Mistaken Identity

Richard Dawkins May Be a Christian in Disguise, Even to Himself

When the evolutionary biologist called President Obama a ‘secret atheist,’ was he really describing himself?

I think Richard Dawkins is a secret Christian. Or at least a theist, a believer, a man who knows God.

Dawkins said last week that President Obama is a “secret atheist.” With great respect to my non-believing friends, I happen to know that’s not the case. I describe in my book, The President’s Devotional, some of President Obama’s most intimate moments, and how he has leaned on his Christian faith in the toughest of times.

But enough about Obama--his beliefs are indeed fascinating, but an equally compelling subject of religious analysis is Dawkins himself. And I have a strong inkling--call it a divine revelation?--that perhaps our world’s most famous atheist is actually a believer. Allow me to explain the reasons why:

I think Richard Dawkins is a secret believer because of where he grew up. Dawkins was born in Nairobi, Kenya and spent his childhood between expansive African plains and a beautiful English country estate, Over Norton Park. How fortuitous that a man who would do the world great service in describing natural selection and human behavior would--by chance--have the opportunity to grow up immersed in the very beauty he would later describe! He could have been born to a family of American oilmen or Indian industrialists, but no, this curiously intellectual kid was birthed squarely in the middle of Kenya's flora and fauna and then moved to the mystic fog of Oxfordshire, where he could store these images and experiences away for later dissection. Dawkins's surroundings lent themselves perfectly to intellectual curiosity and his later occupations. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, or maybe something greater was at work. Only Richard and God know the answer; I wonder if they’ve talked about it.

I also think Dawkins is a secret believer because of his work. As a college student, I remember reading his seminal book, The Selfish Gene, with an equal measure of acceptance and despair. On the one hand, I accepted his basic concept of self-interested replicators, molecules that look out for their own interest by reproducing themselves, and then continue in their “selfishness” as they split and grow. But on the other hand, the whole thing left me feeling rather empty. Where did Dawkins find room for completely selfless love, I wondered, if we’re all tripping over each other in an evolutionary race to the top? And if that first “replicator” emerged from some primordial soup, then who, in God’s name, made the soup? Evolutionary biologists have gone round and round about these questions for years, but I’ve yet to hear a satisfying answer. I imagine that these are the sort of inquiries Dawkins mulls over at night, maybe with a glass of wine or cup of tea. Or perhaps he considers them--like many of us do--in moments of silent prayer?

The third reason I think Richard Dawkins is a secret believer is because he, like me, is a sinner. That’s not a pejorative statement; it’s just a statement of fact. Over the course of his, and my, and all of our lives, we have accumulated enough flaws and mistakes and pain to fill a midsized football stadium (American football in my case, English in his). I don’t know the nature of Dawkins’s sins, and he doesn’t know mine. But I know that they both exist. My sin weighed on me so much that I eventually had to bring it to the feet of the only Being I had heard about who just might be sinless, and say, “Hey, can you do something about this? I can’t keep living with all of this guilt and shame.” For me, that Being was Jesus, who I believe to be the Son of God. I wonder where Dawkins’s sin points him; I have a suspicion, but I can’t be sure.

Finally, I think Dawkins is a secret believer because I believe God has a great sense of humor, and when Richard Dawkins comes out of the closet, the world will have never met a greater evangelist. Imagine the sight: Dawkins, standing before a stadium of thousands, proclaiming the goodness of God! A God who kick-started the beautiful biological and evolutionary processes that Dawkins has so famously described. A God who miraculously balances science and love in the same eternal space. A God who still loves Dawkins--the same man who has denied His very existence for years and convinced others to do the same--as much as if he was the only person on earth. What a preacher he will be; not since the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus will we have seen such a sight.

I can’t prove it. I have no solid evidence to support it. But just like Dawkins said about the proof for evolution itself: "it is rather like a detective coming on a murder after the scene ... the detective hasn't actually seen the murder take place, of course. But what you do see is a massive clue …”

I see massive clues that Dawkins, deep down, just might be a believer. And every time I think about it, I can’t help but smile.