Archive for August, 2007

Dawkins and the Slaves of Unreason

August 18, 2007

I hadn’t intended on posting again on Richard Dawkins again so soon after my last post, but he’s appeared once again on the British media waging his personal war against superstition. He had two programmes on Channel 4 in Britain, the first of whoch was broadcast on Monday. Entitled Enemies of Reason, the blurb in the Radio Times described it thus:

‘Professor Richard Dawkins explores how society appears to be retreating from the concept of reason, with the rise in belief systems like astrology, clairvoyance and alternative health rememedies. He meets with The Observer astrologer Neil Spencer to find out how the movements of the planets people’s lives and garners some Earthly trade secrets from illusionist Derren Brown’ (p. 67, for the of the 11-17th August 2007).

Now at one level Dawkins is quite right to offer his criticisms of the proliferation of fringe mysticism, like astrology, dowsing, tarot reading and the like. I do know people who take astrology far too seriously. In America, some municipal authorities have become extremely worried about the way some self-professed psychics have conned tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars from clients, to the point where laws have been passed to close down fortune-tellers and other psychics.

Also, Dawkins in this sense actually isn’t doing anything new. James Randi has been doing this for several decades, now joined by Penn and Teller. About two years ago Channel 5 in Britain screened Secrets of the Psychics, where various scientists and stage magicians took examples of fraudulent psychic activity, and showed how the perpetrators actually performed their tricks. So, nothing particularly new or even controversial here.

What is debatable is Dawkins’ philosophical standpoint for attacking the psychics. Dawkins himself is a thoroughgoing materialist. He stated at a conference organised to discuss and promote the sceptical debunking of the paranormal that many of the phenomena considered paranormal were really ‘perinormal’ in the sense that if they were true, then it was likely that they worked according to as yet unknown scientific laws, and so would be incorporated into the domain of science. His primary objection to the paranormal has always been philosophical. As an outspoken Physicalist, he’s always made it very clear that he objects to any kind of non-materialist philosophy or the idea that certain events and phenomena may have non-materialist causes. This has served to weaken his argument, as far from being an impartial sceptical, he’s adopted instead a doctrinaire position, which was actually one of the criticisms levelled at CSI(COP).

I also suspect Dawkins is missing the point in suggesting people are abandoning science for superstition or the paranormal. I’m certainly not a Pagan, but my experience of Pagans and the ritual magicians in Britain is that very many of them are extremely scientifically literate, with some being professional scientists or technicians. Thus a commitment to science in one sphere does not automatically translate to a rejection of the spiritual or transcendent, as the experience of the numbers of scientists of more conventional religious convictions demonstrates.

I also think he’s missing the point. A lot of the decline in the interest in science in the West over the past decades has probably less to do with the rise of mysticism and far more to do with the general structural and ideological changes in British and general western society. Way back in the 1950s, when the British manufacturing was much, much stronger, most boys took some form of vocational training and there was a stronger interest in science, partly because of the stronger role of machine industry in the British economy. Scientists, technicians and engineers were needed to build, service and develop the machines and technology that were obviously driving the British technology. Moreover, the rate of technical change meant that machines and technology were expected to play an ever greater role in the future. So, there were confident predictions of trains that could reach speeds of 300 mph, commercial holidays in space and robots around the house.

Now to be fair, some of these dreams have come true. People do have robots and computers – but they’re not sentient machines like R2D2. There are holidays in space, but only for the seriously rich who can spend $30 million. And yes, there are trains reaching those speeds, but not on the British railway network, which has suffered persistent lack of investment. The future doesn’t look nice, bright, shiny and technological. It looks pretty much like today, only a bit, but not radically different. It’s possibly for this reason that five years ago one of the complaints of one of the leading figures in the Science Fiction community complained that little far future SF was being written, and that most Speculative Fiction was near future. And the British manufacturing base has dwindled, so the social need for scientists and technicians isn’t as high profile as it once was.

