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Richard Dawkins on Science and Religion

Contributions and Detractors

Frank Visser / ChatGPT-4o

Me to ChatGPT:

  • Richard Dawkins is a world famous biologist and atheist. Please tell us more about his contributions and his detractors.
  • As to the field of religion, detractors often claim Dawkins only focusses on fundamentalist religion, but not on more "sophisticated" forms of theology. Please elaborate. What has been his response to this line of criticism?
  • Regarding the field of science, his detractors have often accused him of a dogmatic gene-centered view of evolution. Please elaborate. How has he responded to this line of criticism?
  • He has been a member of the "Four Horsemen" group of atheists. Who were the other members and what was their point of view regarding the value of religion?
  • Douglas Murray has been a vocal defender of Christian religion, because it provides meaning and community to many people, something secularism supposedly does not offer.
  • Atheists usually claim that religion should be outgrown and replaced with science, but some defenders, like Murray, claim religion is still valuable for the above mentioned reasons, if it might not be "true". Please elaborate on this contradiction: how can something have value which isn't true?
  • How does religious development factor in this topic? Do we outgrow religion or does religion grow with us? Please provide examples of scientists who believe there are many ways to be religious.
  • I was referring to James Fowler, the author of the book "Stages of Faith". Is atheism just a stage of development? What comes next?
  • As to Dawkins' gene-centered view, is that view out-dated and replaced with more holistic views of evolution in an "extended synthesis", or is it still the central concept in evolutionary theory?
  • In this context, epigenetics seems to provide support to the idea of Lamarck that acquired traits can be passed on to the next generation. Dawkins has remained skeptical of this, as far as I know, because the very long-term effects still need to be assessed.


Richard Dawkins is a world famous biologist and atheist. Please tell us more about his contributions and his detractors.

Richard Dawkins, born in 1941, is a prominent evolutionary biologist, ethologist, and author. He is best known for his work on the theory of evolution and for his outspoken atheism. Here are some key contributions and notable aspects of his career, as well as points raised by his detractors:


The Selfish Gene (1976)

In his groundbreaking book, "The Selfish Gene," Dawkins popularized the gene-centered view of evolution. He introduced the concept of the "selfish gene" to explain how natural selection operates at the level of genes, rather than individuals or species. The book also introduced the term "meme" to describe how cultural information spreads.

The Extended Phenotype (1982)

This book expanded on the ideas in "The Selfish Gene" and argued that the phenotype (the set of observable characteristics of an individual) should include all effects that a gene has on its environment, both inside and outside the body of the organism.

Advocacy for Science and Rationalism

Dawkins has been a vocal advocate for science and rational thinking. He has criticized pseudoscience, religious dogma, and superstition, arguing for a worldview grounded in evidence and reason.

The God Delusion (2006)

In this best-selling book, Dawkins argues against theism and religion, suggesting that belief in a supernatural creator is irrational. The book has been influential in the New Atheism movement, sparking widespread debate and discussion.

Public Engagement

Dawkins has been active in public education and outreach, participating in numerous debates, lectures, and media appearances. He founded the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science to promote scientific literacy and secularism.


Criticism from Religious Communities

Many religious individuals and groups have criticized Dawkins for his outspoken atheism and his harsh critique of religion. They argue that his approach is often dismissive and disrespectful to those who hold religious beliefs.

Scientific Disagreements

Some scientists have disagreed with aspects of Dawkins' gene-centered view of evolution. For instance, Stephen Jay Gould, a prominent evolutionary biologist, promoted the idea of punctuated equilibrium and criticized what he saw as Dawkins' reductionist approach.

Philosophical Critiques

Philosophers such as Alvin Plantinga have critiqued Dawkins' arguments in "The God Delusion," particularly his understanding of philosophical arguments for the existence of God. Plantinga and others argue that Dawkins does not engage deeply enough with sophisticated theological and philosophical positions.

Accusations of Stridency

Dawkins has been labeled as strident and confrontational by some critics, both religious and non-religious. They claim that his manner can be polarizing, potentially alienating those who might otherwise be open to his ideas.

Cultural and Social Criticism

Some critics argue that Dawkins' focus on scientific and rational perspectives can neglect the social and cultural dimensions of human life. They suggest that his dismissal of religion fails to acknowledge the positive roles that religious communities and practices can play in individuals' lives.

