Here's part of an interview with Richard Dawkins on the Salon website [The flying spaghetti monster]. I stand solidly with Dawkins on this particular issue. He is absolutely correct that the war between rationalism and superstition trumps the local fight with American creationists.
I have to ask you about a letter that I've come across from the intelligent design advocate William Dembski. He thanked you for your outspoken atheism. His letter to you said, "I want to thank you for being such a wonderful foil for theism and for intelligent design more generally. In fact, I regularly tell my colleagues that you and your work are one of God's greatest gifts to the intelligent design movement. So, please, keep at it!" What do you make of that?
Yeah, I get that quite a lot. It is a very difficult political dilemma that we face. In the United States of America at the moment, there's a big battle going on, educationally, over teaching evolution in public schools. Science is definitely under attack. And evolution is in the front-line trench of that battle. So a science defense lobby has sprung up, which in practice largely means an evolution defense lobby. Now, it is true that if you want to win a court case in the United States where it's specifically on the narrow issue of should evolution be taught in the public schools, if somebody like me is called as a witness and the lawyer for the other side says, "Professor Dawkins, is it true that you were led to atheism through the study of Darwinian evolution?" I would have to answer, "Yes." That of course plays into their hands because any jury is likely to have been brought up to believe that atheists are the devil incarnate. And therefore, if Darwin leads to atheism, then obviously we've got to throw out Darwinism. Well, that is exactly what Dembski is getting at. He claims to like the things that I say because I am playing into his hands by allowing people like him to make the equation between Darwinism and atheism.
But it's not just Dembski. I've heard this from various scientists -- hardcore evolutionists -- who wish you would tone down your rhetoric, quite frankly.
That is absolutely true.
They say this hurts the cause of teaching evolution. It just gives fire to the creationists.
Exactly right. And they could be right, in a political sense. It depends on whether you think the real war is over the teaching of evolution, as they do, or whether, as I do, think the real war is between supernaturalism and naturalism, between science and religion. If you think the war is between supernaturalism and naturalism, then the war over the teaching of evolution is just one skirmish, just one battle, in the war. So what the scientists you've been talking to are asking me to do is to shut my mouth. Because for the sake of what I see as the war, I'm in danger of losing this particular battle. And that's a worthwhile political point for them to make.
Well, I think a lot of these scientists really do accept Stephen Jay Gould's idea of non-overlapping magisteria. These are hardcore evolutionists, but they say religion is an entirely different realm. So you, with your inflammatory rhetoric, just muddy the waters and make life more difficult for them.
That is exactly what they say. And I believe that actually is the political reason for Steve Gould to put forward the non-overlapping magisteria in the first place. I think it's nonsense. And I'll continue to say that I think it's nonsense. But I can easily see, politically, why he said that and why other scientists follow it. The politics is very straightforward. The science lobby, which is very important in the United States, wants those sensible religious people -- the theologians, the bishops, the clergymen who believe in evolution -- on their side. And the way to get those sensible religious people on your side is to say there is no conflict between science and religion. We all believe in evolution, whether we're religious or not. Therefore, because we need to get the mainstream orthodox religious people on our side, we've got to concede to them their fundamental belief in God, thereby -- in my view -- losing the war in order to win the battle for evolution. If you're prepared to compromise the war for the sake of the battle, then it's a sensible political strategy.
Throughout the ages, one has resorted to that kind of political compromise. And maybe it would be a good thing for me to do as well. But as it happens, I think the war is more important. I actually do care about the existence of a supreme being. And therefore, I don't think I should say something which I believe to be false, which is that the question of whether God exists is a non-scientific question, and science and religion have no contact with each other, so we can all get along cozily and keep out those lunatic creationists.