Below are a number of articles relating to recent stories in the Times. One is a piece of research on the brain and religious belief. The other two are concerned with Richard Dawkins – he has a new book coming out, The Greatest Show on Earth.
I just thought I would ramble slightly about Richard Dawkins, who is possibly one of my least favourite public figures. I will admit I have never read any of his books – not that I’m against reading them I would be perfectly happy to, but I’m not paying for one, so I’m waiting on charity. I do, however, read with interest many articles related to or written by the man himself. I find him very interesting.
Why do I find him interesting? I just wonder about his dogged obsession with religion and with those that practice it. He is a scientist and yet he seems to spend of his time trying to argue that following a religion is at best ridiculous and at worst positively harmful. I just don’t understand why. He is one of these people who appears to believe that science and religion are incompatible. I’ll put my hand up and say I think that is a load of rubbish.
Personally I think people like Dawkins, through their words and actions, try to make this the case. They belittle people who hold religious beliefs. They ridicule people who doubt and aren’t prepared to take what others say at face value and who sit on the fence. Okay – Dawkins says evolution is a fact. I am stupid not to believe him. Well, guess what? I, like I imagine the majority of people who follow him and love calling creationists stupid, am not a scientist. If am to believe what he says it takes an element of faith. I can’t verify much of what he says because I don’t have access to the research or fully understand the terms and the processes involved. It’s been a long time since I did higher biology and chemistry! I suspect that for most of his vociferous cheerleaders on websites and forums across the globe, this is also the case. Perhaps they don’t wish to seem stupid for questioning?
In this respect, I find his followers similar to those of religious faiths. They are taking what he says at face value because they believe in him. They may well be correct – I don’t know. The argument seems reasonable, but who knows?
Somewhat problematic for the argument that religion and science are incompatible is that fact that, as Dawkins himself points out, many of the ‘top-level’ Christian leaders do not dispute evolution. For them there is no conflict of interests. But for Dawkins this isn’t enough. The pope is still dim (re: condoms and aids) and other preachers should make it clear in sermons that Adam and Eve etc are not real and the stories are metaphorical. Perhaps, in that case, Dawkins should make it explicit in his interviews and anything he publishes etc that the truth or otherwise of evolution does not deny the existence of a deity, or even the truth of the Abrahamic religions?
Leaving them aside, his main worry seems to be creationists in the US, maybe followed distantly by Muslims in Britain. A whopping 40% of Americans are creationists and Dawkins compares them to holocaust deniers. This is highly offensive. A holocaust denier is someone who twists the facts of the historical record in order to bolster a racist agenda. These people are motivated by their hatred of Jews. The facts do not matter. For a creationist, evolution has not been proven beyond reasonable doubt. There are questions about the theory that they believe have not been adequately answered. They believe the story of creation not in order to further a hate campaign, but as part of a belief system.
I think Dawkins is either a liar or is pretty good at shooting himself in the foot. Either he wants people to know about evolution and to ‘convert’ the creationists or he just wants a nice argument to bolster his book sales. I think if it was the former then he would be wise to act in a more conciliatory manner, and watch his language (ie the use of the word ‘ignorant’, I would also like to point out at this point that some of the people I know who are most knowledgeable about evolution are in fact creationists) . Worse, I believe his words convert more people to fundamentalist ideas than anything else as they engender a sense of victimhood and persecution amongst those who don’t agree with what he says.
However, if his purpose is the latter, then he is doing very nicely for himself.