Despite the controversies surrounding his work, Richard Dawkins remains a highly influential figure in the fields of evolutionary biology, science education, and secular advocacy. His contributions have sparked significant discussions and debates, shaping public understanding of science and religion.

As to the field of religion, detractors often claim Dawkins only focusses on fundamentalist religion, but not on more "sophisticated" forms of theology. Please elaborate. What has been his response to this line of criticism?

Detractors of Richard Dawkins often claim that his critiques of religion focus primarily on fundamentalist and literal interpretations, while neglecting more sophisticated, nuanced forms of theology. This critique suggests that Dawkins engages with a "straw man" version of religion, which is easier to dismiss, rather than addressing the more complex and intellectual arguments posed by theologians and religious philosophers.

The Critique

Focus on Fundamentalism:

Critics argue that Dawkins targets the most extreme and literalist forms of religion, such as Young Earth Creationism or fundamentalist interpretations of religious texts. They claim that this focus overlooks the more moderate and intellectually rigorous forms of faith practiced by many religious adherents.

Neglect of Theological Sophistication:

Scholars like Alvin Plantinga, John Haught, and Alister McGrath assert that Dawkins does not adequately engage with sophisticated theological arguments, such as those found in classical theism, natural theology, or the works of thinkers like Thomas Aquinas, Søren Kierkegaard, and Karl Barth.

Misrepresentation of Religion:

Some critics believe that Dawkins' portrayal of religion is overly simplistic and fails to capture the depth and variety of religious experiences and beliefs. They argue that his approach can alienate religious individuals who do not recognize their faith in his descriptions.

Dawkins' Response

Religion as a Whole:

Dawkins has argued that while he often focuses on fundamentalist religion because it has a more direct and noticeable impact on society, his critiques are meant to apply to religious belief in general. He believes that even sophisticated forms of theology still rely on faith and the acceptance of supernatural claims without evidence, which he considers fundamentally flawed.

Accessibility and Public Understanding:

Dawkins has stated that his books, particularly "The God Delusion," are aimed at a general audience, which necessitates a more straightforward and accessible approach. He argues that addressing the more common and visible forms of religion, which often have significant social and political influence, is a practical choice for reaching a broader audience.

Engagement with Theologians:

While Dawkins admits he may not delve deeply into every nuanced theological argument, he has engaged with some sophisticated theological concepts in his writings and debates. For instance, in "The God Delusion," he discusses and critiques the arguments for the existence of God proposed by philosophers like Anselm and Aquinas.

Universal Applicability:

Dawkins contends that his core arguments against theism—such as the improbability of God's existence, the problem of evil, and the lack of empirical evidence for supernatural claims—apply broadly, regardless of the sophistication of the theology in question. He believes that even the most refined theological arguments ultimately fail to provide compelling evidence for the existence of a deity.

Challenge to Theologians:

Dawkins has often challenged theologians to provide clear and empirical evidence for their claims. He maintains that theological sophistication does not exempt religious claims from the scrutiny of scientific and rational inquiry.


While Richard Dawkins has been critiqued for focusing on fundamentalist religion and allegedly neglecting more sophisticated theological arguments, he has defended his approach by emphasizing the need to address widely prevalent and socially impactful forms of religion. He maintains that his critiques are applicable to all forms of theism and that the central issues he raises about faith and evidence remain relevant regardless of the theological sophistication involved.

Regarding the field of science, his detractors have often accused him of a dogmatic gene-centered view of evolution. Please elaborate. How has he responded to this line of criticism?

Richard Dawkins has faced criticism from some scientists and thinkers who argue that his gene-centered view of evolution, as presented in his seminal work "The Selfish Gene," is overly reductionist and dogmatic. Critics contend that this perspective can oversimplify the complexities of evolutionary processes by focusing too narrowly on genes as the primary units of selection.

The Critique


Critics, including notable evolutionary biologists like Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin, have argued that Dawkins' emphasis on genes as the primary units of selection is overly reductionist. They believe this approach neglects the role of other levels of selection, such as organisms, groups, and species.

Extended Evolutionary Synthesis:

Some proponents of the extended evolutionary synthesis argue that Dawkins' gene-centered view does not fully account for recent developments in evolutionary biology, such as epigenetics, niche construction, and developmental plasticity. They assert that these factors contribute significantly to evolutionary processes and are not adequately explained by a strictly gene-centered framework.

