Paul Kirkley wrote a love letter to Richard Dawkins in the Cambridge News. I found the article only because Dawkins tweeted about it to his New Atheist faithful, describing it as an “intelligent, balanced, well-written piece.” Once I saw that Dawkins was promoting something about him as “intelligent, balanced, well-written,” I had this odd hunch it would be portraying Dawkins in a manner that serves his endless self-promotion. And I, of course, was right. So let’s have a look. But unlike the New Atheist Faithful, let’s draw upon our critical thinking skills.
“I get a real feeling of déjà vu when I come from Oxford to Cambridge,” says Richard Dawkins. “It seems to be full of the same people. I feel very intimidated coming to a Cambridge audience.”Intimidated is not a word you would normally associate with Richard Dawkins. For a start, it’s difficult to imagine him being intellectually outmanoeuvred in many situations: this is the man, after all, who was recently named ‘the world’s top thinker’ by Prospect magazine.
This is hilarious. First, Kirkley gullibly laps up Dawkins humility act, but then quickly rushes to his rescue, portraying him as someone who cannot be “intellectually outmanoeuvred in many situations.” Look, it is easy to imagine Dawkins being outmaneuvered because it has happened so often. For example, he was outmaneuvered by Muslim journalist once. How so? The journalist merely asked Dawkins to back up his 10-year-old assertion with some evidence. Dawkins was stumped.
And then there’s his reputation as the sort of chap who would pick an argument with his own shadow – a reputation he insists is largely unfounded. “My public appearances are not as combative as you might think,” he says. “They’re usually pretty amicable affairs.”
Here we get to see Dawkins never-ending obsession with his own public image. We’ll see more of that in a bit.
But then to say Richard Dawkins is a divisive figure is something of an understatement: he divides opinion in much the same way the guillotine divided Marie Antoinette. Even a cursory trawl through Google will yield results in which the 72-year-old evolutionary biologist is described variously as ‘the spawn of Satan’, an ‘arrogant chimp’ and ‘the most evil man alive’ (the latter cited alongside such other monsters as Hitler and, er, Gandhi). On a more positive note, he’s been voted ‘Britain’s top intellectual’, listed by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, and was ranked 20th in the Daily Telegraph’s list of the 100 greatest living geniuses.
Here is where we get the illusion of balance. But it is only an illusion. Make no mistake about it – if Dawkins was really called a “spawn of Satan,” he, and many of his faithful fans, would consider that a badge of honor. Because on one hand, supposedly religious nuts are calling him names on the internet, but on the other hand, his Great Mind is being acknowledged by those who matter – the Media.
But Kirkley is sneakier than this. First, note that there is no hint that many atheists do not like Dawkins. For example, Kirkley fails to mention that Dawkins has also been called a sexist and racist by other atheists and secularists. I guess those are the type of attacks that can’t be worn as a badge of honor. 😉
What’s more, just who in the world called Dawkins a “spawn of Satan?” I decided to fact check Kirkley and googled “Richard Dawkins” and “spawn of Satan.” But when I did that, no one on the first page was calling him a spawn of Satan except for this posting. Er, but that’s the Landover Baptist website…..a hoax site where atheists impersonate Christians behaving in ways that conform to the atheists’ most extreme stereotypes.
So what do we have here? The “balanced approach” consists of Kirkley cherry-picking from an atheist hoax site to make it look like the Great Mind of Dawkins is being smeared by those dumb religious people. And we all know that the Atheist Faithful lap up this illusion.
The love letter continues:
The bouquets are largely for Dawkins’ distinguished academic career,
Stop. What “distinguished academic career?” It was little more that writing a series of best-selling popular science books all about the same subject – Darwinian evolution. I don’t see how becoming famous for your pop science books translates as a “distinguished academic career.” Okay, so maybe I am missing something. Let’s let Kirkley continue his line of thought without interruption:
The bouquets are largely for Dawkins’ distinguished academic career, most notably his groundbreaking work on gene-centred evolution, as argued so persuasively in his seminal 1976 bestseller The Selfish Gene and further developed in the likes of The Blind Watchmaker and The Ancestor’s Tale.
LOL. Like I said, his “most notable accomplishments” are his pop science books.
The brickbats, meanwhile, are inevitably a result of Dawkins’ status as atheism’s most ferocious attack dog, dedicated to demolishing religious cant and affronts to evidence-based scientific rigour wherever he finds them. Which seems to be just about everywhere.
Poor Kirkley is so blinded by his love and devotion that he seems to truly think the “brickbats” come only from those nasty, name-calling religious people. I seem to recall that most of the people who accused Dawkins of being a sexist came from within the atheist community. Am I wrong about that one?
The love doesn’t stop:
Born in Africa, where his father worked for the British colonial service, Clinton Richard Dawkins was raised in the Anglican tradition and was, for a short time, a devout Christian, until Jesus was replaced in his affections by a certain Charles Robert Darwin – with whom he would go on to share a lot more than just initials.
This one is just too funny to skip over. Go read this to see what I mean.
Without the electricity required to conduct his research, Dawkins turned his attention to writing, developing Darwin’s theories on natural selection into what would become The Selfish Gene.
Not quite. Dawkins did not “develop Darwin’s theories.” He popularized the theories of someone else – W. D. Hamilton. Dawkins was better at communication, even coming up with catchy metaphors that helped to sell his book. Like I said, his accomplishments are those of a pop science writer, not a great scientist.
