On Richard Dawkins — atheism, evolution, creationism and intelligent design

Richard Dawkins is in the news, giving me an excuse to talk about him. See, BIN LADEN HAS WON’: THE RUN-IN WITH AIRPORT SECURITY THAT MADE ATHEIST RICHARD DAWKINS SO ANGRY HE COULDN’T HOLD BACK.

Richard Dawkins is an aggressive atheist. This makes him anathema to most conservatives. Dawkins promotes his atheism as an absolute certainty, and since no one can know with certainty whether God exists, his atheism is his faith.

He will disagree. He will say he does not operate on faith.  He will say he only believes what he can see with his own eyes and understand with his own intelligence.

The latter is something that Dawkins possesses to a degree unequaled by the majority of inhabitants on this planet. He knows that and he expects to be able to understand whatever is understandable by mortal human beings. He is smart, exceedingly so, and he does not suffer fools gladly. He sees clearly that most governments are run by fools and most of the rules they make for others to follow are foolish. It is inevitable that if Dawkins flies he will have a run in with the idiots who run the security checkpoints in airports.  Read the story above for details.

I’m interested here is another aspect of Richard Dawkins.  His books helped me with a personal struggle to find a way to understand how Darwinian evolution can be squared with a belief in God.  Darwin himself couldn’t do that.  Darwin was a man of faith for most of his life but lost it entirely in the writing of The Origin of Species by Natural Selection.  He postponed publishing it because he didn’t want to upset his wife, who was deeply religious.  He was forced to publish it in 1859 because Charles Russell Wallace was about to publish a slightly different theory of natural selection.

In addition to Darwin, there are two books by Richard Dawkins that I consider essential to an intelligent understanding of life on earth.  While human evolution raised nagging questions for me, creationism and intelligent design were theories I immediately recognized as little more than clever subterfuge by Bible thumpers.  They amount to pseudo science nonsense masquerading religion as science.  These doctrines are as disrespectful of true religion as they are of science.

Dawkins’ books The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker are the ones I read for enlightement and to resolve my religion/science conflict.  It worked.  I found inner peace.  Two other books supplemented this quest.  Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Daniel Dennett and Finding Darwin’s God by Kenneth Miller were also helpful.

Creationists claim that Darwinian evolutionists believe that a hundred monkeys pecking at a type writer will eventually write Shakespeare.   Dawkins shows that not only does he not believe that, it isn’t even true.  A hundred monkeys pecking away for millions of years would probably never even write the line from Hamlet, “to be or not to be.”  Even if they did so by happenstance, that’s all it would be: happenstance.  Dawkins shows that evolution does not proceed by happenstance, or chance at all.  It proceeds by natural selection.  In other words, it doesn’t happen in one fell swoop.  It builds upon itself by saving mutations that benefit the species and discarding those that don’t.

Imagine a hundred monkeys pecking on a computer keyboard that was programmed to save the first  “t” they struck.  Then imagine this program would also save the next “o” that came after a “t.”  Assume it would than save a space that came after the first “to.”  And so on.  With such a software programmed computer an experiment with just one monkey had the monkey pecking out  “to be or not to be” within 15 minutes.

Darwin says clearly in his book that his theory does not explain the origin of life itself, only the origin of the various species of life.  If God made the world, just how he did that remains unknown. But afterward, I think he populated it with all of life’s marvelous forms by using a good program, and evolution by natural selection is a killer app.

“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

— Charles Darwin, final paragraph from The Origin of Species