Holistic Approaches:

Critics argue for a more holistic view of evolution that incorporates the interplay of genes, organisms, populations, and ecosystems. They suggest that focusing too much on genes overlooks the broader context in which evolution occurs.

Dawkins' Response

Clarification of Misunderstandings:

Dawkins has clarified that his gene-centered view is not meant to deny the importance of other levels of selection but rather to highlight the fundamental role that genes play in evolution. He argues that genes are the units of heredity and therefore the primary entities upon which natural selection acts.

Acknowledgment of Multilevel Selection:

While Dawkins emphasizes genes, he acknowledges that selection can occur at multiple levels. However, he maintains that the gene-centered perspective provides a powerful explanatory framework for understanding how evolutionary processes operate.

Defense of Reductionism:

Dawkins defends reductionism as a valid scientific approach, arguing that breaking down complex phenomena into their constituent parts can lead to a deeper understanding. He believes that focusing on genes allows scientists to explain how traits are inherited and how natural selection drives evolutionary change.

The Extended Phenotype:

In his book "The Extended Phenotype," Dawkins expands on the idea that the influence of genes extends beyond the individual organism to affect its environment and the behavior of other organisms. This concept addresses some criticisms by showing how gene-centered thinking can incorporate broader ecological and evolutionary interactions.

Engagement with Critics:

Dawkins has engaged in public debates and discussions with his critics, such as Stephen Jay Gould, to address their concerns and defend his views. Through these interactions, he has sought to clarify misunderstandings and demonstrate the robustness of his gene-centered perspective.

Integration with New Findings:

Dawkins has shown a willingness to integrate new scientific findings into his framework. While he continues to advocate for the centrality of genes in evolution, he acknowledges the importance of other factors like epigenetics and developmental biology, as long as they are consistent with the principles of natural selection and heredity.


Richard Dawkins' gene-centered view of evolution has been both highly influential and controversial. While his detractors accuse him of reductionism and dogmatism, Dawkins has responded by clarifying his position and defending the explanatory power of focusing on genes. He acknowledges the complexity of evolutionary processes and the validity of multilevel selection, while maintaining that genes play a central and foundational role in the theory of evolution. His work continues to spark debate and contribute to the evolving understanding of evolutionary biology.

He has been a member of the "Four Horsemen" group of atheists. Who were the other members and what was their point of view regarding the value of religion?

The "Four Horsemen" of atheism is a term that refers to four prominent figures in the New Atheism movement: Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett. This group is known for its outspoken criticism of religion and advocacy for secularism, science, and rationalism. Each member brought a unique perspective to the discussion on the value of religion and its impact on society.

Richard Dawkins

Point of View on Religion:

Dawkins views religion primarily as a source of superstition and irrationality that impedes scientific progress and promotes harmful beliefs. In his book "The God Delusion," he argues that belief in God is a delusion and that religion has been responsible for much conflict and suffering throughout history. He advocates for a worldview based on evidence and reason, and he sees the dissemination of scientific knowledge as a means to counteract religious dogma.

Christopher Hitchens

Point of View on Religion:

Hitchens, a journalist and author, was known for his sharp wit and acerbic critique of religion. In his book "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything," he argues that religion is inherently toxic and detrimental to human progress. Hitchens believed that religion fosters intolerance, ignorance, and oppression. He was particularly critical of the influence of organized religion in politics and education, advocating for a secular approach to governance and moral reasoning.

Sam Harris

Point of View on Religion:

Harris, a neuroscientist and author, focuses on the incompatibility of religious faith with rational inquiry and scientific understanding. In his books "The End of Faith" and "Letter to a Christian Nation," he argues that religious beliefs are not only false but also dangerous, as they can lead to extremism and violence. Harris promotes secularism and the use of scientific methods to address moral and ethical questions, arguing that a rational, evidence-based approach to these issues is superior to one based on religious doctrine.

Daniel Dennett

Point of View on Religion:

Dennett, a philosopher and cognitive scientist, examines religion from a naturalistic and evolutionary perspective. In his book "Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon," he explores the origins and functions of religious belief, treating religion as a cultural phenomenon that can be studied scientifically. Dennett does not dismiss all aspects of religion outright but argues that understanding its evolutionary basis can help mitigate its negative impacts. He advocates for a more informed and less dogmatic approach to religious beliefs, encouraging open inquiry and skepticism.

