Rebecca Louise Andrews
The phrase “closed-minded” is defined variously as
“Having or showing rigid opinions or a narrow outlook” (oxforddictionaries.com), “Having a mind firmly unreceptive to new ideas or arguments” (dictionary.reference.com) and “One who thinks that just because he hates it means everyone else should.” (urbandictionary.com)
Without the benefit of an entry in any legitimate dictionary, I shall have to define Richard Dawkins as “that pompous, condescending, militantly atheist guy who’s always doing interviews and debates”.
It’s important to distinguish though between Richard Dawkins and Richard Dawkins – one is a 73 year old man who has a wife and daughter and lives in Oxford; while the other is a public figurehead who is held up by some and ridiculed by others, who debates the big questions on a world stage, and has written 13 more or less extremely controversial books. Without having a close personal relationship to the man, I can’t comment on his closed-mindedness on religion (or choice of biscuit, for that matter) but I can look at the apparent views of Richard Dawkins which are all too easy to find.
In interviews, Dawkins focuses a lot on if ‘religion is true’, more than if it’s useful in any way – something that most people would argue is more important. And some would say he is very closed-minded because of his insistence on relying on evidence, as is evident in his infamous debate on Creationism with Wendy Wright (here).
But isn’t that the point of science? To rely purely on the evidence at hand? Just as the fundamental Christians he seems to constantly bump into insist on relying on faith alone, it doesn’t seem fair to deny him a similarly stubborn approach.
Also, isn’t that the point of televised debates? The participants don’t turn up with an open mind, ready to accept the other person’s point of view – that’s what the audience is there for. They are about watching two opposing opinions collide, and any weaknesses like being ‘open-minded’ will be brutally exploited. Dawkins wouldn’t be invited back if he switched sides halfway through.
But he is also a scientist, and any scientist has to be open-minded in order to critically evaluate their own, and others, work. Drawing scientific conclusions from data and letting go of any personal bias requires a mind so open it could be said to be empty.
So I think a more important question is whether it matters. After all, there are plenty of people who are very vocal on the subjects that Dawkins regularly speaks on – namely religious vs scientific explanations for nature and the universe, and whether religion is a force for good. And it’s easy to see that (as in many things) there is a spectrum of religiosity, and Dawkins is definitely at one extreme.
But someone’s got to be there, and if Dawkins doesn’t represent the staunchly atheistic, closed-minded end of the spectrum, someone else will take his place as the perfect straw man for the religious extreme.