Does Richard Dawkins exist?
Does Richard Dawkins exit?
By Michael Sheldrick, UWA – Tony Blair Faith Foundation Student Ambassador
This was the title of a robust and lively conversation held at UWA last week featuring Ian Robinsion (Chaplain and Desert Spiritualist), Mark Edwards (Atheist and Ethicist), and Neville Bruce (Agnostic and Biologist). On one level the title is obviously a play on Richard Dawkins’ bestseller "The God Delusion" Indeed, starting off on a fairly light note, Ian quite succinctly and analytically broke down ‘Richard Dawkins’ as follows:
Rich – Dawkins is a renowned and highly regarded evolutionary biologist
Hard – he tends to emphasis and focus on ‘hard’ material facts
Dawk – Despite his intellectual strengths, Dawkins’ writing demonstrates a lack of understanding and/or knowledge when it comes to history, theology and philosopohy scripture etc...
Kin – he is finally, and perhaps somewhat paradoxically, ‘a mystical wonderer.’ Speaking at an Atheist Convention last year, Dawkins said “never cease to be amazed by the fact of your existence.”
On a serious note though, the three-way conversation considered some fairly fundamental questions. What role should faith play in a world allegedly characterised by reason and rationalism? Can faith be reasonable or are atheists the true prophets of the Age? What even constitutes reason?
Ian suggested that the world is full of different types of ‘data,’ ranging from material facts, such as the elements of a mineral, to less measurable types of data based on emotion, feeling and thought. Each type of data requires a different kind of ‘tool’ for the purposes of analysis. Drawing an analogy to love, highlighting that you wouldn’t measure your romantic feelings in a lab, Ian suggested that too often people apply the wrong type of tool when it comes to analysing faith. Perhaps, if the right tool is used, a lot more will be revealed to the analyst. Science can't measure spirituality.
Both Neville and Mark suggested that the distinction between science and religion was a false dichotomy. Neither had an absolutist hold on truth. Whereas science is unable to explain many mysteries of the world and can only provide an educated and informed guess at best to certain types of questions, faith can actually grow and be enriched, rather than diminished, by thinking critical and asking questions of faith. Atheists and science can play a complimentary role with religion by assisting in pointing out when it is manipulated, for instance to justify violence. Equally physicists don't know what happened before the big bang, as such religion can help provide meaning.
In the end, despite their divergent backgrounds and beliefs, all three speakers’ conclusions were not that dissimilar to one another: there is a place for both religion and science in the world – and it pays to understand both regardless of your beliefs and views. For in the end modernity and science have not triumphed over and consigned religion to the dustbins of history as one prophesised, just as religion in many cases has not proven to be the rigid, inflexible and superstitious dogma it is often made out to be. As science reaches ever new heights, religion continues to grow around the world. It is a fact of the modern world that far from reducing in number, the number of people who profess a belief in a religion is increasing at a fast pace. Ensuring a harmonious co-existence between the two is not only enriching, but arguably essential to our society’s wellbeing and future.
Faith and Globalisation student, University of Western Australia