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Is Richard Dawkins Close to Christianity?

Richard Dawkins

A few weeks ago, The Telegraph published a Letter to the Editor from around 50 leading atheists in England, predictably including such names as Philip Pullman, Peter Tatchell, Polly Toynbee, Anthony Grayling, and Evan Harris.

It began as follows: “Sir – We respect the Prime Minister’s right to his religious beliefs and the fact that they necessarily affect his own life as a politician. However, we object to his characterization of Britain as a ‘Christian country’ and the negative consequences for politics and society that this engenders…. Britain is not a ‘Christian country’. Repeated surveys, polls and studies show that most of us as individuals are not Christian in our beliefs or our religious identities.”

One name, however, among those listed beneath the Letter was conspicuous by its absence: that of the most famous atheist of them all: Richard Dawkins. How come?

Well, a few days ago, we got the answer, in the form of a declaration (reported by The Telegraph under the headline “Richard Dawkins: I am a secular Christian”) made at the launch of the first volume of his memoirs, An Appetite For Wonder. In response to an American Protestant minister in the audience who claimed that he no longer believed in miracles or that Jesus was resurrected, but still considered himself a Christian and preached the teachings of Christ, Dawkins made this reply: “I would describe myself as a secular Christian in the same sense as secular Jews have a feeling for nostalgia and ceremonies.” He then made this perceptive comment to the liberal Protestant who had questioned him: “But if you don’t have the supernatural, it’s not clear to me why you would call yourself a minister.” In other words, why consider yourself a Christian at all?

Of his own atheism, Dawkins explained that he had an “Anglican upbringing” but chose atheism in his early teens after learning about Darwin’s theory of evolution.

This reminded me forcibly of my own early history: for I, too, in my early teens decided I was an atheist, and on joining the British Humanist Association at the age of 17, sent off for a small pile of books from its catalogue, including Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian, and C M Beadnell’s A Picture Book of Evolution, which would, I was led to believe, explain to me why atheism was inevitable.

Well, here I am today, as a Catholic, because I realized that atheism didn’t work. What interests me is Professor Dawkins’s “nostalgia”, a word signifying a wistful affection for the past. That could mean (as I hope it does) that he is searching, perhaps unconsciously, for lost Christian certainties.

Back to evolution. One reason I came to the conclusion that the theory of evolution, even if true, implied no reason to reject the existence of a God was that very few people within the Church who had seriously studied the issue had ever seen any dissonance between evolution and belief. In my own study of the 19th century (which as a PhD student became my period of particular interest), I discovered that although it was certainly the case that some 19th-century intellectuals lost their faith as a result of reading On the Origin of Species, by no means all of them did, nor was the theory of evolution rejected by most Christian theologians as I had supposed (and as most people still think today). It was rejected by literalist fundamentalists, maybe: but they were in a minority then as they still are (they have always been an essentially protestant phenomenon).

An interesting example was the conservative Anglo-Catholic theologian Henry Liddon, a Canon of St Paul’s, and an admirer of Dr. Pusey, who was prepared seriously to consider Darwin’s theory as far as it went, but simply observed that it didn’t address the real question of our ultimate origins: he, like many ,continued to believe that man was created by God: but that evolution may well have been part of the Creator’s modus operandi. From the pulpit of St. Paul’s he addressed the question of Darwin’s conclusions about the beginnings of human life, by saying that, "We cannot forget what our faith teaches us about its origin, its present purpose, and its coming destiny… For our part, as we contemplate the human body, we cannot forget its author. Even if evolution should win for itself a permanent place in our conceptions of the past history of man, it would still leave untouched the great question of man’s origin…”

There was no automatic rejection by mainstream Christian thought of Darwinian evolution. Early contributions to the development of evolutionary theory were made by Catholic scientists such as Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and the Augustinian monk Gregor Mendel.

For nearly a century, the Holy See came to no publicly enunciated conclusion about Darwin’s theory. In the encyclical Humani Generis (1950), Pius XII declared that there is no intrinsic conflict between Christianity and the theory of evolution, provided that Christians believe that the individual soul is a direct creation by God and not the product of purely material forces.

I think that Professor Dawkins ought now seriously to consider the uncertainties of his own great hero, Charles Darwin: in particular he might ponder on the absurdity of concluding that there is no God, having merely read On the Origin of Species, when that was very far from being Darwin’s own conclusion from the process of having written it.

Darwin himself said that when he wrote On the Origin of Species he was still convinced of the existence of God as a First Cause and that he was a theist. In 1879 he declared that he had never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God, and that generally “an Agnostic would be the more correct description of my state of mind”. He went as far as saying that “Science has nothing to do with Christ, except insofar as the habit of scientific research makes a man cautious in admitting evidence…. As for a future life, every man must judge for himself between conflicting … probabilities.”

How close Professor Dawkins is to discovering that the supernatural is a reality, I cannot say. But he may without realizing it be very close. What he needs now is a small dose of his hero’s own uncertainty; he sounds to me as though already he may be quite close to his agnosticism. From there it’s a much smaller leap to faith.
 
 
Originally posted at the Catholic Herald. Used with permission.
(Image credit: The Guardian)

Dr. William Oddie

Written by

Dr. William Oddie is a leading English Catholic writer and broadcaster. He edited The Catholic Herald from 1998 to 2004 and is the author of The Roman Option and Chesterton and the Romance of Orthodoxy.

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  • NicholasBeriah Cotta

    Ohhhh SNAP! Great article- the last paragraph should be the default dialectic between Atheists and Christians.

    This is our metanoia topic (one of the signs of our times, if you will).

    • M. Solange O’Brien

      When theists start providing evidence for their theism, and start adopting a little humility about their belief systems, then we can talk.

      • NicholasBeriah Cotta

        OOops, I should have said, "Second-to-last paragraph." I think this sums up our differences best:

        "Darwin himself said that when he wrote On the Origin of Species he was still convinced of the existence of God as a First Cause and that he was a theist. In 1879 he declared that he had never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God, and that generally “an Agnostic would be the more correct description of my state of mind”. He went as far as saying that “Science has nothing to do with Christ, except insofar as the habit of scientific research makes a man cautious in admitting evidence…. As for a future life, every man must judge for himself between conflicting … probabilities.”"

        Every time you say "evidence," you really mean a certain specific kind of evidence, and we can haggle about it all day (I guess that's what this site is for). The Philosophy of Probability is where science ends and philosophy begins - it is also where you realize that "evidence" to our human brains can be so very subjective.

        • M. Solange O’Brien

          Science is the discipline which does the best job of determining whether we are fooling ourselves. Theology barely tries.

