Friday, March 20, 2009
Criticism of Richard Dawkins and the new atheist movement
As evolutionary biologists, we should know the struggle of biologist Richard Dawkins and philosopher Daniel Dennett in defense of evolutionary theory against creationists and religious fanatics. Dawkins and Dennett have also recently been joined by non-biologists, like former leftist writer and critic Cristopher Hitchens, in a struggle not only against creationism per se, but in a broader struggle against religion in general.
All these authors have published books recently which are very critical of organized religion, the most well-known being Dawkins bestseller "The God Delusion". These strong personalities have built up something of a movement which is sometimes called "The New Atheism", with provocative advertisements on buses in England with the message: "God does probably not exist".
What to think about this new movement? From my perspective, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I am an atheist myself, who would like to see a world will less power for organized religion. On the other side, I dislike the preaching style of both Dawkins, Dennett and Hitchens and think that they might be doing more bad than good in their self-contentious and aggressive atheistic preaching crusade. Their campaign might thus backfire, and push moderate religious groups into allies with religious fanatics. That would be very unfortunate, which is one reason why I am not very enthusiastic about Dawkins recent book and his ongoing atheist campaign.
My mixed feelings are shared by Julian Baggini in this interesting opinion piece, where he argues that the new atheism is destructive. I am also a bit frustrated that a legitimate defence of evolutionary theory (necessary in my opinion), might be "drowned" and confused in campaign for atheism, which is not a scientific movement.