Clinton Richard Dawkins is probably the most famous evolutionist, anticreationist and atheist today, and a staunch admirer of Charles Robert Darwin (1809–1882).
Dawkins was born in Nairobi, part of the then British colony of Kenya, in 1941, and moved to England aged 8. He gained his degree in Zoology at the Balliol College, Oxford, in 1962. There he was tutored by Nikolaas Tinbergen (1907–1988), who shared the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discoveries about instinct, learning and choice in animals. Dawkins continued to study under Tinbergen, at the University of Oxford, receiving his M.A. and D.Phil. (the Oxford equivalent of Ph.D.) degrees in 1966.
After this, Dawkins took a position of assistant professor of zoology at the University of California, Berkeley, before returning to Oxford as a lecturer in 1970. In this time, he researched animal decision-making. Since the 1970s, he has concentrated on writing for popular audiences, for which he is far more famous than for his scientific research on animal behaviour.
Dawkins‘ first book, The Selfish Gene (1976), advocated a gene-centred view of evolution. That is, life first began from a ‘replicator’ that could make approximate copies of itself, therefore would predominate in a primordial soup. Those copies that could make machines to help them copy better would reproduce more. Dawkins claims that these replicators are basically our genes, and our bodies are just ‘gigantic lumbering robots’ which are their ‘survival machines’. This book also independently introduced the idea of the ‘meme’, a set of ideas that is replicated in other minds.
Dawkins regards his second book, The Extended Phenotype (1982), as his most important contribution to evolutionary biology. This is a kind of sequel and defence of The Selfish Gene; whereas in his first book, Dawkins argues that the organism is the gene’s survival machine, in his second he extends the genes’ influence to the environment modified by the organism’s behaviour. If this behaviour helps the organism’s survival, then the genes ‘for’ that behaviour will reproduce best. His examples include beaver dams and termite mounds, as well as animal behaviour that benefits a parasite afflicting it, hence the genes of that parasite.
In 1986, Dawkins wrote The Blind Watchmaker, an attack on the argument that design in the living world demonstrates an intelligent Designer; rather, the apparent design is the result of evolution by natural selection. He regards that as a vital argument for his own atheistic faith:
“An atheist before Darwin could have said, following Hume: ‘I have no explanation for complex biological design. All I know is that God isn’t a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody comes up with a better one.’ I can’t help feeling that such a position, though logically sound, would have left one feeling pretty unsatisfied, and that although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”
Earlier that year, on Valentine‘s Day, Dawkins participated in the Huxley Memorial Debate at the Oxford Union, opposing the proposition, “That the doctrine of creation is more valid than the theory of evolution.” With him was the leading English evolutionist John Maynard Smith (1920–2004), and opposed were two biblical creationist scientists: triple doctorate organic chemist and pharmacologist A. E. Wilder-Smith (1915–1995) and Edgar Andrews (1932– ), then Professor1 of Materials at the University of London. The audience vote of Oxford students was a modest win for the evolution side, 198–115. Yet Dawkins was not happy—in his closing comments, he had “implored” the audience (his word) not to give a single vote to the creationist side, since every such vote “would be a blot on the escutcheon of the ancient University of Oxford.”2 (Alternatively, it would be a return to Oxford’s roots, since it was founded by creationists.) After that, he is on record refusing to debate any biblical creationist.
In 1995, he was appointed the Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford. This was an endowment by leading Microsoft software designer and billionaire Charles Simonyi (b. Simonyi Károly, 1948) explicitly for Dawkins. One report said:
“Evolution’s first great advocate, 1860s biologist Thomas Henry Huxley, earned the nickname ‘Darwin‘s bulldog’ from his fellow Victorians. In our own less decorous day, Dawkins deserves an even stronger epithet: ‘Darwin’s Rottweiler, perhaps,’ Simonyi suggests.”3
Dawkins retired from this post in September 2008. I am unable to find any example of Dawkins aiding the public understanding of such real science as physics or chemistry, or even of the history or philosophy of science. But during this professorship, Dawkins wrote seven books on evolution/atheism. It’s not surprising that British author Paul Johnson called it “Oxford’s first Chair of Atheism.”4
For example, Climbing Mount Improbable (1996), one of Dawkins‘ own favourites among his books, aimed to defend slow and gradual evolution. The title is a parable: many structures in living organisms are so complex that there is a vanishingly small probability of producing them in a single step—this corresponds to leaping the high Mt Improbable in a single step. But, says Dawkins, this mountain has a gently upward-sloping terrain on the other side, where a climber can ascend gradually, constantly progressing to the top. This corresponds to the neo-Darwinian mechanism of evolution—mutations natural selection. Mutations produce gradual improvements, and natural selection means that organisms which have them are slightly more likely to leave offspring. So a later generation of organisms is slightly more complex, or higher up the slope of Mt Improbable. This process is repeated until the dizzy peaks are scaled by this ever-so-gradual process.5
In his largest book, The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution (2004, 688 pages hardcover), Dawkins aimed to illustrate the history of life on Earth. This was a series of 40 tales, from the point of view of man’s alleged evolutionary precursors,6 and the name is a play on the Middle English classic The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343–1400).
