Hassan 1 Rakib Hassan McLean RELS580 World Religions: Introductory Overview June 4, 2010 Disassembling the Dawkins myth: An analytical approach Richard Dawkins, one of the most prominent and vocal evolutionary biologists of our times, has had a tremendous impact to date on shaping public opinion, worldwide, on the issue of belief, rationality and spirituality. Dawkins is an atheist, secular humanist and an ardent proponent of evolutionary ideas. In his 2006 book The God Delusion, Dawkins contends that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that faith qualies as a delusion - as a xed false belief (Wikipedia n.d.). As of November 2007, the English language version had sold more than 2 million copies and had been translated into 31 other languages, making it his most popular book to date. His seminal thesis on evolutionary biology asserts that the complexity of life can be adequately explained by evolutionary processes, which then forms the bedrock of his relentless attack on religion and God, at large. However, the central tenets of his thesis in debunking religion and subsequently blaming the ills of humanity squarely upon religion, to thoroughly delegitimise it, have attracted much attention recently. A number of books have been written in response to his vehement assertions, by authors of both theological and scientic persuasions, who contend that Dawkins' theological understanding is severely impaired and that Dawkins unjustiably creates a notion that religion cannot be reconciled with evolutionary biology. However, by creating such an unsubstantiated notion Dawkins tramples upon the very scientic values that he claims to espouse so dearly. Futhermore, Dawkins exploits positive empathy by pointing at the current human sufferrings around the world to make a case for the non existence of a Supernatural Creator. Nonetheless, the straw man that Dawkins erects to support his assertions are easily refuted in light of a broader theological framework. The dominant thesis of Dawkins' work imply that religion and science are irreconcilable (Dawkins 2007). Dawkins contends that religion, by denition, expects believers to be content with narratives, without demanding a rational proof or reasoning. Dawkins also contends that faith, by denition is due to the absence of proofs, veriable through scientic rigour. Furthermore, Dawkins contends that humans beings have an innate inclination towards attributing the mind boggling complexity of the cosmos to a creator and it is this primitive impulse that creates in the minds of people a notion of a supernatural creator. He then postulates that modern science has achieved an emancipation from this desire to attribute the awe inspiring order of the ne-tuned cosmos to a Creator. However, the rhetoric that Dawkins employs to assert his thesis
Hassan 2 has opened up a new genre of fundamentalism, namely scientic fundamentalism. Evolutionary biology is a eld of biology concerned with the origin of species from a common ancestor, as well as their change, multiplication and diversity over time. Most scientists who carefully examine the evidence agree with the following general outline: There was a branching of our evolutionary ancestral tree, with apes evolving in one way, and our direct ancestors in another way about 8 million years ago. However, during the next 2 million years the distance between these branches increased, as their differing sets of genes continued to diverge. This theory of human evolution with common ancestry is accepted by most scientists, both Christian and non-Christian, although there is debate about some details in the timings and shape of our family tree. But common descent is theologically controversial in the Christian community, and is disputed by some scientists who belong to the Christian faith. However, there are many scientists who embrace their Christian roots and evolution at the same time. Prominent amongst them, Dr. Colling, who in his book: Random Designer: Created from Chaos to Connect with Creator attempts to reconcile Christianity and evolutionary biology and states, "It pains me to suggest that my religious brothers are telling falsehoods" when they say evolutionary theory is "in crisis" and claim that there is widespread skepticism about it among scientists. "Such statements are blatantly untrue," he argues. "Evolution has stood the test of time and considerable scrutiny... What the designer designed is the random-design process," or Darwinian evolution, Dr. Colling says. "God devised these natural laws, and uses evolution to accomplish his goals.", adds Dr. Colling. Contrary to relatively recent encounters of Christianity with evolutionary biology in the nineteenth century, Islam had its encounters with evolutionary ideas as early as in the ninth century, formulated by Al-Jahiz, a biologist. It was Al-Jahiz who rst described the struggle for existence, a precursor to natural selection. Many other