No blog or discussion on the nature of God or the intersection of science and religion would be complete without reference to Richard Dawkins. He is a great source of interesting posts and someone I shall be returning to frequently. He has become something of a high priest to atheists and with that in mind I had a little chuckle when I read about his pilgrimage to the Galapagos Islands.
I first came across Dawkins in the 1980’s when I first began reading books about the philosophy of science. The Selfish Gene is a brilliant book, popular science writing at its very best, explaining complex ideas with ease. It was the New York Times who classed it as ‘the sort of popular science writing that makes the reader feel like a genius.’
I have mixed feelings about Dawkins. He is clearly a top level scientist and a great writer. He is however a lousy philosopher and a lousy metaphysician. His anti religious rants are not derivable from his scientific evidence, rather they are merely piggybacked on his science and the impression is given that the one follows from the other. It does not. Since The Selfish Gene Dawkins has produced a number of other great books, but seemingly with each step has moved further away from the popular science genre and increasingly taken on the role of waging all out war against Religion. The great writer of popular science has become a savage anti-religious polemicist – preaching rather than arguing his case. In some senses he has become what he detests most.
Now I wouldn’t wish you to think that I am here to mount a knock down argument in the defence of religion. I am not. Much of what Dawkins argues – even at his worst – I can quite happily agree with. I probably agree with 99.9% of everything he writes. But at the core I am deeply unhappy with the fundamentals for which Dawkins argues. The case against God has not been proven. The case for scientific materialism has not been successful. Dawkins embraces everything he says with a materialist spin as if that is how evolution needs to be presented. It doesn’t. And the offensive part of Dawkins words is not the evolution but that materialist spin.
My second gripe with Dawkins is with his proposal for what we should do with the concept of God. He wishes to banish it from speech altogether so as not to give succour to those who he despises. He argues that scientists should cease giving acknowledgement to the God of Spinoza and of Einstein – The Rational God – because the ordinary reader confuses this Pantheist version with the Theist one. This is somewhat backward thinking. If scientists believe the concept is a valid one to have then they should not be browbeaten into naming it something else. Spinoza’s God is a clearly defined, internally consistent concept and can give us deep insights into the ultimate nature of existence.
In conclusion I would like to point out that Dawkins anti-religious views are not something which can be proven false by some scientific evidence. Yet neither are they self evident from the scientific facts as Dawkins generally assumes. The philosophical positions that Dawkins imports into his belief system are not the easiest to defend, and in the case of materialism are generally considered to be false by everyone. There are philosophical positions different to those of Richard Dawkins which can represent the scientific facts in an equally adequate way. For Dawkins to represent his philosophical viewpoint as scientific fact is disingenuous at best and anti scientific at worst.