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Is Richard Dawkins weakening?

The world’s most renowned atheist now says he ‘respects’ the ‘rather profound idea’ of a ‘cosmic intelligence’

Photo by Matti Á, flickr.com

Richard Dawkins

by

A correspondent kindly let us know of a BBC television interview with Richard Dawkins which was first broadcast in Britain in September 2006, shortly after he’d published his latest book The God Delusion. During that interview, Dawkins let slip a comment which, on the face of it, seems to be an amazing softening in his (formerly?) scoffing disdain for the idea that a ‘Supremely Intelligent Being’ is behind the laws of the universe.

He made the comment while being interviewed with Alister McGrath on the BBC Heaven and Earth television program, hosted by Gloria Hunniford.1 The interview opened with both men recounting how they’d arrived at their present views—McGrath from atheism to belief in a Creator, specifically the God of the Bible; Dawkins from ‘a Christian upbringing’ to atheism. Note the two ‘events’ that Dawkins cited as being pivotal in his slide into atheism:

  1. He remembers thinking, ‘Since there are so many different religions, they can’t all be right’, so he says he became an agnostic. [Indeed, they can’t all be right, but it is logically fallacious to argue from this to ‘they must all be wrong.’ For a counter to this, see: ‘Holy Books?’]
  2. Dawkins says the key atheism-inducing event was ‘really when I discovered Darwinism’. [And he’s not the only one to have unfortunately (and erroneously) been so influenced—see ‘Playwright just plain wrong’.]

Sitting next to the eloquently-spoken McGrath,2 and under some pressure from interviewer Ms Hunniford’s challenge that Dawkins had ‘no proof’ to justify his ‘there is no God’ stance, in his following comments Dawkins—though still clinging to his belief in a self-creating universe—appears to forget his past outspoken disdain for the concept of an Intelligent Designer:

‘You can’t prove the non-existence of anything, so it’s impossible to prove that God doesn’t exist. … None of us believes in Thor and his hammer, none of us believes in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. … The best explanation I could just about imagine somebody saying [would be] some sort of immense cosmic intelligence—that I could …—I mean, I don’t believe that but I could just about respect that.

On the face of it, that’s quite a concession, compared to Dawkins’ previous rants and disparaging railings against any such suggestion of an ‘immense cosmic intelligence’ being behind the laws of the universe. And in his very next sentence (below), Dawkins even described the idea as being ‘rather profound’! However, he maintains his contempt for any suggestion that the ‘immense cosmic intelligence’ just might be the God of the Bible:

‘What I can’t understand is how you go from that to buying the whole Christian package—to buying the Resurrection, the Virgin Birth, miracles, the forgiveness of sins—that’s nothing whatever to do with this rather profound idea there may be a deep and cosmic intelligence behind the laws of the universe.’

So for Dawkins to now describe the pre-existence of intelligence as a ‘rather profound idea’ which he can ‘respect’ surely represents an astonishing softening from his previous public utterances.

Putting aside Dawkins’ ongoing and ill-considered dismissiveness towards the historicity of the Bible, his apparently conciliatory statements re a ‘cosmic intelligence’, taken at face value, appear to be a giant concession on his part—a backflip, even. And it begs the question: could this outspoken atheist be weakening in his resolve to fight any and all notions which invoke an original intelligence as being responsible for the laws of the universe? Might it even be possible for Richard Dawkins to one day ‘do’ an ‘Antony Flew’? (Note that Flew, in his internationally-touted ‘conversion’, has not yet gained a saving faith— in Christ.)

Certainly Dawkins’ comments to Gloria Hunniford seem at odds with what he has written in the past. For example, he wrote that ‘deism is as bad as theism’, and he has disparaged any view (note, even ones that allow for ‘natural-process’ evolution) that posits that ‘creative intelligence had some sort of prior existence, and is responsible for designing the universe, with [its] laws and constants …’—such a view, says vintage Dawkins, is ‘wasteful and unparsimonious’.3 And he is utterly contemptuous of those who try to mix evolution and Christianity.

NASA, NOAO, ESA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Horse Head Nebula

The universe is huge—yet the same fundamental laws of physics and chemistry apply throughout. Where did those laws come from?

So for Dawkins to now describe the pre-existence of intelligence as a ‘rather profound idea’ which he can ‘respect’ surely represents an astonishing softening from his previous public utterances. Contrast this modern Dawkins with the traditional Dawkins, who was adamant that the only ‘creative intelligence’ is the one resulting from Darwinian evolution: ‘Creative intelligence comes into the world late, as the product of a long process of gradual change: the slow evolution of nervous systems, or some other kind of computational machinery (which may be secondarily designed by evolved nervous systems).’3

So is Dawkins weakening? I really don’t know. But here’s one thing I do know, which Richard Dawkins might also be interested to know. About two years ago, we at CMI received a prayer request from a supporter—that we would pray for Richard Dawkins.

How could we possibly bring ourselves to pray, periodically for two years now, for such an outspoken God-denying opponent of the Gospel, especially given his long-time status as declared ‘enemy’ of creationist ministries such as CMI? For those with worldly sense, no doubt it makes little sense. But in the light of these famous words of Jesus—the ‘manufacturer’s instructions’, no less—how could we do otherwise?

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?
And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
(Matthew 5:43–48)

References

  1. BBC television programme ‘Heaven and Earth’, Gloria Hunniford interview with Richard Dawkins and Alister McGrath, broadcast 24th September 2006, <www.bbc.co.uk/religion/programmes/heavenandearth
    /factsheets/20060924.shtml>, acc. 13 July 2007. Return to Text.
  2. McGrath subsequently wrote and published a book, The Dawkins Delusion. McGrath, A., Do stop behaving as if you are God, Professor Dawkins, Daily Mail (UK), published 9 February 2007; acc. 11 July 2007. Note, though, that McGrath is not ‘young-earth creationist’ in outlook, which unfortunately limits his ability to rebut the arguments of Dawkins—see Marc Kay’s review of McGrath’s earlier book Dawkins’ God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life in the Journal of Creation 20(1):26–28, March 2006. [pdf available online]. Return to Text.
  3. Dawkins, R., Religion? Einsteinian or Supernatural, RichardDawkins.net—The Official Richard Dawkins website, <http://richarddawkins.net/article,123,Religion–Einsteinian-or-Supernatural,Richard-Dawkins>, published 16 May 2006, accessed 17th July 2007. [As Dawkins points out in that essay, when Einstein used the word ‘God’ it was highly likely he was not referring to a Creator. (There’s a possibility that Dawkins in his BBC interview with Gloria Hunniford was ‘equivocating’ in such a way, too—in which case it would have been disingenuous, in the context of the interview.) See: Einstein, the universe, and God. Return to Text.
Published: 3 August 2007(GMT+10)

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