Shall I compare thee to a spotty adolescent

Well at least Amol Rajan gets it.

Proof, if proof were needed, that “militant secularism” isn’t having such a great time of it in modern Britain has been in plentiful supply over the past week, during which there has been a sustained and vicious assault in our media on one of our most distinguished academics. Professor Richard Dawkins (FRS, FRSL) presumably personifies militant secularism, and has been made to suffer for it.

Or if not suffer, at least be the object of a lot of mud-throwing. (Being the object of something is the core meaning of “suffer,” but that meaning is intransative; you can’t just “suffer” in that sense without a direct object.)

In the Daily Mail last week, A N Wilson launched a nasty attack on him, comparing him, among other things, to a “spotty adolescent”. The lead interview in The Sunday Times was one long personal attack on his character, rather than an examination of his ideas. My distinguished colleague Mary Ann Sieghart, who at least has met him, described Dawkins yesterday as “puffed-up, self-regarding, vain, prickly and militant”. Rod Liddle wrote a blog for The Spectator with the ludicrous title “Dawkins exposed”.

Damn, I’m not even caught up. I haven’t seen the Wilson or the Liddle.

Dawkins has done a number of valuable and important things, Rajan goes on.

These are achievements and contributions to the cause of civilisation that none of his critics can boast. Their assault illustrates the extent to which defenders of religion still dominate our press, the brutal retaliation exacted on clever opponents of faith and the incorrigible stupidity of Sayeeda Warsi’s claim about “militant secularism” last week.

Why yes, yes it does. Thank you for noticing.



  1. says

    Wilson didn’t compare Dawkins to a zit-studded teenager; he compared all secularists to them!

    It is time the secularists shut up and grew up. They are like spotty adolescents who think themselves clever for cocking a snook at the clergy.

    His journalism has always been marked by a peculiar spitefulness. (He wrote an essay on the long-dead author of Aubade entitled “Larkin: the Old Friend I Never Liked“, apparently.) It’s a shame, because he’s not a bad writer at all. God’s Funeral is an interesting account of the rise of English scepticism towards faith.

  2. Andrew B. says

    It is time the secularists shut up and grew up. They are like spotty adolescents who think themselves clever for cocking a snook at the clergy.

    Uppity uppity uppity secularists. Accept our privilege already!

  3. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    The religious propagandists certainly are having a fun time with Dawkins not remembering a bit of trivia. While Rev Giles Fraser may know the full title of Darwins’ book, I wonder if he can explain the theory of natural selection put out in that book. I know Dawkins can.

  4. Your Name's not Bruce? says

    So all of these “critics” got the same memo? Whose turn next week?

    They’re just lucky Hitchens is dead.

  5. Musical Atheist says

    I don’t like my own country very much at present. I think our politicians and our press display the lowest sort of sneering childishness, on a regular basis. Playground bullies who grew up to apply their bullying on a wider scale.

    For this reason, when I first discovered Dawkins’ writing, I felt that he was one of the few public figures in Britain I could find genuinely inspiring. He’s honest, his moral integrity is innately bound up with his passion for his work, which is the noble work of the pursuit of truth. You’d think the religious authorities ought to get that, even if they think he’s wrong. He’s flawed and human, he’s made errors in judgement and sometimes takes cheap shots, but he still stands out as one of the few British public intellectuals engaged in doing active good and treating moral ideas seriously.

    When I read TGD a few years ago I, as many Christians keep saying, didn’t recognise the god he described. I thought it witty, acerbic and entertaining, but not applicable to me. But I gradually realised that the example of scepticism and rigorous commitment to evidence that he was describing was applicable to all types of spiritual belief. When I began to apply it to my own (woo, new agey, vaguely pantheist, occasionally animist) spiritual ideas, I was genuinely shocked to find how much baggage of unjustified belief I’d accumulated over the years, and how much, if I was being honest with myself, I had to throw out.

    Reading Dawkins got me interested in scepticism; led me to other writers and blogs like B&W and Pharyngula; reminded me of my childhood pleasure in science, long stifled by mediocre teaching; but more than anything, gave me the tools to reclaim my own mind. How do you repay the people who help you do that?

    And he did it with one entertaining bestseller that didn’t even address the specific beliefs I actually held, but that I was able to use as a springboard for my own thought process. Sorry for the unusually long post!

  6. avh1 says

    Musical, that’s pretty similar to my take on Dawkins and his writings. I was pretty unimpressed with his behaviour towards Rebecca Watson, and I think he’s a much better communicator in writing than on blogs or on TV, but he’s worth listening to.

    And if anyone wants to get rid of this guy who Ophelia quoted just tell him that some secularists *are* clergy (though not anywhere near enough obviously). That should make his head a’splode.

  7. Hammena says

    You forgot the exact wording of the subtitle of Darwin’s book!
    AHA! See? Dawkins doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
    (And God exists, BTW)

    Is someone running out of arguments
    and resorting to cheap shots?


  8. Hammena says

    Between one thing and another, this past year we’ve discovered that Richard Dawkins is not only “Shrill”,

    but also

    1-A PRIVILEGED SEXIST PIG for daring to openly question the newsworthiness of Rebecca Watson’s tribulations in an elevator,

    2-WHOSE BOOKS OUGHT TO BE BOYCOTTED (no, no, not as a result of a lawsuit by Creationists, nor a Fatwah, nor a Papal bull, but at the suggestion of Rebecca Watson),


    There, I can see them flocking to Church already.

  9. says

    That revolting piece of work Liddle said Long had “skewered” Dawkins. No, she just chucked some vulgar abuse at him. I could say similar things about Liddle’s raddled appearance and general air of unattractive loucheness. That would not amount to “skewering”. The standard of debate on Dawkins was garbage.

