Richard Dawkins = Ayn Rand?
July 7, 2011 11:51 AM   Subscribe

Can any atheist, agnostic, exotheologist, or noogenesist explain the Richard Dawkins hate on Metafilter. This has been bugging me for ages. It happens every time his name is mentioned here. I obviously missed the memo. I read the front page Derren Brown thread just then, and clicked my way to a ding dong Richard Dawkins argument from the past. I tried to work it out by myself, but just like an Australian trying to decipher the Conan-Leno bunfight, it seems one needs some requisent knowledge that I just don't possess.

I haven't read any of his books. I saw him on a chat show years ago, thought he sounded interesting, Googled him, read 30-40 quotes from his books and interviews... and from what I remember they ticked all the Metafilter hivemind boxes. That's why I'm confused.

Specific examples, no unsupported "he's an egotistical wanker" type comments please! I tried looking at some past Metatalk threads and it's the same thing from the get go: "he's an asshole." I need that first piece of the puzzle.
posted by uncanny hengeman to MetaFilter-Related at 11:51 AM (281 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

It's easy to explain: If you are religious, you probably hate him already. If you are atheist, then saying you hate him makes you an independent voice of reason. There's a term for this that I can't remember, but it's the exact same thing as when liberals, say, attack Noam Chomsky or Ralph Nader. It makes them (the liberals) seem more reasonable and non-fringey.
posted by DU at 11:54 AM on July 7, 2011 [12 favorites]


If you are religious, you probably hate him already. If you are atheist, then saying you hate him makes you an independent voice of reason.

I have no opinion about the man. But your easy explanation sounds more like a contemptuous dismissal of legitimate grievances to me.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:56 AM on July 7, 2011 [41 favorites]


bunfight?
posted by Curious Artificer at 11:58 AM on July 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


For me: he is a respected authority on evolution, a scientist. He's banked on that reputation to become a mouthpiece for atheists and he's a bit of an extremist; I don't typically enter conversations on atheism but if I did I'd distance myself from his positions because he's a well-known authority figure who claims, or is interpreted as claiming, to speak for a majority of atheists, but I don't think he speaks for me.

I have a lot of respect for Dawkins as a scientist and not so much as a philosopher of religion (or absence of religion).
posted by mendel at 12:00 PM on July 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


He's a garden variety asshole, like most successful people.
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:00 PM on July 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


It's easy to explain: If you are religious, you probably hate him already.

Cheers. Glad that came up first. I tried to frame the question to dissuade any happy clappers from commenting [No offence to happy clappers, it's just that I don't want this thread filled with "well, duh" answers].
posted by uncanny hengeman at 12:01 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


you know how michael moore seems to have some really good ideas but is more in love with the sound of his own voice than the truth or actually engaging in honest conversation? where he the man gets in the way of the message? dawkins is a lot like that for me.

i don't like his style of debate, i think his contempt for religion has kept him from being actually knowledgeable about what he's fighting against. i think his whole persona sings to the choir and creates more division.
posted by nadawi at 12:03 PM on July 7, 2011 [45 favorites]


What on earth is a happy clapper?
posted by DU at 12:03 PM on July 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


DU : "It's easy to explain: If you are religious, you probably hate him already. "

Dismissing an entire, diverse group of people like this, who probably hold a wide range of opinions on the man is plain idiotic.
posted by zarq at 12:05 PM on July 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


He's an atheist who does not shamefully admit to it. I saw an amusing/depressing poll recently suggesting that Americans would be more likely to elect to the Presidency someone who was known to be gay versus someone who was a known atheist. That is maybe half of it.

The next chunk is that he isn't bending over backwards to play nice-nice with people who are religious.

Then you have the atheists who are afraid that, but not being in a rush to play nice-nice with the religious folk, he is going to provoke a backlash, "not do it right," and so forth. That's a factor in just about any minority movement, "Do we cooperate or do we get in someone's face?"

The last and smallest factor, to me, are some genuine mis-steps, like "Brights." That was just dumb from any angle.
posted by adipocere at 12:05 PM on July 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


I'd personally love to see the end of the phrase "the _________ hate on MetaFilter", as sweeping generalizations about the MetaFilter userbase are always wrong.
posted by scrump at 12:05 PM on July 7, 2011 [12 favorites]


I think it's more that, while people might agree with him ideologically, they dislike his style. It's not that he's an atheist, it's that he's a militant atheist -- it's the militancy that people object to.

I think at most ideological extremes, it's hard to tell the difference between the opponents after a while because their endgame -- strict doctrinal observance -- is the same idea in a different hat.
posted by lesli212 at 12:05 PM on July 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


And are their sad clappers? Who applauds for things that depress them?
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:05 PM on July 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


He keeps breaking backboards and giving himself wacky nicknames--what's to like?
posted by box at 12:05 PM on July 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


Me, Astro Zombie.

My hands hurt so much.
posted by adipocere at 12:06 PM on July 7, 2011 [12 favorites]


There are a lot of accommodationist softies here, Dawkins has a plummy accent, and is right. The hate follows naturally from these things.
posted by Decani at 12:07 PM on July 7, 2011 [14 favorites]


He's an asshole.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 12:07 PM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Previously.
posted by zarq at 12:08 PM on July 7, 2011


C'mon. If we hated people just because they're an asshole, we'd have to hate 99% of the userbase.
posted by crunchland at 12:09 PM on July 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


A happy clapper is a God botherer. Of the amped up, clapping and yelling in church services variety. In the context of this thread I mean any type of believer in traditional Gods.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 12:09 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


What on earth is a happy clapper?

A god-botherer, but not the Psalm-humming Anglican types, or incense-huffing Papist wafer-eaters - those peculiar modern ones who have the poor taste to enjoy themselves while getting their worship on, with their bright shiny eyes, unwavering smiles and personal relationship with the Lord.
posted by jack_mo at 12:11 PM on July 7, 2011 [12 favorites]


It's always nice to learn new expressions of contempt.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:11 PM on July 7, 2011 [35 favorites]


I am learning all kinds of new vocabulary today.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:12 PM on July 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


i don't like PETA and i don't like dawkins for a lot of the same reasons. if that makes me an apologist or softie, so be it. i think they both do things to advance their own names more than advance their cause. i also think their methods paint their respective groups with a broad brush that just isn't accurate. i am a vegetarian and an atheist and they don't speak for me.
posted by nadawi at 12:12 PM on July 7, 2011 [31 favorites]


The first piece of the puzzle is that Dawkins is widely perceived, on and off MetaFilter, to be a jerk. You can say that God does not exist, and even say that religion is a net negative for society, without calling theists deluded idiots. Atheists have been doing that successfully for several centuries now. It's a question of style and rhetoric.

Examples really are too numerous to list here, but that's been a pretty basic criticism of most of the New Atheists since they got their start about five years ago. This isn't unique to MetaFilter by any means.

From September 2010. From February 2010. It's all over the place.
posted by valkyryn at 12:12 PM on July 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


MetaTalk: Conan-Leno bunfight!
posted by loquacious at 12:13 PM on July 7, 2011


He's an asshole.

Let me clarify that. I am an atheistic flavor of some type, but I am the lazy kind of atheist. I live my life without religion, and that includes atheism. For some reason I have been wired to not care about how everything started and how it will end. Atheism isn't my religion, it's just a default position. I don't believe in anyone's religion. I don't think your god exists. I don't care that you do or don't believe in whatever. I only care if you start drawing conclusions that have a measurable effect on me or those I care about.

Dawkins goes very much out of his way to be an atheist. He is a public atheist who preaches constantly. Dawkins often (albeit this is probably an unfair comparison) equates to the Jerry Falwell's of the world. He goes out of his way to make sure that everyone knows he's an atheist, and tries to dictate the conversation on what it is to be an atheist. In my happy mind, he hasn't the right to dictate what my non-belief means.

His flavor of atheism is not mine. He wants to be the voice of atheists as if atheism were an organization he started. Bad news Dawky-boy: I realized I didn't believe in any god when I was five years old. I didn't hear of your ass until college. Don't try to lay any sort of claim that what you think is actually original thought. It isn't, yet he will try to claim it and profit from it.

Therefore he's an asshole.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 12:16 PM on July 7, 2011 [49 favorites]


What is a god-botherer? You can't define one unknown phrase with another unknown phrase.
posted by dgeiser13 at 12:20 PM on July 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


What an ugly thread. The OP calling people who believe in god "happy clappers" - and hoping that none will comment in this thread?
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 12:20 PM on July 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


I tried to frame the question to dissuade any happy clappers from commenting

You used the word "Dawkins"

A happy clapper is a God botherer.

You are not setting a respectful tone. This thread goes off the rails and we're closing it before the weekend. Please be civil.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:24 PM on July 7, 2011 [18 favorites]


A god-botherer, but not the Psalm-humming Anglican types, or incense-huffing Papist wafer-eaters - those peculiar modern ones who have the poor taste to enjoy themselves while getting their worship on, with their bright shiny eyes, unwavering smiles and personal relationship with the Lord.

tl;dr: They're jam band fans for Jesus.

I keed. I keed because I love.

About Dawkins, he can be rather abrasive. I tend to like abrasive, but it can be embarrassing. Like, I'm hugely in favor of physician-assisted suicide, but holy crow, Jack Kevorkian was really, really not my #1 (or #100) choice to be a spokesmodel for the movement.
posted by FelliniBlank at 12:25 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


If uncanny hengeman has his answer, which he seems to, I don't think a MetaTalk thread that is destined to be a topic-less religion fight needs to stay open. Maybe this would be better as as AskMe where he can get his answers without the side order of contempt.
posted by Errant at 12:26 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can any atheist, agnostic, exotheologist, or noogenesist explain the Richard Dawkins hate on Metafilter.

He's often right, he's unapologetic when he is right, and he's an atheist. All three are sufficient conditions for the hatred.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:30 PM on July 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


Actually, a "happy clapper" is simply a South African term that is the equivalent of "holy roller" here. It can't be too pejorative as I know of a semifamous blogger that uses it affectionately for her sister.


As to the subject of this post, I continually get him confused with Richard Dawson the game show host. I wouldn't say that Christians hate him, as that would be pretty unChristian, wouldn't it? I would guess that outspoken people with very strong opinions in general tend to bring out strong disagreement from some, is all.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:30 PM on July 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


I can't speak for everyone, but here's my take on things:

In my own strange way, I'm a religious person. Not in any way that my parents or any organized religion that I've yet encountered would recognize, but I have some personal beliefs that are not and cannot be empirically verified. Having said that, most of my friends and most of my favorite authors are atheists.

My beef with Dawkins is probably rooted in comparison to others in the secular humanist movement (I've made a comment to that effect here). One of my top five favorite books is The Demon-Haunted World, and that's because while Carl Sagan presented his beliefs without apology or doubt, he was also a man in whose writing a deep and abiding love for people of all sorts was clearly evident. He treated those who held differing positions from him with compassion and respect. Likewise Kurt Vonnegut or Douglas Adams, whose stands for secular humanism were often cutting but never unkind.

This is where I feel Dawkins falls apart; his position is not about kindness or even I suspect about holding any sort of moral correctness, it's simply about winning the argument by whatever means necessary. The recent Rebecca Watson incident certainly drove the point home for some people here, but for many of us it has always seemed to be the case.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 12:32 PM on July 7, 2011 [45 favorites]


Perhaps it would be best to let the people who actually gave some animus for Dawkins explain why that is, rather than telling them why they feel that way.

But, then, I doubt "Dawkins hate" is an actual MetaFilter condition. but rather the feelings of a small handful of users. So we're proceeding from what I expect is a flawed premise, and then offering up unsupported theories about it based on our own worldviews and prejudiced.

Hm. How very unlikely people who pride themselves on reason.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:33 PM on July 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


unlike, rather.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:34 PM on July 7, 2011


Astro Zombie: "Perhaps it would be best to let the people who actually gave some animus for Dawkins explain why that is, rather than telling them why they feel that way."

Because then they doesn't have to listen, of course.
posted by zarq at 12:35 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


don't, not doesn't.
posted by zarq at 12:35 PM on July 7, 2011


They're jam band fans for Jesus.

I was about to remark that Dawkins is the Phish of atheism: inoffensive, if dull, by himself, insufferable accompanied by fans who want everyone to know that "Trey Dawkins is god."
posted by octobersurprise at 12:37 PM on July 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


If anybody else has some jam-band/atheist comparisons, I'd love to hear them.
posted by box at 12:41 PM on July 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Dawkins doesn't have a tasty ice cream flavor (yet), though, so that's a minus.
posted by FelliniBlank at 12:42 PM on July 7, 2011


The Theodiceans were sort of like Traffic ...

I don't know.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:43 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


This thread goes off the rails and we're closing it before the weekend.

Thank you in advance.
posted by Gator at 12:48 PM on July 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


He's one of those atheists who negates the purpose of his beliefs by setting himself up as a God, infallible, and superior to everyone else.
posted by orange swan at 12:50 PM on July 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


I think people's opinion of Dawkins has got a lot to do with the stage in his career at which they first encountered him. To a lot of folk he is and always has been Richard Dawkins The Atheist, branded and sold to you via Richard Dawkins dot net and a range of tie-in books, and he's just this incredibly intense and passionate person who has no understanding of/time for the people who disagree with him about this one big thing. He comes across as a bit naive sometimes (the whole 'Brights' thing), but mostly it's overshadowed by how very very absolutely unambiguously sure he is that he's right and his rightness should be as obvious to everybody as it is to him. And so the naivety comes across as dismissiveness and the single-mindedness comes across as preachy.

If you knew him earlier in his career, he was Richard Dawkins The Popular Scientist. All that passion and intensity and eloquence (along with the odd bits of naivety - giving away the combination on his bicycle lock in a book, under the assumption that nobody who read his books would be the sort of person who'd steal his bike) and the very absolutist but-this-is-so-clearly-right approach to things) came across through that instead, and he was wonderful at it. So when you see him being all abrasive and oblivious about religious stuff, or stuff like the Rebecca Watson incident, you understand it more in the context of it being a Richard Dawkins thing rather than a Richard-Dawkins's-atheism thing, and it seems more like an eccentricity in an 'eh, nobody's perfect' way than a carefully-crafted stance.

