt in Dawkins's mind that the evils of the world are to be laid at the doorstep of the church, mosque, and synagogue, and that science must be our salvation. It is the "God delusion," which has afflicted almost everyone almost anywhere through the whole of recorded time, that has made us behave so badly. And Science (by which he really means his version of Darwinism) is our potential rescuer from this vale of tears. We need only to become more Dawkins-like in our thinking. This is a fairly cheery view of things beside others on offer, at least as regards the ongoing life of the planet, which he seems to assume.
Indeed, fellow Darwin fan H. Allen Orr, echoes the disappointment,noting,
The most disappointing feature of The God Delusion is Dawkins's failure to engage religious thought in any serious way. This is, obviously, an odd thing to say about a book-length investigation into God. But the problem reflects Dawkins's cavalier attitude about the quality of religious thinking. Dawkins tends to dismiss simple expressions of belief as base superstition. Having no patience with the faith of fundamentalists, he also tends to dismiss more sophisticated expressions of belief as sophistry (he cannot, for instance, tolerate the meticulous reasoning of theologians). But if simple religion is barbaric (and thus unworthy of serious thought) and sophisticated religion is logic-chopping (and thus equally unworthy of serious thought), the ineluctable conclusion is that all religion is unworthy of serious thought.
The result is The God Delusion, a book that never squarely faces its opponents. You will find no serious examination of Christian or Jewish theology in Dawkins's book (does he know Augustine rejected biblical literalism in the early fifth century?), no attempt to follow philosophical debates about the nature of religious propositions (are they like ordinary claims about everyday matters?), no effort to appreciate the complex history of interaction between the Church and science (does he know the Church had an important part in the rise of non-Aristotelian science?), and no attempt to understand even the simplest of religious attitudes (does Dawkins really believe, as he says, that Christians should be thrilled to learn they're terminally ill?).
In fact, the book is quite clearly a screed written by a man who knows that his fans will adore him no matter what he does or says.
Waiving the question of Dawkins is proud or humble, one may very well ask two questions: Is his view of life promoted at public expense in textbooks and science standards? And what would happen to a person - even an atheist - who decided, on the basis of evidence, that radical atheistic materialism is not true?
The answer to the first question is probably yes, and the answer to the second question is the subject of the next installment. What if an atheist is NOT a radical materialist? Is he protected by his atheism or is he just dog meat?
Toronto-based Canadian journalist Denyse O'Leary (www.designorchance.com) is the author of the multiple award-winning By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg Fortress 2004), an overview of the intelligent design controversy. She was named CBA Canada's Recommended Author of the Year in 2005 and is co-author, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of the forthcoming The Spiritual Brain (Harper 2007).
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