Home > Religion, Science > Richard Dawkins loses the plot

Richard Dawkins loses the plot

I originally published this post on April 11, 2010

I used to be a huge fan of Richard Dawkins. His masterpiece, The Selfish Gene, was massively significant in my life. When I read it in 1986 I recognised a man who was able to express in clear, concise and scientific terms, beliefs that I had nurtured for some years. Almost everything he wrote thereafter was eagerly consumed by me. He struck me as being a brilliant, gentle and humourous man who simply wanted to tell the truth without pushing any personal cause. So strong was my admiration for him that I would sometimes say in conversations about him, “Dawkins is wrong to say there is no God. Dawkins is God!” Childish perhaps; designed to provoke, probably; sincere, certainly. So when a friend of mine who had met him described him as a self-satisfied prick, I felt personally insulted.

When the God Delusion came along, I almost did not bother to read it. Surely I knew what he was going to say and surely I was going to share the same views. Was there any point in reading it? In the year or two following its publication I watched and heard various television and radio interviews and programs in which he argued his case. That he was being increasingly treated as some sort of superstar by the good guys and a pariah by the baddies did not overly concern me. As far as I was concerned he spoke well and with clear and precise logic. And, he was right. The man continued to be my hero. He was the guest who would be in the seat of honour at my fantasy dinner party.

It was only by chance that I eventually came to pick up the book. It happened while staying with friends. My host, who lent it to me, was somewhat disparaging about it and that piqued my interest. The first half of The God Delusion lived up to my expectations as Dawkins skilfully dissected the argument behind theism. He ruthlessly tore apart the absurdity behind the theory of those man-made gods that had so determined the fates of various civilizations for millennia. I had little to argue with him on that point.  But then he moved on to religion, as distinct from theism, and attacked it with a violent fervour that reeked of self interest. Here was a man who had an agenda; a liberal one at that.

Dawkins has introduced to the world several wonderful concepts. One is the idea of the ‘Second Big Bang”. This essentially deals with the idea of self-replication. Without it, the universe, following its creation would have remained relatively inert. Sure stars would changed from dwarves to giants emitting huge amounts of energy, but until that moment when a collection of proteins somehow managed to split into two identical halves, the universe remained a pretty dull sort of place. With replication came evolution and with evolution came mankind. Now we had something to talk about.

Another of his great ideas was the concept of, ‘memes’. This is some of what Wikipedia says about them. “A meme (rhyming with “cream”) is a postulated unit of cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes, in that they self-replicate and respond to selective pressures. The British scientist Richard Dawkins coined (or adapted) the word “meme” in The Selfish Gene (1976) as a concept for discussion of evolutionary principles in explaining the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena. Examples of memes given in the book included melodies, catch-phrases, beliefs (notably religious beliefs), clothing fashion, and the technology of building arches.”

What a wonderful idea. Just as every journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step so the most sophisticated of scientific disciplines and philosophies start with an idea. One and one make two, eventually evolves into the greatest of all sciences, mathematics.

So why should I take such umbrage at the fact that my hero has attacked religion? If there is no god, how can there be any rational justification for codifying ‘his’ rules? On the surface of things, there would not appear to be. But Dawkins does not just attack the logic behind religion – there is no god so how can there be rules – he attacks the very existence of religion. He makes it out to be evil and damaging to mankind. And this is where I believe Dawkins falls apart. If there is no God (change of case is deliberate), then man is just another animal. Scratch that, man is just another collection of self-replicating cells. But he quite obviously believes that man is more than that. Man is superior. Man has a conscience and a social obligation that goes beyond a selfish desire for survival at any cost.

So where does religion come from? If as Dawkins says there is no God, and with that I agree, then it must surely come from man. And if man has created it and it still exists today, it must certainly have served some useful purpose that has enabled man to prosper. Remember under the rules of Big Bang 2, prospering does not mean being healthy, wealthy and wise, it means having lots of little ones who will themselves reproduce ad infinitum. That is the very essence of the Selfish Gene Theory. Attacking religion is like attacking the fact that we have hair on our heads; or at least some of us do. We have hair for a reason. Either it makes us attractive to the opposite sex, or it helps us survive. Either way it serves to help us reproduce, thus passing on our genes.

Religion exists because some bright spark had the idea that there was a supernatural power, mightier than any earthly entity, who could control the heavens and the earth. Once that idea caught on, it was inevitable, under Dawkins’s own rules, that the idea would evolve into something more complex. If it had proved itself to be a worthless idea, it would have fizzled out and would not have been adopted on such a wide scale. But it did. Bear in mind that every civilization that we know of has had, at its heart, some or other form of theistic worship. Scientifically, religion may have as much validity as alchemy, but until it is empirically disproven, it is likely to continue to prosper and evolve in its various forms.

For Dawkins, a scientist and evolutionist, to attack religion, is akin to one of the Dimbelbys taking sides on a political discussion that he is chairing. What they think in private is one thing, what they say in public is another. We depend on them to be practically neutral. Dawkins has taken sides, publically. It is not up to him to say that religion is evil. Given his stance on genes and memes, that religion exists is a fact. It can only have been GOOD thus far for mankind, since we are what we are because of it. Had mankind not developed religion, society would be very, very different. There is certainly no guarantee that it would have been better; it might well have been worse. But, one can guarantee that none of us, not even Dawkins would be around if religion had never existed and had never been fundamental to modern civilization.

Today’s press tells us that Dawkins intends to arrest the Pope when he visits the UK later this year upon the basis of crimes against humanity. Notice, it is the Pope, he is out to get, not Robert Mugabe or George Bush. Dawkins is attacking religion because he believes its practitioners are detrimental to mankind. He might just as well attack snakes and cockroaches. He is attaching a political agenda to a scientific one.

What adds to my irritation of the man is that he contradicts his own theories in other areas as well. He will justify the behaviour of a parasitic wasp that lays its larvae in a living host so they can feed on it while it is still alive. He justifies the behaviour of troops of chimpanzees, or prides of lions and their brutal ways of dealing with competitors. But he denies the rights of humans to take the same kind of actions. Racism, sexism, homophobia etc are all immoral. But wait, where does morality fit into all this? According to Dawkins we share the same ancestors as apes. According to Dawkins, those traits are not just immoral, they are illogical too. He says there is no scientific logic behind racism. How can we be mere replicating machines on one hand, the result of a long evolutionary process, but on the other, be somehow superior to other plants and animals?  If I am an animal let me behave like one. My purpose is driven by my genes and that purpose is to replicate and pass on as many genes as I can. That is evolutionary theory. If there is another purpose, what is it and from whom, where or what does it originate?

I believe that Richard Dawkins has sold out to popularism. He has been corrupted by the liberati (© Sipu). Humility and humour have been overcome by hubris.

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