Also, he often comes across badly in bite-sized chunks. I've seen him speak on religion in person, and there was a lot more nuance and consideration than he typically gets credit for.

(religious person here, don't hate the man. First knew him from the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures he did when I was a kid and thought he was a demigod.)
posted by Catseye at 12:50 PM on July 7, 2011 [13 favorites]


I'm an agnostic and I just think he's a jerk. He's often right but his obnoxious demeanor does him no favors.
posted by johnofjack at 12:50 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think it's more that, while people might agree with him ideologically, they dislike his style. It's not that he's an atheist, it's that he's a militant atheist -- it's the militancy that people object to.

I suspect Dawkins has a marketability problem for the same reason Democrats tend to be of the "compromise/get everyone to get along" variety while the Republicans are more on the "out and proud/stick to your guns" variety... if you align yourself with a belief system that is all about being open-minded and inclusive, your preferred spokespeople/leaders are going to reflect that kind of thing. Similarly, if you're non-religious, you're just not going to find "militant" atheism appealing-- lack of belief in God probably aligns with not liking what you perceive to be the dogmatism of religion and a rejection of the social identity that comes along with a lot of militant/fundamentalist religions. Dawkins offers another kind of militancy, and that's just not what a lot of non-believers became non-believers for.
posted by deanc at 12:51 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hm. How very unlikely people who pride themselves on reason.

Unless you're going to be really specific about this particular jab it comes across as broad, snarky fighting words.

As far as Dawkins, I don't particularly care about him, except to think that people get a bit overwrought when criticizing his tone/attitude/not-niceness.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:52 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Perhaps it would be best to let the people who actually gave some animus for Dawkins explain why that is, rather than telling them why they feel that way.

Maybe I'm missing where this wasn't happening.
posted by Hoopo at 12:52 PM on July 7, 2011


And might I say that I hate the word "militant" being used to describe Dawkins, unless he started advocating armed revolution recently and I simply didn't notice.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:53 PM on July 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


My issue with Dawkins is that he takes the strength of his convictions beyond rationalism and well into zealot territory. The only difference between annoying religious zealots and annoying areligious ones is that the latter's books are more frequently available in paperback.
posted by scruss at 12:54 PM on July 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


Unless you're going to be really specific about this particular jab it comes across as broad, snarky fighting words.

I am being specific. It's addressed to everybody who presumes to tell people who dislike Dawkins why they dislike Dawkins.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:54 PM on July 7, 2011


I'm convinced that people who interject a request for a definition ("bunfight", "happy clapper", "god-botherer") into a discussion are not so much interested in knowing what it means as in letting everyone know that they don't know what it means.

If you're here, it means you're on the gol-durn web. It is very easy to find definitions on the web.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:55 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


On reflection, where he is coming from is also important. As valkyryn has said, atheists have been doing the atheist "thing" for centuries. After a few centuries, some atheists may become a trifle impatient with wondering why they cannot hold certain jobs in certain states and say, "This quiet, let's not offend anyone atheism has not been particularly effective. Perhaps we should try something new."

What is interesting is hearing the "why can't he be nice, why is he so militant?" sorts of things from folks whose respective causes have had, in their recent history, quite a bit of not-exactly-shy-and-retiring behavior.

Really, how would you react to those criticisms aimed at Dawkins if those were said of the movements nearest and dearest to your hearts?

("bumfight," I think)
posted by adipocere at 12:59 PM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


It is very easy to find definitions on the web.

Bunfight is defined as a grand formal party. It's useless to look up a word when it is being misused.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:01 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Actually, a "happy clapper" is simply a South African term that is the equivalent of "holy roller" here. It can't be too pejorative as I know of a semifamous blogger that uses it affectionately for her sister.

It's not exclusively South African, and it's definitely a pejorative term in the UK - no one would describe themselves as a 'happy clapper'. Interestingly, religious people use it as much as non-religious people. Clapping and applause of any kind is pretty much verboten in the higher sort of C of E church, so I guess that's how the term arose (perhaps with a hint of jealousy!).

What is a god-botherer? You can't define one unknown phrase with another unknown phrase.

One who presses their Christian beliefs on you - Army slang for Chaplain originally, IIRC.

I'm convinced that people who interject a request for a definition ("bunfight", "happy clapper", "god-botherer") into a discussion are... letting everyone know that they don't know what it means.

It's the gentlest of trolling techniques, and I always bloody fall for it.
posted by jack_mo at 1:01 PM on July 7, 2011


Um, you know militant doesn't mean military, right? It means quarrelsome, and combative, which I believe he is.

But, semi-related, I was actually thinking about it before I saw your comment, and I think best word to describe his style and reinforce my point would be 'dogmatic'.
posted by lesli212 at 1:02 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Dawkins is abrasive. On the other hand, it's really easy to pass on by threads that feature his name. People who argue about religion with internet strangers are really arguing about something else.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:02 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm convinced that people who interject a request for a definition ("bunfight", "happy clapper", "god-botherer") into a discussion are not so much interested in knowing what it means as in letting everyone know that they don't know what it means.

That's true-- it's a subtle, more polite way of telling someone that they have of weighted down their writing with too much local slang and jargon in the hopes that they will write/speak more appropriately for the audience.
posted by deanc at 1:02 PM on July 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


I agree with Dawkins on several points, but I find the way he puts his points across to be offputting. I tried to read The Selfish Gene once. He has a compelling argument in it. What put me off reading more of the book was a comment he made that because he had explained his theory in this way, it proved him right.

Scientific testing and the resulting evidence proves one right. Or wrong, if you're unlucky. Having a compelling theory doesn't prove a thing. Evidence proves things. And I find the thought of a scientist claiming proof when they have none a little, well, odd.

Generally, I try to live and let live. I don't have a problem with other people believing what they wish to believe. I do have a problem with another person trying to force their belief system onto me. I get the impression from Dawkins that he would hector me into agreeing with him, if I ever met him. It's not something that I'm proud of, but I'd probably tell him I was a theist just to wind him up...
posted by Solomon at 1:03 PM on July 7, 2011


I'm an atheist that loves Dawkins.
posted by andoatnp at 1:03 PM on July 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


Um, you know militant doesn't mean military, right? It means quarrelsome, and combative, which I believe he is.

Fair enough.

I'll just go cry into my expensive english degree now
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:04 PM on July 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


I like Dawkins and find that he often does speak for me. I also think the characterization of him by many here is unfair or plain wrong.

Incidentally, I like the implied definition of "god-botherer" from King of Dragon Pass more than the actual one; that is, someone who bothers the gods.
posted by adamdschneider at 1:06 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Really, how would you react to those criticisms aimed at Dawkins if those were said of the movements nearest and dearest to your hearts?

There's a goodly number of people self-aware enough to call anyone a jerk when they're being a jerk, regardless of the issue. Given that the number of people on MetaFilter who think Dawkins is a jerk probably exceeds the number of theists on MetaFilter by a goodly margin, I'd say some of that is going on here.
posted by valkyryn at 1:07 PM on July 7, 2011


Heh, seeing god-botherer, I thought it was someone who prays a lot and that a god would find annoying.
posted by Pax at 1:07 PM on July 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


Dawkins doesn't have a tasty ice cream flavor (yet), though, so that's a minus.

He should. Something like "Dawkins delish" or "Angelic atheist apple."
posted by octobersurprise at 1:10 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a theist, but I liked The Selfish Gene and I'm pretty interested in Dawkins's idea of religion as a meme (and for that matter the idea of memes altogether). I haven't read The God Delusion and probably won't, because my impression of it (which may be wrong, but is informed by interviews and excerpts) is that it is strident and polemical, and I don't care for stridency or polemics. Other people do, or don't mind them, which is fine, and I don't begrudge Dawkins's success, because he has found an audience, so good for him. I do wish he would talk and write more about science, though, and less about religion, because I find he's more interesting on the former.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:10 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Short answer: tone argument.
posted by kafziel at 1:10 PM on July 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


I always misplace him with Richad Dawson and get confused why people would bring religion into a family feud.
posted by cavalier at 1:11 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you knew him earlier in his career, he was Richard Dawkins The Popular Scientist. All that passion and intensity and eloquence (along with the odd bits of naivety - giving away the combination on his bicycle lock in a book, under the assumption that nobody who read his books would be the sort of person who'd steal his bike) and the very absolutist but-this-is-so-clearly-right approach to things) came across through that instead, and he was wonderful at it.

Catseye, this rings really true for me - The Popular Scientist is how I always knew him (and still have fond memories of, even though his reaction to Rebecca Watson really annoyed me.)
posted by Neely O'Hara at 1:13 PM on July 7, 2011


You can say that God does not exist, and even say that religion is a net negative for society, without calling theists deluded idiots. Atheists have been doing that successfully for several centuries now.
posted by valkyryn at 8:12 PM on July 7

Given events over the past twenty years or so, that's an interesting definition of success you're using there.

42% of Americans believe in the literal truth of Genesis. The UK is riddled with faith schools. Women are wearing burkhas on the streets of my city whereas twenty years ago I had to travel to Tunisia to see them. Children are being raped by Catholic priests and the Pope's response is to protect his priests. Oh, and to tell Africa that condoms make AIDS worse. Rabid Islamic fuckwits piss their pants and murder people for criticising Islam or, for pity's sake, for drawing pictures of their prophet. We're still getting rapture/apocalypse predictions and millions of people are believing them. Creationism is on the ascendant. And on and on and on and on this ebdless stream of religiously-derived bullshit goes. So don't try to tell us that accommodationism works. No, it doesn't. It has demonstrably failed in the modern world and some of us are sickened enough by that to stop fucking around and start calling this ancient savage nonsense out for exactly what it is: ancient savage nonsense.

Success? Bollocks, son. Bollocks.
posted by Decani at 1:19 PM on July 7, 2011 [20 favorites]


I don't mind his strident atheism (atheist myself), but shit like the Rebecca Watson comments mean he's a grade-A asshole. Being right about one thing doesn't give you license to be a privileged bully.
posted by kmz at 1:19 PM on July 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


If this thread turns into the same old religion argument with the same old arguers, it will likewise be closed before the weekend. Save the ranty screeds for your own blogs. People who want to debate this stuff with Decani can MeMail him.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:21 PM on July 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


Women are wearing burkhas on the streets of my city whereas twenty years ago I had to travel to Tunisia to see them.

Isn't this called immigration?
posted by shakespeherian at 1:21 PM on July 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


Being right about one thing doesn't give you license to be a privileged bully.
posted by kmz at 9:19 PM on July 7 [+] [!]


I trust you'll say that to Rebecca Watson next time she publicly humiliates a woman who dares to disagree with her.
posted by Decani at 1:22 PM on July 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


This thread is about why people dislike Dawkins, not about why people dislike religion.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:23 PM on July 7, 2011


I trust you'll say that to Rebecca Watson next time she publicly humiliates a woman who dares to disagree with her.

Since when did publicly disagreeing with a blogger equal humiliating?
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:24 PM on July 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


shakespeherian: "This thread is about why people dislike Dawkins, not about why people dislike religion."

Axe-grinders will grind.
posted by zarq at 1:25 PM on July 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


This thread is about why people dislike Dawkins, not about why people dislike religion.

Or why people dislike Rebecca Watson.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:27 PM on July 7, 2011


"Please stop talking about that caaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaake."
posted by FelliniBlank at 1:27 PM on July 7, 2011


Oh man, I am raising my hand so high right now to volunteer to answer this question! Pick me! Pick me! My reasons don't even get into the whole atheism thing, because the other problems with his creative output are enraging enough...

I resent the fact that Richard Dawkins has come to be the world's major spokesman for evolutionary biology. He has taken up this mantle more and more since the death of his rival Stephen Jay Gould. I think Gould's theories of evolution are better (while flawed), and I don't think Dawkins' "selfish gene" concept holds up. The "selfish gene" idea is an interesting philosophical inversion of how to think about evolution and natural selection, but it doesn't correspond to any agreed-upon definition of what a "gene" is by most biologists' standards. Dawkins' "genes" are pretty much whatever he says they are. They are metaphysical objects, not discrete and measurable sequences of DNA.

The ironic thing is that Dawkins' philosophical models for both "genes" and "memes" are highly metaphysical and totally unfalsifiable -- the very thing which enrages him about religion. The concept of "memetics" is completely oblivious to the entire field of cultural anthropology and semiotics, but Dawkins does not seem to be interested because memes make for a good biological metaphor, and he's a biologist. Dawkins has tossed off a casual assumption in one of his books that eventually we'll find the place where "memes" reside in the human brain, and he'll be proven right. That's an awful lot of confidence in something which he invented of whole cloth.

At the end of The Selfish Gene, human free will and consciousness return from the brink of pure biological determinism, but not through an explanation of how they can emerge. Dawkins just says, after a fashion, "we had better use our free will to transcend our genes' inclinations." But how does that free will come to exist, when it had just been so thoroughly dissected into an epiphenomenon? It's certainly possible that someone might reconcile a gene-centric view of evolution with human free will, but Dawkins has not done it, and seems to ignore the gaping philosophical insufficiency of glossing over that issue.

He oversteps his bounds as a biologist all the time. It's not wrong to express one's opinions, of course, but rather than approaching other fields with deference to the history and literature of those fields, he just wades in arrogantly. He dismisses all arguments against him as irrelevant, ignorant or delusional. That's not going to win anyone any personality points.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 1:27 PM on July 7, 2011 [51 favorites]


Dawkins brings all of the worst parts of religion (the strident voices, the condescension to non-believers, the conviction of having found the One True Way) to atheism.

