Monday, August 29, 2011

Richard Dawkins. I am not a fan.

It is almost heresy to call oneself an atheist and to not think highly of Richard Dawkins. He is arguably one of if not the most famous atheist in the world, his book The God Delusion is widely known and widely read. He widely respected both in his field of biology and as a writer both on science an atheist topics. Yet for all this, I am not a fan.

Dawkins chooses a aggressive stance when he argues his point. He has openly and forcefully stated that he believes that ridicule is an important part of his arsenal. He is well known for standing firmly against those with whom he does not agree, for his sharp tongue, and for his devastating wit.

You know what another word is that describes a man who ridicules people he doesn't agree with is? Asshole.

Yeah, Dawkins is really intelligent and a good speaker and writer and all of that. But he's an asshole, and that's not how I roll. The reason I think of PZ Myers and Greta Christina as the best leaders of the atheist movement is because they be firm and forceful without being needlessly insulting. Dawkins, in all that I have seen, can't. In fact, I think he likes being an asshole, and his actions do seem to prove just that, because his targets include his allies.

Phil Plait famously said don't be a dick. The message got two basic kinds of responses: "that makes sense" and "I like being a dick/being a dick is useful". In the first four minutes or so of this video Dawkins makes it clear that ridicule is more important to him than diplomacy and that he doesn't even think that ridicule will work on the person being ridiculed. I'm not saying I endorse everything Phil Plait says, but, when comparing him to Dawkins, I'd much rather listen to what Phil says.

I really hate to bring up Elevatorgate, I really do, but it's important to my point. Rebecca Watson said "guys, don't do that." Dawkins replied thusly. He ridiculed her for saying "guys, don't do that." This is a woman with whom he had been on stage with before and who was, theoretically, an ally and perhaps even a friend.

This is where the argument for ridicule falls apart. When you ridicule people who are your allies, who see you as a role model, you make a grievous error. You are shooting yourself in the foot. I almost began to give Dawkins the benefit of the doubt before this incident, almost seeing his point if from a more relaxed perspective, but this proved that listening to Dawkins is a mistake. He's an asshole because he doesn't care who he is ridiculing. When I ridicule someone I want it to be someone worthy of it, not a friend, not an ally. I'll pick my targets carefully thank you.

I've heard the argument that there's no one to replace Dawkins as the so-called "leader" of the atheist movement so we're stuck with him. I've heard that Dawkins is the past, that he and the other horsemen got us to this point and now we need to leave him behind. I don't care either way. Dawkins is famous for being an asshole atheist. If that still works for him, good for him. But as far as I'm concerned, he's not worth listening to. When I get into conversations with theists and they point out that Dawkins is an asshole and I'm all like, "I totally agree with you", that gets me points. Then they listen to what I'm saying more closely because we have a common dislike of the man. Who is more likely to change hearts and minds then? An asshole or someone with whom you can find common ground?

Dawkins is really one thing to me now: an example of what not to do.

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