This has made him probably the best known exponent of evolution in the world. Yet Ernst Mayr (1904–2005), one of the most influential evolutionists as far as biologists are concerned, says:
“The funny thing is if in England, you ask a man in the street who the greatest living Darwinian is, he will say Richard Dawkins. And indeed, Dawkins has done a marvelous job of popularizing Darwinism. But Dawkins‘ basic theory of the gene being the object of evolution is totally non-Darwinian. I would not call him the greatest Darwinian.”7
Richard Dawkins not only regards Darwinism as compatible with atheism, but that atheism is a logical outcome of evolutionary belief. He has long promoted atheism both individually and as part of atheistic organizations. Dawkins is an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society, a vice-president of the British Humanist Association (since 1996), a Distinguished Supporter of the Humanist Society of Scotland, a Humanist Laureate of the International Academy of Humanism, and a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. In 2003, he signed Humanism and Its Aspirations, published by the American Humanist Association.
In his 1991 essay “Viruses of the Mind”, Dawkins singled out theistic religion as one of the most pernicious of these viruses. I.e. he regards theism as a kind of disease or pathology, and parents who teach it to their children are, in Dawkins‘ view, supposedly practising mental child abuse. But the sorts of criteria Dawkins applies have led critics to wonder whether Dawkins‘ own strident atheism itself could be a mental pathology—or ‘atheopathy’.
After the 11 September 2001 terrorist attack, Dawkins argued:
“Many of us saw religion as harmless nonsense. Beliefs might lack all supporting evidence but, we thought, if people needed a crutch for consolation, where’s the harm? September 11th changed all that. Revealed faith is not harmless nonsense; it can be lethally dangerous nonsense. Dangerous, because it gives people unshakeable confidence in their own righteousness. Dangerous, because it gives them false courage to kill themselves, which automatically removes normal barriers to killing others. Dangerous, because it teaches enmity to others labelled only by a difference of inherited tradition. And, dangerous, because we have all bought into a weird respect, which uniquely protects religion from normal criticism. Let’s now stop being so damned respectful!”8
Dawkins somehow overlooked the record-breaking tens of millions killed by atheistic regimes last century. This was thoroughly documented by Rudolph Rummel (b. 1932), Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Hawaii, who coined the term democide for murder by government.9
This antitheism continued with presenting a Channel 4 program in the UK, called The Root of All Evil? (2006). This title was Channel 4’s choice, not Dawkins‘, but he argued that humanity would be better off without belief in God. The victims of the democides catalogued by Prof. Rummel might not agree. In this program, Dawkins interviewed a number of Christian leaders, and visited several holy sites and communities of major religions. However, some critics attacked the program for not having informed Christian responses. For example, Dawkins‘ fellow Oxford Don, Alister McGrath (1953– ), Professor of Historical Theology (with a D.Phil. in molecular biophysics), claimed that after his responses Dawkins seemed uncomfortable, so was not surprised that his own contribution remained on the cutting room floor.10
Dawkins‘ defence of atheism produced his best-seller to date, The God Delusion (2006), with 1.5 million copies sold. Many high-profile atheists praised it, and naturally Christians criticized it. For example, Philip Bell, M.Sc. and former cancer researcher, published a detailed review,11 and there are other books responding to it.12 However, leading logician and Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga (1932– ), currently “John A. O’Brien Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame”, was not impressed with Dawkins‘ excursions outside biology into philosophy, claiming that they could be called sophomoric were it not a grave insult to most sophomores.13
Prof. McGrath himself responded to the book (co-authored with his wife).14 This also revealed that Dawkins‘ support among atheists was not universal—famous evolutionary philosopher Michael Ruse writes in the blurb, “The God Delusion makes me embarrassed to be an atheist, and the McGraths show why.” Ruse also said that the “new atheists” led by Dawkins are “a bloody disaster”,15 and said the following about the book:
“Question: What do you think of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins? Your approach is a lot milder? (The book lays open on his bed in the hotel room in Amsterdam where Ruse is interviewed.)