The truth is that while he doesn't believe in God, he very much believes in religion. And religions (especially extremist) don't go down very well around here.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:29 PM on July 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


Isn't this called immigration?
posted by shakespeherian at 9:21 PM on July 7


No, it's called the spread of bullshit, anti-woman, patriarchal religious ideas; and that spread has occurred only partly through immigration. There are young Islamic women in my neighbourhood who were born and raised in Britain, and who have only relatively recently chosen to wear the burkha. Why? Because they are being increasingly subjected to relentless Islamic indoctrination - via schools, in some cases - and because this state of affairs is not challenged by the nasty, agenda-driven people who prefer to frame any attack upon Islam as being down to racism or anti-immigrant sentiments. Man, I despise those people.
posted by Decani at 1:29 PM on July 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Man, I despise those people.

And have chosen to ignore Jess and imperil this thread too.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:31 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Noted. What do you think about why people dislike Dawkins?
posted by shakespeherian at 1:31 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's seriously it. Decani, take the day off. Other folks, be cool or take this somewhere other than MetaTalk. Thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:32 PM on July 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


Dawkins has tossed off a casual assumption in one of his books that eventually we'll find the place where "memes" reside in the human brain, and he'll be proven right.

It is my understanding that he has since admitted the "meme" concept is not useful and wishes he had not introduced it. Not so?
posted by adamdschneider at 1:34 PM on July 7, 2011


I am a scientific Taoist agnostic. I am a member of the Unitarian Universalist church.

What I think is foolish is a bunch of atheists and skeptics who apparently are unaware that deep within empiricism, where some of Godel's theories live, are articles of faith called postulates. In fact if you research Godel's theories (among others') you will find that in order to have a self-consistent system of beliefs you have to take some assumptions on faith.

So I'm not sure that Dawkins is right. I also don't think that it's a good thing for his movement overall for him to be such a jerk about how stupid I am to be aware that I am taking certain assumptions on faith when I pursue my personal theology/philosophy.

And no, I don't believe in the fucking tooth fairy.
posted by kalessin at 1:35 PM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


The "selfish gene" idea is an interesting philosophical inversion of how to think about evolution and natural selection, but it doesn't correspond to any agreed-upon definition of what a "gene" is by most biologists' standards.

overeducated_alligator, I'm an English major and therefore pretty dumb about sciencey things, so this is news to me and also interesting. I really enjoyed Ridley's The Red Queen, but am filled with ignorance otherwise. Do you have any specific recommendations?
posted by shakespeherian at 1:37 PM on July 7, 2011


Short answer: tone argument.

Which, of course, is a taking-out-and-shooting offense when used to shout down feminists on metafilter, of course.

MeFi is a US-centric site. Religion enjoys enourmous privelege in the US, and Dawkins is at the Spike Lee or Malcolm X end of the discussion; a natural magnet for the equivalent of the Angry White Guy and the "don't stir things up" black guy to vent their spleen and demonstrate the loyalty and reasonableness, respectively.
posted by rodgerd at 1:40 PM on July 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'm irritated with Dawkins because he's gone from compelling science writer (yay!) to outspoken advocate for atheists and secularism (yay!) to being anti-religion (... not yay) and is getting awfully close in recent times to outright religious bigotry and racism (double boo!). And this is all before the recent gender inanity on his part.

Having my heroes turn crap makes me mad.
posted by feckless at 1:54 PM on July 7, 2011


I have a PhD in evolutionary biology and when I tried to read some Dawkins, I was not very impressed. I feel I would have to really much more to offer an intelligent critique. It seems strange when people talk of him as a great biologist. His work did not seem very influential within the little corner of evolution that I worked on. I feel like the adaptionist paradigm he pushed is increasingly hard to justify with the availability of multiple full genome sequences and the revelation that so little genetic material is subject to a detectable form of natural selection.

The best book on evolution I have seen is the textbook Evolution, by Matt Ridley. Confusingly, this is not the evolution writer Matt Ridley who wrote The Red Queen.
posted by grouse at 1:54 PM on July 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


It is my understanding that he has since admitted the "meme" concept is not useful and wishes he had not introduced it. Not so?

If that's the case, I'm very glad to hear about it! I had not heard such a thing, and by now, "meme" has invaded the lexicon like...like...like some kind of mind-virus!

overeducated_alligator, I'm an English major and therefore pretty dumb about sciencey things, so this is news to me and also interesting. I really enjoyed Ridley's The Red Queen, but am filled with ignorance otherwise. Do you have any specific recommendations?

I can't speak for the scientific community, this is merely my opinion, but there are some very good articles from biochemist Larry Moran which help explain my objections better than I can:

The Richard Dawkins Definition of a Gene Is Seriously Flawed
What is a Gene?
posted by overeducated_alligator at 1:55 PM on July 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


Maybe this is a theory:

* Religion, whatever your relation may be TO it, is a very personal thing for everyone.
* If you disagree with someone about their opinions about religion, they can get a bit defensive.
* If you suggest their opinions about religion are incorrect, they can get rather more defensive.
* If you suggest their opinions about religion are incorrect AND that they are brainless because they come to those opinions, they get even more defensive.
* If you imply that you could force everyone to agree with you if you had your own way, they get really defensive.
* If you then try to point out that they've done the very same thing to you, while they're already that defensive, they're really going to be pissed off.

You will note I have not named who is who in this scenario. That's because every religious/secular entity has talked this kind of smack about everyone at one point or another; Richard Dawkins, The Pope, Pat Robertson, etc.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:58 PM on July 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


The best book on evolution I have seen is the textbook Evolution, by Matt Ridley. Confusingly, this is not the evolution writer Matt Ridley who wrote The Red Queen.

That is hilarious.

The Richard Dawkins Definition of a Gene Is Seriously Flawed
What is a Gene?


Thank you!
posted by shakespeherian at 1:59 PM on July 7, 2011


"I haven't read any of his books."

This is probably why. I was assigned The Selfish Gene as part of a class in college, and I couldn't make it through the first chapter because of how smugly self-satisfied the author was. I had no idea who Richard Dawkins was or was supposed to be, nor did I have any idea that books could be so repellent. I loved books. I honestly did not know it was possible to be that insufferable in text. And I had been on the Internet for most of a decade by then.
posted by Eideteker at 2:01 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm a Christian and I find Dawkins to be fairly interesting. I don't agree with him (and yes, that means that I think he's wrong on certain points). However, that's hardly sufficient reason for me to denigrate the man.

I don't know him, personally. I've read interviews where he sometimes comes off as abrasive. I can understand that. When you talk about touchy subjects (like religion) with a tone of "I'm right and you're wrong", that tends to get some folks' dander up. It's hardly a high crime and Dawkins is under no obligation to conduct himself any differently.
posted by DWRoelands at 2:02 PM on July 7, 2011


Can any atheist, agnostic, exotheologist, or noogenesist explain the Richard Dawkins hate on Metafilter.

What do you mean when you refer to exotheologists and noogenesists? I just want to make sure I fit one of your four categories of respondents before I speak too soon and answer your question.
posted by The World Famous at 2:02 PM on July 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


it's a subtle, more polite way of telling someone that they have of weighted down their writing with too much local slang and jargon in the hopes that they will write/speak more appropriately for the audience.

Not actually very subtle or polite in most cases I've seen recently.
posted by kingbenny at 2:04 PM on July 7, 2011


What do you mean when you refer to exotheologists and noogenesists?

Based on the roots as well as a bit of Googling around and considering the context, it seems they're both referring to something like the we're all descended from aliens thing. Which is as crackpot as any religion could be, but whatever.
posted by kmz at 2:11 PM on July 7, 2011


The best book on evolution I have seen is the textbook Evolution, by Matt Ridley. Confusingly, this is not the evolution writer Matt Ridley who wrote The Red Queen.

Do you mean Mark Ridley? I am very interested and want to make sure I am reading the right thing.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:15 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm an atheist/nontheist and I tend to roll my eyes when I read Dawkins' latest pronouncement on, well, anything. Hating him is too much effort.

I dislike his public persona, do not enjoy his writing, and find that people who rabidly support him (as opposed to having just enjoyed his books, particularly his popular science) and agree with his stated ideals on atheism are generally unpleasant to be around, even as a fellow traveller. The "Brights" business was embarrassing and something I, as an atheist, did not want to be identified with, much less identify myself with. My general expectation when Dawkins' name shows up in a thread here is that it's going to be about something that he did that I disagree with and/or will be embarrassed by, and I'm rarely disappointed in that expectation.

He's a major standardbearer for public atheism, and I don't want to be under his standard.
posted by immlass at 2:16 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Based on the roots as well as a bit of Googling around and considering the context, it seems they're both referring to something like the we're all descended from aliens thing. Which is as crackpot as any religion could be, but whatever.

Yeah, I did that googling around, too, and I'm still not sure whether I fit uncanny hengeman's approved classifications of respondents. If I'm a religious person who believes that God created man and that God is not from earth, does that count?
posted by The World Famous at 2:17 PM on July 7, 2011


Dawkins is a Tootsie Roll pop with scientific brilliance at the center surrounded by a thick layer of fighty GRAR. The trouble is that a lot of people hate the taste of fighty GRAR and toss Dawkins aside, irritated that all that scientific brilliance is too much trouble to get to. Others like fighty GRAR so much they gnaw at it until their teeth break. Meanwhile, some people stretch the metaphor beyond credibility by injecting a needle through the fighty GRAR layer and siphoning out the sweet scientific brilliance, accepting that it may still have a smug aftertaste. Then again, that's not unheard of in all sorts of brilliant flavors.

I respect the man's intelligence and wish he'd choose his battles better. No matter how passionate he is about his cause, he's every bit as likely to turn people away as he is to convince them. The taste of smug is tolerable, but all that fighty tastes worse than cough syrup and the GRAR gives me the kind of headache I imagine old people get when younger people listen to modern music at a moderately loud volume. I'm okay living in a world with Richard Dawkins and I'm okay living in a world where I don't know what Richard Dawkins has said in the past month at any given point in time.
posted by Saydur at 2:19 PM on July 7, 2011


Oh, yes, the Brights thing was unfortunate, that's for sure.

As for the Larry Moran articles overeducated_alligator linked, I'm not sure I really understand the objection. The first article just seems like a disagreement on word choice (Moran just seems to be a stickler for a narrow definition of the word "gene") and the second seems to sidestep Dawkins entirely, declining to talk about the Gene-P thing, which it seems fairly clear is what Dawkins is dealing with.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:27 PM on July 7, 2011


Do you mean Mark Ridley? I am very interested and want to make sure I am reading the right thing.

Yes, you linked to the book I'm talking about. I guess they don't have the same name after all. Wow. Sorry.

But I'll throw in some extra confusion: Mark Ridley did edit another book, which is also just called Evolution, and is a reader of important historical papers and book excerpts on evolution. It also seems like it would be great. You probably can't go wrong reading an evolution book by M. Ridley.
posted by grouse at 2:29 PM on July 7, 2011


Dawkins is moderately insightful about biology. Memetics is bullshit with an inexplicable cult following in spite of being a degenerate and naive reinvention of Pierce, Eco, and Rogers. His criticisms of religion are all over the map from moderately softspoken to ugly asshole. And he's been an asshole enough times that some people love to complain about it even when he's not being an asshole. And of course, he fits a popular stereotype of atheists which always tends to go meta.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:32 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mark Ridley did edit another book, which is also just called Evolution, and is a reader of important historical papers and book excerpts on evolution.

Heh, yeah I saw that on Amazon and thought, "This doesn't seem like it at all!"
posted by adamdschneider at 2:36 PM on July 7, 2011


I'd say as an atheist I agree with 90 some percent of what Dawkins is saying. I still don't think he's a great spokesman, because I feel like he thinks relentlessly attacking religion will somehow cure human ignorance and irrationality. I personally think human ignorance and irrationality are somewhat innate. If you want to cure them, get involved with cognitive science and/or psych instead of going on a witch hunt for whatever evil meme-de-jour you think is causing them: religion, superstition, holistic medicine, being an afficianado of professional wrestling. Who cares? I also think he's frequently uncivil in his efforts, which is tactically useless as it just solidifies the nascent skeptics by making them defensively entrench and double down on their opinion.

I think you can oppose the conflation of religion and morality without being nasty about it, or even bothering to address fundamentalism as opposed to the social policies championed by fundamentalists. Nevertheless, I can certainly understand why someone in the trenches of the fight against fundamentalism might lose sight of the strategic viewpoint in the heat of constantly fighting.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:37 PM on July 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


The biggest problem with Dawkins is that he blatantly deceived me into buying a book called The Selfish Gene that didn't even mention the selfish Paul, the selfish Peter, or the selfish Ace.

Also, he laughs at his own jokes.
posted by The World Famous at 2:40 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


KirkJobSluder: "Dawkins is moderately insightful about biology. Memetics is bullshit with an inexplicable cult following in spite of being a degenerate and naive reinvention of Pierce, Eco, and Rogers. His criticisms of religion are all over the map from moderately softspoken to ugly asshole. And he's been an asshole enough times that some people love to complain about it even when he's not being an asshole. And of course, he fits a popular stereotype of atheists which always tends to go meta."

I've always enjoyed his writing on scientific topics -- began reading him in the mid-80's and own most if not all of his books. But have always found it frustrating that he can make exceptionally good points about say, the dangers of blind, unquestioning faith, and then indulge in idiotic, inaccurate, absolutist stereotypes. It's as if in his fervor, he's massively overreaching in an attempt to be provocative.

It makes no sense, really. There are plenty of examples of organized religion doing harm and religious folks rejecting rationality to choose from. Tarring us all with the same brush, especially when the moderates and barely-spiritual massively outnumber the extremists, strikes me as deeply stupid.
posted by zarq at 2:44 PM on July 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Let's say that I go a restaurant and order a meal, and let's say 95% of the plate is covered with the most delicious brisket that I could have ever tasted, while the other 5% is covered with what is clearly fresh and rather stinky dog shit. I don't want to eat brisket that's on a plate with dogshit, no matter how good the brisket it, and no matter how small a percentage of dogshit I have to bother with.

