Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Richard Dawkins is Everywhere

So does that make him God?

Ha ha. That’s a little joke at the prominent atheist’s expense. But really, lately everywhere I turn I bump into (figuratively) Dawkins, the smart Brit evolutionist who spends a considerable amount of time preaching that religion is the root of all evil. Is he right? Who knows? That’s essentially the agnostic retort used against Dawkins again and again by his rhetorical opponents, and indeed Dawkins himself has (quietly) conceded we’re all essentially agnostic when it comes to the prospect of a higher power.

What makes Dawkins so interesting is that he’s a big jerk, and it’s funny to see him, in his recent documentary “The Root of All Evil?” repeatedly accused of fundamentalism. He is, of course, but he would claim he’s crusading in the name of scientific truth as opposed to the religious certification of propagated myth. Still, the problem with Dawkins’ stance is essentially related to the man himself.

I remember Penn Jillette, the magician, praising this doc. Penn Jillette: smart jerk. Coincidence? I also recently came across a clip circulated of Ted Haggard (yes, that Ted Haggard) from this same film, but you know what? Even Haggard comes off OK against Dawkins. That’s because Dawkins is so abrasive and arrogant in his believes – scientifically supportable or not – that he can barely disguise his disdain if not outright disgust for those who disagree with him.

And therein lies the entertaining paradox. Debate is key to science, but what if your opposite’s beliefs are totally at odds with the rules, proofs and systems of science? No wonder Dawkins is so frustrated. He’d be better off sticking to arguing from an extreme agnostic’s vantage than as an atheist. And when pushed, again, that’s typically his default position, though he’s never come close to endorsing the Judeo-Christian conception of God. As Dawkins notes in last week’s issue of “Time,” if there is such thing as a higher power, it is so beyond our imagination that to discuss it, let alone define it, is to court folly.

I can agree with that. Is there a God? Who knows? But the idea of, say, an endless universe is a curious thing indeed, and while the stupid theories that anything other than evolution in the strictest Darwinian sense led to the human race are maddening to the extreme and, to support Dawkins’ point, probably dangerous, the idea that statistically there can and perhaps even must be hundreds if not millions of planets (working on the assumption that the universe is endless) just like ours , or – hey! – maybe even none, is truly beyond our conception and therefore itself something of a leap of faith.

Is science therefore akin to faith, albeit with supporting evidence in its favor? Who knows? Certainly it’s a belief in something greater than ourselves. That very nebulous phrase - “something greater than ourselves” - can easily fit the laws of science and the traditions of faith, which leaves things at a rhetorical draw, doesn’t it?


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