The Problem With Richard Dawkins

It’s been well over a month since I last posted anything, so it feels good to be writing for fun again. I’ve been so bogged down in writing that I don’t want to do I haven’t had the energy until today to do anything creative.

As you can probably imagine, this particular post will be an analysis of probably the world’s most famous atheist: Richard Dawkins. Why am I doing this? Because I feel that the manner in which Dawkins goes about discussing/debating atheism with the general public serves as a great contrast to my ideas about friendly atheism, which after all is the whole point of this blog. There’s more about my ideas in previous posts, but I’m hoping that this blog will serve as a “comparison by contrast” to illustrate what this whole friendly atheism thing is when it’s contrasted against one of the leading voices on atheism in the mainstream.

Full disclosure: I agree with 95% of what Dawkins says about evolution, the origin of the universe, and most other important topics we atheists talk about. It’s evident he’s very intelligent, and the fact that he is British I think is good for the image of Britain worldwide. I have read The God Delusion and found it to be fantastic (if a bit wordy). My issue with Dawkins are his methods for going about telling the masses about atheism. Now, he is/was the Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford (a position created for him), so I may be way off base here. Maybe he knows better than me the best ways people learn about atheism. 

But, when I listen to or watch Dawkins debate religious scholars or religious leaders I don’t necessarily listen to what he is saying, I like to listen more to how he says it. Sometimes he can come across as pretentious, condescending, and even snobby. I don’t know if this is because of his ego, his tone, his attitude, or a combination of the three. If I am a religious person who wants to learn about atheism (for purposes of de-converting or just simple curiosity) then I would be turned off by that whole approach. I don’t like it when people talk down to me about anything, and I might even feel insulted by Dawkins every time he belittles my religion.

He needs to fully realize that for better or worse, people’s religion is important to them. There are plenty of ways to explain atheism and your reasons for it than by being condescending and/or acting like you simply know better than everyone else because your intellectual and educational level is higher than everyone else’s. Being intelligent doesn’t give him or anyone the right to look down upon others; religious and non-religious. 

Here’s the approach I would like to see Dawkins try, as he is the world’s most visible atheist. He shouldn’t set out to disprove the stories in the Bible, Torah, Quran, Bhagavad Gita, or whatever religion (however easy it may be). Most religious people don’t take the stories in ancient texts to be literal anyway. Most see the various fables and stories as allegories. Also, most people aren’t religious for the stories in the books. Most are religious because it serves a purpose for them in some way. Comfort, security, a sense of community, whatever it may be. Religious people are fully aware of the problems within their religion, and us atheists pointing that out doesn’t help solve the problem.

What Dawkins should do is set out to prove atheism is a reasonable alternative to religion. You win arguments and win people’s attention by appealing to reason, and it’s not reasonable to tear down tenets of faith in an effort to show why atheism is better. I’m sure Dawkins would argue that he does precisely this and that some religious people are incredibly unreasonable in their views, and he’s right to a certain extent on both points.

I think Dawkins’s problem has mostly to do with ego. I think because he’s relatively famous it’s gone to his head a bit, and as a result he get’s overly defensive when a religious leader inevitably attacks him in a debate/interview. But, you won’t win an argument in the eyes of an objective observer by meeting dickishness with dickishness. An atheist in a discussion with a religious person should defend his positions on the topic with vigor, but it should never escalate to attacks on the person’s religion. It’s a poor form of arguing and in the end the religious person will feel they were in the right. Progress stalls. 

Dawkins atheism is the opposite of friendly atheism when it comes to methods of talking about atheism with non-atheists. Personally, I don’t see it as my job to de-convert the world and get everyone to embrace our primate ancestors. But, I have a policy when it comes to my opinions: if you ask for them I have to give them to you. I will not back down from my atheistic ideas, but I will also not attack you for your choice to be religious, barring some very extreme examples (i.e. if you are cult member). I’ve never debated someone in a cult, but I would tell that person that they are in a cult and that cults are bad news. That’s one caveat to the friendly atheism tenet of not judging other people.

Anyway, I agree with what Dawkins says and I applaud him for bringing atheism closer to the forefront of people’s minds but I have a few issues with how he has gone about doing it. 

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3 thoughts on “The Problem With Richard Dawkins

  1. I see what you mean when you talked about his tone when he answers questions. I’m not going to speak for him in that area. It may be, as you say, a problem. But all in all, I think the way he has brought atheism to the forefront of public discourse is good for all of us. While I too sometimes find Professor Dawkins’s manner off-putting, I believe that his brand of “strident” atheism is necessary and, at times, even called for. Take the OUT Campaign, for instance. While it is very likely that there are people (theists and atheists alike) who see it as chest-beating, I’m certain it has also given scared atheists the courage to come out (I am one example). I think it is a good thing for religion to see that there is someone on the other side who can match the smugness of most preachers. We have to remember that these preachers have millions of parishioners and among them are people who will quickly applaud any form of condescension done to Dawkins or any other atheist. When I gave up religion, I also gave up “turning the other cheek.” I am happy to know that there are friendly atheists like me out there. But it gives me comfort knowing that the champions of our non-belief are not scared to be strident.

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