In a recent interview published in the online edition of The New Republic, Richard Dawkins defines religious faith as “belief without evidence” and describes it as contrary to science, the latter being “just a way of achieving something real, something that happens, something that works”. He then goes on to add that “it shouldn’t be that difficult to convince people that the right reason to believe something is that there is evidence for it. People do not innately go for this view, but nevertheless it is not that difficult to teach.”
A few paragraphs later in the same interview, Dawkins argues that the golden rule – “Be nice to everybody” – was somehow “based into the brain by natural selection” rather than by some exhortation of divine origin.
When his interviewer notes that the problem with such “Darwinian explanations, however convincing they are, is that they aren’t really falsifiable”, ie, impossible to test scientifically, Dawkins’ response is nothing less than astounding. He replies: “That is a very common criticism, and it’s probably a valid one. That doesn’t mean they’re wrong, of course. I think from my own point of view… it’s just sufficient… to be able to say ‘Well, at least it’s not totally implausible from a Darwinian point of view’ ” (my emphasis).
What is fascinating here is that Dawkins is in effect admitting that his Darwinian understanding of human nature is not scientific and that, indeed, it is merely an opinion, but an opinion that should be considered seriously because it does not contradict the Darwinian paradigm.
Within a matter of minutes, and while addressing the same interviewer, Dawkins thus spews his venom on religious faith which he gratuitously declares to be incompatible with science, and admits that his own view of man is not scientific.
The upshot is that Dawkins’ philosophy of knowledge boils down to this: any statement or belief that is “not totally implausible from a Darwinian point of view” can be considered “a valid one”.
This calls for two remarks.
The first is that the scientific method and the notion of lack of implausibility with the Darwinian point of view are two very different things. You can claim one or the other to be valid, but you cannot logically hold both to be so. If one is true, the other is wrong, and vice-versa.
Modern philosophers agree on very few things, but one of the very few things on which they do agree is that for a proposition to be considered as scientific, it must be empirically falsifiable. So Dawkins is contradicting himself when he claims, on the one hand, that we should be guided by nothing else than science in our beliefs and, on the other, that a belief is legitimate as long as it doesn’t contradict the Darwinian point of view.
The second remark is that if, as Dawkins claims, it is legitimate to believe anything that is “not totally implausible from a Darwinian point of view”, then there is no reason not to believe in the existence of God. Indeed, as most Christian churches, and especially the Roman Catholic Church, acknowledge, there is nothing in the theory of evolution that is inconsistent with the existence of God. In fact, there is no reason not to believe that evolution is part and parcel of God’s plan. This should be clear enough to anyone who knows about the contribution of Gregor Mendel, a German-speaking Augustinian monk who gained fame as the founder of the new science of genetics.
By proclaiming that lack of implausibility with the Darwinian point of view is good enough to make a belief intellectually valid or legitimate, Dawkins is therefore denying the validity of his own views about the incompatibility of science and religion.
Thus, Dawkins manages to contradict himself on two counts in one single interview.
But beyond these contradictions, there is a deeper reason why Dawkins is wrong. And it is that the God which he constantly berates has nothing to with the Judeo-Christian God. What’s wrong with Dawkins is his implicit assumption that God is a reality whose existence should be based on the same kind of evidence as science requires for any empirical reality.
When he states that “faith is belief without evidence”, Dawkins is in effect saying that, for God to exist, he must necessarily be some kind of super being inherent to our world. But while that is certainly the way ancient Greeks and Romans understood their gods, it is not the way Jews and Christians understand God. As they see it, God is not part of the natural order. He transcends the natural order, which He created from nothing. And it is precisely because He is not a part of the natural universe that there can be no empirical, ie, scientific, evidence for or against His existence.
However, there is another kind of evidence for his existence, and it is based on a reasoned reflection upon the existence of the universe taken as a whole. It is now universally acknowledged that the universe we live in began some 14 billion years ago in a singular event called the “Big Bang”. Now, this event was either uncaused or caused. If it was uncaused, then the existence of the universe contradicts the principle of causality, which is a fundamental principle of logic and science. To deny the principle of causality is to deny that events have causes. It is to affirm that it is possible for anything to come into existence for no reason at all. That is the apex of absurdity.
Consequently, the Big Bang must have been caused. And it cannot have been caused by some material cause because all matter came into existence as its effect. Therefore, it was caused by something immaterial, i.e. spiritual. And this is what we call God.
This account of the existence of God is not based on science per se. It is based rather on a reflection upon a discovery of modern science and, as such, it is strictly rational. It is also consistent with common sense, which tells us that nothing comes from nothing.
In short, theism is more rational than atheism. And what’s wrong with Richard Dawkins is that he is not rational enough!
Richard Bastien is Vice-President of Justin Press in Canada and a regular contributor to the French quarterly journal Égards.