RICHARD DAWKINS is Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. When this issue of Compass was planned, he was only a distant rumble over the horizon somewhere. I had just purchased a copy of his latest book, The God Delusion (2006) and was appalled that a man of his acknowledged brilliance in science communication could be so ignorant and ignorantly dogmatic about faith and theology. As we go to print the Dawkins rumble has come upon us as a storm. Millions have read about his ideas or seen his two-part television presentations, The Root of all Evil, and many have been reading his book. It seems like a good time to revisit the science and faith/theology theme.
It is difficult not to sound totally negative about Dawkins’ views. I must not be influenced by the fact that he considers me to be a ‘dyed-in-the-wool faith-head…immune to argument’. According to Dawkins I believe in God because I am deluded, deranged, a victim of years of childhood indoctrination during which I contracted a virus of the mind which I am now spreading in the population. I am a menace to civilisation.
I will forget about that and try to sound positive by saying that I agree with Dawkins on some things. For instance, I too condemn religious extremism and terrorism in the name of religion. But Dawkins should acknowledge that it is not doctrine that ultimately motivates these extremists, but politics, nationalism, ethnic causes, oppression or a desire to drive out foreign invaders. The extremists might do things in the name of religion, but not with the sanction of religious teaching.
Dawkins states that the God of the Old Testament is ‘a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully’ (Dawkins 2006, p.31), ‘a psychotic delinquent’ (idem p. 38). He is not trying to make a bad joke: he is serious! Clearly he needs to learn how to read the Bible. That kind of statement is just a sample indication of the primitive level of Dawkins’ discussion of things theological.
Every scientist and academic knows that one must listen to the experts of other disciplines. Everyone except Dawkins. He operates as though he is the expert in all disciplines, human and divine. He is indeed an expert in biology and zoology, but he has expanded the field of biology to encompass and dismiss anthropology, culture and religion. He is a biologist-imperialist.
A passage which a number of commentators have quoted with relish is from Terry Eagleton’s review of The God Delusion in the London Review of Books (19 October, 2006): ‘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’.
Educationalists are concerned that students are less attracted to the sciences these days and that is not a good thing for the future of the nation. Assaults on human values and beliefs in the name of science such as the Dawkins crusade are hardly going to encourage more young people to study natural science. This is an age in which spirituality is considered a good thing, and many will not be attracted to scientistic atheism with its narrow horizons, lack of vision and no ‘rumour of angels’. Like any fundamentalism, Dawkins’ dogmatic atheist fundamentalism cramps the human spirit.
—Barry Brundell MSC, Editor.
Recommended reading: Alister McGrath (2007), The Dawkins Delusion, Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine. SPCK, London.