Evolutionary biologist and celebrated God-slayer Richard Dawkins is expressing his bewilderment at how America can simultaneously be the world leader in the natural sciences while also a strikingly religious nation.
Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, admits in a new video posted on the Business Insider that America represents “a curious paradox” for him, because while “beyond any doubt it’s the world’s leading scientific power,” it somehow hasn’t sloughed off its religious spirit and still clings to a fundamentally biblical worldview.
And since he cannot even entertain the possibility that America’s achievements in both science and religion go hand in hand, he comes to the only conclusion possible: that if America is the leading scientific nation in the world now, it could only soar higher if it were to break free from the chains of religiosity that hold it bound in darkness and ignorance.
“What’s remarkable is that America is the leading scientific nation despite being held back by this incubus, this burden of ignorance and superstition,” Dawkins says. “If there were some way, some educational way perhaps of getting rid of that burden, I imagine that America could bound ahead even further than it already has.”
And who will save America from its religious burden? Who will free Americans from their slavery to superstition? Who is the white knight galloping up to the castle to break America’s iron fetters? Why Dawkins, of course.
“So the answer, I think, is education and the responsibility is on scientists like me to go out and explain to people the wonderful things about science which we now know and which so many children are shielded from by educational ignorance.”
It is odd that Dawkins imagines that American children are “shielded” from science, while at the same time growing up to be the leading scientists in the world. Another paradox, one supposes.
A recent study by the Pew Center found—unsurprisingly—that atheists are far more likely to see a conflict between faith and science than religious believers. While people of faith often see no conflict whatsoever between science and religion and happily embrace them both, irreligious people often imagine that the two are completely incompatible.
The Pew report states that 73 percent of those who seldom or never attend religious services say that science and religion are often in conflict, while those who attend services at least once a week are 23 percent less likely to say so.
Among the unaffiliated—a group that includes atheists, agnostics, and those who belong to no religion in particular—the numbers are even higher. More than three quarters (76 percent) of the unaffiliated say that science and religion are “often in conflict.”
A second reason for Dawkins’ inability to understand the American paradox is that he seems ignorant of the historical fact that the natural sciences grew out of Judeo-Christian culture. As the sociologist Rodney Stark has so convincingly shown, science was “still-born” in the great civilizations of the ancient world, except in Christian civilization. Why is it, Stark ponders, that empirical science and the scientific method did not develop in China (with its sophisticated society), in India (with its philosophical schools), in Arabia (with its advanced mathematics), in Japan (with its dedicated craftsmen and technologies), or even in ancient Greece or Rome?
The answer is fairly straightforward. Science flourished in societies where a Judeo-Christian mindset understood nature to be ordered and intelligible, the work of an intelligent Creator. Science grew and flourished where people assumed that the natural world makes sense and thus can be studied and understood. Far from being an obstacle to science, Christian soil was the necessary humus where modern science took root.
The happy marriage between faith and science is not some recent phenomenon. Despite every Church-basher’s favorite (and only!) illustration to the contrary—the Galileo case—the Christian Church unapologetically supported science throughout the centuries, just as it patronized the arts. To take but one area—that of astronomy—J. L. Heilbron of the University of California-Berkeley has written: “The Roman Catholic Church gave more financial aid and social support to the study of astronomy for over six centuries, from the recovery of ancient learning during the late Middle Ages into the Enlightenment, than any other, and, probably, all other, institutions.”
What can be said of astronomy can be said equally of medicine, physics, mathematics, and chemistry. The caricature of an obscurantist, ignorance-promoting church simply doesn’t correspond to historical truth. Some of history’s greatest scientists—Newton, Pasteur, Galilei, Lavoisier, Kepler, Copernicus, Faraday, Maxwell, Bernard, and Heisenberg—were all Christians who found that faith was an asset, not an obstacle, to science.
Nonetheless, one can’t fault Richard Dawkins for his dogged persistence and unshakeable faith in the dogmas of atheistic materialism that rule out a priori the possibility of spiritual realities, and thus make religion a bugaboo. Dawkins’ personal creed declares that if you cannot measure it, weigh it or see it, it simply isn’t there.
Moreover, since Dawkins has made a name for himself more by his popular atheism than by any accomplishments in the field of evolutionary biology, one easily understands that he has staked everything on his claim that God cannot exist.
At the same time, Americans can rest assured that their secret is safe for the moment. Yes, a rigorous scientific mentality and an openness to spiritual realities complement each other and spur each other to greatness.
The new atheists like Dawkins can scratch their heads in disbelief, while Americans—excelling in both religion and science—continued enjoying their “curious paradox.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome