One of America’s most famous atheists, the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, was on The Daily Show this week. The extended interview can be seen in 3 parts (click on them separately at the right). Dawkins gets his share of press coverage because of his very negative, very public views on religion. He’s not just a non-believer, he’s an evangelist. The two cornerstones of his perspective are that we shouldn’t believe in anything we don’t have evidence for, and that religion, particularly fundamentalism, has done a lot of harm. Let’s explore these.
Dawkins’ first point, that we shouldn’t believe in anything for which we don’t have evidence, is compellingly logical. Because science has done much to explain phenomenon that our primitive ancestors had little choice but to attribute to fickle gods, many have come to believe that it is only a matter of time before science explains the rest. Yet even the most widely accepted scientific theories have gaps. For example, the fossil record, which serves as evidence for evolution, is far from complete, and some specimens consist of only a few bones. As Dawkins admitted the other night, even the scientific method sometimes fails us. Like Dr. Dawkins, I believe in evolution, although that belief requires a leap of faith not unlike a belief in God. Similar leaps of faith are required to believe in plate tectonics, quantum physics, and other scientific theories, in spite of their considerable evidence. Many believe that evidence for God exists as well; yes, unverifiably in human acts and hearts, but also in the stunning complexity and fine-tuning of the universe. Many of Dawkins’ esteemed peers, across a wide spectrum of disciplines, publicly believe that they see the hand of a divine Creator in their respective fields.
Dawkins’ other point, that religion has done much harm, is irrefutable. However, despite numerous attempts by Stewart, Dawkins refused to acknowledge that religion has done any good. Ironically, Dawkins seems as dogmatic about religion as the fundamentalists he takes issue with. Dawkins equates religion with fundamentalism, not seeming to allow for a middle ground, although not all people of faith are fundamentalists. Many people, including myself, consider themselves seekers–open to possibilities on both the theological and scientific fronts. Many of us find no incompatibility with science and religion…God could easily have used evolution to create humans. I had always thought of scientists as open-minded, willing to explore all possibilities until we know for sure. Because with faith as with much of science, we can never know for sure. All of us must choose where we are willing to make our own leaps of faith.
“Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.” –Voltaire