Dawkins Misrepresents Science and Scientists

(Peaceful Science) #1

A systematic set of interviews with 48 scientists in Britain concludes that most scientists are critics of Dawkins. Saying,

Critics, who include both religious and nonreligious scientists, argue that Dawkins misrepresents science and scientists and reject his approach to public engagement. Scientists emphasize promotion of science over the scientist, diplomacy over derision, and dialogue over ideological extremism.

I can anecdotally confirm that this sentiment is held by many (most?) of my colleagues here in the United States. Most scientists are not hostile to faith, even if they are not religious. This exemplary tolerance is one reason I can be a public Christian and a scientist at the same time. It also makes me proud to work with AAAS to build bridges to religious communities.

A nonreligious physicist said, “He’s much too strong about the way he denies religion. … As a scientist, you’ve got to be very open, and I’m open to people’s belief in religion. … I don’t think we’re in a position to deny anything unless it’s something which is within the scope of science to deny. … I think as a scientist you should be open to it. … It doesn’t end up encroaching for me because I think there’s quite a space between the two.”

In particular, we can see how the demarcation concerns are used by scientists to make room for faith. This is very much parallel to my efforts to emphasize the limits of scientific inquiry (@Jon_Garvey, you gotta see this).

“Some people like Richard Dawkins,” said a nonreligious professor of biology. “He’s a fundamental atheist. He feels compelled to take the evidence way beyond that which other scientists would regard as possible. … I want [students] to develop [science] in their own lives. And I think it’s necessary to understand what science does address directly.”

Of course, I have been beating this drum for a while. I’m glad to have a more systematic study than my consistent personal experience to point to now.

Curious the forum’s thoughts.

(Joel Duff) #2

I saw that article as well. It rang true for me with respect to my present and past colleagues. I have heard all the diverse opinions expressed in that article. But the primary one is one of: Dawkins’s abrasive personality and dogmatically held philosophical convictions get in the way of his ability to promote legitimate findings of evolutionary biology.

(Brad Kramer) #3

The interesting thing, for me, is that Richard Dawkins is taken by YECs to be the High Prophet of Evolutionary Science. They quote him like crazy, and use his rhetoric to substantiate their own conflict mentality between faith and evolutionary science (see the article I posted on the Forum today for just one example). Dawkins gets to define the metaphysical implications of evolution for atheists and Christians.

(Peaceful Science) #4

That is correct. This is the Dawkins-ID-YEC collaboration at work. They all agree that mainstream science is at odds with Christian faith, and work together to ensure that message is loudly proclaimed. Dawkins is quoted because of the strong agreement by ID and YEC thinkers with him about this conflict.

(Brad Kramer) #5

As I’ve said before, BioLogos is the only major organization in the Christian origins debate that doesn’t let the new atheists set the terms of the debate.

(Jon Garvey) #6


I read the UK news reports of the survey, which included some slightly confusing figures for those who still thought Dawkins was the best thing since sliced bread… and the obligatory quote from some organisation of acolytes.

As you suspected, I was interested and pleased by the comments by scientists about the limitations of science, and thought of you! I guess that would have been the usual opinion of physicists in the last century, but Dawkins seemed to bring a resurgence in the popularity of positivism for a number of years, which has affected every area. It spawned the new atheists, but even that phenomenon now seems to be quickly fading, and not before time. What will replace it, I wonder.

Maybe 10 years ago I was asked to chair a public meeting in my old town at which the speaker was a guy who’d written a book responding to Dawkins’ atheist writings. It was embarrassing as I forgot the speaker’s name as I announced him, but what was sad was how widespread amongst the general audience was the idea that Richard spoke for “science” (well, at the time he did hold the Oxford chair in public communication of science). Actually, i think Christians in the audience saw him more as an aberration than the others did.

