"The Devil's Chaplain" Confounded

Stephen M.Barr FAITH Magazine January-February 2007

Even without his bigotry, we could not expect balanced judgment or logical consistency from Dawkins, because he is a man in a muddle. One encounters in A Devil’s Chaplain at least three Dawkinses: there is Dawkins the Humanist, Dawkins the Reasoner, and Dawkins the Darwinist. Each sits on a different branch, sawing away at the branches on which the others sit. Dawkins the Humanist preaches, inveighs, denounces; he bristles with moral indignation. Dawkins the Darwinist tells him, however, that his humanism is speciesist vanity, his moral standards arbitrary, and his indignation empty. Dawkins the Humanist rebels, proclaiming himself (in human affairs) passionately anti-Darwinian. Dawkins the Reasoner joins the rebellion, declaring that our minds allow us to transcend our geneticinheritance. Dawkins the Darwinist answers with lethal effect that our brains 'were only designed to understand the mundane details of how to survive in the stone-age African savannah.

The blame for this muddle lies not with humanism, reason, or even Darwinism. It lies with Dawkins’ atheism and materialism, which prevent any coherent viewpoint from emerging because they deny the spiritual soul in man. That soul is indeed a blessed gift. It is precisely 'what is so special about humans'. It is what enables us to be people of reason and not just animals programmed to survive on the African savannah. It is what allows us to grasp moral truth and to have the freedom to follow it rather than the laws of matter or the law of the jungle. It is what makes it possible for us to have that hope and love to which the subtitle of Dawkins’ book refers, but which are absent from its pages, and about which he has nothing in the end to say.

Extract originally published in First Things ©, used with kind permission

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