Posted by: clavelle | March 22, 2009

The Hypocrisy of Dawkins

Richard Dawkins ends his book, The God Delusion, with a chapter that shows his own excitement over the potential of science and human discovery, especially at the quantum level, to shatter our pre-conceived notions, narrow paradigms and established logic. This unknown future evokes tears, laughter, humility, awe and inspiration in Dawkins as he delights in quoting from the famous Hamlet speech that cries, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy “(408). In saying this, however, Dawkins not only condemns himself by but also Sam Harris and the rest of the New Atheists. The views they hold regarding the source of knowledge and the understanding of the working of the world are narrowly definitive and closed, raising the question of just how well they would respond to these new developments in areas of quantum mechanics. Consider Dawkins’ and Harris’ position on the source of our knowledge and their obvious reductionist explanation of our world:

Natural Selection not only explains the whole of life; it also raises our consciousness to the power of science to explain how organized complexity can emerge from simple beginnings without deliberate guidance (Dawkins, The God Delusion, 140).

Science represents our best efforts to know what is true about our world (Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, 64).

Examining the value judgments of these two figures exposes a type of scientific materialism that claims all of reality can be explained in purely natural ways and all ways of knowing are a result of science. Science, they argue, is intellectually honest, examines evidence and empirical data, and draws logical conclusions to the reality of our universe and is not only the superior way of knowing but in fact the only way. Religion is not grounded in their limited category of what is considered “evidence” and is a delusion of the human person, a virus or misfiring of neurons. It overlooks and subverts reasonable inquiry, distorts our perceptions of the reality of the universe and fails the test of science.

However, the “evidence” that the New Atheists have gathered to support these claims is in some instances absent and in all others selective and misrepresentative of their own scientific community and the larger religious community they criticize. Claims that uplift Darwinian evolution as the ultimate explanation of reality, the claim that science is the only way of knowing, that all things can be explained to their full extent in natural ways, are the very ‘faith claims’ that the New Atheists criticize: philosophical presuppositions that cannot be soundly deduced from the present evidence at hand. This philosophy makes claims that are completely beyond the reach of the New Atheists: There is no God, no soul, no afterlife, no purpose or point to the universe.

This misappropriation of the evidence leads to over-stretching the contribution of Darwinian evolution and natural selection in the understanding of our universe and the reality of the world. It has become the ultimate explanation and paradigm for understanding not only the creation of the universe and our world, but subsequently the human mind, emotions, behavior and intelligence and purpose of creation. Dawkins claims that “natural selection is not only a parsimonious, plausible and elegant solution; it is the only workable alternative to chance that has ever been suggested” (Dawkins, 145). However, many scientists such as Ian Barbour, Kenneth Miller, Arthur Peacocke, John Polkinghorne and others happily accept Darwinian evolution and at the same time recognize its limited ability to explain areas such as the human mind, experience and behavior and quantum and cosmological events. It is a tool, a way of looking and understanding that contributes to greater understanding of the bigger and more complex picture that is our universe rather than an ultimatum that needs no other supplement. It would seem to Dawkins that the positions of these scientists, whose field is just beginning to explore the developments in quantum mechanics, question the determinism of Newtonian physics, and wrestle with the mystery of the universe, are in a good position to do honest science, considering his quote in The God Delusion that “admissions of ignorance and temporary mystification are vital to good science” (Dawkins, 152). So then why would he deny ignorance, distort evidence and close his mind when it comes to the scope of Darwinian evolution, the questioning of his views by quantum mechanics and the scientific endeavor to understand the universe?

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