“Answer: I am just as critical of this book as of the work of Intelligent Design authors like Michael Behe, despite the fact that I, as an agnostic, am closer to Dawkins, and am 99% in agreement with his conclusions. But this book is stupid, politically disastrous and bad academics. If someone spoke about biology and evolution as he does on theology, Dawkins would react without mercy.
“A good academic will inform himself in depth in a subject he is writing about. Dawkins did not. He is neither a philosopher nor a theologian. I am not a biologist myself, but at least I study the subject in depth before I write about it. And that arrogance and that pedantic attitude of his. …
“Dawkins‘ book confirms my analysis of evolution as pseudo-religion. His secular humanism has quasi-religious characteristics.”16
Another atheist, Terry Eagleton, Professor of Cultural Theory at the National University of Ireland, Galway, began his review of The God Delusion with these words:
“Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology.”17
“ … does he imagine like a bumptious young barrister that you can defeat the opposition while being complacently ignorant of its toughest case? Dawkins, it appears, has sometimes been told by theologians that he sets up straw men only to bowl them over, a charge he rebuts in this book; but if The God Delusion is anything to go by, they are absolutely right.”
Dawkins publicly debated his book with John Carson Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at Oxford. Lennox is also a Christian apologist and Intelligent Design supporter, and teacher of Science and Religion at Oxford, and the author of several books on the relations of science with religion and ethics. This debate did not cover evolution, but the wider Christianity vs atheism topics covered in The God Delusion.18 Dawkins seemed quite red-faced and uncomfortable during the debate.
However, Dawkins refuses to debate best-selling author Dinesh D’Souza, author of What’s So Great about Christianity19 among others, even though D’Souza is a theistic evolutionist not a creationist.20 Yet many of Dawkins‘ fellow ‘new atheists’ such as Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett have been willing. In an open letter, D’Souza contrasted Dawkins‘ eagerness to entrap non-scientist Christians on his TV shows with a refusal to debate a strong opponent on level terms:
“To be honest, I find your behavior extremely bizarre. You go halfway around the world to chase down televangelists to outsmart them in an interview format that you control, but given several opportunities to engage the issues you profess to care about in a true spirit of open debate and inquiry, you duck and dodge and run away. …
“ If you are so confident that your position is right, and that belief in God is an obvious delusion, surely you should be willing to vindicate that position not only against Bible-toting pastors but also against a fellow scholar and informed critic like me!
“If not, you are nothing but a showman who takes on unprepared and unsuspecting opponents when you yourself control the editing, but when a strong opponent shows up you manufacture reasons to avoid him.”21
Now we come to Dawkins‘ current book, The Greatest Show on Earth (2009), deliberately published on the bicentennial of Darwin‘s birth. There is some irony right at the start of the preface (p. vii): many evolutionists have long touted Dawkins‘ books about evolution as its proof, yet Dawkins says:
“The Selfish Gene and Extended Phenotype … didn’t discuss the evidence for evolution itself. … My next three books … The Blind Watchmaker, River Out of Eden22 and … Climbing Mt Improbable … although they cleared away stumbling blocks, did not present the actual evidence that evolution was a fact. … The Ancestor’s Tale … again assumed that evolution is true. …
“Looking back on these books, I realized that the evidence for evolution is nowhere explicitly set out, and that it seemed like a good gap to close.”
In a brief review, Dr Henry Gee, senior editor of the leading science journal Nature, wrote:
“Even some of Dawkins‘ admirers felt that The God Delusion was an embarrassment. The Greatest Show on Earth is ‘not intended as an anti-religious book. I’ve done that, it’s another T-shirt, this is not the place to wear it again,’ [p. 6]. And so he moves on, with disarming lucidity.”23
In this book, Dawkins is irate at what he calls “history deniers”, who deny evolution, and intends to show how wrong they are, as well as use the ‘guilt by association’ with ‘Holocaust deniers’. He is especially distressed that polls show that at least 40% of Americans accept biblical creation, including the <10,000-year time scale, so his other name for ‘history denier’ is ‘forty percenter’.
Although Dawkins has not worked in the science laboratory for decades, his books still have a widespread influence. They are a staple of atheists and humanists worldwide. An honest debate should address the strongest arguments for the opposing side, and Dawkins is an acknowledged champion of evolution and atheism. For example, here are some reviews (as they appeared on Dawkins‘ own site):
“This is a magnificent book of wonderstanding: Richard Dawkins combines an artist’s wonder at the virtuosity of nature with a scientist’s understanding of how it comes to be.”
—Matt Ridley, author of Nature via Nurture.
“‘There is a grandeur in this view of life,’ said Darwin, speaking of evolution. There is no one better qualified to convey this grandeur than his worthy successor, Richard Dawkins, who writes with passion, clarity, and wit. This may be his best book yet.”
