If you haven’t yet seen my Cal Tech debate with atheist Michael Shermer—a debate held December 9 before an audience of more than a thousand—you can watch it at michaelshermer.com. I want you to make up your own mind about the debate, so I'm not going to try to settle arguments here that were fully aired in the Beckman auditorium. One point I did make was that the new atheists--people like Richard Dawkins--who use science to promote atheism are in fact an embarrassment to science. They are abusing science for ideological ends. Although I was in a generally hostile crowd, my comment drew a spontaneous and surprising burst of applause.
Why? Part of the answer can be found in a remarkable article in the current issue of Skeptic magazine. Note that the magazine is published by none other than my debate adversary, Michael Shermer. Authored by David Sloan Wilson, the article is subtitled, "Why Richard Dawkins is Wrong About Religion." Wilson is the author of several books including the acclaimed study Darwin's Cathedral in which he examines the evolutionary basis for religion.
Wilson begins, "Richard Dawkins and I share much in common. We are both biologists by training who have written widely about evolutionary theory." Moreover, "We are both atheists in our personal convictions." Then Wilson gets to his point. "When Dawkins' The God Delusion was published, I naturally assumed he was basing his critique of religion on the scientific study of religion from an evolutionary perspective. I regret to report otherwise. He has not done any original work on the subject and he has not fairly represented the work of his colleagues." Rather, Dawkins has subjected his atheist readers to "sleights of hand." He has produced a "diatribe against religion" that is "deeply misinformed." Indeed he is "just another angry atheist trading on his reputation as an evolutionst and spokesperson for science to vent his personal opinions about religion."
Devastating stuff. Wilson examines Dawkins' central claim that religion is an obvious "delusion." On the contrary, Wilson writes, religion is in general more adaptive for human communities than atheism. "On average, religious believers are more prosocial than non-believers, feel better about themselves, use their time more constructively, and engage in long-term planning, rather than gratifying their impulsive desires...They report being more happy, active, sociable, involved and excited."