At the same time intolerance of religion in academia, whilst clearly sporadic, isn’t restricted to Dawkins. I was recently reading an interview with the lately deceased Austin Hughes, a Catholic who trained in philosophy before changing to biology, long before The Blind Watchmaker. Having been ridiculed in the former field for his beliefs, he at first thought that biologists were a far more tolerant bunch - but said he then realised that they just couldn’t conceive that any real biologist would be stupid enough to have a faith in God.

I guess these things, like everything else, follow trends.

(Noah White) #7

I’ve been wondering the same thing myself lately; among people (roughly) my age there is a startling resurgence of interest in astrology, crystals, what have you. But most of all, I’m feeling a bit of a movement back towards pragmatism and existentialism at the popular level (at the scientific level, I have no clue in the slightest where it will go) for the sake of inclusiveness, etc.

I welcome any thoughts about it at a more academic level, though–I’m clueless but it’s an interesting train of thought.

(Jon Garvey) #8

Interesting, Noah. The young are often a barometer of trends in thought.

That’s one reason I would be quizzical at what seems a revisionist idea that “Nobody who knew anything about science ever took Dawkins seriously anyway.” The Blind Watchmaker was the only set book for my son’s A-Level biology course back in the mid nineties, at around the time that (maybe quite coincidentally, or not) he lost his faith.

But at the very least it shows that someone, at least, considered that Dawkins’ take on undirected evolution was the one to promote via the UK educational system.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #9

There are two aspects to this issue, Dawkins’ Science, which he defined in his Selfish Gene, and his atheist ideology, which he expressed on his God Delusion. Many people say that his science does not support his ideology, but of course Dawkins does. He said that Darwin made being an atheist intelle4ctually respectable and claimed that The Origin of the Species made all philosophy and theology invalid on p. 1 of the Selfish Gene.

To be honest I agree with Dawkins on this one. If the Selfish Gene is true, then the NT is not. Life and Reality has to be a cosmos, or ma chaos. Dawkins’ science says it is based on chaos, so if it is right, then Christianity is dead wrong.

BioLogos has disagreed with Dawkins’ Selfish Gene science by saying that evolution is not without meaning and purpose. The problem remains that BioLogos has not made clear how it is guided. Thus Dawkins tends to win out because he can claim to be “scientific” while his critics do not make this claim.

The question is not about whether Dawkins is right or wrong. The question is whether the Selfish Gene is good science? I have made it clear that I think that it is not and have put my arguments in my book, Darwin’s Myth: Malthus, Ecology, and the Meaning of Life. In my opinion BioLogos is not acting responsibly if it ducks this issue.

(Benjamin Kirk) #10

I think you’re confusing actual science with a book about science aimed at laypeople. No scientist AFAIK has hailed TSG as an advance in science.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #11

Reminds me of Jesus parable about the person who had the demon expelled, house all cleaned … which then proceeded to go out and bring its friends back to roost in the nicely cleaned house.

After so-called skeptics are finished eradicating religious belief, the newly un-anchored mind is all cleaned up and ready to receive … all manner of crazy beliefs.

(Noah White) #12

This is a fantastic connection, Merv! People will always seek after something beyond themselves, no matter what. Reminiscent of C.S. Lewis’ argument from appetite, which I still think is the most powerful argument for something other than material reality, because it cuts right to the core of the human experience. But, of course, no argument is ever coercive–and that’s a good thing, I’d say.

(Peaceful Science) #13

I do not think this is quite right.

I think we are just seeing the rise of “post-modern” culture. People are more open to personal religious experience and creating their own reality, without as much concern for truth.

