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Dorky Dawkins?

Yesterday I was sitting in one of the cafes we have distributed around the campus of the university I work at writing some notes on Richard Dawkins’ latest book, The Greatest Show on Earth, when an odd person came up to me and claimed: “he’s a real dork you know”. I enquired: “who do you mean, Richard Dawkins? What’s the problem?” but by that time he had scuttled away.

So it seems that Dawkins’ influence is significant with all kinds of different people. I have no idea what this particular individual’s problem was – presumably he was some sort of religious freak who didn’t like criticism of his beliefs – and its unfortunate I couldn’t have got some more details. Actually, now that I think about it more, maybe its fortunate I didn’t engage this person in debate because I suspect he might not have made much sense (so much for universities being the center for informed intellectual debate!)

Anyway, if you are interested in the subject, my brief summary of some of the highlights from the book (which is actually well written and very readable) is here. If you have any comments please leave them in the discussion system, but please make it a bit more consequential than an ad hominem attack on the author!

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  1. limey
    February 7, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    I wouldn’t say he was dorky, but I do have a low opinion of Dawkins and the word I would use is somewhat more of an insult and not something I would normally utter.

    The problem I have with Dawkins is his attitude towards the religious. He comes across as arogant, aloof and as though he thinks all his ideas are beyond reproach. Which is odd, seeing as that’s precisely the sort of thing his religious opponents get accused of. Double standards anyone?

    In my view, his attacks on the religious establishment are counter-productive and do much to destroy the good work he does in explaining evolution. When I have seen him talking about evolutions he exudes an infectious enthusiasm which I find genuinely inspiring. Then he goes of on one of his atheistic rants and he sounds like a radlical religious zealot and I want to punch his lights out.

    If he really wants to show creationists the error of their ways, then he is going about it completely the wrong way. Attacking their beliefs in the way he does will only cause those he wishes to correct to get further entrenched in their views. Which is a shame really.

  2. ojb42
    February 7, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    There is a major debate in the skeptical and atheist communities regarding this issue. Some think that people with bizarre ideas need to be treated carefully and with respect or there will be a backlash against us. Others think we’ve done that for years and been ignored and that now is the time to stir up some trouble! I tend to agree with the second approach.

    On the topic of Dawkins being arrogant: he does seem that way occasionally but I think there is one significant factor which separates him from his opponents. He’s right! People’s arrogance isn’t the issue. Its the facts which are the issue, and Dawkins tends to have them on his side, although I agree he might have gone a bit far in places in “The God Delusion”.

    Most importantly the atheist message is now getting through after years of sitting around quietly “being nice” when nothing happened. The hard-core creationists will never see the truth because they are totally delusional. But mocking creationists is a good way to help the less extreme believers see the facts.

  3. limey
    February 7, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    It may be true that Dawkins is the one who is right, but to the creationist who belives that he is right, that’s irrelevent.

    I very strongly disagree with your last statement, mocking someones beliefs, no matter how wrong they are and no matter how extreme they are, will cause them offense is certainly not guarenteed help them see the facts.

    Yes there are times when the only response to something is to laugh, I have done that myself. However, when I hear intelligent men reducing a discussion to nothing more than a school yard bully session I am left shacking my head in shame.

    To help the less extreme believers see the facts you need to show them that evolution is beautiful and that its possible to be enthusiastic and excited by it. When they see that, they can’t help but want to know more, and then its only a little bit of education and the transfer is made. Mocking them will only raise defense barriers and from that moment you have lost your ability to have a serious and sensible discusion.

    To me, using the argument that just because some creationists are arrogant and misguided and very vocal is childish. It only lowers you to their level and will lose you credibility with the less extreme ones because they are more then likely unhappy with how some creationsists behaive.

  4. ojb42
    February 7, 2010 at 8:38 pm

    I totally see your point and, as I said, this is a topic of debate in the skeptic/atheist community. I can see merits in the argument on both sides but it does seem to me that during the decades when atheists gave religious people all that respect they got nowhere. Now that people like Dawkins and Hitchens are being more aggressive at least the debate is much more visible. It doesn’t always produce positive results but at least its happening.

  5. limey
    February 7, 2010 at 10:26 pm

    That’s something else I don’t get. Why is the debate a good thing? As far as I can see, its a non issue, evolutions is fact, end of.

    Yes there are people who need educating away from creationism and there are some who hold so steadfast to it that they will not change.

    However, the official stance of the Church of England and the Catholic Church is that evolution is the scientific fact. If you do a poll of the membership of these churches in the UK you most likely find that the majority accept evolution, even if they have no interest in the scientific argument behind it. To the majority of these religious people there is no issue and the creationists are in the minority.

    In my view Dawkins has done much damage by effectively saying that evolution and God can’t mix. The message this gives to those in churches who accept evolution but have no interest in the scientific argument, is that they have to choose between God and science, for the majority of these people, God will win and Dawkins has effectively spawned a whole load of creationists from people who previously were very happy not having to have made that decision.

    Okay, I am not sure I explained that very well, so I hope you understand what I was trying to say.

    Basically I think Dawkins, and those like him, have created a religion / science divide where previously none existed or what was there was too small to worry about. All because they got themselves hot and bothered over an issue being touted by a minority part of religious establishment.

    That bit I find the most sad.

    Anyway, I don’t mean to bring an argument to your blog, over the pros and cons of mocking the creationists. I guess I am just venting at what I see as doing long term damage to science and religion, when it is very much avoidable and the two do not have to be on opposite sides anyway.

  6. ojb42
    February 7, 2010 at 10:47 pm

    Of course evolution is a fact but many people don’t accept that – about half of the population of the US, for example. That’s not necessarily a problem by itself but these idiots then start trying to shut down evolution education and push religious based policies, etc. They need to be stopped, hence the need for debate, or more correctly, exposure of how stupid their ideas really are.

    I do understand what you are saying. You are suggesting a more moderate stance where people get to keep their religious belief but still believe evolution (as is the official policy of many religions). That idea does have merit but I think its the duty of every rationalist to point out how ridiculous religion itself is. I certainly do this in areas beyond evolution.

    I personally think that evolution and god can’t mix. Evolution is the result of rational, objective study of the real world, god is the result of superstitious fantasy. I know that most people’s beliefs cause no harm but I think we should spread the truth in every area – even in moderate religion.

    Don’t apologise for starting a debate (I don’t think of it as an argument). Debate is good! As I siad, most non-believers have a lot of sympathy for your point of view but I think the time is here for religion to be attacked. Its not just in the area of anti-science that religion causes problems!

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