October 4, 2014


The Closed Mind of Richard Dawkins : His atheism is its own kind of narrow religion : a review of An Appetite for Wonder: The Makings of a Scientist  by Richard Dawkins (John Gray, October 2014, New Republic)

If an autobiography can ever contain a true reflection of the author, it is nearly always found in a throwaway sentence. When the world's most celebrated atheist writes of the discovery of evolution, Richard Dawkins unwittingly reveals his sense of his mission in the world. Toward the end of An Appetite for Wonder, the first installment in what is meant to be a two-volume memoir, Dawkins cites the opening lines of the first chapter of the book that made him famous, The Selfish Gene, published in 1976:

Intelligent life on a planet comes of an age when it first works out the reason for its own existence. If superior creatures from space ever visit earth, the first question they will ask, in order to assess the level of our civilisation, is: "Have they discovered evolution yet?" Living organisms had existed on earth, without ever knowing why, for over three thousand million years before the truth finally dawned on one of them. His name was Charles Darwin.

Several of the traits that Dawkins displays in his campaign against religion are on show here. There is his equation of superiority with cleverness: the visiting aliens are more advanced creatures than humans because they are smarter and know more than humans do. The theory of evolution by natural selection is treated not as a fallible theory--the best account we have so far of how life emerged and developed--but as an unalterable truth, which has been revealed to a single individual of transcendent genius. There cannot be much doubt that Dawkins sees himself as a Darwin-like figure, propagating the revelation that came to the Victorian naturalist. 

It would be funny enough if Dawkins's Darwinism was merely teleological, but that the end of that teleology is belief in Darwin is just sublime.

Posted by at October 4, 2014 8:08 AM

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