Richard Dawkins – The Man Who Gave Atheism a Bad Name

richard dawkins' mad stary eyes

Richard Dawkins – evolutionary biologist, popular science writer, professional atheist and all round very clever person. I’ve read a number of Dawkins’ books; he is a very entertaining writer. He talks knowledgably about biology and general science and delights in the hypocrisy and irrationality of the modern religions. He also invented one of my favourite pseudo-sciences – memetics. In theory he should be my hero, today he’s going to be the opposite. Mister Dawkins, j’accuse – you are the man who gave atheism a bad name.

I hate organized religion as much as the next son of an evangelist. It is no secret that irrational belief has done more damage to human society than anything else in history. We spent 1,000 years in the “Dark Ages”, when an out of control hyper-meme called ‘Christianity’ almost extinguished the wisdom of the Ancients Greeks, and probably successfully eradicated many more fragile ideologies (we have no way of knowing). The amount of blood shed in religious wars, and the amount still to be shed, appalls me, but no longer surprises me. Organised religion is the worst of tribal mentality, and we of the Age of Reason should be above that.

Richard Dawkins writes upon this subject in his most recent book, The God Delusion. He correctly points out that the human mind is vulnerable to certain types of memetic viruses, those that play on our fear of death, the unknown, and our arrogance as a species. Religions are the most sophisticated and resilient of these memes. But there is hypocrisy to his message, because while he writes eloquently of atheism, he doesn’t acknowledge that he has his own belief system, one that he clings to as desperately, and espouses as vocally, as any evangelical Christian.

Richard Dawkins has been the loudest prophet of Darwinism the world has ever known. He is Saul level. He has been perhaps the most significant single influence in the current popularity of the Theory of Evolution since Darwin himself. He calls Evolution a science, but this is a common misconception. It is a faith.

Darwin’s great theory is most probably right on the mark, there is a lot for evidence for it. But Evolution is not the kind of theory that can be conclusively proved in the same way gravity, heliocentricism, or a round earth can be proved. You cannot make a prediction of a state that can be measured after time t, which can then be tested at time t to see if it meets the prediction. The fossil record is very incomplete (representing less than 1% of all species who have lived on our planet), so if you were to look at time t for a fossil, it is very unlikely you would find it there.

The Theory, while a wonderful idea, and a beautifully elegant explanation for the question of how we got here, does not fit the bill of a conventional scientific theory. It also still has a few gaps in it’s explanation, gaps that requires a faith they will one day be filled. Evolution is a wonderful, elegant and popular idea, but we still have to choose whether we believe it or not.

In The Origin of Species, Darwin worried that Evolution was without sufficient proof, but held tightly to the belief that one day the fossil record would provide it. But Dawkins simply believes the theory to be ‘the truth’, i.e. beyond questioning, which is why his writings, entertaining though they are, always remind me of theological conversations with my Dad, who dismisses any viewpoint that doesn’t include the existence of God as simply irrelevant. Evolution is Dawkins ideology, and he suffers the same problem. Dawkins is an Evolutionary Fundamentalist.

But one advantage an Evolutionary Fundamentalist has over a Christian Fundamentalist is that Dawkins’ belief is in line with the zeitgeist right now, just as Creationism was only 90 years ago (prior to the Scopes trial in 1925). So he will sell a lot of books, because he is telling us what we want to hear. Whereas I won’t. But it’s nice to think that, what would have got you burned at the stake a 1000 years ago, can make you a multi-millionaire these days, so good on him.

Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.

– Richard Dawkins

-- 25th August 2007 --

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