Peter Higgs Calls Out Richard Dawkins for Anti-Religious Fundamentalism

Picture: Gert-Martin Gruel (CC)

God Particle vs. God Delusion:

Via The Guardian:

As public disagreements go, few can have boasted such heavy-hitting antagonists.

On one side is Richard Dawkins, the celebrated biologist who has made a second career demonstrating his epic disdain for religion. On the other is the theoretical physicist Peter Higgs, who this year became a shoo-in for a future Nobel prize after scientists at Cern in Geneva showed that his theory about how fundamental particles get their mass was correct.

Their argument is over nothing less than the coexistence of religion and science.

Higgs has chosen to cap his remarkable 2012 with another bang by criticising the “fundamentalist” approach taken by Dawkins in dealing with religious believers.

“What Dawkins does too often is to concentrate his attack on fundamentalists. But there are many believers who are just not fundamentalists,” Higgs said in an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Mundo. “Fundamentalism is another problem. I mean, Dawkins in a way is almost a fundamentalist himself, of another kind.”

He agreed with some of Dawkins’ thoughts on the unfortunate consequences that have resulted from religious belief, but he was unhappy with the evolutionary biologist’s approach to dealing with believers and said he agreed with those who found Dawkins’ approach “embarrassing”.

Keep reading.

57 Comments on "Peter Higgs Calls Out Richard Dawkins for Anti-Religious Fundamentalism"

  1. bobbiethejean | Dec 28, 2012 at 4:59 pm |

    Science and belief in gods are only compatible if the believers are unwilling to examine their beliefs with the same critical eye of scrutiny they apply to other beliefs and claims. In other words, cognitive dissonance is necessary.

    • Matt Staggs | Dec 28, 2012 at 5:16 pm |

      I knew that posting this would be like ringing a dinner bell for you! 🙂

    • Only if one assumes God is moral and loving.

    • I think its a bigger issue of everyone (atheists and theists) being unwilling to examine their definition of god(s). I’ve heard before that only 2 kinds of people see god as a magical old man in the sky that loves you but punishes you for no reason: Children, and Atheists.

      • Ted Heistman | Dec 28, 2012 at 7:23 pm |

        That’s exactly it obviously.

      • You said what I was going to say, but infinitely better (and shorter…I had a novella going on).

      • bobbiethejean | Dec 29, 2012 at 12:58 pm |

        I believe it is important and good that language is flexible but on the other hand, language should not become so flexible that it hampers communication and makes actual discussion impossible. I see no problem with expanding or adjusting the definition of “god” to include other possibilities such as Einstein’s “god of the universe” or Arthur C Clarke’s “sufficiently advanced technology” gods.

        However, at the end of the day, today’s Christians/Muslims/Jews/and co seem to be worshiping a magical man in the sky. It really is that simple. Look at how these people define their god/s and how their holy books define him/her/them- it’s all the same nonsense: beings who have never been proven to exist, who can break the laws of the universe that we presently know to be true, and who have petty, trivial human desires and needs such as craving attention, being adored, power, dominance, worship, obedience etc etc.

        Personally, I think the idea that a being, who purportedly created THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE, cares about something like gay butt-sex or use of contraceptives on a planet that is a dot in a solar system that is a dot in a galaxy that is a dot in a cluster, a supercluster, and the entire universe which itself might be a dot in an eternal multiverse….. that seems extremely silly to me.

        Also, wherever you heard that saying from, you should discard it. It is untrue. Atheists do not see god as only a magical sky-man. You should know better than that. For shame. *finger waggle*

        • You know what always has and always will break the laws of the universe? Symbology. For example All the world’s language could be considered completely arbitrary but still the symbology is important for meaning. Hell, i wouldn’t necessarily be inclined to believe this completely, but arguably some aspects of our biological systems(such as the signaling infrastructure) have been arbitrarily defined, ironically by evolution. The world that is denied by atheism is a language all in its own, and to deny any of its value because you have no framework for some of the concepts is akin to saying mandarin isn’t a language because you might not be able to recognize the tonal aspects to it.

