Richard Dawkins: Moron or Bigot?

I write this post with a heavy heart: there was once a time when I had a valid claim to be among Richard Dawkins’ greatest fans. There was a time when I would have treasured a tweet from the great man; but when my moment arrived (last Saturday), I was long past getting excited by it.

I had decided I was an atheist around the age of twelve, but on reaching my twenties, I realised I couldn’t fill all the gaps in my detailed understanding of evolution, and decided I needed to remedy that situation. The remedy was Dawkins’ book, The Blind Watchmaker, which I tore through in days, enjoying every page. A little later, I read Dawkins’ first book, and true masterpiece, The Selfish Gene, which blows away the idea that evolution necessarily favours the most violent, selfish individuals, and thus gives a little hope for mankind in a godless universe.

And then, in 2006, came The God Delusion, a highly ambitious project. This time, instead of using biology alone to undermine religious ideas, Dawkins travels across a wide range of philosophical arguments in order to destroy the basis of religious belief. Again, I bought the book almost as soon as it was available (OK, perhaps I waited for the paperback) and read it fast. Again, many of the arguments were fascinating and compelling. In his usual razor-sharp way, the author shredded any possible religious response. The God Delusion is a devastating blow to religious thinking.

But there was something a little different and disturbing about this book. For the first time (at least, the first time I had noticed), the mask of scientific impartiality slipped. Dawkins’ hatred of religion became more pronounced, most blatantly in Chapter 8: “What’s Wrong With Religion? Why be So Hostile?” On its own, this was no problem to me: I’ve never been a fan of religion either. But Dawkins was now attacking the basis of religious freedom, arguing that to teach a child irrational belief was effectively child abuse. The subtext was clear: child abuse cannot be tolerated in a civilised society, and so – if society accepts his argument that religion is indeed abusive – then religion cannot be tolerated either. It’s a position that any fascist would be proud of: “we are too tolerant to tolerate you!”

The intolerance of ideas is a deeply unscientific position, and thus an odd one to be coming from someone who has spent so much of his life promoting science. The Enlightenment – which laid the foundations of modern democracies – was based on the twin ideas of reason and freedom of thought. The fathers of the Enlightenment advocated a free marketplace of ideas as the only model for human advancement. Dawkins himself invented the word meme to model how ideas spread and mutate within such a marketplace. Either Dawkins has no faith that his own ideas could thrive against religious ones in a free marketplace, or his hatred of religion is driven by just that: hatred.

There seems to be a particular type of Twitter atheist that revels in attacking, and trying to upset, religious people. Many of these atheists were raised with religion before becoming atheists, and tend to blame their earlier intolerance on their religion rather than on their own innate wankishness. They seem not to notice that they’re just as intolerant as they used to be: they’ve just converted from being religious wankers into atheist wankers. Dawkins, since taking to Twitter himself, has attracted a large following of such people (and simultaneously lost many of his earlier admirers).

Dawkins’ Twitter rants have become infamous, and he has often been denounced as a bigot. Until recently, I haven’t subscribed to the idea that he is bigoted against any one religion or group; he clearly has a hatred for religion (and religious people) in general. But it has been hard to ignore that he, like so many “enlightened” people, has a special hatred for Muslims (although he would no doubt characterise it as a hatred of Islam rather than the religion’s followers). To my eyes, his crime has been far worse than just irrationally hating people: he has shown himself quite willing to abandon scientific principle in order to demonstrate his dogmatic view that religion is evil. Thus, he will happily tweet about the flogging of a woman for adultery (because the abuse has a religious justification) while ignoring mass slaughter in Congo or Sri Lanka (because he has no interest in rapes or murders that can’t be blamed on religion). This, from a man who was the University of Oxford‘s Professor for Public Understanding of Science for over a decade. Cherry-picking data to suit your dogma is the very crime for which he has correctly castigated purveyors of creationism and Intelligent Design.

