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The catalyst

The Dawkins Foundation has been sprucing up its website lately, I gather. It has a projects page, with two sub pages, one of which is Our Resources Include You. It’s about team-building, I guess, and it starts with You, meaning all us readers, then it goes on to Dawkins and co.

Richard Dawkins, DSc, FRS: One of the most respected scientists in the world and the biggest draw in secularism, Richard Dawkins always generates impressive crowds when visiting North America. On his Fall 2011 tour he drew an enthusiastic crowd of 2300 at Eastern Kentucky University. This is a movement, and Richard Dawkins is the catalyst that galvanizes it. 

Um…that’s a sprucing up too far, that last sentence is. (The first sentence isn’t great either. “Most respected” is such a waffly description, and dubious for that reason. It’s PR-speak. That’s the point, that’s what the page is, that’s probably what the sprucing up is about, but all the same – crude PR-speak isn’t really a plus, especially not for a “movement” or project or whatever that proclaims itself as “for reason and science.” Dawkins wouldn’t introduce himself that way to colleagues, I should think, so he shouldn’t let his PR people introduce him to the rest of the world that way. It looks at the very least silly.)

That’s too long for a parenthesis. Back to the last sentence. THE catalyst? No no no no no no no. Don’t do that. Don’t obliterate everyone else that way. There are a lot of catalysts in this movement, they all contribute to the galvanizing, there is no one catalyst that galvanizes it all by himself.

Also, a factual item –

You. RichardDawkins.net is the most visited website in secularism. It is where secular innovation and secular ideas meet secular people who can and will take action. That’s you.

It’s not the most visited website in secularism. For instance – there’s Freethought Blogs.

Dawkins foundation:

Alexa Traffic Rank: 28,606  United States Flag Traffic Rank in US: 14,785

FTB:

Alexa Traffic Rank: 17,783  United States Flag Traffic Rank in US: 6,196

Just saying.

 

Comments

  1. says

    The RDF site used to be the biggest secular site – the old, pre February 2010 forum had over 80,000 registered members and over 2 million posts. The “new, improved” site seems to attract about one new discussion post (OP) per day.

    Maybe they are just living in the past? /snark

  2. tmscott says

    Just as an aside, mixing your science based metaphors is probably not good PR for a scientist’s web site. Galvanizing does not require a catalyst. Perhaps he should be described as a sacrificial anode?

  3. Anthony K says

    It’s not the most visited website in secularism. For instance – there’s Freethought Blogs.

    Oh, Ophelia. Not checking facts is only a problem when theists and feminists do it.

    I do find it strange that they tout 2,300 people as a big draw. My highschool (and remember, I live in the frozen North) draws crowds of ~2,300 people every September enrollment. Okay, they’re not all enthusiastic attendees, but the point still stands: one of the most respected scientists in the world and the biggest draw in secularism could hold his rallies in my high school gym and we’d still have room for a march-on by the cheerleading squad.

  4. doublereed says

    It’s not the most visited website in secularism. For instance – there’s Freethought Blogs.

    OH SNAP!

  5. says

    So he has nothing but popularity and fame to brag about? That says a lot — especially since this “sprucing up” comes after so much harsh criticism of his specific actions. This whole thing sounds like he’s responding to his critics by saying “I’M MORE POPULAR THAN YOU, SO SHUT UP!!!”

    Who says atheists don’t have a Pope? This guy may not be quite as dishonest, destructive or misogynist as the Catholic Pope, but he sure is heading in the same direction.

  6. Bjarte Foshaug says

    I’m just glad that I don’t belong to the movement that has Dawkins as a catalyst. I prefer to think of them as “the other atheist/skeptical movement”.

  7. says

    RichardDawkins.net is the most visited website in secularism. It is where secular innovation and secular ideas meet secular people who can and will take action.

    Does he specify what kind of action they’ve taken?

  8. says

    I thought Betrand Russell was the catalyst? Or was it Thomas Jefferson? Or maybe even Madalyn Murray O’Hair? You know, the founder of American Atheists? I’m sure there were some Greek philosophers who were atheistic in their thinking, if not outright atheist. Kant is another philosopher that I’d label atheistic, or maybe I’m confusing him with Hume. Or how about this list of atheist philosophers that aren’t Dawkins:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_atheist_philosophers (The earliest known atheist thinker appears to be Theodorus the Atheist, from about 300 BCE.)