          What would the symbols of the “magical man” and “in the sky” really mean? There may be bad interpretations, but you cannot take those bad interpretations and use them for reasons to deny the value of interpretation itself. (for example, the literalist interpretation is a relatively new thing in the area of religion)

          • bobbiethejean | Dec 29, 2012 at 3:11 pm |

            That is why I get frustrated when trying to discuss such matters. What the hell is the point of discussing anything at all when anyone can just arbitrarily define whatever they want however they want? Can you imagine what would happen if scientists did this?

            Scientist A: Might you be so kind as to pour exactly 3mm of red phosphorus into that flask over there?

            Scientist B: Certainly. *Has arbitrarily redefined red as white, 3 as 247, and flask as Bunsen-burner.*

            Newscaster: A massive explosion decimated the entire east side of UC Berkley this evening when……

            Yes, language is fluctuant and mutable but no so much so that words lose their entire meaning. (It especially pisses me off is when people use the fluidity of language as an easy way to move goal posts.) The whole point I was making is that there is currently no proof for the existence of any gods that humans are collectively aware of. Now if you want to redefine “god” as “toaster oven,” that would make my statement subjectively false to you but objectively (as objectively as such a matter can be), still, my statement is true. No?

          • Ted Heistman | Dec 29, 2012 at 3:50 pm |

            Its actually not that confusing if you study comparative religions and philosophy. There are only so many important perennial questions.

          • bobbiethejean | Dec 29, 2012 at 4:36 pm |

            I’m not confused by it, I simply get annoyed when people make a mess out of what can be a nice clean debate or discussion. One of the quickest and easiest ways to make a huge mess is to start redefining words arbitrarily. Messy, over-philosophical conversations can be fun sometimes but other times…. not so much, especially when other participants do not want to play by any rules.

          • Ted Heistman | Dec 29, 2012 at 4:50 pm |

            The debate would definitely be easier for Atheists if everyone were a Christian Fundamentalist. That’s not the case, though, and everyone is actually *not* constantly shifting their definition of God. Though a lot of people are very eclectic and kind of vague about their thoughts on spirituality as compared to various types of fundamentalists.

            But There are many parallels with Eastern Religions, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism and mystical forms of Christianity and even Islam, such as the Sufi tradition.

            Lots of writers have pointed out that principles of various forms of Mysticism are very consistent with the findings of Quantum Physics. A good book is “The Dancing Wu Li Masters”


          • Can God be defined?

          • The Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao.

          • but you just like totally named it bra

        • mannyfurious | Dec 29, 2012 at 1:56 pm |

          Discussion is already impossible. You’re speaking a different language than Christian Fundamentalists, who are speaking a different language from Mohammadan Fundamentalists, who are speaking a different language than American Hippie New Agey-types, who are speaking a different language from what Richard Dawkins is and so on and so forth. If you believe that any of the aforementioned have the same definition for “God” or for “Religion” or for “science” or for “spirituality” as one another, you are sadly mistaken.

          • bobbiethejean | Dec 29, 2012 at 2:19 pm |

            My cat you macaroni the in the hootenanny. DOW HARE YEW! No Tuesday EVER hared such a gelatin when they are thrice whipped with a functionally illiterate shoehorn to the power of sexy lingerie (leopard print, if you didn’t underwear) with a spoon, no, A SPOON. Thusly (switch is nine deed a verb, contrary to Firefox spellcheck’s tapdancing) and henceforth PENGUINS! Therefore I am verisimilitude and you are baloney. I hope that satisfies your koala.

            So hit was all that banana about definitions not really cow anything because we’re all flatulence veris spork ze Deutch?

          • Did you smoke a joint before you wrote all that?

          • bobbiethejean | Dec 29, 2012 at 3:13 pm |

            Nope. I don’t do drugs. I do however do art. 😛 That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. Out of curiosity, did you get the point I was making?

          • bobbiethejean | Dec 29, 2012 at 3:28 pm |

            :B The point I was making is that if we arbitrarily start redefining words, language loses all meaning. I could have gone really nuts and just started firing off random words but I thought “satisfies your koala” would have been funnier. XD I guess not. Ah well.

