Richard Dawkins is Finished….Apparently

Professor Richard Dawkins is an incredibly clever man. He is a pre-eminent evolutionary biologist, with a gift for speaking and a gift for the written word. He is erudite, can be very funny and, as I have already said, he is very, very clever. He is perhaps the world’s most famous atheist and probably has made more money from his atheism than anyone. He has a pretty impressive temper and doesn’t mind going into a frothing rage in front of a television camera.

He can also be vile, abrasive, unpleasant and rude. This week he was firing away on a reasonably prominent science blog (I don’t read these things, so I am relying on the internet to tell me it is so), ripping into Rebecca Watson who calls themselves Scepchick.
Scepchick had complained about somebody asking her to his hotel room at 4am after a party. She thought it was creepy and fair enough. Dawkins didn’t think it was enough to complain about, so posted this:

Dear Muslima,

Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and … yawn … don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.

Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep”chick”, and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn’t lay a finger on her, but even so …

And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.

Richard.
It isn’t particularly witty or funny and despite me not being a fan of his at all (well, I wouldn’t be, he thinks I’m an idiot), I consider it beneath his usual level of communication. The patronising inverted commas are his as is the irritating correction to ‘proper’ spelling.The post is unpleasant, cranky and hyperbolic. At no point in Watson’s complaint did she compare herself to anybody in such circumstances. Empathy doesn’t appear to be Dawkins’ strong point, as though this is something that we hadn’t already worked out. Even some of his fans will accept his rhetoric is a teensy bit overblown.
Well. It kicked off something of a storm of protest across Sceptic and Atheist websites. There have been calls for boycotts of his books (no differentiation was made between his scientific texts and his ranty atheist ones), speaking engagements (again, no differentiation) and television programs.
It seems the Sceptic/Atheist community does the same thing to itself that it does to the religious community. There is some assignation of blame to reprehensible behaviour to the religion itself rather than the people in it. Dawkins was ripping into Islam, as though all Muslim women suffer the awful fate he outlined above.
It’s fascinating, I think, that any member of a particular school of thought, can be surprised about the views and approaches of someone in that same school of thought. Like the Christian church, Atheism is a, ahem, a broad church and is full of just as interesting and wide a range of characters as any religion. Dawkins is a leading light in New Atheist thinking. It also turns out he’s sarcastic and weirdly sexist.
Some Atheists paint themselves as holding a monopoly on clear and rational thinking, as Dawkins only just stops short of doing himself. The mortal pain with which some of his followers have felt over the past few days is exceptionally strange – the guy hasn’t lived up to a set of ideals they have set for him and so he must be cast in the pit of pariah, his every spoken word now derided as invalid because of his indiscretion in a blog comment.
Was he drunk? Was he high? Was he in a bad mood after a fight with Lalla? Was it jealousy or a professional disagreement with a prominent blogger who isn’t a professor at an English university so shouldn’t be as famous as she is?
Who knows? It’s not really the point.
You see, it’s interesting how we build people up to be something they aren’t. Julia Gillard was expected to deliver much in the way of what the Left were expecting from her, and she hasn’t. The asylum seeker policy is probably worse than even the Liberals, she’s still holding out on same-sex marriage and she has so far failed to soften many of the hard edges filed onto Australia under the Howard Government. Whether you agree with those agendas or not, there is much howling from the groups who wanted them and derision from the other side when they don’t happen and cries that go something along the lines of the pearler Charlie Pickering tweeted on the same-sex marriage.
‘How an atheist can be anti-gay marriage is beyond me’
Well, Charlie, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns out there. The Atheist community has climate-change sceptics, racists, rapists, misogynists, any prejudice and criminality you want to name. Atheists, just because they choose not to believe in God, do not automatically become left-leaning beams of sweetness and light. They remain human and susceptible to human foibles and frailty. And in Gillard’s case, political realities. Just like people who call themselves Christians. Funny, isn’t it, how we’re all the same when you peel back the labels.
Dawkins is a product of his time and place. He has entered his eighth decade on planet Earth, lives in the rarified atmosphere of academia and has a truckload of adoring fans who praise his every move. He thought he could get away with being a bit of a jerk (because, in my opinion, he has done so for years) and has paid the price. He’s probably slightly bewildered how he managed to get it so wrong.
Dawkins has done what most heroes do – he’s trodden in it good and proper and then, to make it worse, refused to listen to why people are upset with him. It hasn’t changed my opinion of him – I think he’s abrasive, uncouth and generally unpleasant. What it doesn’t make him is a scientist we should ignore. Christians shouldn’t be afraid of his science and even less afraid of his anti-religious dogma. Mao and Stalin with their armies and reigns of terror couldn’t stop religion, he can’t either.
(N.B . I am not comparing Dawkins to Stalin or Mao – the point I am making here is that they had far more power and might and tried to stamp out religion with violence and repression. They failed – China’s pre-Communist Era Christian population was tens of thousands, by the time of his death it was nearing a reported 50 million. Dawkins has words, books and television and apart from his terrifying temper, is otherwise a reasonable chap when not talking religion. As in not a murderous psychopath.)
I was surprised that he was so offhand about Scepchick’s incident but I was more surprised about the reaction. I think people are tiring of his constant, greying monotone about how religion is terrible. He hasn’t produced anything new on the matter, just said the same thing, over and over. I should imagine following the Dawkins tour is like touring around behind a stand-up comedian – it’s the same jokes, the same stories and the same old thing. You can go to a good church for ten years and not hear the same sermon twice.
Dawkins probably isn’t finished – the cosy, self-congratulatory atmosphere of University life will see to that, and his dedicated acolytes will return because they have nothing else to believe in. I will say I’m mightily impressed with the Atheist and sceptic communities – they treat their own like they treat those with whom they disagree. That’s the sort of consistency I can respect.
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5 thoughts on “Richard Dawkins is Finished….Apparently

