I was driving home from the store tonight and totally by accident stumbled upon Terry Gross interviewing Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist and author of such books as “The Selfish Gene” and “The God Delusion.” Knowing I was going to lose the reception, I raced home, turned on my computer, and downloaded the whole show off of NPR: http://www.freshair.npr.org
I am familiar with his work but have never finished a book of his, but I sat down with my dinner and listened to his interview. These were my first reactions:
First off, he is completely unapologetic about being an Atheist. In fact, half the time I was expecting him to start screaming into the microphone, “The science is right there, you idiots!” although that wouldn’t be a very proper British thing to do. While I really admired his “passion for science” as he called it, I found that it made him blind to a couple of things.
One of those things was that most people don’t think like him, they don’t think like scientists. It’s weird because he acknowledges this in the interview, and yet some of the arguments he makes as to why there is no God only make sense or seem logical if you are a very analytical atheist that has already accepted that we must have all evolved using the Darwinian model.
The best example of this was his designer argument:” if life on Earth came from a creator, then the creator has to have been more advanced than us, and must inevitably have evolved somewhere else,” which he jokingly concludes means that either we all came from aliens or we had to have just plain evolved on our own. The thing is, he points out earlier in the interview why religious people aren’t going to believe that, and he doesn’t even realize it. He says that religion is the easy way, the easy answer, and that it takes a lifetime to learn even an iota of how the world really works and that it isn’t in fact all magic. Most humans do not have time to study how even an iota of the world works. They have children, they are starving or diseased or at war, they have to get their jobs or get their kids to daycare. So if people don’t have time to study why the world works, or even read a summary about how the world works, they’ll take the easiest answer they can get, that they can understand.
I do think he has interesting ideas about why we accept what we learned as a youngster so readily: Whatever our parents told us usually kept us alive, so we evolved to listen to and believe our elders.
However, calling social and cross-species morality “a blessed mistake” I think is trying to uncomplicate the idea much too much, although again the family bands/reciprocity theory he mentions makes sense, but just to say that it accidentally carried over into larger society as a whole and to other species I think is generalizing it too much.
He also said that religion is responsible for most wars. I disagree with that. I’ll conceed that religion often has an influence or is used as an excuse for wars, but it is not wholly responsible for wars. Maybe the Crusades or some of the jihadists today, but many more of the jihadists are doing it for political or economic reasons.
In the end, I really felt that while Dawkins had a lot of great theories and points and ideas, and a great passion for science and studying human evolution, he is not a great arguer as to why he believes in science over religion. “Because I’ve looked at the facts, so I know” (actual quote) isn’t a strong enough argument as to why he’s right and a bunch of religious people are wrong, and that’s coming from an atheist who agrees with him. He’s absolutely right that the argument “God must have created eyes because eyes are so complicated,” isn’t any sort of argument, but you can’t just respond by going, “Nu-uh!”
Also, judging by the questions Terry Gross asked, I’d say she’s either religious herself, or was simply playing devil’s advocate the whole time.