          • Self reference is fun, and it gets into interesting problems. Your definition of “arbitrary language” is not the same as mine. When i talk about arbitrarily defined language, i’m talking about arbitrary inception of it. In the rolling chaos if you will, a word is defined as something, for any arbitrary reason. This is the arbitrary language. From that point on though, the word means what it means, based merely on past definitions.

            You talk of arbitrary manipulation and changing of language, hence your random ramble attempting to ridicule my position. Now, when i talk of multiple definitions of god(s), I am not saying that I am randomly choosing a definition to confuse the issue. I’m saying that depending on who you are, how, when, where you were raised, the word god had multiple different inceptions across many different cultures. Now, you can take the relativistic approach and attempt to understand the language differences and get to the real meat of the philosophical argument, or you can take the standard oversimplified paradigm of conflict where You are Right and Everyone else is Wrong.

            The reason this issue is important, is because it is the linchpin that really puts the mirror up to new atheism; it show some of the vital criticisms they have against religions (coersiveness, combativeness, smallmindedness) apply equally to themselves

          • bobbiethejean | Dec 29, 2012 at 7:48 pm |

            hence your random ramble attempting to ridicule my position I wasn’t really attempting to ridicule anything, I was making a point. That’s all. I’m sorry if you felt ridiculed but consider that it wasn’t directed at you.

            depending on who you are, how, when, where you were raised, the word god had multiple different inceptions across many different cultures This is true. I do not deny this.

            You are Right and Everyone else is Wrong. I always assume I could be wrong about anything. Even if I “know” something to be true, I understand there is a good chance it could be disproved someday.

            The stance I take on “god” is this:

            I do not believe there are any supernatural gods (Abrahamic, Hindu, Olympian, Norse et al) out there but I do not know. I don’t think anyone knows. I also believe that considering what information is available to humanity in this age, my position, agnostic-atheism, is quite possibly the most logically defensible. Nevertheless, others can believe whatever they like and I’m perfectly happy to let them except when it begins affecting me personally and scientific progress at large (see dark ages for details).

            The problem with defining a “god” is that there are too many possibilities. We have Einstein’s “god is the universe.” We have Arthur C Clarke’s “any sufficiently advanced technology. We have the Abrahamic, Grecian, Egyptian, Norse, and Hindu gods. “We are god.” “Gods are aliens.” “The Earth is a god.” I believe this conundrum actually has a name, if I am not mistaken:

            The ultimate problem here is that it’s utterly and completely moot. That is why I would rather simplify things like so: If someone has any actual evidence for any gods, any at all, please, share with the rest of the class.

          • And what constitutes evidence in this situation, in your opinion?

          • (double post)

          • bobbiethejean | Dec 29, 2012 at 10:26 pm |

            Must be testable, must be falsifiable, must be predictive. If the thing in question cannot meet these criteria, then it must be presented in some way that is verifiable through empirical means or deductive reasoning. In the very least, there should be a good reason to believe in it if even in the absence of evidence. Ironically, the Higgs-boson would be a good example of this. There was no evidence for it but we had good reason to believe it existed before we knew it existed.

          • So, what’s testable, falsifiable, and predictive in terms of God specifically? How is it so? Can it meet that criteria? If not, through what empirical means would it take to convince you?

          • bobbiethejean | Dec 30, 2012 at 3:35 pm |

            For a god? A god would need to spend some time personally convincing me. And it would have to be done in a way that I could be reasonably certain I am not being tricked, not hallucinating, and not experiencing Arthur C Clarke’s “sufficiently advanced technology.” Or a god would have to accomplish something in full view of the world that is unquestionably supernatural and unexplainable by science. That’s a little vague, yes, but so is the definition of god apparently.

