Herb Silverman is the Founder of the Secular Coalition of America, the Founder of the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry, and the Founder of the Atheist/Humanist Alliance student group at the College of Charleston. Here we talk about who has done the most for the secular community as a writer, in the opinion of Professor Silverman: Dr. Richard Dawkins.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: In your work in writing, research, and reading, who, as a writer, seems to have done the most for the secular community in the written word? Why are writers important for the galvanizing of the community? Someone who speaks to the heart of the secular message, consistently over the long term.
Herb Silverman: If I have to pick just one writer who has done the most for the secular community, that writer would be esteemed scientist and outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins. Dawkins’ many books include at least a dozen best sellers about science, culture, and religion. He is the most cited scientist alive.
Dawkins uses fact-based science to counter belief in the supernatural. In The Blind Watchmaker, Dawkins argues against the watchmaker analogy, an argument for the existence of a supernatural creator based on the complexity of living organisms. Instead, Dawkins describes evolutionary processes as analogous to a blind watchmaker, in that reproduction, mutation, and selection are unguided by any designer. Probably the Dawkins book most meaningful to the majority of atheists is The God Delusion, which became an international best seller, with more than three million copies sold. It has been translated into over 30 languages.
Several Dawkins books are offered free to download in Muslim countries, which sometimes forbid the distribution of such books. They have been translated into Farsi, Urdu, and Indonesian. An Arabic translation of The God Delusion has been downloaded approximately 13 million times. In the introduction to The God Delusion, Dawkins over-optimistically says, “If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.”
Richard Dawkins has been called arrogant because he doesn’t suffer fools gladly and because he criticizes religion, just as people criticize politics or choice of cuisine. In The God Delusion, Dawkins says that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist. He does not make the categorical statement that no gods exist, just that he finds no evidence for existence. You are not likely to hear clergy say that God probably exists. So who is more arrogant?
I’ve always found Richard Dawkins to be a delightful and generous person. We shared a stage for a conversation in front of overflow crowds in my hometown of Charleston, South Carolina and in Clearwater, Florida. I was honored that he wrote the Foreword to my book Candidate Without a Prayer: An Autobiography of a Jewish Atheist in the Bible Belt.
I must add that the books by Dawkins did not change my point of view. I was a committed atheist before I knew who Dawkins was. However, his books did help me sharpen some of my arguments, especially about evolution.
Years before Richard Dawkins began writing, a famous author and mathematician changed my life at age 16. Bertrand Russell’s book Why I am Not a Christian formed the complete atheist section of my local public library in 1958, and that was the first time I learned there were other people who thought like me about God. Russell transformed the lives of many in my generation. It was gratifying to read articulate arguments that confirmed and gave voice to our own lonely skepticism and doubts. Bertrand Russell has countless “nonspiritual” heirs, and I’m pleased there are so many different voices for atheism today.
The importance of writers to educate and galvanize how people think about religion cannot be overstated. Education and consciousness-raising are important tools to combat all kinds of indoctrination, including religious. The books by the so-called new atheists, including Dawkins, have helped change our culture for the better, especially among younger people. Through the Internet, many have learned about atheism and religions other than those in which they were raised, and a good number of these “nones” have chosen to exchange religion for rational thinking.
I’m curious to know what writers will be saying about atheism and religion fifty years from now. If only there were life after death.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Herb.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
Do not forget to look into our associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, and Centre for Inquiry Canada.
Other Resources: Recovering From Religion.