My DD214

Veterans should be a thing of the past.

An analysis of Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins was born in Nairobi, Kenya in 1941 to a British soldier who had moved there to join the Allied Forces during the Second World War. He and his family returned to England when he was eight years old. He was raised in the Anglican Church of England, attended Anglican schools and was confirmed in the faith as well. He studied at Oxford University and graduated in 1962. After receiving his doctorate under Nobel Prize winning, Danish ethologist Niko Tinbergen he was Assistant Professor of Zoology at the University of California, Berkeley from 1967 to 1969. In 1970 he accepted a position as Lecturer in Zoology at Oxford University as well as Fellow of New College. He is endowed with a multitude of awards and prizes for his work in the field of ethology and evolutionary biology as well as for his uncanny ability in making science and the understanding of scientific principles (especially Evolution and Natural Selection) accessible and available to the public.

Today, he is perhaps the world’s most prolific proponents for atheism, secularism, science and embracing evidence when rationalizing beliefs. He was named the Charles Simonyi Chair of Public Understanding of Science in 1995 (a £1.5 million sterling award to Oxford University) and has been aptly called “Darwin’s Rottweiler” by Simonyi himself. Dawkins, since 1976, has been publishing books and papers and making public speeches that fly in the face of the Intelligent Design/Creationism movement and religious dogma. His books include The Selfish Gene (1976), The Blind Watchmaker (1986), The Extended Phenotype (1982), River Out of Eden (1995), Climbing Mount Improbable (1996), Unweaving the Rainbow (1998), A Devil’s Chaplain (2003) and An Ancestor’s Tale (2004). His latest book, The God Delusion (2006), has served to stoke the flames in the ongoing controversy over religion and its interaction with society. Over the past decade he has become the Media’s Golden Cow with regards to coverage of the ongoing debate on religion, atheism, secularism and faith. He has appeared on countless television and radio programs in both Europe and America and has been translated into numerous languages. He still teaches at Oxford to this day.

Richard Dawkins main contribution to the body of scientific works with respect to Darwinism, Evolution and Natural Selection is the view that the unit of Natural Selection is the gene – a locatable region in the genomic sequence that makes all life on earth possible. This view is laboriously detailed in his first book The Selfish Gene. Here, Dawkins modifies the original idea (Evolution) that Charles Darwin invented in his 1859 book, the Origin of Species. The Darwinian view to Evolution is that the species is the unit of selection. Under Dawkins’ theory that the unit of individual selection with respect to Natural Selection, the mechanism of Evolution, the individual organism is a machine assembled by the genes in order to ensure the longevity of the genes – we are survival machines in which our genes reside safely, behind the curtain of our (and all other organisms’) physiology. According to Dawkins, the intent behind the book The Selfish Gene and the research Dawkins did for the book is to examine the biology of selfishness and altruism. For most people, the stretch is not that there is a biological basis for selfishness, but that there is a biological basis and genetics behind altruism is a giant leap. Thus the controversy ensues, much like the kind Darwin endured, over whether or not humans receive an objective basis for morality from God. Dawkins, as well as many other accomplished unbelievers, is clearly a strong opponent to this view that a divine mandate is behind our will to be good and to do good. From this position, it is not hard to see why Dawkins has a robust philosophy and is often the subject of discussion on human morality. Dawkins, as well as others, has brought a staggering amount of evidence to the argument from Natural Selection that our genetic make-up has clear, relevant and reasonable influences to not just human behavior, but the entire, perceivable ethical system of the animal kingdom. Answers to why mice commit infanticide, why fratricide is found among baby cuckoos, why gazelles jump in front of a predator or why religion is common to all human culture lie in the interactions of the genes in our DNA. The opposite of this view of course is the argument from Intelligent Design that all of existence is brought into being by a Divine Creator (a la Aristotle’s Prime Mover).

There are two problems with this that both I and Dawkins are adamant in pointing out. One is that along with the assertion of a Unmoved Mover or Divine Creator comes the need to explain the existence of the Creator. Who or what is responsible for its creation/existence? Quickly, an infinite regress of creators is apparent and in need of justification. The justification, predictably, is that the Creator is beyond justification or human understanding. Two is that the “Theory” of Intelligent Design is worthless in practice. Intelligent Design cannot make predictions about our physical world. Intelligent Design’s only answer can be god did it, god’s doing it and god will do it. With Evolution via Natural Selection we have a usable theory on how organisms are affected by their environment and subsequently alter themselves in response to changes around them. I don’t intend for this paper to provide extensive proofs for the claims within – my references provide an embarrassment of riches if one needs evidence. That isn’t my scope nor do I have space and time for it, so I apologize if I seem dodgy of providing evidence.

