Earlier this month, the BBC interviewed E.O. Wilson (a highly reputable emeritus Professor of Entomology at Harvard University) asking him about his differing views on natural selection with Richard Dawkins. He responded that:
There is no dispute between me and Richard Dawkins and there never has been, because he’s a journalist, and journalists are people that report what the scientists have found and the arguments I’ve had have actually been with scientists doing research.
Although Dawkins possesses a PhD in zoology, the majority of his scientific research ended in the 1970s according to his publication list. Since then he has been, as Wilson states, nothing more than a science journalist. Yet, Dawkins has consistently declared that, “there is no serious scientist who doubts that evolution is a fact.” My motivation here is not to dispute the findings of evolutionary biology but to point out Dawkins’ hypocrisy. The truth is that there are many scientists, even biologists, who deny that evolution is a fact but are light years ahead of Dawkins in terms of research and peer reviewed publications. Here are just a few verifiable examples: Dean H. Kenyon, John C. Sanford and Henry F. Schaefer III. Clearly Dawkins is not in a position to make declarations as to what constitutes a “serious scientist.”
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In his treatise on Darwinism, The Blind Watchmaker (1986), Dawkins writes:
In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. 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.
Nothing Dawkins has written since then indicates that he’s changed his mind. If he hasn’t, then he still believes that, in our universe, there is no good or evil. And yet, Dawkins made headlines this August, twenty-eight years later, with a proclamation that it’s immoral for a mother not to abort a foetus that has Down’s syndrome. Has Dawkins changed his mind? Has he decided we can say certain actions (like abortion) are not “indifferent” but either “good” or “bad”—for the troubled mother, or for others in her family, or, on any of a number of grounds, for society?
Several questions arise from Dawkins’ recent declaration in light of his atheistic materialism. First, how can something be declared immoral when the universe is ultimately comprised of “pitiless indifference”? Either something is amoral or immoral: they cannot be both at the same time. Secondly, do objective moral standards exist without God? And third, how do we make sense of the content, seriousness and knowledge of morality in the absence of God? These are questions Dawkins must address in order to avoid incoherency. Perhaps he could consult Friedrich Nietzsche, who declared that the death of God meant the annihilation of all meaning and value in life. Nietzsche, unlike Dawkins, was a critical and consistent atheist. The most amusing element to Dawkins’ incoherency is that he unwittingly affirms that God exists through agreeing with the first two premises of what is known as the moral argument for God’s existence:
1) If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
2) Objective moral values and duties do exist.
3) Therefore, God exists.
A detailed explanation of this can be found in William Lane Craig’s article dealing with the new atheism and arguments for God.
It had been quite some time since I had given the new-atheists and their rhetoric much thought. This was inspired recently by an acquaintance who had an unusual admiration for Dawkins and his “argumentation” against religious belief and God. He reasoned that anyone who didn’t agree with Dawkins’ logic was either ignorant or completely brainwashed by religious superstition and fear tactics. Although many atheists hold this view uncritically, I still found it remarkable that anyone could hold such a view at all—especially eight years after the publication of The God Delusion. Following the publication of his “magnum opus” many refutations were published or appeared on YouTube. I thought that no real thinking non-believer could hold to most of these popular treatments espoused by Dawkins and other neo-atheists. Moreover, one can easily find debates dismantling popular atheistic arguments one by one, including Dawkins’ encounter with John Lennox (a professor of mathematics and philosophy) in 2008. If people want to think clearly about these issues, many resources are at their fingertips.
“Man of Science” Promotes Bigotry
Despite all this, Dawkins has continued to promote his ideas. In 2012, at the “Reason Rally” in Washington, D.C., he urged atheists and agnostics to mock religious believers. He encouraged them to question Roman Catholics’ belief in transubstantiation: “For example, if they say they’re Catholic: Do you really believe, that when a priest blesses a wafer, it turns into the body of Christ? Are you seriously telling me you believe that? Are you seriously saying that wine turns into blood?” He then incited non-believers to “mock them” and “ridicule them! In public!” if they responded in the affirmative. He also encouraged them to ridicule belief in the virgin birth and the resurrection. Christians have good historical grounds for believing in the resurrection. However, Dawkins rarely shows interest in a rational discourse about religious claims. Instead he would rather encourage bigotry among his followers.
Dawkins takes pride in thinking he is a man of science. He believes that science is a self-correcting discipline. He also perpetuates the myth that a scientist would rather die at the stake than knowingly maintain a false idea. Does he know that scientists sometimes fudge their data in the hopes of being published and recognized for their work? I wonder if he may be ignorant to the fact that sometimes peer review journals ensure orthodoxy over quality. In 2008, an article in the Financial Times argued that peer review journals are becoming increasingly sloppy, by rejecting scientifically valid papers while accepting invalid ones: “[T]he process is under assault from critics who say it is ineffective at filtering out poor research, while it perpetuates predictable work at the expense of more imaginative thinking. In the long run we all suffer, argues Don Braben of University College London, because economic growth depends on unpredictable scientific advances.”
