What Shall We Make of Richard Dawkins?

Traditionally I am not one to write on the New Atheists, but one individual in particular has always been of keen interest in my studies regarding atheism, science, religion, and topics akin to the like. There is plenty of literature in response to the New Atheists and their anti-religious claims, with even more literature regarding an exhaustive analysis of each individual’s particular book and their basic principles and arguments.

The leading horseman (so to speak) of this so-called New Atheist movement is Richard Dawkins, a prestigious Oxford Biologist who has published many instructive as well as supremely lucid material on the theory of evolution and its natural history.

Dawkins however, is an atheist. Quite the one with a reputation as well. Consider for instance Antony Flew in his review of The God Delusion, where he has gone so far as to call him a “secularist bigot” [1]. Alvin Plantinga especially in his review also goes on to say that “despite the fact that this book is mainly philosophy, Dawkins is not a philosopher (he’s a biologist). Even taking this into account, however, much of the philosophy he purveys is at best jejune. You might say that some of his forays into philosophy are at best sophomoric…” In a more summarizing manner of Dawkins’ book, philosopher Thomas Nagel writes:

In The God Delusion, he attacks religion with all the weapons at his disposal, and as a result the book is a very uneven collection of scriptural ridicule, amateur philosophy, historical and contemporary horror stories, anthropological speculations, and cosmological scientific argument. Dawkins wants both to dissuade believers and to embolden atheists. [3]

Surely any person who doesn’t follow Dawkins is also missing those given philosophers, scientists and such who are designated under a similar atheistic category as Dawkins. In April of 2013, Dawkins was labeled as the “World’s Top Thinker”, beating four Nobel Prize winners and a number of other intellectuals such as psychologist Steven Pinker, philosopher Slavoj Zizek, and economist Paul Krugman (among others). He has even as so much gained a part in an episode of the Simpsons:

Furthermore, Rabbi David Wolpe once wrote that “Dawkins on biology is an elegant, lucid and even enchanting explicator of science. Dawkins on religion is historically uninformed, outrageously partisan and morally obtuse. If Dawkins is indeed our best, the life of the mind is in a precarious state” (Huffington Post, May 7th, 2013). Of course, there is some division in terms of how secular and religious persons view Dawkins, I would like to offer a personal analysis of his work.

 

Brief Conclusion

Thomas Nagel from the University of New York once wrote in regards to Dawkins’ third chapter of his book (“Why There Almost Certainly Is No God”): “I found these attempts at philosophy, along with those in a later chapter on religion and ethics, particularly weak” [4].Though to some he may be considered the enfant terrible [5] of the New Atheist movement, to others he presents himself as philosophically unsophisticated, and even ignorant regarding religious matters. To finish with Nagel:

Dawkins seems to believe that if people could be persuaded to give up the God Hypothesis on scientific grounds, the world would be a better place not just intellectually but morally and politically. He is horrified – as who cannot be? – by the dreadful things that continue to be done in the name of religion, and he argues that the sort of religious conviction that includes a built-in resistance to reason is the true motive behind many of them. But there is no connection between the fascinating philosophical and scientific questions posed by the argument from design and the attacks of September 11. Blind faith and the authority of dogma are dangerous; the view that we can make ultimate sense of the world only by understanding it as the expression of mind or purpose is not. It is unreasonable to think that one must refute the second in order to resist the first. [6]

______________________

Notes:

  • [1] Antony Flew’s (2008) review can be found at http://www.bethinking.org/science-christianity/intermediate/flew-speaks-out-professor-antony-flew-reviews-the-god-delusion.htm
  • [2] Alvin Plantinga’s review (2007) can be found at http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2007/marapr/1.21.html
  • [3] Thomas Nagel, Secular Philosophy and the Religious Temperament (Oxford University Press: 2010) p. 19
  • [4] Ibid., p. 20
  • [5] William Lane Craig, “The Dawkins Delusion” in Contending with Christianity’s Critics, ed. Paul Copan and William Lane Craig (B&H Academic: 2010) p. 2
  • [6] Nagel, p. 26
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12 responses to “What Shall We Make of Richard Dawkins?

  1. I think Dr. Richard Dawkins is a philosopher (As well as an excellent evolutionary biologist); Philosophy is something anyone can partake in, being human and all…but not really the case for someone to become a biologist. Interesting article; very thought provoking 🙂

    • That is something along the lines of what Ludwig Wittgenstein would have said: technically everyone is a philosopher to the degree that they can think critically and reason. However, Dawkins I would say isn’t a philosopher in the formal sense of the word, i.e. he is not formally trained nor a lover of wisdom per se. His book is quite a reflection of his non-philosophical expertise.

      • Ahh, just to have conversation. Over the internet. Pretty amazing when you think about it. Anyway, I just like to have discussions with the clash between religion and science. I find it incredibly odd that science has progress so much in the last 400 years and the argument for god gets smaller and smaller, like…at the atomic level. Bad joke. Which makes for humans to come up with the most intricate level of philosophical ideals, some incorporating the idea of god making it very apparent for the draw towards ever-lasting life. Seems us humans love the idea of not dying. So scary! To some at least. But, at least with me, human nature can be so imaginative. I always remember this quote by Dr. Richard Feynman “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”
        I wrote a little short bio on him, check it out sometime 🙂

        http://scientistsareus.org/2013/05/21/richard-p-feynman/

      • Of course. Well, I think it would be wrong to say that science (some usually just mean physics and biology in particular) has gained so much understanding of the natural world that it has really left God out of the picture; I think if I held that view I would agree with Stephen Hawking when he says that God doesn’t necessarily “not” exist, he just becomes irrelevant (now, he was of course saying this in respect to his quantum cosmological model, but I think the general principle applies).

        If anything, a lot of philosophers and physicists have made the argument (or simply the recognition) that atheism in the world of physics is slowly receding. I don’t see a problem with the co-existence of science and religion.

        I am familiar with Dr. Feynman, he is a wonderful physicist whom I admire. I will be sure to check out your post.

      • Awesome, good to read! First I wrote hear but then I was like, no. NO. It’ll probably be next week sometime. I’ll email specifics but you can email me when you’re most free. By the way it’s who, you’re speaking subjectively ‘dude’. I …I love The Big Lebowski 😀 Hah, I know I know, I make mistakes too xD I mean…a lot. TONS

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