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Richard Dawkins Opens Mouth; Inserts Foot

Jonathan McLatchie

In 2003, the BBC launched a documentary series known as Atheism: A Rough History of Disbelief, presented by the atheist Jonathan Miller. The interviews that were conducted, being too lengthy for inclusion in the 2003 series, were later archived in a 2004 documentary series, entitled The Atheism Tapes, a supplementary series of six programs, consisting of the uncut interviews with a single contributing atheist.

One such film featured Jonathan Miller interviewing our old friend, Richard Dawkins. A clip from that interview is appended below:

Three minutes into the embedded interview, in speaking of the purported instances of irreducible complexity in nature, Richard Dawkins succeeds in decimating any pretense to neo-Darwinism’s status as a falsifiable proposition. He states, “There cannot have been intermediate stages that were not beneficial. There’s no room in natural selection for the sort of foresight argument…It doesn’t happen like that. There’s got to be a series of advantages all the way…If you can’t think of one, then that’s your problem, not natural selection’s problem.”

Is Richard Dawkins suggesting that the purported explanatory adequacy of neo-Darwinism is not a testable proposition? If there are no biochemical systems which cannot, in principle, be accounted for by natural selection, then how is one to evaluate Darwinism’s explanatory adequacies? At what point is one justified in saying, “Natural selection is an inadequate explanation and we must hence search for an alternative explanation”?
One might have thought that Richard Dawkins would have stopped digging at this point. But Dawkins had not finished: “Well, I suppose that it is a sort of matter of faith on my part since the theory is so coherent and so powerful.”

What is so coherent and so powerful? If defined simply as common ancestry, critics of Darwinism may be inclined to agree. If he means the efficacy of the mechanism, then that is what he is intent on demonstrating. Thus, simple appeals to ‘matters of faith’ is not what one might regard as a sound argument.