Richard Dawkins posts a comment about an article written by Madeleine Bunting [Darwin shouldn't be hijacked by New Atheists - he is an ethical inspiration]. She repeats the rather boring complaint that the "New Atheists" are about to hijack the 2009 celebrations.
In particular, what would have baffled Darwin is his recruitment as standard bearer for atheism in the 21st century. Darwin kept his pronouncements on religion to a minimum, partly out of respect for his Christian wife. Despite continuing claims that he was an atheist, most scholars acknowledge that he never went further than agnosticism.Richard Dawkins replied ...
It is true that Darwin declined to call himself an atheist. But his motive, clearly expressed to the atheist intellectual Edward Aveling (incidentally the common-law husband of Karl Marx's daughter) was that Darwin didn't want to upset people. Atheism, in Darwin's view, was all well and good for the intelligentsia, but ordinary people were not yet "ripe" for atheism. So he called himself an agnostic, largely for diplomatic reasons..I stand with Dawkins1 except that I would include all of the modern scientific advances as additional facts that make it easy to be an atheist and difficult to believe in supernatural beings.
In any case, what Darwin chose to call himself, as a pillar of his local parish in the nineteenth century, is of less interest than the cogency of the arguments themselves. Before Darwin came along, it was pretty difficult to be an atheist, at least to be an atheist free of nagging doubts. Darwin triumphantly made it EASY to be an intellectually fulfilled and satisfied atheist. That doesn't mean that understanding Darwin drives you inevitably to atheism. But it certainly constitutes a giant step in that direction.
Science doesn't turn you into an atheist but it sure as heck poses a severe challenge to most established religions. That's why religions fear science.
1. On the issue of superstition vs. rationality, I'm in (almost) complete agreement with Richard Dawkins and I admire him greatly for writing The God Delusion. On the issue of evolutionary theory, I'm not in complete agreement.