This will be the first article detailing many of the “popular” so-called Atheists currently writing and confusing individuals today. I promise not to be fair- it is only right to point out stupidity when one steps into and cannot get it off your shoes easily.
Clinton Richard Dawkins is probably the most famous evolutionist, anti-creationist and atheist today, and a staunch admirer of Charles Robert Darwin (1809–1882) the beginner of the muddling mess of science today. His father was an agricultural civil servant in the British Colonial Service in Nyasaland (now Malawi). His father was called up into the King’s African Rifles during World War II and returned to England in 1949, when Dawkins was eight. This background may have had an influence on his further development. Living in a dusty, sparse area with less than perfect sanitation and then being transported into the luxury of a 100 acre farm in England.
He gained his degree in Zoology at the Balliol College, Oxford, in 1962. he was tutored by Nikolaas Tinbergen (1907–1988), who shared the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discoveries about instinct, learning and choice in animals. Dawkins continued to study under Tinbergen, at the University of Oxford, receiving his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in 1966.
Dawkins then took a position of assistant professor of zoology at the University of California, Berkeley, which in late 60’s was a hotbed of radicalism, I know, I spent some time rioting there. He returned to Oxford as a lecturer in 1970 and he researched animal decision-making. Since the 1970s, he has concentrated on improving his writing skills for popular audiences, for which he is far more famous than for his scientific research on animal behavior.
Dawkins’ first book, The Selfish Gene (1976), advocated a gene-centered view of evolution. In other words, life first began from a ‘replicator’ that could make approximate copies of itself, which would therefore predominate in some kind of primordial soup that no one has been able to duplicate. Those copies that could make internal biological machines to help them copy better and then would reproduce more. Dawkins claims that these replicators are our genes, and our bodies are just ‘gigantic lumbering robots’ which are their ‘survival machines’. This book also independently introduced the idea of the ‘meme’, a set of ideas that is replicated in other minds. (This has had an explosion with the advent of Facebook).
Dawkins regards his second book, The Extended Phenotype (1982), as his most important contribution to evolutionary biology. This was kind of sequel and defense of The Selfish Gene; whereas in his first book, Dawkins argues that the organism is the gene’s survival machine, in his second he extends the genes’ influence to the environment modified by the organism’s behavior. If this behavior helps the organism’s survival, then the genes ‘for’ that behavior will reproduce best. His examples include beaver dams and termite mounds, as well as animal behavior that benefits a parasite afflicting it, hence the genes of that parasite. He also forgot one of his beloved Darwinian concepts, that the environment could have an effect on the organism to change the gene. How he could forget that is anybody’s guess. Mine is the advance on the book.
In 1986, Dawkins wrote The Blind Watchmaker, an attack on the argument that design in the living world demonstrates an intelligent Designer. Instead, apparent design is the result of evolution by natural selection. He regards that as a vital argument for his own Atheistic faith:
“An Atheist before Darwin could have said, following Hume: ‘I have no explanation for complex biological design. All I know is that God isn’t a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody comes up with a better one.’ I can’t help feeling that such a position, though logically sound, would have left one feeling pretty unsatisfied, and that although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” (BW, p.6)
Dawkins participated in the Huxley Memorial Debate at the Oxford Union one of very few. He was opposing the proposition, “That the doctrine of creation is more valid than the theory of evolution.” With him was the leading English evolutionist John Maynard Smith (1920–2004), and they were opposed by two biblical creationist scientists: triple doctorate organic chemist and pharmacologist A. E. Wilder-Smith (1915–1995) and Edgar Andrews (1932– ), then Professor of Materials at the University of London.
The audience of Oxford students voted and it was a modest win for the evolution side, 198–115. Yet Dawkins was not happy—in his closing comments, he had “implored” the audience (his word) not to give a single vote to the creationist side, since every such vote “would be a blot on the escutcheon of the ancient University of Oxford[i].” Ironically, it would be a return to Oxford’s roots, since it was founded by creationists. After that, he is on record refusing to debate any biblical creationist. Somewhat like a baby throwing a hissy fit.
In 1995, he was appointed the Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford. This was an endowment by leading Microsoft software designer and billionaire Charles Simonyi (b. Simonyi Károly, 1948) explicitly done just for Dawkins. The endowment stated, “The aim of the Professorship is “to communicate science to the public without, in doing so, losing those elements of scholarship which constitute the essence of true understanding.” It was established with the express intention that the holder “be expected to make important contributions to the public understanding of some scientific field.” Whether Dawkins lived up to that lofty goal is debatable.
