I should state right now that I couldn't be more solidly in the evolutionary camp. I have a degree in Geology. Even before the smoking gun evidence of genome mapping, I was convinced by the overwhelming (though admittedly gappy) evidence of the fossil and geological record.
But Dawkins's diatribe is almost exclusively devoted to debunking religion with biology. He goozes enthusiasm about the wonder of the natural world - all without God. OK Richard, we get it - you don't believe in God, but I'm just wondering - if God isn't worth consideration why do you talk about Him so much?
Dawkins fails to recognize that maybe religion has some value - some evolutionary value - to human existence. We are not like the lions or the ant or the snails. We humans are more complicated critters than that, we build complex social organisations. We build civilizations. We construct cities and tribes and groups and clubs and - yes, religious hierarchies - all in a bid to hold off the savagery of nature and our own characters in order to help us survive and allow our genes to carry on. We have not evolved beyond this.
He tries to take on religious belief head on. In last night's program, he harangues a group of teenagers - some clearly from a variety of religious traditions. He takes them on a fossil hunt at the beach and shoves the DNA evidence down their throats in a quick few hours of (what seems to be) him lecturing about the silliness of relying on religious texts and their parents' teachings and them staring gormlessly back. Dude, that's not the way to support critical thinking.
He skirts around the dangerous trend of subverting proof and rationality to avoid causing anyone religious offense. Some Brits mock the credulity of the American public and the open battle between Science and Creationism. But in this country, Science and free speech are being gnawed away quietly by the trump card of not wanting to offend anyone's spiritual sensibilities. It appears that in many UK schools Creationism is taught alongside science.
And while Protestantism and Enlightenment have rubbed along fine for much of the time particularly when they keep to their own spheres, there's a new threat to scientific discourse. Islam. I don't know if Dawkins will discuss that in the remaining two hours of his programme on Darwin (and frankly, I don't know if it's relevant), but I'll give him some credit for at least raising the issue elsewhere. In a recent Daily Mail article:
Most devout Muslims are creationists - so when you go to schools, there are a large number of children of Islamic parents who trot out what they have been taught. Teachers are bending over backwards to respect home prejudices that children have been brought up with. The Government could do more but it doesn't want to because it is fanatical about multiculturalism and the need to respect the different traditions from which these children come.I don't "blame Islam" for this, but I think Islamic religious sensibilities are reinforcing the trend to abandon science and pursue a "cuddly world" where belief is never challenged. I don't think religious belief should be subjected to same kind of rigour that scientific theories must face - as that is the model for how science thrives and progresses. But at the same time, we need a framework for nuanced discussion about religion and the ability to challenge pernicious beliefs, for example the status of women or indeed the perceived fallacy of scientific truths - like evolution. Richard Dawkins doesn't have a clue how to do this.
He added: 'It seems as though teachers are terribly frightened of being thought racist. It's almost impossible to say anything against Islam in this country because if you do you are accused of being racist or Islamophobic.'