That's why I can't stand Dawkins.
posted by 23skidoo at 2:45 PM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


zarq: I agree.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:57 PM on July 7, 2011


it's a subtle, more polite way of telling someone that they have of weighted down their writing with too much local slang and jargon in the hopes that they will write/speak more appropriately for the audience.

Really? Awfully subtle.

Reading between the lines, you think those of us who speak one of the many forms of English used outside the US should conform to US linguistic standards on MetaFilter?

I think that's fine when it comes to words that are much more offensive in the US than elsewhere (see past, lengthy discussions of 'twat'). Beyond that, I think you might a hard time persuading non-US folk to Google every second phrase they type to check it's American enough to pass muster - beyond the famous lift/elevator, pavement/sidewalk stuff it's hard to know whether a phrase is in use across all the Englishes.
posted by jack_mo at 2:58 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Reading between the lines, you think those of us who speak one of the many forms of English used outside the US should conform to US linguistic standards on MetaFilter?

Mostly, yes, but even from my keyboard here in the USA, I would refrain from using American-English-specific slang (or any kind of slang) when writing and would expect Australian writers not to use their regional slang terms, as well. You can spell "color" however you like, however.
posted by deanc at 3:03 PM on July 7, 2011


Aw. come on, we all have access to google, and I like learning new terms. (gobsmacked is a personal favorite.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:07 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


You can spell "color" however you like, however.

A bridge too far.
posted by adamdschneider at 3:07 PM on July 7, 2011


I don't hate Dawkins. I do, however, agree with nadawi:

i think his contempt for religion has kept him from being actually knowledgeable about what he's fighting against

This by itself is not a big deal.

His fans though are extremely annoying. They'll cite something Dawkins said as if 'Dawkins said it, that proves it. and that's enough for me' and condemn any atheist who fails to a accept the Truth According Dawkins as not being a true atheist.

Is their an atheist pope now? When did this happen? Has the definition of atheism changed from 'not believing in God' to 'believing in Dawkins'? Can people 'excommunicated' from atheism now for not accepting Dawkins authority on all matters? How is it even possible to be excommunicated from atheism?

Atheism has gone from being a matter of not believing in God, to being a community. This is natural as there are more atheists, and atheists, like other people, can find and talk to other like-minded people on the internet. This is not a bad thing, but it has led to cliquishness and the formation of factions. A particularly belligerent faction has aligned themselves with Dawkins, and is attempting to drive all atheists who don't agree with this, or disagree with anything he's ever said according to his followers interpretation, out of the community or prevent them from joining.

I doubt that this is really Dawkins' fault. I suspect it may have happened just because Dawkins published a popular book about atheism around the time this was happening.

I don't hate Dawkins, but I frequently get pretty angry about his followers' behavior, and I suspect some of the hate from non-religious people and non-theists comes from this.
posted by nangar at 3:10 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


For what it's worth, I wish he would go back to talking about science, too. I didn't read the God Delusion. If any book could be shelved under "preaching to the choir," it was that one.
posted by adamdschneider at 3:16 PM on July 7, 2011


I must be an outlier because I really like Dawkins. I've read three of his books and watched a lot of the available Dawkins videos online. He is very good at his main job, which is communicating science to the public, and I can't even begin to get bothered about his rhetorical excesses regarding religion, give that his is one of only a handful of well-known outspoken atheists, and they don't begin to match the number of outspoken advocates of religion, most of which are more mean-spirited than Dawkins could be if he tried. He's always struck me as blunt and unguarded, rather than mean. I would rather someone show me that genuine respect of telling me exactly what they are thinking, than the false respect of pulling their punches to avoid hurting my feelings. Maybe I've missed something, but Dawkins has hardly ever crossed the line from blunt to insulting that I've seen.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 3:20 PM on July 7, 2011 [17 favorites]


I didn't read the God Delusion. If any book could be shelved under "preaching to the choir," it was that one.

If you haven't read it, how do you know it is 'preaching to the choir'?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:29 PM on July 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Maybe I've missed something, but Dawkins has hardly ever crossed the line from blunt to insulting that I've seen.

I won't attempt in any way to list or mention all the mean things I've heard or read Dawkins say over the years. But, Pater Aletheias, given what I understand to be your background with regard to religion and moral philosophy, I would be surprised if you don't find at least a little bit mean (and, frankly, idiotic) Dawkins' assertion that every advancement in moral philosophy since Moses was made purely as a result of "secular moral philosophy and rational discussion," without any involvement of religion whatsoever.
posted by The World Famous at 3:33 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Possibly by the title.
posted by maryr at 3:33 PM on July 7, 2011


It's funny; Dawkins can be really sort of overly brash and even insulting when speaking in public. I once had to interview him in his hotel room for about an hour and he's extremely, extremely shy in a one-on-one setting. And insanely serious. They guy couldn't make small talk if his life depended on it.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:35 PM on July 7, 2011


I dislike Dawkins a lot less than I dislike people telling me why I dislike Dawkins, especially in terms of appropriating US civil rights language. It's like if I said that people who like him only like him because they're too stupid to either formulate their own opinions or to understand Dawkins' arguments enough to do anything but gibber after him like toadies behind a bully, mistaking force for righteousness. It's a shitty rhetorical technique and rapidly decreases the amount of respect I might have had for a fellow member.

It also has the effect of making Dawkins himself seem far more like an asshole than I think he is (though, with the recent Skepchick thing, he's shown himself to be a pretty big entitled asshole on some topics), and I tend to dislike Dawkins posts because they bring out his cheerleaders and I feel like that unreflective, uncritical belligerence kills threads. That's combined with my feeling that Dawkins (or atheism threads in general) really rarely bring anything new to the table. Dawkins still doesn't believe in God, and still thinks it's stupid that you do. Gotcha.

I'm not going to pretend that I haven't been a part of those pissing matches before, or that some of the anti-Dawkins shit doesn't also toss kerosene on the blaze, but in general I feel a lot like KJS does up thread. I just wince when I see his name, because it's almost always more of the same shit.

(The one that I regret participating in was the bit over Turing being honored, where Dawkins=derail became a self-fulfilling prophesy. That Dawkins can be a dick really shouldn't have had very much at all to do with the thread.)
posted by klangklangston at 3:37 PM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Also, Dawkins is an antitheist who calls himself an atheist. This means atheists like myself receive instant friction from theists who think I'm antitheist.

It's the same as when I have to explain libertarianism is not "I got mine" anarcho-capitalism.
posted by Eideteker at 3:37 PM on July 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Possibly by the title.

If so, that kind of irony would be pretty funny, given the number of Metafilter threads that get responses from people who don't read links.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:39 PM on July 7, 2011


Blazecock Pileon: "If you haven't read it, how do you know it is 'preaching to the choir'?"

As maryr mentions, the title probably gave it away.

I think readers probably took out of it what they wanted to. As most people do with most things.

I've read TGD several times. The book itself was an interesting takedown of religion -- and especially those more extreme aspects of it that can be antiscience or antirational. Dawkins did strike me as a little blindered in spots. I felt his end conclusions were a little naive. (Wars are generally fought over resources rather than ideology. Even the Israel / Palestine conflict can be logically framed that way.) But it was an enjoyable, educational read.

We learn in part by questioning and challenging our assumptions. By poking at our sacred cows until they tip over or stand their ground. Shakespeherian, it's definitely worth reading and drawing your own conclusions.
posted by zarq at 3:43 PM on July 7, 2011


It's true, I totally didn't read the links.
posted by maryr at 3:48 PM on July 7, 2011


Mostly, yes, but even from my keyboard here in the USA, I would refrain from using American-English-specific slang (or any kind of slang) when writing and would expect Australian writers not to use their regional slang terms, as well. You can spell "color" however you like, however.

My point is that it's often hard to know what's regional or country-specific slang and what isn't - I might hesitate to use words like, I dunno, 'nonce' or 'mardy' or 'gobshite' on MetaFilter because they immediately strike me as peculiarly British, but something like 'god-botherer' doesn't leap out in the same way.

I bet there's a fair few terms you'd think of as American-English-specific that people from Lagos, Lloydminster or Leeds think of as their own, too. Not a great example, but an American friend of mine once paused - rather patronisingly - to explain her use of the word 'shtick'. Cue a sarcastic outpouring of British-English borrowings from Yiddish, quickly spreading to neighbouring tables in the pub.
posted by jack_mo at 4:03 PM on July 7, 2011


(The one that I regret participating in was the bit over Turing being honored, where Dawkins=derail became a self-fulfilling prophesy. That Dawkins can be a dick really shouldn't have had very much at all to do with the thread.)

This. Me too. A thousand times.
posted by The World Famous at 4:03 PM on July 7, 2011


One of my favorite teachable moments was when Dawkins was equated with Lou Farrakhan. I don't remember who did this ridiculous and offensive thing, the who isn't important, but that it happened in the first place sheds a little light on this question.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:06 PM on July 7, 2011


His fans though are extremely annoying. They'll cite something Dawkins said as if 'Dawkins said it, that proves it. and that's enough for me' and condemn any atheist who fails to a accept the Truth According Dawkins as not being a true atheist.

I haven't encountered this before, but until the thread about Rebecca Watson I never realized there were atheist conventions either. The whole idea of organized atheism is strange to me, especially when their goals are apparently humanist ones. I've been content as an atheist since my teenage years to just not really talk about religion anymore, because if I don't believe in a religion or higher power there's really no reason for me to bring it up and I'm really not that interested anymore. But in my younger days, it seemed to offend the Catholics in my family when I merely asked, earnestly and out of genuine curiosity, why they believed what they did. And I still don't get it because I never got an answer that satisfied my curiosity, and instead got a scolding about respect for others' beliefs. So while I don't really feel animosity towards religious people, I've still apparently come off as attacking them in the past. For someone coming from a scientific background, this is probably even more difficult to avoid. Is there a way for someone like Dawkins to write or speak about the concept of God from a scientific point of view without coming off as arrogant and mean to people who are faithful?
posted by Hoopo at 4:07 PM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I said god-botherer two nights ago. I'm American. I was talking to Americans. Four out of five Americans approved. The final one learned a new word and liked it.

"One of my favorite teachable moments was when Dawkins was equated with Lou Farrakhan."

Might as well, since people are fine equating him with Malcolm X and MLK. (I've seen D and F used as analogies, but never equated, and I think you might be thinking of me.)
posted by klangklangston at 4:10 PM on July 7, 2011


klangklangston: " (The one that I regret participating in was the bit over Turing being honored, where Dawkins=derail became a self-fulfilling prophesy. That Dawkins can be a dick really shouldn't have had very much at all to do with the thread.)"

I spent the related Meta thread beating my head against a proverbial wall and trying my best to remain civil and polite. It was unpleasant.
posted by zarq at 4:19 PM on July 7, 2011


Disregarding the feminism issues MeFi has a hate on anyone who's too loud or indecorous, even if they agree with them. 'Oh, Christopher Hitchens/Richard Dawkins/Bil Maher/Matt Taibi make some good points but they're ever so rude? Why can't we fight the enemies of reason and civilization with polite language and cat pictures?'
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:21 PM on July 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


Let me append to my statement about Dawkins posts here that while I tend to roll my eyes about whatever he did, I agree with folks upthread (e.g., klang) who feel that the threads are particularly unproductive at best and extremely upsetting to me as well. The recent atheism/feminism thread took a different sort of nasty turn, but one of the reasons I didn't involve myself in the blue thread at all was because of the Dawkins angle. But that's a different issue to "why I don't like Dawkins".
posted by immlass at 4:21 PM on July 7, 2011


I personally try to avoid Dawkins threads all together because his name alone just conjures up the bad blood. I always think to myself "What did he say this time that's going to annoy me?" He also seems to conjure up every conversation where I've had to defend not being religious to religious types who are incapable of the idea of not believing. I'm soured from the start.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 4:28 PM on July 7, 2011


I will say I've been pleasantly surprised by the fact that at least four recent threads involving notable atheists, including Dawkins, didn't get derailed in the way that I've expected. Of course, one of them was the Watson thread, which had its own problems.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:28 PM on July 7, 2011


Four out of five Americans approved. The final one learned a new word and liked it.

I suspect in many ways that your social set may not be representative of MetaFilter as a whole.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:39 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


You're an Aussie, uncanny. You know that whole 'tall poppy syndrome' bullshit you have? MeFi has a bit of it too, mixed with fear of anyone who's too outspoken.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:40 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


And are their sad clappers? Who applauds for things that depress them?

Film festival and theatre audiences? Fans at a Radiohead or a Smiths concert?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:48 PM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Why can't we fight the enemies of reason and civilization with polite language and cat pictures?

Well? Why can't we? That sounds like a marvelous society to me.
posted by maryr at 4:56 PM on July 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


Because the enemy won't listen to them and people on your own side will be bored.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:59 PM on July 7, 2011


"Tall poppy"?
posted by zarq at 5:01 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Because the enemy won't listen to them and people on your own side will be bored.

It seems to me that getting the actual enemies of reason and civilization to listen to reason is perhaps a less effective tactic than appealing to the millions of people who actually will listen to reason and convincing them to be persuaded by reason rather than by those enemies. And entertaining people on our own side is probably not a huge priority.
posted by The World Famous at 5:02 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, but on the other hand.... Kitties.
posted by zarq at 5:05 PM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


People don't listen to reason. They listen to emotion. There's been so many religious demogogues in history. It's about time we had some of our own.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:05 PM on July 7, 2011


People listen to reason. Masses listen to emotion. And they react defensively when bullied.
posted by zarq at 5:08 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Tall poppy"?

Cutting down anyone more successful than you.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:08 PM on July 7, 2011


They both react, I mean.
posted by zarq at 5:08 PM on July 7, 2011


Ah. Thanks.
posted by zarq at 5:09 PM on July 7, 2011


Ah. Like the crab mentality?
posted by maryr at 5:11 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I said god-botherer two nights ago. I'm American. I was talking to Americans. Four out of five Americans approved. The final one learned a new word and liked it.

