In the Christmas issue of The Spectator (a right-leaning British political magazine), Darwinian biologist and arch-atheist Richard Dawkins has been given some space to air his views, and he has produced an article entitled ‘The insidious attacks on scientific truth’¹. He claims to be very passionate about truth, as revealed in an interview in 2009. When asked, “Why does it matter whether or not people believe in God?”, he replied “I really, really think it matters what’s true”². My purpose here is to investigate whether or not he is really interested in truth, to argue that what he considers to be scientific truth is not as true as he thinks it is, and to demonstrate that on occasions he can be somewhat economical with the truth, one might say lying, himself.
He obviously believes that there is such a thing as scientific truth: “The history of science’s increasing knowledge, especially during the past four centuries, is a spectacular cascade of truths following one on the other… Science can properly claim to be the gold standard of truth”¹. So firstly, let’s have a look at some things he perceives to be scientific truth: evolution, consciousness as an epiphenomenon of the brain, and quantum physics.
1) Evolution. Dawkins’ strongest conviction, perhaps apart from his certainty that God does not exist, is the truth of Darwinian evolutionary theory. When his book The Greatest Show on Earth was published, a newspaper interview had the headline ‘Evolution is Fact. End of Story’, and the subtitle was ‘If the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope have no problem with evolution, why are our children being brainwashed and our science teachers under attack?’³. It is important to note that, when Dawkins uses the world ‘evolution’, he does not mean it in the simple and obvious sense of ‘change over time’, something that everyone should agree with. He means that life has evolved exclusively through a blind process of natural selection, acting upon random genetic mutations, without any direction or teleology involved. He may believe this to be a scientific truth, but it has never been proved, and is highly debatable. (Like many others, I believe that it is untrue. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope are not necessarily the best judges — they are not trained scientists — and may have been bullied into submission by Dawkins and others like him.) As I just noted, if there is anything that Dawkins is more passionate about than the scientific truth of Darwinism, then it is atheism. As he says, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist”. In the 2009 interview, when asked “what’s the best case that you’ve heard for the existence of God?”, he replied “as far as biology is concerned, the argument is dead — Darwin has solved that one”. It is not hard to see, therefore, that he is so attracted to Darwinism, and blind to its flaws, because of its atheistic implications; these are more important to him than scientific truth.
2) Consciousness. Dawkins accepts that it “is something unexplained and not yet understood”, and is indeed “mysterious”, yet says that he is “committed to the view that it’s a manifestation of brain activity and therefore, since brains are produced by evolution, subjective consciousness must in some sense have evolved”². The phrase ‘committed to the view’ is strange, suggesting that he knows that it is not scientific truth, merely a logical deduction from his belief in the truth of Darwinism. It has certainly never been proved scientifically, quite the opposite. The failure of science to explain how the brain generates consciousness has been called the Hard Problem, not merely hard but currently insoluble, so much so that some philosophers and scientists are turning in desperation towards versions of panpsychism. Dawkins is “committed” to this view, not because it is scientific truth, but because it is consistent with his atheism; it is merely what he wants to be scientific truth.
3) Quantum physics. Even though, like most of us, he doesn’t understand the complexities of the theory, he regards this as scientific truth: “Quantum theory is validated by predictions fulfilled to so many decimal places that it’s been compared to predicting the width of North America to within one hairsbreadth”¹. Quantum physics has indeed been described as the most successful physical theory of all time, so no problem there. However, Dawkins conveniently omits to mention that many quantum physicists have stated in no uncertain terms that his belief about consciousness is wrong. Some examples would be Sir Arthur Eddington, Werner Heisenberg, Max Planck, Erwin Schrödinger, Wolfgang Pauli, Eugene Wigner, David Bohm, Danah Zohar, and Fred Alan Wolf. Also worthy of mention is systems scientist Ervin Laszlo, co-author of The Immortal Mind: Science and the Continuity of Consciousness⁴. Because of their understanding of quantum physics, they each in their own way state that consciousness is not an epiphenomenon of the brain, as Dawkins believes, some of them going so far as to say that it is more primary than matter. The sheer weight of numbers of these influential scientific figures indicates that the viewpoint to which Dawkins is committed is far from being scientific truth. It’s also worth pointing out that the idea that consciousness is more primary than matter is what religions and spiritual traditions have been saying for thousands of years. The scientists just mentioned frequently make statements which echo these traditions. What does that say about Dawkins’ rejection of religion?
