Richard Dawkins, the naive professor
By LIBBY PURVES
Added: Wed, 06 Aug 2008 23:00:00 UTC
It's not a simple choice between God and evolution: none of us can know that there is nothing out there
Firmly I believe and truly that Professor Richard Dawkins is an honest scientist and great communicator. He's magic on telly: his programmes sending up New Agers were fun, especially when he let a lady "replace his Atlantean cells" by blowing on him. As for his reverence for Darwin and evolutionary theory, I share it. Have done ever since school.
My convent school, to be exact. The chief science-nun, despite her wimple and veil, was dead keen on Darwin. Most educated Christians are. Which is why the first episode of the professor's Channel 4 series, The Genius of Charles Darwin, had me alternately cheering and cursing. Talking about evolution, he is terrific. But every few minutes he spoils it by announcing that natural selection means there is, categorically, no God. Not needed as wildlife designer - ergo, non-existent.
Professor Dawkins met a class of children, some of them indoctrinated by that crazily literal minority who think the world began 6,000 years ago on a divine drawing board. Instead of explaining natural selection and letting them work out that maybe the Creator works in more mysterious ways than the Genesis myth, he offered them a choice as stark as any bonkers tin-hut preacher from the Quivering Brethren shouting: "Repent or burn!"
Evolution or God - take your choice, kid! The moment one of them found an ammonite on the beach, Professor Dawkins demanded instant atheism. OK, he is provoked, as we all are, by nutters. But most believers are not creationists. Some are scientists. They reckon that an omnipotent being capable of giving humans free will is equally capable of setting a cosmic ball rolling - Big Bang, abiogenesis, all that - and letting it proceed through eons of evolution, selection and struggle. One of the oddest aspects of Dawkins's TV programme, rich in antelope-mauling and gobbly snakes, was his emotional implication that, gee, Nature is too cruel to have been invented by God! A wet, mawkish, bunny-hugging argument.
Darwin shines; evolution is as marvellous as Dawkins says. But it is not fair to use Darwin's beautifully evolved brain to bang the drum for your private conviction that there is nothing out there. Nobody knows. Not really. Teaching children real science is one thing, making them choose God or evolution is another.
Stupid, too, in a Professor of the Public Understanding of Science. If you offer a choice between science on one hand and faith and tradition on the other, too many people will reject science. A subtle and well-evolved species like us can accept both ammonites and Alleluias. Live with it, Prof.
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