A noble mind constrained: a theological blog 03 ix 19
The Tragedy of Dawkins: A theological blog 3 ix 19
We live in an age of moral pygmies. Bishops mumble. Bankers have given greed new meanings. Far from rhetoric to stir us, in Parliament we get playground exchanges that would make infants blush. But we have one great man of high moral concern. Richard Dawkins is great not because he is a fine scientist or an inspiring teacher or a wonderful writer, although he is all of these, but because he thirsts for truth. It is a tragedy for us all, therefore, that his aperture of understanding is so narrowly Darwinian that, however true in its own sphere Darwinism might be, he has become almost incapable of recognizing that there might be other ways of seeking truth. He is always accusing religious believers of laziness, but intellectually lazy is exactly what he is. His only interest in the Bible is tracking down examples of God behaving badly. You would have thought that Dawkins, of all people, would have appreciated that the Bible is about the evolution of moral consciousness, but not he. What about the universal vision of Isaiah, the grandeur of Job, or the erotic passion of the Song of Songs? No mention. He thinks the redemption means God allowing his own son to be tortured to death to appease this divine monster’s anger. This is absolutely not what intelligent believers think. The redemption was, to use the technical theological term, a transitus, Christ taking the whole of material being, every last atom and electron, with him into the higher unity of God. Can we take it that Dawkins is not a regular subscriber to Revue Biblique or Vetus Testamentum?
The God he not surprisingly rejects is Father Christmas in the sky, but this is not how any of the great religions understand God. ‘God does not exist, he is existence’ says Aquinas. ‘God will be everything’ says St Paul, adding even more mysteriously ‘to everybody’. Ultimate reality is advaita, nonduality, discovered the Hindu rishis. Dawkins’ idea of God is naïve beyond belief – or a little intelligent enquiry. He thinks that religious believers believe that prayer is asking a little man in your head to stop it raining on the day of the Church garden party. Has he ever read St John of the Cross or Eckhart or the Upanishads? He has completely misunderstood Aquinas. Aquinas’s five ways were not trying to prove the existence of God at all – as Dawkins redundantly points out, they don’t – but showing that acceptance of the atheist Aristotle’s First Mover was not incompatible with Christian belief (how, incidentally, Aquinas would have loved Darwin).
He so takes it for granted that organisms are no more than biological mechanisms he comes to the conclusion, not surprisingly, that they are no more than biological mechanisms. Philosophies suggesting that this is not the case are not so much refuted as ignored. He attributes powers of agency to genes that they could not possible have. How can tiny scraps of matter behave so apparently purposefully? No problem, says Dawkins. We simply define purposeful to mean purposeless, and write intention as ‘intention’. Next question please. Aquinas’s much better answer is not even considered. The unintelligent arrow seeks its target intelligently, says Aquinas, because it has been moved to do so by an intelligence. Since science’s remit is not to find a cosmic intelligence, but to discover cosmic intelligibility, Dawkins’ ‘science hasn’t found God’ argument misses its own target completely.
He thinks, on the one hand, that we are simply survival machines for our genes, but on the other that only we can escape the tyranny of the selfish genes. But if we were solely designed by our genes, how does it happen that we have been able to escape them? Answer to this question in his works find I none. (Daniel Dennett’s wonderfully interesting book Freedom Evolves doesn’t answer the question either, in my view.)
If Dawkins’ idea of genes is intellectually perverse, his invention of memes is ludicrous. Saturated, perhaps unconsciously, in the philosophy of Hume, he takes it for granted that there is no subjective self that cannot be reduced to biological explanation. For Dawkins the mind is a kind of neutral space in which ideas compete for dominance. The meme for religious belief (needless to say a thoroughly lowdown cad) teams up with the fear of hell meme to cow the wretched believer into submission. What a lucky thing that the Darwin meme teamed up with Nice Liberal to colonize Dawkins’ own mind. Ultramontanist? Tory Bigot? Morris Dancer? Imagine. He is always saying we have to look for evidence. Has anybody ever seen memes doing what he says they do? The meme fantasy is comically ludicrous. Fairies do spring to mind.
Aquinas’s argument from design is not ‘ How can we explain the complexity of things? God must have designed them’. He would have agreed totally with Dawkins’ much better argument that complexity is a result of natural selection. His proposition is ‘Can’t you see the glory of God shining through the complexity of natural things?’. When you read the wonderful chapters on the eye and spiders and the fig wasp in Climbing Mount Improbable, you realize how much Aquinas would have loved Dawkins in spite of all his theological blindnesses, just as I do. Was there ever such a noble lover of nature? It is such a pity he knows so little about religion.
No more theological blogs till November (a panto to direct).