No, hadn’t heard that, although in the current climate, the question ‘who is next’ certainly looms large.
I don’t believe I do [misrepresent Richard Dawkins' position]
You don't believe you consistently misrepresent his position, or that you don't misrepresent it simpliciter? — Arkady
Dawkins is known for, not only being critical of religion, but also being deliberately insulting about it, by way of making the point that the reverence with which it is treated is unjustified. As Nagel says in his review of TGD, 'one of Dawkins’s aims is to overturn the convention of respect toward religion that belongs to the etiquette of modern civilization. He does this by persistently violating the convention, and being as offensive as possible.' He has now extended that behaviour to other targets, earning him approbation even from some earlier admirers.
So the fact that he is so routinely hostile about his targets, does provide a certain latitude to return serve in kind, I would have thought. But the really grave error that Dawkins makes is a much more serious matter. In that same panel discussion with Pell (incidentally, I thought Bishop Pell's performance on that occasion, as a representative of the Church, was lamentably poor), Dawkins is asked the question:
REBEKAH RAY: Okay, my question for you today is: without religion, where is the basis of our values and in time, will we perhaps revert back to Darwin's idea of survival of the fittest?
RICHARD DAWKINS: I very much hope that we don't revert to the idea of survival of the fittest in planning our politics and our values and our way of life. I have often said that I am a passionate Darwinian when it comes to explaining why we exist. It’s undoubtedly the reason why we're here and why all living things are here. But to live our lives in a Darwinian way, to make a society a Darwinian society, that would be a very unpleasant sort of society in which to live. It would be a sort of Thatcherite society and we want to - I mean, in a way, I feel that one of the reasons for learning about Darwinian evolution is as an object lesson in how not to set up our values and social lives.
Of course I perfectly agree with that statement, and believe it's commendable of him to say so. But the point which Dawkins doesn't seem to grasp is that, whilst he might agree that 'Darwinism is an appalling basis for a social philosophy', he has devoted enormous effort to methodically undermining the philosophical and spiritual foundations of Western culture, which might provide an alternative. I mean, I have seen nothing from Dawkins about a real alternative philosophy, save for a kind of starry-eyed wonder at the 'marvels of science' (and also, I have to say, at a sense of his own cleverness for being so very good at it.) Dawkins is a textbook case of scientism.
Furthermore, whereas the likes of Camus, Sartre, and Nietzsche - convinced atheists all - grappled with the implications of 'the death of God', Dawkins seems to show no awareness of its implications. As David Bentley Hart said in one of his OP's
on 'the new atheism':
Nietzsche understood how immense the consequences of the rise of Christianity had been, and how immense the consequences of its decline would be as well, and had the intelligence to know he could not fall back on polite moral certitudes to which he no longer had any right. Just as the Christian revolution created a new sensibility by inverting many of the highest values of the pagan past, so the decline of Christianity, Nietzsche knew, portends another, perhaps equally catastrophic shift in moral and cultural consciousness. His famous fable in The Gay Science of the madman who announces God’s death is anything but a hymn of atheist triumphalism. In fact, the madman despairs of the mere atheists—those who merely do not believe—to whom he addresses his terrible proclamation. In their moral contentment, their ease of conscience, he sees an essential oafishness; they do not dread the death of God because they do not grasp that humanity’s heroic and insane act of repudiation has sponged away the horizon, torn down the heavens, left us with only the uncertain resources of our will with which to combat the infinity of meaninglessness that the universe now threatens to become.
Dennett, on the other hand, does at least acknowledge this. In a conference called Moving Naturalism Forward
, the sense in which the 'acid of Darwin's dangerous idea' really is a threat to the social order was discussed:
Some of the biologists [on the panel] thought the materialist view of the world should be taught and explained to the wider public in its true, high-octane, Crickian form [a reference to Francis Crick, discoverer of DNA and author of The Astonishing Hypothesis, another materialist manifesto]. Then common, non-intellectual people might see that a purely random universe without purpose or free will or spiritual life of any kind isn’t as bad as some superstitious people—that is, religious people—have led them to believe.
Daniel Dennett took a different view. While it is true that materialism tells us a human being is nothing more than a “moist robot”—a phrase Dennett took from a Dilbert comic—we run a risk when we let this cat, or robot, out of the bag. If we repeatedly tell folks that their sense of free will or belief in objective morality is essentially an illusion, such knowledge has the potential to undermine civilization itself, Dennett believes. Civil order requires the general acceptance of personal responsibility, which is closely linked to the notion of free will. Better, said Dennett, if the public were told that “for general purposes” the self and free will and objective morality do indeed exist—that colors and sounds exist, too—“just not in the way they think.” They “exist in a special way" - which is to say, ultimately, not at all.
(The author of that review says 'I was reminded of the debate among British censors over the publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover half a century ago. “Fine for you or me,” one prosecutor is said to have remarked, “but is this the sort of thing you would leave lying about for your wife or servant to read?”)
So, these two really don't seem to understand that they are actually blowing up the ethical foundations of Western culture, even though Dawkins freely admits that Darwinian theory is 'an appalling basis for a social theory'. At least Sam Harris
has recognised this, by venturing a warmed-over utilitarianism based on neuroscience. Personally I don’t think highly of it, but at least it's an effort.