Home » Philosophy, Religion, Science » “The Irrationality of Richard Dawkins” — by Frank Beckwith

“The Irrationality of Richard Dawkins” — by Frank Beckwith

This just appeared at FIRST THINGS:

The Irrationality of Richard Dawkins

By Francis J. Beckwith
Wednesday, June 20, 2007, 6:47 AM

In his 2006 book, The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins laments the career path of Kurt Wise, who has, since 2006, held the positions of professor of science and theology and director of the Center for Theology and Science at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Prior to that, Wise had taught for many years at Bryan College, a small evangelical college in Dayton, Tennessee, named after William Jennings Bryan, three-time Democratic presidential candidate and associate counsel in the 1925 Scopes “Monkey Trial.”

MORE: www.firstthings.com/onthesquare.

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22 Responses to “The Irrationality of Richard Dawkins” — by Frank Beckwith

  1. This article seems to fall into the category of too clever by half. The author is a little too willing to join Dawkins in tossing Wise under the bus in order to make an arcane point about certain inconsistencies he spies in Dawkins’ world-view. What–there are inconsistencies in Dawkins’ world-view? “The fool says in his heart there is no God.” For my money the more interesting story here is the sacrifice made by Wise and the persecution he has endured from the science community as a result, including Dawkins, whose faux concern for his seemingly lost potential is too precious for words. Those who follow God will come into conflict with the world. For this reason, Professor Wise’s story is instructive and inspiring.

  2. Off topic:

    I have to admit that Dr. Wise could’ve been a great addition to ID, had he rejected YEC, or atleast kept it personal.

  3. At the very least, the First Things article is illustrating some rarely discussed inconsistencies in Dawkins’ and Dennett’s world views.

  4. Let’s set the record straight about Wise.

    First, I spoke with Kurt only last week in person at BSG 2007.Upon asking whether he had written anything of his personal journey and reflections, especially material about his former teachers, Wise mentioned that out of respect for them, he wasn’t intending to publish anything.

    Wise studied at University of Chicago under world class paleontologist Raup (Raup, by the way, attended Phil Johnson’s now infamous Pajaro Dunes Conference in 1992, the Genesis of the ID movement). Wise was a creationist then, and Raup had to get Wise into Harvard under Gould.

    Wise also helped teach Lewontin’s classes in statistical biology as an assistant. Wise also studied fractals under Mandelbrot! Wise knew Erst Mayr and E.O. Wilson at Harvard, all the while being a creationist.

    Wise, still speaks glowingly of his mentors, Gould and Lewontin. Not surprisingly, Gould and Lewontin have also been labeled left-wing creationists for their anti-Dawkinsian views of evolution….

    If this seems too fantastic to believe, look at one of Wise’s recent proteges, Marcus Ross.

    While at BSG 2007, I was telling Ross and Wise of my plans for grad school. I told them I was applying to go to a secular grad schools, but not in discipline that would where my view of origins would cause me difficulty.

    Ross and Wise jokingly said, “you’re wimping out.” We all laughed. What could I say, these guys did the impossible.

    And if one wonders if miracles happen, one only needs to look at Kurt Wise, a creationist, being awarded a PhD from Gould and company WHILE a creationist!

    Sal

  5. Dawkins says “The wound, to his career and his life’s happiness, was self-inflicted…”

    How does he know that Dr. Wise’s happiness has been permanently wounded? He presumes that Dr. Wise is somehow psychologically miserable as a result of his choices. How does Dr. Dawkins know this? How does he know that Dr. Wise isn’t happy? Is it just maybe possible that some people find happiness in something other than the self-glorification of seeking the most prestigeous or lucrative position possible in academia?

  6. Though Dr. Beckwith is certainly not my most favorite person right now (the whole ETS thing…), I can certainly delineate his work (like this great article) from his beliefs (which I oppose 100%).

    Only wish NDErs could do the same and treat others w/ respect.

