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Everyone’s Talkin’ about Dawkins’ Crusade Against Religion

Casey Luskin

The NCSE’s Nicholas Matzke wrote last summer, “We don’t need the anti-creationists going and mixing their views on religion into their science. In fact, this is probably the surest path to disaster politically and in the courts. Anyone who wants to do this has the right to do it, but it ain’t helpful or particularly smart.” Richard Dawkins apparently didn’t get Nick’s memo. In a recent BBC News interview, Dawkins said that “America is ready for an attack on religion. … Britain always has been.” He explained that he wrote his book The God Delusion to convince “vaguely religious people” that “[t]he religion of their upbringing is probably nonsense” and explained to viewers that “the living world … comes about by Darwinian evolution, by natural selection.”

On Monday, Dawkins wrote in The Huffington Post that “the presence of a creative deity in the universe is clearly a scientific hypothesis” but alleges that “no evidence for God’s existence has yet appeared.” Keep in mind that Dawkins is Chair for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University and that Campbell, Reece, and Mitchell’s widely used textbook, Biology, praised Dawkins for his ability to “engag[e] and challeng[e] nonscientists” (5th ed., pg. 412). Meanwhile, many others are talkin’ about Dawkins:

  • Paul Nelson recounts how Dawkins was taken to task by NYU Philosopher Thomas Nagel, who observes that Dawkins’ atheism is as guilty of postulating uncaused causes as religious theism. Nagel implies that theism is superior because, “[t]he point of the [god] hypothesis is to claim that not all explanation is physical, and that there is a mental, purposive, or intentional explanation more fundamental than the basic laws of physics, because it explains even them.”
  • Journalist Denyse O’Leary observes that a Pulitzer Prize winner has critiqued Dawkins for his “hysterical scientism.”
  • As noted here last week, Dawkins didn’t do so well in a debate where he attacked theists for failing to account for the origin of God, but then couldn’t account for the origin of matter.
    The NCSE must not like any of this. Perhaps they need to ask Michael Ruse to send Dawkins another e-mail like this one that William Dembski posted on UncommonDescent:

    I think that you and Richard are absolute disasters in the fight against intelligent design — we are losing this battle, not the least of which is the two new supreme court justices who are certainly going to vote to let it into classrooms — what we need is not knee-jerk atheism but serious grappling with the issues — neither of you are willing to study Christianity seriously and to engage with the ideas — it is just plain silly and grotesquely immoral to claim that Christianity is simply a force for evil, as Richard claims — more than this, we are in a fight, and we need to make allies in the fight, not simply alienate everyone of good will.

    (Remarkable exchange between Michael Ruse and Daniel Dennett)

    Dawkins responds by simply saying that Ruse is from “The Neville Chamberlain ‘appeasement’ school” of science and religion. Comparing himself to Winston Churchill, Dawkins believes that he and others like him “see the fight for evolution as only one battle in a larger war: a looming war between supernaturalism on the one side and rationality on the other.” He argues that that Darwin’s theory effectively eliminates what he calls “the god hypothesis”:

    We explain our existence by a combination of the anthropic principle and Darwin’s principle of natural selection. That combination provides a complete and deeply satisfying explanation for everything that we see and know. Not only is the god hypothesis unnecessary. It is spectacularly unparsimonious. Not only do we need no God to explain the universe and life. God stands out in the universe as the most glaring of all superfluous sore thumbs. We cannot, of course, disprove God, just as we can’t disprove Thor, fairies, leprechauns and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But, like those other fantasies that we can’t disprove, we can say that God is very very improbable.

    (Richard Dawkins, “Why There Almost Certainly Is No God,” The Huffington Post, October 23, 2006)

    Dawkins most likely believes, like E.O. Wilson wrote in Atlantic Monthly, that “[t]he eventual result of the competition between the two world views, I believe, will be the secularization of the human epic and of religion itself.” While we all wait to see the outcome, the NCSE must be worried about how the crusades against religion from the likes of Dawkins and Wilson could impact the teaching of evolution in American schools.

Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



Richard Dawkins