Moreover, the glamorous jobs and projects that grab public attention have either declined, or appeared less glamorous. Aviation is a case in point. Manned flight is naturally one of the most fascinating and attractive areas of technology, and the development of aircraft from the frail kites – literally, as used by the British for reconnaissance during the Boer War in South Africa – to todays modern jets is stirring stuff. But the British aviation sector has suffered serious commercial problems as developing and constructing these great machines has become more expensive, and orders consequently more difficult to fulfil. And flight itself has become so routine that it isn’t a marvel anymore, to stir the imagination and the blood, as the experience of sitting in an airport departure lounge has demonstrated to the millions of international travellers every year.The new machine age which so enthralled the Italian Futurists has brought excitement and thrills, but also tension, anxiety, boredom as people have got used to it.

As for the abandonment of reason, that’s been going on at a number of levels, and not just by those who have embraced what Dawkins undoubtedly considers superstition. Postmodernism is one example of the philosophical attack on reason, and here I do agree with Dawkins’ in his sharp criticism of it. However, some of this pessimism has come from evolutionary biology’s own view of humanity as merely a particular type of animal. Darwin himself wondered if his human ideas could ever be trusted to be true, as ‘who could trust a monkey’s brain’.

And for many the real refutation of the technological, scientific optimism of the type Dawkins’ espouses was the mechanised, technological carnage of the 20th century. The Victorians had an optimistic belief in progress, and so viewed that scientific and moral improvement would eventually lead humanity into some kind of utopia. Only people took their scientific insights, and turned them to mass death, just like they always had. Surveying the carnage of the 20th century, it’s difficult to have any view of the moral perfectibility of human beings, or see technology and science as purely a blessing.

Now I don’t think Dawkins is blind to all this for one moment, but I do think he has consistently missed the point and undervalued these factors in the decline of science in the West. Chasing after mediums and mystics is all very well, but it fails to address the real underlying causes of the decline of science for something that may be a correlation, not a cause.

And it also raises the uncomfortable question of thoughtcrime. Way back in the 19th century mediumship and witchcraft were expressly considered to be fraudulent under British law, and astrologers, mediums and fortune tellers prosecuted and convicted by the authorities. There were special Committees for the Suppression of Vice established, which, amongst other things, patrolled British society against the depradations of such superstition. All this changed in the 1950s after the prosecution and conviction of Helen Duncan, a celebrated British medium. This caused an outcry as it seemed to the British public to constitute not an attack on medium for fraud so much as an attack on a medium simply for being a medium. A modern, literal, witch trial. With some of the noises from Dawkins and his associates sometimes it can look like Dawkins’ own attitude actually isn’t very far different from the stern 19th century guardians of rationality.

Now mediums and their like may be deluded, but one of the hard-won freedoms of Western society is the freedom to believe what one wishes without coercion by the state. It means that people can believe strange and bizarre things, and hold opinions which can be completely wrong. Nevertheless, providng they aren’t harming others, the dangers in bringing the law to attack these people, simply for their beliefs, should be strongly rejected as an infringement on people’s fundamental liberties, no matter how well intentioned such laws may be.

Advertisements

Balloons over Bristol

August 10, 2007

This has absolutely nothing to do with my usual interest in Christian apologetics, but I thought nevertheless it was worth telling the world. It’s the annual Balloon Fiesta in Bristol, Britain, right now, and the sight’s been truly beautiful today. The sky was filled with ’em since before Eight O’clock in the morning. It’s been a gloriously sunny day today as well, so seeing them drift across the sky with the sun glinting on them – all shapes and colours – has been really wonderful.

Of course, it usually means that the roads up to Ashton Court from south Bristol, where the Balloon Fiesta is usually held, is usually clogged up with traffic so that there are massive traffic jams around Ashton Gate and Bedminster with people travelling up to see them, but it’s a splendid sight nonetheless. If you can survive the stress of negotiating the traffic, that is.

