Saturday, 15 December 2007

Turkish opinion piece on Richard Dawkins offers interesting insight

Each week I check out a number of online papers from non-Western countries to keep up with what their view of the world is. One of the really interesting ones is the Turkish Daily News, which is in its 46th year and has a really interesting set of opinion columnists.

This piece from Mustafa Akyol is illuminating, as it provides a multi-layered insight into Turkish society.

I am a fan of Richard Dawkins but have been very critical of his recent anti-religion evangelism because it throws out the Christian values baby with the belief in God bathwater. Western civilisation was founded on these values and, as Western Europe's narcissism is showing, their abandonment has provided breathing space for Islam, which offers a system for making value judgements that are clear and concise. Western Europe can't stand up to this cultural assault for the simple reason that you can't beat bad values with no values.
Richard Dawkins is probably the world's most famous atheist evangelist. In his numerous books, the Oxford zoologist argues that modern science, and in particular the Darwinian theory of evolution, has disproved God. He is a gifted writer, and his recent volume, “The God Delusion,” has become a global bestseller. Some call him “the Harry Potter of non-fiction.”

More recently Dr. Dawkins made the news in Turkey, too, yet not by his arguments. As the Turkish Daily News reported on Nov. 29, following a complaint by a Turkish reader that some passages in the “The God Delusion” were an assault on "sacred values," an Istanbul prosecutor has opened an official investigation on the book's Turkish version. Its publisher, Erol Karaaslan, is said be “questioned” soon.

Probably nothing will come out from that, and Dawkins' book will continue to show up on Turkish bookshelves. I think it should be so. And here is why.

Sleights of hand:

Followers of this column might have easily guessed that I would not be among the greatest fans of Dr. Dawkins. Yes, I am not. And the reason is not his atheism, but the way he uses sleights of hand while promoting his views.

Just look at the back cover of his book, which mentions, “the grievous harm religion has inflicted on society, from the Crusades to 9/11.” Ah, how impressive… Yet some other writer could also rant about, “the grievous harm atheism has inflicted on society, from Stalin to Pol Pot.” And that writer would be using the same trick with Dr. Dawkins: Cherry-picking the worst representatives of the worldview that you want to bash. It is a way of propaganda, not analysis.

Further tricks are hidden in Dr. Dawkins' efforts to “disprove” the existence of God by referring to Darwin's theory of evolution. First of all, Darwinian theory has serious problems. Evolution, I think, is a solid fact, and Darwin has given us important insights on the mechanisms of this colossal process. But whether every step of this process can really be explained through random and purposeless mechanisms as Darwin had suggested is a hotly debated question. The scientists who defend the “Intelligent Design” (ID) theory, such as biochemist Michael Behe, point out to the extremely complex “machinery” that exists in the living cell, whose origins have not been adequately explained by the proponents of Darwinism.

Most mainstream scientists disagree with ID and argue that naturalistic explanations for all natural phenomena will be found at some point. Fair enough. But that's a presumption, not a proven conclusion.

Darwin reconsidered:

Yet let's go with mainstream science and accept that Darwinian theory is an adequate explanation of biological origins. But even then Dawkins' atheism is not vindicated. There are in fact many Darwinists who think that this theory is perfectly compatible with belief in God. Some of these scientists actually think that the whole drama of life points to a Creator, who gave nature built-in mechanisms (aka natural laws) that are designed to support the emergence of life. One of the world's prominent paleontologists (scientists who study fossils), Simon Conway Morris, is one such “theistic evolutionist.” I listened to several lectures of him where he teaches at, The University of Cambridge, and the philosophical conclusions he drew from evolution was just the opposite of Dawkins'.

Another scientist who not only disagrees with Dawkins but also counters his arguments is Alister McGrath, both a theologian and a molecular biophysicist, who teaches at Oxford University. In the 2007 book he co-authored with his wife, Joanna Collicutt McGrath, he shows why Dawkins' inferences from science in favor of atheism are flawed. According to Publishers Weekly "The McGraths expeditiously plow into the flank of Dawkins's fundamentalist atheism... and run him from the battlefield.” The same commentator adds, “The book works partly because they are so much more gracious to Dawkins than Dawkins is to believers.”

A great idea:

And I think that is the correct theistic attitude to take vis-à-vis Dawkins and other preachers of atheism. A faith's strength comes from not its fervor to silence critics, but its ability to refute them. If Muslim believers in Turkey are annoyed by Dawkins' book, then they should bring counter-arguments to his theses, instead of asking for censorship by prosecutors.

It would be naïve to fear that theism would lose from such intellectual encounters with atheism – and especially of the kind promoted by Dr. Dawkins. That would be giving him too much credit.

Oh, by the way, fellow TDN columnist Sylvia Tiryaki made a good suggestion on this topic in her piece last Monday. “What we should do at this stage,” she wrote, “is to invite Mr. Dawkins to Turkey to discuss his views here publicly.” Great idea. Let me know if you hear that he decides to come, and, perhaps, if he needs a challenger to debate with. It would be my pleasure to discuss with him who is really deluded about God – and who is not.
(Nothing Follows)


Anonymous said...

So if there is a god, is it a nice tollerant god who gave us western values, or an intollerant god with some odd ideas about women etc as in islam or is it the same god with a split personality? Coming to think of it westerners only recently emancipated the female part of our race, so is it maybe god's idea that we are unequal i.e. have we in the west just outgrown god?

Jack Lacton said...


Lots of big questions there but, as I'm an atheist, I'm probably the wrong person to ask.