Richard Dawkins: Extremist or Revolutionary?

William Evans.

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.

Richard Dawkins: Extremist or Revolutionary?

Is Richard Dawkins Closed-Minded?

Gilad Amzaleg

He is the champion of science, the talismanic leader of atheism, a hero of reason and logic. For most atheists and anti-religious groups the word of Richard Dawkins is similar to that of the word of Jesus to his disciples, divine.1

However, is he closed-minded?

Between the years of 1995 and 2008 he held the role of Professor of Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford and wrote his famous book “The God Delusion”.2 These two actions seem to echo hypocrisy, as how can someone who is meant to “communicate science to the public” also single out a large sect of the populace as fundamentally being wrong? Instead of engaging the public, this had an adverse effect of disengaging people who believe in God but also have an interest in science. He has created a precedent that says if you believe in religion/God you cannot be a true scientist.

Science should be communicated in a way that emphasises the underlying beauty of the natural world and entices people to do further personal research, not as an ideological battleground for two warring factions. Dawkins has fallen into a trap where his strong personal ideology has blinded him from communicating science to the whole public, rather only to people who agree with him. He has created a personal profile of condescendence and superiority that causes people to reject his view of science rather than embrace it.

Take for example his recent tweets on Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. When the award was announced he immediately congratulated her but later tweeted:

“Of course Malala is religious now but give her time she’s only 17 & getting the education she fought for on behalf of girls like her.” 3

Even though it is not science related, it illustrates how he patronisingly puts across his view that religion is something that people can simply outgrow with the right education. This is one of many examples of Dawkins expressing his opinion in a manner that alienates people and destroys a platform for reasonable discussion, be it in religion or science.

If Richard Dawkins really is, as some people view him, the champion of science then he ought to place more emphasis on communicating the beauty of science rather than the faults of religion. He is closed minded to the extent that his books and speeches are doing more harm than good for science.

References

Is Richard Dawkins Closed-Minded?