The Cult of Dawkins

August 9, 2007

Actually, the more Richard Dawkins’ career as a preacher of atheism is examined, the more it strongly it appears to conform to the sociological definition of a cult. Dawkins is certainly a powerfully charismatic figure, as is shown by the admiring members of the audience who annually troop to his talks at the Cheltenham Festival of Science, eyes aglow, and faces shining with a joy usually reserved for the saints who’ve been privileged to see a foretaste of paradise, as they have actually seen RICHARD DAWKINS.

Way back in the 19th century, the British philosopher and writer Thomas Carlyle discussed the tendency of people’s personal heroes to become a personal religion. By this he did not mean the articles of faith that they formally professed, but what they actually believed as expressed in their actions, even if they never admitted such beliefs even to themselves. In his ‘Heroes and Hero Worship’ Carlyle stated their personal religion consisted of ‘the thing a man does practically lay to heart, and know for certain, concerning his vital relations to this mysterious Universe, and his duty and destiny there, that is in all cvases the primary thing for him, and creatively determines all the rest. This is religion, or it may be, his mere skepticism and no-religion; the manner it is in which he feels himself to be spiritually related to the Unseen World or No-world; and I say, if you tell me what that is, you tell me to a very great extent what the man is, what the things he will do is.’

-cited in Richard Noll, The Jung Cult: Origins of Charismatic Movement (FontanaPress, 1996), pp. 3-4.

Noll in the above book uses the definitions and observations of personal and charismatic cults from Carlyle and the great German sociologist of religion, Max Weber, to present the case that Jung actually founded a charismatic religion in the psychoanalytic school that bears his name, rather than a medical system. I don’t know enough about Jungian psychology to know how accurate some of Noll’s comments are, though he presents a convincing case.

However, the same points can be said with equal value about the burgeoning atheist cult surrounding Richard Dawkins as a preacher of anti-theism.

Going further, Weber defined a charismatic group – a cult – as consisting of anywhere from a dozen or so to hundreds of thousands of followers, who have a shared belief system, a high level of social cohesiveness, are strongly influenced by the groups behavioural norms and impute charismatic or divine power to the group or its leadership. See Noll, The Jung Cult, pp. 16-17.

Now there clearly is a distinct ‘Dawkins’ cult out there. He has a website and a forum, inhabited by his fans. Going through the web, one can find similar websites from atheists strongly influenced by Dawkins and his arguments. They list his books as favourite reading, along with those of Carl Sagan. They have a distinct basis in the particular atheist, gradualist view of evolution, both biological and social, articulated by Dawkins. This has clearly affected their attitude to religion, as they are not content to ignore it, but to attack and argue against it, using his arguments. Whether they have a high degree of mutual cohesion is a moot point, though given the way he has started selling merchandising and ‘atheist’ branded clothing it’s possibly only a matter of time before they start taking on the social uniformity one associates with other cults or special interest groups.

As part of his argument that Jung was essentially a charismatic prophet, Noll compares Jung as a scientist with unique insights into human nature with the ancient philosophers and early Christian hermits, who were also supposed to have gained special charismatic insight and power through retreating from society to develop a unique relationship with nature. Now Dawkins clearly is not a hermit, but his vocation as a biologist has given him the status of someone with a special connection and insight into nature and the cosmos. Thus Dawkins also seems to partake of the role of a prophet, just as Sagan did when he was articulating his own unique pantheism in Cosmos back in the 1980s.

Charismatic cults tend to ossify into more bureaucratic structures as they grow and there develops a greater need to regulate their functioning, such as laying down basic standards of belief, and norms of practice and organisational structure. Weber called this process the ‘routinization of religion’. For Weber the ‘principal motives’ for this process are ‘(a) the ideal also the material interests of the followers in the continuation and the continual reactivation of the community; (b) teh still stronger ideal and also stronger material interests of the members of the administartive staff, the disciples or other followers of the charismatic leader in continuing their relationship’.

