NOTE: You can hear Richard interviewed by Jian Ghomeshi on the CBC today; the archive of the interview is here (click on “Listen” under Dawkins’s picture). Ghomeshi chooses to talk almost exclusively about atheism and not about evolution, which shows where people’s interests lie. I defy you to find Dawkins’s statements the least bit “strident”!
Given that the media pundits are now proclaiming Richard Dawkins as irrelevant, marginalized, and ignored (except by them), it’s curious that his newly-released autobiography is already #11 on the New York Times bestseller list of nonfiction. Who on earth could be buying those books? (Since #1 and #3 are not “nonfiction”, this really makes Richard’s book #9.)
But the Dawkins-baiting continues in the press. It’s no surprise that the Catholic Herald went after him—in a piece called “Michael Faraday would find Richard Dawkins terrifying.” The writer, Francis Phillips, first touts Baroness Susan Greenfield, former director of Britain’s Royal Institution, for her wonderful accommodationism (Greenfield also manages to get in a swipe against dogmatic scientists):
[A Radio 4] interview with Baroness Susan Greenfield, the Oxford neuroscientist, was thought-provoking. Greenfield is against “scientism” and the rigidity of thought that implies science has (or will discover) all the answers in the religious sphere. Although not from a faith tradition, she has an open mind and thinks science should not exclude other questions about the human condition. She quoted Faraday: “There is nothing so frightening as someone who knows they are right.”
Really? Scientists are guilty of that dogmatism and believers are not? What a silly thing to say! Scientists suspect they are right, but don’t know for sure, with the possible exception of things so firmly established, like the composition of the water molecule, that you’d bet your fortune on them. For many other things we merely suspect we’re right. Of course, the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury are the ones who know they are right, but you won’t see Greenfield or Phillips criticizing them.
Phillips then refers to a review of Dawkins’s autobiography by Charles Moore in the Torygraph:
Is Greenfield’s fellow Oxford scientist, Richard Dawkins, an apostle of “scientism”? I ask because Charles Moore has written a witty review of Dawkins’s autobiography, An Appetite for Wonder (that word again) in the Telegraph, entitled “How dare God disagree with Dawkins”. The title says it all.
Professor Dawkins is very clever and Moore pays tribute to his “amazing gifts of lucidity and intellectual passion”. But there is a caveat: “His passionate eloquence suggests … something that smacks of the religious zeal that Dawkins says he so detests.” He comments that Dawkins “resembles the preacher rather than the cool-headed thinker”. As well as being a great scientist and writer about science, he is also “a world-famous evangelical missionary against God”. Dawkins should ponder Faraday’s remark.
There’s something ironic about The Catholic Herald criticizing someone for his “religious zeal.” Phillips ends with a bit of tendentious and ridiculous psychologizing:
Having written this I have just stumbled upon a quote I once scribbled down, though without the source: “There are three types of people in the world: those who have plumbed the depths of their eternal void and found Love and those who try in vain to fill this void with temporal pleasure; and then there are those who have not yet touched the core of their infinite loneliness.” I suspect Dawkins is the third type.
Now where on earth would he get that idea? I suspect it’s because Phillips sees “Love” as “love of God” (when you capitalize “Love,” you’re talking about the numinous), and Richard simply doesn’t have that.
Meanwhile, Moore’s Torygraph review, “How dare God disagree with Richard Dawkins?” is mostly about Dawkins’s “self-centerdness.” That’s an odd way to criticize an autobiography, especially since, if you’ve read it, you’ll find An Appetite for Wonder no more solipsistic than any other autobiography (less, in fact, since it dwells considerably on science):
Unlike [John Henry]Newman, however, [Dawkins] quickly discarded the idea of God. Which left only one absolute and luminously self-evident being – Richard Dawkins.
. . . Dawkins has a generous self-centredness. Everything associated with him is blessed – his parents for giving birth to him, Ali, the ”loyal’’ family servant in colonial Africa, and Balliol College, Oxford, which had the good fortune to admit several generations of Dawkins men. When he admires others, one is made to feel how lucky they are.
All I can say to this is, “read the damn book.” I didn’t get that impression at all. The nastiness that pervades this piece extends even to my beloved fruit flies:
At one point, when describing his researches on the self-grooming behaviour of flies, Dawkins writes: ”Flies are not normally seen as beautiful, but the way they wash their faces and their feet is rather dear.’’ There is something rather dear about the self-grooming behaviour of Richard Dawkins, too.
That’s simply a gratuitous slur. In fact, I found the passage about flies endearing, and I’ve often admired their grooming behavior, which is thorough and, yes, a bit like our own. Why drag in another insult?
Finally comes the inevitable accusation that “Dawkins acts like a religious evangelical.” And again, there’s no sense of irony that these people are implicitly criticizing religion at the same time. But you won’t see them arguing, say, that Pope is “acting like Richard Dawkins.” That’s because it’s okay for the faithful to “know that they’re right.”
But [Dawkins] is, of course, a great scientist, a great writer about science and – though we shall learn more about this in the promised volume two – a world-famous evangelical missionary against God.
. . . But [Dawkins's] passionate eloquence suggests something else, something that smacks of the religious zeal that Dawkins says he so detests. In the opening paragraph of chapter one, which Dawkins reprints, he says: “Living organisms had existed on earth, without ever knowing why, for over 3,000 million years before the truth finally dawned. His name was Charles Darwin.’’ Replace the words ”Charles Darwin’’ with ”Jesus Christ’’, and you will see how strongly, in temperament, Dawkins resembles the preacher rather than the cool-headed thinker. He is Darwin’s St Paul. His anger against God seems to arise not so much from His non-existence as from His effrontery in disagreeing with Messrs Darwin and Dawkins.
This would be hilarious if it weren’t so idiotic. You could replace anybody’s hero with the name “Jesus Christ” and be accused of just the same thing. In fact, Richard is right here: Darwin did dispel millennia of misconceptions and ignorance about the origin and diversity of life. And Dawkins’s words, at least in this passage, are not directed against God (how can you be angry at someone whose existence you reject?), but against creationism. In fact, there’s no anger there at all!
As a palliative for this rancor, here’s a video of a fly cleaning itself. It is rather dear, isn’t it? Would that Phillips and Moore could just as easily scour their minds of unreasoned hatred for outspoken atheists.
British newspaper editor (to reporter): “It’s a slow news day. Why don’t you write a piece criticizing Dawkins for being like a religious person?”