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Am I really starting to agree with Richard Dawkins?


THE ‘Gettier problem’ in philosophy is this: how can it be that in the absence of reasonable and demonstrable justification you can get something right? Is it a genuine case of ‘getting it right’ or is it just a fluke? Is the stopped clock really correct twice a day?

Unaccountably, my mind is turning in the direction of recent comments made by Richard Dawkins, the zoologist, geneticist, and (very) amateur philosopher of religion. Dawkins is clearly a genius within his own field, but like the actor who ventures into stand-up comedy, it doesn’t necessarily work out.

Dawkins, let’s remind ourselves, wrote a book, The God Delusion, in which he seemed to get very annoyed at an Old Testament God he simultaneously argued did not exist. Which strikes me as being a bit like a grown man getting angry at Father Christmas for not eating the mince pie you left out for him.

Dawkins has made some comments in support of biological essentialism. Let’s define that: biological essentialism is the thesis that when it comes to sexual identity, biology does not admit of flexible interpretation. It cannot be discarded by choice – it’s not a bad hold of hands to be either accepted or discarded on a whim. While ‘gender’ might be amenable to choice, you can’t alter your chromosomes by fiat.

Dawkins is correct, of course. But for ‘stopped-clock reasons’. And he has been brave in his endorsement of something most reasonable people believe but very few feel able to announce.

Not even God gets to determine His own nature. God cannot will Himself to be wicked because such an instruction would lie outside the laws of logic.

 Over to Dawkins:

‘Is trans woman a woman? Purely semantic. If you define by chromosomes, no. If by self-identification, yes. I call her “she” out of courtesy’.

Oh dear. He’s conceded the battleground.

Dawkins should have realised that in the rabbit-hole wonderland of our age there is no such thing as ‘purely semantic’ as opposed to which words attach themselves.

It is, these days, words which define the battleground, and the meanings they previously expressed have now been weaponised by a successful leftist activism. It’s the ‘semantics’ which are ‘pure’, not any reality they purport to describe. According to these types, little exists unless we affirm that it does.

Words no longer merely describe, they attack. In any recent discussion words have ceased to shape a conceptual space but are used to define it, even tyrannise it. In ever more histrionic ways. You can sit down with an interlocutor thinking you’re playing draughts only to be told halfway through that you’re playing chess.

But let’s park his touching naivety for now.

Dawkins isn’t just late to the party, he’s gatecrashing his own shindig.

The only way to affirm this essentialism is to accept that it comes from elsewhere, a place incapable of explaining it in the first place.

Dawkins has tried to shut down that avenue of potential explanation via his long-standing, ill-thought-out and (frankly) village endorsements of his version of atheism.

For Dawkins, God is the ‘guy with a beard sitting on a cloud’. This is a tired, and uninteresting, lazy cliché promulgated by anyone who doesn’t understand the peculiar intimacy brought to attention by an ultimate sacrifice. The God Dawkins attacks is not a proper target. His attack is a tedious set of targets with a ‘stoppage’ in the intellectual argument.

There is respectable atheism and there is a form of atheism which is, actually, an aggressive nihilism. It’s interesting, isn’t it, that the Dawkins types seem very angry at a God they don’t believe exists?

But he is right in this sense. There is a biological essence which determines whether I am male or female, and that essence cannot be altered by fiat.

Where he is wrong is in his attempt to re-pose that conclusion in the Darwinian orthodoxy which seems to shape his every view.

Darwinism has no fixed view about what a species is, let alone what a biological sex is. Why? Because within its internal structures such a conclusion is not available.

That was what is so ironical (an irony Darwin acknowledged to be fair) about the title of his work On The Origin of Species, which has neither an account of origin nor a definition of what counts as one species as opposed to another (it speaks well of how one species might merge into another, but that sort of begs the question).

If life is a collection of random mutations adapted to survival, then what counts as one species as opposed to another? Where is any point of differentiation?

I want to say something nice. For a high-profile intellectual like Professor Dawkins to make the counter-cultural statement about the fixed nature of human biology is entirely laudable. He’s attracted ‘incoming’. Admittedly he’s the Rowling of biology so he’s insulated from the effective attentions of the cancel culture. But his affirmation of biological integrity is to be welcomed.

But . . . when we lose touch with God all manner of nonsense sweeps in. And Dawkins has not helped with that.

Choose what you want to be, I guess, but don’t think that makes it true. I am neither handsome nor 6ft.

Dawkins spots this, but in his anger at God and his inchoate Darwinism he has robbed himself of all mechanisms to justify his (true) position.

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Sean Walsh
Sean Walsh
Sean Walsh is a writer.

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