  1. I will say I’m mightily impressed with the Atheist and sceptic communities – they treat their own like they treat those with whom they disagree. That’s the sort of consistency I can respect.

    Yes, this has been demonstrated quite a few times, actually. But while I disagree with Dawkins on this matter (who was comparing the incident Rebecca was describing to the plight of women in Islam?), I agree with him on a great many other issues. There is no danger of Dawkins being relegated to the scrap heap on the basis of this incident. But that’s not to say that he isn’t being roundly criticized, even by his friend PZ Myers. But to reject everything else he has said would be to enter into the falsum in uno, falsum in omnibus logical fallacy. The same is true with Hitchens. I vehemently disagree with his pro-war stance on Iraq, but when it comes to religion he expresses (much more eloquently than I) the same views as mine.

    What it doesn’t make him is a scientist we should ignore. Christians shouldn’t be afraid of his science and even less afraid of his anti-religious dogma. Mao and Stalin with their armies and reigns of terror couldn’t stop religion, he can’t either.

    I hate to be rude, but this is an utterly ridiculous comparison. To conclude that religion is harmful is not dogma, first of all. It is demonstrable knowledge. The US is without doubt the most religious of all western nations, yet leads in quite a wide range of categories of harm (violent crime, domestic abuse, teen pregancy/STD transmission, etc.). I have no doubt that religious belief can be a comfort to individuals, but the negative effects on society more than make up for this positive aspect. But the consequences of religion are of no matter. I am only concerned with whether the claims made by a religion are true. However, one of the often made claims by the religious is that religious belief is beneficial. The evidence, however, categorically refutes this claim. What amazes me is that when presented with the evidence that societal problems are increasing, the solution given by these people is “more religion”.

    Neither do I remember at any point a time where Dawkins promotes the mass killing of the religious or placing them in concentrations camps (like Martin Luther did). The ideologies of Mao and Stalin were absolutist, just as religion can be (and often is). In such circumstances, questioning authority and what is truly dogma is the antithesis of what Dawkins stands for. This is just inflammatory rhetoric and a false comparison. I’m amazed you didn’t bring up Hitler whily you were at it.

