PHILOSOPHY - ATHEISM
The ex-scientist and
self-styled Atheist Richard Dawkins descended on Australia yesterday in
the first of two sessions of ABC-TV’s Compass.
Next weekend, he is scheduled to manifest himself at the Sydney
Writers’ Festival via a satellite link
How long is it since
Dawkins published an article on biology or genetics in a referred
journal? His website seems neither to know nor care. The visitor is led
through a maze of promotional materials, epistles to the mass media and
passing around the collection plate for his Foundation, like any tele-evangelist.
So, if Dawkins’s
marketing tag of “scientist” is a tad wistful, surely the logo of
“Arch-Atheist” is beyond dispute?
The answer depends on
how one defines atheism. Refusing to accept that the universe is in the
hands of an old man with a beard sitting on a cloud has never been
enough. In 1811, Oxford expelled Shelley for publishing “The
Necessity of Atheism”. The poet never gave up his belief in lesser
God-deniers today are
les likely to be captivated by spirits. Instead, they are afflicted with
god-structured patterns of thought. In the place of god, they put an
explanation which performs one of its functions. Those characteristics
range from omnipotence to omniscience, while embodying the good, the
true and the beautiful.
Dawkins is a case in
point. The late Stephen Jay Gould accused him of falling for a
god-structured distortion of Darwinism. His metaphor of a universe
created by a blind watchmaker, with his miracles of perfect adaptation,
takes the place of the intelligent designer.
In refutation, Gould
stressed that not every trait is adapted to its bearer’s current
environment. He mocked Dawkins’s version as Kipling’s “Just So
Stories”. Gould argued for an evolution that proceeds through rough
fits such as the Panda’s thumb, and has room for the atavism of
also shows up in fiction, physics and mathematics. Historians are
flagrant offenders. The more powerful and evil a figure, the more
historians attribute to them the god-like trick of knowing the future.
Hitler’s Mein Kampf is
portrayed as a blueprint for the conquest of Europe and the Holocaust.
That piece of god-structured history remains convincing until you plod
through the 1925-27 master plan and set its ramblings and ravings
against what Der Fuhrer did,
retains its relevance. In addition, we need an a-theism which rebuts the
theism that thrives in people who boast of their Atheism. Atheists need
23 May 2007