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5 reasons why Richard Dawkins should know better

A friend of mine pointed out to me a photo circulating Facebook posted by the Richard Dawkins Foundation.

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But this is a low blow from Richard Dawkins and here are five reasons why he (and his foundation) should know better.

1. Richard Dawkins is a very clever man.

You don’t get to do groundbreaking research in evolutionary genetics without a lot of sense. Dawkins should know the difference between a good argument that is backed up by evidence and simplistic conjecturing that is not based on good research. So the way Dawkins presents a simplistic view of faith and an optimistic view of science is disingenuous for a man of his academic credentials.

2. Straw man arguments don’t encourage respect.

Dawkins has picked a poor oversimplification of religion that misrepresents what most people of faith actually believe. It shows a lack of understanding to argue that religions claim all of these things about human beings- his polemic feels focussed on Christianity because Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism have a very different understanding of the human person.

Christianity teaches that human beings are both broken and beautiful, wonderfully and fearfully made yet still capable of great compassion and great sin because we have free will.

Dawkins himself has summarised a human person and therefore a child as being: Indeed this is how he explained humanity in his 1991 Royal Institute Children’s lectures:

We are machines built by DNA whose purpose is to make more copies of the same DNA Flowers are for the same thing as everything else in the living kingdoms, for spreading ‘copy – me’ programmes about, written in DNA language.

That is EXACTLY what we are for. We are machines for propagating DNA, and the propagation of DNA is a self sustaining process. It is every living objects’ sole reason for living…

[R. Dawkins, (1991) Christmas Lectures Study Guide, p. 21]

That does not sound like the way he describes human dignity  in  the cute photo. According to Dawkins a person’s value is based on their ability to reproduce. So he has created a straw man argument to make a polemical point. He is ranting rather than arguing.

If we want a rant rather than a conversation  we could say:

dawkins debate.001

But as we shall see this is not a helpful or accurate polarisation.

3. Richard Dawkins should know his philosophy of science

Richard Dawkins was University of Oxford‘s Professor for Public Understanding of Science from 1995 until 2008.  As I understand that role from one of my favourite universities this would involve encouraging the public to have a deeper and richer understanding of science. This image makes some big assumptions:

– there is a necessary conflict between science and faith (see here for recent survey in the States that showed that in the USA:

“2 million out of nearly 12 million scientists are evangelical Christians. If you were to bring all the evangelical scientists together, they could populate the city of Houston, Texas.”

– historically Christianity can be credited as being the basis for the rise of empirical science in the West. See for example R. G. Collingwood:

“The presuppositions that go to make up this Catholic faith, preserved for many centuries by the religious institutions of Christendom, have as a matter of historical fact been the main or fundamental presuppositions of natural science ever since.”
Essay on Metaphysics (Oxford: Oxford University Press,1940), p.227

–  Dawkins assumes that science can provide a rational basis for:

beauty - if we took Dawkins DNA replication model at face value then beauty is just sexual attractiveness to encourage genetic replication.

wonder - this is from the same scientist that argued :
”The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” There’s not a lot of reason for wonder in a universe of blind pitiless indifference is there?

4. Using a child as a lobbying tool / prop dehumanises the child

The lovely little girl in the picture looks pretty oblivious to the debate on the placard she is holding, so she effectively becomes a tool in an argument. This depersonalises her which is an odd thing to do in a polemic about the harmful effects of faith on children.

5. There are better ways to have a conversation

I posted a few days ago about a conversation between  the Christian believer Bear Grylls and the well known atheist Stephen Fry. For me this modelled how to have an adult conversation. Dear Richard Dawkins I’d love to see you have this kind of grown up conversation – I know you are capable of it.

Photo credit to rarvesen. 

6 thoughts on “5 reasons why Richard Dawkins should know better”

  1. I teach Dawkin’s views in my A level philosophy lessons, Krish, and, without being bias, my students are able to tell the difference between a valid argument and a bitter agenda. He does himself or the scientific community no favours when he goes off on one! Still, should make for some interesting conversations at ‘Just Looking’ Spring Harvest.