        • David Nickol

          It matters not one whit whether Darwin was a devout Christian or a confirmed atheist before, during, or after the writing of On the Origin of Species. Similarly, it matters not one whit whether Einstein sometimes used the word God in a way that some people feel they can construe as making Einstein a theist. It also doesn't matter a bit that Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Gregor Mendel were Catholic, nor would it matter if someone discovered some long buried papers of one of them in which he secretly recorded that his scientific work had caused him to lose his faith in God.

          Whether or not God exists is a question every person must answer for himself or herself. Nobody can answer for anyone else. Making lists of atheist scientists, or lists of Catholic scientists, gets nobody any closer to answering the question.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            I will agree that ultimately the individual must decide for the individual, but the testimony of our fellow citizens is admissible evidence I would say. It's not entirely inconsequential because Philosophy is really informed by the sum of an entire life's worth of experiments - acknowledging testimony of others is to acknowledge that they have evaluated their life experience in a critical manner and their conclusions are relevant to my own. Saying the individual only matters and nothing else ignores simple facts like: we only acquire as much information as we do in our life times because of other people around us and before us. We do not inform this "God's existence question" independently, why would we assume we should derive the conclusions of the information totally independently as well?

          • David Nickol

            If Darwin, Einstein, Lamarck, or Mendel had something worthwhile to say about whether or not God exists, then of course that is information to be taken into consideration. What I am saying is that it counts for nothing that Darwin, Einstein, Lamarck, or Mendel believed something. What matters is not who believes something and who doesn't. What matters are their reasons. Otherwise, all you really have is something like celebrity endorsements.

          • cminca

            As I like to point out--a lot of people believed in WMD. Didn't make it true.

          • Ear to44

            I know Einstein at one point, left the impression he was accepting "God" as "God" He wrote to his close friend, "You feel like an old animal under God's never ending sky" This was from a personal letter he wrote to his friend after learning his daughter had just died. He could have simply said, I feel like an old animal sitting under a never ending sky. But, he didn't. Sometimes people believe in God, even if just for one day. Like he did on that day in July, 1934
            Argue all you want that this does not prove Einstein believed in "God" on this day, but in my mind it is 100% clear. Here is why. I am an atheist. I would never say "Gods never ending sky" that's not part of my vocabulary. That's not part of my thinking. I just felt like sharing something that has been never been shared, or looked at since 1934.

        • cminca

          There is one thing that that quoting Darwin may not take into account--he may have been lying.

          According to biographers Darwin was devoted to his wife Emma Wedgewood Darwin. She was more devout than he was. He may have been tempering his public declaration in deference to her.

          (Please note that I am not saying he did--I am voicing the opinion that it is possible.)

  • I love Dr. Oddie!

    • Max Driffill

      Why? He has written a poorly researched piece that on any other site we might call click-bait.

      • cminca

        Stacy wants anything that supports her belief that science is dependent upon Catholicism. Anything, no matter how poorly written or researched, that supports this unfounded belief, will automatically get an enthusiastic response.

  • Steve Law

    Yeah, well, don't hold your breath.

  • Richard Dawkins is an atheist. I feel comfortable saying he has thought about evolution, Christianity, and their relationship probably more than any other human in history.

    Understanding the fact of evolution is not a good reason for atheism generally, though it does conflict with god concepts that deny modern humans developed by way of natural selection, as a number of variations of Christianity expressly state.

    I am also confident that Dawkins' atheism is a based on his assessment of the lack of any convincing evidence for any gods, as he has stated many times, not a misapprehension that Darwin's theory means no god concepts are possible.

  • EssanBrandt

    Truly Amazing what straws the Catholic apologists grasp at. Too funny really.... the way they are willing to take almost anything out of context in their desperate attempts at trying to be credible. They do it with Darwin....and with Einstein....and with many others including Dawkins.

    "I'm an atheist, BUT..." by Richard Dawkins

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDsMQ0pVCbQ

    • Loreen Lee

      I just listened to his summary of the fact that the DNA possible (about 22.00) would mean that of the people born, we are only a miniscule of the number of possible people that could have been born into the world. He thus concludes that we need not need the bible/religion to console us that we will inevitably come to the end of our life. Religion is not necessary.

      However, although he talked about the millions/billions? who are never born he didn't specific the loss to the world, nor the comfort it would give us if we included in the statistics the number of those whose life is terminated 'in the womb'. Please note that I am not an absolutist on this problematic. Thank you.

      • EssanBrandt

        I just listened to his summary of the fact that the DNA possible would mean that of the people born, we are only a minute representation of the number of possible people that could have been born into the world.

        True...those of us who are here and are relatively healthy did win the lottery of life.....and should be somewhat consoled by that fact....especially by the fact that we are conscious and sentient beings even though some physical and mental pain are part of both consciousness and sentience....those aspects of life we share with all the other animals on the planet. He is right that religion may not not be absolutely necessary. We do not "need" religion to console us...as we come to the end of our lives...though for some it can definitely be a hope and no doubt it can serve a purpose of consolation to many....especially to those whose lives have been lived in abject poverty and misery. Actually some scientists believe that a predisposition, trait, or tendency for humans to believe in the transcendent may have been part of our natural evolution over time and may actually been beneficial to the human race in evolving our various cultures and tribes. In fact may have even been necessary for us to have evolved as we have until this point in time.

        Dawkins says that he has no desire to purge society of Christian history and the positive cultural accomplishments that have come about. Although I am sure that he like most would like to see the harmful teaching and traditions of all religion cast into the dustbin.

        I doubt very much that Dawkins would like to snatch away the last vestige of hope or consolation from someone lying in the streets of Calcutta or some elderly person on her deathbed in North America.

      • EssanBrandt

        An addendum to my reply to you

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolutionary_origin_of_religions
        There is general agreement among cognitive scientists that religion
        is an outgrowth of brain architecture that evolved early in human
        history. However, there is disagreement on the exact mechanisms that
        drove the evolution of the religious mind. The two main schools of
        thought hold that either religion evolved due to natural selection and has selective advantage, or that religion is an evolutionary byproduct of other mental adaptations.[20] Stephen Jay Gould, for example, believed that religion was an exaptation or a spandrel, in other words that religion evolved as byproduct of psychological mechanisms that evolved for other reasons.[21][22][23]

        Such mechanisms may include the ability to infer the presence of
        organisms that might do harm (agent detection), the ability to come up
        with causal narratives for natural events (etiology), and the ability to recognize that other people have minds of their own with their own beliefs, desires and intentions (theory of mind).
        These three adaptations (among others) allow human beings to imagine
        purposeful agents behind many observations that could not readily be
        explained otherwise, e.g. thunder, lightning, movement of planets,
        complexity of life, etc.[24] The emergence of collective religious belief identified the agents as deities that standardized the explanation.

