Is Richard Dawkins Really the World’s Leading Intellectual?

by Rabbi David Wolpe

Prospect magazine just named the 65 leading intellectuals in the world. First on the list was Richard Dawkins, known for his work in biology and for his polemics against religion. Dawkins on biology is an elegant, lucid and even enchanting explicator of science. Dawkins on religion is historically uninformed, outrageously partisan and morally obtuse. If Dawkins is indeed our best, the life of the mind is in a precarious state.

Historical Ignorance

Anyone who could write “Hitler’s ideas and intentions were not self-evidently more evil than those of Caligula” is egregiously ill-informed at best. Not only are Caligula’s intentions and actions a subject of historical speculation and even revision, but he did not plot to wipe out an entire people simply because they existed, or mobilize a vast military machinery to enmesh the entire world in war. I trust this is merely a misjudgment and not — given Dawkins statement that “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully” and that “Jews” are “notoriously one of the most effective political lobbies in the United States” — indicative of any deeper prejudice. (Note to the many credentialed Prof. Dawkins, “Jews” are not a political lobby.)

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Of course, this historical misfire comes from the same book, “The God Delusion,” that insists, “I do not believe there is an atheist in the world who would bulldoze Mecca — or Chartres, York Minster or Notre Dame.” As Alistair McGrath points out, that would surprise anyone who is aware of the fact that the explicitly atheistic Soviet regime destroyed the vast majority of churches (and priests) between 1918-1941. The Tamil Tigers (again, atheistic, and the inventors of suicide vests) leveled countless Buddhist sites of worship. While it is true to say that atheists would not have built Notre Dame, it is not true to say none would ever destroy it.

Intellectual Narrowness

Dawkins exhibits none of an intellectual’s characteristic ability to understand the second side of the argument. He not only discounts religious argument, he is unable to believe in the integrity and sincerity of those scientists who disagree with him…

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Rabbi David Wolpe: Is Richard Dawkins Really the World’s Leading Intellectual?



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