Richard Dawkins & Atheism
Clinton Richard Dawkins was born on 26 March 1941 in Nairobi, Kenya.
His father had worked in the British colonial service in Nyasaland, now Malawi,
as a British colonial civil servant but with the outbreak of the Second World War he had moved to Kenya. In 1946, his father unexpectedly inherited a cousin's farm
near Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire.
The family returned to England in 1949.
Richard Dawkins' family appear to
have introduced him to a mild form of Anglican Christianity throughout the early years of his life. Both of Richard Dawkins' parents seem to have had some interest in scientific matters and to have attempted to seriously address
Richard Dawkins' early questionings about "scientific" subjects. By his mid-teens Richard Dawkins had
read about the Darwinian Theory of Evolution and had accepted it to the degree that it lead to him becoming an irreligious teenager.
Richard Dawkins attended a fairly prominent private school, Oundle School, before studying Zoology
to bachelors, masters and doctoral degree levels at Oxford University.
In 1967 Richard Dawkins embarked on a career as an academic in Zoology and related fields, taking up a post as an assistant professor of zoology at Berkeley, California,
but returning to Oxford after two years to continue research into the mathematics of animal behaviour.
A significant milestone in what became his dramatic rise to prominence as one of the world's most vocal atheists in contemporary public debates
relating to rationalism, science and religion being the publication of his 2006 book The God Delusion.
This Preface to this work features the following passage:-
I suspect - well, I am sure - that there are lots of people out there who have been brought up in some religion or other, are unhappy in it,
don't believe it, or are worried about the evils that are done in its name; people who feel vauge yearnings to leave their parents religion
and wish they could, but just don't realize that leaving is an option. If you are one of them, this book is for you. It is intended
to raise conciousness - raise conciousness to the fact that that to be an atheist is a realistic aspiration, and a brave and splendid one. You
can be an atheist who is happy, balanced, moral, and intellectually fulilled.
Since the publication of The God Delusion Richard Dawkins has been seen as one of the most prominent atheists and a recognised proponent
of rationalism and science as against religiously linked ideas of the existence of life and the universe.
Dawkins' emergence as a notably combative global prophet of irreligion seems to a large extent to be attributable to his own adverse reaction to the attack,
by radicalised Islamists, on the World Trade Center, New York, in September, 2001.
The Guardian, a relatively thoughtful newspaper based in the UK featured an "Has the world changed?" article on Thursday 11 October 2001
- one month after these attacks -
where 23 commentators drawn from various fields were asked to give their views in the aftermath of so much death and destruction.
Richard Dawkins contribution read:-
Many of us saw religion as harmless nonsense. Beliefs might lack all supporting evidence but, we thought, if people needed a crutch for
consolation, where's the harm? September 11th changed all that. Revealed faith is not harmless nonsense, it can be lethally dangerous
nonsense. Dangerous because it gives people unshakeable confidence in their own righteousness. Dangerous because it gives them false
courage to kill themselves, which automatically removes normal barriers to killing others. Dangerous because it teaches enmity to others
labelled only by a difference of inherited tradition. And dangerous because we have all bought into into a weird respect, which uniquely
protects religion from normal criticism. Let's now stop being so damned respectful!
Perhaps surprisingly, given his reputation for atheism, Dawkins as recently as late 2004, unashamedly called himself a "Cultural Christian."
In other words, although Dawkins rejected any and all claims regarding Jesus' deity, he nevertheless accepted that Jesus' code of ethics
should be respected and liked his moral values, and wished more people lived according to them.
As recently as December, 2004, Richard Dawkins was pictured wearing an "Atheists for Jesus" tee shirt sent to him after he had himself
composed an article, bearing that title, for a Humanist publication he was editorially involved with. At that time Dawkins was prepared to admit
to liking the character traits exhibited in Jesus. He liked his stand on human rights and human worth. He liked his patience, kindness, compassion, and love. He also opted to
participate ~ culturally ~ in carol-singing and similar activities.
It may be that even today, although his reputation as one of the planet's most vocal atheists has perhaps increased since 2004,
Richard Dawkins might still admit to being a "Cultural Christian" in such a sense of that term.