        Some scholars have suggested that religion is genetically "hardwired"
        into the human condition. One controversial hypothesis, the God gene hypothesis, states that some variants of a specific gene, the VMAT2 gene, predispose to spirituality.[25]

        • Loreen Lee

          Thanks EssanBrandt. I was going to ask you for an explanation of the transcendent that could be explained by natural selection. A coincidence, I guess.

  • Max Driffill

    Given that Richard Dawkins has said that he is a "secular Christian," or some thing very like that for just about as long as he has been writing books for the public I doubt very much he is anywhere near, " discovering that the supernatural is a reality."

    A little research would spare readers nonsense like this article.

  • Shaun McAfee

    Good article, and I cannot say that I hope this is not true for Mr. Dawkins, but I thought he made it very clear in The God Delusion exactly what his stance on God is, particularly, that he is not absolutely sure God does not exist, but is convinced that it is not probable. He has specifically stated that he is more atheist than agnostic.

  • M. Solange O’Brien

    I'm sorry, but this simply a ludicrous case of projection and wishful thinking. Dawkins here is saying NOTHING that he hasn't said a dozen times before. I've met and dined with him three times; the chance of Dawkins moving towards an actual faith position are roughly equivalent to the odds that the church will ordain women and openly embrace same-sex marriage.

    • NicholasBeriah Cotta

      Mostly you're right: he has definitely referred to himself as a "cultural anglican" in debates I've seen. But this stuff right here, if paraphrased correctly, sounds down right theistic: "Dawkins, 73, also said that he believes humans are destined to take a certain path in life, and that if they veer from it a “magnetic pull” will bring them back to their fate."

      • M. Solange O’Brien

        Doesn't sound theistic to me at all. Sounds deterministic, which doesn't require god.

        • NicholasBeriah Cotta

          Dominoes fall, but they are not teleological - they fall where they may. What is this magnetic pull he speaks of and where does it come from? Are there magnets somewhere in my life plan that I have yet to measure?

          • EssanBrandt

            Dominoes Falling......according to Sam Harris
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKv2pWZkgrI

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            Doesn't Sam rebut Dawkins' magnetic pull idea here? How do you view this adding to the conversation in this thread?

          • EssanBrandt

            When he said that he was most likely speaking metaphorically with regard to a person's upbringing and how it influences one's decisions regards moral conduct. Said decisions being the result of all a person's life's experiences up until that fork in the road where a decision is called for. One certainly cannot take it that Dawkins is speaking of a literal spiritual nudge or magnetic pull from god....that would be taking his words totally out of context IMHO, something that is not uncommon here as SN. Those life experiences added up, result in a deterministic..."intuition" if I may. Hence the Sam Harris video explaining the influence of "determinism" in our lives. Sam does not rebut anything Dawkins has said.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            I don't see you explaining how Dawkins is being anything other than fatalistic, which is precisely what Harris says is the confusion of determinism. If we assume that a certain path is predetermined, this would be "fatalism" as in there is an outcome of which we are bound to live out. Even if Dawkins is using a "person's upbringing" et al as a metaphor, it is still fatalism, albeit more complex than dominoes (and you know how Dawkins doesn't like anything that can't be reduced, hint: it gets discarded.)

            Free will is a funny thing to dismiss, because even elaborate arguments built to dismiss it imply it in the argument. To say, determinism doesn't imply fatalism because choices become causes has just begged the question - choices are causes, but what caused the choices? If Harris always wants to break things down in to their component causes, he is just ignoring that a complexity of causes arises simply out of complexity itself. At some point, the sum of a thing is greater than its parts (yet it is still composed of parts). This is the conundrum of science- while Dawkins and Harris would like to think of the world as fundamentally reducible, that idea is just not scientific, it is philosophic, in that there is no proof that everything is reducible. Number theory is not even entirely consistent and neither is physics, so to theorize that everything is reducible (or coherent) is to be missing even one body of knowledge that has demonstrated coherency. It is what I would call the "reverse God of the gaps", an assumption that because we have a better understanding of the world around us, we will eventually have a complete understanding of the world around us. This is not demonstrable and therefore unscientific. To imply that the world is deterministic is to imply that we have enough information to predict future determinations, otherwise you'd have to admit we are without the required information to describe what determines things. You can't say something exists but be unable to describe it (reduce it, quantify it) in a scientific worldview. To argue that we don't have the capacity to measure all of the causes but say that we know that they are all reducible is to basically say, "We know the data is there but it is beyond our reach." This, of course, would leave you without any good evidence for the theory that you say describes everything. One gigantic begging of the question is Sam Harris' explanation of the illusion of free will.

          • Max Driffill

            "Free will is a funny thing to dismiss, because even elaborate arguments built to dismiss it imply it in the argument.

            I'm sorry, that seems like simple assertion.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            You'd be hard pressed to find an argument that didn't begin with one.

          • Max Driffill

            And your argument never moves past the point of being a simple assertion. You offer no evidence, or argument to support it.

          • Determinism is not "predeterminism". It does not mean that certain events are "inevitable". Using words like free will and fatalism can be misleading.

            The question is whether you believe IF we knew with absolute precision what a specific brain state was in terms of its physical state, whether we could predict what would happen next, or whether there is some other non-physical element that is undetectable that ultimately governs a "decision".

            I see no reason to think there is any other part, any mind or soul that is the decision-maker, other than my physical brain. With perfect knowledge, yes future brain states would be predictable. But of course such knowledge is almost definitely impossible given the uncertainty principle.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            This metaphysical assertion is not unreasonable:

            With perfect knowledge, yes future brain states would be predictable.

            as long as you realize that this:

            But of course such knowledge is almost definitely impossible given the uncertainty principle.

            implicitly acknowledges that determinism is indeed a metaphysical assertion, having no basis in science.

          • No it is not. The first is an ontological position, the second is a an epistemological limitation.

            The uncertainty principle does have a sound basis in science. Determinism is a conclusion I reach through logic and reason.

            The uncertainty principle states that one can never know BOTH the precise position and momentum of a particle, because you need to affect one or the other in the process of observation.

            When we get down to the sub atomic level, to observe the particles and energy states in a given brain, we need to "hit" these with some form of matter or energy to observe the position and momentum, be it light or other forms of radiation. Doing so changes one or the other so our observation will in some sense no longer be accurate.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I agree with everything you wrote about the uncertainty principle. Not that I'm an expert, but that's exactly how I understand it.

            And I agree with this:

            The first is an ontological position, the second is a an epistemological limitation.

            The uncertainty principle does have a sound basis in science.

            But now I am stumped by this:

            Determinism is a conclusion I reach through logic and reason.

            How ???