In The God Delusion, Dawkins gives the example of a scientist admitting that the Golgi Apparatus is in fact real after denying its existence, demonstrating that scientists let go of their pride for the sake of scientific progress. He admits that if the evidence were forthcoming against evolution he would admit that he was wrong. This is an interesting admission considering all the slew of invalid arguments found throughout his book. These have been pointed out by philosophers and theologians such as Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, Paul Copan, Scott Hahn, and Benjamin Wiker. For example, on pages 157-8 of The God Delusion, Dawkins lays out the main argument of his book. It contains six premises that do not logically follow to its conclusion. W.L. Craig has thoroughly shown why the argument is invalid. It can be found in Contending with Christianity’s Critics. One wonders why Dawkins, who claims to be a man of reason and science, hasn’t rebutted Craig’s refutation. And if he can’t respond to the criticisms, why hasn’t he admitted this publicly? If not solely for the sake of truth and scientific integrity? One wonders if book sales are more important than truth. It is no wonder that Dawkins has avoided a one-on-one discussion or debate with Craig.
In 2011, he was invited to defend The God Delusion in a public debate against Craig at Birmingham University. Dawkins never attended and had preferred to obfuscate the real issues with ad-hominem attacks on Craig accusing him of being an “apologist for genocide” for Craig’s defence of God’s commandment in Deuteronomy 20: 15-17 in a piece in The Guardian the day before. Atheist philosopher Daniel Came has stated in response to Dawkins’ piece, also found in The Guardian, that: “[I]t is quite obvious that Dawkins is opportunistically using these remarks as a smokescreen to hide the real reasons for his refusal to debate with Craig—which has a history that long predates Craig’s comments on the Canaanites.”
Questions Dawkins Does Not Answer
How does one assess Dawkins’ thought in light of his many intellectual shortcomings? It is well known that Dawkins has claimed that “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” He has stated that Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection has fueled his atheism. It seems to me that he must have an extraordinarily low standard for being intellectually fulfilled. If evolutionary biology is to be treated as a scientific theory then it remains neutral regarding religious and metaphysical questions. Many secular evolutionary biologists have speculated that the whole process of evolution is purposeless, wasteful, and directionless. They have notoriously utilized metaphorical language that is not necessitated by scientific observation to describe natural selection as “a blind watchmaker.” Yet such reflections are philosophical and not scientific. This creates a conflation between methodological naturalism and metaphysical naturalism. So, Dawkins’ atheism is based on a naïve interpretation of evolutionary biology.
Even if, for argument sake, Dawkins were to have the correct interpretation of evolutionary biology, there still remain many important questions to be answered regarding the nature of reality, such as: Why is there something rather than nothing? What is the best explanation of the finitude of the past? What is the best explanation for the finely tuned laws and initial conditions of physics and chemistry that permit life? What is the correlation between existence and scientific observability? What is the best explanation for the specified information necessary for the origin of a self-replicating system? What explains the high level of consciousness that humans possess? How can we account for the correspondence of our minds with reality that permits us the use of logic and language? What is the source for objective morality? These are questions that reasonably transcend the purview of Darwinian biology. Without a coherent system to address these questions it’s difficult to see how someone can be intellectually fulfilled. Furthermore, the distinguished naturalist philosopher Thomas Nagel has identified numerous flaws in Dawkins’ reductive materialism.
Given all this, how is it even possible that Dawkins is consistently recognized as one of the top public intellectuals of our time? We know it’s not based on rational argumentation nor scientific reasoning. His views should be met with scorn, not with the popular unmerited adulation. Ultimately, I believe that it is because we live in an age of theological and philosophical illiteracy. Critical reasoning has been swept aside by emotive responses to religious claims and practices. So much so that as a master’s student I remember some theologians (albeit third rate ones) embracing Dawkins’ shallow reasoning against religion. Some may think it is better to ignore Dawkins. But all that does is permit the perpetuation of ignorance.
One thing that Dawkins is extremely good at is self-promotion and selling copies of his books by the millions. The best way to counter this is to educate people in critical thinking, and to encourage erudite philosophical and theological thought. As we have seen, Dawkins has ridiculed his critics for not being serious scientists, but many of them tower over him in terms of publications and research. He has unknowingly admitted God’s existence with his sloppy reasoning. He has urged the mockery of Christians and their beliefs without ever providing one shred of evidence against those beliefs. He has never been able to even engage in a serious intellectual discussion about the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. And he continues to coward away from defending his views publicly against serious critics like W.L. Craig. I suppose John Lennox’s spanking was enough for one lifetime. Dawkins surely does not merit the self-title of “bright.”
Dawkins’ level of hypocrisy should severely undermine his credibility among his followers. Unfortunately, self-styled skeptics and “free thinkers” like the acquaintance I mentioned above, will continue to uncritically accept Dawkins’ superficial argumentation. But hopefully those with an open mind will gain a new perspective. The only way to defeat this ignorance is through education. It is our responsibility to humanity. It is regrettable that Dawkins will most likely continue to mock the Holy Trinity while worshipping at the altar of his own unholy trinity: incoherency, hypocrisy and bigotry.