'Outspoken atheist' Dawkins admits he is agnostic

Feb 24, 2012
Tim Edwards

Revelation comes as Richard Dawkins and Archbishop Rowan Williams genially debate religion

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RICHARD DAWKINS, usually labelled an "outspoken atheist", has raised eyebrows after describing himself as an agnostic and admitting that he cannot disprove the existence of God.

His words came during a debate at Oxford University between the evolutionary biologist and the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

The discussion was remarkably polite - in marked contrast to last week's backlash over Dawkins's suggestion that most people who say they are Christian do not behave like Christians and The Sunday Telegraph's bizarre attack on him based on the fact that an ancestor of his owned slaves.

Billed as an epic battle between science and religion, the BBC described the debate as "more Thought for the Day than Frost-Nixon".

And there were no knockout blows, according to The Guardian, with Dawkins and Williams simply going over well-practised arguments and frequently admiring each other's backgrounds.

Dawkins, who has described himself in the past as a 'cultural Christian', revealed he had sung a hymn in the shower that morning.

He asked Williams if he really believed the soul survived death.

"A soul is something that does not cease with death," said Williams. "What it is, I have no idea. A number of images, but no idea."

But Dawkins asked why Williams couldn't see the "extraordinary beauty of the idea that we can explain the world". Why, he asked, did the Archbishop "want to clutter up your world view with something so messy as a god?"

Williams replied: "I am not thinking of God as something extra that must be shoehorned in".

So far, so predictable. The gasps, reports The Independent, came when Dawkins admitted he wasn't completely certain that there was no creator.

The philosopher Sir Anthony Kenny, who was chairing the debate asked Dawkins: "Why don't you call yourself an agnostic?" To which Dawkins replied that he did.

At this, Kenny protested: "You are described as the world's most famous atheist."

Prof Dawkins said that he was "6.9 out of seven" sure of his beliefs: "I think the probability of a supernatural creator existing is very, very low," he explained.

Agnostics neither believe nor disbelieve in the existence of God, preferring to accept that the truth of such claims is unknowable. Their stance is somewhat different to that of atheists, who are certain there is no deity.

It seems the 'militant secularists', if they exist, will have to search for another leader.

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Why on earth would this "raise eyebrows". Anyone who has read anything by Dawkins, or heard him speak, would know that this has always been his stance (there is a whole chapter on it in The God Delusion). Indeed it shows the difference between superstitionists and scientists. One claims absolute certainty that their magic man exists, whilst the other says that there is absolutely no evidence for its existence, but that strictly speaking it cannot be disproven, so the only correct stance is to leave open the very slight possibility of its existence whilst working on the assumption that it doesn't - much the same as for fairies, leprechauns, flying spaghetti monsters and intelligent religious apologists.
We atheists are all agnostics.  Claiming to believe in and accept the unknowable is neither logical nor scientific.  Unlike believers who, most who claim to be 100% certain, we atheists settle for 6.9/7.  Would anything else make sense.
The clue is "labelled", which is by the press (seeking simplification) rather than by him.

Dawkins' assertion about his agnosticism has been cleverly hidden by him in some of his books! There's a similar statement in The God Delusion.

This nonsense about "militant securlarists", etc. is, like this story, a press invention. Believe the press and there's a raise in "militant securliasm", whereas in reality there might be in increase in the number of people openly atheist (or at least non-religious) that may be questioning the status quo and possibly evenly challenging the rationale behind faith schools when the religions involved pay lip-service to inter-faith dialogue. That's not mlitant but then it's less of a story too.
Dawkins has been saying for years that he cannot disprove the existence of God. What's to gasp at?
Secularism cannot be either militant or aggressive because it makes a space for every religion, creed and philosophy, without favouring any of them. In a secular society you are free to believe what you like. What's militant or aggressive about this?
The terms are not mutually exclusive and you can easily be an agnostic atheist i.e. you can't know if gods exist or not, however, you don't have a belief in gods (their existence lacks any evidence).
The author of this article hasn't a good understanding of what the terms agnostic and atheist truly mean. They are not mutually exclusive as terms. One can be an atheist -that is to say not believe there is a god; and still consider himself to be ultimately agnostic -recognizing that it would be unreasonable to dismiss the possibility, however slight, that one or more gods exist somewhere in the universe. It isn't as if one can peak behind every asteroid in every galaxy to test the idea.
Trouble is, Dawkins himself treated the terms as mutually exclusive in this very debate! Instead of saying "yes, I am an agnostic atheist", he flat-out rejected the use of the word "atheist" and said the title was ascribed "not by me"!
Your assessment of what you quote is not correct and you are creating a false dichotomy. He can be agnostic without being an atheist. If Dawkins has never used the term 'atheist' to describe himself then maybe he thinks it is not the correct term to use.

Richard Dawkins is entirely sure God exists.