Huzzah!

Is there a way for someone like Dawkins to write or speak about the concept of God from a scientific point of view without coming off as arrogant and mean to people who are faithful?

It's not that hard to point out that belief in God(s) doesn't quite add up with what we know about the world without insulting anyone.

Many religious people would agree, after all - hence the profound emphasis on faith in some religious traditions, or the importance of rule-following, practice, ritual, &c. in others.

Dawkins doesn't seem to be interested in persuasively pointing out the irrationality of religion, or its negative influence on society throughout history. The God Delusion reads like a hastily-written rant, and he clearly revels in taking the piss out of or castigating religious folk.

Reading it I found myself nodding and chuckling along at times. But it reminded me of myself as a snotty, know-it-all six year old smugly asking the vicar at my school church, 'If God made the universe, who made God?' in front of the whole class, partly because I was pissed off at being spoon-fed such obvious bullshit, and partly so I could enjoy feeling superior while watching him sputter out a crappy, unconvincing answer.

So, I suspect that's why some atheists find Dawkins off-putting - he reminds us of ourselves in 'atheist dickhead' mode.


"Tall poppy"?

It's Australian slang for Kyle Minogue. She's basically the Richard Dawkins of occasionally diverting dance-pop and, oddly enough, her early work with Stock, Aitken & Waterman is known as 'happy clapcore' in New South Wales.
posted by jack_mo at 5:13 PM on July 7, 2011 [6 favorites]



It's Australian slang for Kyle Minogue. She's basically the Richard Dawkins of occasionally diverting dance-pop and, oddly enough, her early work with Stock, Aitken & Waterman is known as 'happy clapcore' in New South Wales.


This is known in Australia as 'taking the piss'.

I've heard 'god-botherer' applied here to even moderate, barely publicly religious folks like Kevin Rudd. It seems any public religious sentiment is met with derision.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:15 PM on July 7, 2011


People don't listen to reason. They listen to emotion. There's been so many religious demogogues in history. It's about time we had some of our own.

Pro tip: If you reject reason, you're one of the enemies of reason.
posted by The World Famous at 5:18 PM on July 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Can any atheist, agnostic, exotheologist, or noogenesist explain the Richard Dawkins hate on Metafilter. This has been bugging me for ages. It happens every time his name is mentioned here . . . I tried to work it out by myself, but just like an Australian trying to decipher the Conan-Leno bunfight, it seems one needs some requisent knowledge that I just don't possess.

I haven't read any of his books.


I think since it's really bugging you and has been for ages, the most productive approach is to go read some of his books and then ask the question. At best, you're going to get is a list of reasons that won't resonate with you because you have no firsthand acquaintance with Dawkins' work.

(By the way, I first heard "tall poppy" growing up in Canada, used in a conversation about academic mediocrity and Harrison Bergeron. Good ole Wikipedia says the story dates to Herodotus.)
posted by gingerest at 5:43 PM on July 7, 2011


zarq, don't get your aussie idiom from a seppo who's been here a few short years. He doesn't get nuance.

Tall poppy syndrome - the wikipedia link is good enough:
Tall poppy syndrome (TPS) is a pejorative term primarily used in Australia, but also in New Zealand, Canada and other Anglosphere nations to describe a social phenomenon in which people of genuine merit are resented, attacked, cut down, or criticised because their talents or achievements elevate them above or distinguish them from their peer. Australians argue, however, that they only cut down Tall Poppies that act in an arrogant or aloof manner. A person can have great talent or prowess and if they combine that with humility or self-deprecating humor they will not be cut down. Australians do not begrudge success to those who do not act above themselves. It is the attitude not the success that determines the cultural reaction.
Also, about "Happy clappers" - the christians I know (Baptists) use the term perjoratively, to dismiss charismatic pentecostal christians. People above suggesting it's a term used for all god-botherers have grabbed the wrong end of the stick.
posted by wilful at 5:53 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Define 'acting above yourself'. Pretending to not be the lowest form of humanity can sometimes count. If you're smarter or more talented than other people there's no problem with showing it off. I think MeFi has a version of Tall Poppy Syndrome that manifests in attacking people fro being too arrogant, loud, strident or 'annoying'.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:56 PM on July 7, 2011


This is known in Australia as 'taking the piss'.

I'm not sure who I was taking the piss out of there, to be honest. Certainly not Kylie, peace be upon her. Nor SAW - they produced Dead or Alive's sublime You Spin Me Round (Like A Record) after all.

It seems any public religious sentiment is met with derision.

Same in the UK. Politicians here have to tread quite a fine line between vaguely being a wee bit Christian and never, ever saying anything overtly religious - see Alistair Campbell's famous 'We don't do God' line, and Blair's long-awaited conversion to Catholicism about thirty seconds after he left office. That said, I'm pretty sure this is the first time we've had avowed atheists leading two parties in Clegg and Milliband.

Good ole Wikipedia says the story dates to Herodotus.

Australia, gnothi seauton!
posted by jack_mo at 6:00 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, about "Happy clappers" - the christians I know (Baptists) use the term perjoratively, to dismiss charismatic pentecostal christians.

Heh, I was thinking of Baptists when talking about C of E types looking down on other denominations. It's happy clappers all the way down.
posted by jack_mo at 6:08 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


> People don't listen to reason. They listen to emotion. There's been so many religious demogogues in history. It's about time we had some of our own.

I don't know if it's ever occurred to you, Lovecraft, but some atheists might not like demagogues very much.
posted by nangar at 6:09 PM on July 7, 2011


That's cool, and I know the feeling - i winced when my little bro tried to get all Dawkins on a lovely aunt of ours who happened to be a nun. But if we're going to replace something that has given people meaning for centuries we need big sentiments and grand emotion.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:10 PM on July 7, 2011


I am an atheist. I was an atheist before I'd ever read anything by Dawkins.

I think he's too easily derailed into 'religious people do terrible things so why would anybody want to believe that?' territory. And that's fine, but it's not a case for atheism, any more than 'scientific people do terrible things' is an argument for Luddite paganism. In his documentaries he seems calm and measured, but in unscripted interviews he seems rude to the point of childishness. If he wants to treat people like idiots that's fine for him, but I'd rather not watch or listen. Once in a while he'll deliver a pithy riposte that makes me smile and say 'oh, snap', but it's more immature schadenfreude on my part as his witless opponent stumbles into an obvious logical trap than thinking he's contributed something worthwhile.

I accept that being rude has nothing to do with whether what you're saying is right or wrong; similarly, I don't think he (or anybody) is under some sort of obligation to 'play nice' lest they damage 'the cause'. I can see why he does it, because I've wanted to throttle religious people more than once. But the more I see of him, the more it seems to be 'here we go again' - Dawkins comes out both guns blazing after pretending he's genuinely interested in the other side for all of 15 seconds and both parties come away feeling like they've had some sort of major victory. If he was saying something new and interesting, I might be able to tolerate the snark, but he tends not to, and I don't have to. (I accept that he has no obligation to be novel and entertaining for me - he's fighting a long battle, and of course he's going to use the same ammo if he thinks it works.)

Deep down, I suspect he's what I'd be like publicly if I had his authority and position - dismissive, blunt, impatient, frustrated, angry, sarcastic, belittling - right, certainly, but those other things first. So maybe he's just a bit too close to my inner monologue for comfort, and saying I don't necessarily care for his approach is a way of distancing myself from myself.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:23 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


God-botherer is a great term. It describes someone who thinks their concerns and viewpoints are interesting enough to bother god with. More broadly, it describes someone who thinks their viewpoints and concerns merit cherry-picking passages from ancient texts to try to support their points/pass laws. It's someone who has no concept for the privacy/individuality of religion (and often one who uses religion as a substitute for reasoning; the two are not exclusive, but nor is using dogma as a substitute for understanding, reasoning compassion).

Still not the best way to start off a thread, but a great term for something very specific.
posted by Eideteker at 6:38 PM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Whenever I see these threads it reminds me how much better the public face of atheism would have been, if Douglas Addams was still around.

probably why god killed him.
posted by St. Sorryass at 7:04 PM on July 7, 2011 [16 favorites]


I reserve the term "god-botherer" for the people who publicly demand that their deity intervene in tiny aspects of daily life, as when contestants on The Amazing Race pray (usually to Jesus) about their taxi drivers. Dude. I get the "every sparrow that falls" thing, but it doesn't strike you as petty to request that the omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, omnibenevolent Creator of All Things give you a boost on the chem midterm? (I am an atheist. So you're not bothering anyone but me, really, from my perspective, but you think you're on the phone to The Big One - do you think it's a good idea to pester It?)
posted by gingerest at 7:06 PM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Dawkins is a lot of the reason why I'm careful to explain that "I don't believe in god, but I'm not an atheist." Dawkins has turned atheism into a religion, with all the trappings and puffery and to-the-death convictions you could want.

"Hate" is a little strong. I wouldn't say I hate Dawkins. But when his name comes up in conversation I can't help but say "Ucch." He is gleefully abrasive, pugnacious, showboating, and tiresome.

Every movement has its "obnoxious guy who goes too far." Dawkins is to Atheism what Rush Limbaugh is to Republicans, what PETA is to animal lovers, Ayn Rand to capitalists... you get the idea.
posted by ErikaB at 7:07 PM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I reserve the term "god-botherer" for the people who publicly demand that their deity intervene in tiny aspects of daily life, as when contestants on The Amazing Race pray (usually to Jesus) about their taxi drivers.

Eh I say a little prayer to my favorite singers (all god-botherers, actually) before geting up on stage. It's utterly bullshit, since they're just dudes, but it makes me feel better.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:12 PM on July 7, 2011


But that's more of an 'invocation of the muses' thing. My point is a view pretty much everything through a religious lens, so I understand that mindset and to fight it we need out and proud atheists. There's also a place for the more chilled out 'eh, I don't believe' types, which is how I live my life and how Australia's Prime Minister is viewed. But we can exist because guys like Hitch and Dawkins are fighting battles. I went and saw Hitchens speak and the amount of moral support and courage we got from seeing him command a sold-out Opera House was great.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:14 PM on July 7, 2011


Every movement has its "obnoxious guy who goes too far." Dawkins is to Atheism what Rush Limbaugh is to Republicans, what PETA is to animal lovers, Ayn Rand to capitalists... you get the idea.

I'm not sure I agree with that. Dawkins isn't all that obnoxious. It's more that he's so smug that he doesn't realize when he is in the middle of saying something idiotic and clearly factually or logically wrong (see my comment above about how he laughs at his own jokes). Atheism's Limbaugh? That's Hitchens.
posted by The World Famous at 7:14 PM on July 7, 2011


I get the "every sparrow that falls" thing, but it doesn't strike you as petty to request that the omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, omnibenevolent Creator of All Things give you a boost on the chem midterm?

I think He has the bandwidth to deal with it.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 7:31 PM on July 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


I personally like Dawkins. One of the things that stuck out to me in his writing was to not be apologetic about possibly offending someone's religion. Hyper-religious folks don't seem to get the message that I want them to shut up about the whole ordeal. I don't care if I offend your god. I don't believe in it. I do however believe in respecting people, for being people, not because they worship God X. Do I respect your religion? Do I even have to? No, I don't. But we don't have to talk about it either. If it works for you, Great. Grand. Wonderful. Leave me alone.
posted by XhaustedProphet at 7:47 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


A happy clapper is a God botherer.

Actually, a "happy clapper" is simply a South African term that is the equivalent of "holy roller" here.


While none of this exactly clears up the definition question for me, the scansion of "a happy clapper is a god botherer... no, a happy clapper is a holy roller" is just begging for a melody.
posted by salvia at 7:49 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think they're all mildly derogatory terms for even the most harmless of religious folk.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:55 PM on July 7, 2011


a happy clapper is a god botherer
no, a happy clapper is a holy roller

I say a little prayer to my favorite singers

If you're more talented than other people
there's no problem with showing it off.

Tall poppy...people of genuine merit
the "obnoxious guy who goes too far"

cherry-picking passages from ancient texts
to support their points and pass their laws

every sparrow that falls... ...
you think you're on the phone to The Big One
That's cool, and I know the feeling
posted by salvia at 7:57 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


"holy roller"
either way, it's jesus coming for the money.
posted by clavdivs at 7:57 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


In Dawkins defense, he is married to Lalla Ward, which is pretty cool.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 7:59 PM on July 7, 2011


Dawkins is a lot of the reason why I'm careful to explain that "I don't believe in god, but I'm not an atheist." Dawkins has turned atheism into a religion, with all the trappings and puffery and to-the-death convictions you could want.

Interestingly, that's why I identify both as an atheist and a participant in broader communities with religious people, since I have as much of a claim to that adjective as Dawkins.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:01 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


In Dawkins defense, he is married to Lalla Ward, which is pretty cool.

That actually is a black mark against him in my book. More Leela, more knife threats! (Don't even get me started on Sarah "Screech" Jane)
posted by HopperFan at 8:09 PM on July 7, 2011


If you haven't read it, how do you know it is 'preaching to the choir'?

The title, the excerpts, the interviews, the reviews/discussions...it may be an interesting takedown of religion, but then I didn't need religion taken down, and I suspect few who read it did.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:26 PM on July 7, 2011


he's a bit of an extremist

Yeah, in the sense that he doesn't apologize for what he believes. We don't call theists "extremists" for simply thinking they're right.

What "extremist" line has he taken? Banning theists from being teachers? Holding office? Not allowing them to serve on juries, or act as a witness in a court of law? We don't call religious people "extreme" until they start calling for stuff like that.
posted by spaltavian at 8:28 PM on July 7, 2011 [11 favorites]


Because he married Romana mark II?

