The world's most famous atheist is back in the headlines again.
Richard Dawkins is in the news because his new book – An Appetite for Wonder – has just been published. And naturally there have been various interviews giving him an opportunity to promote it.
As always, what he says is stimulating and thought-provoking. But it's also occasionally infuriating! On the one hand we see his undoubted mastery of science. But on the other, there is – as we have come to expect – some disappointing ignorance about matters of religion, and still a tendency to take sideswipes at people of faith.
At one point, in an interview with The Guardian, Dawkins asserts: "My science books are forced to take a stance, not against posh theologians who accept evolution but surely the absolute majority of religious people in the world who literally believe that every species was separately created and even, in the case of the Abrahamic religions, believe that Adam and Eve were created 6,000 years ago." Even in that short paragraph, there is such a mix of sweeping assumption, misconception, truth and half-truth that it is hard to know where to begin!
Sadly also there is the passing dismissal as "posh" of theologians who would share his understanding of biology. In other words, even if they agree with you about evolution, but you don't like them, why not simply tar them with a slightly caustic aside!
But, as others have remarked in the past, sometimes it seems that he "doth protest too much". We are all familiar with the syndrome in which those most vehemently opposing something can in fact be sub-consciously battling their own unwanted desires in that area. Dawkins seems to be so acerbic in his rubbishing of religion that one wonders what is really going on inside him, perhaps even below the radar of his own psyche.
Yet certainly Dawkins doesn't seem to have given much conscious consideration to the heart of Christianity. In an article for Christian magazine Third Way some years ago, interviewer Nick Pollard suggests to Dawkins there is "solid evidence for the resurrection of Jesus". He responds: "I think you are on dangerous ground. There have been many people who allege that they see fairies. The fact is that we just don't believe them. We think they're hallucinating, or lying. Now, I don't know where the story of Jesus rising from the dead comes from. The actual documentary evidence is very bad as historical evidence goes, and so, given its enormous inherent implausibility, I'd be much more inclined to suspect it."
Again, there are many questionable assertions made even in this short statement – an example perhaps of the fact that most experts in one discipline do not necessarily find it easy to transfer those skills to another. But in this particular context it is also very sad.
So why do I love – or want to learn to love – Richard Dawkins? Why do I suggest we should pray for him? I do so because Jesus commands me to love him, and to pray for him as an opponent of the Christian faith. In his interview with Pollard, Dawkins is asked about love, and says that to describe it as the purpose of life – as Pollard suggests – "sounds like something grafted on, a superfluous excrescence on life." But, he goes on, love is "a very important product for gene survival".
When I compare this with the concept of love articulated and demonstrated by Jesus Christ, I know who I want to follow – and whose word I will seek to obey in formulating my own attitude to Richard Dawkins.