restricted access Encountering Evolution
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2 Encountering Evolution Dawkins' Perspective Introduction In order to pursue the objectives of this project (a dialogue with Dawkins) we must, as an essential prerequisite, understand the scientific foundation from which Dawkins develops his worldview. As stated in the previous chapter, Dawkins is being held as a representative of an interpretation of evolutionary science in order to pursue an interdisciplinary dialogue. This dialogue, we noted, was seen as an imperative by theologians such as David Tracy and John Paul II, among others. However, it would be highly limiting to attempt to enter into a dialogical relationship with Dawkins without ascertaining the edifice of the scientific picture as he presents it. This endeavour is also necessary for two further reasons. Firstly, possessing a comprehension of the scientific theory of evolution is needed, as it is inevitable that scientific aspects of the evolutionary process will be encountered throughout this work. Therefore, we will develop a rudimentary grasp of the science in order to keep our study within the parameters of what we would call ‘informed discussion’. Secondly, by looking at Dawkins’ view of evolution, we are allowing a degree of objectivity into our work. This point relates to the motives of the project outlined in the previous chapter, where it was suggested that encompassing the views of nontheological scholars, or in Dawkins’ case, anti-theological, we may limit potential criticisms of religious subjectivity. This chapter therefore relates to the theological paradigm of broadening the ambit of traditional subject matter. We presented in the previous chapter how Dawkins’ otherness makes him a suitable candidate for a project seeking to pursue the pluralistic/ interdisciplinary paradigm pronounced in the writings of thinkers such as Rahner and Küng, among others. Therefore, Dawkins will be our guide 41 through the complex field of evolutionary theory. However, Dawkins’ ideology, identified as atheistic naturalism/materialism, will shape his illustration of evolution. Consequently, focusing solely on Dawkins’ depiction will have its limitations (particularly, given that Dawkins has been criticized significantly for his explanatory monism or intolerance of other views). To alleviate this problem, while keeping Dawkins to the forefront of our exploration we will incorporate other authorities in the field. This will help to alleviate potential criticism of giving Dawkins’ position too much weight, which would be particularly limiting given the criticisms of Dawkins’ monistic stance. Moreover, as we progress, we will indicate specific aspects of Dawkins’ view on evolution with theological ramifications that will be addressed throughout the following three chapters. Biological Evolution: An Overview In order to present an overview of Dawkins’ perspective on evolution, we must firstly obtain a preliminary understanding of genes, given their centrality in his approach. Dawkins regards genes as information, which contain the blueprint of an organism.1 In conjunction with this, he postulates that the genetic code is analogous to a computer program, “a better analogy for a gene than a word or a sentence is a toolbox subroutine in a computer”.2 Dawkins can obtain support for this interpretation from scholars such as Nobel laureate James Watson,3 codiscoverer of the double helix structure of DNA with Francis Crick in 1953 (we will discuss DNA below), among others.4 Genes transmit the information that ‘instructs’ organisms to develop according to a particular plan/blueprint. They are manifest as an organism’s characteristics, that is, genes that allow for a lion to run faster, or a human to be taller, and so forth (though this is somewhat of an oversimplification, it does not bear weight upon a rudimentary understanding of evolution, such as we are seeking to establish).5 This initial understanding of genes equips us to embark on our overview of Dawkins’ position on evolution. He encapsulates the premise of his view of Darwinism as follows (though the term ‘Darwinism’ can be problematic): Since all organisms inherit their genes from their ancestors, rather than from their ancestors’ unsuccessful contemporaries, all organisms tend to possess successful genes. They have what it takes to become ancestors—and that means to survive and reproduce. This is why organisms tend to inherit genes with a propensity to build a welldesigned machine—a body that actively works as if is striving to become an ancestor . . . we all, without a single exception, inherit 42 | Reading Richard Dawkins genes from an unbroken line of successful ancestors. The world becomes full of organisms that have what it takes to become ancestors. That in a sentence is Darwinism.6 From this definition, two significant premises can be discerned. The...