Galileo Galilei and the Centre of the Universe, Charles Darwin and the Origin of Species, Richard Dawkins and the God Delusion. No, these are not a rival to J.K Rowling’s magical series but a selection of controversial scientific episodes. The most recent of which caused the most intense debate between science and religion during my lifetime. Is it the work of an atheist extremist or a revolutionary genius?
It would be ignorant to address this question solely on his most famous book so first let us consider his upbringing. Dawkins was raised Christian but in developing his scientific understanding, he lost his faith. Interestingly he stated: “the main residual reason why I was religious was from being so impressed with the complexity of life and feeling that it had to have a designer, and I think it was when I realised that Darwinism was a far superior explanation that pulled the rug out from under the argument of design.” Even Dawkins recognises the intrinsic link between science and religion in his personal beliefs.
Secondly, and crudely, let us study Dawkins’ publications. The Selfish Gene (’76), The Extended Phenotype (’82), River Out of Eden (’95), The God Delusion (’06) and The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True (’11) are a skeleton of his work. We see that he began by developing evolutionary theory and Dawkins considers the first two books his primary contribution to biology. The next two books grow more aggressively atheist, note the religious language. I must highlight that A Devil’s Chaplain not only attacks religion but pseudoscience, mythology and terrorism .The God Delusion is his most controversial. He aggressively argues against the existence of a ‘God’ and the power of religion. The most recent book again covers a range of targets. Over his career Dawkins moved from developing his field to a crusade on sciences obstacles.
In the modern world, there are many ways in which Dawkins chooses to demonstrate his views. Since joining an anti-Vietnam war movement during his time at Berkeley in the late 60’s Dawkins has been on the forefront of activism. A regular TED talker and tweeter, Dawkins even founded a foundation aimed at removing religion from education and public policy in 2006. One TED talk is titled ‘Militant Atheism’ and recent tweets congratulate Malala Yousafza on winning the Nobel Peace Prize for advocating education for women in Pakistan. Dawkins is a global figurehead for the atheist movement and he uses his place in science to project his views.
Richard Dawkins is clearly a brilliant scientist, probably the greatest evolutionary biologist since Darwin and equally controversial. He has capitalised on his grounding as a scientist to campaign for his beliefs. Not aimlessly targeting religion but specifically opposing the constraints on cynicism that religion epitomises. “Do not indoctrinate your children. Teach them how to think for themselves, how to evaluate evidence, and how to disagree with you.” Dawkins, The God Delusion. The words of a fanatical educator.