            Here's what a pretty good physicist has to say about it:

            http://meaningoflife.tv/video.php?speaker=polkinghorne&topic=quantum

            EDIT: sorry, wrong link. This is the bit that I meant to provide:
            http://meaningoflife.tv/video.php?speaker=polkinghorne&topic=freewill

          • I am responding to Nicholas' comment that to know something is deterministic, we need to be able to have all the information and be able to predict specific outcomes. This doesn't follow. Consider a lottery ball machine, it is perfectly reasonable to say that the outcome is deterministic. The balls will behave in accordance with gravity and other forces and if we could set it up exactly the same way, we would get the same result each time. The balls are not exercising free will or being guided by some supernatural force. Because we lack the ability to set it up exactly the same or know exactly the precise states of the balls or the math to determine the result, does not entail that there is anything more than the predictable forces of nature at play.

            As to why I accept determinism, how I know this? It is too long of a discussion. But I do observe patterns, I observe a great deal of consistency, to the extent that

          • Con't.

            I infer that matter acts in accordance with unbreakable laws, so to speak. When I treat certain laws as unbreakable, I (we, science) discovers more. To me this implies natural order and uniformity, not supernature that is bound by no such laws.

            How do you get to this other, undetectable aspect which is independent of nature?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Consider a lottery ball machine, it is perfectly reasonable to say that the outcome is deterministic.
            ... if we could set it up exactly the same way, we would get the same result each time.

            This strict unbreakable determinism that you seem to believe in is not a scientific theory, and it is not even a scientific hypothesis, because we know that it is not possible to ever set up the balls in exactly the same way. As Heraclitus rightly pointed out, you can't step in the same river twice. From a purely scientific perspective, your belief in strict unbreakable determinism is no more and no less defensible than belief in angels.

            This is not to say that your belief is not reasonable! I think your belief about determinism is very reasonable, and in fact I believe something very similar. The fact that we see evidence of approximate determinism at certain scales of observation, and the fact that scientists seem to be more successful when they believe in something like this, these are perfectly fine reasons for moving the mind toward belief in an ontology of unbreakable order. We can say that there is evidence that points in that direction of that ontology. But that evidence is not scientific evidence. It is non-scientific reflection in which we interpret our observations of approximate determinism and our scientific successes as signs of a deeper, stricter, non-investigable determinism.

            I want to answer the rest of your questions, but I want to first make sure that we are on the same page up to here. Strict unbreakable determinism: a metaphysical belief and not a scientific concept. Agreed?

          • David Nickol

            This strict unbreakable determinism that you seem to believe in is not a scientific theory, and it is not even a scientific hypothesis, because we know that it is not possible to ever set up the balls in exactly the same way.

            I am not sure I agree here. I think science recognizes there are things that are strictly determined but that are too complex to be calculated. Obviously that is something that cannot be proven by experimentation. But unless quantum forces enter into the workings of a lottery ball machine, how could the results from the machine not be strictly determined? Of course, the belief that two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen will combine every time into water can be called a metaphysical belief, since it is impossible to experimentally prove that on rare occasions they don't form chocolate milk. But it is a fundamental tenet of science that if you perform exactly the same experiment under exactly the same conditions multiple times, the result will be the same each time. The fact that there are far too many variables involved with a lottery ball machine to set it up in exactly the same state multiple times in a row does not mean that, in principle, you can say you would get exactly the same results if you set it up in exactly the same way several times.

            The question in my mind would be, if you set up a lottery ball machine in state A and got results X, and you set it up in state A a second time and got results Y, how could you possibly explain getting two different results? If state A is known in its entirety, how could it produce two different results? And if state A is extremely complicated but yields different results, what if you have an experiment with a state B that is extremely simple? Will you expect, from the example above, two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen to combine on occasion to form something other than water?

            If fully understood simple systems always perform the same way under the same conditions, there seems to me no reason why fully understood complex systems should not always perform the same way under the same conditions.

            I think some of the "theists" here are frustrated and annoyed that "atheists" use quantum mechanics to argue that some things (like the radioactive decay of a specific atom) are truly random. They think there must be some hidden cause that has not been discovered. So for them, how would they explain how a dumb machine like a lottery ball machine would not be entirely deterministic in its operation?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            But unless quantum forces enter into the workings of a lottery ball machine, how could the results from the machine not be strictly determined?

            If we are talking about *exact* replication, then I think we would have to say that quantum forces *are* in play. Differences at the quantum level will play out with chaotic consequences whenever you try to replicate exactly.

            But it is a fundamental tenet of science that if you perform exactly the same experiment under exactly the same conditions multiple times, the result will be the same each time.

            Something like that is a fundamental tenet of science, in the sense that it is an important metaphysical belief that grounds certain types of scientific investigation (*), but as soon as you begin talking about *exactly* the same conditions multiple times, you are in the realm of thought experiment that cannot be operationalized, so you are no longer doing science. It may be a very useful fiction to believe in, but it is not science.

            (*) That "tenet" really doesn't underly many branches of science. A population biologist who is concerned about exact replication is not going to get very far. Many branches of science are concerned with patterns that hold approximately, and are perfectly happy living with a level of inexplicable noise that accompanies attempts at replication.

            Will you expect, from the example above, two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen to combine on occasion to form something other than water?

            I wouldn't expect that, no. But I also wouldn't claim, on scientific grounds, that it can't happen. Again, I DO believe in an unbreakable order that is consistent across time and space, and I believe that that order is knowable to a large degree. But my belief in that unbreakable order is a metaphysical belief, not a scientific conclusion.

            If fully understood simple systems always perform the same way under the same conditions ...

            If we did know of such simple systems, that would be one thing. But we don't know of any simple systems that do perform in exactly the same way every time. We know of simple systems that, as best we are able to measure, perform in approximately the same way most of the time.

            I think some of the "theists" here are frustrated and annoyed that "atheists" use quantum mechanics to argue that some things (like the radioactive decay of a specific atom) are truly random.

            Speaking for myself, I do find the use of the term "truly random" to be frustrating, but not for the reasons that you think. What is frustrating to me is that the unpredictability associated with quantum mechanics is often unthinkingly interpreted as a sort of ontological "arbitrariness". There is no reason to associate that ontology of arbitrariness with the phenomenon of unpredictability. We don't know if anything is truly, ontologically random, and we don't even know what that would mean. All we know, from a scientific perspective, is that some things are inherently unpredictable.

          • I think you have pretty much got it. Except that I do not think that it is not possible to set up the balls the same way, I think we can't know if we have set them up the same way.

            I don't think I ever suggested this position was a scientific finding. You can label it metaphysical if you like. I don't see what the label has to do with it.

            Again the entire point of this exchange is the narrow point that just because we cannot prove determinism does not mean it is not the case.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK, good!

            the entire point of this exchange is the narrow point that just because we cannot prove determinism does not mean it is not the case.

