Thursday, April 19, 2012

Two careers of Richard Dawkins

I would imagine that most people have heard, by now, of the English intellectual Richard Dawkins.


But it's unlikely that they've all made an effort to read Dawkins's books. Besides, those on the technical aspects of evolutionary biology can be quite difficult. The following short video makes it clear that Dawkins has had two careers, as it were: first, as a celebrated scientist, and later as an advocate for a world without gods.


Dawkins attempts to attenuate this "two careers" interpretation of his work by suggesting that the germs of his atheism could be found in his earlier books on biology. While this was certainly the case, such an explanation is likely to go above the heads of those observers who see the outspoken professor primarily as a strident atheist. Consider, for example, an amazing specimen of big-mouthed ignorance: George Pell, an Australian cardinal. Judging from the applause during his recent debate with Dawkins, the Catholic chief has a certain number of numbskull supporters.


[That's not the extract of the Dawkins/Pell encounter that I had hoped to include, but I don't have the courage to search through all the cardinal's rubbish in the hope of finding his statement about Neanderthals.]

I would like to make a naive confession. There are two aspects of the professor's behavior that I've never clearly understood. First, why does Dawkins waste his time taking part in an alleged "debate" with a religious guy who's so stupid that he would dare to place atheists in the category of monsters such as Stalin and Hitler? A guy who's so ignorant at the level of contemporary knowledge that he imagines that people like Dawkins think that Homo sapiens descends from Neanderthals? My second question is closely associated with the first one. What rare quality prevents Dawkins from ever exploding in anger when confronted with the ineptitude of a guy as dumb as Pell? How come that the professor can remain so calm and polite, and retain even a few fleeting smiles?

I suspect that Dawkins senses the existence of some kind of underlying long-term vocation or mission that gets him through all these constant challenges of dealing with ignorant numbskulls. I guess it's something akin to the talents, that in other walks of life, enable certain gifted individuals to operate ceaselessly as physicians, psychologists, judges, etc. In fact, it's an admirable expression of humanism and an outlook that might be described as intellectual democracy: the belief that every individual you meet up with has the right to be listened to, no matter how silly he or she might be. Dawkins seems to exhibit quite naturally a splendid kind of Christian charity... which is weird, to say the least.

Speaking solely for myself, I've never possessed this rare talent... but that's neither here nor there.

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