Another quantum line of thinking is that consciousness creates reality. Thus Niels Bohr said: “When we measure something, we are forcing an undetermined, undefined world to assume an experimental value. We are not ‘measuring’ the world, we are creating it”⁵. Another physicist who shares that viewpoint is Amit Goswami, as explained in his book The Self-Aware Universe: how consciousness creates the material world⁶. It is hard to see how a consciousness which evolved through a process of natural selection could be capable of such an achievement.
I would argue, therefore, as Dawkins does, that quantum physics is ‘true’. Unfortunately for him, it exposes the flaws in his arguments about what is scientific truth, although he either doesn’t know, or chooses to ignore this. (It’s worth mentioning that Amit Goswami also wrote Creative Evolution: a Physicist’s Resolution between Darwinism and Intelligent Design⁷.)
Now let’s have a look at something Dawkins definitely believes is not scientific truth, parapsychology, i.e. ESP in its various manifestations. I have had some limited personal experience of this, so know that Dawkins is wrong. Of course, anecdotal evidence wouldn’t convince him.
The biologist Rupert Sheldrake tells the following story⁸. In 2007, Channel 4 television offered Dawkins the opportunity to make a series entitled Enemies of Reason. Sheldrake was invited to participate because of his belief in ESP, and his research on it. Knowing what Dawkins was like, he was reluctant, but was assured that it would be a balanced discussion, so eventually agreed.
In front of the camera Dawkins said that he would like to believe in telepathy, but there just wasn’t any evidence for it. He dismissed all research on the subject out of hand. He said that if it really occurred, it would “turn the laws of physics upside down,” and added “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Sheldrake pointed out that many people say they have experienced telepathy, so that it could be considered ordinary: “The claim that most people are deluded about their own experience is extraordinary. Where is the extraordinary evidence for that?” Dawkins produced no evidence at all, apart from generic arguments about the fallibility of human judgment; he assumed that people want to believe in the paranormal because of wishful thinking.
Sheldrake informed Dawkins of the controlled experiments he had been conducting, with results far above the chance level. He had also sent him copies of some of his peer-reviewed papers, so that he could look at the data in advance of filming. Dawkins reply was “I don’t want to discuss evidence… There isn’t time. It’s too complicated. And that’s not what this programme is about”.
The camera was then stopped, and the director confirmed that he too was not interested in evidence. Sheldrake concluded therefore that the programme he was making was another Dawkins polemic. He quotes him as saying that it was intended to be “a high grade debunking exercise.”
Sheldrake then challenged them, saying that he had been told that this was to be a balanced scientific discussion about evidence. The director asked to see the emails from his assistant, which he read “with obvious dismay”, saying that the assurances she had given him were wrong. He was therefore confirming that the programme had no interest in investigating scientific truth, but was intended to be merely a vehicle for Dawkins’ prejudices. (What this says about the ethics of the TV channel is an interesting question.)
Now let’s consider how keen Dawkins is on telling the truth himself. In the Spectator article, he criticises Donald Trump for consistently lying, saying: “World-weary cynics sigh that all politicians lie: it goes with the territory. But normal politicians lie as a last resort and try to cover it up. Donald Trump is in a class of his own. For him, lying is not a last resort. It never occurs to him to do anything else”. I’m not going to suggest that Dawkins is as bad as Trump, but there is at least a hint of the pot calling the kettle black. Will he in fact do or say anything to promote his atheistic agenda? Here are some examples:
1) In a radio interview Dawkins said we “shouldn’t try to indoctrinate children with atheism, in the same way that we shouldn’t indoctrinate them with religion”⁹. In the previous year, however, he had helped to finance the setting up of summer camps for children which had, one might argue, precisely that purpose. Of course he wouldn’t put it in those terms himself — items on the agenda were: the teaching of evolution, lessons in critical thinking, and the debunking of telepathy. As discussed above, however, for Dawkins the teaching of ‘Darwinian evolution’ will be synonymous with atheism. We were told that, around the campfire, the children would be singing John Lennon’s Imagine, which includes the lyrics “Imagine there’s no heaven, and no religion too”.
The Sunday Times newspaper (June 28th 2009), however, saw through the smokescreen, and ran a headline ‘Dawkins sets up kids’ camp to groom atheists’. The accompanying editorial said: “Richard Dawkins, champion of atheism and scourge of all things religious, has come up with a novel idea to wean our children away from God: summer camps for would-be little non-believers”.
2) In the same interview Dawkins claimed that “no reputable scientist believes in Intelligent Design”. This is certainly untrue, therefore a lie, unless his definition of ‘reputable’ is merely someone who agrees with him about Darwinism, in which case this statement would become a meaningless tautology.