Some Human Mysteries
"You will hear things like, "Science doesn't know everything." Well, of course science doesn't know everything. But,
because science doesn't know everything, it doesn't mean that science knows nothing. Science knows enough for us to
be watched by a few million people now on television, for these lights to be working, for quite extraordinary
miracles to have taken place in terms of the harnessing of the physical world and our dim approaches towards
understanding it. And as Wittgenstein quite rightly said, 'When we understand every single secret of the universe,
there will still be left the eternal mystery of the human heart.'"
Stephen Fry quoting Wittgenstein during a Room 101 TV program
Human Being seems
to be rather "Tripartite"
Key insights, from such formidably authoritative "Traditional" sources as the Great Faiths, Plato, Socrates,
Pythagoras, and Shakespeare, supportive of such a "Tripartite" view of Human Nature are available here at Age-of-the-Sage.
Believe it, or believe it not, Modern Psychological Science also gives some support to such a "Tripartite" view of Human Nature!!!
In Philosophy "Metaphysics" is the branch of Philosophy dealing with "being": how things exist, what things really are, what
essence is, what it is 'to be' something, etc.
The word comes from a "book" of some thirteen treatises written by Aristotle which were traditionally arranged, by scholars
who lived in the centuries after Aristotle's life-time in the fourth century B.C., after those of his "books" which considered physics and natural science.
The principal subject of Aristotle's thirteen treatises is "being qua being", or being understood as being.
At the heart of the book lie three questions:-
What is existence, and what sorts of things exist in the world?
How can things continue to exist, and yet undergo the change we see about us in the natural world?
And how can this world be understood?
It may be that for want of other terminology directly suited to reference such elusive subject matter the term MetaPhysica,
(in Greek it means "after physics" or "beyond physics"), was adopted in relation to Aristotle's "book" of "metaphysical" treatises.
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that:-
"...man is a bundle of relations, a knot of roots,
whose flower and fruitage is the world..."
Human Nature may well continuously underpin, and enduring tend to formatively determine, the operation of many, non-doctrinaire, Human Societies!!!
"Mankind are so much the same, in all times and places, that history informs us of nothing new or strange in this particular. Its chief use is only to discover the constant
and universal principles of human nature."
"Whatever concept one may hold, from a metaphysical point of view, concerning the freedom of the will, certainly its appearances,
which are human actions, like every other natural event, are determined by universal laws. However obscure their causes, history,
which is concerned with narrating these appearances, permits us to hope that if we attend to the play of freedom of the human will
in the large, we may be able to discern a regular movement in it, and that what seems complex and chaotic in the single individual
may be seen from the standpoint of the human race as a whole to be a steady and progressive though slow evolution of its original endowment."
Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View
What is the business of history? What is the
stuff of which it is made? Who is the personage
of history? Man : evidently man and human
nature. There are many different elements in history. What are they?
Evidently again, the elements of human nature. History is therefore the
development of humanity, and of humanity only;
for nothing else but humanity developes itself, for
nothing else than humanity is free. ...
... Moreover, when we have all the elements, I mean
all the essential elements, their mutual relations
do, as it were, discover themselves. We draw from
the nature of these different elements, if not all
their possible relations, at least their general and
Introduction to the History of Philosophy (1832)
Or to quote Emerson, from his famous Essay ~ History
"In old Rome the public roads beginning at the Forum
proceeded north, south, east, west, to the centre of every
province of the empire, making each market-town of Persia, Spain,
and Britain pervious to the soldiers of the capital: so out of
the human heart go, as it were, highways to the heart of every
object in nature, to reduce it under the dominion of man. A man
is a bundle of relations, a knot of roots, whose flower and
fruitage is the world. His faculties refer to natures out of him,
and predict the world he is to inhabit, as the fins of the fish
foreshow that water exists, or the wings of an eagle in the egg
presuppose air. He cannot live without a world."
"There is one mind common to all individual men....
....Of the works of this mind history is the record. Man is explicable by nothing
less than all his history. All the facts of history pre-exist as laws. Each
law in turn is made by circumstances predominant. The creation of
a thousand forests is in one acorn, and Egypt, Greece, Rome, Gaul, Britain,
America, lie folded already in the first man. Epoch after epoch, camp, kingdom,
empire, republic, democracy, are merely the application of this manifold spirit
to the manifold world."
From Ralph Waldo Emerson's Essay ~ History
We have prepared some fairly detailed, but hopefully entertaining, pages about several most informative
episodes in European History in the spirit of attempting to learn worthwhile lessons of history about ~ The Human Condition!!!
Popular European History pages on this site