Is Richard Dawkins misunderstood, or does he misunderstand his critics?

Print More
Richard Dawkins at the 34th American Atheists Conference in Minneapolis in March 2008.

Richard Dawkins at the 34th American Atheists Conference in Minneapolis in March 2008. Photo courtesy of Mike Cornwell via Wikimedia Commons.

Active RNS subscribers and members can view this content by logging-in here.

Why does Richard Dawkins, an experienced communicator who once served as Oxford's Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, say that he feels misunderstood and muzzled?

  • Douglas

    Josh is clearly talking about #GamerGate and has completely misrepresented it, though I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt in assuming he has simply been misled by dishonest and/or poorly researched articles.

    There is a genuine grass roots uproar against unethical video games journalism by a section of its audience (it’s a c. $80-90bn industry, don’t forget) and those under the spotlight have sought to deflect criticism by associating it, without evidence, with anonymous harassment of a certain “critic” which, by the way, was occurring long before the uproar began.

    Similar to what has happened with atheism+ and the echo chamber surrounding it, the hysteria of painting an unquantifiable portrait of women as being unsafe in the industry (for atheism, read conference scene) arguably does more to scare women away that addressing the alleged injustices such moralists are seeking to correct.

    In both this atheist community and the video games situation, there is a consistent characteristic of intolerance towards those who disagree with such methods. Just look at the vitriol handed out at Freethought Blogs to Dawkins and, for instance, Phil Mason aka Thunderf00t, or the McCarthy-esque calls to blacklist GamerGate supports within the gaming industry. I believe this is what Dawkins means when he refers to “bullying” and “intransigent thought police”.

  • Shecky R

    Twitter will NEVER be a place for intelligent, detailed, or nuanced discussion. Dawkins likes to put up blunt, in-your-face snippets which are usually essentially right, but which, when stated in simplistic Twitterese, are harsh and make people squirm. I suspect in an hour-long rational debate with his critics he’d win every argument, but on Twitter he shoots himself in the foot. Maybe he enjoys the notoriety.

  • “doesn’t quite seem interested in understanding the beliefs of people who aren’t Richard Dawkins.”

    I would argue that this is a malady suffered not just by Prof Dawkins but by many atheists as well.

    “Viva Cristo Rey!!”

  • Larry

    Dawkins has two problems which will never get addressed:

    1. The guy has no sense of media savvy whatsoever. If the subject isn’t science or promoting his books, he usually finds himself out of his depth. Prudence would dictate that as a public figure, one should get a feel for the audience one is addressing in statements to the media.

    2. He doesn’t get that many of his detractors are uninterested in civil discourse and will attack him no matter, what he does or says. For example the malicious bible thumping nabobs in the last Dawkins thread who attributed his malapropisms to having an amoral atheist worldview. As an anti-theist he is going to p1ss people off as a matter of course. So one should expect vitriolic responses and being deliberately seen in a bad light.

  • Larry

    Harbey, The elephant in the room you ignored, just crapped on your shoes.

    One should be careful about hurling insults which about atheists which are just as appropriate for people who claim religious authority or devout belief.

    The malady of having one’s ego write checks their reputation can’t cash is common to a lot of people in the spotlight regardless of belief.

  • Larry,
    “One should be careful about hurling insults which about atheists which are just as appropriate for people who claim religious authority or devout belief.”

    Please try again. I have no idea what you are trying to say in this many “which”s perhaps???

    “Viva Cristo Rey!!”

  • Larry

    I am a leftie trying to type one handed with my right thumb on a phone. autocorrect and lack of an edit function here is my archenemy 🙂

    You got what I said, but just want to be a grammar nazi. Understood.

    You had broken my irony meter with the last remark.

    Your snide insult is just as easily be leveled at people like yourself. Religious believers not bothering to understand beliefs besides their own is a regular thing here. 🙂

  • What’s really frustrating for someone focused on the unity of humanity is that we divide ourselves over nothing. What divides us is our beliefs which we make up in our efforts to fill the void, the emptiness ‘Adam’ discovered when ‘Eve’ asked “Why am I?” All this conflict over make/believe is totally exasperating.

  • Doc Anthony

    Okay, these are all interesting comments. But let’s switch the topic for a moment:

    Would it be inappropriate to discuss FEDERAL SUPERMAX PRISON TIME for Mr. Dawkins?

    (Preferably ADX Florence in Colorado. That’ll teach him some GOOD manners !!!!)

  • Witchsmeller Pursuivant

    No. supermax is not good enough for the blashphemic heretic,



  • The brouhaha around Richard Dawkins is evidence
    of a vast intellectual desert that is todays USA!

    Richard Dawkins is a rarity – a Great Man in the classical, British sense.

