Richard Dawkins: Good Scientist, Bad Philosopher

There was a good blog post on Presbymergent the other day about the author’s attendance at a Richard Dawkins lecture. The title of the post conveys the general evaluation: “Richard Dawkins: Good Scientist, Bad Philosopher”.

9 comments to Richard Dawkins: Good Scientist, Bad Philosopher

  • RE:

    I think you can thank God for Richard Dawkins as he is forcing the issue of evolution to be publicaly discussed in churches, because most (all?) Christian churches are afraid to talk about it. Dawkins is forcing the hand, and it will expose some deep craks within the church over young earth creationism, old earth creationism, and evolutionary creationism.

    As the blogger wrote:
    “In an odd sense of revelation, I felt spiritually convicted by this plea. Many of us in ministry have been unwilling to address this controversial issue because we are unwilling to expose ourselves to the potential fallout. It’s much easier to use the same words found in the opening of Genesis and allow for different meanings, especially when identifying those meanings may uproot deeply seated assumptions about the Genesis account.”

    How can anyone integrate evolution into theology, coherently? I think Denis Lamoureux (author of “Evolutionary Creation”) did the best job, but it also isn’t good enough, in my opinion.

    This failure of trying to integrate evolution into theology is the fundamental reason why the topic is avoided (like the plague) in churches, in my opinion. Even Lee Stroebel, in “Case for a Creator” doesn’t talk about young earth, old earth, etc. (taking a side would probably severly damper church sales/references for the book).

    (Friend of the ASA)

  • Randy Isaac

    You raise a good point, Bernie. I suspect Dawkins is forcing the hand in several ways, so it may be positive in some respects and negative in others.

    But I would put your point in a larger context. As we study the two books of God’s revelation, our ongoing responsibility is to understand it all in an integrative, cohesive unit. That’s a grand goal that we can never achieve entirely due to our finitude and the ongoing changes in our understanding of both nature and of God’s Word. What drives us is a deep faith that these two books are indeed God’s revelation and that there is an inherent unity, whether we perceive it clearly or not.
    You are right that we must all be honest about what is seen and understood in our view of nature and in our understanding of the Bible. We cannot shirk, even when we don’t see how it all fits together. Avoiding the tough issues and pretending they don’t exist are not acceptable paths. It is acceptable at times to say “I don’t know but by faith I see that such an integration is possible.”
    The key point is that falling short of an adequate integration of evolution into theology (defined as meeting your personal criteria) is not in any sense evidence that it is impossible to do so. Rejecting God because of the Christian community’s incomplete integration of science and faith is not a step of logic but a deliberate rejection of faith and a refusal to believe that such an integration is possible.

  • David Wallace


    “I believe in Darwinian evolution—in essentially every sense that Dawkins would understand it—and I see no conflict between believing in that and believing in the inspired and authoritative Word of God.”

    Maybe the author just means in the same scientific sense that Dawkins accepts evolution. However, if the author accepts Dawkins metaphysics of materialism, then I do not see how he can also accept Christianity.

  • Allan Harvey

    While I don’t know the author, I think your “scientific sense” is what he means. It is pretty clear from context that he is talking about accepting the *science* of evolution, while he rejects the metaphysical baggage that some (Dawkins, the Discovery Institute, etc.) inappropriately attach to it.

  • John Burgeson

    One of the problems is, of course, the manifold meanings of the words “Darwinism” and “evolution.” The first, having the dreaded “ism” at the end, oughtto, IMHO, just refer to the general philosphical worldview of Charles Darwin. But it is used, mostly, as a synonym for the word “evolution.”

    Words matter.

  • Ted Davis

    Evolution–whether one means simply the common descent of humans and other animals, or the specific Darwinian mechanism of natural selection operating on “random” variations–has probably been the single toughest piece of science for Christians to accept, let alone to embrace. Most efforts to put Christianity and evolution together are not very persuasive, IMO, including the presently popular efforts of Francis Collins (who doesn’t try to be sophisticated theologically) and Ken Miller (ditto). Theologians who have enough knowledge of the science to tackle this are not common, and some of those who have written about it do so from a very liberal theological perspective that I do not share, and which most ASA members probably don’t share either. I mean, e.g., John Haught or Arthur Peacocke or Ian Barbour–who advocate either process theism (Barbour), panentheism (Peacocke), or something close to those views (Haught). John Polkinghorne has a more traditional view of God — although he accepts open theism, he rejects both process theology and panentheism as inadquate to account for the bodily resurrection of Jesus (I agree with him), which he takes as the touchstone for the truth of Christianity (I agree with him). But, Polkinghorne says very little about evolution, per se, except that chance alone can’t be the whole story. (Again, I agree with him.)