Ironically, one of his supposed heroes was a firm believer in Intelligent Design, although he conveniently omits to mention this. I’m thinking of Alfred Russel Wallace, who came up with the theory of evolution by natural selection about the same time as Darwin. This one fact persuaded Dawkins to say, in his preface to The Blind Watchmaker, that the mystery of our existence has now been solved: “Darwin and Wallace solved it, though we shall continue to add footnotes to their solution for a while yet”¹⁰. Dawkins may be unaware of this, and therefore not lying, merely too ignorant to be credible, but Wallace, in his later book Darwinism, included a section entitled ‘Independent Proof that the Mathematical, Musical, and Artistic Faculties have not been Developed under the Law of Natural Selection’. More significant is the title of his 1914 book The World of Life: a Manifestation of Creative Power, Directive Mind and Ultimate Purpose. (If that’s not someone who believes in Intelligent Design, I don’t know who would be.) There he states his view that the purpose (which, for Dawkins, is tantamount to a swear-word) of evolution is “the development of Man, the one crowning product of the whole cosmic process”¹¹. (I’ve described how the true Wallace is ignored by the modern media and science in a little more detail here.)
Dawkins must surely believe, therefore, that Wallace is not reputable. Given the latter’s views, he should think that he was hopelessly deluded. Yet he says that Wallace solved the mystery of our existence. This is completely misleading and, if not a deliberate lie, then it can only be a case of extreme ignorance.
In more recent times Michael Behe has become controversial in scientific circles for his firm belief in Intelligent Design, following the publication in 1996 of his book Darwin’s Black Box. He is a Professor of Biochemistry, so I would say that makes him reputable. Dawkins is definitely aware of him, and in another interview¹² dismisses him as a ‘Creationist’, which he isn’t by any reasonable definition of that word. (I could therefore call that a lie, although I think the truth is that Dawkins is too blinkered, and therefore incapable of the subtlety of thought required to distinguish between Creationism, Intelligent Design, and belief in a literal Intelligent Designer.)
3) In evolutionary literature, there is a lot of debate about the eye, on the grounds that it, and vision in general, seem too complex to have evolved through a process of unguided natural selection. In Dawkins’ own words, “the problem is that in the case of the eye, lots of things have to go on in lots of different parts, in parallel”¹³. This was precisely the reason that Michael Behe rejected natural selection as an explanation, and coined the term irreducibly complex for the eye and some other biological phenomena. Dawkins claimed that there had been a study by two scientists, Dan Nilsson and Suzanne Pelger — a computer simulation about how the eye might have evolved and the length of time required — concluding that these were not really problems after all. However, David Berlinski, frequent critic of Darwinism and Richard Dawkins, tracked down the scientists, and discovered that this computer simulation didn’t exist¹⁴. Tom Bethell comments: “The whole story was fabricated out of thin air by Richard Dawkins. The senior author of the study on which Dawkins based his claim — Dan E. Nilsson — has explicitly rejected the idea that his laboratory has ever produced a computer simulation of the eye’s development”¹⁵.
If true, it is hard to see how Dawkins thought that he could get away with this, and he may have some excuse or explanation for the claimed deception, but these are the facts according to his critics.
4) I’ve heard Dawkins state categorically in a radio interview that “Einstein was an atheist”. The presenter was either not knowledgeable enough, or too afraid to challenge him. In another interview, he said something very similar: “Very often, however, when you look at the details of what an alleged religious scientist actually thinks, it turns out to be something like what Einstein thought, which is that there is no God, but that he used the name God as a convenient label, a convenient metaphor for the deep mysteries underlying the universe, for which he had a very proper reverence, as do I. However, he wasn’t a believer in any sort of supernatural God… Most of the so-called religious scientists, if you actually probe what they believe, it turns out to be Einsteinian religion rather than supernatural religion”¹⁶. (Another ludicrous and inaccurate statement by Dawkins on the subject of scientists who say they believe in God, but he thinks don’t really, is: “When you scratch beneath the surface, you find that what they believe in is something like happiness”⁹.)
On the Einsteinian point, Dawkins’ comment was somewhat strange, given that an obviously knowledgeable listener had called in and actually mentioned John Polkinghorne, Allan Sandage, Charles Townes, and Arthur Schlawlow.
- Polkinghorne is a Cambridge Professor of Physics, and ordained Anglican priest.
- Sandage, considered to be the world’s greatest cosmologist until his death, and a winner of the Crafoord Prize for astronomy (the equivalent to the Nobel Prize), converted to Christianity in 1983. He was also a firm believer in Intelligent Design — another extremely reputable scientist, contrary to Dawkins’ claim above.
