Sunday, December 30, 2012

Dawkins Criticized by Higgs

Professor Emeritus, Richard Dawkins
Professor Peter Higgs
Apparently Professor Peter Higgs has described Richard Dawkins as concentrating "his attacks on fundamentalists. But there are many believers who are just not fundamentalists" (Source). 

I've seen this accusation before regarding, well, really any atheist who fervently lays out his or her reasons for disbelief. It's not a new accusation, and it most likely won't go away in the forseeable future. The implication seems, to me, to be: by picking on fundamentalists, Dawkins et al. are purposefully taking aim on the weaker expressions of religious belief. That if the popular atheists and non-believers of today would go after theologians who have been rarified by more liberal indoctrination, the case against supernaturalism, on the whole, wouldn't be so easy to pick apart.

The main difficulty I see with such reasoning is that it is centering-out public intellectuals like Dawkins on the same premise it is disparaging them. That is, Dawkins is accused of being a 'fundamentalist' in his own right, therefore picking at him is taking aim on an easy target. Is the irony lost on people who lob such thinly-reasoned accusations? One fundamentalist picks on another set of fundamentalists, therefore the one who garners the most attention is the one who is wrong for doing so? Hardly.

Dawkins is well within his freedoms to examine the underlying assumptions of Christianity and other religious beliefs. There's nothing inherently 'weaker' or 'lesser' or 'unrefined' about fundamentalist doctrines. They're 'fundamental' because they provide the foundation for all the attenuation that happens after them. For example, the notion of Christ as the perfect saviour for human kind (whatever one thinks of such a brutish doctrine) forms the basis for other aspects of Christ's alleged nature; e.g., his hypostatic union.

By picking at the fundamentals, and by attacking the religious class known as 'fundamentalists', Dawkins is bypassing the airy-fairy debate circles where angels dance on needle heads, and systematically degrading the very props that hold religious beliefs up. Once the foundations are disintegrated, the house of cards that stands on top will fall down. Dawkins, by picking on fundamentalists, is actually doing a good turn by taking out the superstructure that holds the rest of religiosity up. I say, "keep picking, Richard! You're doing well, and everyone, in some way or another is benefiting."

One further reflection: it may seem as if I'm conflating fundamentalists with fundamentalism. And to some degree, I am. But the madness behind the method is simply that fundamentalism is lived out by fundamentalists, so the two are not so much conflated as concomitant.

What are your thoughts about this issue?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Often I wonder why Christians themselves don't take on fundamentalists. If most Christians don't agree with the extremists among them why not defend their own faith. Yet, many Christians ignore such groups and then become shocked when fundamentalists suddenly exert power to keep evolution from being taught or prevent women from getting birth control.

Also, I find it strange that Higgs criticizes Dawkins but doesn't view Christian proselytization as an issue. How is not offensive for a Christian to tell someone that their viewpoint is wrong and that they need to convert to Christianity when Dawkins attempts to point out the inconsistencies in religion is offensive.