            OK, I apologize for redirecting the conversation in a slightly different direction without warning. But if you don't mind, let's take this point of agreement that we have come to and let it play out a bit more.

            You acknowledge that your reasons for belief in strict unbreakable determinism are not scientific reasons. Good. What I would now propose is this:

            Strict unbreakable determinism is a story that we tell ourselves because it helps us make sense of the world around us. We can initially bracket the question of whether it corresponds to ontological truth, and we can just go ahead with it as a useful fiction because, well, things work better when we choose to remain faithful to that belief. Secondarily, having seen the success of this useful fiction, we can start to ask whether our "fiction" actually corresponds to ontological truth. As you (I think) and I acknowledge, this second movement of the mind cannot be challenged on scientific grounds.

            What I am proposing is that these two movements of the mind: first seeing the utility of a "fiction", and then making the leap to believing that "fiction" corresponds to ontological truth, those two movements of the mind are also valid ways of moving toward theistic faith.

          • I disagree that it should be labelled a fiction, which suggests it is known to be wrong. Just because it is not scientific does not mean it is unsupported. We see observe matter, the brain, the physical brain mechanisms. We observe correlation between decision-making and brain states. When the brain is damaged, decision making is damaged. We are able to replicate decision making in artificial brains with some aspect of intelligence. All of this supports the hypothesis that what "will" is brain activity, that this brain activity is physical and follows physical laws, as does e rest of biology. All of this supports the hypothesis that will is entirely brain activity and is determined by brain states.

            If you are promoting the view that there is some other element affecting our will that is not subject to the physical processes of the brain but guides them or something, could you tell me what you think this is and how you know about it?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK. I was being a bit ironic in calling it "fiction", because that is what some people (not you) use to refer to anything that can't be scientifically demonstrated. It would be better to say it the way I did later in the message: strict unbreakable determinism is a story that we tell ourselves. That makes no judgement as to whether the story is true or not.

            If you are promoting the view that there is some other element affecting our will that is not subject to the physical processes of the brain

            I wouldn't want to promote that view, no. I do believe that our will is subject to the physical processes of the brain. What I would say is that our will and our intelligence transcends our brains. Will and intelligence are enfleshed and revealed through the processes of the brain. To take a somewhat less complex example, think of the message you are reading right now. This message is a materialized revelation of me. It is encoded on your computer as a particular configuration of electrons, but that encoding of the information is not the information itself. Before that it was encoded in the electrophysiology of my brain, but that encoding also was not the information itself. Where does information live? The order of the material world is not itself material.

            I know about "free will" in exactly the same way that you know about "strict unbreakable determinism". "Free will" is part of a story that I tell myself to make sense of the world, and it is a story that I believe corresponds to ontological truth.

          • All you have described is various material being affected by other material. I would not say information "lives". I would say we use the word "information" to refer to concepts of complex patterns and symbols in our brains. Yes there is a nexus between the concepts (our brain states) the physical activity of typing the physical transmission electronically and so on. You can call this transcendent, I call it transmission and transformation. We can with some resolution see how physical forces affect the content of these transmissions are governed by physical laws and forces.

            I think there is clearly an illusion of free will, but that it is an illusion is well described by Sam Harris, particularly in his "think of a city" example. there is no freedom of will to chose the cities that don't occur to us. What occurs to us is determined by unconscious brain activity. Nor can we account for our preference for one city over another. We may have reasons, factor, but if those reasons govern the decision, the why would we say it was a free will to chose it.

          • If there are no factors or reasons guiding our choice, then again, it is unconscious brain activity.

            Anyway, this is a deep rabbit hole. My thinking on this has progressed over the last 20 years. It began with Douglas Hoffstadter's Goedel Escher Bach (more recently related in I Am a Strange Loop.). More accessible is Dan Dennett's talk on compatabalism, Sam Harris', both easily findable by Google video search.

            But for theists I would strongly recomend the Blame episode of Radiolab, the first part gets into the free will issue, but hang on for the last story. It is about a relationship between a man in prison and the father of the woman he raped and murdered. It made me cry and reminded me of how some people's religious beliefs provide at least a framework and incentive for some to be really compassionate.

          • Cont, as always Jim, thanks for a civil and open minded discussion.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Anyway, this is a deep rabbit hole.

            Agreed! I will relent for now :-)

            Thanks for the book recommendations.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            To clarify further, I was not in any way suggesting that the uncertainty principle is unscientific.

            What I claimed to be metaphysical rather than scientific was this assertion:

            With perfect knowledge, yes future brain states would be predictable.

            It is precisely *because* the uncertainty principle is on secure scientific footing that we can reasonably expect that your assertion will remain forever in the realm of metaphysics, not subject to scientific examination.

          • Loreen Lee

            Quote: (from my book PortalsofParadox)

            A philosophy of fatalism is not consistent with
            scientific determinism. Fatalism is the
            belief that your life is ruled by forces that
            you can’t understand, and therefore they are beyond your control, while determinism says that you can
            understanding them, and therefore our freedom depends on having a law governed universe.

          • Max Driffill

            Indeed, when speaking metaphorically, there are. You have your environment and your biology which shape a great deal of your interests, wants and desires. These help structure temperament and personality.

      • Max Driffill

        Nicolas,
        Go read the Dawkins' books, then get back to us. He has not said anything new. Go read his tweets which will help to set aside your projecting onto Dawkins your own wishes and focus on the content of what he is saying.

        I must say, of our public intellectuals, Dawkins is the one people seem the most eager to misunderstand.

        • M. Solange O’Brien

          He's the poster child for "Hey, I'm an atheist, I'm incredibly well-adjusted, and I'm cool." Theists hate that.

    • I agree. I think this is very similar to people pouring over everything Pope Francis says to try and convince themselves he is going to change Catholic sexual morality. The only difference is that Dawkins could change his mind and it would only really mean a lot to Dawkins. It is unlikely but possible.

      Pope Francis cannot change Catholicism into something else. It is not his to change. Still it would matter hugely if per impossible Pope Francis did suddenly decide to change the faith radically. So one is possible but not that significant. The other is impossible but highly significant. Yet both are just cases of people reading a ton more into quotes than is actually there.

      • David Nickol

        Pope Francis cannot change Catholicism into something else.

        He is not going to change dogmas or doctrines, but he can effect shifts in emphasis that may possibly have dramatic effects.

        The Church never changes, so it is claimed, but during my lifetime the attitude of Catholicism to Jews and Judaism has changed quite dramatically. And that is just one example.

      • lucaspa

        Randy: " The only difference is that Dawkins could change his mind and it would only really mean a lot to Dawkins."
        I'm not so sure of that. If you go to the website "worldofdawkins" you find people reacting to him as some people do to televangelists. There is even a section on "testimony" where people tell their stories about how Dawkins brought them to atheism! So, if Dawkins changes his mind, there are many people who are going to lose their spiritual guide.

