RICHARD DAWKINS: MAN’S BEST FRIEND?
In “Darwin’s Rottweiler” [September] Stephen S. Hall catches much of the essence of Sir Richard Dawkins and his superb book The Ancestor’s Tale. However, I take exception to the term “Darwin’s rottweiler.” Dawkins is not “too fierce.” I have spent much of my life teaching my students to articulate their deepest angers, hurts, and fears in the most effective words—what Dawkins does in every debate, article, and book. He speaks passionately about what he believes to be true. Would you have him stand down because someone might get his feelings hurt? Those of us who reside in red states are besieged by unscientific ideas like creationism and intelligent design. Are you suggesting we let the science classrooms of our public schools be filled with such myths? Dawkins is not overreacting. Sure, he barks if you pose a threat to the minds of our children, but far from being vicious, he is generally a genial companion (read his books!), wise, and steady like a Labrador retriever.
I think the creationists are mistaken, but the tendency to replace engagement with dismissal, condescension, and insult seems to have immeasurably hurt the case in the United States against creationism. When people find their beliefs attributed to some sort of mental deficiency, they disengage. Ridicule should not be the primary weapon of scientific debate, and I’m not surprised that when religious people are pushed in this way, they push back. Dawkins seems to represent what the public increasingly perceives as a politicized, agenda-driven, intolerant variety of science that has replaced Marxism as a secular religion. If the defenders of science commit to Dawkins’s style of confrontation, they will win debating points but lose the war.
Science could do with a few more rottweilers like Dawkins. I am sick of scientists tiptoeing around the topic of religion. Scientists need to make it clear that if you believe in God you are most likely an idiot or at best uneducated. Do they think that polite silence will stop religious fundamentalists from burning copies of Harry Potter books or pushing science out of our schools? To treat beliefs as if they mean anything merely elevates them to equal status with science. It was cute when my 5-year-old believed in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy; it is pathetic when an adult thinks demons, angels, Satan, and God are real.
Stephen W. Gordon
West Valley City, Utah
Despite Dawkins’s disdain for religious literalists, he makes the same mistake they do: Both apply their belief systems to questions those systems cannot answer. Science can tell us the “how” and the “when” of creation; religion can tell us the “who” and the “for what purpose.” Religion and science are not mutually exclusive. For me, evolution is an awe-inspiring witness to the wisdom and creativity of God. I am an ally of Dawkins’s campaign to keep creationism out of science classrooms. But if religion must respect science, then science should likewise respect religion.
Dawkins of all people should realize that there is something more important to living things than truth, and that is survival. Evolution favors fecundity. A rational but godless and heavenless universe may also be a hopeless one, where people are more interested in indulging themselves than in being fruitful and multiplying. Dawkins should appreciate that, for better or worse, religion helps some people to maintain the (irrational?) hope necessary to continue the struggle to survive and pass their genes on to the next generation.
Newport Beach, California
If you are going to report on Dawkins and his rottweiler reputation, why not give him a bone to chew on, like his inability to explain irreducible complexity in living organisms or his spin on sociobiology? When reading his views on these issues, I see the rottweiler evolve into a Chihuahua. You allowed Dawkins to spout his beliefs, yet you never asked what was behind them. I read why Dawkins was against God, and yet I never read about what great faith he must have in nature, considering the impossible odds of pure evolution.
Paul E. Lyle
I was one of the scientists who were inspired by Dawkins’s writings; reading The Selfish Gene led me to study zoology at Oxford, where I was fortunate to have him as a lecturer. Like many scientists who combine a firm acceptance of the reality of evolution through natural selection with a personal faith in God, I have been alternately amused and saddened by Dawkins’s subsequent antics. He has become a perfect mirror of the religious extremists he decries; like many extremists, he devotes his most bitter invective for the moderates in his camp. Dawkins seems to regard scientists who possess religious faith as guilty of some form of intellectual treachery. He and the religious fundamentalists have ended up saying the same thing—namely, that religious belief and science belong in the same intellectual arena and that it is legitimate for one to comment on the validity of the other. Thinking that there is a real debate to be had between the two fields ultimately opens the door to equal time for creation science and intelligent design and is something that every scientist—religious, atheist, or agnostic—ought to reject.