          • Cool! I really appreciate the response, I think you articulate it well. Personally, I’m not betting on the miracle in the public square. But, I wonder if your first requirement would be satisfied by experiencing something along the lines of:

            “At this point, I merged with the light and everything, including myself, became one unified whole. There was no separation between myself and the rest of the universe. In fact, to say that there was a universe, a self, or any ‘thing’ would be misleading – it would be an equally correct description to say that there was ‘nothing’ as to say that there was ‘everything’. To say that subject merged with object might be almost adequate as a description of the entrance into Cosmic Consciousness, but during Cosmic Consciousness there was neither ‘subject’ nor ‘object’. All words or discursive thinking had stopped and there was no sense of an ‘observer’ to comment or to categorize what was ‘happening’. In fact, there were no discrete events to ‘happen’ – just a timeless, unitary state of being.

            Cosmic Consciousness is impossible to describe, partly because describing involves words and the state is one in which there were no words. My attempts at description here originated from reflecting on Cosmic Consciousness soon after it had passed and while there was still some ‘taste’ of the event remaining.

            Perhaps the most significant element of Cosmic Consciousness was the absolute knowingness that it involves. This knowingness is a deep understanding that occurs without words. I was certain that the universe was one whole and that it was benign and loving at its ground. Bucke’s experience was similar. He knew, ‘. . . that the universe is so built and ordered that without any peradventure all things work together for the good of each and all, that the foundation principle of the world is what we call love and that the happiness of every one is in the long run absolutely certain’.

            The benign nature and ground of being, with which I was united, was God. However, there is little relation between my experience of God as ground of being and the anthropomorphic God of the Bible. That God is separate from the world and has many human characteristics. ‘He’ demonstrates love, anger and vengeance, makes demands, gives rewards, punishes, forgives, etc. God as experienced in Cosmic Consciousness is the very ground or ‘beingness’ of the universe and has no human characteristics in the usual sense of the word. The universe could no more be separate from God than my body could be separate from its cells. Moreover, the only emotion that I would associate with God is love, but it would be more accurate to say that God is love than God is loving. Again, even characterizing God as love and the ground of being is only a metaphor, but it is the best that I can do to describe an indescribable experience.”
            (complete account at the link: )

            This happened to a self-described (at the time) materialistic-atheistic medical scientist. It’s also not unique to Allan Smith, and has been reported throughout time and across cultures for religious and secular-minded folk alike. I’m not saying this validates a god, Biblical/Christian or otherwise (in the most abstract of terms). And I wouldn’t expect this to convince you short of having the experience yourself. That’s the point, actually. On the importance of the experience/sensation, a professor named Richard Doyle has said:

            “It’s persuasiveness seems to hinge on AN EXPERIENCE OF THIS INTERCONNECTION as well as an understanding of it.”

            Someone else (a professional who took part in early psychedelic studies) said:

            “I would not have believed what transpired had it not really occurred to me.”

            But even reading these kind of accounts intrigue me – because they seem to contain common elements and, most importantly, they’re about direct, non-verbal experience. Like putting your hand on a table, or feeling the warmth from a fire (and some have said more “real” than that). When directly apprehended, it doesn’t seem to require belief. It’s in the attempt to describe it (and subsequent interpretations) that I think we get bogged down in symbolism, personifications, doctrines, and dogmas – you know, religion. But the experience itself is what’s important. I actually just found this site and have only begun to read through some of the accounts, if you’re interested:

            The Archives of Scientists’ Transcendent Experiences

            You’ll find that not all experiences are as intense in degree as Allan Smith (a good deal remind me more of Douglas Harding’s “Moment of Discovery” as recounted in his book “On Having No Head” – ) – but they seem to be pointing to the same thing. Also, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with Alan Watts, but he speaks quite well on the topic. Here’s one particular lecture with a focus on it (a good deal of his material is worth exploring, as a matter of fact):

            Alan Watts – Mysticism and Morals

            Now, all of the accounts featured at that TASTE site are of the “spontaneous” variety. But – as has been pointed out – something of the same nature can seemingly be facilitated through the safe and guided use of psychedelics (Terence McKenna was particularly fond of this method because of its efficacy/reproducibility). I know you’re not particularly interested in the idea – and, like Ted mentioned – I don’t mean to press the issue on you. That being said, I do think it’s worthwhile to read this article by Alan Watts:

            Psychedelics and Religious Experience

            Also, there’s a fantastic book on the subject called “The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys” by a Dr. James Fadiman (one of the early pioneers in psychedelic research). There’s actually a great (long-read) article that’s a pretty good distillation of the book’s contents. You might be particularly interested in the affects of psychedelics on creative inspiration for professionals across various fields:

            The Heretic

            Forgive the post length and the info-avalanche – I completely get that it’s an absurd amount of material to sift through. But, I just wanted to get it all out there if you would choose to check it out.

