Thursday 5 March 2009

Welcome to the temple of Richard Dawkins

There are would-be murderers, all around the world who want to kill you and me, and themselves, because they are motivated by what they think is the highest ideal.
--Richard Dawkins
I'm agnostic. I believe the theory of evolution, that’s ‘theory’ in its scientific rather than popular sense. There’s a part of me that wonders why I should have to qualify myself, but the larger part thinks it easier that way.

Charles Darwin portrait
With the recent anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth I somehow found myself reading a Richard Dawkins blog. This was in response to a colleague of mine who had read of a report showing an ‘alarming’ percentage of science teachers who didn’t believe in evolution. It later turned out that actually it was a percentage who weren’t convinced that evolution offered all the answers… then later again we agreed that not only did we not know the result of the survey but that, since we didn’t know the question asked, the previous discussion had been rather pointless… but still a lot of fun.

Regardless, I found myself reading Dawkins’ blog and it wasn’t long before I had this strange feeling of déjà-vu. If I remember correctly (I don’t care to go back because it was an ugly read) the discussion originated on correspondence between Dawkins and a journalist; in which the journalist had the temerity to infer that Richard Dawkins appropriation of Darwin’s significance was counter-productive to the teaching of evolutionary theory.

The journalist suggested that the teaching and acceptance of evolution was best served by keeping it separate from any debate on religious belief. Dawkins reply missed the point; he repeatedly commented that this was irrelevant as the science stands for itself. He either couldn’t, or wilfully refused, to entertain the idea that a person forced to choose between truth and love will sometimes choose love. Personally I think this rather wonderful; though Dawkins and his acolytes would doubtless roll their eyes at the very suggestion.

Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist and an atheist; like most of us he combines what he knows (which is considerable) with what he believes. This is perfectly natural and in Dawkins case it helps to shift a lot of books; but in presenting the two tenets of evolution and atheism as a package he undermines that with which we can all agree. I say this because I don’t know any Christians who disagree with the theory of evolution. If he were to separate the two then science as a whole would find it easier to educate, and sloppy ideas such as ‘intelligent design’ would lose their grip and slowly die away.

So why doesn’t he? Judging from the many contributors to his blog I found it difficult to escape the feeling that they enjoyed the conflict; the intellectual bullying of people considered their inferior. It was unpleasant but I can hardly blame the great man for his following. There’s a certain irony in this fundamentalist approach to following their highest ideal, for they fail to consider the possibility that it’s not so much religious belief that is the ‘root of all evil’ but religious intolerance; and in that respect they condemn themselves.


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