- Charles Townes was a Berkeley Professor of Physics, and Nobel Laureate. In 2005 he won the Templeton prize, which is given to someone who “has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works”. He said that it is “arguable that the growth of modern science owes much to the Jewish and Christian religions”.
- Arthur Schlawlow was a Stanford Professor of Physics, and Nobel Laureate. He has been quoted: “It seems to me that when confronted with the marvels of life one must ask why and not just how. The only possible answers are religious… I find a need for God in the universe and in my own life”.
It is obvious, therefore, that the views of these four are nowhere near close to Einstein’s, contrary to what Dawkins said. (For significant others with quotes see https://blog.magiscenter.com/blog/23-famous-scientists-who-are-not-atheists, which is also the source for some of that material.) So what are we to conclude about Dawkins? Does he really believe what he is saying? In that case we can conclude that he is so misguided that his views are worthless. Or is he simply lying, trusting that he is only talking in these radio interviews to not sufficiently informed listeners?
Turning now to Einstein himself, let’s have a brief look at what his views on religion and God actually were. They are complicated, so one can easily see why confusion might arise. He is well known for his saying that “science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind”¹⁷. This should have caused Dawkins to pause for a second before making his comment that Einstein was an atheist. For the record, he specifically said that he was not an atheist, preferring to call himself an agnostic, or “religious non-believer”.
It is possible to find quotes from Einstein which lend support to Dawkins’ interpretation, for example: “My views are near those of Spinoza: admiration for the beauty of and belief in the logical simplicity of the order which we can grasp humbly and only imperfectly”. This does not give the full picture, however, for here is a related statement, which suggests a different understanding: “I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind”¹⁸.
So, if Dawkins wants to try to persuade us that, despite this, Einstein was nevertheless an atheist, then we can point out that Spinoza offered four proofs of the existence of God. (How convincing they were is not the issue here.) Spinoza’s understanding of divinity may have been unconventional and controversial — he was excommunicated from the Jewish faith because of his “abominable heresies” — but that does not mean that he was an atheist. (His views have frequently been described as pantheistic, or something close to that.)
To close on Einstein, here’s one more relevant quote. At a charity dinner in 1940 he remarked that there are still people who say there is no God, “but what really makes me angry is that they quote me for support of such views… There are fanatical atheists whose intolerance is of the same kind as the intolerance of the religious fanatics”¹⁹. Given the date, he couldn’t possibly have been thinking of Richard Dawkins, but his comment nevertheless remains in our times highly appropriate.
5) More lies. In 2011 Dawkins was invited to participate in a debate with the Christian philosopher William Lane Craig. He turned down the invitation, explaining his reasons in an article in the Guardian newspaper²⁰. He wrote that Craig was a “deplorable apologist for genocide”, in that he has defended God for commanding the massacre of the Canaanites, as recounted in the book of Deuteronomy. (For the record, I am not disputing Dawkins’ estimation of Craig on this point.) “Would you share a platform with him? I wouldn’t, and I won’t”. “I would rather leave an empty chair than share a platform with him”. This, as it turned out, was a lie, for a reader pointed out that Dawkins had shared a platform with Craig at a debate the previous November. Dawkins then responded that at that time he didn’t know that Craig was a defender of genocide and infanticide. This was another lie, for in April 2008 Dawkins had written an article attacking Craig’s “dumbfoundingly, staggeringly awful” account of the massacre. All this led the magazine Private Eye to comment: “Fans of Professor Richard Dawkins fear he may be losing his grip on reality”²¹.
Whatever else I may think about Dawkins, I don’t consider him stupid, so we have to account for these strange lapses of memory. There was a strong suspicion at the time that the real reason that Dawkins didn’t want to debate was because he thought he might lose, and be made to look stupid in the process. Even though, in the Guardian article, Dawkins tried to claim that Craig was an insignificant figure not worthy of his time and energy, Craig has been described by others as “the foremost apologist of Christian theism”, and a formidable debater, who is “unafraid to range across ontological theology and moral philosophy and talks with ease about new developments in cosmology, mathematics and physics”²².
Craig has debated with the other three members of Dawkins’ new-atheist group — the so-called Four Horsemen — Sam Harris, the late Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett. Let’s have a look at how well they got on.
Dawkins has said: “As for religion … nobody wields a sharper bayonet than Sam Harris”. Yet when Harris debated with Craig, in his opening statement, he declared that Craig is “the one Christian apologist who seems to have put the fear of God into many of my fellow atheists”. After that debate, the atheist website Debunking Christianity reported: “Bill (Craig) has once again showed himself as the best debater of this generation”.