    Setting himself up to be the most important thing in atheist thought is rather egotistical. And he’s a decent science writer, I’ve always found his science writing engaging, but rampant egotism is something of a turn off.

  9. carlie says

    I just realized – Richard Dawkins is Lena Lamont.

    Lina Lamont: “People”? I ain’t “people.” I am a – “a shimmering, glowing star in the cinema firmament.”
    [picks up newspaper]
    Lina Lamont: It says so – right here.
    [...]
    Lina Lamont: If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, it makes us feel as though our hard work ain’t been in vain for nothin’. Bless you all.

    source

  10. says

    Raging Bee – heh – the pope thought is the very first thought I had when I read that blurb. It is a very papal sort of claim.

    To be fair (and perhaps I should have done the being fair in the post), he has been a major catalyst for the resurgence of atheism, and he’s welcome to get a lot of credit for that. I don’t suppose I would have objected if a journalist had said Dawkins was the catalyst in 2006. But to have it just asserted on and by his own website, seven years on – no.

  11. says

    Damn, that should’ve been a capital M.

    Anyway, credit where it’s due: the year 2006, as you said, Ophelia. Reading TGD didn’t make me an atheist by any means, but it did start me thinking about what I held to be true and allowed me to better define and describe my positions. Soon afterwards I discovered PZ @ Scienceblogs, read the other Horsemen, found B&W, Panda’s Thumb etc and here we are.

    Dawkins is certainly still a lightning rod when for discussions of atheism (usually when organs like the Guardian trot out some hack or other to click-farm via hit-piece) but the time for calling him(self) a catalyst has long passed. The ground has broadened and there are many more voices in the choir, as it were – especially in the US (which isn’t surprising as opposition to religious idiocy is far more desperately needed there than the UK or here in Oz).

  12. Great American Satan says

    This comment thread is hilar. Thx especially to Carlie, and Ophelia for the OP. XD

    The RDF’s site was always rather embarrassing. Last time I visited, it looked like they’d toned down the number and size of RD glamour shots on the front page, but sounds like the text is trying to make up for it.

  13. Brian E says

    I read TGD in 07 I think. I got into the RD site, not the forums, spent many hours writing philosophically poor anti-religion stuff. Probably just regurgitated quotes from TGD. I was a fan boy, no doubt about it. It was like my local there at times. I did start reading other stuff, philosophers, especially Hume and Mackie. I guess in the end, the atmosphere there changed. and as my fan boyism lessened, I dunno, I was less a member or the RD club. He was less of what it was about.
    In short, RD wasn’t the be all, and end all of securalism/atheism/etc. I think his aim of making atheism a positive choice, instead of a dirty secret, the identity politics was good and his science writing is very good. His inability to not be an old, privileged white guy…..well

    He’s not my pope or leader. I follow the one true atheist leader, my Murray Cod, Murray I. All hail Murray I, the atheist fish. But don’t tell my atheist cat, he thinks he’s god.

  14. zhuge, le homme blanc qui ne sait rien mais voudrait says

    Amanda: Kant was basically a Christian Hume, but Hume was all atheist. You’ve also got Lucretius and Epicurus, and you could make a damn strong argument for Socrates!

    To say nothing of the more or less naturalist schools of Indian and Chinese philosophy.

  15. Al Dente says

    RichardDawkins.net was a major atheist website until Dawkins and his web lackey, Josh Timonen, decided to trash the RDF forum. Timonen acted as an ass, lying to the commentariat, banning people and deleting all their posts because they disagreed with him, and lying to Dawkins about how mean people were to poor Josh. Many people, including me, dropped RichardDawkins.net. It has never recovered.

  16. jenBPhillips says

    ^^
    yes, all that.

    MOREOVER, “One of the most respected scientists in the world”????? Errrrr. Bad call there. He’s arguably a effective science communicator and science popularizer–I especially appreciate things like “The Magic of Reality” and his educational DVD series. But that’s not his science–he’s not particularly well known for his scientific contributions at all. Most scientists I know would cringe shamefacedly if they were ever described that way. I know one or two people who could fairly be classified as such, and even they wouldn’t dig it.

