Dawkins on Sky

I once watched Richard Dawkins on Sky TV’s “Hard Talk”.  Stephen Sackur was interviewing him fairly aggressively about his book “The God Delusion” and basically asking Dawkins as an atheist if he wasn’t as fundamentalist as some of the religious people he was opposing.

I got the impression that Dawkins has been chastened by some of very extensive criticism of his book, including by scientists and atheists. In the book he wrote the amazingly arrogant statement: “If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.”  He said all he meant was he hoped that religious readers who were sitting on the fence [between belief and atheism] would become atheists. Of course that is manifestly not what he wrote!

Sackur asked him why, if he wanted to win over religious people, he was so disrespectful towards them. For example, he referred to them in the book as “died in the wool faith-heads” who are “immune to argument.” He said that was a “mischievous” statement (it didn’t read like that). He went on to concede the point that he made a “political” mistake in showing such disrespect to believers whom he was aiming to win over. In the same breath he said he stood by it!  Rather confusing.

He protested that he doesn’t “loathe” religion (one could be forgiven for disagreeing) but was against the “exaggerated respect” accorded religion.  Some of us think he gives “exaggerated respect” to Natural Selection as all but explaining everything important in the world.

He then tried to launch an attack on the evils caused by religion, but Sackur confronted him with the evils perpetrated in the name of atheism, e.g by the Soviet Union.  Dawkins responded with an “Oh, that old chestnut” comment and then said he didn’t think that Stalin and Mao had acted in the name of atheism but of political idealism. I’d agree that the latter was a major factor but I don’t think the millions of Christians who have been dreadfully persecuted by militant atheist authorities in the Soviet Union and China would agree with Dawkins’ spin on the subject.

He went on to say that he had never said it was wicked to bring a child up in a belief system but only that it was wicked to label a child as a Christian or a Muslim etc. However, in the book he refers more than once to “childhood indoctrination” saying that if it is not “too insidious” or if the child’s “native intelligence is strong enough to overcome it” it will “need only a little encouragement to break free of the vice of religion altogether.”

Even “non-fundamentalist ‘sensible’ religion … is making the world safe for fundamentalism by teaching children, from their earliest years that unquestioning faith is a virtue,” says Dawkins.

Dawkins repeated his favourite mantra: “Faith is not justifiable: you don’t seek to justify faith.”  Now I don’t believe Dawkins is ignorant so he must be perverse on this point. Like thousands of others I seek to justify faith. I question it and critique it and thoroughly enjoy doing so. Of course you can’t justify faith in a test tube or through a microscope. But there is a good deal of rational evidence backing up religious faith. 

Basically, Dawkins desperately wants faith to be irrational so, in effect, he defines it as irrational (”Faith is not justifiable …”). He assumes what he aims to prove which is itself irrational – and unscientific.

Sackur asked if religion did not have evolutionary purpose since billions of people have faith. Dawkins replied that even if religion had Darwinian utility it still doesn’t make it true.  After acknowledging that science may never answer all ultimate questions, such as the origin of the laws of physics, he affirmed that it is not arrogant to say religion is wrong.

I respond: Even if Dawkins is sure that religion is false, that doesn’t make his opinion true.

Finally, Sackur asked whether, if he lost faith (sic!) in the universality of science, he could conceive of becoming religious. In response Dawkins waffled and the programme ended.

All in all, Dawkins came over as backing off from some the silly statements he made in his book, as making manifestly false statements about faith and as waffling about whether he is even open, in appropriate circumstances, to the possibility of becoming religious.  I was not impressed. He really should stick to his biology and not make embarrassing statements which display his atheist fundamentalism.

I later watched Dawkins on a BBC programme explaining evolution to a group of teenagers. He then made the huge leap of drawing the conclusion that evolution has removed the necessity of believing in God, and asked the teens if they agreed with him. He omitted to mention any opposing arguments or the fact that many scientists who believe in evolution also believe in God. What is that if not indoctrination? Happily most of the teenagers were too astute to agree with him.

© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction.