Is Richard Dawkins Really an Atheist?

Anyone familiar with Richard Dawkins cannot help but be struck by his “convictions” about atheism and evolution. Of course, when using the term “convictions,” one has to be careful not to attribute something to Dawkins that he does not really have. Since Dawkins is an atheist, and does not believe in any absolute moral standards, his “convictions” are ever shifting and liable to change with a whim. Furthermore, he seems not to feel too “convicted” about any idea that might cause the one holding the idea to be put into peril.

For example, in his recent book The God Delusion, Dawkins documented a case of religious intolerance from the past in which Catholics persecuted Protestants for their beliefs. In fact, he mentioned three Protestants who were martyred because they would not convert to Catholicism. He wrote: “But how could the martyrs Ridley, Latimer and Cranmer let themselves be burned rather than forsake their Protestant Little-endianism in favour of Catholic Big-endianism—does it really matter all that much from which end you open a boiled egg? Such is the stubborn—or admirable, if that is your view—conviction of the religious mind” (2006, p. 314). Then, when discussing another family who refused to be baptized in the Catholic Church in order to be reunited with their son who was kidnapped by the Church, Dawkins wrote: “Couldn’t they cross their fingers, or whisper ‘not’ under their breath while being baptized?” (p. 314).

Dawkins believes that religious people who have true convictions about their religion should simply be able to “fudge” when those convictions might cost them something. One wonders, then, if someone were to make atheism a crime punishable by death, point a gun at Dawkins’ head, and ask him if he believed in a God, what he would say. From the comments in his book, he would certainly say, “Yes.” Although later, after the duress had passed, he would probably explain that he did not really “mean” it or that he simply claimed to believe in God in order to live.

In light of Dawkins’ view of adjustable convictions, one is forced to ask why he claims to be an atheist. Could it be the case that a claim of atheism just happens to be the more profitable “belief” for Dawkins at the present? It allows him to sell books, be interviewed on international television programs, and be the recipient of massive amounts of media attention. Could it be that secretly, Dawkins believes in God but the crossed-fingers and the whispered “nots” are never seen or heard by the population Dawkins is attempting to deceive? In all probability, this is not the case. But considering his views on how readily “convictions” should be jettisoned in favor of self-preservation, it certainly is a possibility. The next time Dawkins boldly proclaims his atheism, take a close look at his fingers and watch for minute lip movement devoid of audible sounds. And remember that Dawkins is not a man of true “convictions.” Why should he be, if there is no God, all things are permissible, especially self-preserving/self-promoting “conviction” adjustments.


Dawkins, Richard (2006), The God Delusion (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin).


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