-see Noll again, pp. 276-7.

Again, Dawkins and the contemporary cult surrounding him fits this pattern perfectly. He has money coming in from TV and radio appearances, lectures, books and newspaper articles, and even his own Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason to disseminate and routinise his ideas, and which clearly have provided him with a good living while recruiting yet more followers to his cause.

So, rather than being a liberator, Dawkins has instead stopped people from thinking for themselves, if that was ever his gaol. Rather than teaching people to think critically for themselves, he is now acting as any other religious figure with a material interest in maintaining his hold over people’s minds and wallets. If there are atheists seriously concerned to think for themselves, I suggest they might make a good start by taking a very serious, sceptical look at Dawkins, and stop believing what he says.

Rational Perspectives

August 8, 2007

Rational Perspectives

Posted by Beast Rabban

Richard Dawkins – Enemy of Reason?

Over the next few weeks, Channel 4 in Britain are screening a two-part series, Enemies of Reason, in which Richard Dawkins puts aside his career attacking religion for the moment to go after ‘astrology, tarot, psychics, homeopathy and other forms of gullibility’. It’s fair to say that the profusion of New Age and occult practices has been a concern of very many people, not just atheists, who are afraid that unscrupulous frauds are exploiting people’s natural desire for contact with the divine and transcendent to enrich themselves. There have been a number of cases in cities like Philadelphia and elsewhere where the city authorities have attempted to prosecute fraudulent and exploitative psychics. However, while Dawkins and his supporters believe that he is qualified, as an exponent of atheistic reason, to do what James Randi and CSICOP have been doing for the past three decades or so, it’s questionable whether Dawkins himself is any less superstitious or unreasonable than the New Age hippies he’s now targetting.

Indeed, if you’re looking for an ‘enemy of reason’, then in very many ways Dawkins himself fits the bill. Here’s why.

 Firstly, Dawkins’ own worldview is philosophically threadbare. It’s a throwback to the Logical Positivists of the 1930s. Adopting a rigidly Naturalistic approach to philosophy, they declared that only empirical science was rational and derided ‘disreputable’ metaphysics. Dawkins’ oft-repeated pronouncements that religion has no object could have come straight from A.J. Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic. Ayer declared that only language about concrete objects could be meaningful, and so religious language about God was absurd, meaningless. And where Ayer went, Dawkins follows.

However, the very rationality of the universe is problematic for philosophers. The British philosopher, Roger Trigg, in his book, Rationality and Science, points out that the very success of science in explaining the cosmos requires a philosophical explanation that has to be apart and beyond science itself. For theists raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the intelligibility of the cosmos isn’t surprising. The Bible describes God creating the world through His transcendent Wisdom – the Logos, or Word – of the Bible. Sir Francis Bacon, the pioneering theorist of the scientific method, argued that the world was rationally ordered by God’s divine reason. It was intelligible, and so, following the Medieval doctrine of the Two Books, nature could be read by Christians, and would reveal something of the nature of its author.

 Bacon wasn’t alone either, and his views in that regard weren’t revolutionary or even particularly innovative. St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Contra Gentiles has a chapter setting forth the view that ‘the consideration of creatures is useful for instruction of faith’. He recognised that the philosopher and the theologian saw nature in different ways, yet nevertheless stated that knowledge of creatures served to destroy errors concerning God. The rational exploration of the nature of the created world was a product of medieval theology. Indeed, historians of philosophy have noted that by the 14th century, 40 per cent of the medieval university arts syllabus was devoted to questions of natural philosophy. Medieval theologians debating the nature of God used the same Aristotelian logic natural philosophers used when examining nature, and were strongly interested in the way the cosmos operated. The quodlibet debates in which theological scholars argued about the nature of God are permeated with scientific discussions which are actually tangential to the main theological points in question. God Himself was considered to be supremely rational and conceived in the same logical terms. The British astronomer John Barrow, in his book, Theories of Everything, pointed out that if you removed the word ‘God’ from much medieval philosophy and replaced it with ‘mathematics’, the passages would still make sense. As well as being an Age of Faith, some historians and philosophers have argued instead that the Middle Ages were also an age of reason, before that concept was appropriated by the atheist philosophes of the Enlightenment.

