Prospect magazine recently published the results of its World Thinkers Poll of 2013. With more than 10,000 votes from over 100 countries, the top ten of this online poll provides us with a snapshot of some of the intellectual ideas and trends that are beginning to shape the contemporary world.
I have to confess that most of the 65 names in the poll listing are not instantly recognisable. However, the following four from the top ten caught my attention for a variety of different reasons.
Mohamed El Baradei, the former director general of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency and winner of the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize is deservedly in the top ten. A prominent advocate of democracy in Egyptian politics, he is now the coordinator of the National Salvation Front, a coalition dedicated to opposing what they see as President Mohamed Morsi’s attempts to secure power for himself behind an Islamist constitution.
The English physicist Peter Higgs stands out for his humility. He lent his name to the Higgs boson subatomic particle discovered last year. Always quick to point out that others were involved in early work on the particle, he was central to the first descriptions of the boson back in 1964. Higgs is expected to receive a Nobel prize this year for his achievements.
As a teacher, I have always appreciated Harvard professor Steven Pinker’s work on language and cognition. His latest book, ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature’, a panoramic sweep through history, argues that humanity has become less violent over time. Pinker has written books on a range of issues from evolutionary psychology to linguistics to history.
Coming top of the World Thinkers Poll 2013 is Professor Richard Dawkins, Emeritus fellow of New College, Oxford. An atheist and vice president of the British Humanist Association, Dawkins is well known for his criticism of creationism and intelligent design. In his 2006 book ‘The God Delusion’, he argued that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that religious faith is a delusion
His strident promotion of atheism has been controversial. Some individuals, notably writer Christopher Hitchens and psychologist Steven Pinker have been fulsome in their praise. Others such as science philosopher Michael Ruse have accused Dawkins of being ignorant of theology and therefore unable to engage religion and faith intelligently. Peter Higgs has criticised Dawkins’ confrontational stance towards religion as unhelpful.
As a Christian, I find Dawkins’ contemptuous attitude to Christians troubling, because it reveals where his heart is. How sad! Fortunately many more people than the 10,000 who voted in the World Thinkers Poll are convinced in the existence of a loving creator God, not by reason but by personal experience.
Interestingly, the Apostle Paul has this to say about the wise: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate’...............For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength”
We should all pray that Richard Dawkins will, ‘wise up’ about God by climbing down from his ‘high horse’.