Common Themes

Critique of Faith-Based Belief:

All four members criticize the reliance on faith without evidence, arguing that it leads to false beliefs and can justify harmful actions.

Advocacy for Secularism:

They all support the separation of church and state, promoting a secular approach to governance and public policy.

Promotion of Scientific Inquiry:

Each of the "Four Horsemen" values scientific inquiry and rational thinking as the best methods for understanding the world and solving human problems.

Moral and Ethical Concerns:

They argue that morality and ethics can be grounded in reason and human well-being, rather than in religious doctrines.


The "Four Horsemen" collectively emphasize the importance of evidence-based thinking and the dangers they perceive in religious faith. While each has a slightly different focus—Dawkins on the biological and scientific aspects, Hitchens on the socio-political impacts, Harris on the clash with reason and science, and Dennett on the evolutionary and cognitive dimensions—they share a common goal of promoting secularism and rationalism over religious belief. Their works have significantly influenced public discourse on atheism and the role of religion in society.

Douglas Murray has been a vocal defender of Christian religion, because it provides meaning and community to many people, something secularism supposedly does not offer.

Douglas Murray, a British author and political commentator, has indeed defended Christianity, particularly highlighting its cultural and societal contributions. His arguments focus on the value of religion in providing meaning, moral structure, and a sense of community, which he believes secularism struggles to offer in the same capacity.

Murray's Defense of Christianity

Cultural and Moral Foundations:

Murray argues that Christianity has been foundational to the development of Western civilization. It has shaped cultural norms, legal systems, and moral values that many in the West still adhere to, even if they are not explicitly religious. He contends that these values, such as the sanctity of human life, charity, and justice, are deeply rooted in Christian teachings.

Sense of Meaning and Purpose:

According to Murray, Christianity provides individuals with a sense of meaning and purpose in life. It offers narratives and doctrines that help people make sense of their existence and their place in the world. This sense of purpose can be particularly comforting in times of crisis or uncertainty.

Community and Belonging:

Murray emphasizes the role of religious communities in fostering a sense of belonging and mutual support. Churches and other religious institutions often serve as centers of social life, offering not only spiritual guidance but also practical support and a sense of solidarity.

Challenges of Secularism:

Murray acknowledges the benefits of secularism, such as freedom of thought and the separation of church and state. However, he argues that secularism often struggles to replace the cohesive community and shared moral framework that religion provides. He suggests that without a unifying belief system, societies may become fragmented and individuals may experience existential dislocation.

Historical Context:

Murray also points out that many secular moral principles have their origins in religious traditions. He argues that attempts to completely divorce modern ethical standards from their religious roots can lead to a weakening of those standards.

Responses from New Atheists

The New Atheists, including Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Dennett, have responded to such arguments in various ways:

Humanism and Secular Ethics:

They argue that secular humanism can provide a robust ethical framework without the need for religious beliefs. Humanism emphasizes human well-being, reason, and compassion, advocating for moral principles based on rational deliberation and empirical understanding of human needs.

Community and Meaning in Secularism:

New Atheists contend that secular communities can and do provide meaning and a sense of belonging. Organizations like Sunday Assembly and various humanist groups offer community support and shared values similar to those found in religious congregations.

Critique of Religious Morality:

Dawkins, Hitchens, and others have criticized religious moral systems as being based on outdated and often harmful doctrines. They argue that moral progress has often occurred in opposition to religious teachings, such as the abolition of slavery and the advancement of women's and LGBTQ+ rights.

Evolutionary and Psychological Perspectives:

Dennett and Harris suggest that the human need for meaning and community can be understood through evolutionary psychology and cognitive science. They propose that these needs can be met through secular means, such as through the arts, sciences, and social networks.

Focus on Evidence and Rationality:

The New Atheists emphasize the importance of basing beliefs on evidence and rationality rather than tradition or faith. They argue that while religion can provide comfort and community, it also promotes beliefs that are not empirically justified and can lead to harmful outcomes.


Douglas Murray's defense of Christianity highlights important aspects of human life that religion can address, such as the need for meaning, moral guidance, and community. While acknowledging these contributions, New Atheists argue that secularism and humanism are capable of providing similar benefits without relying on supernatural beliefs. They emphasize the importance of grounding moral and social systems in reason and evidence, aiming to foster communities and ethical frameworks that are inclusive and rationally justified.