In all seriousness, I think it's his contemptuous tone in discussing these things. I'm an atheist and a recovering Catholic and I have a fair bit of beef with organized religion, but that does't mean you have to be rude. Are there asshole religious extremists? Sure. There are asshole atheists, too. Most of the religious people I've met are nice folks who may have views I deeply disagree with. But unless they're the sort actively working towards stripping others of rights, I think they ought to be treated with respect.
posted by smirkette at 8:44 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


wilful: "159zarq, don't get your aussie idiom from a seppo who's been here a few short years. He doesn't get nuance."

AH! Thanks for the clarification. :) (and now I know what "seppo" means, too.)
posted by zarq at 8:45 PM on July 7, 2011


but it doesn't strike you as petty to request that the omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, omnibenevolent Creator of All Things give you a boost on the chem midterm?

What gets me is sporting events. Both sides are praying for a win. In the u-SOFA, they're both ostensibly praying to Jesus. Only one team can win (being that tied games are only for filthy commies and/or The French). So... why does Jesus like one team better than the other? Does Jesus really have a preference? And if so, why is he so damn fickle? Up one night... down the next... and praying to G-d every freaking time.

I suppose it's incrementally less smelly than the lucky jockstrap, but it seems equally useless.

(Note: I myself am neither a theist nor an atheist and may or may not be willing to admit to having lucky underpants.)
posted by sonika at 8:49 PM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


of faith called postulates.

I'd be perfectly happy with tons more militant theists, if exchange, people stopped abusing the word "faith".

Postulates are not faith. Saying, "we are going to work under the assumption that x is true in order to work on another area of thought" is not faith. It's a conscious assumption based on modeling. It is not claimed to be knowledge.

Faith, on the other hand, is belief without, or in spite of evidence. Christianity isn't saying "we postulate, for now, that Jesus was the son of god and he died for our sins, for the sake of working on some sweet Christian Saturn V rocket". Christianity categorically states that to be so.
posted by spaltavian at 8:49 PM on July 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


I would be surprised if you don't find at least a little bit mean (and, frankly, idiotic) Dawkins' assertion that every advancement in moral philosophy since Moses was made purely as a result of "secular moral philosophy and rational discussion," without any involvement of religion whatsoever.

This isn't "mean" at all. The only thing approaching "mean" is you calling it idiotic, especially since it's largely true.
posted by spaltavian at 8:55 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


sonika it wouldn't be so bad if the athletes proceeded then to blame their deity when they lose or perform poorly. "i totally would've made the play, if jeebus didn't put the sun in my eyes"
posted by askmehow at 8:56 PM on July 7, 2011


Free Decani!
posted by mlis at 8:56 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wish people would look to Robert Buckman instead of Richard Dawkins, but whatever...
posted by Chuckles at 8:57 PM on July 7, 2011


And that turns out to not be the best introductory link... Just go for any of it though, he's great.
posted by Chuckles at 8:59 PM on July 7, 2011


He gets on my nerves on a fundamental and personal Hmm, I Agree With The What Of What He Said But Man Do I Want To Smack Him In His Smirky Little Mouth level. His atheister-than-thou fanboy brigade even more so, since they're monkeys mistaking themselves for the organgrinder just because they wear the same hat. It's the sort of the same reaction as when I read a MeFi comment I like, mouse down to Favorite, and then say 'Aw, shit, him? Fuck that guy.'

Lovecraft in Brooklyn, please don't take this as a symptom of Tall Poppy Syndrome, but for the love of crumbcake, stop with the 'Well, in Australia... '
My chiropractor says my spine simply cannot take anymore cringing.

Free Decani!

Good luck in even giving that stuff away.

*Walks over to the Reasonably Priced Davy kiosk, browses*
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:28 PM on July 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


"I suspect in many ways that your social set may not be representative of MetaFilter as a whole."

Ha! But they were all MeFites! There wasn't a more pedantically risque table in the place!
posted by klangklangston at 9:55 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


As for God answering small prayers, Pater Aletheias has a great article about that in the second issue of the MeFi Mag if I do say so myself.
posted by klangklangston at 9:58 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Um, so I knew I'd run across "god-botherer" somewhere or other before this thread and now, I'm thinking, it was in M.A.S.H. the book. "Definition for god botherer:
A military chaplain(UK, military slang); An excessively pious person (UK, slang, pejorative); A person who insists on promoting his or her religious beliefs on others, whether they want it or not(UK, slang, pejorative); a religious preacher who calls homes to promote his or her beliefs (Australian)." en.wiktionary.org/wiki/God_botherer

However, I find Urban Dictionary's definitions far more entertaining, especially #2! http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=god%20botherer

1. god botherer Anyone who spreads the word of God, inflicting it on others, usually without their consent! Oh sh*t! The god botherers are coming! (Said prior to Jehovah's Witnesses ringing your doorbell)
by Mike Bailey Oct 22, 2003

2. God Botherer A person who bothers poor old God too much with their excessive annoying devotion. & who tries to convert people to the lord.

God: STFU.
God Botherer: I love you. Thank you, praise you, man.
God: I SAID SHUT THE FUCK UP!
God Botherer: *whimpers* But I love you!
God: Well, I really don't love you. Thanks anyway.

bible basher suck up ass kisser foot kisser annoying person blah

3. god botherer Noun: Person with floppy arms living in fear of a Deity which probably doesn't even know they exist. Usually interfering hypocrites. I see the god botherer hasn't cleaned her teeth again.

4. god botherer Looks like that skanky, workshy god botherer has left us up shit creek again, depressing self-righteous individual that it is
posted by Lynsey at 10:01 PM on July 7, 2011


"I will say I've been pleasantly surprised by the fact that at least four recent threads involving notable atheists, including Dawkins, didn't get derailed in the way that I've expected. Of course, one of them was the Watson thread, which had its own problems."

And the last handful of Christianity threads have managed to be about those specific sects rather than just going apeshit on everyone out of tu quoque madness.

Success of the community or success of the mods, the world may never know.
posted by klangklangston at 10:01 PM on July 7, 2011


People at one extreme will be hated by those at the other extreme, and those on one side or the other, weary of being lumped in with the extreme on their side, will spit out some surface hate to avoid arguments.*

*not valid if the people in question have a reasonable amount of perspective and insight into their own motivations.
posted by davejay at 10:10 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I like Dawkins and I'm grateful for his sacrifice (of his career as a scientist to become a polemicist).

But I would have expected even an out of practice evolutionary biologist who came upon billions of animals with the widest conceivable geographic distribution and capable of the most complex behavior known, and yet who are all observed to be doing a very similar thing, namely practicing a religion, to reflect a bit upon possible reasons for this vast congruence and to wonder if there might not be a better explanation for it for it than that they are all deluded and stupid, all in the same way.
posted by jamjam at 11:59 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


if there might not be a better explanation for it for it than that they are all deluded and stupid, all in the same way

Nah, I think he got it.
posted by andoatnp at 12:28 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Take the site
Make it a better place
For you and for me
And the entire userbase

posted by Meatbomb at 12:40 AM on July 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm agnostic and even years ago Dawkins struck me as a bit of a douchebag.

I feel people's tendency towards stringent, unquestionable ideology is really more of a problem than religion itself. But he seems to believe religion is really the problem, which is fine, except he seems to be quite fanatical about it.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 12:57 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


What I think is foolish is a bunch of atheists and skeptics who apparently are unaware that deep within empiricism, where some of Godel's theories live, are articles of faith called postulates. In fact if you research Godel's theories (among others') you will find that in order to have a self-consistent system of beliefs you have to take some assumptions on faith.

This comment seems to contain a couple of fairly common misreadings of Gödel's incompleteness theorems, so I'd like to quickly address them.

Firstly, the incompleteness theorems have nothing to do with empiricism, or indeed with anything physical. Nor, for that matter, do they have anything to do with belief systems in general; their purview is strictly that of mathematical axiomatic systems.

Secondly, even if we stretch Gödel's theorems to apply them to a field (beliefs, faith etc.) they weren't intended to apply to, the summary kalessin gives above (...you have to take some assumptions on faith.) is not quite the same as the conclusions drawn in the incompleteness theorems. What the first theorem says is that, if you have a set of consistent axioms (i.e., a set of axioms such that none contradict one another), the system that you can specify with these axioms always contains statements that are true but cannot be proven to be true using the set of axioms you started with. The second theorem can be roughly thought of as the first in reverse: if, with your system, it is possible to prove a certain set of true statements, it is not possible to prove that the system is self-consistent.

IAA(applied)M, IANAMathematicalLogician; anybody who knows better and thinks I've misstated Gödel's theorems, please go ahead and clear up whatever mistakes I've made.
posted by Dim Siawns at 2:13 AM on July 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


Well, Gödel's proof only applies to axiomatic systems where you can prove the basic properties of arithmetic (addition and multiplication) since it relies on the unique prime factoring of positive integers to work. First order logic and Euclidean geometry are examples of systems which are provably consistent from within themselves. In fact I think as long as your axiomatic system doesn't include multiplication you are okay, but I haven't thought about math foundations since grad school.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 2:48 AM on July 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Strike "provably consistent from within themselves" and replace with "too simple for Gödel's theorem to apply". It's early.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 2:55 AM on July 8, 2011


uncanny hengeman: "A happy clapper is a God botherer."

Boy am I glad I stick to Ask, where discussions of religion tend not to happen.
posted by Grither at 3:56 AM on July 8, 2011


"Free Decani!"

Nah, still not worth it.
posted by Eideteker at 4:23 AM on July 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


In Dawkins defense, he is married to Lalla Ward, which is pretty cool.

....Interesting trivia, but how is that germane?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:02 AM on July 8, 2011


jamjam: But I would have expected even an out of practice evolutionary biologist who came upon billions of animals with the widest conceivable geographic distribution and capable of the most complex behavior known, and yet who are all observed to be doing a very similar thing, namely practicing a religion, to reflect a bit upon possible reasons for this vast congruence and to wonder if there might not be a better explanation for it for it than that they are all deluded and stupid, all in the same way.

Oh, I think he does have a better explanation (memes and "mind viruses"). But having read Dawkins on this in multiple magazine articles, it's an explanation that strikes me as badly ignorant of cognitive and social psychology.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:14 AM on July 8, 2011


God-botherer is a great term. It describes someone who thinks their concerns and viewpoints are interesting enough to bother god with

But God-botherers don't bother God, they bother other people about God. Think of the Army chaplain - when you're trying as hard as you can to avoid being killed, recovering from some terrible maiming, or witnessing profound horrors, a pleasant padre in a dog collar popping up to remind you of Jesus' love for all mankind is more than a little irritating. That's why my Grandad swears under his breath when he sees a vicar, anyway.
posted by jack_mo at 5:18 AM on July 8, 2011


One more point which I forgot to include in my earlier post: Decani said that "...twenty years ago I had to travel to Tunisia to see them [burkhas]", but the Tunisian government has in fact enacted a ban on all forms of hijab in public since 1981, albeit a ban enforced with different degrees of strictness at different times.
posted by Dim Siawns at 5:22 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


He is quite good at biology. And being an Atheist. Weird sexual politics though. But good at biology.
posted by evil_esto at 6:52 AM on July 8, 2011


Man I love Dawkins. And Hitchens. And Dennett and Harris too. I have no idea if they're 'effective' in any given direction or if they would be more so if they were less confrontational but I don't really care.
posted by Skorgu at 7:17 AM on July 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


a pleasant padre in a dog collar popping up

Ah, that should help raise the level of discourse.
posted by yerfatma at 7:30 AM on July 8, 2011


Huh? (Geniune puzzlement - other than the alliteration overdose making me cringe, I'm struggling to see what's wrong with that line.)
posted by jack_mo at 7:45 AM on July 8, 2011


Possibly the 'dog collar'?
posted by shakespeherian at 7:51 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Dog collar" has been slang for a clerical collar for a long time.
posted by klangklangston at 8:03 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Faith, on the other hand, is belief without, or in spite of evidence. Christianity isn't saying "we postulate, for now, that Jesus was the son of god and he died for our sins, for the sake of working on some sweet Christian Saturn V rocket". Christianity categorically states that to be so.

We are in the realm of semantics, you and I, but I still beg you the favor of charity. Please remember that I am trying to approach this discussion in good faith.

When I experiment with Traditional Chinese medicine, for instance, my faith or postulate translates precisely to "we postulate, for now, that chi exists and can be manipulated". And for that I get treated with disdain.

Also you are talking to me as if I were not discussing the subject in good faith. Additionally I get the sense that you think I am un- or undereducated. I'm not. Do you need my credentials in order to continue this discussion in a positive manner?

In any case as an outsider to the concept of Christian faith for the most part - I do not believe in the divinity of Christ - I still often find myself on the wrong end of an antithiest's ire.

In the philosophy of empiricism it is clear that each experimentalist should always be aware of the assumptions e is making. It's part of the scientific method that we differentiate fact from theory, theory from law, law from postulate, postulate from hypothesis, proof from theory. Not knowing, for instance, that we cannot prove many of the concepts that we rely on is part of what makes for bad science.

Another thing that makes for bad science is taking what another person claims as law, proof or theory as fact when we haven't verified it ourselves. I say it makes for bad science but it is also the practical approach to a world where one person cannot know all that there is to know. But in all of these acts of understanding the world I see a lot of room for having faith in ideas, beliefs and concepts. Even for scientists, for anti theists and atheists.

One of the patterns I see in atheism that really bothers me is this sort of reflexive defensiveness whenever a spiritual person starts talking about semantics and the scientific method. I personally don't believe it's possible now to know anything. If I ask you if you take on faith a lot of the scientific proofs you have been exposed to and "know", why does that bother the typical atheist so much?