The love just won’t stop:
It is these early years, up to the point where The Selfish Gene made him a global superstar of the scientific community, that Dawkins details in his new memoir, An Appetitie For Wonder: The Making of a Scientist
LOL. Now we know why Dawkins promoted this essay as “intelligent, balanced, and well-written.” The question is now whether or not Dawkins has had his wife read him this essay at bedtime. Dawkins: “Read that part again where he calls me a global superstar.”
Anyone looking for the salty, bellicose Dawkins caricature so often portrayed in the media is going to be disappointed by the book in which, I observe, he is nice about pretty much everyone. “I’m glad you think that,” he says. “That’s rather what I thought. I think it’s a pretty amiable book, really.”
Er, yeah. It’s a book. It was mostly likely designed and edited to be like that as part of Dawkins’ self-promotion. We find the salty, bellicose Dawkins outside the contrived setting of his highly edited book – the man who, in real life, routinely refers to religious people as “faith-heads” and stands before crowds, urging them to mock and ridicule religious people.
Time to groom Dawkins’ public image:
But you do have a reputation, I feel compelled to add, for – shall we say – not suffering fools gladly. “I suffer gladly somebody who’s genuinely anxious to know and anxious to learn,”, he says.
Translation – Dawkins will suffer gladly someone who learns that he is always right.
“I’d like to think I’m not ever impatient with a genuine quest for knowledge. I suppose I am a bit impatient with people who are pretentious – but I probably wouldn’t call them fools either.” So you’re cuddlier than your public image suggests? “Yes, I’m sure I am.”
There he goes again – the strident, narcissistic Dawkins badly wants to be loved by the masses.
The “balanced” Kirkly decides to defend his hero:
Even when reviewing this enjoyable, perfectly inoffensive memoir, however, many critics seem unable to get beyond their personal prejudices towards its subject. “The champion one for me,” laughs Dawkins, “was, I think, the Telegraph, who said ‘the trouble with this autobiography is it seems to be all about the author’!”
It’s true: the Telegraph’s Charles Moore does indeed accuse Dawkins of being ‘self-centred’ in the course of relating his own life story. In The Spectator, meanwhile, Christopher Booker writes: “It is peculiarly apt that the author of this autobiography should be the man who coined that now fashionable term ‘meme’ — so long as it is written ‘me me’. His name is shown so large on the cover that one might miss the title printed below it.” Fancy that – an autobiography with the subject’s name in large letters on the cover. (Also, memo to Christopher Booker: writers don’t tend to design their own book jackets.)
First of all, that line from Booker is spot on. As for Kirkley, he doesn’t seem to get it. Dawkins, whose big accomplishment was to write pop sci books, has decided he was so important the world needed not just one volume, but two volumes to explain his life. As for the book cover, memo to Kirkley – let’s just say that a best-selling author and “global superstar” probably has some say when it comes to the book cover design of a book about his favorite subject.
Kirkley goes into full “protect my idol” mode:
Moore, for his part, even dredges up that laziest of journalistic clichés by claiming Dawkins’ passion is analogous to “the religious zeal he so detests”. It’s become commonplace to accuse Dawkins of being as much of a fundamentalist as the people he criticises. It is, of course, nonsense. “Fundamentalism means following what’s in a Holy book and then not deviating from it,” Dawkins protests, “whereas with science you go by the facts and the evidence, and if the evidence is sufficient to change your mind, you bloomin’ well change your mind. And you do so gladly. I love to change my mind!”
Paul Kirkley and his idol are the ones spouting nonsense here. The critics are correct in noting Dawkins’ zeal and fundamentalism, for it is displayed in his constant proselytizing for his God-of-the-Gaps atheism and his extremist, black-and-white view of the world that paints all religion as evil. As for going by the facts, Dawkins lies (either to himself or us) when he insists he loves to change his mind. This is the man who still insists a religious upbringing is a form of child abuse even after being forced to acknowledge he has no evidence for his belief.
Okay, the love letter is getting boring, so let’s just cut to the moments will Dawkins will once again cry out to be loved by the masses:
Is he happy, then, to embrace his role of valiant defender of the faithless? Or are there elements that make him uneasy? “Aspects of it make me uneasy, if people think that I’m more aggressive than I actually am, more strident than I actually am,” he admits.
He thinks for a moment, then says: “Well you’ve already touched on the thing about being gentler than I am sometimes portrayed. I care passionately about the truth, so if I occasionally come across as angry it’s because I seem to detect somebody who is not interested in the truth, or is actively distorting it. That is infuriating. But anyone who is an honest seeker after truth is my friend.”
Again and again and again, Dawkins seems to be obsessed with his public image. In his deluded mind, he is nice, he is cuddly, he is just a seeker of truth who gets a tad upset with people who do not seek truth. In reality, he is an extremist, an anti-religious bigot, and an activist who routinely mocks religious people as “faith-heads” and has been trying desperately to demonize them as child abusers. You can tell that I am right because his critics come from all sorts of metaphysical backgrounds – conservative and liberal theists, agnostics, and atheists. You can tell that I am right because he is desperately trying to engage in some damage control because of his previous comments and antics, wanting us to believe instead he is a nice, friendly, misunderstood seeker of truth. And that’s why he promoted this propagandistic love letter as something that was balanced and intelligent.