Richard Dawkins

Britain’s Archbishop of Atheism

Something strange has happened. At the beginning of the 21st century, a biologist has become the most well-known spokesman for atheism, and a chief public authority on philosophy, religion, and the existence of God. He has not accomplished this by exceptional powers of reason or specialized knowledge in these fields, but by saying things that nobody heretofore has been willing to say.

I can hardly forgive myself for writing an essay with his name as the title, lest I glorify him even more than he already has been, but I cannot resist. Richard Dawkins is amazing, because he is the embodiment of something that we never realized was so thoroughly lacking in our culture—simple intellectual honesty.

At the time of writing, I have not read all of Dawkins’s work. The opinion that I express here could easily be altered, were I to read more. Nonetheless, I have the distinct impression that he is a very reasonable man. He asks questions that need to be asked, and he makes points that need to be made. I find it almost amusing to watch him drown under the backlash that arises from his lack of propriety, because political correctness has so seldom hampered the expression of atheistic opinions. What goes around comes around.

Dawkins asks the simple questions about religion that adherents ought to ask themselves. He asks whether solid evidence plays any role, and if so, what. He asks whether there is true altruism, and whether there is any use for a particular religion’s morals if the world’s peoples have shared a sense of morality across cultures. Perhaps more important than all of this, is the sense that Richard Dawkins is a man with whom one does not need to argue about the facts. One need not write him off as a nitwit for his inability to apprehend the facts—as is the fate of shallow arguments in today’s light-speed debates that never reach the bottom of any singular issue. Dawkins does not mix his facts and opinions—the prime source of controversy is in his treatment of the facts. It raises the hairs on the back of my neck to hear them represented properly by an opponent, no matter how incapable I am of accepting his conclusions. There should be no self-deception in a person strong enough to render them impervious to logic (so far as logic goes), nor to silence the suspicion that it may—at any time—be unseen, and lurking nearby.

I must also observe that we are drifting in a sea of endless arguments in which the participants recite their own viewpoints without the slightest attempt to discover why they disagree with each other. Dawkins, unlike many of his followers, recognizes the value of apprehending viewpoints before deconstructing them.

A man is not great simply because he is properly vulnerable to all airtight morsels of reason. Nonetheless, I regard no man as great who lacks this quality.


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