  17. Great American Satan says

    Hey, he invented the word “meme,” so that’s almost as good as having invented the internet by now, right?

  18. Great American Satan says

    It’s all about the Benjamins. He wants to be a baller and shot-caller, like P-Diddymus.

  19. says

    I really Dawkins’ books about evolution. I have read God Delusion but if someone asks me about atheism I’ll recommend Hank Fox or Greta Christina.

  20. says

    I’ve tried to deny it for a couple years, now, but the fact is, whether I like it or not (and the truth is, I am actually rather proud of it), The God Delusion played a pretty big role in my “deconversion”, as it were. That book, with all it’s philosophical simplicity, introduced me to the arguments.

    And I absolutely loved those old forums, even if I only posted a few times before it died.

    I think the final nail in the coffin for me with Dawkins was when I “met him” earlier this year at a talk he gave in Miami. The talk was wonderful. But then I stood in a long line to get “The God Delusion” and “The Greatest Show on Earth” signed. There was a lot of pomp and circumstance… Dawkins’s own “people” telling us what to do and what not to do… Dawkins didn’t really even bother acknowledging our existence. He just signed our books and we got pushed out. I guess the best part was the whole affair only cost me a few miles in gas.

    I like to compare that with PZ Myers, who’s not only personable and happy to have conversations with us, but joined a whole lot of us in a game of Cards Against Humanity in his own hotel room!

    I’d bet my life that Dawkins would never consent to that. He’s better than all of us simpletons and peons down here, not occupying his little ivory tower.

    As for “one of the most respected scientists in the world”… I can think of many scientists I’d personally put in that list, but not a single one who’d be proud of it or even consent to being called it. I would have loved to hear Carl Sagan’s or Richard Feynman’s opinions of Richard Dawkins… or Albert Einstein’s. Dawkins is more guilty of trying to claim Einstein for atheism than anybody else, even though Einstein not only hated “crusading atheists”, as he called them, but even denied being an atheist himself! (note: I get a few things wrong on that video, including “not a theist nor an atheist” which, of course, is impossible, as I’ve since come to understand… please note the upload date of that video [June 16, 2010])

    Though I have to grant… Richard Dawkins has done more to put evolution and atheism into the public mind than many before him, and he’ll always be remembered for that. I still want that beautiful passage from “Unweaving the Rainbow” to be read at my funeral… the one about us being lucky to be alive… right before my body is shot off into the sun (from star dust we are made, to star dust I want to return). I still go back to “The Greatest Show on Earth” (along with “Why Evolution is True”, “Our Inner Fish”, and, of course, “On the Origin of Species”, amongst others) when arguing in favor of evolution. And I will always love Dawkins’ live talks. He’s rather good at those, IMO.

    I guess in a way you could call him the catalyst. TGD did start the modern public debate and the whole “New Atheism” thing, after all. Even with all the atheists before him, I don’t think (though it’s possible I just missed it) atheism had ever been so public until TGD came along. So yeah… I think he could be called a catalyst for that.

    But we’ve long moved past the Four Horsemen of Atheism… and I, personally, think that’s a good thing. Even if they were all eminently likeable, feminist, personable chaps, we’d have to move on from them eventually… wouldn’t we? Isn’t that, after all, part of the cultural zeitgeist?

  21. Anthony K says

    I’ve tried to deny it for a couple years, now, but the fact is, whether I like it or not (and the truth is, I am actually rather proud of it), The God Delusion played a pretty big role in my “deconversion”, as it were. That book, with all it’s philosophical simplicity, introduced me to the arguments.

    Nate, it’s nothing you have to deny. TGD wasn’t very influential to me, but if I’d been ten years younger and had the same religious trajectory, it almost certainly would have been. I know myself well enough to have at least a vague grasp of how much a part historical contingency has in making who I am.

    And I think you’re pretty swell, Nate. So if Dawkins was influential in helping you become the person I’ve experienced so far, then credit where credit is due.

