For this month’s repost, I selected an article I wrote in 2008. Considering how old this is, I don’t necessarily stand by what I said, nor do I vouch for the writing quality. There were a couple parts that I thought were unclear, so I added footnotes. But this is interesting from a historical perspective, because it shows a slice of the problems with Richard Dawkins even before “Dear Muslima”.
Richard Dawkins has an irritating habit of using the wrong word, or otherwise saying some very silly things.
Example 1: “Delusion” The number one sign that you’re dealing with an uncareful skeptic is when the skeptic chalks everything up to insanity. People believe weird things not because they’re clinically insane, but because they’re normal. They have normal cognitive biases. Everyone does. Religious beliefs are no different except that they’re even more commonplace than other weird beliefs. Calling it all a delusion is simply sloppy.
Dawkins fans will come to his defense, saying that he carefully defines “delusion” as “a false belief or impression”, eschewing any psychiatric connotations. But that’s not the case. Dawkins is surprisingly ambiguous. He endorses a quote by Robert M. Pirsig: “When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called Religion.” It’s as if Dawkins wants to satisfy both parties. Well, I am not satisfied, because I see too many people claiming that religion really is a delusion, and Dawkins is at least partly to blame for it.
Example 2: “Child Abuse” The same thing is going on here. When Dawkins says religion can be “child abuse”, he inadvertently implies that it should be illegal, because child abuse is illegal. It would be great if Dawkins explicitly denied any such connotation, but he’s surprisingly ambiguous.
Example 3: “The Neville Chamberlain School of Evolutionists” Dawkins uses this term to describe people who are interested in trying to reconcile evolution with religion. Does he not realize that he’s breaking Godwin’s Law? And furthermore, indirectly comparing religion to Hitler? The Hitler Zombie has chomped Dawkins’ brains.
Example 4: “Darwinism” Dawkins seems persistently ignorant of the fact that this term is dated in the U.S. It’s not even accurate either, since it’s not like Darwin had the final word on evolution.
Example 5: “The Jewish Lobby” Dawkins doesn’t actually say this phrase,1 but he refers to how Jews, though a minority, have a powerful lobby. It is much more precise that there is a powerful “Israel lobby” which is not made up of all Jews. In fact, the idea that there is a “Jewish Lobby” is a common anti-semitic notion, and it’s not good that Dawkins blindly accepts it.
Example 6: “The Selfish Gene” Ok, wrong book.2 But it’s worth noting because it’s an older phrase coined by Dawkins that has caused much confusion among the public. People seem to think the idea refers to the selfishness produced by evolution, when really the whole point is that selfish genes lead to cooperative lifeforms. It’s so darn painful when people mix it up. Dawkins clearly regrets this particular example, since he has made every effort to correct the confusion (even mentioning it in The God Delusion).
Example 7: “Brights” Again, not specifically from this book, but it’s still another stupid word endorsed by Dawkins. The Brights campaign was meant to replace “atheist” with a more positive label, “bright”, just like “gay” was used to give homosexuals a positive label. That’s nice, but the word choice was extraordinarily poor. What’s the opposite of Bright? Anyone could have predicted that the campaign would flop.
Ok, I don’t have any more examples off the top of my head, but Dawkins perpetually seems to say the exact wrong thing. I sometimes wonder if he’s doing it on purpose, just for the shock power. Can’t he think of a way of shocking people that isn’t so careless with the truth?
2. For context, this post was talking about The God Delusion, while “The Selfish Gene” comes from a different book, The Selfish Gene. So that’s what I mean by “wrong book”. (return)