Sep 25, 2013

Richard Dawkin's bishop friends

Richard Dawkins may be a professional atheist, but he counts some bishops as friends. At least, that's what he said to comedian Jon Stewart on Tuesday.

In response to a liberal Presbyterian in the audience, Dawkins claimed -- pretty preposterously -- that he "often" makes the point that not all Christians are opposed to science or the scientific method. Then he said:
I often join forces with bishops and other friends to combat the anti-scientific tendency of fundamentalist religion. It's one of the great fallacies among fundamentalists that they think all religions are like them. 
Really?

The bulk of the record would seem to show that Dawkins himself thinks all religious are fundamentalist, in that the basis of faith is, of necessity, blinkered and belligerent certainty. The sum of faith, he's said more than once, is dangerous nonsense. The record's pretty clear on this point. But Dawkins also repeated the thesis of New Atheism, in case it wasn't.

He told Stewart in the interview that
I don't think faith is positive, because 'faith' means 'belief without evidence' and you shouldn't believe anything without evidence. And it's all too common. And people who are brought up to say 'I believe it because I believe it, it's just my faith, you're not allowed to challenge it,' then a minority of those people are going to be seduced into doing terrible things, because you can't argue with them. You can't argue with faith. 
How is that, though, different than the claim Dawkins ascribed to fundamentalists, a moment earlier? He's saying at once that all faith is defiance of evidence, rejection of the need for evidence, and that it's fundamentalists who think all religion is the same, of course some Christians are for science. Some of his friends are bishops, even.

It's really not clear what he's trying to say.

Is he talking out of both sides of his mouth or is there some more subtle point being made?

It is true, for what it's worth, that Dawkins has on occasion worked with bishops. "Often" would seem to be an overstatement, but he has joined with bishops to support science education.

At the same time, when Stewart describes Dawkins as "an avatar for the dividing line of the incompatibility of religious belief and scientific belief," Dawkins accepts the characterization. "Yeah," he says, "I'll take that."