—V. S. Ramachandran
“To call this book a defence of evolution utterly misses the point: The Greatest Show on Earth is a celebration of one of the best ideas humans have ever produced. It is hard not to marvel at Richard Dawkins‘s luminous telling of the story of evolution and the way that it has shaped our world. In reading Dawkins, one is left awed at the beauty of the theory and humbled by the power of science to understand some of the greatest mysteries of life.”
—Neil Shubin, author of Your Inner Fish
“Up until now, Richard Dawkins has said everything interesting that there is to say about evolution—with one exception. In The Greatest Show on Earth, he fills this gap, brilliantly describing the multifarious and massive evidence for evolution—evidence that gives the lie to the notion that evolution is ‘only a theory’. This important and timely book is a must-read for Darwin Year.”
—Jerry Coyne, author of Why Evolution is True
“Whether or not you accept evolution, you will understand it after reading Dawkins‘s clear and fresh presentation of Evolution 101. His ability to explain science through choice analogies and metaphors (embryology as origami!) make accessible the newest research from paleontology to molecular biology, all the while capturing—and expressing—the excitement of the rapidly expanding field of evolutionary biology.”
—Eugenie C. Scott, Executive Director, National Center for Science Education
“Look out, creationists. There’s a new sheriff in town, and he talks like an Oxford don … The author opens with guns a-blazing … (and) writes with terrific wit and considerable learning, but what is interesting here is his fire … Without the strictures of academia he relishes the opportunity to light into his opponents. Whether anyone will stand up to refute his notions remains to be seen, but for now Dawkins wins on points. A pleasure in the face of so much scientific ignorance—biology rendered accessible and relevant to the utmost degree.”
Dawkins writes in a lucid style—he throws in much informative material from real science which keeps the reader interested, but this is mixed with many speculations, and not a few diversionary indulgences e.g. creationist-bashing.
His overall message is, however, anything but inspiring—we are robots programmed by DNA to replicate more copies of that DNA. His conclusion was expressed in River Out of Eden:
“The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”
In this, he was following Darwin himself, who said:
“According to all this, ones disgust at villain <ought to be> is nothing more than disgust at some one under foul disease, & pity accompanies both. Pity ought to banish disgust. P→P For wickedness is no more a man’s fault than bodily disease!! (Animals do persecute the sick as if were their fault). If this doctrine were believed—pretty world we should be in!—But it could not be believed excepting by intellectual people—if I believed it—it would make not one difference in my life, for I feel more virtue more happiness— …
“A man <reading> hearing bible by chance becomes good. This is effect of accident with his state of desire (neither by themselves sufficient) effect of birth & other accidents: may be congratulated, but deserves no credit. … ”24
And when Dawkins‘ fellow evolutionist, computer scientist Jaron Lanier said:
“There’s a large group of people who simply are uncomfortable with accepting evolution because it leads to what they perceive as a moral vacuum, in which their best impulses have no basis in nature.”
“All I can say is, That’s just tough. We have to face up to the truth.”25
Certainly we can agree to the last sentence. But the aim of this book is to show that evolution is not the truth, and there is something better than Dawkins‘ “blind pitiless indifference”.
I have written a number of other books defending creation and rejecting evolution. But this book will presuppose no previous exposure to these. However, sometimes I will borrow from them, mainly to show that many of Dawkins‘ points had already been anticipated. I.e. while we try to address the strongest case for evolution, Dawkins has not always addressed the strongest creationist case. He frequently addresses arguments that no informed creationist makes, and attacks a number of “soft targets” who don’t even pretend to be scientists.
Dawkins is not alone among evolutionists in his extensive use of dubious tactics. These include such rampant strawman arguments as this book exposes in detail, and equivocation (bait-and-switch). It is this element of deception (perhaps accompanied by not a little self-deception, common in those who strongly reject their accountability to the Creator God26) that helps justify the word “hoax” in my book’s title.
Of course, I believe the Bible (including Genesis) and the gospel of Christ to be the unalloyed truth . As such, those like Dawkins, who propagate belief in ‘goo-to-you’ evolution over millions of years, will indeed turn out to have engaged, no matter how unwittingly, in the “Greatest Hoax on Earth”—to the detriment of millions for eternity. This issue could scarcely be more important, which makes it doubly tragic when people are persuaded by “Greatest Show“ without hearing the other side properly put.
Scientific evidence comes and goes, and some of the things in both Dawkins‘ book and mine will need scrapping or revision as time goes on. When one looks at the ‘big picture’ however, it seems clear that one can already reach the correct decision about ultimate reality with confidence. On that, at least, Richard Dawkins and I would be in agreement.