  • stahrwe

    Richard Dawkins is a master self promoter. His business model of publishing variations on the same book each year or two requires that he remain visible on the public stage. He does that through media manipulation via controversy.

    • Susan

      His business model of publishing variations on the same book each year or two

      What do you mean?

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Dawkins_bibliography

      • Max Driffill

        Nice one Susan.

        • Susan

          Nice one Susan.

          Thank you, Max. I appreciate the upvote.

          What I would prefer is a response from stahrwe in response to the evidence.

          What do you think the odds are?

          • Max Driffill

            I would guess they are about as good as the odds that Richard Dawkins is about to convert to Catholicism.

          • Susan

            :-)

          • Michael Murray

            Come on. You atheists are always going on about evidence. I've shown you the pictures. The website is no longer accepting comments. It's all happening.

          • Susan

            I'm snorting a beverage right now.

            But you'd better get a screen shot.

            You might have done it this time. ;-)

            (It must be grant season. You're delirious :-) )

  • Joe Ser

    He may just follow the evidence where it leads just as Antony Flew did.

    • David Egan

      He already did that. Read The God Delusion.

      • Joe Ser

        I think he is now reading The Godless Delusion

        : A Catholic Challenge to Modern Atheism

        • Susan

          I think he is now reading The Godless Delusion

          I'm not sure how you're showing signs of wanting to engage in any particular discussion.

          Are you suggesting that because a book was written a few years ago in response to RD's title, that there are points in there that address aspects of The God Delusion?

          Have you read The God Delusion?

          I made an effort to read the PDF of The Godless Delusion, but it was more of the same. Written as though there were no responses to its endlessly trotted out arguments.

          References to Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot as though pointing out that I don't believe unevidenced assertions means I'm handing the world over to psychopaths or that I must be one myself.

          What are you trying to say? This is supposed to be a discussion site. Not an allusion orgy.

    • Susan

      He may just follow the evidence where it leads just as Antony Flew did.

      Antony Flew? A virtually unknown philosopher who became famous as a poster child for christians when he succumbed to deism, at best, in what likely, were early stages of dementia?

      • Joe Ser

        Figured that would be the answer. Dementia LOL

        #thepillkills tweetfest

        • Susan

          Third comment in a row from you that shows no indication that you're interested in a discussion.

          So, I'm done.

  • Danny Getchell

    From there it’s a much smaller leap to faith.

    Don't think this could be much more wrong than it is.

    The step from unbelief to acceptance of an undefinable, ineffable "ground of all being" (so diligently described by so many Catholic posters here) is a small step indeed compared to the colossal stride which would be needed to take one to the God of miracles, novenas, and rosaries.

  • Michael Murray

    Interesting to note that all commenting has just been closed at richarddawkins.net. I guess he is about to announce his conversion.

    • Michael Murray

      Yes. The official press photographs are out now.

  • Peter

    Dawkins' entire ethos is based on complex life being a highly unlikely outcome as it slowly grinds its way up the slopes of Mount Improbable.

    Perhaps now, in the light of recent discoveries making abundant extrasolar life far more likely, he has come to realise that life on earth may not be a one-off freak event in a hostile meaningless universe, but that the entire universe could be configured to create life which would indicate that the universe has a purpose.

    • Susan

      he has come to realise that life on earth may not be a one-off freak event

      He never suggested that life on earth is necessarily the only event. Where do you get this?

      but that the entire universe could be configured to create life which would indicate that the universe has a purpose

      Peter, your one note samba was tiresome a very long time ago. Many people made many attempts to explain the problems in your logical leap frogging and you are proceeding as though that never happened. The reset button is a real problem here.

      You are assuming that for which there is no evidence and assuming that finding life elsewhere can only be explained by invoking an agent. There is no logical necessity there, nor evidence.

      We are all excited to find out more about the universe. Life elsewhere, IF we ever find it (thank the scientific method if we do) does not give you agency and purpose.

      Richard Dawkins has addressed this subject on so many levels and I wonder if you've ever read or listened to his careful and thoughtful considerations on these matters.

      I see no evidence that you have.

      • Peter

        Even Dawkins' own blog reports that they are finding water molecules in the atmosphere of distance planets. The evidence of a universe brimming with life is mounting yet there are those whose heads are buried in the sand.

        It is no secret that Dawkins' books were targeted at creationists and proponents of intelligent design, both of whom believe that God intervened supernaturally within nature in varying degrees to bring about complex life.

        While Darwinian natural selection itself is a non-random law, Dawkins showed that complex life was very unlikely because it's evolution by natural selection relied on mutations which were highly random. Life, he argued, could only proceed towards complexity by taking countless imperceptible steps over the aeons.

        If the universe is littered with planets where life has taken hold in a rudimentary form, then non-random Darwinian natural selection ought to apply so that over time, in response to random mutations, life on those planets will also climb the slopes of Mount Improbable towards complexity.

        If we follow Dawkins' reasoning then, potentially, in the aeons to come, the universe could be teeming with complex life in widely differing forms. Much of it may even achieve sentience. So, logically, Dawkins' universe is a universe full of sentient life.

    • Max Driffill

      Peter,
      Have you ever read Dawkins? He thinks, and has always thought, that the evolution of life on planets other than earth was likely. But he is a good scientist and has no evidence of it as yet. Carl Sagan thought similarly, but never said there was life on other planets. Almost all biologists with whom I have worked, would agree. Given the number of opportunities (that is to say the number of planets) the abundance of materials (the chemistry of biology), and the abundance of energy to fuel evolutionary processes (stars, sources of energy from planets meteorological, geothermal), he as always maintained that other biotas are probable. We may find more life in our solar system, or fossil evidence of life. We may not. Myself, I have high hopes for the moons of our gas giants Jupiter and Saturn.

      Also, your terms are kind demonstrate your bias. Life may be on many planets , in many parts of the universe, but that wouldn't alter the basic point about the universe. It is almost wholly hostile to life. Our own planet is not very hospitable to life. Earth ecology sits in a narrow range of conditions. The presence of life on many more planets other than our own would in no way indicate a universe "with purpose."

      • Peter

        What is life? Life is precarious by nature because, as you say, even our own planet, regarded as an oasis of fertility, is inhospitable to life. In fact, 98 percent of its mass in the form of mantle and core is totally hostile. Yet the earth remains an oasis of fertility, therefore claims such as the universe being 99 percent hostile to life are meaningless.

        By Dawkins' reasoning, life will attain complexity and even sentience by imperceptible steps up the slopes of Mount Improbable over the aeons. If life exists in rudimentary forms across the universe, all it will take is time for that life to acquire consciousness, and the universe certainly has time, plenty of it. We are looking at a future universe full of conscious beings.