Atheists usually claim that religion should be outgrown and replaced with science, but some defenders, like Murray, claim religion is still valuable for the above mentioned reasons, if it might not be "true". Please elaborate on this contradiction: how can something have value which isn't true?

The debate over the value of religion, even if it may not be "true" in a literal sense, touches on deep philosophical questions about the nature of truth, belief, and human well-being. This contradiction can be explored through various perspectives:

The Atheist Perspective

Atheists, particularly those aligned with the New Atheism movement, often argue that:

Truth and Evidence:

They maintain that beliefs should be based on empirical evidence and rationality. If religious claims are not true, they should be outgrown in favor of scientific understanding, which is based on observable and testable evidence.

Harmful Consequences of False Beliefs:

Atheists argue that false beliefs, even if they provide comfort or community, can lead to harmful consequences. For instance, they can justify discrimination, inhibit scientific progress, or foster conflict.

Secular Alternatives:

They advocate for secular alternatives that can provide the same benefits as religion, such as community, ethical frameworks, and meaning, without relying on supernatural claims. Humanism, secular human rights frameworks, and community organizations can fulfill these roles.

The Perspective of Religious Defenders Like Murray

Defenders of religion, such as Douglas Murray, argue that:

Functional Value:

Religion can have significant functional value beyond its literal truth. It provides psychological, social, and moral benefits that contribute to individual and societal well-being.

Source of Meaning and Purpose:

Religion offers narratives that help people make sense of their lives and the world, providing a sense of meaning and purpose that might be harder to find in a purely secular worldview.

Community and Social Cohesion:

Religious communities offer a sense of belonging, mutual support, and social cohesion that can be difficult to replicate in secular contexts. These communities can be particularly important in times of crisis.

Moral Framework:

Religion often provides a moral framework that can guide behavior and promote prosocial values such as charity, compassion, and justice. While secular ethics can also do this, religion's historical and cultural embedding can make its moral teachings more immediately accessible to many people.

Philosophical and Psychological Insights

The idea that something can have value without being literally true can be understood through several philosophical and psychological frameworks:


From a pragmatic perspective, the truth of a belief can be judged by its practical consequences. If religious beliefs lead to positive outcomes for individuals and societies, they can be considered valuable even if not empirically true.

Symbolic Truth:

Some argue that religious stories and doctrines can convey symbolic or metaphorical truths. They provide frameworks for understanding complex human experiences and ethical dilemmas, much like literature and mythology.

Psychological Benefits:

Psychological research shows that belief in something greater than oneself, community involvement, and structured moral frameworks can lead to improved mental health, resilience, and social support.

Cultural and Historical Context:

Religion is deeply embedded in many cultures and histories. It plays a role in identity formation and continuity of tradition, offering stability and a sense of belonging that is hard to replace.


The debate about the value of religion, even if it is not literally true, hinges on differing views about the nature of truth and the sources of human well-being. While atheists prioritize empirical truth and seek secular alternatives to meet human needs, defenders of religion like Douglas Murray highlight the functional, psychological, and social benefits that religion can provide. This discussion reflects broader questions about how best to balance the search for truth with the need for meaning, community, and moral guidance in human life.

How does religious development factor in this topic? Do we outgrow religion or does religion grow with us? Please provide examples of scientists who believe there are many ways to be religious.

The question of whether we outgrow religion or whether religion evolves with us is a complex one, reflecting differing perspectives on the role and nature of religion in human life. The relationship between religious development and human progress can be seen through various lenses:

Religious Development: Outgrowing vs. Evolving

Outgrowing Religion:

This perspective, often associated with secular humanists and New Atheists, suggests that as societies become more scientifically and technologically advanced, they should move away from religious beliefs, which are seen as based on superstition and lacking empirical evidence. Proponents argue that reason and science provide better frameworks for understanding the world and solving human problems.

Religion Growing with Us:

Another perspective is that religion evolves and adapts alongside human societies. This view holds that religion can change to reflect new understandings and social contexts, potentially becoming more sophisticated and integrated with contemporary knowledge. Religion, in this sense, is not static but dynamic, capable of growing with us.