    I was surprised that he was so offhand about Scepchick’s incident but I was more surprised about the reaction. I think people are tiring of his constant, greying monotone about how religion is terrible. He hasn’t produced anything new on the matter, just said the same thing, over and over. I should imagine following the Dawkins tour is like touring around behind a stand-up comedian – it’s the same jokes, the same stories and the same old thing. You can go to a good church for ten years and not hear the same sermon twice.

    I was surprised too. It will be interesting in Las Vegas to see how Rebecca and Richard will act towards each other next week. But your assessment that people are tiring of Dawkins is very far off the mark. Many people are going to TAM next week because he’s going to be there (as was the case last year), not in spite of it. The skeptics community will pounce on anything that is obviously nonsense no matter how much we are in agreement on any and all other issues. That’s just the nature of the beast. I can’t say the same for the religious community, that allows people like Pat Robertson to spout their hate-speech with impunity. We are an incredibly self-critical bunch.

    As for the accusation of repetitiveness, I would suggest that I haven’t heard anything new from preachers, either. There is nothing new in bullshit, and one of the most common complaints perishioners make is how boring being at church on a Sunday is. We nonbelievers can only say “There is no god” once before repeating ourselves, but so what? Why is the onus on Dawkins or any other atheist to come up with anything new? There’s no burden of proof on us, and there’s no evidence for any god, either. This necessary and sufficient condition has been met for such a statement of belief to be consistent with reality. Your accusations screams ad hominem to me. My only concern is whether any claim is true. All else is fluff.

    And I don’t even think your accusation of staleness is true. I’ve found his documentaries quite varied and interesting. But that’s subjective and if one isn’t in agreement with him that might be a valid point. However, all I can say is how I find his material.

    • Hi there,

      The comparison between Mao and Stalin (and I hope you noticed I missed out Hitler to avoid a reaction like yours) was that they were infinitely more powerful than the comparatively cuddly Professor Dawkins. Mao and Stalin had the entire machinery of government behind them and used terror and killings and things far more harmful than Dawkins’ words.

      I wasn’t making a judgement that the atheist/sceptic community *can’t* be self-critical, it was just nice to see. In fact, the Gawker article I came across in my research said that there was too much hand-wringing and argument within the community. Sounds like the church.

      I made the point in my piece that being either Christian or Atheist does not orientate your moral compass in the right direction, so I stand by what I said. Accusing me of ad hominem around Dawkins’ oft-repeated message is not going to wash with me, so we’ll have to disagree. Dawkins is utterly baffled by Christianity (I cannot speak for Islam or otherwise) and its message of forgiveness. He doesn’t understand the point of the crucifixion and how, while awful, it is justice being served because somebody had to die for the sins of humanity – it was us or Him. He took it. Disagree and disbelieve all you like, but as a literary message it is extremely powerful.

      You’re right, Pat Robertson et al do get away with murder. I can’t say they don’t. And won’t. I have a great deal of trouble with a great many people who call themselves Christians who haven’t read past Genesis. I would also respectfully suggest you’ve never been to a good church. 🙂

      Some of Dawkins’ documentaries are good, but the one where he went after Hagar (or whoever it was) was frankly pathetic. You can go after the real issues or go after the fringe lunatics. Fringe lunatics make better TV because they are convinced they are right.

      As is Dawkins, by the way. He’s no fringe lunatic but he knows he’s right too.

      Would love to continue the conversation, by the way. Always happy to get into civil discussions about this.

  2. Bah, this is nonsense. For all the talk of empathy, I see none for a man, currently engaged in a campaign against women being stoned to effing *death*, who was obviously frustrated at the enormous amount of time and energy expended on a relatively minor incident. What is so difficult to understand about that? There is real shame here, on Watson’s supporters, so caught up im their own petty self-important blog wars.

  3. Great article.

    Dawkins can believe there is no God all he wants, but he just can’t act like it or people will turn.

    Dawkins can write as many books as he wants, and accumulate millions of worshippers along the way. If he lacks empathy – a virtue of God, people will turn.

    If he is arrogant, people will turn.

    If he is is ungrateful, people will turn.

    If he is not charitable, people will turn.

    Richard, for all you have learned, you have learned nothing if you have not learned this.

    There is no escaping the truth.

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