The new atheist activist, and anti-theist Richard Dawkins had some problematic and self-defeating advice to give to his daughter. She was 10 at the time he gave his advice to her (she is a bit older now) (1). To begin, Dawkins 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. Like a consistent empiricist, this evidence must always be based on observation from the five senses. But as some have noted, this is quite problematic. For one, 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?
Dawkins continues. 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 the way Dawkins has used it here, authority is always a bad thing. However, if one were to really apply this logic it would have disastrous implications. For example, it would necessitate that law courts do away with expert testimony because, technically, that would be deemed an “authority.” 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 in the classroom and in the field they are experts within. 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.
One wonders if Dawkins has ever in his scientific career interacted with literature penned by other leading scientific authorities? If he has (which he most certainly would have) then he is undermining his own criteria since he has placed his faith in them as authorities.
But perhaps the most striking in all this is that Dawkins himself is acting as an authority! He is giving advice to his own daughter (for he believes he is wiser than her and can impart valuable knowledge to her), and if his own daughter had to accept his advice then she would have to reject her father’s advice.
Dawkins emphasizes tradition, which he too views in a negative light. It would seem that Dawkins is blissfully unaware he is trying to influence his daughter in the way of a naturalistic and skeptical worldview, a philosophy itself which has its own historical development and traditions! In other words, Dawkins’ entire philosophical faith system of beliefs is built upon tradition itself, and should his daughter take his advice then she would need to reject philosophical naturalism, the very view held by her father.
Dawkins then 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 moral questions and issues. For example, most people would strongly feel that rape is wrong which is linked to a basic “inside” feeling that it is inherently evil. In fact, Dawkins has many feelings deep inside himself too. He deeply feels that indoctrinating children in religion through telling them that if they don’t believe in God they will be going to hell is evil. Dawkins has many feelings deep inside concerning those Christians and religious people who actively reject evolutionary theory and teach their children alternative ideas. Dawkins, using his many feelings deep inside, defines the biblical conception of God as being evil, and that faith, because it is blind is also one of the greatest evils.
Simply, Dawkins has made claim after claim in his career based on nothing more than the very thing he rejects: those feelings deep inside. 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.”
As such, Dawkins has now turned to indoctrinate his daughter in philosophical naturalism, and doing so at an age perhaps when she is too young to fully comprehend the complex philosophical nature of these things. Dawkins has done nothing here but to assume his view, and try to get his daughter to believe likewise.
Moreover, Dawkins too leaves a bad example for his daughter, not only having refused to debate arguably Christianity’s leading defender in the form of William Lane Craig, but has also been roundly criticized by his fellow atheists.
As such, I think we’re better off getting advice from anyone else than from Dawkins.
1. Rational Response Squad. 2006. Richard Dawkins letter to his 10 year old daughter (how to warn your child about this irrational world). Available