Thursday, September 15, 2011

Dawkins Misses The Point, Again

Richard Dawkins is publishing a book for children, to help debunk ignorant creation myths and replace them with the far grander truth of science.

Yet again, Dawkins’ argument is breathtaking in its lack of self- and other-awareness.

For a start, Genesis chapter 1 is not a creation myth; it is a redemption myth, or story that transcends the time-and-place context in which it was first told.  Obviously, from Dawkins’ perspective, perpetuating a redemption myth is as stupid and ignorant as perpetuating a creation myth; but nonetheless he demonstrates his own lack of awareness of what he is looking at, as much as the lack of awareness demonstrated by many of his critics.

True fundamentalist that he is, Dawkins also fails to accept that we all pass on to our children the stories by which we find our identity, the identity in which we find our security, the security which allows us to live confidently in a big and wonderful and at times deeply troubling and uncontrollable world.  The stories of science are also myths (stories that transcend the time-and-place context in which they were first told).  Of course Dawkins believes that his myth is the true myth, just as passionately as I believe that the myth I believe is the true myth.  But this passion does not in itself make either of us right.  Nor is his myth any less self-referential.  For Dawkins, “You don’t believe that, do you?” is an adequate response to questioning: the self-evident measure of truth being whether or not we believe something to be true.  At any rate, arguments about the truth of myths also miss the point, in that all myths are selective in their concern.  For example, the writers of the Bible take it as a given that God created the heavens and the earth, but are not concerned with how he did so, and in this sense the biblical myth has no interest in the things that science addresses.  Likewise, the myth of science does not concern itself with a great many matters, which neither invalidates those things, nor invalidate science.

Dawkins is entitled to his myth, and I am entitled to mine.  As they are the stories by which we navigate life, it would be both irresponsible and in fact impossible for us not to pass the story we inhabit on to our children.  They are, in a very real sense, immersed in those stories from birth, from before they can take them in.  And children do not take anything in unquestioningly, but ask the most profound questions of any myth – questions far more profound than any adult ever asks – and in this way they challenge us to take hold of our myth more fully, or loosen our grip on it on the way to searching out a new story.  Adults, religious or atheist, do not brainwash children; each, as much as the other, passes on what we believe, and in turn has what we believe renewed by our children’s response.

So Dawkins will go on telling his story, and I will go on telling mine.  We cannot do otherwise: it is what makes us, by incredible chance or incredible divine purpose, human.

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