Dawkins is also happy to spread anti-Islamic mythology when it serves his purpose. His site purports to be dedicated to removing the influence of religion, and yet carries several articles about female genital mutilation; this is clearly done to perpetuate the myth that FGM is an Islamic practise. But it isn’t: it’s primarily an African cultural one, largely perpetrated by women against their daughters and granddaughters. What do articles about FGM have to do with Dawkins’ war on religion? In reality, nothing, but they help him demonise religion as evil, and stir up intolerance. Clearly, accuracy and truth – things that are at the core of science – matter less than creating hatred against religious people. In trying to destroy religion, Dawkins has adopted the methods of religion.

Is he just naively amplifying far-right propaganda against Muslims, or does he have a far-right agenda of his own? I have long supported the former view, but evidence is increasing for the latter. One of many generic far-right Muslim-baiting Twitter accounts is @JihadistJoe. Although Joe claims to be a running a JIHADIST PARODY, COMEDY & SATIRE account, he seems to have forgotten he’s supposed to be a PARODY. Besides forgetting to tweet in character, Joe also forgets he’s supposed to be tweeting COMEDY. Joe does retweet a lot of bigoted comedy, and yes I admit, some of it is even funny if you can get past the small-minded hatefulness of it all. But Joe’s own material is as funny as you’d expect from someone who’s too stupid to know what “parody” means (i.e. not funny at all).

Dickie’s view differs from mine, however, and on Saturday he tweeted:

As a result of which, Joe acquired several thousand new followers. So Richard Dawkins, man of science, thinks that tweets such as the following are “very funny and DEADLY accurate”?

Laugh-a-minute stuff, and oh! such wonderful parody! At least, Dickie thinks so:

In response to Dawkins’ praise for Joe, I tweeted:

To which he replied:

Being attacked by Dawkins for being shit at biology would be hurtful, but being abused by one of the world’s most humourless men for my lack of humour? I can handle that. Note the “.” to make his tweet public – I was then, of course, bombarded with tweets from moronic Dawkins fans for a while; I make no protest, as I’ve frequently employed the same tactic.

So Dawkins has proven a huge disappointment to me, and many others who admired him as a man of science. Is he really stupid enough to fall for the anti-Muslim propaganda that’s become so prevalent? That seems unlikely; but he seems guilty of the anti-science crime of not questioning data if it backs his own bigoted views. And for that reason, however high his IQ might be, I think it’s fair to say that Richard Dawkins is a moron.

41 thoughts on “Richard Dawkins: Moron or Bigot?”

  1. I fully agree that the JihadistJoe account is a bit rubbish, and that Dawkins is disappointing on Twitter to say the very least, but I don’t see anything wrong with this specific tweet: “If Islam is for all humanity & Ramadan fasting is essential, what happens to those living in polar regions where the sun doesn’t go down?”

    That’s a perfectly fair question. This religious stuff is ridiculous, and it should be very thoroughly mocked.

    1. The answer to that is, the Muslims living in Polar regions sync their fasts with the nearest location having sunsets & sunrises. Their fasts are usually 20-21hrs in length. Btw JihadiJoe is a moron as well.
      Religion & the issue of belief or not is a personal matter & I for one find rabidly militant atheists as bad as extremists of any other ilk.
      P.S A believing, practicing Muslim here.

    1. I believe he points out that it is *largely* an African cultural practice, which is accurate. The practice spread to more extreme Islamic groups from North Africa – not the other way around.

    2. He loses the argument solely because you disagree on whether FGM is an Islamic practice? That doesn’t seem very logical. FGM was, at best, incidental to the whole argument.

      Even in the article you linked to, the conservative Salafi author states that “circumcision of women is mustahabb [recommended] but not obligatory.” Regardless, it takes a simple Google search to find fatwas against FGM.

      As others have mentioned, FGM is a practice largely limited to Africa. It is essentially non-existent in Muslim-majority countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, Iran, Syria, and so on. Even in Africa, it is almost absent from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya.

      1. Yeah. I should probably shut up about women being disadvantaged by Islam. I mean, if it’s only ‘preferable’ they cut a girl’s clitirus and labia off under duress, they’re probably pro-feminist to all extents.

        Let’s not even go there on the treatment of disabled people either, eh?

        It’s so moderate to keep paralysed people indoors & not let your wife work in 21st century Britain, isn’t it?