  7. Actually, there’s more to say than just that.

    Frankly, I doubt Dawkins’ sincerity. Does anyone really believe that if Wise’s story was slightly different – that if he decided that (like many of us) the creation account in the bible was not subject to such specific, narrow literalism, but was entirely compatible with his faith – that Dawkins would have welcomed the change of attitude and retention of Wise’s professional standing? Or would he have regarded it as insidious, an act of betrayal that was enabling the faith of those who are “less gifted, less well-armed”?

    We already know that not everyone holds the view Wise does about how strictly the creation account must be interpreted – and the exceptions are not rare, not just ID proponents, and not exclusively recent in appearance. We also know that the strong atheism of Dawkins has also enabled some sad or wasteful choices by others, from suicides to the embrace of heartless philosophies and worldviews. Would lamenting Peter Singer’s “it isn’t always a bad thing to kill an innocent” attitude as an unfortunate potential consequence of atheism be accepted by Dawkins? Or would we get yet another ‘frantic That isn’t atheism! In fact, that’s religion somehow!’ diatribe?

    My guess? If anything about Wise’s case disturbs Dawkins, it’s that – regardless of how literal their biblical view may be – a scientist may choose ostracism over orthodoxy. But it certainly isn’t the case that Dawkins believes religion, even Christianity specifically, necessitates sacrificing science or scientific study. Considering how many times he’s crossed swords with professionals who accept both, it would be delusional to believe otherwise.

  8. Dawkins is mistaken on 3 counts:

    1. his position is self-contradictory (for the reasons Beckwith describes)

    2. Wise was a creationist who then got a degree in geology from a famous paleontologist and then a PhD from Harvard under the tutelege of Darwinists. Dawkins has his facts wrong. He suggest Wise rejected evolution late in his academic career. Not true. Dawkins presumes a creationist could not possibly remain a creationist afer studying Darwinism at the PhD level. Ha!

    3. Wise is using his talents for greater good and for the furthering science. Wise eschewed worldy benefits to pursue the science his conscience leads him to, and Wise’s science will excel that of Dawkins decades from now. Dawkins scientific “contributions” are slowly being dismissed and falsified. In contrast, Wise’s work will carry on and prosper because it is closer to the truth that anything Dawkins’ “science” ever touched upon.

  9. Beckwith hits on a key point, which blogger Mark Shea has also made very well:

    “I don’t assume that morality is something transcendant to the physical universe. I merely note that most of the atheists I meet do. They also assume reason is transcendent to Nature. Most of the atheist rhetoric you hear, after all, consists of bafflegab like this: “Religion is a natural result of forces acting on the human organism in the course of it’s evolution. Perhaps it had some sort of survival value once. But it has long ago become a meme which acts as a sort of cancer on human civilization and productivity. [Assumptions: both survival and productivity are not mere conditioned preferences but Real Goods that ought to be cultivated.] We have now reached the point where Brights can point the way to the liberating power of reason which alone can free us from the shackles of the prison of religion. [Assumption: Religion is a mere product of irrational nature, reason can *liberate* us from Nature, not simply conduct us into another cell in the same prison.]

    This sort of rhetoric is endemic in atheist circles and depends for its power, on the faith that both reason and the shard of moralism preserved by atheists are not simply one more artifact of the mindless processes of nature, but are Realio-Trulio avenues by which the human race can transcend nature. It’s all sleight-of-hand, of course. And the atheist can really only be forgiven because even he himself does not realize that, at the end of the day, he is–like all heretics–simply borrowing a mystical doctrine or two from the Judeo-Christian tradition (in this case, the doctrine that man is a rational animal made in the image and likeness of God who cannot be explained in purely materialist terms) and using that doctrine–like all heretics–to attack the parts of the Judeo-Christian tradition he dislikes.

    Some atheists (postmodern ones) have come to recognize this and have been making an effort to reduce all claims to morality and reason to the mere material. These (if they are consistent) generally tend to become wonderful apologists for evil and irrationality, making naked obeisance to raw power and abandoning all pretence of trying to better the human condition. After all, why *should* we? If it’s all about power, if language is a mere mask on power discourse can be deconstructed by Derrida, if all “morality” is simply a mask on race, class, and gender power struggles as abyss-gazers like Richard Rorty will tell you, then why not simply play conceptual games, maintain oneself in a measure of comfort until life grows wearisome and you make your quietus with a pistol and a bottle of whiskey. Why even bother arguing with theists? Language is meaningless anyway, yours as much as theirs.

