In a recent talk, Richard Dawkins spoke about education, atheism and intelligence. His comments are interesting.
He said, he said
In January Richard was one of many speakers at the Jaipur Literature Festival in India. A quick summary of some of the highlights:
- He spoke about the evils of religion, including his often-repeated claims that faith is devoid of evidence (“detached from objective reality”) for there is not the slightest evidence for the existence of God. I am unsure how he can say this (see Is faith the opposite of reason? and Is there no evidence for God?), but presumably he means repeatable and verifiable scientific evidence, even though many of his statements about religion are just as unscientific.
- He looks forward to the death of organised religion in his lifetime.
- He spoke about the importance of education, saying that education is the only antidote to religion. He said: “Religion is a form of wickedness, a corruption of the minds of children …. We need to protect children from being indoctrinated.” I’m not sure how he would propose to accomplish that, but it sounds a little coercive.
- He is reported to have said atheism is on the rise in the US because of increased education: “There seems to be a correlation with education. It’s certainly true within the US — the more educated people are more likely to give up religion.” However studies I’ve seen (Live Science and USA Today indicate the facts are a little different – church attendance is lowest among the least educated and highest among the better educated. In the UK, the average atheist is better educated than the average believer, but those who have converted to atheism recently are generally less educated than average, while those who have recently converted to theism are generally the best educated of all. Dawkins’ figures are probably based on surveys of scientists which show that around a third to a half of scientists believe in God, much lower than in the general population in the US, with the numbers dropping still further among the “top scientists“.
- He argued that morality can be derived from atheism and doesn’t need the support of religion.
- Perhaps most interesting was his discussion of atheism in political life. He said: “There are 535 members in the US congress. Presumably some of them are reasonably educated. It’s inconceivable that only one of them is an atheist. There’s got to be at least 50% of them” This despite the fact that 90% of people in the US believe in a god.
- He was also quoted as saying: “I suspect we have already seen several atheist US presidents, they just didn’t admit it. I suspect Lincoln was an atheist, probably so was Kennedy. Obama is an intelligent man, so I wouldn‘t be surprised if he’s a closet atheist.” It doesn’t seem he followed his own teachings on evidence here (Obama speaks quite clearly about his faith), but bases his conclusions on his belief that religion and intelligence cannot easily coexist.
- All this is consistent with statements he made not long ago and reported in The Blaze that “Jesus was a great moral teacher and I was suggesting that somebody as intelligent as Jesus would have been an atheist if he had known what we know today.”
I wonder ….
Richard Dawkins is obviously a highly intelligent man. I wonder whether he ever ponders what he has said and notices any inconsistencies, any lack of logic or evidence. Does he ever ponder whether in his enthusiasm for his cause, he is taking on any of the characteristics of those he criticises so vehemently (intolerance, zeal in excess of wisdom or evidence, ideas that could encourage others to go further than he would go into dangerous actions)? I wonder if he ever has second thoughts, or is he entirely confident? I’m not at all sure.