medieval Islamic philosophers and biologists later expressed evolutionary ideas, including Ibn Miskawayh, Abu Rayhan Biruni, Nasir al-Din Tusi and Ibn Khaldun. According to John William Draper, a contemporary of Charles Darwin in the nineteenth century, evolutionary ideas were widely taught in medieval Islamic schools. (Draper 1874) also writes: Sometimes, not without surprise, we meet with ideas which we atter ourselves have originated in our own times. Thus our modern doctrines of evolution and development were taught in their schools. In fact, they carried them much farther than we are disposed to do, extending them even to inorganic or mineral things. The fundamental principle of alchemy was the natural process of development of metalline bodies. The Quran does not contain a complete set of time markers in its references to creation, other than declaring that it took place in six stages, each stage being interpreted to be of the order
Hassan 3 of a geological eon, contrary to the literalist interpretation of Biblical scriptures. Additionally, the Quran contains verses that explicitly state that the origin of all life form began from water, a fact attested to by evolutionary biology: And GOD created every living creature from water. Some of them walk on their bellies, some walk on two legs, and some walk on four. GOD creates whatever He wills. GOD is Omnipotent. (024:045) (Khalifa 2005) Dawkins is thoroughly mistaken when he asserts that the genius of Darwin has delivered humanity from the need for a Supernatural Creator. Dawkins, along with the scientic establishment have so far failed to credit the true originators of evolutionary biology. Worse still, Dawkins' attempt at pitting theism against evolutionary ideas, asserting them as being mutually exclusive, is not only unbecoming of a man of science, it is also cowardly. Evolutionary biology and theistic philosophy can ourish in harmony, as has been the case with Islam, as early as in the ninth century. Any attempt at painting the two as irreconcilable, is not only futile, it is also foolish. The pursuit of science is a relentless endeavour to explain the causality in the physical world. Scientists formulate physical laws that dominate the material world, through careful observation. Throughout the human civilisation, humanity has achieved striking insights into the inner workings of the physical world. Much of this achievement is due to our innate inquisitiveness, imagination and our capacity to ponder about the unseen, the unexplained. This very nature makes man a religious being, whereby his belief drives him to persistently seek the higher truth. The scientic method is only a tool for man in his quest for the higher truth and most surely only an authentic belief system can instigate the scientic method. Dawkins, in his crusade against religion, at large, is undoubtedly awakening a lot of people from their blind complacency to religious authority, but he fails critically to distinguish between blind dogma and the authentic belief systems that gave rise to the scientic method in the rst place. Dawkins lumps all religions as one and brands them irrational and unjustiable through scientic means, but at the same time offers little or no explanation of the axioms that his worldview squarely rests upon. Materialistic philosophy holds that the only thing that exists is matter; that all things are composed of material and all phenomena, including consciousness, are the result of material interactions. In other words, matter is the only substance eternally existant in the materialistic philosophy, which undertakes to explain every event in the universe as resulting from the conditions and activity of matter. It thus denies the existence of a Supernatural Creator and is diametrically opposed to spiritualism. However, materialistic philosophy sufferred a mortal blow when scientists nally validated the theory of The Big Bang through cosmic observations in the later half of the twentieth century and established a timeline for the creation of the universe. Nonetheless, the materialist philosophy has found new impetus with the advent of M-theory, also
Hassan 4 known as Membrane Theory. In M-theory our universe and others are created by collisions between higher dimensional constructs, thus introducing new avenues to the materialist philosophy. Dawkins, not surprisingly, cites the M-theory, frequently, in his case against a Supernatural Creator and religion, at large. The atheistic, materialist viewpoint is one where matter is eternal, and eternal without any further explanation or any such need thereof. The eternity of matter is therefore an axiom of the materialist philosophy. On the contrary, in a theistic framework a Supernatural Creator is an Eternal Being, without a beginning, nor with an end and as such forms the fundamental axiom of the theistic philosophy. Dawkins, when confronted with this obvious fact, resorts to a form of