For the past forty years, Richard Dawkins has proved a formidable controversialist and his latest collection of essays, lectures and articles, published under the title ‘Science in the Soul’, confirms his central place and influence in the ongoing debate between religion and science, or shall we say, between emotions and reason. Dawkins always had many detractors who see in his lifelong defence of the Darwinian heritage, a rabid attack on deeply felt beliefs in holy religious texts. As an evolutionary biologist and philosopher, the author of ‘The Selfish Gene’ and ‘The God Delusion’ is only interested in observable facts which once put to the test of the most rigorous method, can then be accepted as objective truth. His critics argue that his conclusions are only slapdash, biased opinions, holding no scientific credentials and producing no scientific evidence whatsoever.
In a fascinating attempt to offer the reader ‘the best’ of his intellectual legacy, Dawkins suggests semi-seriously in the opening pages of his book that it is high time for the Nobel Prize for Literature to be awarded to a scientist or perhaps in his case, a ‘science writer’? As a world famous author, he could certainly qualify although the Nobel jury is highly unlikely to celebrate the academic achievement of a man who spent his entire career debunking religious bigotry as well as the mildest theological positions. It is true that Dawkins’ openly atheistic, no-nonsense approach of the issues of personhood and the soul, for instance, can easily discourage any reader with a high opinion of his ‘unique’ self. Our self-consciousness is, for him, not a god-sent gift but the natural consequence of chemical brain activity, programmed to grow before deteriorating and finally dissolving in a prenatal oblivion. Instead of identifying himself as a ‘spiritual’ person, he prefers the expression ‘spiritual awareness’ which he shares with Einstein who described himself as a ‘deeply religious nonbeliever’. Dawkins’ sole and only creed remains science, both ‘wonderful and necessary’, not only for our personal sense of wonderment but also for society at large, with its endless capacity to make life better and richer for humanity.
As Professor of the Public Understanding of Science, Dawkins has promoted a poetic exploration of nature and the universe, inspired by the American cosmologist and science populariser, Carl Sagan. The attractive beauty of science can equally be enjoyed in the prescient works of Arthur C. Clarke while its dark ominous side can be pondered over in the prophetic tales of Philip K. Dick. In an age of half-baked information and spreading fake news, Dawkins remains a beacon of intellectual resilience and uncompromising judgment. We will need more free-minded thinkers like him in the future if we are to escape the clutches of a global Big Brother.