          • bobbiethejean | Dec 30, 2012 at 10:53 pm |

            See the problem there is I would need to experience it for myself and I would need to know that it is not brain phenomena. Those near death experiences have a scientific explanation. The brain induces those feelings to cope with the extreme stress of being in a dying state. The “tunnel” people report seeing has also been experienced by fighter pilots and is a result of low oxygen to the brain. It’s also entirely possible that these people really were experiencing god. How do I know the difference? Now you see my conundrum. When I say it must be unquestionable supernatural, I mean it must not have any other possible explanation. NDEs do have other explanations.

          • Not sure if you read the complete account, but that wasn’t a near death experience. I edited it for length. It began like this:

            “My Cosmic Consciousness event occurred unexpectedly while I was alone one evening and was watching a particularly beautiful sunset. I was sitting in an easy chair placed next to floor-to-ceiling windows that faced northwest. The sun was above the horizon and was partially veiled by scattered clouds, so that it was not uncomfortably bright. I had not used any marijuana for about a week previously. On the previous evening I probably had wine with dinner; I do not remember the quantity, but two glasses would have been typical. Thus, we would not have expected any residual drug effects.

            The Cosmic Consciousness experience began with some mild tingling in the perineal area, the region between the genitals and anus. The feeling was unusual, but was neither particularly pleasant nor unpleasant. After the initial few minutes, I either ceased to notice the tingling or did not remember it. I then noticed that the level of light in the room as well as that of the sky outside seemed to be increasing slowly. The light seemed to be coming from everywhere, not only from the waning sun. In fact, the sun itself did not give off a strong glare. The light gave the air a bright thickened quality that slightly obscured perception rather than sharpened it. It soon became extremely bright, but the light was not in the least unpleasant.

            Along with the light came an alteration in mood. I began to feel very good, then still better, then elated. While this was happening, the passage of time seemed to become slower and slower. The brightness, mood-elevation, and time-slowing all progressed together. It is difficult to estimate the time period over which these changes occurred, since the sense of time was itself affected. However, there was a feeling of continuous change, rather than a discrete jump or jumps to a new state. Eventually, the sense of time passing stopped entirely. It is difficult to describe this feeling, but perhaps it would be better to say that there was no time, or no sense of time. Only the present moment existed. My elation proceeded to an ecstatic state, the intensity of which I had never even imagined could be possible. The white light around me merged with the reddish light of the sunset to become one all enveloping, intense undifferentiated light field. Perception of other things faded. Again, the changes seemed to be continuous…”
            (link: )

            There’s also some more to finish it up (he talks about the “knowingness” it involved), and further interesting commentary (in its “Contributor’s Comments on the Experience” and “Further comments by contributor”). A couple other interesting ones were – “Expansion of Self in the Antarctic”; “Humans, the Earth, the Sun and Stars”; “Turn-Around at Delphi”; “Behind the Mind”; and “Awakening to Peace” (at this link – ). Also, the Watts video (and article) do a good job of covering essential characteristics.

            I don’t disagree that for it to be truly convincing, that it has to happen to oneself.

          • bobbiethejean | Jan 1, 2013 at 8:19 pm |

            I did read it but for some reason, I interpreted it as an NDE. Even though it’s not, I still have the same problem- it didn’t happen to me. I don’t know what really happened. The people who report these kinds of things could be lying, delusional, hallucinating, misinterpreting natural events, or they could be experiencing actual supernatural occurrences. The problem is that I have no way of discerning which is the case.

            Considering the fact that in my personal life, I have never experienced anything that could not have a natural explanation, it’s not unreasonable (I don’t think) for me to say “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

          • You should do drugs.

