Is Richard Dawkins a Fundamentalist?

Published on Monday, November 3, 2008

~ Aparthib

I am a bit taken aback by Audrey's labelling of Dawkins as Fundamentalist (atheist) in mukto-mona forum. Her exact quote is stated below,

Fundamentalist atheists such as Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris do not differ much from fundamentalist religionists. They all believe they are right and the others are wrong.

As an early member of MM you must have read the plethora of messages and exchanges (many in which I participated besides Avijit and many other freethinkers) which clarified the fallacy of this mislabelling of rationalist views as fundamentalist. So its a bit disappointing to see you still making this characterization after all this.

Let me try to clarify this issue here again.

Dawkins himself has refuted this allegation/mislabelling very eloquently in his NYT best seller "The God Delusion" which is sort of the leit motif of his book. The point is that there is a fundamental difference between a scientists's belief in the correctness of his/her theory and that of a religious or any dogmatic believer. The latter holds on to their belief irrespective of what the evidence and logic dictates. Scientists assume something is true after thoroughly examining it with logic and evidence. Scientists are ready to discard any theory if new evidence and logic contradicts it. He himself will doubt evolution if a fossil rabbit is discovered in precambrian era. Not so with the dogmatists (fundamentalists). Their belief is absolute and unalterable by any evidence or logic. The difference is so substantial and profound that to paint both of them with the same brush of fundamentalism label is signally insensitive and unconscionable.

In fact if by believing that one is right one becomes a fundamentalist then all scientists are fundamentalist. Einstein is also a fundamentalist by this criterion for believing that his notion of time and space is correct. You and I are also fundamentalists for believing that we are right in assuming that a traffic light is green when driving through an intersection and believing that whoever sees it as red is wrong. This is a trivial example but it serves to make the point.

As Dawkins points out in the God Delusion, just because a scientist can passionately defend a position just as a religious believer passionately defends his, that doesn't make both of them right or both of them wrong. It can simply be that one is right and the other is wrong (by an objective criterion). Dawkins is passionate about defending evolution as he sees evidence for it and as he sees dogmatic positions opposing evolution despite evidence supporting evolution.

Now let me come to the specific case of existence of God issue. This is not a scientific problem, its a philosophical issue. And it is critical that one resorts to rigorous logic in any philosophical debate, because that is the only recourse available in absence of any observational evidence for a meaningful resolution of an issue. What Dawkins and other scientists state is the logical absurdity of the notion of the personal God of the religions. Scientist or science do not claim to know THE origin of the THE universe yet. Science can only attempt to explain the birth of the OBSERVED universe in terms of the laws of Physics. But science cannot explain the origin of the laws of physics (i.e the cause of the THE universe). Cosmologist Barrow ends his book "The Origin of the Universe" by the line "We can never know the origin of THE universe". If one defines an atheist as one who claims that there is no origin of the laws of Physics, then such an atheist is a fundamentalist because he is obviously claiming to know an unknowable. But other that that there is nothing fundamentalist about stating the facts of science and opposing views that contradict science. We simply don't know why the universe (with the laws of physics governing it) exists This ignorance gives rose to the "God feeling" among scientists and leaves room for metaphysical speculation (of course without contradicting the laws of physics).

Aparthib Zaman has been a Mukto-Mona member since it's inception and has contributed many articles to Mukto-Mona on rationalism, metaphysical issues, religion and various social issues. He lives in US and has done graduate studies in Physics and Electrical Engineering. He has worked in IT industry in US. He can be reached at aparthib 'at' yahoo 'dot' com

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