    1. I tend to agree that Richard can sometimes over simplify things, I have found that when he does it tends to be for brevity and to make a point. I have never liked his debating style, simply because it does tend to alienate those he is trying to reach. Calling someone stupid because of what they believe for example is no more conductive than calling someone immoral or evil for their disbelief in an unprovable force known as God (or Gods). The one flaw I see in you argument is your stance on wonder, there is an amazing amount of wonder to be found in our Universe, we do not need it to care about us in order to find it amazing and beautiful. Do you look at a precious stone and think “Eh what do I care, it doesn’t think I am important”? Do you not wonder at the ingenuity it took to construct the Large Hadron Collider, simply because it is indifferent to your existence? I do not have need for a creator in order to see that we live in a complex, mind blowing universe, in fact I take great delight in the fact that every piece of understanding, every step we take towards grasping our own insignificant place in an uncaring universe, is made all the more tremendous by the fact we are here to ask the questions, and it is all because of a mind staggeringly long and arduous journey began by a single celled organism, in times so distant my modern mind struggles with grasping the hugeness of the numbers

  2. According to “scientists” like Dawkins, it’s ‘from goo to you by way of the zoo’…everything that he has ever said about evolution has been proven false…the man may be a genius, but he’s gotten to smart for his own britches as my Grandma would say…Even Einstein and Darwin eventually saw the folly of their mistake in discrediting God in the creation of man…

    1. Literally nothing you said – from everything about evolution being proven false to Einstein and Darwin seeing the folly of discrediting god – has a shred of proof to it. Stop listening to the stories your friends and family tell you and do a little research of your own

  3. Quite honestly I can see with more clarity what Richard is saying about the propaganda of the church and its warped take on the human condition than reason to denigrate his argument. When christians won’t see the consequences of what they believe it is to be human I can forgive Richard for attempting to simplify the conclusion of this and the graphic image of the little girl and the two ways to view the human narrative.
    If love, faith and hope are supposed to be our defining characteristics why do christians insist on emphasising the negative about us. It is easy to find the inconsistencies in Richards illustration about the ultimately ugly conclusions of evangelical christians but perhaps it illustrates he’s human after all with the same hopes and fears we all have. He is known to have said that to exist is the world is to be met with pitiless indifference – have you never felt Like this? Perhaps he too would like to see the alternative that the world and we are potentially beautiful. The Christian pursuit of being doctrinally correct is a worse burden to man than being doctrinally incorrect. Is is difficult to deny that the ultimate truth of christians is that Gods creation is broken and we are the cause of it because of our inherent awfulness by default of being ourselves/human.
    Is it not possible to equally believe and promote with the same vigour that in the eyes of a loving god we are first and foremost deeply loved and this alone covers a multitude of sins. Are we not called to live according to the inspiration of 1 Corinthians 13 and see the good in others and by default ourselves, and ultimately overcome evil in this way – why should god be any less than this? I think this is the inconsistency grafically illustrated by Richard here in an attempt to communicate with the hard of hearing Christian community who just won’t see the ultimate ugly conclusion of their tired old message.
    All I know from my own experience as a recovering evangelical is that when I feel as on the left list the world IS ugly, I can’t get out of bed in the morning and it doesn’t get the job done. Conversely dare to believe as on on the right a loving god may really see me, I enter a world of grace, love hope and faith.
    The church instead of defending its entrenched position against truth seekers such as Dawkins should repent itself of its truth misrepresentation and obfuscation and start to represent gods view of me as listed on the other side of the page and that which will ultimately keep this girl smiling.

    1. Dear Julian
      thank you for taking the time to post.
      I am sorry you have had a bad experience with the church, as you say of Dawkins the church too is made up of fallen human beings.Being doctrinally correct should not be the defining mark of the church – we need to live out the truth not just preach it.
      I want to challenge Dawkins consistency with what he himself has said about human beings. You rightly challenge the church to be true to its beliefs I am asking Dawkins to do the same with his.
      yours
      krish

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