Thursday, September 20, 2012

Richard Dawkins is on my mind

And I can’t get him off. And I’d like to. Maybe writing about it will help.

I watched a video of an appearance of Mormon rocker and Killers front man Brandon Flowers in a post at Times and Seasons a few days ago. Here's the clip if you'd like to watch:

In the clip, Flowers appears on a Norwegian talk show and takes a question or two about his music, then several from the host about his church (and Mitt Romney). Then Richard Dawkins (famous British biology professor and athiest) comes in and all but attacks Flowers for believing in the story of the “convicted charlatan” Joseph Smith and the fraudulent Book of Mormon. To his credit, Flowers responds with grace and calm, despite the fact that it seems he’s been ambushed by both host and Dawkins.

Flowers interrupts Dawkins’ monologue to take exception to his “facts” and Dawkins presses on, insisting that he has done his research and knows he is right. Flowers is then told he needs to leave to prepare with his band to sing the closing number of the show. Flowers, as a parting shot, offers to chat with Dawkins later about his views. (Dawkins apologizes only because he didn’t know that Flowers would have to go, not because of the ambush or his boneheaded and offensive tone in the conversation.)

I thought about this exchange the other morning as we read about Korihor in our family scripture study.

Dawkins offered an oft-used chestnut when scientific atheists talk about God: There is no evidence of the existence of God. Korihor also claims not to believe, and demands that Alma provide him proof. Alma responds that it should be Korihor’s burden to prove that God does not exist, for all things (including repeated testimony of prophets of which Korihor was aware) denote that there is a God (Alma 30:44).

My daughter-in-law is finishing her PhD in biology and will soon begin working in a post-doc position at a major research center on the East Coast. Although she was reared in a Catholic home, I don’t believe she practices her religion (I know my son does not practice the LDS faith of his youth). In a recent online discussion of evolution, she commented (quite correctly, I think) that science doesn’t really explain the supernatural. Dawkins would do well to remember that.

I don’t think that my DIL was necessarily making a case for belief in God (and I wouldn’t want to put words in her mouth), but I appreciated that she allowed that there are different disciplines at work. (I am not suggesting there are different truths, but there are different disciplines for exploring truth.)

Just because there are scientific explanations that some religious people may choose not to accept, it does not mean that God does not exist.

For instance, it may well be that God used natural means when creating the earth. Certainly evolution provides a way to explain the development of life on this earth that has facilitated additional study by biologists, and that’s a good thing, because good things come from that study. (My DIL will use her genetic research skills in diabetes research, for instance.) I acknowledge that there are faithful Christians (including many Latter-day Saints) who reject evolutionary theory in part or in whole. Their choice to accept or reject evolution as an explanation of the origin of life has no bearing on whether God exists. (Or on the correctness of evolutionary theory, by the way.)

It may be that science can isolate unique chemical activity in the brain associated with what subjects describe as spiritual experiences. That does not mean that spiritual experiences do not happen, even if it’s possible to mimic them artificially. (We’ve discovered ways to mimic lots of natural processes to create artificial flavors, and even artificial diamonds; it doesn’t mean that the originals of those things don’t exist.)

Dawkins’ insinuation that believers in God are intellectually deficient (and that is the message that I got from his interchange with Flowers and the conversation that followed after Flowers left, though I admit I’m sensitive about this particular subject) is insulting and ignores the very thing that attracts young people to science, namely the wonder of learning about the world around them, and the openness to learning new things. That Dawkins simply dismisses belief in God the way he dismisses Santa Claus suggests that all thinking people should do so. (I don’t question his right to believe as he wishes, but his suggestion that all rational people should do the same is silly.)


A few days have passed since I started this post. And I’ve had another thought. Just as I’m annoyed at Dawkins’ out-of-hand rejection of the notion that God exists, so am I also troubled by the attitude of some of my fellow-believers that science is the enemy.

Not long ago, a statement from Bill Nye (“The Science Guy!”) made the rounds as he encouraged people to stop telling their kids that evolution was wrong.

And I agree with him. As I mentioned above in reference to my DIL, there are different disciplines at work here, and that’s ok. The study of evolution (for example) allows the building of a scientific foundation that supports other scientific research, and the kids of believers should also be engaged in that work.

I will say this: I don't particularly like the phraseology of "believing" in evolution. Evolution is science, not religion. I don't "believe" in Hydrogen and Oxygen combining to form the chemical compound we call water. I don't "believe" in gravity. It's what we observe. Yes, there are incomplete theories out there (remember relativity?), but they do a great deal of good in allowing scientists a framework for observation and further study. It's not a question of "belief."

It’s wrong for Dawkins to dismiss believers as intellectually deficient. It’s just as wrong for believers to dismiss scientists as morally deficient.

Well, I feel better now. I hope I haven't made you feel worse.


  1. Paul, I agree with you. I think it's hilarious to me that Dawkins would call all religious people basically stupid, because I know plenty of Mormons (including me) who actually think Darwin was a genius and that God uses evolution as a part of creation.

    What bothered me the most was that Dawkins would be so harsh --claiming the BoM was wrong because of the venacular? Joseph was a proved charlatan? Proved by whom? I felt so bad for Brandon --you could see it on his face, that he was blindsided and NOT happy with the accusations being hurled at him by Dawkins. But I was proud of him for being so calm.

  2. Fascinating post. really kick-started my brain today. Flowers showed some real class.

  3. Cherly & MMM, thanks for chiming in.

    Cheryl, you are right that Dawkins ignores religious people who also accept his science as science. But even if they don't, they also don't deserve the treatment he serves up. His behavior make him sound like a 15-year-old.

  4. Oh, I was cringing for Brandon - he could tell where it was heading and wasn't happy about it. Well done to him for holding his own and showing a great deal of grace after being pushed into a corner like that.

    I've never seen an interview with Dawkins before, and to me he comes across as a bit of a petulant child in this interview. I have no idea if he normally presents himself and his arguments in this kind of manner, but he didn't leave a particularly good first impression with me!

  5. "Petulant child." Great description. Thanks, Chantelle.

  6. I knew I loved the Killers for a reason. I've been a huge fan for years. I'm not so much a fan of a man who claims to have done his research on the Book of Mormon without bothering to finish reading it, though. To that I say--then I won't bother to finish watching your interview.

  7. Nice Post.

    I agree with what you have said. I have plenty of opinions on the matters of science and religion. ;)

    But here's one thing I think of when people claim that God doesn't exist, that the Book of Mormon isn't true, etc - and they make these claims without having "experimented on the word." - Spiritual things are discerned spiritually. (See 2 Corinthians 2 - especially vs 11-16. How can we expect to have a spiritual experience or testimony if we don't try to approach the gospel at a spiritual level.

    Another way of saying this: You won't understand calculus by studying Spanish. If you did so, then of course you wouldn't understand it. You could say that calculus is junk made up by some lunatic, but your claim has no validity because you haven't studied it the right way.

    I feel like spirituality is the same.

    Anyways - thanks for the post.

  8. Catania, that's a great way to look at it. Very supportive of the two-disciplines approach, but also very accessible. Thanks for reading.