Richard Dawkins: How a Scientist Changed the Way We Think : Reflections by Scientists, Writers, and Philosophers

By Alan Grafen; Mark Ridley | Go to book overview

DAWKINS AND THE
VIRUS OF FAITH

A. C. Grayling

RICHARD Dawkins is surely the most frequently-cited champion or demon, depending upon point of view, in the science versus religion wars. His detractors portray him as a humourless, soulless reductionist, a threat not just to faith but to all beauty and brightness. His admirers applaud the devastating blows he lands on the votaries of superstition and unreason. I am with the applauders; and the lucidity, clarity, and force of his contributions are a major part of what makes me so.

Having encountered a Dawkins in his writings who is eloquently and indeed poetically alert to the astonishing and beautiful world revealed by science—so much more wonderful than anything the limited imaginings of religion offer—it always used to surprise me when Dawkins' detractors charged him with sourness. But then we appeared together among the guests on a television programme hosted by Melvyn Bragg, and I could see why some might get that impression. Unsmiling and distant, perhaps because he had not met the other participants before, he addressed the topic of the programme with his customary acuity, but neither before nor afterwards interacted much with the production team or fellow panellists.

As Dawkins himself would rightly say, one cannot generalize from a sample of one: a single encounter with someone on that occasion disinclined to socialize is no basis for personal judgments. But I suppose that if others have had a similar experience of him, and have generalized incorrectly from it, they have failed to consider the possibility that as an ex cathedra spokesman for science (that being what his chair at Oxford is endowed for), he

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