    He is a multi-dimensionality of intellectual and artistic pursuits – a type of person which was once more common in America but now very rare, here.
    Britain still produces such men.

    Dawkins is a Scientist, Philosopher, Poet, Biologist, Literary writer, Rhetorician, Activist, Historian, Geologist, Geographer….what other figure taps so many areas of inquiry while at the same time being expert at most of them?

    So he isn’t a diplomat! So what? He is a target because there are so few such men and women like him to elaborate on all of these subjects and share these debates.

    And ask where we would be without him.
    would be the only things on your “science” channels!

    We should consider it a devastating indictment of American life
    that we in the USA no longer seem to produce educated men and women of Science with such intellectual and artistic breadth.

    Where are the Stephen Jay Goulds, Richard Feynmann’s of today?


    “Haiti is cursed by the Devil” – Pat Roberston

    “Jesus is the reason for the USA” – Sarah Palin

    “Gays should be executed” – pastor Rob Gallaty, Tennesee Megachurch, septemeber 2014

    What a national disgrace that religion has so elevated itself
    that we can find troubling faults with a great man like Richard Dawkins
    while armies of clown-faced, religious gas bags
    and blow hards stomp all over our culture!

    America at the moment is an embarrassing bastion of ignorance.
    I’m blaming religion for a lot of it!

    For Peace, Culture, Science and the Separation of Church and State
    Question the claims.

  • Larry,
    “I am a leftie trying to type one handed with my right thumb on a phone. autocorrect and lack of an edit function here is my archenemy”

    OUCH! deadly combination! My older sister is a leftie… To this day we can not sit side by side on a table to eat… and I’m 53 🙂

    “You got what I said, but just want to be a grammar nazi. Understood.”

    No I did not, that is why I asked. An way I detect to much animosity in your answer so lets part friends… but lets part.

    If you are ever interested in cogent, adult discussion, you have my email.

    “Viva Cristo Rey!!”

  • The Great God Pan

    “Would it be inappropriate to discuss FEDERAL SUPERMAX PRISON TIME for Mr. Dawkins?”

    Not on Stedman’s blog, it wouldn’t. Faitheists and “social justice allies” want to get rid of prominent atheists as badly as you do.

  • Laurence Ringo

    Max, Max, Max…What are we to do with you, poor, sad little man.Let me ask you this: How many channels do you have on your television? I’m pretty sure that you have computer,no? So…are these individuals you claim America has such a paucity of really THAT hard to find? I myself have no doubt that our nation is chock full of people like Dawkins (If you’re looking for someone as insensitive as him, how about Peter Singer?); YOU just spend too much of YOUR time tilting at the windmills of what you’re convinced is the “evils of religion”. At any rate, you would do well to remember that Dawkins is just one person, and one thing is for sure: The greatness of the United States of America has little, if anything to do with him.What is he,73? I don’t know how long a career he’s had as a scientist (and all those other things you attributed to him), but whatever it is he knows, like all of us he LEARNED THEM from someone obviously smarter than he was; he didn’t spring fully formed from the”forehead ” of any particular educational millieu.And as far as your incessant complaints about the various religious types dwelling among us, it’s not been my experience that they are standing in the way of our scientific progress in any significant sense; if so, I’m sure our media would inform us thusly. After all, nothing else is hidden nowadays, is it? (Bill Cosby’s finding that out, yes?)—So…take a deep breath,Atheist Max.The world will go on, you’ll been safe to continue your obsessive rants over various religions (As will the various adherents of said religions–ain’t free speech grand?), etc., etc.—Go outside and enjoy some fresh air, Max.Get away from your computer screen for a minute, O.K? You’ll feel much better. PEACE.

  • Al

    You’re a moron,

  • dmj76


    There is lots of made-in-USA grade A brain candy available.
    Yale university has tons of wonderful courses online, as does MIT.
    That is just a start. If you don’t mind spending modest amounts of money, try

    Dawkins is one voice among many.

  • @Ringo,

    “you, poor, sad little man…go outside and enjoy some fresh air, Max.”

    You have no idea.

    I’m at a resort on Martinique.
    Just had a splendid stroll on the beach, dinner at a breezy palapa bar 50 feet from a lagoon full of blue green water with my lovely wife and her sister’s family. I am sipping a “smokey rum” – a mix of ginger beer, banana juice and dark rum. The conversation is about to get interesting as we are heading over to beer shack in about 20 minutes.

    I really don’t know where people get the idea that Atheism is for people who are ‘poor’ or ‘sad’ but if I were you, I would dispel such prejudices.

    If you must think of something when you hear the word “ATHEIST” think more along the lines of Richard Branson, Seth MacFarlane or Richard Feynman.

