There was an annoying interview with Richard Dawkins in Salon yesterday, which, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to read until today because…
…I was getting the story straight from the horse’s mouth.
The interview is annoying, not because of Dawkins, but because of the interviewer. It leads in with this comment: “Why are we here on earth? To Richard Dawkins, that’s a remarkably stupid question. In a heated interview, the famous biologist insists that religion is evil and God might as well be a children’s fantasy.” It also biases the argument in infuriating ways.
Not surprisingly, these kinds of comments have made Dawkins a lightning rod in the debate over evolution. While he’s a hero to those who can’t stomach superstition or irrationality, his efforts to link Darwinism to atheism have upset the scientists and philosophers, like Francis Collins and Michael Ruse, who are trying to bridge the gap between science and religion. Yet, surprisingly, some intelligent design advocates have actually welcomed Dawkins’ attacks. William Dembski, for instance, says his inflammatory rhetoric helps the I.D. cause by making evolution sound un-Christian.
To the author, bridging a gap between science and religion is apparently a virtue; to me, and I think to Dawkins, it’s like trying to couple sugar and shit on our dessert plate. Why should we make an effort to tie a rational, empirical, scientific world view to old foolishness about ghosts and deities? Why should we think Ruse and Collins are helping things, when their books are such dreary crap?
The comment from Dembski furthers the problem. First, Dembski is not a credible source for much of anything; the interviewer might as well have rushed out to get Ronald McDonald’s opinion of Dawkins. Second, I regard a creationist’s opinion as little more than a self-serving lie tailored to serve his ideology, so the subtext has to be understood when reading it. Of course a creationist like Dembski would love to split off an effective critic from the herd, and would like you to disregard Dawkins. I wonder…does Dembski invite Ruse to ID meetings and to make contributions to ID books because Ruse harms the ID cause? Third, science is un-religious and even anti-religious. It helps the cause of truth to make that conflict explicit; it harms that cause to gloss over and mask the differences, as Ruse and Collins do.
So ignore the interviewer. Read the article for Dawkins’ comments, which are clear and strongly stated—not heated. I can say from personal experience now that Dawkins doesn’t seem the sort of fellow to be “heated” at all: hospitable and charming are better terms for the man. As for what he says about religion in the interview, I have to agree with him completely.
I haven’t had a lot of free time to browse through the comments people have been leaving here, but I did pick up on this one in a quick scan, and it’s appropriate that I mention it here, I think.
…of course atheism is a philosophical position. So is creationism. It’s trivially true that they are both, equally, philosophical positions. To claim that belief is a position, while disbelief is not, is just ridiculous.
Atheism is not a philosophical belief. It is a consequence of a philosophical belief, I will grant you that: it is a philosophy that says evidence, observation, and a logical chain of reasoning are important, as is a healthy skepticism. Tunnel down through most atheists’ positions, and that is where you will find their philosophical foundation. I think it’s also why atheists sometimes find themselves exasperated with agnostics—we’re arguing for the same things, but the labels are different, and agnosticism gives far too much credit to purely hypothetical speculations about nebulous possibilities.
The funny thing is that most of the people you will meet on the street, unless they’re genuinely crazy, believe in the same philosophy that we atheists do. They would not buy a used car unless they drove it first, they test the water temperature with their hand before they step into the shower, they don’t expect that the sensible response to discovering a lump on their breast is to pray harder rather than going to the doctor for an examination. What they’ve done instead is to add an extra layer of weirdness (I can’t quite imagine what else to call religious beliefs—they are quite strange) on top. It is not a philosophy to find the invocation of a triune, dead-and-risen-again god peculiar, and it’s a misstatement of the situation to equate belief and not-belief as equivalent philosophical positions.
You could either state that atheism is built on an internally consistent philosophy, while theism is a set of irrational confabulations bolted on to a culture, or you could try to argue that magical thinking and semi-random traditions and rituals of religion are a “philosophy,” in which case I’ll feel comfortable in saying I want no part of this “philosophical” nonsense, and I would hope that most philosophers would also take offense.
One thing I cannot abide, though, is the implied false equivalence of calling both atheism and religion “philosophies”.