Oh dear. Richard Dawkins has been getting pushback about some tweets, so he’s written a piece for RDF to explain things. Maybe that should be a sign to him that tweets aren’t the right medium for complicated thoughts.
Twitter’s 140 character limit always presents a tough challenge, but I tried to rise to it.
Ah, no, it wasn’t a sign to him then.
No; don’t try to rise to the challenge. That’s not what it’s good for. It’s not a game of “try to say something useful about what’s wrong with Islam in 140 characters without being simplistic or banal and without setting off a noisy brawl.” People use it that way, yes, but it’s silly.
He summarizes several main strands of criticism and replies to them one at a time; the bold is his summary of a strand:
Race is not a biological concept at all but a socially constructed one. In the sociological sense you can convert to a race because race is a social construction.
There may be sociologists who choose to redefine words to their own purpose, in which case we have a simple semantic disagreement. I have a right to choose to interpret “race” (and hence “racism”) according to the dictionary definition: “A limited group of people descended from a common ancestor”. Sociologists are entitled to redefine words in technical senses that they find useful, but they are not entitled to impose their new definitions on those of us who prefer common or dictionary usage.
Aw come on – that’s no good. That’s just vulgar and anti-intellectual. “Race” is the kind of concept that benefits from careful thought and definition, and it’s the kind of thing that sociologists study. It’s not a matter of “imposing” definitions, but of saying the dictionary definition is not useful for the purposes of a thoughtful discussion that turns on the meaning of race.
I don’t even have a firm opinion about whether he was wrong or right in the Twitter discussion, because I haven’t followed it closely (though I’ve read some of the commentary on it). But I think the article is unfortunately crude.