One of the reasons I happily joined the scientific community was that I innocently believed that equal time and consideration would be given to all hypotheses. Unfortunately that doesn't turn out to be the case in practice.
posted by kalessin at 8:14 AM on July 8, 2011


IAA(applied)M, IANAMathematicalLogician; anybody who knows better and thinks I've misstated Gödel's theorems, please go ahead and clear up whatever mistakes I've made

I'm also not a formal logician - the deepest I've gone into logic and number theory is what's required to pass Quantum Mechanics coursework - with some work in optics and materials science and crypto mixed in. It was my understanding, however, that Godel's work on incompleteness has been found at least philosophically to be applicable to all systems. I make that distinction because some systems,like theism and atheism are so messy from the formal logic viewpoint that it would be rather challenging to formalize them and prove that they fall into line.
posted by kalessin at 8:21 AM on July 8, 2011


I personally don't believe it's possible now to know anything.

Sorry, I meant everything, not anything.
posted by kalessin at 8:24 AM on July 8, 2011


In his documentaries he seems calm and measured, but in unscripted interviews he seems rude to the point of childishness.

I can't agree with this. On a visit to Australia last year he appeared on several shows including one that put him on a live panel with politicians and other public figures to answer questions put to them by the studio audience and Twitter participants. Several audience members and at least one fellow panelist asked him the most arrogant and antagonistic questions, and he answered each one completely seriously. He ignored the sarcasm and inherent 'zinger'-ness of what was put to him and gave sincere and honest answers as if there'd been no antagonism towards him at all. He kept his calm, wasn't rude, and when someone asked a question seemingly designed to elicit a 'rude' answer he kept his answer mild and full of disclaimers that other people might find other evidence. He gave the kind of answers that would have been considered extremely forebearing on MeFi.

But yeah, uncanny's best bet would be to actually read at least one of Dawkins' science books and The God Delusion to understand why some people here dislike him so intensely. (NB - The God Delusion wasn't aimed at atheists or fervent believers, it was aimed at the mainstream who sit on the fence.)
posted by harriet vane at 8:53 AM on July 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


A friend of mine, who is British and a Whovian, registered his objection to Richard Dawkins thus: he is a man who was about the age of most fathers of youngish children during Lalla Ward's stint as Romana in Doctor Who. He then went on to marry Lalla Ward. And yet he continues to deny the existence of miracles.
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:54 AM on July 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


Possibly the 'dog collar'?

Ah, okay. Sorry. That's what vicars call them in the UK, and it's in no way meant or taken as an insult. The term is so ingrained here that I'd never even heard 'clerical collar' until klang used it just now (speaking as someone who knows a surplice goes over a cassock, followed by a tippet) and seeing the phrase 'dog collar' I'm willing to bet that most people would picture 'vicar's neckwear' before 'actual collar for a dog'. Though that could be because I've spent far more time in the company of vicars than dogs, thank goodness.
posted by jack_mo at 9:08 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


kalessin: If I ask you if you take on faith a lot of the scientific proofs you have been exposed to and "know", why does that bother the typical atheist so much?

Because "faith" used in this way is often a bait and switch. I have faith in scientific theory to the same extent that I have faith in my badly-aged car. It's useful, it's reliable up to the point where it breaks down to a smoking wreck, it requires constant maintenance, and at some point I'm going to trade it up for something different. Then if we foolishly agree with that stipulation, then we're challenged for not giving equal credit to axiomatic claims for a deity.

It's pretty obvious to me that my "faith" that my car and my theories are probably not going to blow up in my face and leave an expensive mess today (but probably will in the future should I not replace them) is something qualitatively different from what many people talk about as faith in gods. So I'm not certain why there's this eagerness to treat them as exactly the same.

Another issue I have here is that the liberally religious are often inconsistent on this point as well. We have faith, albeit weak and skeptical, when it comes to criticizing atheism as just another religion. We don't and are at fault for it when we suggest that our philosophies should be therefore treated with equal respect and as spiritual peers. The latest burr against my skin was that atheists can't have mixed-faith families because atheism precludes any kind of spiritual connection with religious family members.

jack_mo: I'm willing to bet that most people would picture 'vicar's neckwear' before 'actual collar for a dog'. Though that could be because I've spent far more time in the company of vicars than dogs, thank goodness.

And here, I was thinking along punk rock/fetish lines.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:16 AM on July 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


But God-botherers don't bother God, they bother other people about God

If I were a god, to the extent that I noticed any of you fuckers at all, I'd be a bit bothered by people bothering other people about Me.

But that's just Me.
posted by FelliniBlank at 9:22 AM on July 8, 2011


So I'm not certain why there's this eagerness to treat them as exactly the same.

Well, as the urge to treat them exactly the same pretty much always comes from those who have religious faith, it shouldn't be hard to see where the eagerness comes from: the desire to have their faith taken seriously.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:45 AM on July 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


"But God-botherers don't bother God, they bother other people about God"

re: prayer
You can't have it both ways. Either god has a plan/works in mysterious ways/etc., or he listens to and heeds your prayers. I mean, it can't hurt to ask from time to time, but praying on everything would be bothersome. Sorry, it's not in the plan!

Also, I would think the Christian god would be bothered by selfish requests. The prayers he's most likely to heed (or at least appreciate) are those for other people. So there's an element of selfishness to god-bothering, I feel.
posted by Eideteker at 9:55 AM on July 8, 2011


I'm willing to bet that most people would picture 'vicar's neckwear' before 'actual collar for a dog'. Though that could be because I've spent far more time in the company of vicars than dogs, thank goodness.

Having looked it up, it appears that the term is pretty widely used as non-pejorative in pretty much every English-speaking country except the US, which would explain why I was unfamiliar with it and presumably why yerfatma was unfamiliar with it. Thanks for the explanation. Cheers.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:59 AM on July 8, 2011


You can't have it both ways. Either god has a plan/works in mysterious ways/etc., or he listens to and heeds your prayers.

I think you're presenting a dichotomy that carries with it some pretty complex and heavy assumptions about the nature of God.
posted by The World Famous at 10:02 AM on July 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


To explain a bit about why I dislike some of Dawkins views, here's Dawkins going on a rant about anthropology:

A scientist arrogantly asserts that thunder is not the triumphal sound of God’s balls banging together, nor is it Thor’s hammer ... But now a certain kind of anthropologist can be relied on to jump up and say something like the following: Who are you to elevate scientific “truth” so? The tribal beliefs are true in the sense that they hang together in a meshwork of consistency with the rest of the tribe’s world view. Scientific “truth” is only one kind (“Western” truth, the anthropologist may call it, or even “patriarchal”). Like tribal truths, yours merely hang together with the world view that you happen to hold, which you call scientific ...

Listen, anthropologist. Just as you entrust your travel to a Boeing 747 rather than a magic carpet or a broomstick; just as you take your tumour to the best surgeon available, rather than a shaman or a mundu mugu, so you will find that the scientific version of truth works ... Theories about the moon god devouring the sun god may be poetic, and they may cohere with other aspects of a tribe’s world view, but they won’t predict the date, time and place of an eclipse. Science will ...

It's got the abrasive tone that everybody complains about, but the problem is that it's ignorant. It would be just as wrong if he phrased it more politely.

These are the problems I have with it:
Relativism in anthropology does not mean what he thinks it means. It means that anthropologists have to take a detached attitude to the cultures they study. It doesn't mean that they give up their own values, and it doesn't mean they don't have opinions about things other people do or believe. It's just that "ooh, gross, that's disgusting!" isn't data.

Most the attitudes he's attributing to anthropology seem to be descriptions of postmodernism. Postmodernism is not anthropology.

Anthropologists don't hate science, and don't claim that religious or mythological explanation have the same scientific validity as scientific theories.
He'd know this if he'd read an introductory textbook in the subject.

(I realize he started off by referring to "a certain kind of anthropologist." Maybe he at least realizes the views he's describing aren't true of the entire field.)

He seems have contempt for the entire field of study: Other cultures are wrong and stupid. They aren't worth knowing about or trying to understand.

This is a problem because anthropologists have developed theories about cultural evolution that cover a lot of the same ground that Dawkins meme theory tries to cover, only the anthropological theories are a lot more sophisticated and based on a lot more data. If you're going to come with theories about religion and cultural evolution that are supposed to be generally true, you need to know about the phenomenon your theory is supposed to explain. Information about other cultures and other religions is actually relevant.

So, my problem with Dawkins is not his tone, or that he's an atheist. It's that when he talks about things other than biology or atheism, he's frequently wrong. That he often manages to ignorant and arrogant along with being wrong doesn't help either, but that's not the primary problem.
posted by nangar at 10:06 AM on July 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


"I think you're presenting a dichotomy that carries with it some pretty complex and heavy assumptions about the nature of God."

Yup.
posted by Eideteker at 10:09 AM on July 8, 2011


He seems have contempt for the entire field of study: Other cultures are wrong and stupid. They aren't worth knowing about or trying to understand.

The biggest problem Dawkins has, as far as I can tell, is that his detractors make the most uncharitable reading possible of everything he says and writes, and project motivations onto him that do not actually seem to be there.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:12 AM on July 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wasn't directly aware of Dawkins and Douglas Adams being friends, but I had always kind of assume something like that due to the whole, "outspoken, British atheist" thing. The Lalla Ward thing is a fun piece of trivia, too.

Anyways, the point with bringing up Adams is that I've occasionally seen atheists bristle at the use of the term "militant atheist", often in reference to Dawkins. While the term might have some negative historical meaning, Adams himself used it as a personal title. His reasons for doing so were along the lines of, "When I say that I'm an atheist, most people just smile and nod and assume I'm actually some sort of wishy-washy agnostic. So I say that I'm a 'militant atheist' to let them know that, no, there is no wishy-washy about it. I do not believe in God!" I've always assumed Dawkins was following in suit with his friend.
posted by charred husk at 10:13 AM on July 8, 2011


Yup.
posted by Eideteker at 10:09 AM on July 8 [+] [!]


But if God does not exist, there can be no logical analysis of the nature of God that makes any assumptions at all about him/her/it, other than analysis of some particular belief system in order to analyze it for internal consistency or something like that. And, in addition to that particular sort of analysis being totally irrelevant to the question of whether or not God exists, it only works if your assumptions are exactly the same as those of the belief system being analyzed.
posted by The World Famous at 10:16 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


But if God does not exist, there can be no logical analysis of the nature of God that makes any assumptions at all about him/her/it, other than analysis of some particular belief system in order to analyze it for internal consistency or something like that.

Well...yeah.

And, in addition to that particular sort of analysis being totally irrelevant to the question of whether or not God exists, it only works if your assumptions are exactly the same as those of the belief system being analyzed.

But cultural anthropologists don't conduct investigations into other cultures to find out "whether or not God exists." They conduct investigations into other cultures to find out "how does this culture work." And they do that in order to figure out how our culture can relate TO that culture.

I mean, people ask questions like "why do cats chew plastic" in the interest of finding out how to RELATE to cats, not because they want to BE cats, or because they think cats know better than people or anything.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:24 AM on July 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, dude, I'm joking around about the term god-botherer. See my earlier comment(s) about how I really don't care about god(s) (hence the a-theist, not anti-theist).
posted by Eideteker at 10:31 AM on July 8, 2011


I want to be a cat.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 10:33 AM on July 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


> The biggest problem Dawkins has, as far as I can tell, is that his detractors make the most uncharitable reading possible of everything he says and writes, and project motivations onto him that do not actually seem to be there.

I realize I could be misreading this (which is why I said "He seems to ..."). And this might be something I'm picking up from his snarky tone rather than anything else. The contempt could be aimed entirely at anthropologists and not their subject matter. The rest of my critique still stands though.
posted by nangar at 10:37 AM on July 8, 2011


I liked the part where atheists presumed to dictate how god works.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 10:47 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


But cultural anthropologists don't conduct investigations into other cultures to find out "whether or not God exists." They conduct investigations into other cultures to find out "how does this culture work." And they do that in order to figure out how our culture can relate TO that culture.

The discussion between Eideteker and The World Famous is completely separate from the comment re: anthropology, as far as I can tell.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:51 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


The discussion between Eideteker and The World Famous is completely separate from the comment re: anthropology, as far as I can tell.

I'll let them confirm that if you don't mind.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:01 AM on July 8, 2011


The discussion between Eideteker and The World Famous is completely separate from the comment re: anthropology, as far as I can tell.

I'll let them confirm that if you don't mind.


I hereby confirm that the discussion between me and Eideteker is completely separate from the comment re: anthropology.
posted by The World Famous at 11:07 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fair enough. The comment I was responding to does seem to imply a connection, though, as you were speaking of analyzing a belief system directly following a critique of Dawkins' critique of certain anthropological studies; in the quote in question, Dawkins seemed to be missing the point of why such studies were being conducted.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:11 AM on July 8, 2011


Dawkins seemed to be missing the point of why such studies were being conducted.

I agree with that assessment.
posted by The World Famous at 11:12 AM on July 8, 2011


Whether it answers the question or not (probably not)...

It seemed to me that the position that Dawkins epitomises really took off after he proposed that mocking religious people was a virtuous thing to do (I realise that it probably came from someone else in the vague grouping of him, Harris, Dennett, etc, but Dawkins had the higher profile in the UK, and as I remember it, "neo-atheism" became popular in this form here before the States). He certainly seems to have struck a chord with people who not only derive a lot of pleasure from expressing abusive contempt, but find the idea that that expression puts them in a position of moral and intellectual superiority somewhat appealing. I suppose that at that time I was pretty much in alignment with them.

As that point of view was expressed more and more often on the web and around and about, and I saw the kinds of sneering things that I would say out loud written down, I began to feel that rather than being brave and iconoclastic, they were more specious and puerile. Worse than that, it seemed like relentless bullying.

My response to that realisation was to become more interested in what people believed without necessarily sneering at them for believing it, and curiosity at what religion is and how it functions in societies; and from there, I must confess, to increasing stranger positions. For someone more dedicated to atheism per se than myself, I suspect the response might have been anger at someone who makes them look like specious, puerile bullies by association, which would explain the hate.
posted by Grangousier at 11:46 AM on July 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


My comment re: anthropology was supposed to contain a link to the article the quote was taken from. It's from here. Apologies.
posted by nangar at 12:05 PM on July 8, 2011


"I hereby confirm that the discussion between me and Eideteker is completely separate from the comment re: anthropology."

