ON RICHARD DAWKINS
Richard Dawkins is negatively critiqued on the grounds that he misses the significance of religion and power structures in society. This is despite the fact that the very thrust of his more recent argument is that religious constructs have inspired brutally significant action – often at the instigation of those most benefiting from existing theological power structures. Does belief in unicorns rile him as much as religion?
The intention of his earlier, more scientific works - The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker and The Extended Phenotype - was to explain evolution and animal behaviour – not to take umbrage with religion. His shift from value-free science to value-laden social commentary was provoked by attacks from those sensing the threat his earlier academic work poses to religious constructs of reality. Since his forays into social commentary, there have been many affirmations of religious belief and denigrations of Dawkins on the grounds that he is arrogant. The logic seems to be: “Dawkins is smug, therefore I believe in God” or, at least, “Dawkins is arrogant / intolerant, therefore he is wrong.”
In Unweaving the Rainbow, Dawkins concedes himself that the confidence with which scientists communicate can spill over into arrogance. That said, he recalls embryologist Lewis Wolpert’s belief that whilst science can be occasionally arrogant it has a certain amount to be arrogant about.
Dawkins recognised that his earlier work engendered a sense of meaninglessness in its readers. Consequently, the main stance of, and inspiration for, the above book is the notion that no less beauty or wonder should be invoked from the fact that a rainbow, rather than resulting from God painting one across the sky, is light diffracted by atmospheric water. Less pugnacious, yet equally impatient with the intellectual laziness of ascribing the world’s wonders to God, is Peter Atkins whom Dawkins often quotes.
It may be fruitful to consider the implications (particularly those pertaining to altruism) that acceptance or rejection of his evolutionary explanations entail. Simple refutation of them seems tantamount to denial of the fossil record and the accuracy of carbon dating.
Such denial is a prime example of the nihilation employed to erode the reality of phenomena or interpretations not conducive with theological construction of reality. The threat to increasingly precarious notions is neutralised by labelling all conceptions outside of traditional symbolism as inferior, arrogant, extreme, unfaithful, intolerant, misleading and certainly deviant. It is further neutralised by couching it in terms familiar to followers of the threatened construct and annihilated by picking fights over irrelevant minutiae. Upholders of the threatened construct bend over backwards to unearth paradoxes within the challenging negator’s position. Is Dawkins the implicit believer in human purpose – purpose itself being to be guided by reason? OR is he the explicit denier of meaning and purpose. Which is it? WHICH?! The schizophrenic deviant is exposed as not knowing what he is saying. The atheist is, in actuality, a believer.
Father, forgive Richard; for he knows not what he does [Luke 23:34].
Dawkins defines and explains a theory. Whatever the outcome of accepting this theory (concerned with evolution and animal behaviour) would or should be, it did not drive his passion for zoology. His social commentary will certainly keep him earning on the lecture circuit and result in continuing invitations from both scientific and non-scientific departments.
Whether Dawkins and his like shape reality constructs popular enough to supplant the theological terms of reference depends on the interests of society outside of theory. Differing social groups will have differing affinities to new constructions of reality depending upon the interests they are deemed to serve. Consequently, decisions about the truthfulness of theories will be decided within the sphere of social conflict – with translation of the rivalry’s outcome consolidating the authority of the victorious theory and its definers. The outcome depends more on the pragmatic benefits accrued rather than the verity of the conflicting theories.
How pragmatic would the implications be of wholesale acceptance of Dawkins?
And, although the best known promulgator of evolutionary theory, does he seek the authority held by the theological constructors / upholders of reality?
Contemporary holders of threatened authority seem more likely to catalyse violence. If possible, this is responded to in kind by the carriers, not the original theoriser / definer, of the challenging conceptions. Often, then, it comes to the police and / or military to determine reality.