I love Richard Dawkins. I’m not keen on the whole God-bashing thing, which I think is based on faulty arguments, but being a fan of JC and a member of “the world’s second most evil religion”, I’m bound to say that.
When I was a young teenager I remember reading The Selfish Gene and it having a profound influence on the way I saw the world; one of the best books of our age. It may well have influenced my politics, presenting an essentially conservative view of nature (that he felt the need to write in the introduction how he supported the Labour Party only illustrated how conservative the book was – but maybe I was misreading it).
Why someone who writes such fantastic biology books would then want to go into polemic is anyone’s guess, but I suppose he’s got a bee in his bonnet about religion.
Despite this, Dawkins makes me feel proud to be British; not because he’s won the Prospect thinker of the year award, but rather his sheer eccentricity. His Twitter feed yesterday was a great example:
Socks, unlike shoes, lack chirality. Tell Marks & Spencer. Alternative solution: Australian friend wears odd socks as fashion statement.
Stephen Potter recommended odd socks as “Woomanship” ploy to arouse female maternal instincts. Advertised own patent Oddsox brand.
Puzzle why my left shoes always wear out before right. Do I run rings round my opponents?
Does sir hang to the left? Sorry, dress to the left?
Madness. This from one of the finest biologists of our age! (Professor D also reads out his hate mail on YouTube – highly recommended.) And when not discussing socks, he’s arguing about religion with all comers on the social networking site.
But to some of his supporters, Dawkins’s outbursts have become a bit of an embarrassment, an argument for elderly gentlemen not being allowed near iPhones. Among his latest outpourings he questioned why the New Statesman employed a Muslim journalist, when he believes that a man flew to Jerusalem on a horse.
What’s weak about his argument is that he’s assuming that people are necessarily rational, when they’re not; if you removed everyone who held irrational beliefs, then most publications would struggle to fill their offices. Election counts would be very short indeed. I’m not just talking about all the people who believe in stuff like American involvement in 9/11 – a large number – but those who believe in political ideas and worldviews even though the evidence is freely available discrediting them. I’d be very surprised if Professor Dawkins was free of irrationality; let he who is without sin cast the first stone and everything.
What’s strange is that so many people who had nothing to say to years of Dawkins slamming Christianity now act offended that he’s criticising Islam more vocally. There’s even this absurd recent argument over whether New Atheism is “Islamophobic”. The man dislikes all religion; he wrote a book called The God Delusion – the key’s in the title!
In a sense Professor Dawkins is, and has always been, railing not just against religious faith but the associated problem of offendeditis; you can’t say this about my religion because it offends me. He’s certainly right in that no one would take seriously some beliefs if they were not attached to a faith. Besides which, academics should be allowed to push the boundaries of accepted opinion, because their job is to search for the truth, and whether something is offensive or not is irrelevant to its truthfulness.
The problem with the decline of Christianity is not that it’s left nothing sacred, but that it’s left everything sacred. Offendeditis, whether it’s over religion, race, sex or sexuality, is the curse of our age, dragging down every debate to the level of the schoolyard. (I’ve stopped watching Question Time until they introduce a system whereby anyone who acts “outraged” – “as the child of a single mother I can’t believe I’m hearing this” etc etc – should be sent into a sin bin until they can come up with a rational argument.)
The older I get the more I conclude that Basil Fawlty’s analysis of Nazi Germany is essentially true: “A lot of layabouts with nothing better to do than to cause trouble.” So Professor Dawkins can say all he likes about the Catholic Church and the Pope. I think there’s something insanely heroic about him.