There’s no doubt about it though – there is a controversy around Richard Dawkins. Just mention his name in the blogosphere and you get all sorts of extreme reactions. Almost always negative.
Sure, you will get some, usually milder and more reasonable, positive reactions. After all, he is a bit of a scientific rock star. His recent lectures in New Zealand and Australia were sold out. Many had to be shifted to larger venues. And his books certainly sell well.
I myself waited in a queue for 2 hours to get my copy of “The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution” signed by the author. As one wit said, this queue seemed to go right back to the “”Big Bang.” But I was in good company and enjoyed the conversations while waiting.
Personally I am always wary of personality cults. Elevate a person to sainthood and you will inevitably find they have feet of clay. I certainly don’t think it has come to this with Dawkins, despite the high regard many people have for him.
And he is a humble person. I heard a story of him seeing some young person wearing a “Dawkins is God” T-shirt. His rather embarrassed comment was “Does this mean I don’t exist?”
Dawkins doesn’t exist
And that’s another slogan, isn’t it? “Dawkins doesn’t exist.” A theist parody on Dawkins’ belief that gods don’t exist – any more than fairies.
I actually think this last slogan encompasses a common reaction to, and misrepresentation of, Dawkins by many religious apologists. Dawkins is their “voodoo doll”. An entity to which they ascribe all their horrible beliefs about atheists. An entity they can quote (or misquote), to satisfy their arguments. And one they can abuse to work off their frustrations. A very useful entity – but one that doesn’t actually exist. So they had to invent him. Just like a god (or in Dawkins’ case, a devil).
Long before Dawkins’ recent notoriety I had often thought about this phenomenon. Our human trick of creating entities to which we could use as a receptacle for all our own desires, wishes and values. Something we could point to as our great utopian example. Something to aspire to and to use as an example.
So we get the attitude “what would Jesus do?” Jesus being this entity we have idealised to represent all that is good. Whether Jesus actually existed as a real person, anw hat his personality was like if he did exist, is beside the point. We had our own utopian ideal – and anyone who criticises it is hurting the very core of our being.
I saw this with left-wing socialists from early on. Some of them were Russophiles – they had an ideal picture of the USSR and attributed all the things they imagined for their own vision of socialism to the existing socialism in the USSR – irrespective of the facts.
Then the NZ Communist Party became Maoist and Sinophiles. China embodied the new “ideal socialism.”
Then a falling out and it became Albania.
Some splinter groups went for Cuba or one of the central American revolutionary states.
Similarly some people must have a receptacle for all they consider evil – whether it exists or not. Dogmatic socialists had their version of the USA – it embodied everything they saw as bad and hated.
Being close-minded about open mindedness
One does not have to look very far to find examples of “Dawkins tantrums.” Matt, at MandM provides one in his article Richard Dawkins and Open Mindedness.
Actually, Matt is one of these religious apologists who can be relied on to respond to any mention of Dawkins with a “Dawkins tantrum.” He just can’t help himself as he has a Pavlovian response to the name. He usually responds along the lines of that old chestnut that Dawkins can pontificate all he likes about biology but as he is not a theologian he should shut up about gods. This particular version of the tantrum was made popular by Terry Eagleton in his review of The God Delusion.
( Matt’s title for this particular “tantrum” is a bit ironic as he justifies his own belief as a “properly-basic belief” – a theological term to justify a belief without any need for evidence! Doesn’t seem very open-minded to me.)
Matt’s article got similar knee jerk reactions in comments from fellow apologists. Dawkins ideas were described as “just more of the same old arrogant garbage you find from posturing intellectuals”
And here’s some other similar comments:
“I read Dawkins’ God Delusion and thought it terrible. If every error he made was refuted it would take an encyclopaedia. I thought that some pages could have contained 10 errors per page.”
“Dawkins struggles to realize that nobody with any amount of theological/philosophical knowledge actually believes in these gods he is attacking.”
“Fortunately though, Dawkins realizes the moral bankruptcy in his worldview and continues to live and state that he lives as a “cultural Christian.” You would think such a move would cause a serious amount of cognitive dissonance since he lives by principles that no more exist on his account than the god he vehemently rejects…but I guess not. I’m afraid many of his followers will pick up on the illusion of objective morality in atheism though and fall into the ills of moral relativism.”
“Dawkins “opens minds”? That actually made me laugh out loud. It is made even funnier because those who uttered it are apparently sincere! For those who haven’t read his polemic, it would only take reading a review or two to get the flavour of the book. There is nothing about the book geared towards opening minds.”
“Dawkins is not a man of intelligence but a Bum! He’s a the poster child of our age!…an age of stupidity in high places. A Fool who says in his heart there is no God. If I may be so humble to suggest! Attack his home base!Attack Evolution! Auckland University is a Socialist State Indoctrination Camp! Of course they endorse Dawkins! Get the State out of Education I say, then at least we wont be funding Anti Christ Socialist atheism!”
Discrediting science with Dawkins
OK, Matt’s post was on his own theological turf. But he and others sometimes launch into misrepresentations of science. And who do they quote as their authority? Well it is often the Dawkins’ voodoo doll.
You want to attack “scientism?” – Well attribute it to Dawkins. Arrogance – Dawkins again. Usually no one bothers to find a quote (after all how many of them have actually read any of Dawkins’ books). But you don’t need to quote in the apologetics ghetto. Everybody nods their heads in agreement, anyway!
I sometimes wonder if religious apologists spend more time studying and thinking about their Dawkins voodoo doll than they do about their gods. He actually gets studied in apologist courses. Lectures are presented about Dawkins’ fallacies. Books are written. And of course, as is usually the case with imaginary gods and devils a lot of strawmannery is involved.
Well, they say that no news is bad news. Perhaps all this apologetics concentration on Dawkins and attempts to discredit him has its own reward. Perhaps this obsession has created a reaction. Helped sell Dawkins’ book. Attracting people to his lectures. Encouraging purchase of his videos. And bringing financial support to his Foundation for Science and Reason and charities he supports, like Non-believers Giving Aid and Foundation Beyond Belief.
Many Australians and New Zealanders have recently had a chance to see and hear Dawkins in person. They have learned he is nothing like the rligious apologists’ voodoo doll. That in fact their “Dawkins” doesn’t actually exist.
And their anti-science arguments are just as illusory.