One report said: “Evolution’s first great advocate, 1860s biologist Thomas Henry Huxley, earned the nickname ‘Darwin’s bulldog’ from his fellow Victorians. I n our own less decorous day, Dawkins deserves an even stronger epithet: ‘Darwin’s Rottweiler, perhaps,’ Simonyi suggests[ii].” Dawkins retired from this post in September 2008. You will be unable to find any example from this period were Dawkins aided the public understanding of any real science such as physics or chemistry, or even of the history or philosophy of science. However, during this professorship, Dawkins wrote seven books on evolution/atheism. It is not surprising that British author Paul Johnson called it “Oxford’s first Chair of Atheism.[iii]”
One of them, Climbing Mount Improbable (1996), Dawkins’ admits is one of his own favorites and is aimed to defend slow and gradual evolution. The title is a parable: many structures in living organisms are so complex that there is a vanishingly small probability of producing them in a single step—this corresponds to leaping the high Mt Improbable in a single step. However, Dawkins says, this mountain has a gently upward-sloping terrain on the other side, where a climber can ascend gradually, constantly progressing to the top. This corresponds to the neo-Darwinian mechanism of evolution—mutations + natural selection. Mutations produce gradual improvements, and natural selection means that organisms which have them are slightly more likely to leave offspring provided they are in the right spot at the right time and are compatible to intertwine their chromosomes through what every process is available. So a later generation of organisms is slightly more complex, or higher up the slope of Mt Improbable.
In his largest book, The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution (2004, 688 pages hardcover), Dawkins aimed to illustrate the history of life on Earth. This was a series of 40 tales, from the point of view of man’s alleged evolutionary precursors[iv], and the name is a play on the Middle English classic The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343–1400). This has made him probably the best known exponent of evolution in the world.
Richard Dawkins not only regards Darwinism as compatible with atheism, but that atheism is a logical outcome of evolutionary belief- which I tend to agree with. He has long promoted atheism both individually and as part of Atheistic organizations. Dawkins is an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society, a vice-president of the British Humanist Association (since 1996), a Distinguished Supporter of the Humanist Society of Scotland, a Humanist Laureate of the International Academy of Humanism, and a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. In 2003, he signed Humanism and Its Aspirations, published by the American Humanist Association.
In his 1991 essay “Viruses of the Mind”, Dawkins singled out theistic religion as one of the most pernicious of these viruses, that is, he regards theism as a kind of disease or pathology, and parents who teach it to their children are, in Dawkins’ view, supposedly practicing mental child abuse But the sorts of criteria Dawkins applies have led critics to wonder whether Dawkins’ own strident atheism itself could be a mental pathology—or ‘atheopathy’- A neologism, coined by Jonathan Sarfati, which combines the word “atheist” and the suffix “-path” (“one afflicted by a specified disorder”) to create a word meaning something like “one afflicted by atheism.
Dawkins criticized those who resorted to prayers after 9/11. Somehow he overlooked the record-breaking tens of millions killed by Atheistic regimes last century. This was thoroughly documented by Rudolph Rummel (1932– ), Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Hawaii, who coined the term democide for murder by government (I have written about it at: https://iamnotanatheist.wordpress.com/2017/03/28/religious-wars-vs-democide/ )
This antitheism continued in the presentation of a Channel 4 program in the UK, called The Root of All Evil? (2006). The title was Channel 4’s choice, not Dawkins’, but he argued that humanity would be better off without belief in God. In this program, Dawkins interviewed a number of Christian leaders, and visited several holy sites and communities of major religions. However, some critics attacked the program for not having informed Christian responses. For example, Dawkins’ fellow Oxford PhD, Alister McGrath (1953– ), Professor of Historical Theology (with a PhD in molecular biophysics), claimed that after his responses Dawkins seemed uncomfortable, so he was not surprised that his own contribution to the show remained on the cutting room floor[v].
Dawkins’ defense of atheism produced his best-seller to date, The God Delusion (2006), with 1.5 million copies sold. Many high-profile Atheists praised it, and naturally Christians criticized it. For example, Philip Bell, M.Sc. and former cancer researcher, published a detailed review[vi], and there are other books responding to it[vii]. However, leading logician and Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga (1932– ), currently “John A. O’Brien Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame”, was not impressed with Dawkins’ excursions outside biology into philosophy, claiming that they could be called sophomoric were it not a grave insult to most sophomores[viii]. Now, I am not sure about you, but since it is my money, before I buy a book I read as many reviews, both positive and negative that I can before buying it. Stupidly, I bought this one and was not disappointed.