        The evolution of the universe from its inception is a one-way process from simple matter to complex matter, complex matter to simple life, simple life to complex life, complex life to sentience. This irreversible process leading to widespread cosmic consciousness and self awareness, capable of comprehending its origins and the origins of the universe from which it spawns, suggests nothing other than design.

        • Max Driffill

          How does it suggest design?

          This would be my first question. Because the presence of life, abundant or not does not seem to lead to any such conclusion.

          At present we don't know how abundant life is in the universe. Life may evolve quite easily under many sets of circumstances, or it may require a narrower band of starting conditions. The evolution of life may happen easily enough, but perhaps not so for multicellularity, to say nothing of civilization building intelligence.

          • Peter

            According to Dawkins it is inevitable that life, once established, will achieve multicellularity, albeit painstakingly, because the force of evolution is non-random.

            “Darwinism is not a theory of random chance. It is a theory of random mutation plus non-random cumulative natural selection. . . . Natural selection . . . is a non-random force, pushing towards improvement. . . . Every generation has its Darwinian failures but every individual is descended only from previous generations' successful minorities. . . . [T]here can be no going downhill - species can't get worse as a prelude to getting better. . . . There may be more than one peak.”
            (Climbing Mount Improbable)

            By this reasoning, all planets where life takes hold and survives will acquire complexity in future aeons. We therefore have a universe predestined from its inception, from the formation of its first hydrogen nuclei, to a future of collective consciousness. This denotes design regardless of how deep you want to bury your head in the sand.

          • Max Driffill

            Peter,

            Its hard to know where to begin with this post, given its many assumptions, and eagerness to misunderstand Dawkins (as well as the obvious unfamiliarity with Dawkins ideas about evolution), and evolutionary processes. But here goes.

            According to Dawkins it is inevitable that life, once established, will achieve multicellularity, albeit painstakingly, because the force of evolution is non-random.

            No where in any writing of Dawkins that I have seen, does he say anything like this. Selection may be non-random, but that does not guarantee specific direction in long term trends. Nor does non-random selection guarantee that genetic variation arising from mutation will provide pathways toward multicellularity. Non-random selection doesn't guarantee that environments will always be congenial to the development of long lineages, trends or stability in a given lineage.

            It also might do to understand what non-random means in the context of selective processes. It does not imply there is that guides species toward ever increasing complexity and intelligence. It simply means that not all varieties are favored by local ecologies. These selective pressures can change over time (sometimes rapidly, sometimes slowly) or they can remain constant for long stretches of time. The non-randomness simply means that in a given environment, local conditions do not permit any old mutations to be levered into future generations Non-random does not imply long term direction. It simply refers to local conditions.

            “Darwinism is not a theory of random chance. It is a theory of random mutation plus non-random cumulative natural selection. . . . Natural selection . . . is a non-random force, pushing towards improvement. . . . Every generation has its Darwinian failures but every individual is descended only from previous generations' successful minorities. . . . [T]here can be no going downhill - species can't get worse as a prelude to getting better. . . . There may be more than one peak.”
            (Climbing Mount Improbable)

            It is important to note a few things about your highly selective quote. Improvement need not mean any kind of "progress' which is a word evolutionary biologists shun. Selection simply favors mutations that increase the likelihood of their representation in future generations. All selective processes do, at their root, is make individuals better at leaving descendants in a given environment.

            By this reasoning, all planets where life takes hold and survives will acquire complexity in future aeons, the length of time depending on how frequent the mutations are. If mutations are driven in part by solar radiation, life in dim red dwarf systems would mutate more slowly, possibly taking tens of billions of years to evolve to complexity.

            Nothing in what Dawkins has said implies this rather preposterous conclusion. The evolution of life, and its complexity may be limited by numerous factors, I can see no reason to expect that complexity, in the form of multi-cellular life, or in displays of extreme intelligence. The evolution of life on planet will limited and driven by local conditions. We do have many reasons to doubt this idea. Life on our own planet stayed single celled for most of its history, and many biologists suspect that multi-cellularity is, evolutionarily, a difficult thing to evolve. And once it does evolve though, there is no reason to think civilization building technologies are excessively easy to get to from such humble beginnings. From the Cambrian to today represents hundreds of millions of years. Humans are a geological eye blink in an ocean of time.

            We have a universe predestined from its inception, from the formation of its first hydrogen nuclei, to a future of collective consciousness. This denotes design regardless of how deep you want to bury your head in the sand.

            Again there is absolutely no evidence of this wild speculation. The universe may be hospitable to life, extremely so, or not so much, but there is no evidence that consciousness such as ours is widespread or inevitable, or long lasting once it does evolve (we could be hit by a cousin of the rock that ended the dinosaurs next year, or suffer a bout of vulcanism like that which was responsible for the greatest mass extinction in Earth's long history). The history of life on our own planet indicates that life's long term prospects are always tenuous.

          • Peter

            Dawkins' own site today features a study which suggests that as many as 100 million planets in our galaxy could harbour multicellular life. If there are 500 billion galaxies then you're looking at 10>19 planets in the cosmos that can support multicellular life. And that's not mentioning the billions of trillions more which can currently only support unicellular microbial life, but may in the aeons to come be capable of harbouring multicellular organisms. After all, the overwhelming bulk of the history of our own planet was one of single-celled organisms.

            With the rapidly growing likelihood of complex life at present and in the aeons to come across the cosmos, the evidence is pointing to a universe designed for the widespread creation of life and its gradual evolution towards complexity and sentience.

  • Jim (hillclimber)

    In today's NYT, an interesting analysis of the trajectory of "cultural Christianity" / secular conservatism in Europe:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/05/opinion/the-closing-of-the-rights-mind.html?ref=opinion

  • jakael02

    I enjoyed reading this article. I'm not sure if Mr. Dawkins is going to convert to Christianity but I hope he doesn't resist God working in him in fear that a personal conversion would damage his imagine as a famous atheist.

    • George

      I hear that concept a lot. God "working in peoples' lives" and it makes me wonder. Does God work in some lives and not others? If everyone has free will, why does god need to work in anyone's life at all?

      • jakael02

        My best guess is God meets them where they are, and works in cooperation with people's free will.

