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Richard Dawkins Throws Baby Out with the Bathwater

Meditations - From Martin LeFevre in California

Richard Dawkins: Throwing the Baby Out with the Bathwater

Though the rain didn’t begin until nearly 10 this morning, by 3 pm the parkland had already returned to its creatures. A light drizzle, imperceptible in the wood, fell as I walked along the redolent paths, devoid of people except for a couple of kids riding their bikes home from school.

The beauty of a wood always surprises me on a rainy day. Spoiled by sun most of the year in California (even during the rainy season one can usually expect two or three clear days a week), most people stay indoors when the weather turns inclement. I almost did as well today, but am glad I didn’t.

There is the kind of solitude of being alone in nature, and then there is the kind of solitude where nature alone, and something ineffable within and beyond nature, is palpably felt.

A doe and her fawn stand leisurely in the middle of the stream, and are surprised by the human walking on the bank above them. The fawn seems unafraid, but follows its mother as she effortlessly bounds up the steep bank on the other side.

A couple minutes later, a large woodland hawk swoops over and lands in a branch of an oak tree overhanging the park road. One sees them occasionally and hears them often in the park, but not with such a sense of ownership of the place. At least today in this college town, the raptor has full tenure.

The drizzle stops, and I sit at a picnic table, pads from my daypack protecting my butt from getting soaked. The oaks, sycamores, and everything around me grow vivid as one grows present. Walking again more slowly and consciously, I drink in the rich wet smells of new growth in wood. The slower pace is set by the sublimity emanating from the earth, mirrored as reverence within one.

When the mind and heart effortlessly grow quiet, one comes into contact with the silence that precedes and encompasses all noise. There is something unnamable beyond thought, but obviously thought must be essentially still to contact it. Using words, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to give even an intimation of the sublimity, indeed the sacredness, that lies beyond all words.

There is no personal God or separate Creator, nor, in the words of British evolutionary biologist and zealous atheist, Richard Dawkins, “any kind of supernatural intelligence that designed the universe and everything in it.” But that does not mean we should be, as he reactively and conversely (if not perversely) says, “wholly mechanistic when talking about life.”

As a long-time student of human evolution, there are many things that Dawkins says with which I deeply agree. For example: “religions have miserably failed to do justice to the sublime reality of the real world.” I also share his outrage at the fact that “teachers all over America are being prevented by intimidation from teaching the facts of evolution.”

But Dawkins is wrong, and wrongheaded, when he declares that religion and science “are about the same thing…[that] both aspire to explain the universe, explain why we’re here, the meaning of life, and the role of humanity.” That statement shows that Dawkins understands neither the scientific nor the religious enterprise.

Dawkins derides the “voguish movement among many scientists” which holds that religion and science are about different things, each having their place. Whether there is an “intelligence somewhere at the root of the universe” is a scientific question, he dogmatically pronounces.

“I put a probability value on the question of God,” Dawkins adds, thereby applying the same tool that insurance companies use with their actuarial tables, to the most important question a human being can ask.

Like many less learned and articulate people, Dawkins confuses and conflates religions and religiosity. There is a vast difference between the comforting belief in a separate, personal God, and the often-disturbing awareness of a creative, immeasurable intelligence that pervades nature and the cosmos.

The methods and tools of science obviously have their importance, but do not apply to the first work of the human being—to fully awaken the potential for awareness that the universe breathed into the human brain.


- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: The author welcomes comments.

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