  22. jenBPhillips says

    Nate, I had a similar response to TGD. Not all on its own–I read it and Harris’ ‘The End of Faith’/’Letter to a Christian Nation’ and Dennett’s ‘Breaking the Spell’ all at the same time, shortly after I officially came out as an atheist and started listening to good ol’ Point of Inquiry. As part of this set, at least, TGD impacted me, made me feel validated and not alone, i.e. part of a community of nonbelievers. It came along at the right time for us, we took value from it and moved forward. It’s not like we’re talking about ‘Atlas Shrugged’ here, or something ;)

  23. opposablethumbs says

    He’s an excellent science communicator, and because of that (and having enjoyed the God Delusion) I was initially very strongly disposed to be a fan. I used to read the RDF forum every day – there were some good commenters there (cartomancer!). That came to an abrupt end years ago when I saw some sexist bullying going on in a discussion thread; I jumped in to the best of my limited ability … and noticed how very very little support there was for the person being targeted. The thread was active, but either most people didn’t notice or it just wasn’t of interest to them. I left the forum permanently shortly afterwards (no, I didn’t flounce; I’m not that up myself; I just left). As for being a fan of RD himself, witnessing his behaviour towards some protestors against Grayling’s private university initiative was the nail in the coffin (I was in the audience. The spectacular clusterfuck of wrong that was Dear Muslima hadn’t even happened yet). So …. he’s a wonderful science communicator. Really really good at that, and it’s valuable. And that’s it, end of.

    However, it was thanks to a reference in one of his books that I learned of the existence of (the old sciblogs incarnation of) Pharyngula … followed it here to ftb and never left. So I have two good things to thank him for – the science books, and finding my way to a much better forum ;-)

  24. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    I’m sure there were some Greek philosophers who were atheistic in their thinking, if not outright atheist.

    Epicurus wasn’t nominally an atheist (he believed gods may possibly exist, but if they do, they don’t give a crap about humans), but the Epicurean paradox is one of the earliest and most effective arguments against belief:

    Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
    Then he is not omnipotent.
    Is he able, but not willing?
    Then he is malevolent.
    Is he both able and willing?
    Then whence cometh evil?
    Is he neither able nor willing?
    Then why call him God?

  25. says

    jen @ 20 – well that’s what I meant about “waffly.” The claim can be made true if you define the terms in a certain way. Notice it doesn’t actually say he’s respected as a scientist. It’s probably true to say that he’s widely respected as a science communicator, and since he’s also a scientist, and since “widely respected” can be stretched into “most respected in the world”…the claim is true in a way, just not the way it will be understood by most readers. That’s PR for you.

    But your point about scientists cringing – that way my thought too. I think that’s the worst aspect of it: that he allows himself to be described that way, especially on his own fucking web site.

  26. Ichthyic says

    As for “one of the most respected scientists in the world”…

    it’s sad that he is listed as such, and so many think so.

    Richard is an excellent science communicator, but has not actually DONE any science for decades now, and even when he did, it was nothing spectacular or revolutionary. Decent contributions, but there have most certainly been far more important contributors to the scientific knowledgebase involving evolutionary biology.

    too much authoritarianism in the world.

  27. Minnow says

    “Decent contributions, but there have most certainly been far more important contributors to the scientific knowledgebase involving evolutionary biology.”

    To be fair, he does always acknowledge this.

  28. David Marjanović says

    Just as an aside, mixing your science based metaphors is probably not good PR for a scientist’s web site.

    Yyyyyyyyeah.

    If a catalyst generates that much electricity, it’s doing it wrong!

    To say nothing of the more or less naturalist schools of Indian and Chinese philosophy.

    Cārvāka. And among the Greeks, Diagoras of Melos is interesting; he published the Eleusinian Mysteries and chopped up a wooden statue of Hercules to boil his turnips before Theodorus was born.

    BTW, here’s something you wanted to know but didn’t: it’s l’homme, the apostrophe is not optional.

    the Epicurean paradox is one of the earliest and most effective arguments against belief:

    …It sounds like it’s specifically designed as an argument against Christianity, doesn’t it? Indeed it’s only known from a work by the church father Lactantius who apparently attributed it to Epicurus.

    But your point about scientists cringing – that way my thought too. I think that’s the worst aspect of it: that he allows himself to be described that way, especially on his own fucking web site.

    I think the same problem is going on here as when he let Josh “Asshole” Timonen destroy the RDF forum: he still doesn’t understand that the Internet is real.

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