      2. The prevalence of FGM is heavily linked to Islamic influence. Take Ghana for example, its FGM prevalence is 4%. However in the Christian & animist south the prevalence is near 0%, in the Muslim Upper West region the prevalence is 16%. The practice is clearly more prevalent in areas of previous Islamic empire, which is a force that came from outside Africa, from the Arabian peninsula. It is the Islamic cultural legacy that leads to this practice rather than “African culture”.

        In Southern and Central Africa where there has been little Islamic influence FGM is basically non-existent.

        “The Shafi’i school of Islamic jurisprudence considers female circumcision to be wajib (obligatory).
        The Hanbali school of Islamic jurisprudence considers female circumcision to be makrumah (honorable) and strongly encouraged, to obligatory.
        The Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence considers female circumcision to be sunnah (optional) and preferred.
        The Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence considers female circumcision to be sunnah (preferred).”

        1. > “The practice is clearly more prevalent in areas of previous Islamic empire, which is a force that came from outside Africa, from the Arabian peninsula.”

          Please tell which Islamic empire ruled over Ghana? The Umayyads? Abbasids? Ottomans? Even someone with cursory knowledge about Islamic history would know that none of these empires ruled over Ghana.

          If one is trying to draw a connection between the Evil Islamic Empire and FGM, you would have to explain why areas in Africa more central to various Islamic empires do not practice FGM, notably the Maghreb (Morocco, Libya, Algeria, and Tunisia). You would have to explain this, and also the fact that the practice is absent from regions located outside Africa that were more central to those various Islamic empires (for example, Syria). Clearly and contrary to your assertions, there is little correlation between rule by Islamic empires and FGM. No doubt, historically, Islamic rulers would have cared little about the practice.

          I suppose you got the 16% from this 2013 UNICEF report?

          Interestingly, while it does say it is more prevalent in Ghana’s Upper West region, it does not give the actual religious statistics for that particular region. One would ask, for example, whether Christians and animists in the Upper West region also practice the custom.

          In Niger the practice is more common among Christians: 55% of Christian girls and women have undergone FGM/C, compared to 2% of Muslim girls and women. A chart (p. 73) gives other examples of countries where the practice is more common among Christians than Muslims, e.g. Nigeria, CAR, and Tanzania. Other statistics from the report correlate socioeconomic condition with the practice. Perhaps the issue is more complicated than simply a case of Islam being evil?

          1. Given that islamophobia is most common among that section of the human species who just want someone to hate I strongly suspect those who go on about FGM probably are also closet haters of feminism.

    3. What about male genital mutilation? Chopping up private parts has a long history in the Judaeo-Christian heritage of Islam, which did after all start as a breakaway sect of Christianity.

      Women covering their heads also is a common practice. You younguns wouldn’t remember that until mid last century western women couldn’t enter a church with their heads uncovered and no respectable woman went out without a hat. Even earlier women had to wear head coverings in their own homes, hence those mob caps you see women wearing in costume dramas on the tellie.

      The difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is that ‘we’ got started on modernisation earlier. We all started at the same spot.

      The hammering that Islam is getting, given how human cognition works, guarantees that Moslems will emphasise what makes them different to those who criticise them. So blather in public about the things Moslems ‘do to’ women if you want to publicly assert your ‘moral superiority ‘ but shut your faces if you want Moslems to be able to escape the corner they’ve been painted into and thus advance the cause of modernising attitudes that leads to more freedom for women.

      Oh and have seen what the Christian United States is up Toni terms of women’s rights?

  2. Three years ago, I would have whole-heartedly backed your stance here and I still see the point you’re making. However, I have to say that – were I forced to root both feet firmly in either yours or Dawkins’ camp – I’d have to align myself with the latter. Happily, I enjoy a level of freedom that means I can read and evaluate a variety of points and opinions and form my own. I am not forced to align myself with a particular argument or stance to preserve my social position, nor am I cowed into silence by an ideology that demands total allegience. Sadly, for a great many Muslim women the world over, this is not an option and this is just one of the many facets of Islam I find unpalatable.

