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.