Filtering Science From Dawkins’ Scientism

Kregar's Dawkins

In “Growing Up in the Universe” lecture, Richard Dawkins informed us that,

“The universe is nothing but a collection of atoms in motion, human beings are simply machines for propagating DNA, and the propagation of DNA is a self-sustaining process. It is every living object’s sole reason for living.”[1]

Dawkins’ metascience is ingeniously knitted in science in a way that a layperson would buy Dawkins whole claim as a scientific observation. John Lennox rightly detected that “[t]he words ‘nothing but’, ‘sole’, or ‘simply’, are the tell-tale signature of ontological reductionist thinking” in Dawkins’ claim. He went further,

“If we remove these words we are usually left with something unobjectionable. The universe certainly is a collection of atoms, and human beings do propagate DNA. Both of these statements are statements of science. But immediately we add the words ‘nothing but’, the statements go beyond science and become expressions of materialistic or naturalistic belief.”(Lennox 2009: 56)

Dawkins is a brilliant zoologist and without doubt excellent in his field. But the moment he goes outside of his field of science to metaphysics, knitting it with agreeable scientific observation, we ought to be skeptical and careful  not to buy the whole package. We ought to filter science from Dawkins’ scientism.

It is time we think. Whether you share Dawkins’ conclusions or not, it is my hope you will begin to think hard before you buy his claims. Undress scientism from science and ponder if Dawkins’ scientism, which is metascience, holds water.

Think. Think. Think.


Lennox, John (2009) God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? Lion Hudson.

Cover photocredit: ACU Library + Richard Dawkins Fine Art Print – Simon Kregar

[1] BBC Christmas Lectures Study Guide, London, BBC 1991

13 thoughts on “Filtering Science From Dawkins’ Scientism

  1. Strange, because I’m sure I’ve heard Richard Dawkins say on several occasions that we are so much more than all that. I think this may be a case of Dawkins being somewhat inarticulate, rather than actually being his view. Perhaps when he says we are only these things he means to emphasize that there is no evidence in science for a spirit or anything like that. Generally the atheist view is that the ability to see beauty, the ability for moral reasoning, and everything else noble about humanity are explainable as emergent properties, but the fact that they can be explained does not diminish their importance to us. In other words we are more than the sum of our parts.

  2. It is true that Dawkin’s “nothing but…” way of talking masks what he is actually saying. When he says that we are machines for propagating DNA the claim he is actually making is that there are no other purposes to life, and that there is no soul etc etc. And he should find a more sympathetic (and academically robust) way of expressing himself. He talks as if all other ideas have been falsified, which obviously they haven’t.

    I just want to point out that trying to open up these gaps doesn’t give you a place to shoe-horn in anything else without some sort of evidence. I don’t think you need to be told that, but I wanted to make sure.

    • Thank you Allallt.

      I would sweetly disagree. I believe we ought to open up these gaps and think, reflect and ponder together, as we debate, which shoe-horn fit best. Science gives as the facts, which I think is not debatable, but how we interpret those facts depends on our metaphysical commitments, which is another matter altogethe, open for debate.

      Allallt I hope we are not mixing evidences with interpretations of evidences 😀 Just wanted to make sure you know, though I think you do not need to be told.


  3. Prayson, I think you’re stretching this argument a little just to fit your worldview. Don’t forget, Dawkins was the chair of Oxfords The Simonyi Professorship for the Public Understanding of Science from 1995 to 2008, which green lights a more fluid use of language. Indeed, that’s its purpose. “The aim of the Professorship is “to communicate science to the public without, in doing so, losing those elements of scholarship which constitute the essence of true understanding”.

    • I totally agree John that Dawkins is super brilliant in his field as I wrote in the article. It is when he steps outside his area that I hope we become careful and skeptical 🙂

      • For sure, but that’s precisely my point. By the parameters of his position at Oxford (to promote “science”) he’s free from rigid academic language. His job is to promote the beauty of science to laypeople, and that requires more poetry than XYZ’s 🙂 His job is to instill the thrill of the search, the majesty of facts, the beauty of reality not myth… and that does mean unshackling minds from rigid dogma. As always, respectfully!

      • You are correct in many ways John. But I think it is more than semantics. Scientist ought to use language to promote the beauty of science to laypeople. But if a scientist add her own myth, something that is not supported in science, into the majesty of facts, then I believe we ought to unaddressed her myth from facts.

        Example I would be careful and skeptical when my dentist start advising me on how to do my banking, the position which my bank adviser is helping me. My dentist is brilliant in her field, but the moment she steps outside her field, I ought to be careful and skeptical. This is true also with Dawkins’ dogmas. He is undoubtifully awesome in biology but not so in metaphysics(philosophy). It is one thing to say we, human, do propagate DNA and quite another, that this is human’s sole reason for living. The former is pure science while the latter is philosophy(metascience).

        All I am asking is we filter Dawkins’ science from his philosophy(scientism) in his claims and think, think and think. When I think, I am not questioning Dawkins’ science, I think he is so correct, it is Dawkins’ philosophy (scientism) that I think does not hold water .


  4. Excellent post. You have a right to be concerned when science opines on what is outside the knowable universe by studying the knowable universe, especially when they couch any evidence as proof.

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