    As you agree, in finding the intolerance and aggression of Islamic ideology abhorrant, neither I nor Dawkins or @Jihadistjoe is being racist. I would go further in suggesting that nor is it racist to not insert an apologetic caveat, to the effect of ‘I know all Muslim’s don’t share this belief’ prior to criticisng Islam. Every sane person knows that each and every Muslim the world over is not a jihadist, just as every rational human being knows all Christians don’t believe homosexuality, or eating shellfish, are an abomination. For those of us that live in a multi-faith, multi-cultural community and enjoy friendships with people of many different faiths and none, that there are many, many Muslims who are far more moderate than literalist is an absolute given. However, it is also glaringly apparent that the ideology of Islam – and how it is interpretted – is often not conducive to social integration, peace or tolerance either domestically or overseas. My pivotal concern is that too many commentators are beginning to become entangled in the well-intentioned championing of ‘moderate’ Muslims to the extent where there is now confusion between rights, if you will, and reasons. It is my belief that Dawkins, in highlighting the ‘reasons’ is being unfairly villified as a quasher of ‘rights’. Sadly, I think this has a lot to do with a misguided effort to engage through collusion, rather than to define what is intolerable and to be intolerant of it.

    For example, it is inarguable that Islamic ideology regards women with contempt and, followed to the letter, seriously undermines and removes their human rights and freedoms. This does not mean that all Muslim women are fundamentally oppressed but that some are not certainly does not preclude the probability that many are and that such treatment is justified by Islamic ideology. That you and I have met several emancipated British Muslim women does not equate to all British Muslim women y prejudi emancipated lives. In fact, living as I do in a majority Muslim area, I have to say that what I observe is the opposite. For every ‘moderate’ Muslim woman I meet here, I encounter five who lives and freedoms are directly controlled by the constraints of Muslim ideology. I will not and cannot accept, for example, that a woman who speaks no English, wears the burkah and is actively encouraged not to socialise or work outside of the family enjoys the same rights and freedoms as I do. Furthermore, I will not accept that to challenge the reasons those rights and freedoms have been infringed makes me in anyway a racist or a bigot. In contrast, I feel that – as a humanist – it would be wrong of me not to do so. In fact, for me not to do so would grate sharply against both my feminism and my liberalism and yet this seems an area where both those calling Dawkins a bigot and ‘moderate’ Muslims seem too terrified to tread. I’m surmising in the absence (not for want of asking) that this maybe because the former are worried of being condemned as bigots while the latter do not feel confident or bold enough to challenge such matters within communities for fear of the sort of reprisals or judgements justified by Islamic ideology. Despite extensive searching online, nowhere could I find any information about the number of British Muslim women who exercise their right to vote. Please tell me why that might be, if it is not a direct result of Islam’s wholesale devaluation of equality? Then tell me why it is that there were no ‘moderate’ Muslim women speakers at my local Mosque encouraging women to vote before polling day and why when I sat outside the polling station on voting day, in an 80% Muslim community (so roughly 40% Muslim women), I saw the sum total of one other woman who – as an aquaintance – I know to be white British atheist?

    I think what needs to be remembered, above all, is that in a fair and free society our collective human rights must come above religion and/or ideology. When Dawkins or others criticise Islam they are criticising an ideology that clearly, distinctly and openly infringes upon human rights. Yes, of course there are moderate Muslims but there are also degrees of moderation. How moderate, for example, is renouncing homicide while appluading the rationale behind the wearing of headscarves or burkahs. Outside of schools, do I think headscarves should be banned? Of course not. In doing so, a right is infringed not just for Muslims but for all of us. Do I, however, feel that challenging the justification for headscarves as set out in Islam makes me a bigot? Sadly, until I see ‘moderate’ Muslims tackle issues such as these head on and forging a less literalist path within the communities where the effects of Islam are most prevelant, I will have trouble believing that their ‘moderation’ stems from a genuine desire to reform Islam positively for all. Equally, until those crying ‘bigot’ at the likes of Dawkins begin to acknowledge the very real and detremental effects of Islamic doctrine, with Muslim women often the biggest victims, I shall continue to regard them as weak, out of touch and largely self defeatest. I shall also continue to criticise Islam – and other faiths – with impunity as well as applauding Dawkins’ rights and reasons for doing so.

