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← Interview: Richard Dawkins Celebrates Reason, Ridicules Faith

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Jump to comment 3 by Jos Gibbons

Although I intend to listen to the audio later (after which I might comment on it here, for now I'd like to comment on her article:

I questioned whether Dawkins was the best choice to be headline speaker at the March 24 Reason Rally in Washington, given that one of its goals was to change negative stereotypes about atheists.

These are the negative stereotypes that lead those holding them to object to even the most mild-mannered of pro-atheist statements, e.g. “You can be good without believing in a god”. This is well-attested by the history of which atheist ads get banned, pulled, defaced etc. They don’t even go after “meaner” ads with more gusto than they go after the “softer” ones. So what would be a better option than Professor Dawkins?

he came across as utterly confident in his ability to suss out courageous versus self-deluded ways of thinking.

What’s any of this got to do with courage? Insofar as views are labelled as being courageous, it’s because they can only be held at odds with evidence, orthodoxy or wishful thinking. In the first case, there is no distinction between those and self-deluded ways of thinking; in the other two cases, they are still self-deluded if evidence doesn’t support them, and a scientist is well-placed to tell whether it does.

His exact words after describing the Catholic ritual, were "Mock them. Ridicule them." So by "them" did he intend to refer to Catholic beliefs, not Catholic people? In context, it doesn't seem so to me.


How much does that distinction matter? When it comes to religion, does demeaning a person's belief not also demean the person?

I wouldn’t conflate “mock” with “demean”, especially in the case of people. No-one’s human rights are being challenged here.

Why use demeaning terms, and urge others to use them, for either the belief or the person? Surely it's not adequate justification that some religious people are guilty of the same sin, or worse. Doesn't the embrace of reason compel a person to rise above a grade school calculus of that sort?

If any kind of lazy generalisation were present, I might agree. But there isn’t. If no evidence exists to support a claim, literally every single person who believes it is irrational to do so.

As the world's alpha atheist

Here’s the thing: the only reason Professor Dawkins is classified in that regard is because of what he says about religion; so, if being “the world’s alpha atheist” makes it irresponsible for him to say things like this, what that boils down to saying is “The person who most acts this way shouldn’t act this way because his acting this way makes it irresponsible for him to act this way, whereas if only he didn’t act this way he wouldn’t bear the responsibility of making sure he didn’t”. That’s formally known as a catch-22 situation. (A lot of people misuse that term, but the book of the same name makes clear what it means: a situation where you are only forbade from doing something if you choose it.)

My steadfast disagreement with Dawkins emerges from his refusal to see that the expression of faith isn't inevitably a simple-minded approach to living. I'm a big fan of reason. I'm just no fan of the stereotype, embodied by Dawkins, that we atheists equate others' religious faith with a lack of intelligence or courage, or both.

Firstly, “approach to living” is a separate question from “approach to thinking”, and faith is a bad approach to thinking, if it can even be called an approach to thinking at all. Secondly, if you dislike the stereotype in question, it is those who assert or believe its validity you should be going after. Thirdly, Dawkins doesn’t exemplify it. He doesn’t claim religious people are unintelligent (he acknowledges scientific evidence possibly suggesting a small difference in the intelligence levels of theists and atheists, but notes intelligence is far from being the most decisive factor in who ends up being religious, and in any case only discussed this once in a brief section of The God Delusion even its critics seem to have barely noticed), and again this “courage” discussion is tangential to what Professor Dawkins has been saying.

Tue, 27 Mar 2012 06:36:17 UTC | #930697