Yet Dawkins ignores all this, and simply repeats the tired, and increasingly falsified view of antichristian historians like Draper that the Middle Ages saw the suppression of science, and science and religion are implacable enemies. Yet Dawkins’ scientism is itself unable to explain the rationality of the cosmos.

 Now the Logical Positivists themselves wrestled with that problem, and eventually rejected their narrow focus of empirical science. As Karl Popper realised, to explain the success of science, you had to return to metaphysics. Even A.J. Ayer himself towards the end of his life admitted he was wrong. Yet Dawkins himself carries on taking the intelligibility of the cosmos for granted. When challenged on this point, about science’s need for metaphysics to make sense of science’s very success, Dawkins’ admirers rather than accept the point simply fall back on a flat denial of such a need. Instead of presenting a set of arguments against metaphysics or God, they merely repeat that the existence of God isn’t scientific, and ask rhetorically why you should want to believe in God to move beyond science.

 Now this is irrational. You aren’t supposed to want to seek a deeper explanation. Just accept that the universe is intelligible. Don’t ask why. Just believe science is sufficient to explain everything, even when it needs an explanation for itself.

Then there is the nature of Dawkins’ fervent belief in evolution. Dawkins has stated that even if there were no good evidence for Darwinism, he would still believe in it, as it is to him the best explanation around. This is actually a statement, not of scientific scepticism, but of blind faith. He has admitted that even if the evidence were not good – and supposedly even if the evidence actually contradicted Darwinism – he would still believe it, as it is to him the best explanation. Well, it explains the venom with which he attacked Dr. Mike Behe’s Edge of Evolution in his review, and the paucity of any arguments based on science. Dawkins’ attitude to Darwinism is one based on faith, not sceptical reason, which could lead to its rejection.

The point becomes clearer when you find out how he claims he turned to Darwinism. He was, he said, raised as an Anglican (Episcopalian) Christian. Then when he hit his early teens and started to find out about the other religions in the world, he started having doubts. He was then a pantheist for a little while, before reading Darwin when he was 15. It was this experience which led to him to reject theism when he ‘really understood Darwin’. Thus, he believed in Darwin as a solution a metaphysical crisis of religious worldview, rather than as a simple scientific hypothesis.

And it could be argued that Dawkins’ own conception of evolution is essentially superstitious. It’s a religious abuse, a substitute for God, an idol, rather than a rational worldview. I’ll explain why.

 For theists who accept evolution, Natural Selection is merely the process by which God creates the wonderful profusion of creatures that populate our splendid, beautiful world. Only God creates. But for Naturalists like E.O. Wilson, who admitted wishing to set up a religion of evolution, and indeed Dawkins, evolution becomes a kind of God-substitute as Creation itself. One can draw a comparison between this view and the ancient Israelites’ explanation for the rise of Paganism among the peoples around them. There’s one passage in the Apocrypha where the origins of paganism is considered to be due to pagans seeing the order of the stars and their movements, and natural processes elsewhere on the Earth, and seeing them as gods in themselves, rather than God’s creation. Dawkins and Wilson effectively do the same, mistaking the ordered process of creation in evolution with notions of transcendence. In doing so, they’ve created an idol. And as the British philosopher Mary Midgeley amply demonstrates in her book, Evolution as a Religion, the language in which evolutionary scientists like Dawkins, Wilson, Jacques Monod, Theodosius Dobzhansky and co is absolutely saturated with religious motifs and assumptions.