Examples of Religious Evolution

Progressive and Liberal Theologies:

Many religious traditions have progressive or liberal branches that reinterpret doctrines and practices in light of contemporary values and scientific understanding. For example, some Christian denominations accept evolutionary theory and reinterpret biblical creation stories as metaphorical rather than literal.

Interfaith Movements:

Interfaith movements seek to promote understanding and cooperation between different religious traditions. They often emphasize shared values and common ethical principles, suggesting that there are multiple valid ways to be religious.

Spiritual but Not Religious:

Many people identify as "spiritual but not religious," embracing personal spiritual practices while distancing themselves from organized religion. This trend reflects a desire for individualized spiritual experiences that can evolve with personal growth and new insights.

Scientists and Thinkers on Religious Pluralism

Several scientists and thinkers believe that there are many ways to be religious and that religious beliefs can coexist with scientific understanding:

Albert Einstein:

Einstein famously said, "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." He viewed religion more as a sense of awe and wonder at the universe, which could coexist with scientific inquiry.

Carl Sagan:

Sagan was an advocate for scientific skepticism but also spoke about the profound sense of wonder that scientific discovery can inspire. He acknowledged that this sense of wonder could be seen as a kind of spiritual experience.

Francisco Ayala:

A geneticist and evolutionary biologist, Ayala argues that science and religion address different aspects of human experience. He believes that they can be complementary, with science explaining the natural world and religion providing meaning and moral guidance.

John Polkinghorne:

A theoretical physicist and Anglican priest, Polkinghorne has written extensively on the relationship between science and religion. He argues that both are necessary for a full understanding of reality, with science answering "how" questions and religion addressing "why" questions.

Kenneth Miller:

A biologist and devout Catholic, Miller has written about how evolution and faith are compatible. In his book "Finding Darwin's God," he argues that religious belief and acceptance of evolutionary theory are not mutually exclusive.


The question of whether we outgrow religion or whether it grows with us reflects broader debates about the nature of belief and the progress of human understanding. While some argue that advanced societies should move beyond religious belief, others see religion as evolving and adapting to new knowledge and contexts. Scientists and thinkers like Einstein, Sagan, Ayala, Polkinghorne, and Miller demonstrate that there are many ways to be religious and that religion can coexist with, and even be enriched by, scientific understanding. This plurality suggests that religious development is not a straightforward process of outgrowing but can be a dynamic interplay of growth and adaptation.

I was referring to James Fowler, the author of the book "Stages of Faith". Is atheism just a stage of development? What comes next?

James Fowler, in his seminal work "Stages of Faith," outlines a developmental model of faith that suggests individuals move through a series of stages in their understanding and experience of faith. Fowler's stages are not specific to any particular religion and can be applied to a broad range of faith experiences, including atheism.

Fowler's Stages of Faith

Stage 0: Primal or Undifferentiated Faith (Infancy)

Characterized by early trust and attachment, influenced by parental care and environment.

Stage 1: Intuitive-Projective Faith (Early Childhood)

Faith is imaginative and intuitive, shaped by stories and experiences.

Stage 2: Mythic-Literal Faith (Middle Childhood)

Beliefs are understood literally, and moral rules are viewed as fixed.

Stage 3: Synthetic-Conventional Faith (Adolescence)

Faith is shaped by the community and authority figures. Conformity and belonging are crucial.

Stage 4: Individuative-Reflective Faith (Young Adulthood)

Personal reflection and critical thinking lead to questioning and re-evaluation of beliefs.

Stage 5: Conjunctive Faith (Mid-Life)

Individuals recognize the limits of logic and embrace paradoxes. There is an openness to the beliefs of others.

Stage 6: Universalizing Faith (Rare)

Transcendent faith characterized by universal compassion and selfless love. Individuals often become prophetic figures.

Atheism as a Stage of Development

In Fowler's framework, atheism can be understood as part of the Individuative-Reflective stage (Stage 4):

Questioning and Critical Reflection:

This stage involves deep personal reflection and questioning of previously held beliefs. Individuals critically examine the beliefs they were raised with and seek their own understanding. Atheism, agnosticism, or a reformation of previously held religious beliefs can emerge as part of this critical reflection.

What Comes Next?

If atheism is viewed within the context of Fowler's model, the subsequent stages might involve:

Stage 5: Conjunctive Faith:

A person who transitions from atheism might develop a more nuanced and integrative perspective. They may recognize the value in various belief systems and hold a more open and pluralistic view of faith.