Aside from the Selfish Gene Theory, the body of literature and various other media that surround it, Richard Dawkins has been extremely determined it providing evidence and logical arguments for the harms that holding beliefs without evidence to support them – religion – can have on individuals and societies. His latest book, The God Delusion, lays out a strong case against religion and is a full-frontal assault on any religion founded on false or otherwise un-provable tenets.

In the first part of the God Delusion, Dawkins draws into question the validity of the Theologian as a fixture in the University and as a field that one can claim expertise in. The analogy he uses in the book is how a reasonable person might regard a fairyologist in determining the exact shape and color of fairy wings. I find this reasoning both sound and valid and it is here that he displays one of his key arguments about atheism being a noble and intellectually fulfilling admission. The argument here is that everyone, everyone, everyone knows what it’s like to be an atheist. Because no single person can hold all possible beliefs at any given time that person can be said to be an atheist with respect to something else. Muslims are atheists with respect to Hinduism, Christians are atheists with respect to the Flying Spaghetti Monster (and humorously but true enough the reformed Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster). The atheist simply goes one-god-more in the list of human generated phenomena that he/she doesn’t believe in. After all, since the birth of written history humans have been drawing nearer and nearer to the true number of gods believed in by the majority. From polytheism to monotheism we can see a plausible convergence on the number zero. Dawkins also points out the inventor of this particular line of thinking to be Bertrand Russell in his parable of the Celestial Tea Pot orbiting the Sun betwixed Earth and Mars. The charge here is a fallacious argument theists have with atheists that the atheist cannot disprove a given gods’ existence. Russell’s answer to this is that there are myriad things that no one can disprove – such as an undetectable, infinitely small tea pot in an elliptical orbit around the Sun. The argument is simple, albeit a little cynical, but nonetheless relevant and effective. The God Delusion lays out case after case of counters to contemporary arguments faced by rationalists today.

Dawkins points out that every theology, whether it be mono or polytheism, is based on something called the god hypothesis. At it’s core, the god hypothesis is a proposition that is subject to all of the same scrutinizes as everything else in the universe. It is here that Dawkins calls into question the peculiar curtain of deep respect that religion is given by politicians, competing theologians of other religions and even scientists. Why is it when dealing in matters on human morality and certain topics in ethical discussion that a trump card is simply issued to the theist by default? Why don’t they have to support their claims, first off, and second, why are they given a free pass such as in recent court cases where religious groups in the U.S. were authorized to use otherwise illegal substances because they believed it is the only way to practice their religion? Especially considering that even with mounds of evidence stating that usage of the same hallucinogenic drug in cancer victims eases pain and has a sating effect on their symptoms. The answer is (Dawkins and I both borrow from Daniel Dennett) that belief, in itself, is a virtue more powerful to some than supporting claims with evidence. People believe in belief. It is here that Dawkins calls for a divergence in the paradigm which gives a free pass from reason to religion. Any claim – whether it be from the mouth of a scientist or theist – should be verifiable.

I agree strongly, as he points out, that religion is all too often given a free pass out of logical discourse. We can see other ways in which this is so such as the contentious objector in war-time. It is all too true, as he asserts, that all one need to do in order to avoid serving in war is merely claim to be a Quaker or a Muslim. It doesn’t matter how many papers or books you’ve written on the philosophical basis for Objective Morality. You don’t even need to have read the Holy Books you claim to follow religiously. All you must do is claim faith. In my own experience in the military I was truly awestricken, and indeed a little insulted, when a chaplain in the U.S. Navy tried to convert me to Christianity. Nevermind that I was wearing my countries U.S. Marine Corps uniform and leading men into certain death, but I also had to deal with the onslaught from the religious to save my soul. As if I didn’t have enough to worry about. The real problem here is not my feelings so much as the fact that U.S. Taxpayers are funding the Chaplain Corps to harass nonbelievers before embarking across enemy lines, as well as in peacetime. I, nor Dawkins I presume, can see any logical basis for the continued existence of a Chaplain in the Military other than that’s ‘the way it’s always been’. To that I’d say that is an argument once brandished by slave owners and witch-burners.