 Dawkins himself makes no secret about the intensely mystical feelings he has when contemplating the cosmos, though he strongly denies that these are in any way ‘religious’. In answer to a question from the audience in 1997 when he appeared at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature promoting his boo

Rational Perspectives

August 8, 2007

Rational Perspectives

Posted by Beast Rabban

Richard Dawkins – Enemy of Reason?

Over the next few weeks, Channel 4 in Britain are screening a two-part series, Enemies of Reason, in which Richard Dawkins puts aside his career attacking religion for the moment to go after ‘astrology, tarot, psychics, homeopathy and other forms of gullibility’. It’s fair to say that the profusion of New Age and occult practices has been a concern of very many people, not just atheists, who are afraid that unscrupulous frauds are exploiting people’s natural desire for contact with the divine and transcendent to enrich themselves. There have been a number of cases in cities like Philadelphia and elsewhere where the city authorities have attempted to prosecute fraudulent and exploitative psychics. However, while Dawkins and his supporters believe that he is qualified, as an exponent of atheistic reason, to do what James Randi and CSICOP have been doing for the past three decades or so, it’s questionable whether Dawkins himself is any less superstitious or unreasonable than the New Age hippies he’s now targetting.

Indeed, if you’re looking for an ‘enemy of reason’, then in very many ways Dawkins himself fits the bill. Here’s why.

 Firstly, Dawkins’ own worldview is philosophically threadbare. It’s a throwback to the Logical Positivists of the 1930s. Adopting a rigidly Naturalistic approach to philosophy, they declared that only empirical science was rational and derided ‘disreputable’ metaphysics. Dawkins’ oft-repeated pronouncements that religion has no object could have come straight from A.J. Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic. Ayer declared that only language about concrete objects could be meaningful, and so religious language about God was absurd, meaningless. And where Ayer went, Dawkins follows.

However, the very rationality of the universe is problematic for philosophers. The British philosopher, Roger Trigg, in his book, Rationality and Science, points out that the very success of science in explaining the cosmos requires a philosophical explanation that has to be apart and beyond science itself. For theists raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the intelligibility of the cosmos isn’t surprising. The Bible describes God creating the world through His transcendent Wisdom – the Logos, or Word – of the Bible. Sir Francis Bacon, the pioneering theorist of the scientific method, argued that the world was rationally ordered by God’s divine reason. It was intelligible, and so, following the Medieval doctrine of the Two Books, nature could be read by Christians, and would reveal something of the nature of its author.

 Bacon wasn’t alone either, and his views in that regard weren’t revolutionary or even particularly innovative. St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Contra Gentiles has a chapter setting forth the view that ‘the consideration of creatures is useful for instruction of faith’. He recognised that the philosopher and the theologian saw nature in different ways, yet nevertheless stated that knowledge of creatures served to destroy errors concerning God. The rational exploration of the nature of the created world was a product of medieval theology. Indeed, historians of philosophy have noted that by the 14th century, 40 per cent of the medieval university arts syllabus was devoted to questions of natural philosophy. Medieval theologians debating the nature of God used the same Aristotelian logic natural philosophers used when examining nature, and were strongly interested in the way the cosmos operated. The quodlibet debates in which theological scholars argued about the nature of God are permeated with scientific discussions which are actually tangential to the main theological points in question. God Himself was considered to be supremely rational and conceived in the same logical terms. The British astronomer John Barrow, in his book, Theories of Everything, pointed out that if you removed the word ‘God’ from much medieval philosophy and replaced it with ‘mathematics’, the passages would still make sense. As well as being an Age of Faith, some historians and philosophers have argued instead that the Middle Ages were also an age of reason, before that concept was appropriated by the atheist philosophes of the Enlightenment.

Yet Dawkins ignores all this, and simply repeats the tired, and increasingly falsified view of antichristian historians like Draper that the Middle Ages saw the suppression of science, and science and religion are implacable enemies. Yet Dawkins’ scientism is itself unable to explain the rationality of the cosmos.