Christopher Hitchens said: “I can tell you that my brothers and sisters in the unbelieving community take him very seriously. He’s thought of as a very tough guy: very rigorous, very scholarly, very formidable”. After a debate between the two, the website Common Sense Atheism commented: “Craig was flawless and unstoppable. Hitchens was rambling and incoherent, with the occasional rhetorical jab. Frankly, Craig spanked Hitchens like a foolish child”.
Daniel Dennett, apparently, fared a little better and managed to score some points.
Also worth noting is that, not long after Craig’s exchange with Anthony Flew, a leading atheist philosopher, the latter converted, if not to Christianity, at least to deism.
So that gives us some idea of how difficult Craig can be. Is it little wonder that Dawkins wouldn’t want to debate with him, given that his own level of argument is so low? He can get away with his lies and misleading statements unchallenged in radio interviews, but it seems he is not so keen to take on highly competent and intellectually rigorous debaters. As Paul Vallely remarked in The Independent newspaper: “Dawkins in the past has been notable for seeking out extreme oddball fundamentalists. He and his followers routinely erect a straw man — defining religion in ways unrecognisable to many mainstream believers — and then knock their caricature to the ground. But Craig is an opponent of a different calibre who focuses ruthlessly on failures of internal logic in his rivals’ arguments”. The debating techniques of Dawkins and those like him “ tend to be catalogues of religion’s historical atrocities, coupled with psychological sideswipes about the Tooth Fairy and Father Christmas”²².
Dawkins said in the Guardian article: “For some years now, Craig has been increasingly importunate in his efforts to cajole, harass or defame me into a debate with him. I have consistently refused”. (This, as revealed above, was a lie, since he had debated with him.) In the light of Craig’s reputation, we can perhaps begin to understand why. Daniel Came, an atheist Oxford Professor of Philosophy, in a subsequent Guardian article, criticised in strong terms both Dawkins and philosopher A. C. Grayling, who had also refused an invitation to debate with Craig, thus: “It is quite obvious that Dawkins is opportunistically using these remarks as a smokescreen to hide the real reasons for his refusal to debate with Craig ”. “Given that there isn’t much in the way of serious argumentation in the New Atheists’ dialectical arsenal, it should perhaps come as no surprise that Dawkins and Grayling aren’t exactly queuing up to enter a public forum with an intellectually rigorous theist like Craig to have their views dissected and the inadequacy of their arguments exposed”²³.
In conclusion, I’ll repeat the question in my title: is Richard Dawkins a champion of scientific truth, or is he just a compulsive liar? I’ve presented some arguments and evidence here, so I’ll leave readers to make their own judgement. My own estimation is that he is a somewhat shifty character, who will say anything he thinks he can get away with at any given moment, in order to promote his false agenda. He obviously thinks that most people are not monitoring him closely enough to notice his deviousness. He claims to represent scientific truth, yet he is wrong about evolution, about consciousness, and fails to understand adequately the implications of quantum physics. Perhaps not quite so obviously, he is also wrong about God. As Allan Sandage, mentioned above, said: “If there is no God, nothing makes sense. The atheist’s case is based on a deception they wish to play upon themselves…”²⁴. Dawkins might well scratch his head.
1. magazine issue December 19th 2020: https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/the-insidious-attacks-on-scientific-truth
2. interviewed by Jheni Osman, BBC Knowledge, April 2009
3. The Times, Saturday Review, August 22nd 2009
4. Inner Traditions, 2014
5. quoted by Robert Lanza in The Grand Biometric Design, Benbella Books, 2020, p11
6. Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1995
7. Quest Books 2008
8. source for this passage is: https://www.sheldrake.org/reactions/richard-dawkins-comes-to-call
9. BBC Radio 5 Live, August 1st 2010, interviewed by Kate Silverton
10. Penguin, 1988, Pxiii
11. Chapman and Hall Ltd., 1914, Preface, Pvii
12. with Ben Wattenberg, http://www.pbs.org/thinktank/transcript410.html
13. River Out of Eden, Phoenix, 1995, p92
14. I have a reference for this, which I haven’t checked: “A Scientific Scandal” Commentary, April 1st 2003, letters to the editor July 1st 2003.
15. The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science, Regnery Publishing, 2005, p211
16. interviewed by Simon Mayo, BBC Radio 5 Live, January 12th 2006
17. Essay, Science and Religion, 1954
21. issue no 1300, October 28th 2011