Wednesday, January 31, 2007

In Defence of Richard Dawkins

Many conservatives in the States, and some over here, have a caricature of 'militant' atheists on the warpath which rouses the faithful but bears very little relationship to reality. This piece from Colby Cosh in the Canadian National Post is an excellent defence of atheism and Dawkins in particular.

"If it’s true that some form of religious faith is positively required for a satisfactory human life, then there is no need to oppose Richard Dawkins at all; any minute now, the professor is bound to see through the miserable shallowness of being a bestselling author, holding a chair at the world’s greatest university, and enjoying marital bliss with a beautiful television actress. In the meantime we are confronted with the spectacle of Dawkins and thousands of other unabashed atheists going about their business without becoming deranged by existential nausea. On the evidence, they seem to become more common, not less, as one ascends the ladders of income, education, or cognitive ability. Nothing much visibly distinguishes their behaviour or fate except a notable tendency toward smugness.

[...]

We also still encounter controversies like the one now going on in several Ontario municipalities, where secular groups have quarrelled continually with religious conservatives over the right to commence council meetings with public prayer. If prayer works, there should be no reason elected Christians cannot ask God’s blessing on their work in private. Evidently they’re not fighting for the right to pray, which no one proposes to deny them, but for the right to make a collective gesture of exclusion — to seek public sanction for the supremacy of religious faith and, by implication, the supremacy of believers. What has Richard Dawkins ever said or done that is uglier or more dangerous to social peace than this?"


The only real problem is his definition of atheist as anyone who doesn't require God to understand the world around them. He uses this to argue that many agnostics are, in fact, atheists but I'm not sure this actually accords with common usage of the two terms.

2 comments:

edmund said...

I note Cosh is very carefull in his post not to quote From Dawkins and his closest assoiates- he does this because what they say makes much less sense than cosh is trying to say, but that undermines his argument their being misrepresented.

Also on the prayer point given it's literally impossible to force someone to be an atheist would it be fine to allow atheism as long as there was no expression of it in public under the same logic?

Gracchi said...

On the prayer point Edmund you've just misunderstood what he wrote- he is talking about a public act of prayer in which all people are forced to take part or which takes place ostensibly before debate to exclude those who don't take part in it- like an act of bullying.

Dawkins actually does have lots of flaws but he definitely isn't an atheist jihadi or atheist fundamentalist. Dawkins argues that religious faith is wrong and harmful to people. Now I understand Edmund that you argue that atheism is wrong and harms people what pray is the distinction between you.