    Most people are still human enough to reject this utter nihlism. But some deconstructionists are on the way to Hell. I had a friend once who talked for a couple of hours with postmodern deconstructionists (former Evangelicals, as a matter of fact) who had really drunk the Kool-Aid. They could see no moral significance in the Holocaust. When he described looking at a house-sized mound of human ash at Mauthausen, they replied that “it’s just molecules”. No meaning there at all. They had really internalized the Postmodern Creed, that you *cannot* derive an “ought” from an “is.” God have mercy on their wretched souls.

    They are right, as far as it goes. You *can’t* derive an ought from an is. And “is” is all materialism has to offer. They are wrong, however, in forcibly dehumanizing themselves to the point of moral idiocy to fit their ideology. They are living laboratory examples of Chesterton’s point that the mark of madness is logical completeness and extreme spiritual contraction. Their ideology is a complete circle, but a very very small one. They have nothing left but their reason.

    However, back in the world of normal humans (including most atheists) we continue to get our “oughts” from God because we are made in his image and likeness. True, the fall has muddled our “oughts” just as it has muddled our reason. But nonetheless, our oughts, like our reason, are real. Atheist attempts to construct moral systems that account for our behavior are one long smuggling project by which the atheist borrows from theism and pretends he’s not doing it.”

  10. I am not a fan of Dawkins. Lets get that straight first off.

    It appears Francis Beckwith is conflating natural ability with pre ordained purpose. A naturalist can deplore someone shunning their intrinsic gifts because they will not experience the same joy and fullfillment that making a good go at one’s potential generally provides. That is not at all the same thing as being saddenned that they have not followed their divinely ordained path. I just don’t see the beginnings of a contradiction.

  11. IDist:

    I have to admit that Dr. Wise could’ve been a great addition to ID, had he rejected YEC, or atleast kept it personal.

    You don’t have to reject YEC in order to accept ID.

    ID is “The Study of patterns in nature and in the universe that are better explained as the result of an inteligent cause as opposed to an undirected process.”

    I fail to see how this opposes YEC, or how this puts a man in “either ID or YEC” position.

  12. jmcd,

    Beckwith seems to be going at it with the attitude that Dawkins considers nature (and as a result, humanity and life itself) as without any objective purpose, intention, or meaning – only to turn around and point at how ‘religion’ (Not an aspect of religion, not a specific religious belief, but religion as a whole) kept Wise from fulfillment. Yes, a naturalist can lament a person not using their talents; the problem is they’ll have trouble justifying the lament on intellectual grounds.

    Arguing on the one hand that everything is subjective, meaningless, and the end result for everyone and everything is death and eternal darkness – and on the other that it’s very important that we rid the world of religion, because Dawkins thinks it’s evil – is quite a balancing act. Eventually it all comes down to “Yes, I know it makes no sense, but darnit I’m going to brute-force believe in it anyway!” Which Dawkins more or less did when he was approached in public about free will. (More or less stammered, then effectively said ‘Okay, I may not believe in free will, but it’s hard to live a life in accordance with what that means, so I’m going to employ some cognitive dissonance.’)

  13. You don’t have to reject YEC in order to accept ID.

    I understand that, and that’s why I said “or kept it personal”.

    I mean like Paul Nelson for example, he’s a YEC (as far as I can tell), but he doesn’t bring this up to debates or discussion about ID, nor does he (also as far as I can tell) insist on teaching and writing books about it.

    I am not writing this to criticize Dr. Wise. He is free to do whatever he thinks is correct and I respect him for this. I was just thinking that he could’ve been a great addition to the ID movement.

  14. being awarded a PhD from Gould and company WHILE a creationist!

    The more I learn of Gould, the more respect I have for him.

  15. 15

    I totally respect Dr. Wise. He stood up for something he believes is correct and the consequences of his actions only affect him.