  3. Having just recently read the God Delusion, the main flaw (to me) with Dawkins is that he fails to truly separate the philosophical side of religion (I.e is there a god) and the real world impact of religion. His contempt for the former is so great that he wilfully and disingenuously uses it to influence his thinking on the latter. As an atheist, I believe that this is the fundamental distinction all atheists must make.

    The most frustrating part is he spends page after page saying how religion is evil and results in an uncivilised society stuck in the dark ages etc but, upon asking whether religion can be good, he immediately says that it ‘offers no proof of god’s existence’. This is a case in point of what I said in my first paragraph, and he does it over and over again.

    He also regularly uses the ill-defined concept of religion as a means of getting the reader to ‘fill in the gaps’ , as it were. So many times he would cite an area (e.g. Suicide bombers) and broadly claim that without religion, suicide bombers would not exist. This, again, wilfully ignores that it is not merely religion that bridges the gap between good and evil, but incorporates other issues such as geopolitics and international conflict. Suicide bombers are agreed to have started in Lebanon during the early 1980s conflict with Israel, from this angle it is nonsense to suggest that religion played the greater part in creating the concept of suicide bombers.

    On twitter, without sounding too cynical, a part of me thinks that Dawkins tweets this kind of stuff to marketise his brand of atheism and to keep himself relevant. After all, there is only so many times he can say God doesn’t exist without becoming boringly repetitive. The whole spat with Mehdi Hasan (who does, to be fair, give the most cliched and poor arguments for religion) generally shows that he craves attention to survive as an academic and to not be forgotten about. I might be wrong, but that’s the impression I get.

    To be honest, whether dawkins offends religious people is largely irrelevant. He has a right to be offensive and they have a right to be offended, end of discussion. But as an atheist, some of his arguments and the way he reaches certain conclusions are highly flawed.

    1. I believe suicide bombings were pioneered by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, who were a leftwing secular organisation. Damn you secularism and your suicide bombings! 😉

      I agree – it doesn’t worry me if he offends people. Offence is taken, not given. What I find odd about him is the way he couples science with an anti-intellectual popularism. He’s found it’s very easy to get praise from far-right morons on Twitter by tweeting quasi-bigotry. It’s like the bullied nerd has found a way to be popular with the bullies. “Go on Richard, hit the Paki again!!!”

      1. Yeah and what about those secular suicide bombers the PKK in Turkey? I think that atheists like Dawkins should be speaking out against that sort of thing. In fact, in many ways, moderates like Dawkins enable this sort of extremist behaviour.

      2. To assert that offence is taken not given is to ignore john Donne’s reminder that no man is island and to assert that we owe each other nothing. Not true.

  4. 1) “But Dawkins was now attacking the basis of religious freedom, arguing that to teach a child irrational belief was effectively child abuse. The subtext was clear: child abuse cannot be tolerated in a civilised society, and so – if society accepts his argument that religion is indeed abusive – then religion cannot be tolerated either.”

    Dawkins argues against teaching children that unquestioning faith is a virtue. Dawkins asks if it is abusive to label children as possessors of beliefs that they are too young to have thought about (chapter 9).
    But Dawkins also argues that we should “Let children learn about different faiths… (and) let them make up their own minds when they are old enough to do so.”

    The fascistic “intolerance of ideas” you attribute to him is a straw man.

    2) “Thus, he will happily tweet about the flogging of a woman for adultery (because the abuse has a religious justification) while ignoring mass slaughter in Congo or Sri Lanka (because he has no interest in rapes or murders that can’t be blamed on religion).”

    If his argument were that ALL rapes/murders are caused by religion, then he should of course seek out the latter evidence to disprove the hypothesis. If the argument is that THERE EXIST SOME rapes/murders caused by religion, then the latter are irrelevant.

    3) There certainly are several articles about FGM on the Dawkins site. It’s not just an anti-religion site. The site purports to promote Reason, Science and Progress so I’d be surprised if they ignored FGM. I’m not aware of any claims that FGM is exclusive to one religion. It clearly isn’t.

