Dawkins: the rational believer?

Richard Dawkins (New Scientist, 21/28 December 2013): “Seeing agency where there isn’t any… may have been programmed into our brains.”  He is certainly consistent–his career as a science communicator began with The Selfish Gene (1976): “They are in you and in me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence… Now they go by the name of genes, and we are their survival machines.” “Programmed” can be taken as shorthand for determined by the genes that gave our ancestors advantage over competitors in natural selection, which makes it hard for Dawkins to imagine, in his 2013 words, that there isn’t “a genetic basis the psychological predispositions which make people vulnerable to religion.”

The irony is that Dawkins, the outspoken atheist, shares with believers of religion two deep conceptual assumptions: 1) There is an agent within any apparent agent–the living being does not develop without being directed by something else; 2) There must be some standard external to us (in Dawkins’s account, omnipotent natural selection) in order for us to know what we should do.  Putting the two assumptions together: the directing agent within is mirrored by the directions that people as believers or survival machines should follow.


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