'Bullied and Brainwashed'

A strident anti-creationist's churlish rhetoric debases what could be fascinating conversation about what made us and why.

BY: Gregg Easterbrook

Don't take this personally, but if you are an American adult there is a one in two chance that Richard Dawkins, a renowned professor of science at Oxford, thinks you are "ignorant, stupid or insane," unless you are "wicked." These are the adjectives Dawkins chooses to describe the roughly 100 million Americans adults who, if public opinion polls are right, believe Homo sapiens was created directly by God, rather than gradually by evolution. Ignorant, stupid, insane or wicked. Not much to choose from there!

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  • The extremity of Dawkins's statement represents yet another indication that the debate between natural and supernatural explanations for existence is carried out at the level of nasty caricature. Science figures denounce the doubters of evolution as ignorant rubes or Elmer Gantrys; evangelicals denounce biologists as sinister brainwashers whose secret agenda is the destruction of faith. What ought to be a fascinating discourse--What made us? How? Why?--instead too often becomes an occasion for childish name-calling on both sides. Isn't there some way we can discuss God versus Darwin in civil tones?

    Yes, but first a few words on who Dawkins is. A zoologist by training, he has become to recent decades what Thomas Huxley was to the late decades of the 19th century, the most forceful public proponent of Darwin. Dawkins's 1986 small masterpiece "The Blind Watchmaker" spells out in detail the reasons why even something as astonishingly complex as the six-billion-point strand of human DNA could have gradually self-assembled without guidance. (A 1996 volume, "Climbing Mount Improbable," revisits the same argument adding details of recent research.) His 1976 book "The Selfish Gene" supposes that living things exist to support their genes, rather than vice versa. His most recent book, "Unweaving the Rainbow," argues that even if you believe there's no God, you can still look on creation with awe.

    Roughly since the mid-1970s, Dawkins has staked out hard-line positions against faith, belief in higher powers, and objections to natural selection theory. He devotes great energy to refuting claims of faults in evolutionary thinking, and especially to refuting creationism. Dawkins has declared existence to be "lacking all purpose," and the world "neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous." He says "the universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but pointless indifference." (The universe I observe pretty clearly contains both good and evil, but maybe Dawkins travels in different circles.) He has called religion "very boring and not worth talking about," but talks about it constantly, for instance in a 1992 speech titled "A Scientist's Case Against God."

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