academic bullying to stie his opponents, ending with an all too familiar note: "Then, who Created God(...)". In other words, what Dawkins is implying is that it is perfectly scientic for a materialist scientist to question the axiomatic belief of a theistic framework, whilst it is thoroughly unscientic to question the materialistic axiom. However, such blatancy is antithetic to the very foundations of the scientic method, and the straw-man that Dawkins erects to support his proposition is laid bare. Further still, Dawkins alleges that theistic philosophies brainwash ordinary people into a state, where they blindly follow religious injunctions, denying science and rationality. Dawkins must be credited on this particular point, which is self evident around the world. Blind religious beliefs are at the root of some of the most horrendous crimes being committed in the name of religion, around the world today. Nonetheless, attempting to lump all theistic frameworks together to delegitimise them only exposes Dawkins' severe lack of comprehension of theology and theistic philosophy. In essence, diametrically opposite to what Dawkins alleges, a theistic framework, where the ultimate goal is to know more about the Supernatural Creator and His Ways, is the root of all knowledge; science is merely a vessel to carry the theists toward that goal. Evolutionary biology is a scientic paradigm that attempts to explain the transmutation of life forms over long periods of time, taking into account environmental and climatic factors. There remains many open questions, yet unanswered, with regards to the shape and structure of the evolutionary tree, the sudden emergence of major animal groups, amongst many others. However, a critical point to note is that it does not explain how life began in the rst place; it merely attempts to addresses the transmutation of the rst life form. The origin of life on earth is the focal point of all contention between atheistic and theistic philosophies. The atheistic worldview holds that life originated from relatively simpler molecules that conglomerated into larger molecules of higher complexity, driven by energy, through a process of Â“creative chaosÂ”. However Davies (2003) in his book, The Origin of Life writes: Life as we know it requires hundreds of thousands of specialist proteins, not to mention the nucleic acids. The odds against producing just the proteins by pure
Hassan 5 chance are something like 1040 to one. This is 1 followed by 40 000 zeros, which would take an entire chapter of this book if I wanted to write it out in full(...). In a famous remark, the British astronomer Fred Hoyle likened the odds against the spontaneous assembly of life as akin to a whirlwind sweeping through a junkyard and producing a fully functioning Boeing 747. On the contrary, the theistic worldview holds that the Supernatural Creator is the originator of all creation. Whilst adherents of the theistic worldview may disagree over the specic details of how creation eventuated, it is nonetheless widely accepted that the process of creation is one guided by the Supernatural Creator and that it is not a blind process of chance and necessity. On October 3rd of 2007 in Birmingham, Alabama, Dawkins and his Oxford University colleague Professor Lennox engaged in a lively debate, sponsored by Fixed Point Foundation (n.d.), over what is arguably the most critical question of our time: the existence of God. In the course of the debate, Lennox made a remarkable assertion that if the wonder of human intelligence ultimately owes its origin to mindless matter, how is it rational to believe in "rationality", that originated from irrationality. Lennox (2008) further argues: One scientist views images captured by the Hubble telescope of the unimaginably large scale of the universe and remains convinced of the random nature of a godless existence. Another stares through a scanning tunnelling microscope at the unimaginably small and complex entities of molecular biology and feels compelled to worship the creator. It isn't the science itself that is denitive for the question of the divine. The late evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould wrote that science simply cannot "adjudicate the issue of God's possible superintendence of nature". For Gould, it was a mistake to apply scientic principles to questions of metaphysics. Furthermore, in the 2007 debate Fixed Point Foundation (n.d.) in Birmingham, Alabama, Dawkins argued that there is no logical path from atheism an individual may take to commit acts of aggression, unlike a blind religious follower who can evidently commit aggression in the name of religion. Whilst the second part of Dawkins' argument is selectively true, the fallacy of the rst part of his argument is self evident in the history of the twentieth century alone. The feature of Darwinism most frequently cited by those who attempt to justify their social views with "science", is the concept of the "survival of the ttest." This application of Darwinianism to human societies and behaviour is known as Social Darwinism. Based on Darwinian evolution, anthropologists instigated the speculation about the "highest" and "lowest" humans. Blacks and American Indians were among the rst to be singled out as being "lower" than Caucasians. In his
