There seems to be a new debating tactic among adversaries of the New Atheists, and one Colin Tudge gives us a good example.
Richard Dawkins has no sense of irony. He rails endlessly against fundamentalists yet he defends old-fashioned, Thomas Gradgrind-style materialism as zealously as the Mid-West Creationists defend the literal truth of Genesis. He accuses others of misrepresentation yet he seriously misrepresents religion. Also, which is irony writ large, he misrepresents science, in whose name he is assumed to speak. He condemns the Catholics for filling the heads of children with a particular view of life before they have had a chance to think for themselves – and now, in The Magic of Reality, written for readers as young as nine, he has done precisely that. As somebody said of Miss Jean Brodie, it’s time he was put a stop to.
Sounds like a pretty spirited opposition, right? Full frontal assault, reinforced by famous people (or famous names at least) like Spinoza and Schrödinger, and appeals to both modern science and modern theology. And then there’s this.
Religions do not depend upon their myths and miracles. They are there as illustrations.
Bam. You’re coming around the first turn, the crowd is cheering, you’re ready to make your big move to overtake the leader, and you pull out a large revolver and shoot your own horse dead. True religion, you see, is religion without the supernatural. All those myths and miracles and such are merely illustrations, not meant to be taken literally. To understand why Dawkins is wrong, you have to understand Christmas without the Virgin Birth and the Nativity story, Easter without the Resurrection, Christianity without Christ. Then you’ll see why Dawkins’ criticisms are off base.
For all his smug condescension, Tudge seems to have missed the point that his real conflict is not with Dawkins but with conservative fundamentalists whose religion not only depends on their myths and miracles being literally true, but seeks to impose its own dogmatic standard of truth on every one else. Tudge even admits agreeing with Dawkins.
Yet I do agree with Dawkins on what is ostensibly the main point of his book: “Science has its own magic”. So it does – for it is helping to show just how wonderful the world in which we live really is. But the notion that the revelations of science are necessarily at odds with religion does no favours to either. Indeed, the 17th-century founders of modern science – Galileo, Newton, Descartes, Leibniz, Boyle, John Ray – were all devout. For them, to explore the wonders of the world through science was to glorify God. Bach said the same about his music. Dawkins’s ultra-materialist view of life is crude by comparison. How can we not believe in miracles, when stuff like this is presented as a serious contribution to the education of our children?
It’s not quite clear what point Tudge thought he was making with that last line, but it’s really rather moot. A religion that throws away its own distinctive dogmas in order to lean on scientific discoveries for its substance is a religion that vindicates the point Dawkins is trying to make. So thanks, Mr. Tudge. I guess.