    4) Yes, Joe is a bigot. Not good.

    1. I’ll take issue with your point 2. Surely the relevant question is whether religion is a cause of rape/murder. One can approach this in two ways: 1) The honest way by looking at rape/murder and determining the underlying causes, or 2) the dishonest way by only taking an interest in the minority of rape/murder that appears to have a religious motivation. It seems that Dawkins thinks an atrocity is worse if it can be pinned on religion.

      Thus, he ignores 6 million deaths in Congo and 40,000 in Sri Lanka, plus mass rape in both places, because they detract from the point he’s trying to make.

      We’ve seen the far-right use similar methods in the UK by reporting child abuse involving Asians and ignoring the vast majority of child abuse committed by whites. It’s deeply dishonest but an effective propaganda tool.

      1. Isn’t an atrocity in some senses worse if the perpetrators claim to be carry it out for a “good” reason (of any kind, including religion) rather than just doing it because they were, say, drunk?

        If someone is drunk and beats me up for no obvious reason then clearly, I don’t feel good but that’s random & I hopefully don’t have to worry about it happening frequently to me or anyone else in the future.

        Alternatively, someone beats me up to the same degree whilst claiming to be doing it for some “good” purpose (religious, political or otherwise): physically, I still don’t feel good but this time it’s really scary because this person AND their followers will target me – or someone else – again and again because it’s the “good thing” to do.

        My 2p…

  5. If anyone wants to know were the line on humour is, Dawkins has made it clear. He made this comment on an old Reddit AMA about the depiction of him on South Park.

    ‘Satire is supposed to satirise. Depicting somebody as having a
    predilection for buggering a bald transvestite is not satire and not

    So, cartoons depicting Muslims as camel shaggers are ‘very funny’ and ‘deadly accurate’, but when it’s something making fun of him it is too far.

  6. Some good points here and replies I’ll try to keep mine short.

    Firstly I agree JihadistJo account is absolutely bigoted and dissapointed RD can not see it for what it is.

    As for only complaining about religious rape it would be impossible for him to mention every rape around the world. If he can highlight rape which has happened for religious reasons why not?
    FGM – yes its a mix of culture and religion. However its often because of our cultural sensitivities why it gets covered up.

    I would round up as saying if your going to have idols as RD is to a lot of people prepare top be let down.

    Though RD gets mentioned in almost any atheist related article he is not infallible and is not the atheist leader any more than you or I.

      1. He seems to have some form of Tourette’s, although that’s probably unfair on genuine Tourette’s sufferers.

  7. re ‘Note the “.” to make his tweet public …’

    I humbly note that, in Dawkins’ tweet that prompts this observation, the same use of the full stop can be found in the preceding tweet from, well, you.

  8. Dawkins was socially acceptable when he was ridiculing Christians as “delusional” “child abusers”. Once he criticises Islam he is now a “bigot” to be treated like a leper. Hmmm.

    1. Straw man. “Criticising Islam” isn’t a fair description of what he’s doing. “Misrepresenting Islam in order to upset British Pakistanis” would be a better description. And that’s hardly the behaviour of a scientist, even if many of his idiot disciples love him for doing it.

  9. Regrettably there’s a subset of humanity that’s looking for a license to hate. Looks like Dawkins has garnered a share of that market. Personally I’ve never liked him and now stronger language than that is warranted when describing my response.

    1. I’m sorry, but you lost any sliver of credibility when you asserted that people who find female genital mutilation repugnant are closet haters of feminism. You’re either a man or a complete crank. Have you thought of therapy?

  10. Maybe Dawkins does not hate religion as much as he relishes the fame brought about by his posing as a religion hater. After all, he’s been elected one the brightest thinkers, all that for some very rudimentary thinking: more elaborate thoughts would have brought him no attention at all.

  11. Dawkins is the leading shill for theoretical physics and biology. He’s in the position he’s in BECAUSE of his attitude and personality. It’s text book materialist dogma 101. For someone who denounces religion at every turn, Dawkins sure is under the hypocritical spell of dogmatic materialism masquerading as true science.

    Fuck Richard Dawkins and all institutional materialist claiming to be scientists.

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