Hassan 6 book The Mismeasure of Man, Steven Gould pointed out that some anthropologists were not above falsifying their data to prove the "superiority" of the white race. For example, assuming brain size had an impact on intelligence, which it doesn't, many anthropologists intentionally exaggerated the size of Caucasian skulls and underestimated the size of skulls from Blacks and Indians. Social Darwinism thus came to serve as a "scientic" justication for racism. Gould (1981) further writes, "subsequent arguments for slavery, colonialism, racial differences, class structures, and sex roles would go forth primarily under the banner of science." It might be argued that Darwin would never have condoned this use of his evolutionary theory, but his own writings reveal profoundly racist implications. Darwin, in his book The Descent of Man, writes: The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla. Darwin (1871) In an effort to promote the evolution of "higher forms" of humans, Darwin's cousin, Sir Francis Galton, founded the Eugenics Movement. Eugenics is the "science" which seeks to improve the biological makeup of the human species through selective breeding. Galton advocated the regulation of marriage and family size according to the genetic quality of the parents. He believed that if controlled breeding was applied to humans, as it was to farm animals, a perfect human breed could be developed. This concept of the "master race" was put into practice by Adolph Hitler in fascist Germany in an effort to create a "pure Aryan race," which led to the killing of tens of thousands of handicapped Germans. On the other hand, another philosophy borne out of Social Darwinism is Communism. It is based upon Marxism, a philosophy which uses materialism to explain all physical and social phenomena. The theory of evolution inuenced the thinking of the Communists, including Marx, Engels, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong. Communist regimes of Russia and China have engaged in genocidal killings on a scale of millions. In an inuential book: The Gulag Archipelago, which concerns itself with Russian communist torture, repression and atrocities, Solzhenitsyn (1973) offered his explanation of the cause of why millions of people died under Russian communism. Dawkins, in yet another unsophisticated swipe at theism, points at the worldwide human sufferings and implies that a Supernatural Creator surely does not exist; otherwise there would not be such immense suffering. Such claims further illustrate Dawkins' severe lack of comprehension of theistic philosophy. In elementary theistic philosophy it is well known that Divine Mercy often does not manifest in the most obvious manner. Much in the same manner as when a doctor takes a child away from a mother to an operating theatre, due to a life-threatening situation that the mother is unaware of. To the doctor, operating on the child is an act of mercy, whilst to the
Hassan 7 mother, it is inexplicable, unbearable. The human condition is way beyond what we observe through our ve senses. There are countless parameters we are unable to perceive as yet, or will ever be able to, which inevitably puts us behind a barrier beyond which our reasoning and rationality carry us no further. Nonetheless, it is irrational to claim non existence of a Supernatural Creator, based on the deciency of our understandings. In totality, the worldview that Dawkins postulates is no more scientic that the theistic worldview; for both emanate from an axiom. The debate between science and theism is fundamentally articial, as science is inextricably linked to theistic philosophy. If any debate should arise, at all, it should be about the scientists who impose their worldview upon unsuspecting people under the guise of science.
References Darwin, C. (1871), The Descent of Man, John Murray, United Kingdom. Davies, P. (2003), The Origin of Life, Penguin Books, England. Dawkins, R. (2007), The God Delusion, Transworld Publ. Ltd UK. URL:
Draper, J. W. (1874), History of the Conict Between Religion and Science, D. Appleton, New York. Fixed Point Foundation (n.d.). URL:
Gould, S. (1981), The Mismeasure of Man, W.W. Norton and Company, New York. Khalifa, R. (2005), Quran: The Final Testament Authorised English Version With Arabic Text, Islamic productions, Capistrano Beach, CA 92624. Lennox (2008). URL:
Solzhenitsyn, A. (1973), The Gulag Archipelago, Harper & Row, United States. Wikipedia (n.d.). URL:
Does evolutionary-biology negate the existence of God? A closer look at this contemporary question.