  10. says

    Hammena – Rebecca didn’t call for a boycott – she said she wouldn’t be buying his books any more (not a good decision, in my view) and wouldn’t be recommending them to others.

  11. otrame says

    NEWS FLASH: I don’t agree with every word Dawkins has ever said. Film at eleven.

    Still, you know, as Musicalatheist pointed out, he has encouraged a lot of people free themselves from mental slavery. And I agree with about 95-98% of what he does say. So, I’ll let him slide on some things, if only because, being human, I sometimes say or do stupid shit and would appreciate some slack about those moments myself.

    Oh, and MusicalAtheist, that was a nice little essay. If you haven’t done so already, you should submit it to the “Why I am an atheist” series over on Pharyngula (just send him an email with it and he’ll add it to the pile–he publishes one a day)

  12. Hammena says


    I looked up Rebecca Watson’s original statement, and you’re right. She said she would stop buying Dawkins’ books and stop recommending them to others. Which is fine.

    However, when you read the rest of her statement;

    “…Despite the fact that I’ve seen hundreds of comments from those of you who plan to do the same, I’m sure Dawkins will continue to be stinking rich until the end of his days. But those of us who are humanists and feminists will find new, better voices to promote and inspire, and Dawkins will be left alone to fight the terrible injustice of standing in elevators with gum-chewers”

    I might be wrong, but to me it sounded like an indirect way of saying “we should boycott his stankin rich ass”.

  13. says

    Hammena, fair point, and that was just about my least favorite thing that Rebecca said throughout the whole mess. I said so at the time. The “stinking rich” particularly annoyed me, because he got that way by writing good, important, valuable books, and would we prefer that he hadn’t? Certainly not.

    She was probably in a temper when she wrote that, and I’ve written horrible things when in a temper many times. Sometimes I later disavow them and/or apologize for them though. I wish Rebecca had withdrawn that paragraph.

  14. Hammena says

    I haven’t crunched the numbers, but about fifty five thousand people wrote stuff in a tantrum during “elevatorgate”. So we can all relate, and I do not really hold it against Rebecca Watson, who was not to blame for the thing snowballing out of control.

    My first reaction to the story was similar to Dawkins’ message; there are plenty of actual attacks on women to worry about, write about and protest against. But that line of thought was massively and vehemently declared morally wrong.

    The fact is that many of us look the other way when the sexist happens to be brown-skinned and/or Muslim instead of a white Anglo Saxon male. Forced marriages, involving minors, and honour killings actually happen in countries like the UK and the USA.
    You want to talk sexism ,these events dehumanise women and turn them into literal objects of possession and they happen under our noses and we do not hear about them nearly as often as we should. And the reason we don’t is that so many of us are more worried about whether it is racist or culturally chauvinist of us to want the same standard of civil and human rights for people other than “our own”.

    But as long as we can vent our frustrations and bicker bitterly over one white woman’s pre-emptive reaction to a possible worst case scenario that fortunately never occurred, we can show our commitment to a better world. How brave.

  15. says


    You want to talk sexism ,these events dehumanise women and…

    In the online atheist and skeptic communities and at the events and in the groups they spill over into? Because, I believe that is the topic she was addressing.

    I would like to say more, but I’m afraid it would lead to a total derailment, so I’ll just ask you to go back and reread what people wrote and relisten to the various videos at the center of that affair, especially the one where Watson responded to her detractors at the CFI Student Leadership Conference, because you don’t seem to know the background or what actually happened and what was actually said and written.

  16. Rich Woods says

    Mary Ann Sieghart described Richard Dawkins as “puffed-up”? Perhaps she should read Private Eye’s spoofs of her!

    Strangely enough, A N Wilson and Rod Liddle also make occasional appearances there.

  17. Hammena says

    @ Aratina,

    “Go back and reread”? Please, no! I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.

    I can’t say I’ve read all the comments and seen all the videos. I sincerely hope no one can make that claim.

    Like you, I also hesitated to mention the RW/RD thing in
    the first place, and though I think it’s somewhat presumptuous of you to conclude that differences in opinion to yours must be based on ignorance, I totally understand why you would not want to say more about it. One week of derailed cyber abuse is enough.

    So in the interest of civility, let me reiterate (as I did during “elevatorgate”) that Rebecca Watson did what I hope any woman in her situation would do. What I hope my daughter would do. Don’t take any risks. Every day women are assaulted and raped in similar situations. The argument that Elevator Guy might’ve been an awkward but inoffensive dude is neither here nor there. Would you really like to find out?

    She even tried to enlighten her fellow sceptic buddies about how these late night invitations in claustrophobic rooms look from the other end. She therefore avoided the risk of being cornered by a (potential) rapist, and she used the story to warn others, turning a non-incident into a community service of sorts.

    So as far as addressing sexism within this particular community, I fully support what she said up until that point. What I object to was her indirect call (perhaps she has since reconsidered, I don’t know), to stop enriching Dawkins as I do not see how the quality of his writings on evolutionary biology would be affected by his supposed rich white male privileged douchebaggatry.

    (I had considered “douchebagness”, but once you decide to make words up you might as well go with “douchebaggatry”)

    By the time Richard Dawkins commented, the discussion had already spread like a wild fire, but despite all the ire and bickering, when he made the observation that at root of the controversy was a non-incident, he was stating a fortunate fact.

    RD tried to put things into perspective and got accused of being an apologist for rapists and sexist creeps.

    No-one has tried to argue that the cyber militancy on display those days would not have been better spent on one of these campaigns we don’t hear as much about as we could (we can point to the work done by his friend Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s AHA Foundation which is one of the few organisation that actively registers honour killings and pre-arranged marriages, and female genital mutilation happening in the UK, in the US, etc).

    That’s all I have to say about this- I promise.

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