Saturday, June 11, 2011

Richard Dawkins: Not So Bad After All?

The independent has an article on Richard Dawkins which casts him not as the devil incarnate but rather, not such a bad guy. As Kevin Myers writes:
The popular meme of Dawkins The Bigot is the creation of the Christian Creationist Right, who loathe him for the power of his advocacy of the idea that Darwinian natural selection is the sole creator of our living world.
The focus of the article, however, is the idea that natural selection can work wonders over the vast amounts of time. He writes:
The key element here is not the emerging species, but the mutating genes guiding them. One of many delightful revelations that Dawkins makes in his latest book, 'The Greatest Show on Earth', is that the gene which makes haemoglobin is a mutation of the same gene that makes the root-pod in legumes, wherein bacteria fix nitrogen: and what they visibly retained in common, across millions of years of separation, is their colour. Yes, both the ultimate sources of pea and pee are blood-red.

Dawkins is simply not the austere and proselytising dogmatist of myth. Such people expect and almost seek confrontation, whereas he merely wishes to make his case.

Moreover, he is quite clearly baffled by the extraordinary vituperation to which has been subjected, usually by the nameless thugs and religious skinheads who stalk the lightless slum-corners of that strange and troubled city, the internet. Take my advice. Forget the meme. Buy the books
All well and good, but this sidesteps a whole host of absolutely nasty things that Dawkins has said about Christianity and parents who bring up their children in a religious home, comparing the latter to sexual abuse. To portray him as a scientist only interested in the science of natural selection is disingenuous at best and deceptive at worst. Nobody that is only interested in the science puts out a book called The God Delusion. The meme is there for a reason.


  1. Absolutely. I'm sure that on a personal level Dawkins is a swell guy. He strikes me as someone I wouldn't mind hanging out with (in contrast to, say, Chris Hitchens).

    But he's certainly not merely the victim of a religious smear campaign. He plays right into the picture that Creationists paint of him. And his supporters (online, anyway) portray him in pretty much the same way.

  2. I realize I'm coming late to this conversation, but I have to point out that you have grossly mis-characterized Dawkin's article on sexual abuse.

    There is no question (from his other writings) that Dawkins would prefer children not be labelled by the religion of their parents.

    But in this article he does not (as you accuse) compare upbringing in any religious home to sexual abuse! He has a much more specific point to make:

    "The threat of eternal hell is an extreme example of mental abuse, just as violent sodomy is an extreme example of physical abuse."

    That's it. He believes that instilling children with a fear of never-ending torment by fire is an extreme form of mental abuse. I agree with him.

    Let me quote a few of your words back to you: To misrepresent Dawkins in service a creationist stereotype "is disingenuous at best and deceptive at worst."

  3. Jim

    May I apologize for that last comment? I don't believe that you are trying to be disingenuous or deceptive. I went too far.

    I do think that you've mis-characterized Dawkins a little.

    But now I've mis-characterized you.


  4. Apology not necessary. I am truly not trying to be disingenuous. It was the comment

    Odious as the physical abuse of children by priests undoubtedly is, I suspect that it may do them less lasting damage than the mental abuse of bringing them up Catholic in the first place

    that really rattled my cage. To equate ANY religious upbringing with sexual abuse is absolutely uncalled for. I understand that he is writing in the context of the horrific priest sex cases but the comment seemed broadly aimed.

    In the same essay, he wrote:

    Only a minority of priests abuse the bodies of the children in their care. But how many priests abuse their minds? Why aren't Catholics and ex-Catholics lining up to sue the church into the ground, for a lifetime of psychological damage?

    How have i mischaracterized his attitudes toward religious upbringing?

  5. He doesn't equate all religious upbringing as sexual abuse.

    He has a specific axe to grind against doctrines of hell in the minds of children. And you're right that your comment is "broadly aimed" at Catholic priests. He spends a bit of time contrasting their approach to religion with what he sees the less harmful, Anglican upbringing he experienced.

    When it comes to teaching children to fear everlasting torture, (something I was subjected to in my own childhood, though -gratefully- not from my parents), I completely agree with Dawkins that this is abusive behavior. I don't know whether it's fair to characterize all Roman Catholic priests with this teaching, but they are Dawkin's target in this article - not "parents who bring up their children in a religious home". (That was your mis- characterization.)

    There is an increasingly disturbing amount of violence, hate speech, and hate-driven political policies erupting throughout our world that can be traced directly to many sorts of religious upbringing (not all religious upbringing - but enough to damage us). Dawkins makes comments like this for a reason. For too long, any attitude that can be placed under the umbrella of "religion", has enjoyed a privileged status in our public discourse.

    To a nonbeliever, why should religion be granted more respect than any other human institution? Especially when a religion promotes hatred; and, believe me, to those who don't believe in hell - hell is a doctrine of hatred.