This means that he obviously can’t be an atheist! Right??
Apparently Dawkins was at Oxford recently having a debate with the Archbishop of Canterbury, and “admitted” to not being completely certain there was no God. Shortly thereafter I see blog entries and articles popping up with headlines like “Richard Dawkins, Famous Atheist, Not Entirely Sure God Doesn’t Exist“, in which they breathlessly report the breaking news:
LONDON (RNS) A controversial Oxford University professor billed by many as the world’s “most famous atheist” now says he is not 100 percent sure that God doesn’t exist — but just barely.
In a 100-minute debate with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Richard Dawkins surprised his online and theater audiences by conceding a personal chink of doubt about his conviction that there is no such thing as a creator.
But, to the amusement of the archbishop and others, the evolutionary biologist swiftly added that he was “6.9 out of seven” certain of his long-standing atheist beliefs.
Now, I’m not writing this to jump to his defense; he’s a big boy and can take care of himself. However, there are three things about this article and others I’ve seen that irk the hell out of me. First, this is not news. He has held this conviction for a long time and even described it in his book “The God Delusion”. A detailed description of his “Spectrum of Theistic Probability” can be found here.
Dawkins argues that while there appear to be plenty of individuals that would place themselves as “1” due to the strictness of religious doctrine against doubt, most atheists do not consider themselves “7” because atheism arises from a lack of evidence and evidence can always change a thinking person’s mind. In print, Dawkins self-identified as a ‘6’, though when interviewed by Bill Maher and later by Anthony Kenny, he suggested ‘6.9’ to be more accurate.
Second, atheism is not a belief. I’ve written about this before. Atheism is a rejection of claims that divine beings exist based on believers’ inability to satisfy their burden of proof. This means, of course, that if such evidence is provided (and it’s something that is objective, testable, repeatable, etc.) then we would happily believe in a god from then on. It’s as simple as that. There is no “atheist belief system”; it’s a single position on a single issue,and the rest is up to the individual.
Third, atheism and agnosticism cover two different ideas: atheism has to do with belief, while agnosticism refers to knowledge. I, for example, am an agnostic atheist. I don’t believe in a god, but I also think there’s no way to ever really know whether one truly exists or not either. There is a possibility he’ll poke his head out of the clouds tomorrow and say, “Here I am!”, but I suspect that won’t happen. The more likely scenario is that humanity – barring catastrophe – will continue on, and not find any evidence one way or the other to suggest the existence of any kind of supernatural being. The closest we’ll likely ever come in the future is a development of an understanding of the universe that causes more of a drive to pantheism as opposed to the current focus on the “personal” god interested in our everyday lives.
On another note, I’m going to be posting another movie week, because I’m going to be away. I’ll try to mix it up a little bit; there was a talk that Sam Harris gave about the label of “atheism”, consciousness, and the subjective experience which I enjoyed so I’ll probably throw that in with a few other things.