  • I don’t think that nostalgia for the culture of his youth would be very influential on Richard Dawkins’ thinking. He is distinctly analytical. He has firmly established that Darwinian evolution is essentially a mathematical protocol of a series of stages of random mutation and natural selection, which mathematics Dawkins believes is applicable to biological evolution. Dawkins has argued that the improbability of an overall stage of Darwinian evolution can be analytically resolved into a series of less improbable stages. “natural selection . . . breaks the problem of improbability
    up into small pieces” (p. 121, “The God Delusion”). In an analysis and synthesis involving three mutation sites of six mutations each, Dawkins claims that the number of different mutations defined by a stage determines the probability of success of Darwinian evolution. See ‘Part 3, Climbing Mt. Improbable’,
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Growing_Up_in_the_Universe#Part_3:_Climbing_Mount_Improbable.
    For a critique, see, http://theyhavenowine.wordpress.com/2014/04/04/dawkins-on-gradualism/.

    Based on a self-critical review, it would be possible for Dawkins, due to his love of analysis, to realize (1) That the probability of Darwinian evolutionary success does not depend upon the number of different mutations defined by a stage, but upon the total number of random mutations occurring within that stage, (2) That the resolution of an overall stage of Darwinian evolution into a series of sub-stages has no effect on the probability of success. Rather, it increases the efficiency of mutation and (3) That the ‘improbability’ of God is not mathematical improbability, as in the context of Darwinian evolution. Rather, such non-mathematical ‘improbability’ is merely the expression of an individual’s subjective certitude of the truth of a statement regarding the existence of God (p. 50-51, “The God Delusion"). Such a re-analysis would falsify many of his prior conclusions regarding the improbability of Darwinian evolution and the improbability of God.

    • Casey Braden

      Can't one be analytically but also nostalgic about certain things? I think you're creating some straw-man version of Dawkins where, if he is an analytical thinker, is then someone unable to enjoy the religious culture of his youth. I mean, I think of myself as pretty analytical, but I still LOVE Christmas.

      • Contrast securing a bicycle with a lock of two dials of three positions each with two one-dial locks of three positions each. Following Dawkins we would claim that the transition from the two-dial lock to the set of one-dial locks, broke up the improbability of 8/9 into two smaller pieces of improbability of 2/3 each. Further, we would claim that replacing the nine different mutations defined by the two-dial lock with the six different mutations defined by the set of one-dial locks, increased the probability of unlocking a bicycle from 1/9 to 1/6, when in fact the probability is 100% for both cases (See references in my prior comment). Upon correct analysis there is no change in probability, but simply a decrease in the number of different non-random mutations. This efficiency in mutation would obtain also for random mutations chosen using random numbers generators to the base 3. If he were spurred to do the re-analysis by his love of analysis, Dawkins might also reconsider his argument that there is no solution to the ‘improbability’ of God in contrast to his bicycle-lock ‘solution’ to the ‘improbability’ of Darwinian evolution in a one-off event.

  • cminca

    Can someone please explain to me the Christian fascination with who is, or isn't, what kind of believer?

  • lucaspa

    "Of his own atheism, Dawkins explained that he had an “Anglican upbringing” but chose atheism in his early teens after learning about Darwin’s theory of evolution."

    Dawkins only says "learning about" evolution, but not reading Darwin's book Origin of Species! Darwin himself was "never an atheist" (Chapter 20 of Desmond and Moore's biography Darwin). Nor is Origin of Species advocating atheism. One only has to read the Fontispiece (which, admittedly, most people seem to ignore) to realize where Darwin thought evolution fit within religion. If Dawkins became an atheist because of that, then his reasoning is as flawed as Anthony Flew's in becoming a theist: both misunderstood the science.

    Ironically, Dawkins did put his finger on what evolution did for atheism in his book The Blind Watchmaker: "Although atheism might have been logically tenable before Charles Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist."
    Actually, atheism was NOT logically tenable before Darwin, because there was no answer to the Argument from Design. Natural selection is an algorithm to get design, and thus provides an unintelligent material process to produce the designs in living organisms. But natural selection does not make it obligatory to be an atheist (as Darwin pointed out), because natural selection simply becomes the secondary cause by which God creates plants and animals. Just like gravity is the secondary cause by which God has the planets orbit the sun.
    So, Darwin's discovery of natural selection made atheism a rational faith for the first time.

    • Susan

      Actually, atheism was NOT logically tenable before Darwin, because there was no answer to the Argument from Design

      Yet, atheism existed long before Darwin. Understanding why people assumed agency because we saw design is not the same as requiring an answer to an argument from design. That is just god(s) of the gaps.
      Before electricity was explained as a natural phenomenon, was azeusism untenable? The

    • Atheism is a negative position, it is an acknowledgement that the evidence and even the description of deity is lacking compared to most other things we accept as accurate.

      Even if intelligent design were established it does not entail a supernatural or divine designer, much less the creation of anything. It explains the diversity of life, not the origin of life or the origin of matter.

      Simulation or alien design, while utterly unsupported, are more credible explanations of design because these hypotheses do not require the suspension or violation of the uniformity of nature.

      Personally, and maybe this is because I was never brought up with religion, evolution has never seemed to be related in any way to theism other than certain religious people seem to feel their beliefs in the supernatural are threatened by it.

  • vito

    Well, there are a lot of people who think that Pope Francis is an atheist. And although I would not go as far yet, I would say that this is not as unlikely as Dawkins becoming a believer or "discovering that the supernatural is a reality" in any way.

  • severalspeciesof

    I have to point this out because this intrigues me:

    Well, here I am today, as a Catholic, because I realized that atheism didn’t work.

    Why do people think that atheism is something 'that works'? I'm an atheist, but it doesn't mean that it 'works' for me...

    Glen

  • ArmonRaE

    Though anti-theists disingenuously claim it is impossible for them to hate “god” because no “god” exists (which is true—in their minds) they continually prove they hate everything about specific “gods”, which they claim are non-existent, by condemning the “religions” that define and teach about those specific “gods”.

    If any anti-theists are actually concerned with trying to improve social justice—and all humans should be, they present themselves only as hate-filled propagandists claiming that “religion” only produces evil and should be eradicated—apparently by angry mobs of anti-theists who have nothing to offer but arrogance, theological ignorance, and no reason to reason.

    pic.twitter.com/BKJG6j9NyH

    http://www.xrayzrrevelations.com/what-s-happening/a-theological-response/

  • This is not news. Dawkins has called himself a "cultural Christian" and even "atheist for Jesus." I don't think it signifies anything more than that he agrees with and respects some Christian values (though not all of course). Don't get your hopes up that he'll be accepting religious Christianity and the supernatural any time soon.

  • Inge Bowman

    I think Richard Dawkins could find out the answer very quickly if he SINCERELY got on his knees and cried out to God. It will take him to that in his own privacy and when he becomes too frustrated. I have no doubt God will reveal himself to him. I just hope it's soon

    • David Nickol

      Is it your belief that anyone who gets on his knees and cries out to God will be answered by the Christian God? Are Jews and Muslims not sincere?

  • Mr M

    You are stupid if you think Richard Dawkins is close to christianity.