    In other words, picture Atheists as rather successful, empathetic, fun, middle-aged, intelligent people with plenty of hair and few regrets.
    That description fits most of the Atheists I know very well.

    Richard Dawkins would know many such Atheists as well.

  • It is drizzling now. So I’m back on the porch under an umbrella with my laptop.
    Poor, sad Atheist that I am…with a Dos Equus 🙂

  • Edward

    People get awfully excited on Twitter. Here’s a thought – the author here claimed Dawkins “trivialized” pedophilia because Dawkins talked about the pedophilia that happened to him didn’t affect him much, if at all. Victims of sexual abuse should be quite free to talk about their reactions to their own abuse. I find criticism of such talk, such as that listed here, outrageously disrespectful. The author should retract that statement and apologize. If I were on Twitter, I might say “the author hates victims of child abuse.” Such a statement is absurd, but it is pretty close to the quality of discussion you will find on Twitter.

  • Douglas

    Roughly the level of discourse I expected. Bravo.

  • Jack

    Deacon, don’t give up on Larry. He’s actually not as bad as some of the other yahoos who are atheists. My cousin the anarchist is worse.

  • Jack

    Frankenstein advising the Wolfman on table manners…..funny!

  • Jack

    If he narrates for a BBC documentary, let me know…..I can market that as a panacea for insomniacs.

  • Jack

    If you want a great course, take Professor George’s at Princeton. It’s what the Ivies used to be — before the radical barbarians stormed the gates.

  • Jack

    Max, you’re probably locked up in the booby hatch and hallucinating from the orderlies’ attempts to “snow” you and keep you reasonably docile.

    But if flights of the imagination make you mellow, who am I to argue?

    Dream on, laddie — of intellectually stimulating atheists, meat-eating vegans, and other oxymorons.

  • Jack

    Dawkins is to the British intellectual tradition as Daffy Duck is to Albert Einstein.

    Imagine Dawkins trying to debate CS Lewis.

  • Jack

    Look out, here comes Max’s clown car, filled with boxes of choice spam delivered fresh from the atheist funny farm.

  • @Jack,

    Here is where your Jesus leads you:

    “Haiti is cursed by the Devil” – Pat Roberston
    “Jesus is the reason for the USA” – Sarah Palin
    “Gays should be executed” – pastor Rob Gallaty, Tennesee Megachurch, septemeber 2014

    I enjoy arguing against this gleefully ignorant philosophy. If we had a bit more outright Atheism it would be an improvement over all.

    Shame on me for not seeing how stupid it was for 44 years.
    But shame on you for not realizing how important it is to keep the Separation of Church and State. Even when I was a Christian I knew the importance of Separation.

    For Peace, Humanity and The Separation of Church and State.

  • Larry

    Frankenstein is the doctor. A genius, albeit a mad one.

  • Bob

    Jack, do try to be less of a hateful Christian. Try to cut back on the ad hominems. I realize it’s tough for you to see your superstition exposed as such, but get used to that; more is coming and your cult has earned it.

    (a Princeton Ph.D. from back in the times that you seem to yearn for!!!)

  • Bob

    AM, great new sig line.


  • Re: “Dawkins famously helped support ads on London’s buses declaring ‘there is probably no God’ …”

    Oh the horror of it! What towering insensitivity! Why, how dare some insolent atheist type dare put up ads doubting God’s existence! The man just can’t be tolerated any more! Why, doesn’t this blasphemous reprobate know that the only religion-related ads which can be allowed to go up, are those supporting his existence and ordering everyone to believe in him? Who is Dawkins to contradict that cosmic law by instead suggesting people not believe in a deity?

  • Gee, I love how people get their knickers in knots over the things Dawkins says which are supposedly so insensitive as to be beyond the pale, and they agitate to shut him up. Yet, they say little, if anything, about cretins like the ones you quoted, and leave them to mouth off however they wish, whenever they wish.

    If people were as truly concerned with “insensitivity” as they claim to be where Dawkins is concerned, they’d long ago have shut down Marion “Pat” Robertson’s network, and vile pastors like Gallty would have been fired – and their clerical credentials revoked – long ago.

    There’s clearly a double standard here, and anyone who denies it, is a liar. Period. That’s not to say I approve of everything Dawkins has said or done, but the angry, reflexive, vehement criticism of the man’s every utterance is just ridiculous, given how little is ever done to insensitive religious folk.

  • Cheers, Bob!

    For Peace, Humanity and the Separation of Church and State

  • Pingback: Is talk of privilege 'lunacy'? On Richard Dawkins, skepticism, and certainty - Faitheist()

  • Pingback: 2014: The top stories in atheism - Faitheist()