Prof. McGrath himself responded to the book (co-authored with his wife)[ix]. This also revealed that Dawkins’ support among Atheists was not universal—famous evolutionary philosopher Michael Ruse writes in the blurb, “The God Delusion makes me embarrassed to be an Atheist, and the McGraths show why.” Ruse also said that the “new Atheists” led by Dawkins are “a b****y disaster”[x], and said the following about the book:
“Question: What do you think of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins? Your approach is a lot milder? (The book lays open on his bed in the hotel room in Amsterdam where Ruse is interviewed.)
“Answer: I am just as critical of this book as of the work of Intelligent Design authors like Michael Behe, despite the fact that I, as an agnostic, am closer to Dawkins, and am 99% in agreement with his conclusions. But this book is stupid, politically disastrous and bad academics. If someone spoke about biology and evolution as he does on theology, Dawkins would react without mercy.
“A good academic will inform himself in depth in a subject he is writing about. Dawkins did not. He is neither a philosopher nor a theologian. I am not a biologist myself, but at least I study the subject in depth before I write about it. And that arrogance and that pedantic attitude of his. …
“Dawkins’ book confirms my analysis of evolution as pseudo-religion. His secular humanism has quasi-religious characteristics.[xi]”
Another Atheist , Terry Eagleton, Professor of Cultural Theory at the National University of Ireland, Galway, began his review of The God Delusion with these words:
“Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology[xii].”
“… does he imagine like a bumptious young barrister that you can defeat the opposition while being complacently ignorant of its toughest case? Dawkins, it appears, has sometimes been told by theologians that he sets up straw men only to bowl them over, a charge he rebuts in this book; but if The God Delusion is anything to go by, they are absolutely right.12”
Dawkins publicly debated his book with John Carson Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at Oxford. Lennox is also a Christian apologist and Intelligent Design supporter, and teacher of Science and Religion at Oxford, and the author of several books on the relations of science with religion and ethics. This debate did not cover evolution, but the wider Christianity vs atheism topics covered in The God Delusio[xiii]n. Dawkins seemed quite red-faced and uncomfortable during the debate.
However, Dawkins refuses to debate best-selling author Dinesh D’Souza, author of What’s So Great about Christianity[xiv] among others, even though D’Souza is a theistic evolutionist not a creationist[xv]. Yet many of Dawkins’ fellow ‘new Atheists’ such as Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett have been willing. In an open letter, D’Souza contrasted Dawkins’ eagerness to entrap non-scientist Christians on his TV shows with a refusal to debate a strong opponent on level terms:
“To be honest, I find your behavior extremely bizarre. You go halfway around the world to chase down televangelists to outsmart them in an interview format that you control, but given several opportunities to engage the issues you profess to care about in a true spirit of open debate and inquiry, you duck and dodge and run away. …
“If you are so confident that your position is right, and that belief in God is an obvious delusion, surely you should be willing to vindicate that position not only against Bible-toting pastors but also against a fellow scholar and informed critic like me!
“If not, you are nothing but a showman who takes on unprepared and unsuspecting opponents when you yourself control the editing, but when a strong opponent shows up you manufacture reasons to avoid him.[xvi]”
Now for a little rehash of what has been covered so far. We will go into his next book on another post. It is the information age- little information at a time. Dawkins started off as a “real scientist” and then moved on the showbiz aspect of popularity. If even his own “kind” (Atheists) have harsh words for him you can image what others believe.
[i] Cooper, G. and Humber, P., Fraudulent report at AAAS and the 1986 Oxford University debate, http://www.samizdat.qc.ca/cosmos/origines/debate_gc.htm.
[ii] Downey, R., in Eastsideweek, 11 December 1996.
[iii] Johnson, P., If there is no God, what is the Oxford atheist scared of? Spectator, p. 19, 16 March 1996.
[iv] See review by Weinberger, Lael, Long tails, tall tales, J. Creation 22(1):37–40, 2008; creation.com/ancestors-tale.
[v] McGrath, A., “Do stop behaving as if you are God, Professor Dawkins”, Mail Online, 9 February 2007.
[vi] See Bell, P., Atheist with a Mission: Critique of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, J. Creation 21(2):28–34, 2007; creation.com/delusion.
[vii] Slane, R., The God Reality: A critique of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, Day One, UK.
[ix] McGrath, Alister and McGrath, Joanna Collicutt, The Dawkins Delusion? Atheist fundamentalism and the denial of the divine, SPCK, UK, 2007.
[xi] Ruse, Michael, interview with De Volkskrant (Netherlands), p. 7, 7 April 2007, (translated by Frans Gunnink).
[xiii] See The God Delusion Debate (DVD), available from CMI.
[xiv] Regnery, Washington DC, 2007.
[xv] See review by Cosner, L., Mostly masterful defence of Christianity; pity it’s slack on creation, J. Creation 22(2):32–35, 2008; creation.com/souza.