 Now the Logical Positivists themselves wrestled with that problem, and eventually rejected their narrow focus of empirical science. As Karl Popper realised, to explain the success of science, you had to return to metaphysics. Even A.J. Ayer himself towards the end of his life admitted he was wrong. Yet Dawkins himself carries on taking the intelligibility of the cosmos for granted. When challenged on this point, about science’s need for metaphysics to make sense of science’s very success, Dawkins’ admirers rather than accept the point simply fall back on a flat denial of such a need. Instead of presenting a set of arguments against metaphysics or God, they merely repeat that the existence of God isn’t scientific, and ask rhetorically why you should want to believe in God to move beyond science.

 Now this is irrational. You aren’t supposed to want to seek a deeper explanation. Just accept that the universe is intelligible. Don’t ask why. Just believe science is sufficient to explain everything, even when it needs an explanation for itself.

Then there is the nature of Dawkins’ fervent belief in evolution. Dawkins has stated that even if there were no good evidence for Darwinism, he would still believe in it, as it is to him the best explanation around. This is actually a statement, not of scientific scepticism, but of blind faith. He has admitted that even if the evidence were not good – and supposedly even if the evidence actually contradicted Darwinism – he would still believe it, as it is to him the best explanation. Well, it explains the venom with which he attacked Dr. Mike Behe’s Edge of Evolution in his review, and the paucity of any arguments based on science. Dawkins’ attitude to Darwinism is one based on faith, not sceptical reason, which could lead to its rejection.

The point becomes clearer when you find out how he claims he turned to Darwinism. He was, he said, raised as an Anglican (Episcopalian) Christian. Then when he hit his early teens and started to find out about the other religions in the world, he started having doubts. He was then a pantheist for a little while, before reading Darwin when he was 15. It was this experience which led to him to reject theism when he ‘really understood Darwin’. Thus, he believed in Darwin as a solution a metaphysical crisis of religious worldview, rather than as a simple scientific hypothesis.

And it could be argued that Dawkins’ own conception of evolution is essentially superstitious. It’s a religious abuse, a substitute for God, an idol, rather than a rational worldview. I’ll explain why.

 For theists who accept evolution, Natural Selection is merely the process by which God creates the wonderful profusion of creatures that populate our splendid, beautiful world. Only God creates. But for Naturalists like E.O. Wilson, who admitted wishing to set up a religion of evolution, and indeed Dawkins, evolution becomes a kind of God-substitute as Creation itself. One can draw a comparison between this view and the ancient Israelites’ explanation for the rise of Paganism among the peoples around them. There’s one passage in the Apocrypha where the origins of paganism is considered to be due to pagans seeing the order of the stars and their movements, and natural processes elsewhere on the Earth, and seeing them as gods in themselves, rather than God’s creation. Dawkins and Wilson effectively do the same, mistaking the ordered process of creation in evolution with notions of transcendence. In doing so, they’ve created an idol. And as the British philosopher Mary Midgeley amply demonstrates in her book, Evolution as a Religion, the language in which evolutionary scientists like Dawkins, Wilson, Jacques Monod, Theodosius Dobzhansky and co is absolutely saturated with religious motifs and assumptions.

 Dawkins himself makes no secret about the intensely mystical feelings he has when contemplating the cosmos, though he strongly denies that these are in any way ‘religious’. In answer to a question from the audience in 1997 when he appeared at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature promoting his book, Unweaving the Rainbow, he declared that science would in time take on the aspects of religion ‘but with a greater degree of truth’. That’s a very moot point.

So when Richard Dawkins steps onto the small screen next week to tell British viewers that anything vaguely supernatural is an affront to reason, it’s fair to say it’s going to be a case of the pot calling the kettle black, as Dawkins himself is an exponent of irrationalism and, by the strict theological terminology of the Middle Ages, superstition. It’s something to think about the next time you see his eyes glaze over in awe as he starts praising Darwin.