This stage is marked by an acceptance of paradox and an understanding that truth can be complex and multifaceted.

Stage 6: Universalizing Faith:

While rare, this stage involves a profound sense of unity with all people and a commitment to universal principles of justice and love.

Individuals in this stage often transcend specific religious or atheistic identities, focusing instead on broader humanistic or spiritual values that promote the well-being of all humanity.

Examples of Development Beyond Atheism

Spiritual but Not Religious:

Some individuals who move beyond atheism might embrace a form of spirituality that is not tied to traditional religious structures but still seeks to find meaning, purpose, and connection in life.

Interfaith Engagement:

Others might engage in interfaith dialogues and activities, appreciating and learning from the diversity of religious experiences and perspectives.

Humanism and Ethical Philosophies:

A continued commitment to humanism or ethical philosophies that emphasize compassion, justice, and the interconnectedness of all people can be seen as an advanced stage of faith development.


In James Fowler's "Stages of Faith," atheism can be seen as part of a developmental process, particularly within the Individuative-Reflective stage, where critical examination and personal reflection are key. What comes next may involve moving towards more integrative and holistic stages of faith, such as Conjunctive Faith and Universalizing Faith, where there is a deeper appreciation for complexity, paradox, and the shared human quest for meaning and connection. This perspective suggests that faith development is a lifelong journey that can encompass a wide range of beliefs and experiences.

As to Dawkins' gene-centered view, is that view out-dated and replaced with more holistic views of evolution in an "extended synthesis", or is it still the central concept in evolutionary theory?

Richard Dawkins' gene-centered view of evolution, as articulated in his book "The Selfish Gene," remains a significant and influential concept in evolutionary biology. However, it has been integrated into a broader and more holistic understanding of evolutionary processes known as the "Extended Evolutionary Synthesis" (EES).

Gene-Centered View of Evolution

Core Idea:

Dawkins' central thesis is that genes are the primary units of selection in the process of evolution. He argues that evolutionary success is best understood at the level of genes, which propagate themselves by influencing the traits and behaviors of organisms.

Selfish Genes:

According to Dawkins, genes can be thought of as "selfish" because they act in ways that maximize their own survival and replication. This perspective shifts the focus from individual organisms or species to the underlying genetic code.

Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (EES)

Integration of Additional Factors:

The EES incorporates and extends traditional evolutionary theory (the Modern Synthesis) by integrating additional mechanisms and factors that influence evolution. These include epigenetics, developmental biology, niche construction, and phenotypic plasticity.


Epigenetic changes can affect gene expression without altering the DNA sequence. These changes can be heritable and influence evolutionary processes by adding another layer of complexity to how traits are passed on and expressed.

Developmental Biology:

Developmental processes (evo-devo) show how genetic and environmental interactions during an organism's development can lead to evolutionary changes. This highlights the importance of considering how traits develop and are regulated.

Niche Construction:

Organisms actively modify their environment, which in turn affects their evolution. This concept emphasizes the reciprocal relationship between organisms and their habitats, suggesting that evolution is influenced by the feedback loops between them.

Phenotypic Plasticity:

The ability of an organism to change its phenotype in response to environmental conditions adds flexibility to evolutionary dynamics. This adaptability can lead to evolutionary innovations and variations.

Current Consensus

Complementary Views:

The gene-centered view is not outdated but is considered one part of a more comprehensive understanding of evolution. While genes remain central to the inheritance and variation essential for natural selection, the EES broadens the scope to include additional mechanisms and interactions.

Continued Importance of Genes:

Genes are still seen as crucial units of selection. However, their role is now understood in a more context-dependent manner, where the interaction of genes with other factors is critical in shaping evolutionary outcomes.

Multilevel Selection:

Modern evolutionary biology acknowledges that selection can occur at multiple levels, including genes, individuals, and groups. This multilevel selection theory allows for a more nuanced understanding of evolutionary dynamics.

Examples of Scientists Integrating These Views

Eva Jablonka:

A proponent of the importance of epigenetic inheritance, Jablonka argues that non-genetic forms of inheritance can play significant roles in evolution.

Massimo Pigliucci:

An advocate for the EES, Pigliucci emphasizes the importance of developmental processes and phenotypic plasticity in evolution.