Another question he demands that we as a humanity own up to is our contrived dependence on the clergy to answer for us certain flavors of questions like why are we here, why is there pain and suffering, what happens when we die and where does life come from. Again, would you ask this of a fairyologist? Why have we not abandoned the notion that the clergy are the guardians of this type of information? Why is it that we would defer the opinion of a lawyer, doctor or scientist and rely on that of a priest when it comes to matters like these? The claim here is basically that religions haven’t gotten anything else right – geology, astronomy, physiology, etc. – so why should we trust it in matters of morality and the big questions?

Moving from direct conflicts with atheism and religion Dawkins briefly touches on the subject which he calls the ‘poverty of agnosticism’. He distinguishes between two types. One is the TAP, or Temporary Agnosticism in Practice. This form of agnosticism, the more understandable of the two, is basically an admission of doubt based on the notion there is a definite answer somewhere, but we lack the evidence, all the facts are not in or we haven’t looked at the evidence properly yet, etc. This type of agnosticism is understandable to subscribe to given these circumstances, but to Dawkins, the facts are in. Evolution is a fact just as much as any other empirically verifiable scientific theory or tenet. TAP would be a reasonable position for say, why the dinosaurs went extinct or why the Cambrian explosion? To these questions the jury is actually still out, but to the question of the existence of every single God every to grace the pantheon of human experience, the argument is over. For this reason Dr. Dawkins refuses to appear in any debates where the subject matter is Science Vs. Religion or Faith Vs. Evidence or something to that effect. To people like Dawkins and myself, there is no argument. The claims are simply false. And not only are they false, they are unimaginative. To borrow use a Douglas Adams quip in the God Delusion (to whom the book is dedicated) “Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?” and Dawkins own saying that unweaving a rainbow doesn’t make it less wonderful. We have the multitude of our future to explore and find or even to create god (as some like Ray Kurzwiel would predict) without having to rely on the infancy of our species for the answers to questions like the ones mentioned in this paper.

The second form of agnosticism, PAP, or Permanent Agnosticism in Practice, is understandably detested by nonbelievers and believers alike. As one can guess, a PAP argument to the god hypothesis is that there is an equal likelihood of each scenario – god’s existence and gods’ nonexistence – so the answer is that it is an unanswerable question and, therefore, not one that deserves the attention of a response. An arguer for PAP, to me, is really someone who doesn’t care – the stereotypical face of agnosticism. And, to me, to be apathetic towards such a weighty and ever-present topic such as how other peoples’ delusions affect daily and global life is not respectable in the least. With atheism, even believers can respect that the atheist has the courage of his convictions and vice verse.

Predictably, being the evolutionary biologist that he is, Dawkins talks about Evolution. If you read the Selfish Gene you can become an informed voice for it and wield a better-than-modest understanding of it as well. If you read the God Delusion, you’ll undergo a brief education in the argument against Evolution from mere chance. Dawkins, as of late, doesn’t seem as hell-bent over imparting the evidence for Evolution via Natural Selection – the evidence for that is well documented and readily accessible to most everyone – as he is hell-bent on imparting an understanding of how it works and how it doesn’t. The relevance of Evolution in the debate isn’t hard to see because it provides an alternate creation story for people looking outside of Septuagint-derived works such as the Bible, the Pentateuch and the Qur’an. And the confusion, in my eyes is actually understandable. Most proponents for biblical literalism would have you believe that Evolution explains the origin of life on Earth as happening by chance – and here’s the confusion. Evolution happens via Natural Selection, a process that takes millions upon millions of years to, visibly, work. The Dawkins analogy is the climb up Mount Improbable, where there are two ways up the mountain side: a quick leap up the miles-high mountain (equal to the probability of a 747 being assembled by a tornado sweeping through a scrapyard) and the other a slow, winding pathway up the other side. The process of Natural Selection takes the very improbable concept of the occurrence of life in the Universe (there’s only one known case: Earth) and breaks the improbability down into a long series of more likely occurrences. This is the opposite of chance.

