Dawkins the Evangelist

Watching a recent programme on BBC1 about sacred places reminded me of when I started to read Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. At that time, I was firmly in the atheist camp, so looked forward to the read. After two or three chapters, I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t worth continuing. “OK professor,” I thought, “I get it, you don’t believe in God and think anyone who does is a deluded fool.” You don’t need a whole book to tell me why. Trying to apply scientific reason to the existence or otherwise of God, or to religious faith, struck me as a pointless exercise. It’s not comparing like with like. Faith is, of its nature, unprovable. You can apply as many rational arguments for or against it as you like. It’s a leap beyond the provable, that’s why it’s called faith.

The main problem I have with Dawkins is that his militant atheism is as intolerant as the religious extremists he often derides. It brooks no opposition, treats as invalid any arguments to the contrary. I’ve never cared for evangelicals. I will respect others’ views and their right to hold them, but I expect the same in return. Dawkins wants converts as much as any other missionary. He is fired with similar zeal.

He clearly thinks religion is a thoroughly malign force, and that science is the only true path. Such a crudely manichean view is surely too simplistic, especially coming from a scientist of Dawkins’ eminence. Yes, of course religion has blood on its hands: from Christian persecutions of what it perceived as heretics to modern Islamist terrorism. That’s undeniable, but science isn’t squeaky clean either. Take the development of weapons like the atomic bomb. While it is fair to argue that the decision to use such weapons would be a political or military one, the weapons would not exist to be used were it not for scientists. Scientists cannot operate in a moral vacuum.

Since abandoning Dawkins’ book, I’ve reconsidered my atheism. His sheer intolerance and fundementalism repelled me, too fanatical, too unyielding, and it offered me nothing. In the otherwise execrable film Angels and Demons, the Tom Hanks character describes religious faith as a gift he has yet to receive. That’s a view that would match my own. I still have doubts, but I no longer share Dawkins’ arrogant certainty.

Beat your drum professor. I’ve listened to you as I have listened to equally strident religious voices, but your way is not mine. I prefer tolerance. A plague on the houses of all fanatics.

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One Response to “Dawkins the Evangelist”

  1. Atomic Mutant Says:

    Science made the atomic bomb possible, but the bomb was not used in the name of science. That’s the difference. Science is completely neutral. You don’t shout “FOR SCIENCE!” and detonate your suicide-bomber equipment. Religion (among other things) make you do that. So trying to shift the blame to science simply doesn’t make any sense.

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