          • I mean not Meth, but like, weed, mushrooms etc.

          • bobbiethejean | Dec 30, 2012 at 3:38 pm |

            I’m afraid it would ruin my brain or I’d get hooked. My intelligence(?) and my talent(?) are damn near literally the only things I’ve got going for me, not to put too fine a point on it.

          • It doesn’t damage your brain. You are thinking of alcohol. You can’t get hooked on mushrooms either. Pot may be psychologically habit forming but not chemically.

            Lot of of intellectuals and artists regularly use psychedelics. Not that I am pressuring you, but just putting that out there. The tight, rational mind, becomes temporarily suppressed, dis inhibiting other parts of the brain that often lend broader perspectives on things.

            I’m pretty sure you access these parts of your brain already though, given your creative output. I don’t really do drugs either though. I’ve only done psychedelics a handful of times. My brain chemistry is such that I can readily access altered states of consciousness through visualization and meditation.

          • bobbiethejean | Dec 30, 2012 at 10:47 pm |

            I would be willing to give both a try if not for the illegality. :

          • mannyfurious | Dec 29, 2012 at 6:10 pm |

            Well… at least we’re on the same page….

    • Aaah yes, the epistemological Golden Rule: Apply the same standards of evaluation to your own thoughts, as you believe others apply to theirs. I can feel the nervous twitch coming on.

      • bobbiethejean | Dec 29, 2012 at 1:02 pm |

        I don’t expect anything of anyone. I really don’t give a shit what nonsense anyone believes until it starts affecting me. However I will point out cognitive dissonance where I see it.

  2. Against The Current | Dec 28, 2012 at 5:47 pm |

    I find it hard to accept Dawkins’ arguments simply because he uses a platform of science to promote his views on religion; two different concepts that require two different approaches.

    When speaking of the infusion of science and religion in a person’s life, I agree with the above comment, that a considerable amount of distancing must be present from your scientific analysis and religious beliefs.

    However, if we replace religion with spirituality, and we replace a ‘real’ deity with a conceptual one (or multiple) who serve simply as fictional representations of ethics and morality, I can envision a world where science and religion might exist in tandem.

    • kowalityjesus | Dec 29, 2012 at 10:13 am |

      Ach, Horatio. There are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy! I would tell Dawkins, Let the weird be weird, we cannot and we should not account for it.

      Dawkins is such a pathetic iconoclast, with a cranky and languid disposition; what are your sins, Dick?

  3. When do tickets sell for the debate between these two? This should be fun.

  4. Ted Heistman | Dec 28, 2012 at 7:21 pm |

    Scientific description is not an anti-religious argument, unless your religion has falsifiable tenets like some branches of Fundamentalist Christianity. (Young Earth Creationism etc.)

  5. John Paul Fitch | Dec 28, 2012 at 8:53 pm |

    Dawkins is as fundamentally atheist as the religious zealots he so often rebukes. There’s no grey area allowed with him, he doesn’t accept if someone is hapily religious, after arguing them down he attempts to obliterate their belief. Another problem I have is that in the first chapter of the print of “The God Delusion” that I own, Dawkins makes excuses for not addressing Islamic Fundamentalism, and then goes on the attack on the Christian and Evangelican Fundamentalists. My point: If you’e going to be seen to be an Atheistic Crusader, then you can’t afford to pick the easy targets and leave alone the side of religion that is riskier to address. Not that I want him to be killed for his work (as several outspoken critics of Islam have been), nor would I want him to be subject to a fatwa as Salman Rushdie was, but to become a bully of softer targets and to be seen and promoted as a man who is out to prove that religion is nothing but superstition lessens his arguments.

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  6. BuzzCoastin | Dec 28, 2012 at 9:15 pm |

    I’m waiting for God’s opinion on this
    God, please set us straight so we know which shill to believe.

  7. Entropic decay seems to be the only certainty in the universe that we’ve discovered so far. It also seems intuitive to the way we think. Given those conditions, the bigger question is where the fuck are these persistent thoughts that encourage us to perpetually deny it coming from?

Comments are closed.