But with Evolution comes the task of explaining why religion occurs at all in human culture since Natural Selection abhors waste. One explanation that the field of evolutionary biology has offered is that it (religion) is a misfiring of some otherwise or once useful trait that humans evolved in response to meet the needs of their environment. Like how a moth flies suicidally into a burning candle. This is because they use the luminosity of the moon to navigate at night. A misfiring of an otherwise useful trait. As of today, I must confess to be an agnostic with respect to the reason this happens, as I imagine most people in the field are today. But the field is very young and much research is underway on this very topic. Even with the hypotheses and case studies Dawkins provides, the larger argument still remains intact, afloat calm waters in the sea of religious mysticism – the absence of a concrete explanation for various phenomena does not add any weight to the truth of their arguments. This is true of religion as well and this is a gripe I have (as does Dawkins) that when science cannot offer a concrete explanation here and now, on the spot – the “only” alternative, God, wins the argument by default. I’ll quote the only known American equivalent to a scientist on par with Dawkins in communicating science to the public – Carl Sagan. When asked whether or not he had a gut feeling on whether life really existed elsewhere in the universe he replied “But I try not to think with my gut. Really, it’s okay to reserve judgment until the evidence is in.”

The last point I’d like to cover in this review of Richard Dawkins as one of the world’s most important contemporary philosophers is the issue of why be good without god? Here he is very clear that morality is easily the department of the atheist just as much as, if not more than, the arena of the theist. Michael Shermer is clever to point out that when someone admits that they’d surely kill him if it weren’t for the fear of God, that person reveals him/herself to be an immoral person. It’s a debate stopper. In the God Delusion, Dawkins asserts that morality in the absence of policing is somehow more truly moral. He also subscribes to Immanuel Kant’s views on a sense of duty for duty’s sake. One of most influential points he made on the topic of the compatibility of morals with either atheism or theism is in his discussion on Hitler and Stalin. Both of these men are said to be atheists (Stalin most certainly was, but Hitler is not so clear on the issue, even that aside…) and both are attributed to committing some of the worst known cases of genocide in the twentieth century. Yes. There is no argument here. The argument, and to me, the real cookie of the point is that neither of them did their atrocities in the name of atheism! How often otherwise is the case of a suicide bomber or a crusader doing his or her crime against humanity in the name of his or her deity? Always. The case against atheists having no basis for a system of ethics or a moral code is, not surprising to me, exceedingly and embarrassingly weak.

From indoctrinating children to authoring slavery and genocide, religion has a lot of owning up to do and must somehow make up for it’s own misdoings. In my mind, it would be best if the guardians of these religions could muster the courage and come clean with its followers so we can be done with the whole mess. The Dali Llama has reconciled his religion with science saying that if any tenet we (Buddhists) hold is not reconcilable with science, it must be abandoned. But even this, I know wouldn’t be enough. If the present leaders fell today, more ruthless ones would pick up the colors and march forward (or backward…?) into the same old tune of hellfire and damnation.

To finish, Dawkins sums it up best in an interview with Paula Zahn on CNN. When asked by Zahn “How would you characterize the overarching public reaction to atheism?” Dawkins happily replies “Misunderstanding. And, really, missing an awful lot of what’s valuable. Because if you’re an atheist you know, you believe this is the only life you’re going to get. It’s a precious life. It’s a beautiful life. It’s something that we should live to the full, to the end of our days. Whereas if you’re religious, and you believe that there’s another life somehow. That means you don’t live this life to the full because you think you’re going to get another one. That’s an awfully negative way to live a life. Being an atheist frees you up to live this life properly, happily and fully.”


Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976.

Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

TalkOrigins Archive. October 1, 2003. Mark Isaac and TalkOrigins.Org. December 4, 2007. http://www.talkorigins.org/

Richard Dawkins. Wikipedia.Org. December 4, 2007. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Dawkins

Richard Dawkins: Biography and Background. July 1995. The World of Richard Dawkins. December 4, 2007. http://www.simonyi.ox.ac.uk/dawkins/WorldOfDawkins-archive/Dawkins/Biography/bio.shtml

YouTube. February 12, 2007. Straight Talk with Paula Zahn – CNN. Conversation with Richard Dawkins. December 4, 2007. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZX7RyidWvc

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31 January, 2008 4:26 PM Posted by | Angry rant, I lack creativity and/or attention to detail, Just a thought.., LEGALIZE IT!!!, Politics and other hazardous materials, Pride and Prejudice, Religious Tomfoolery, We don't need no educations, Will Recommends: | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments