The Real Richard Dawkins?
|November 21, 2013
To The Source
by Dr. Benjamin Wiker
What do we find out about Richard Dawkins in his recently-penned autobiography? Maddeningly little.
We find that Dawkins—Clinton Richard Dawkins, to be precise—had a kind of romantic beginning living in Africa. He was born in Nairobi, Kenya to kind and loving parents who treated him well, and who remained married until his father passed away at 95 years old, just a bit after the couple’s 70th wedding anniversary.
While his parents, John and Jean, were non-religious, they were not anti-religious. We don’t find an overbearing religious tyrant-father against whom the son could rebel, or a model of militant atheism to devotedly imitate.
His parents didn’t take him to church while they lived in Africa, but he did go (in good English fashion) to boarding schools where students went regularly to chapel, and said communal prayers every evening. Young Dawkins is quite happy to sing and pray along with everyone else—he loves hymns and prays nightly just like every other child-like child. If anything, boarding school caused belief to blossom.
So, when his family moved to England, his boarding school experiences only deepened his faith. Near the end of his time at Chafyn Grove, when he was thirteen years old, young Richard was confirmed at St. Mark’s Anglican Church. “I became intensely religious around the time I was confirmed. I priggishly upbraided my mother for not going to church,” he reports. A very interesting sort of rebellion against one’s parents, given his later career.
The year after his confirmation Dawkins went from Chafyn Grove to another prep school, Oundle. He began, as before, with prayers and chapel, but would end up, within three years, refusing to kneel or pray with the others. Why?
As a first phase of the transformation, he came to reject what he calls “the particulars” of Christianity as a result of doubts sown by his mother when he was just nine. She told him that there were other religions than Christianity, “and they contradicted each other.” So, Dawkins reasoned, five years after this seed was planted, “They couldn’t all be right.”
The result was interestingly mixed. He gave up anything particular (as in, the “particular” beliefs of the “particular” religion that surrounded him as a “particular” English Anglican adolescent) and embraced an “unspecified creator…because I was impressed by the beauty and apparent design of the living world, and—like so many others—I bamboozled myself into believing that the appearance of design demanded a designer.”
In a very strange and ironic twist, having given up Christianity, Dawkins now imagined himself to have a vocation, a calling “to devote my life to telling people about the [unspecified] creator god—which I would be especially well qualified to do if I became a biologist like my father.”
If Dawkins had continued on that trajectory, he might have become as famous for his arguments on behalf a designing God as he is now famous for his arguments against a designing God.
What happened? “I became increasingly aware that Darwinian evolution was a powerfully available alternative to my creator god as an explanation of the beauty and apparent design of life.” Interestingly, “it was my Father who first explained it [i.e., natural selection] to me but, to begin with, although I understood the principle, I didn’t think it was a big enough theory to do the job….I went through a period of doubting the power of natural selection to do the job required of it.”
One wonders what would have happened if Dawkins had followed through on these doubts. That would have put him among those evolutionists who believe in God precisely because they find that atheistic natural selection alone is woefully insufficient as an explanation for the drama of the majestic development of life.
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