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 general principles (Dawkins; Science and Religion – Hitchens; Religion and Indoctrination – Dennett; Evolutionary Naturalism, etc.).

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. Antony Flew has even gone so far as to call him a “secularist bigot” [1]; Alvin Plantinga in his review of Dawkins’ 2006 book, The God Delusion, 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…”[2] 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 a man ignorant of the Dawkinsian rhetoric is also just as surely missing the decade of noise streaming from a particularly interesting side of the fence. 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).

In an interesting response to this prestigious award of recognition, Rabbi David Wolpe writes 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” [4].

Of course there is a split in terms of how secular and religious intellectuals view Dawkins and his separating of science from religion, but surely a conclusive matter can be attained in regards to the flimsy writing style of his notorious book on “atheology” (if it can be respectfully called such).

 

Concluding on Richard Dawkins

I would have to side with Thomas Nagel and his position when he comments on Dawkins’s third chapter of The God Delusion, “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” [5]. Though to some he may be considered the “enfant terrible” [6] of the New Atheist movement, to others he presents himself as a flimsy, rhetorically-nurtured straw man.

However one feels about Dawkins may be irrelevant to the case he presents, but surely the argument presented a a blows to theism is “hollow at its core” (Ibid. p. 2). To finish this section:

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. [7]

 

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Bibliography:

  • [1]. cp. 2008, bethinking.org
  • [2] BooksandCulture, cp. March/April, 2007
  • [3] T. Nagel, Secular Philosophy and the Religious Temperament; cp. 2010, p. 19
  • [4] Huffington Post, May 7th, 2013
  • [5] T. Nagel, Secular Philosophy, cp. 2010, p. 20
  • [6] W. L. Craig, Contending With Christianity’s Critics; cp. 2009, p. 2
  • [7] T. Nagel, Secular Philosophy; cp. 2010, p. 26

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About Steven Dunn

Steven Dunn is the author of "Hellenistic Christendom"; a blog with a primary focus on the philosophy of religion and other philosophical/theological subjects relevant to his interests (existentialism, metaphysics, philosophy of mind, etc.). He completed high school in May of 2013 and will be starting Community College in June of 2014 pursuing a degree in Philosophy. He currently resides in Tampa, FL.