Kevin Laland:

Laland's work on niche construction highlights how organisms shape their environments, which in turn influences evolutionary pathways.


Richard Dawkins' gene-centered view remains a foundational concept in evolutionary biology, providing essential insights into the role of genes in evolution. However, it has been integrated into a broader and more holistic framework known as the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis. This extended synthesis incorporates additional factors like epigenetics, developmental biology, and niche construction, providing a more comprehensive understanding of evolutionary processes. The gene-centered view is thus complemented by these newer perspectives, which together offer a richer and more nuanced picture of how evolution operates.

In this context, epigenetics seems to provide support to the idea of Lamarck that acquired traits can be passed on to the next generation. Dawkins has remained skeptical of this, as far as I know, because the very long-term effects still need to be assessed.

Yes, the field of epigenetics has indeed revived interest in some aspects of Lamarckian ideas, particularly the notion that acquired traits can be passed on to future generations. This perspective contrasts with the traditionally strict view of inheritance through DNA alone, which has been a cornerstone of the Modern Synthesis in evolutionary biology. Let's explore this in more detail:

Lamarckian Inheritance and Epigenetics

Lamarck's Theory:

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck proposed that organisms could pass on traits acquired during their lifetime to their offspring. For example, he suggested that giraffes developed long necks because their ancestors stretched to reach higher leaves, and this acquired characteristic was inherited by subsequent generations.


Epigenetics involves changes in gene expression that do not alter the underlying DNA sequence but can be heritable. These changes are often mediated by mechanisms such as DNA methylation, histone modification, and non-coding RNAs.

For instance, if an organism experiences stress, this can lead to epigenetic changes that might be passed to its offspring, potentially affecting their development and behavior.

Dawkins' Skepticism

Richard Dawkins, along with many other evolutionary biologists, has maintained a cautious stance towards the long-term evolutionary implications of epigenetics. Key points of his skepticism include:

Stability of Epigenetic Marks:

Dawkins and others have pointed out that many epigenetic modifications are reset during the process of gamete formation and early embryonic development. This resetting limits the potential for epigenetic changes to be stably inherited across multiple generations.

Empirical Evidence:

While there is evidence that epigenetic changes can be inherited, the extent and evolutionary significance of this inheritance are still under investigation. Dawkins emphasizes the need for more long-term studies to understand how persistent and impactful these changes are.

Central Role of Genes:

Dawkins continues to view genes as the primary units of selection and inheritance. He argues that while epigenetic mechanisms are important for gene regulation and development, they do not fundamentally alter the gene-centered view of evolution.

The Current Understanding and the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (EES)

Incorporating Epigenetics:

The EES aims to incorporate epigenetic inheritance as one of several mechanisms that contribute to evolution. This synthesis does not reject the importance of genetic inheritance but adds layers of complexity to our understanding of evolutionary processes.

Holistic View:

The EES promotes a more holistic view that includes genetic, epigenetic, ecological, and developmental factors. It recognizes that these factors interact in complex ways to shape evolutionary trajectories.

Evidence of Epigenetic Inheritance:

There are documented cases where epigenetic changes have been passed on for a few generations, influencing traits like stress responses, metabolism, and behavior. However, the permanence and broader evolutionary impact of such changes remain subjects of active research.

Notable Examples and Studies

Dutch Hunger Winter:

Children of individuals who experienced the Dutch Hunger Winter during World War II show epigenetic changes related to metabolism and health, suggesting a form of transgenerational inheritance.

Plant Epigenetics:

In plants, some epigenetic changes have been observed to be stably inherited across generations, influencing traits like flowering time and stress responses.

Animal Studies:

Experiments with rodents have shown that stress-induced epigenetic modifications can affect offspring behavior, although these changes often diminish over subsequent generations.


The field of epigenetics adds a fascinating dimension to our understanding of inheritance and evolution, suggesting that acquired traits can indeed influence future generations to some extent. While this idea resonates with aspects of Lamarckian inheritance, it does not fully overturn the gene-centered view of evolution championed by Richard Dawkins. Instead, it complements and extends it, providing a more nuanced and comprehensive picture of how traits are inherited and evolve over time. Dawkins' skepticism highlights the need for rigorous, long-term studies to fully assess the evolutionary significance of epigenetic inheritance, ensuring that new insights are robustly integrated into the broader framework of evolutionary biology.

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