The anti-theist Richard Dawkins had the following advice to give to his daughter who was 10 at the time (she is a bit older now) (1). Advice that is a tad bit self-defeating. We shall zoom in on a few of his problematic statements. To begin he pens that one should only believe in “Something that you learn by direct seeing (or hearing or feeling…) is called an observation… Often evidence isn’t just observation on its own, but observation always lies at the back of it.”
Dawkins essentially claims that all credible beliefs must be grounded in evidence. This evidence must always be based on observation from the five senses. This is problematic because Dawkins provides no evidence that can be traced back to observations from the five senses to justify the criterion itself. He just asserts it. What kind of evidence derived from the five senses could Dawkins provide for the claim that the only kind of evidence is that which ultimately derives from observations rooted in the five senses? But it seems to go downhill for Dawkins the further we go. He says that in contrast to “evidence, which is a good reason for believing something,” there are “three bad reasons for believing anything.” These, he believes, are the concepts of “tradition,” “authority,” and “revelation.”
Dawkins says that “Authority, as a reason for believing something, means believing it because you are told to believe it by somebody important.” In other words, authority is always a bad thing. However, if we were to really apply Dawkins’ logic in daily life then that would necessitate that law courts would have to do away with expert testimony because that’s “authority.” So much for a functioning law system. One would probably have to shut down universities too since it would prove a problem for students to have to listen to their professors, who are clearly authorities. What about the doctor, or the biologist? We apparently wouldn’t be able to trust their professional judgments because they are authorities… and with that goes Dawkins’ own field of study. I wonder if Dawkins has ever, in his scientific career, interacted with literature penned by other leading biologists? If he has then he is undermining his own criteria since he places his faith in them as authorities. Possibly those authorities have worked with scientific data quite removed from Dawkins’. In other words, Dawkins has to place his trust (faith) in their testimony. And then for the ultimate self-defeater is that Dawkins himself is acting as an authority. He is giving advice to his own daughter. And by accepting Dawkins’ own criteria his daughter shouldn’t listen to her father’s advice.
Then Dawkins emphasizes “tradition,” as if it is a bad thing. Is Dawkins even aware of the fact that he is essentially trying to influence his daughter in the way of a naturalistic, atheistic and skeptical worldview which can be traced back centuries? In other words, Dawkins’ entire philosophical faith system of beliefs is built upon tradition itself! According to Dawkins tradition shouldn’t feature in deliberating over evidence, but that is exactly the argument he is espousing.
Subsequently, Dawkins urges his daughter to be aware that “People sometimes say that you must believe in feelings deep inside… But this is a bad argument.” The problem with this statement is that we do tend to have “feelings deep inside” concerning certain things, especially when it comes to morality. For example, most people would strongly feel that rape is wrong. This belief is linked to a pretty basic “inside” feeling that rape is inherently evil. But according to Dawkins this would be no evidence at all because the only evidence that counts is outside evidence from the five senses. But again Dawkins is profoundly inconsistent. Dawkins clearly has “feelings deep inside” that indoctrinating kids, by telling them that if they don’t believe in God they will be going to hell, is evil. Dawkins hates it that so many Christians reject evolution and thus teach those beliefs to their students or children. Dawkins, using his “feelings deep inside,” defines the biblical God as being evil, and that faith, because it is blind (according to Dawkins), is also one of the greatest evils. These are all moral claims that are philosophical and thus have no basis in empirical, scientific fact. It appears that Dawkins has many inside feelings about a great many things.
Dawkins then tells his daughter that “Belief that there is a god or gods, belief in Heaven, belief that Mary never died, belief that Jesus never had a human father, belief that prayers are answered, belief that wine turns into blood – not one of these beliefs is backed up by any good evidence.”
This is simply a dismissal. Belief in God? Has Dawkins fully considered all the arguments for God’s existence and rebutted them? The last time he tried he was roundly criticised by atheist and theistic philosophers alike. Dawkins also refused to debate the world’s leading Christian apologist William Craig. This considered, is this the person we are to take advice from concerning matters of philosophy and theology when he has been routinely exposed as being incompetent? Has Dawkins, or any other naturalist, ever demonstrated that miracles are impossible? I also think we can strongly and confidently disagree with Dawkins by believing that we have solid evidence for the supernatural. Essentially Dawkins has already undermined authority, so why don’t we simply do what he recommends and therefore dismiss this entire line as an irrational appeal to authority.
On a final note Dawkins has chastised religious parents for indoctrinating their kids. But is this not what is happening with Dawkins? He essentially informs his daughter that religion is no more than something just “strongly believed – even if its completely untrue.” Allegedly none of “these beliefs is backed up by any good evidence.” Dawkins essentially says that “millions of people believe them,” which is to say most people are deluded. Is this not “what happened with religions?” asks Dawkins. Some people are “utterly convinced that they are right and the others are wrong” (doesn’t Dawkins think he’s right and others are wrong?). Isn’t this tantamount to the religious indoctrination that Dawkins so hates? I suppose atheists don’t count then?
1. Rational Response Squad. 2006. Richard Dawkins letter to his 10 year old daughter (how to warn your child about this irrational world). Available