What he likes to think

Richard Dawkins chats with the New Zealand journalist Adam Dudding, starting with the former’s upcoming appearance at Wellington’s Michael Fowler centre during the New Zealand Festival in March.

In 2006, partly inspired by America’s lurch towards “theocracy” under born-again Christian George W Bush, Dawkins finally made his targetting of religion explicit, launching a blistering attack with his book The God Delusion. The book, which has since sold three milllion copies, transformed him from the evolution guy to the atheism guy.

He still writes and talks about science. Once we’re done with this interview he’ll spend the day checking proofs of a revised edition of his 2004 book The Ancestor’s Tale, but these days its his proclivity for bothering the god-botherers that largely defines his public profile.

Sometimes he wouldn’t mind a bit more help.

“I would like to see more activists. It’s a bit unfortunate if the impression gets around that there are only a few atheists – me and Sam Harris [author of The End of Faith] and so on – where the fact is that most intellectuals are atheists.”

It’s interesting then that he’s working so hard to turn so many of us away.

In Brief Candle in the Dark, Dawkins writes that even two of his heavy-hitting allies in science communication – American physicists Lawrence M Krauss and Neil deGrasse Tyson – have taken him to task for his alienating tone. He says he’s taken what they say to heart.

Well if he says that, he’s deep in denial. His alienating tone is getting more so by the day.

Yet that tone is still there in the YouTube clips, in the tweets, in the books: a sort of bristling conviction about his own rectitude and an exasperation with, maybe even a contempt for, those who just don’t get it. Is it contempt?

“Well,” says Dawkins, “when it comes to Young Earth creationists [those who say God literally created the entire universe planet 10,000 or fewer years ago], perhaps contempt is not too strong a word.

“But I’m rather fond of quoting British journalist Johan Hari – that’s H-A-R-I – who said, ‘I respect you too much to respect your ridiculous beliefs. That’s making the distinction between contempt for the belief, which I think is legitimate, and contempt for the person, which is probably not, because they may be ignorant, and ignorance is no crime.”

Demolishing a weak argument is one thing, but sometimes he almost seems angry when arguing his corner. Is he?

“There probably is a little bit of anger, but I like to think I keep it under control better than many people. Mostly when people meet me they don’t find me angry.”

Oh, christ. I’m sure he does “like to think” that, but it’s a crock of shit. He doesn’t keep it under control better than many people. He’s worse at it than most people. (I’m terrible at it myself, but that’s why I would never make that claim.) He makes a hobby of displaying his rancid anger on Twitter every day.

What really annoys him, though, is some of “what I would call my own people – decent liberal people who bend over backwards to apologise for all sorts of awful things like misogyny, homophobia, stonings and beheadings.”

They’ll say this stuff is all the fault of the West – that it’s because of the bombing and drones and things like that.

“There’s an awful tendency to turn a blind eye to evil things that are being done in the name of religion because of the political terror of being thought racist.”

Fair point, but some of the people who cheer Dawkinson on when he says stuff like this are, well, actual racists.

Yes, says Dawkins, that happens, and it’s “distressing” to have the wrong sort of people agreeing with you, but again that’s because the liberal left has left a vacuum.

In his case, no, not entirely. A lot of it is because he’s “the wrong sort of people” himself. Sharing that video by Carl Benjamin aka Sargon of Akkad is the latest pulsating neon sign of that.

Waverers can read the 370-odd pages of The God Delusion, or the 700-odd pages of the new edition of The Ancestor’s Tale once he’s read those proofs, or they can follow him on Twitter, where he’s knocked out 29,000 tweets since 2008 to 1.3 million followers.

Does he think his bite-sized provocations on Twitter about the folly of clergy, the viciousness of theocratic states, the timidity of western liberals and the political correctness of modern academia are achieving much?

“I don’t know,” says Dawkins. “I really don’t.

“I like to think my tweets are mostly reasonably good-humoured. They’re often satirical. Many people don’t get them, but that’s to be expected.

There it is again. He likes to think his tweets are mostly reasonably good-humoured – yes no doubt he does like to think that, but they aren’t. Some of them are venomous. Calling a kid in junior high school “Hoax Boy” over and over is venomous; his constant attacks on feminists are venomous. He is not a nice matey guy.


I guess we all have our delusions.

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