Richard Dawkins – the Evangelical Atheist

I got in a major email argument with my daughter the other day. She loves Richard Dawkins. There is no one I like less.

photo of Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins

Dawkins made his name with the publication of his best selling book, The Selfish Gene. He then moved on and wrote The God Delusion, another bestseller. His latest offering, The Magic of Reality, is likely to go off the charts in terms of sales – especially ebook sales, since it is the best example yet of a richly animated, interactive ebook. If for no other reason than that, it is worth taking a look at, because it is the future of publishing.

So far, so good. I really don’t have a problem with the evils of religion being exposed or the wonders of science being articulately expressed. What I do have a problem with is Dawkins’ evangelical arrogance. In order to illustrate what I mean, here’s a quote from The Magic of Reality:

Indeed, to claim a supernatural explanation of something is not to explain it at all and, even worse, to rule out any possibility of its ever being explained. Why do I say that? Because anything ‘supernatural’ must by definition be beyond the reach of a natural explanation. It must be beyond the reach of science and the well-established, tried and tested scientific method that has been responsible for the huge advances in knowledge we have enjoyed over the last 400 years or so.To say that something happened supernaturally is not just to say ‘We don’t understand it’ but to say ‘We will never understand it, so don’t even try’.

That sounds reasonable on the surface, doesn’t it? Dig a little deeper, though, and it becomes apparent that Dawkins’ is expressing his opinion only, not fact. Take “anything ‘supernatural’ must by definition be beyond the reach of a natural explanation”, for example. Must it? I’ve been trying to find a natural explanation for my weird experience with Sai Baba for most of my life because I don’t want to ascribe supernatural powers to him. Until I find a natural explanation for his apparent ability to put me into a trance state with a touch of his finger, it remains in the ‘supernatural’ basket. If Dawkins had qualified his statement, I wouldn’t have a problem, but he demands that we all agree with his definition of supernatural. For the record, one dictionary definition of ‘supernatural’ reads like this: “a departing from what is usual or normal especially so as to appear to transcend the laws of nature.” Note the word “appear” – it doesn’t rule out the possibility of a natural cause, as Dawkins’does.

I’m with Richard Dawkins here, where he writes:

Bush and bin Laden are really on the same side: the side of faith and violence against the side of reason and discussion. Both have implacable faith that they are right and the other is evil. Each believes that when he dies he is going to heaven. Each believes that if he could kill the other, his path to paradise in the next world would be even swifter. The delusional ‘next world’ is welcome to both of them. This world would be a much better place without either of them.

I don’t know where that quote comes from. I pinched it from Goodread’s Dawkins’ quotes. Anyway, I agree with the sentiments, but he blows it for me again in a couple of ways. For one thing, Dawkins espounds the virtue of science, but overlooks the twisted side of applied science and technology, which is responsible for at least as many evils as religion and has provided zealots on both sides of the fence with their weapons. More importantly in the context of the above quote, he says “the delusional ‘next world’ is welcome to them both.” Is it categorically a fact that the ‘next world’ is delusional?

I made the argument that the belief that there is no afterlife is as ‘delusional’ as the belief that there is in my post, Why Does Science Have a Problem with Near Death Experiences? I won’t repeat myself here, other than to quote from my final paragraph:

Why do so many scientists, who are supposed to be objective, step outside of any kind of scientific objectivity in defence of their opinion that life ceases at death? All I can think is that they need to believe just as strongly as a fundamentalist Christian, Muslim or Jew needs to believe. That’s not science; it’s superstition and just like the Inquisitors, they are prepared to do anything to defend their faith.

In essence, I see red when I hear the name “Richard Dawkins” because to me, he is the worst kind of hypocrite. While eloquently espousing the virtues of “reason and discussion”, he closes the door to reason and discussion when they don’t adhere to his personal belief system.

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I can see that I may have closed my mind to the positive aspects of Richard Dawkins’ message and the reasons why so many intelligent, decent, open minded people like my daughter like him. I welcome rebuttals. That’s what the comment section is for.