Richard Dawkins misrepresents science according to a recent study.
Andrew Griffin of the Independent explains that “Most British scientists in a new study dislike Richard Dawkins, with some arguing that he misrepresents science and is misleading the public.” One nonreligious professor of biology referred to him as a “fundamental atheist.”
Richard Dawkins is probably the most famous atheist today. His book The God Delusion (2006) has sold over 3 million copies and has been translated into 35 languages.
The study in question was published in the Public Understanding of Science and was the findings of Religion Among Scientists in International Context (RASIC). The study “include[d] a survey of over 20,000 scientists from eight countries. In the United Kingdom, 1,581 randomly sampled scientists participated in the survey, and 137 of them also participated in in-depth interviews” according to a Rice News article. The Public Understanding of Science is a fully peer reviewed, quarterly international journal covering all aspects of the inter-relationships between science (including technology and medicine) and the public according to its website.
One of the more interesting insights was that this study did not include Dawkins as part of the interview process. The researchers didn’t ask about him. Of the 137 British scientists interviewed 48 mentioned Dawkins. 80 percent of the 48 said they thought that Dawkins misrepresents science and scientists in his books and public speeches.
Description from scientists on Dawkins and his work included:
- A nonreligious physicist said that Dawkins is “much too strong about the way he denies religion”
- A nonreligious biologist states that “He’s a fundamental atheist. He feels compelled to take the evidence way beyond that which other scientists would regard as possible.”
- Another professor of biology commentated that Dawkins has “gone on a crusade, basically. Although there is a lot of truth behind what he says, he does it in a way that I think is deliberately designed to alienate religious people.”
The common criticism, according to Griffin, “was that Dawkins was too strong in his criticism of religion.”
Not all are taking the criticisms of Dawkins seriously.
Sebastian Anthony at ARC Technica UK reports that a “spokesperson for the Centre of Inquiry, which is currently merging with Dawkins’ Foundation for Reason & Science, told the Independent that ‘It’s certainly not a breathtaking revelation that fewer than 40 scientists out of 137—culled from a pool of over 20,000—might not be fans of Professor Dawkins’ particular approach to science communication.”
Hermant Mehta at “The Friendly Atheist” blog on Patheos.com claimed that the study published by the Public Understanding of Science is bizarre and the conclusion is flimsy based on the methodology of the researchers.
But this is not the first time Richard Dawkins has come under criticism from scholars, scientists, and philosophers.
E. O. Wilson, a Harvard professor, criticized him in 2014 stating that Dawkins wasn’t a scientist at all, but a journalist. Wilson declared that “There is no dispute between me and Richard Dawkins and there never has been, because he’s a journalist, and journalists are people that report what the scientists have found and the arguments I’ve had have actually been with scientists doing research.”
Philosopher Alvin Plantinga’s review of Dawkins bestseller The God Delusion comments that, “Now despite the fact that this book is mainly philosophy, Dawkins is not a philosopher (he’s a biologist). Even taking this into account, however, much of the philosophy he purveys is at best jejune. You might say that some of his forays into philosophy are at best sophomoric, but that would be unfair to sophomores; the fact is (grade inflation aside), many of his arguments would receive a failing grade in a sophomore philosophy class.”
Michael Ruse, atheist philosopher of biology at Florida State University, states that Dawkins The God Delusion made him ashamed to be an atheist. Ruse discussed the trouble with Richard Dawkins in this short (6 min) video clip:
Of worthy note about the study is the fact that it did not ask questions about Dawkins, but those scientists interviewed mentioned him without prompting.
Critiques of Dawkins work can be found in proliferation:
“Dawkins is Not Great” by Bo Seo at The Harvard Crimson | Nov. 21, 2013
“The Closed Mind of Richard Dawkins,” by John Gray at The New Republic | Oct 2, 2014
The Dawkins Delusion?: Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine by Alister and Joanna McGrath (InterVarsity, 2007)
Dawkins’ God: From the Selfish Gene to the God Delusion by Alister McGrath (Wiley, 2015)
“On Dawkins’ Atheism: A Response” by Gary Gutting at The New York Times | Aug 11, 2010
“The Dawkins Confusion” by Alvin Plantinga at Books and Culture | Mar/Arp 2007
“British Scientists Don’t Like Richard Dawkins: finds study that didn’t even ask questions about Richard Dawkins,” by Andrew Griffin The Independent | Oct. 31, 2016
“Most British Scientists Cited in Study Feel Richard Dawkins’ Work Misrepresents Science,” by Amy McCaig Rice News | Oct. 31, 2016
“Richard Dawkins Gives Science a Bad Name, Says Fellow UK Scientists,” by Sebastian Anthony ARC Technica UK | Nov. 1, 2016
“Responding to Richard: Celebrity and (Mis)Representation of Science,” by David R. Johnson, et. al. Public Understanding of Science | Oct. 10, 2016