Tuesday, 29 June 2010

The Selfish Genius

Fern Elsdon-Baker, science historian, educator and atheist, has written a book called The Selfish Genius: How Richard Dawkins Rewrote Darwin's Legacy. Here's a quote from near the end of the book.

"Another aspect of the proselytising effect of advocacy is the need for serious debate about whether science should be promoted as atheism to the extent that Dawkins does. By labelling whole swathes of the population as anti-Darwinian, anti-enlightenment or anti-reason, what is Dawkins actually achieving?....as we begin to face up globally to some of the most serious challenges to our generation - among them loss of biodiversity, climate change and international terrorism - should we not be seeking reconciliation, and attempting to recognise our shared agenda in the face of issues that will affect us all?....Those on either side of the faith debate need to work together to dispel misinformation about science, and to challenge detrimental superstitions and misconceptions."

She makes a number of points in her book, including
  • that Dawkins' version of Darwinism is not the same as Darwin's, and that his adherence to natural selection and genetic immutability as the mechanisms for evolution are being increasingly challenged by evidence
  • that Dawkins' equating of science with atheism is not a scientific position, but a philosophical one based on rationalism/empiricism - religion, she says, is not something that can be tested scientifically
  • that Dawkins' acerbic, combative style tends to add to public mistrust and misunderstanding of science and scientists, playing into the creationists' hands - she clearly prefers a more engaging, participatory style of science communication.

There is no doubt that Dawkins could make a suitably acerbic reply if he could be bothered, but his website is very much free of his thoughts on the subject and instead hosts a very moderate review from the Sunday Times.

So, if a religious person like me can say that Dawkins has misunderstood religion, and a science historian like Elsdon-Baker can say he has misunderstood science, what does he have left? Well, we're both talking about him, aren't we? So whatever we may think about him, we can't deny that he's a powerful communicator, and that he makes people think.

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