Richard Dawkins is former Professor for Public Understanding of Science at Oxford. We could reasonably presume, therefore, that he should know the relevant views of Max Planck, the originator of quantum physics and one of the most important scientists in history. Unfortunately, Dawkins either doesn’t know, which calls into question his ability to represent science to the public, or he does know but has concealed the inconvenient evidence. What does Planck say? “Anybody who has been seriously engaged in scientific work of any kind realizes that over the entrance to the gates of the temple of science are written the words: Ye must have faith. It is the quality which the scientists cannot dispense with”.[1] To ignore this vital information is to be thoroughly unscientific.

The major problem with Dawkins is not that he is wrong to criticize religious fundamentalism, but that he has been trying to think beyond his means regarding deeper related issues. Dawkins likes to swagger with intellectual bravado while arguing with those he believes he can easily dominate or disdain, but he seems unwilling or unable to confront the intellectual power of a scientific giant like Planck: just try finding a relevant reference to Planck in any of Dawkins’ many books. Such a consistent absence is certainly suspicious.

This is no trivial point. Many of the greatest advancements in science and technology in the last hundred years would have been impossible without quantum mechanics, of which Planck was one of, if not the, key originator. Dawkins cannot be expected to cite everyone, but proclaiming that science has crushed religion while ignoring the relevant views of Planck clearly suggests that Dawkins has something significant to hide (or fear).

The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science also recently posted an article by Adam Lee. Lee opens his article by quoting Planck (seemingly to set an authoritative tone for his own atheistic views): “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it”. I would strongly suggest that Lee (and the Dawkins team) actually read the original book by Planck from which this quote was taken.[2] If they ever do, they will easily (but perhaps unhappily) discover that Planck would have wholeheartedly disagreed with Dawkins and contemporary atheism as a whole. For Lee to quote Planck in implied support of atheism would be analogous to quoting Hitler in implied support of pacifism. Don’t believe me? Let Planck speak for himself:

“While both religion and natural science require a belief in God for their activities, to the former He is the starting point, to the latter the goal of every thought process….No matter where and how far we look, nowhere do we find a contradiction between religion and natural science. On the contrary, we find a complete concordance in the very points of decisive importance. Religion and natural science do not exclude each other, as many contemporaries of ours would believe or fear; they mutually supplement and condition each other.”[3]

In his book, The End of Faith, Sam Harris at least mentions Planck’s book Where Is Science Going?, but he does not deal with Planck’s thoughts on faith, or the compatibility of science and religion. He does, however, accuse Planck of being “guilty” of having interest in the notion of free will. This insipid move merely suggests that Planck is a great scientific genius, except for when he disagrees with Harris. (Harris’ attack on free will, which is patently flawed, is a topic to be explored another day.)

Religious fundamentalism is a serious problem, but atheistic fundamentalism is equally so.

[1] Where is Science Going?, 1932, p. 214.

[2] Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers, 1949.

[3] Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers, 1949, p. 184; pp. 185-186.

One Comment

  • Kris says:

    Really good read, Ive just read through a few of your articles and I think your thoughts are well described and very truthful, without dragging issues out to far. Glad I stumbled across your site.
    Thanks John.

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