    Bernie suggests Denis Lamoureux as having made the best effort. I agree that it’s a very strong effort, and I also agree with Denis’ point that the “science” in the Bible is really “ancient science,” whether it involves astronomy or biology. Denis has thought about this a lot, and while some may find him ultimately unpersuasive, I think many will grant that it’s a pretty good effort that goes well beyond most others to take the hard work seriously.

    George Murphy takes it no less seriously, and he writes more as a theologian who wants to advance “the theology of the cross,” seeing evolution as a way in which God works while remaining hidden from our sight. Bob Russell has also worked at a very serious level, and anyone looking for a deeply thoughtful, deeply Christian (in an orthodox sense) account of evolution should study “Cosmology from Alpha to Omega” by Russell. Like Polkinghorne, he wants to interpret all of cosmological history, including evolution, in terms of the kingdom to come. IMO, that’s the most effective way to form a theology of evolution.

  • The author of the article wrote:
    “Richard Dawkins reminds me a bit of Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family. Not because they believe any of the same things. It’s actually hard to imagine two people who might disagree more. However, both share a unique commonality of being very good in one field only to find they may be overreaching into another field where they really don’t belong. Dobson has some fine thoughts on child-rearing. He has mind-blowingly dubious (my friend Amanda wouldn’t let me use the word stupid) thoughts on politics.”

    This sounds like an ad hominem attack with no substance on Dobson. Isn’t Dobson allowed his own political views? What specifically is so stupid about his political views???

    Also about Dawkins, I didn’t see the author really proving his point that Dawkins is a ‘bad philosopher.’ What, specifically, is Dawkins wrong about, philosophically? I don’t see a contradiction in Dawkins saying an atheist can do whatever they want, and they may have a more moral worldview. By saying ‘they can do what they want’ he could mean that they can define their own life. By ‘better moral code’ it may mean one based largely on reason and not what some ancient writers claim to be god’s moral code (such as not eating shellfish or pork, having to count your steps on a Sabbath, or following all the other 600 commands given to the Jews).

    If Dawkins is saying something stupid, please, be specific and point it out. I do acknowledge that I think he does say some stupid things, such as labeling a kid as “Catholic” as a form of child abuse. And saying stupid things isn’t limited to atheists; we all know self-professed Christians who say stupid things too. Good reminder for all of us to be reasonable and consider feedback honestly.

    (Friend of the ASA)

  • Paul Bruggink

    Thank you for the very nice February 17 summary of the current situation. Re your “Most efforts to put Christianity and evolution together are not very persuasive . . .”, it should be noted that in addition to the efforts of Denis Lamoureux, Robert Russell and George Murphy, the Brits have made some good attempts recently. I am referring to two collections of essays: (1) “Darwin, Creation and the Fall: Theological Challenges,” edited by R. J. Berry and T. A. Noble (Apollos, 2009),and (2) “Theology After Darwin,” edited by Michael S. Northcott and R.J. Berry (Paternoster, 2009).


  • Robert Mann

    I’m with Ted Davis on this.   Evolution has been discussed ad nauseum and there is still (in my opinion) no sound theological understanding of it, at least in Christian terms.
    The reason why it haunts Christians, in my view, is that it appears to provide the best evidence that God is very much a “hands off” deity that doesn’t have a large scale (or even small scale) purpose in mind for creation.   Christianity, in all its forms (liberal, conservative, and everything else) asserts the contrary.
    However the same can be said about atheism. From what I can see evolution (or perhaps I should say “evolutionism”) leaves one with a purposeless view of existence as well.  The atheists appear to have no answers to the existential question of purpose.  Weinberg (in “Dreams of a Final Theory”, last chapter) at least recognizes this, but most of the rest of the camp appear to be in strong denial about it.  To put the question bluntly — if I am indeed to conclude from evolutionary thinking that life, existence, etc have no purpose, then why should I care if a person is anti-evolutionist in the first place?  Acceptance or rejection of evolution is equally purposeless, is it not?
    Is there any empirical evidence that gives one reason to avoid such nihilistic conclusions?   Several, I think.  One of the strongest is that there are large numbers of beings that appear to act with purposeful, conscious, intent.  We call them humans.  (I would extend this to other animal species as well, to some degree, but that’s a whole other debate).     This existence of mind seems to me to point to Mind, and suggests to me that evolution can’t be the whole story.
    One more comment:  it seems to me that integrating evolution with theology is roughly analogous to solving the problem of quantum gravity. There are two very powerful paradigms at work here, each quite successful within a certain prescribed regime, yet each evidently not compatible with the other.   Should keep scientists and theologians employed for quite some time…

January 2010
« Dec   Feb »

Email Notifications for Posts