  16. A naturalist can deplore someone shunning their intrinsic gifts because they will not experience the same joy and fullfillment that making a good go at one’s potential generally provides.

    I deplore shunning someone with intrinsic gifts like Guillermo Gonzalez whose talent in astronomy is nothing short of “gifted” and far surpasses most of his peers just because he believes the universe and the life it contains is no accident. Many if not most of the greatest minds in the history of science thought the universe was designed.

  17. JMCD wrote:

    It appears Francis Beckwith is conflating natural ability with pre ordained purpose. A naturalist can deplore someone shunning their intrinsic gifts because they will not experience the same joy and fullfillment that making a good go at one’s potential generally provides. That is not at all the same thing as being saddenned that they have not followed their divinely ordained path. I just don’t see the beginnings of a contradiction.

    I think the point is this. Dawkins laments and deplores the “wound”, the event causing Wise (in Dawkins’ mind at least) not to experience the joy and fulfillment Wise had the potential for. Dawkins is even “hostile toward religion for what it did to Kurt Wise”. Dawkins clearly believes strongly that cutting short the potential joy and fulfillment was morally objectionable; in other words, he believes there is some moral duty to cause or at least allow one’s innate gifting to flourish. Where does such a duty come from? Why should Dawkins care if Wise is happy and be “hostile toward religion” because he is not? From a materialist point of view, the rejection of a scientific career was just an outworking of existing conditions in Wise’s character (and thus his material makeup). The “wound” therefore should be no less legitimate a part of who Wise is, than his positive scientific gifting. Why should one aspect of Wise be that which ought to be fulfilled, and another aspect be wrong … unless his gifting was *intended* to be fulfilled?

    Maybe you have answers to these questions, but hopefully at least this clarifies where Beckwith gets the “beginnings of a contradiction”.

  18. Dawkins is quoted as saying that design in living things is an illusion. Does this not imply that he maintains:
    -) there is a rigorous definition for design
    -) there is a way to detect design

    if not, how can he know it’s an illusion, if yes, where is his definition and method
    if neither, what’s he talking about?

  19. JMCD wrote:

    It appears Francis Beckwith is conflating natural ability with pre ordained purpose. A naturalist can deplore someone shunning their intrinsic gifts because they will not experience the same joy and fullfillment that making a good go at one’s potential generally provides. That is not at all the same thing as being saddenned that they have not followed their divinely ordained path. I just don’t see the beginnings of a contradiction.

    I would agree with lars. Beckwith expresses the issue in terms of duties, which must be illusions in Dawkins worldview. But even if “duty” were replaced with some other value, those would be equally illusory.

    In short, Dawkins has no objective framework from which to judge Wise’s choice or fault religion’s effect. The most Dawkins could ever consistently say is that it doesn’t fit with his own chosen values.

    Some are tempted to say that some values are “obvious” but there simply are no objective values in the atheistic framework — only individual choices that have no objective claim to priority or superiority.

    There is no atheistic basis for saying “Everyone ought to …”.

  20. es58: Dawkins is quoted as saying that design in living things is an illusion. Does this not imply that he maintains:
    -) there is a rigorous definition for design
    -) there is a way to detect design

    Good questions. I believe it implies acknowledgment of at least an intuitive sense of design.

    Now, for someone willing to consider the possibility that it could truly be design, the next reasonable step would be to try to clarify how one distinguishes true design. Such a person is likely in (or will be in) the ID stream.

    To all for whom real design in nature would be objectionable, the whole idea of identifying design is objectionable, often viscerally so.

  21. I forgot what article it was exactly, but Dawkin’s opinions are forever ignored in my mind after i read an article on this site. Some guy went to his book reading and asked him why he was going to accept praise for “The God Delusion” when he was determined to write the book anyway. Dawkins, in all his wit (or maybe it was his “memes” that he couldn’t control…) stated that it didn’t matter so much that we are determined, but that we THINK as if we aren’t! What utter nonsense.

  22. Dave Scott:

    Many if not most of the greatest minds in the history of science thought the universe was designed.

    Here’s an interesting bit of news in regard to perhaps the greatest of them all.

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