The good thing about this is that there is a renewed tolerance to people of all faiths, including ours. The new challenge is to explain the foundational importance of the Resurrection in this context. This is the reason why we believe our faith is more than just a personal and helpful fantasy or a relative truth.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #14

I can see how that observation would not sit well with science-minded thinkers … they could rightly object: “wait a minute … I don’t think of myself as religious and yet I don’t just accept any or all woo that comes my way!” (Is that part of the source of your objection, Joshua?) I have trouble with hard-core postmodernists’ claim that they don’t believe in any transcendent or universal truth. I think they do even if they won’t admit it. So when we write off a culture as going post-modern, we may be noting that they are claiming there is no universal truth, but that doesn’t mean they actually believe for themselves what they claim. It would be impossible (I think) for anybody to carry on with living life (and survive to adulthood) without accepting implicitly the assumption of a lot of hard, universal truths. That’s why I tend to use scare-quotes around “skeptics” – because skepticism will always be selective. It inevitably gets checked at the door as the self-identified skeptic approaches his/her inner sanctums of presupposition.

But if you are just objecting that a lot of non-religious people are well-trained critical thinkers, then I hear and agree. I would say that they are retaining what Christianity itself adopted and retained: that the world is an intelligible place that can be studied and understood for the purpose of apprehending objective truths. By retaining this conviction one does not necessarily suddenly become gullible just because they have jettisoned religion. They may still be holding on to many worthwhile convictions even if they deny any explicitly religious label for them. We are breathing western Christian air still in our culture, even if it is or has become post-Christian.

As that air becomes more dilute, however, I think that Noah’s observation will hold. We may soon be (to borrow one of Polkinghorne’s obervations) needing to evangelize for science as much as we are Christianity.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #15


No, I am trying to separate the science from the ideology, however I am receiving no cooperation.

Yes, I get it that many scientists disagree with Dawkins’ attitude toward Christianity, but they seem on the other hand to defend his Neo-Darwinist views of evolution which are found in the Selfish Gene. I on t5he other hand do not think that Neo-Darwinism is good science, when talking about Natural Selection.

I think that his bad science supports his bad theology, so the best way to reject his bad ideo0logy is to correct his bad science. I also think that conservative Christians are right to re4ject his bad ideology and bad science.

I think we can continue to attack each other or seek to find common ground in good theology and good science.


(Chris Falter) #16

They believe in the universal applicability of postmodernism.

btw, I think postmodernism has many positive aspects. We should be careful to understand how our motives can color our narratives. We should be humble enough to realize that we can never fully grasp or articulate the capital T truth. (It can grasp us, though! Philippians 3:12) The postmodernists sometimes throw the baby out with the bathwater, though.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #17

I agree. As I’ve heard Bishop Robert Barron remark … “Postmodernism helped us break the log-jam of modernism.” It does give us all (both Christians and their secularist critics) a much-needed reminder toward epistemic humility. So my quarrel would be with those who (as you say) have thrown the baby out with the bath water.

(Jay Johnson) #18

I would like to hear more about this. What connection do you see between existentialism and inclusiveness?

I agree, too. The problem is, Francis Schaeffer did the same thing from the Christian end of the spectrum, and many people followed him down the yellow brick road of Absolute Truth. Now, you have the Norman Geisler’s of the world running around trying to quash worthy, orthodox approaches to theology (such as John Frame’s “triperspectivalism,” or Anthony Thiselton’s hermeneutic approach) because he catches a whiff of “Relativism!” in it.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #19

I don’t know anything about most of the names you throw out above – and as I’m not in any position to add anything to any reading list any time soon, I’ll happily take your word for it. But speaking of those who maintain hyper-sensitive relativism detectors, I guess they either steer clear of Romans 14 or else just temporarily disable their alarm systems when they read it.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #20


Generally speaking, modernism recognizes only “objective truth.” while post modernism says that only “subjective truth” exists. Clearly both objective truth and subjective truth exist, but Western dualism recognizes only one or the other. Thus we usually shift from one perspective to another.

Part of postmodernism is Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, which encourage people to think that all truth is relative. However this is not accurate. The theory says that all things are relational, which is a subtle, but very important distinction. When we understand that all things are relational, we are able to bring together objective truth and subjective truth under the concept of relational truth bringing science, philosophy, and theology into agreement and dialog.

This puts the spotlight on theology because God as Christians know Him is Relational, is Love, Justice, and Freedom. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life and we forget this, we lose the Gospel.