Second.
posted by Eideteker at 12:06 PM on July 8, 2011


charred husk: "I wasn't directly aware of Dawkins and Douglas Adams being friends"

Lament for Douglas. The 5-14-01 essay was reprinted in the Salmon of Doubt, and read by Dawkins in the SoD audiobook.
posted by zarq at 12:32 PM on July 8, 2011


Ugh. Hit post instead of preview. Adams introduced Dawkins to Lalla Ward.
posted by zarq at 12:33 PM on July 8, 2011


Whatever Dawkins's other failings—and IMO, he has plenty—that piece about Douglas Adams never fails to hit me right in the grief bone.
posted by Zozo at 12:39 PM on July 8, 2011


The best book on evolution I have seen is the textbook Evolution, by Matt Ridley. Confusingly, this is not the evolution writer Matt Ridley who wrote The Red Queen.

That's Evolution by Mark Ridley.
posted by endless_forms at 12:42 PM on July 8, 2011


Ah, okay. Sorry. That's what vicars call them in the UK

No worries, it's just hard not to assume virulence in threads like this.
posted by yerfatma at 12:51 PM on July 8, 2011


zarq: "Lament for Douglas. The 5-14-01 essay was reprinted in the Salmon of Doubt, and read by Dawkins in the SoD audiobook."

Huh. I read Salmon of Doubt as soon as it came out, but then again I hadn't really heard of Dawkins at that point so his name probably didn't jump out at me. I'll need to take another look.
posted by charred husk at 1:59 PM on July 8, 2011


KirkJobSluder, I don't think you and I are at odds. I do not intend to use that definition of faith in things as a bait and switch. I am personally able to see strong parallels between your faith in science and your faith in your car with my faith in chi. If you are not, that doesn't bother me. I'm used it and I don't take it personally.

I am also able to have very functional emotional and intellectual relationships with folks of all creeds and lacks thereof. I count among my friends folks whose religious, theological, philosophical leanings I both know and do not know. Some of my friends know my leanings and some of them don't. Some because they haven't asked and would be interested, some who haven't asked and wouldn't. I don't think that being an atheist or a skeptic precludes you from being able to be my friend or my friends' friend in general.

Although I do think that both me and my friends do expect a certain amount of mutual respect. If a skeptical friend were a Dawkins-style atheist who were constantly haranguing me about my idiocy in my own beliefs (which is sort of automatically disrespectful unless you belong to a very interesting social circle where that sort of behavior is okay or encouraged), then that probably wouldn't be respectful enough for us.

I also think that it's dangerous to talk about movements as being inconsistent when it's obvious they are going to be. Especially when no formal membership card is required or when no formal responsibilities, knowledge, ethics or dogma are required, you are going to get all sorts who say they follow a certain system of beliefs who have all sorts of rhetorical methods, all sorts of rhetorical and personal beliefs and who apply all sorts of gauges and measures against others as they judge them and try to interact with them or just convince them of the rightness of their cause.

If I could, I would say that I subscribe to a Kantian style of philosophical interdisciplinary beliefs - I feel like we should be able to talk about our differences of opinion but that we shouldn't do it to the point of killing each other over it. Or even, honestly, really seriously annoying each other over it.
posted by kalessin at 2:21 PM on July 8, 2011


What on earth is a happy clapper?

Last night on my way home, I passed the local funeral parlor where a biker funeral service was in progress. Outside the parlor a car sat with its doors open, it's stereo blaring "Freebird." A mother passed by pusing her girl toddler in a stroller. As she heard the music, the toddler clapped roughly in time with the guitar solo and smiled. That's a happy clapper. I just removed my hat and bobbed my head.
posted by jonmc at 7:08 PM on July 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I want to be a cat.

Everybody wants to be a cat,
Because a cat's the only cat who knows where it's at,
Everybody's picking up on that feline beat,
'cause everything else is obsolete.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:08 PM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am personally able to see strong parallels between your faith in science and your faith in your car with my faith in chi.

The issue isn't whether you "see", the point is that those "parallels" manifestly do not exist. His so-called "faith" in science is actually based on reason. My "faith" the sun will rise tomorrow is actually a rational conclusion based upon evidence (it's always done that before) and logic (my understanding of gravity, the structure of the solar system and Earth's rotation). Note that even if I'm wrong, I'm still appealing to evidence and logic. This is the antithesis of faith- which is to "know" without appeal to evidence or systems of logic.

What theists usually attempt to do is to artificially restrict the realm of reason to let faith lay claim to nearly all kinds of knowledge. It's a pretty standard semantic trick. I don't have a time machine, so I have not seen tomorrow's sunrise. But it's not an article of faith for me to believe the sun will appear.
posted by spaltavian at 9:30 PM on July 8, 2011 [8 favorites]


spaltavian, I'm sorry, but your respectfulness is missing, and you give no credence to the 6,000 or so of empirical tradition in traditional Chinese medicine.

Anyhow, without respectfulness, I think we're done here. Do have a nice weekend.
posted by kalessin at 7:36 AM on July 9, 2011


I don't see anything disrespectful at all about spaltavian's response. Tradition is not worthy of deference when we discuss medical treatments.
posted by grouse at 9:19 AM on July 9, 2011


I didn't see any disrespect, either. As for empirical studies of TCM...
posted by jtron at 10:29 AM on July 9, 2011


I see disrespect. What's up with the first sentence? kalessin was saying "if you ask me, there are parallels, but we can agree to disagree." This point was phrased as "I see parallels." spaltavian responds "who cares if you 'see' them; they clearly don't exist!" (No they clearly do, YOU'RE the one who can't see! No you! No you!)

To overly focus on the "i see" phrasing and reply "who cares about your vision" is personal in a disrespectful way (in my view). "I see the world this way whereas you see it that way, and okay, that's fine" deserves a response like "here is why in my view, the world is like X and not like Y. I don't understand how you can see it like Y." It does not deserve a response like "who cares about what you see." Replying at a personal level only to dismiss that person's viewpoint is disrespectful.

Suppose I replied to jtron or grouse ("I don't see disrespect") with "the issue isn't whether you 'see' it, the point is that it manifestly exists." That would just be a throwaway sentence that added nothing to the discussion except rudeness.
posted by salvia at 1:20 PM on July 9, 2011


It isn't disrespect. It's simply that spaltavian's chi is out of balance with his emotional yang.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:35 PM on July 9, 2011


Well, I wasn't talking about you kalessin. Or even about conversations here on Metafilter, but about a general skepticism WRT to the use of faith in that way. That is, I don't think that my dubious and provisional faith in scientific method and theory is the same thing as the faith demanded by variants of the TAG for example. I gleefully expect at least another half-dozen scientific revolutions in Evolutionary Biology for example, while the TAG is asserted as a fundamental rationalization around which everything else makes sense. So I don't think they're necessarily the same thing.

That said, where a lot of gnu-atheism fails is in not recognizing that a fair bit of modern theology is also critical and formally agnostic. But a statement that atheists have the same kind of faith as a given religious tradition really needs to be defined more clearly.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:26 PM on July 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


a fair bit of modern theology is also critical and formally agnostic

Interesting. Can you say more? Or point to the right wikipedia article or something?
posted by salvia at 2:41 PM on July 9, 2011


but I do believe in gnus
posted by jtron at 2:43 PM on July 9, 2011


gnu-atheism

Great, now I'm imagining Stallman/Dawkins slash fic.
posted by jack_mo at 5:42 PM on July 9, 2011


no gnus is good gnus.
posted by Sailormom at 6:41 PM on July 9, 2011


I can only imagine that as the 'face' of atheism, or evolution, you end up spending a great deal of your time going head-to-head with extremists of the opposite persuasion. It would take a rare personality not to respond by digging deeper and becoming more strident.

For the mild-mannered theist or atheist, getting caught up into the resulting maelstrom can be bewildering and unpleasant.
posted by sarahw at 7:37 PM on July 9, 2011


Dawkins can be used as a cudgel, especially among particularly strident internet atheists. I remember one discussion at another message board where one person announced, basically, that Richard Dawkins had figured out there is no god, there was no point in talking about it any further, and there should be no more religious discussion ever. Oh, okay, one of the biggest mysteries of human existence is now solved. It's all over. Thank god. (Oops!).

I'm not a religious person at all, but I imagine things like that would be kind of offensive if I was.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:57 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I like Richard Dawkins. The God Delusion was the book that gave me the final push I needed to actually shed the last bits of religiousness/faith held over from being raised evangelical baptist. I was a true believer up until my late teens/early twenties when I stopped debating religion and took a break from thinking about it all. It took another 10 years and reading that book for me to finally be able to say - ok fine, I'm an atheist. Dawkins is no more abrasive to me than any given religious speaker. Sure he's cocky, but I find that more amusing than offensive.

So just to reaffirm - the God Delusion was written for a target audience, and I, as one of that demographic, greatly appreciated his arguments in that book.
posted by smartypantz at 11:49 PM on July 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


gnu-atheism

I thought we were hating on Richard Dawkins, not Richard Stallman?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:19 AM on July 10, 2011


So just to reaffirm - the God Delusion was written for a target audience, and I, as one of that demographic, greatly appreciated his arguments in that book.

Huh. Ok, I'm sold.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:43 AM on July 10, 2011


"Gods Not Unices"? No wait, that's backwards.

"God Negating Unity", the new flavor of Ubuntu ... (with bright icons)
posted by nangar at 8:20 AM on July 10, 2011


P.Z. Meyers and several others adopted "gnu-atheism" in part to mock the idea that this is a new movement.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:41 AM on July 10, 2011


Village atheists are dull.

Picking up on nangar's earlier comment, it's silly to apply a scientific bleach to the way in which human history has been bound up with the creation of stories to make sense of the world around them. That's not about God or gods, it's about people, and Dawkins seems to have very little time for them.

On the Dawkins-Adams friendship: while the origins of Oolon Colluphid lie elsewhere, a title like Well That About Wraps It Up for God conveys just enough self-satisfaction to remind me of the Pope of North Oxford.
posted by holgate at 1:53 PM on July 10, 2011


it's silly to apply a scientific bleach to the way in which human history has been bound up with the creation of stories

I honestly don't think that's what he's doing. WRT nangar's quote - I think Dawkins has confused cultural anthropology with cultural relativism, thereby setting up a strawman and offending a whole branch of study into the bargain.

What I think he was trying to say was that the scientific method shouldn't be treated as Western cultural imperialism or that evolution should be regarded as only the latest in a set of equally valid explanations or our origins. There are plenty of people out there who will say 'ah well, but what is truth, surely there's far deeper wisdom in the origin story of the bean men of Glamorgan than in our own cold western scientific assumptions...'. The problem is, those people are not anthropologists. Quite often they're Hollywood script writers, though.

That's not about God or gods, it's about people, and Dawkins seems to have very little time for them

Again, I think that's unfair. We don't know how interested he is in other cultures because it's not his speciality and not something he talks about. He's only making one point - that cultural relativism doesn't serve us well when we're trying to find the truth.
posted by Summer at 2:18 PM on July 10, 2011


Ahuh. Compare Dawkins's "strawman" to kalessin's sincere attempt to draw an equivalence between science and chi manipulation. "I am personally able to see strong parallels between your faith in science and your faith in your car with my faith in chi. "

You're not setting up a strawman when you are arguing against actual arguments being put forth in alleged good faith to rebut you.
posted by kafziel at 2:28 PM on July 10, 2011


We don't know how interested he is in other cultures because it's not his speciality and not something he talks about.

We know enough of what he's written that engages with the history of belief and its cultural function -- which is as much of a search for truth, conducted with disciplinary rigour and peer review, as genomics or subatomic physics -- to draw the conclusion that he handles it like a penguin handles a cricket bat. An appeal to amateurism isn't that much of a defence here.

...although it did get me thinking this afternoon, in relation to Douglas Adams, that fandom satisfies a set of cultural functions that, many centuries ago, would have been devoted to theology. Which is probably a good thing.
posted by holgate at 4:15 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think a lot of the contention is because of one particular point that RD makes. He considers the whole "you must respect others' beliefs" idea to be merely the last rhetorical line of defense of something he considers intolerable.

On Metafilter, having a civilized discussion is everything, because civilized discussion is the raw material from which this place is constructed, and RD rejects one of the basic tenets because he isn't trying to have a decorous chat. He thinks that religion is a net evil, and has thrown his energies into opposing it.

People, including atheists, disagree about whether religion is a net evil, and whether respect for religion is itself an idea worth respecting. But Mefi is an awkward place for Dawkins because here, respect is everything.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 10:34 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


RD rejects one of the basic tenets because he isn't trying to have a decorous chat.

I find that Dawkins is sometimes (often, maybe?) extremely decorous and patient with his various debate opponents. The 2010 Q&A on ABC, for example, was a situation that found Dawkins in the awkward position of being assaulted by really stupid questions from the audience and flanked by a bunch of politicians who would not, for the most part, take any solid position on anything. Dawkins was very patient and polite and, at least superficially, respectful of even very ridiculous positions advanced by others.

Nevertheless, Dawkins' livelihood appears to be based at least in large part on accepting speaking engagements like that one and staging "debates" about God and religion that are, by their very terms, pretty idiotic and pointless. Furthermore, the more I read and listen to Dawkins over the years, the more I'm convinced that he is operating based on working definitions of "religion" and "god" that are extremely narrow. Either that or he does not know anything about religion. But I think it's the former, rather than the latter.
posted by The World Famous at 11:38 AM on July 11, 2011


Dawkins isn't "not interested in having a decorous chat," he is not interested in respecting non-evidence-based beliefs. There is a difference. You can politely tell someone there is no reason to believe the things they believe. His books use very strongly-worded language, but the man himself is, as others have pointed out, not a rude loudmouth or anything of the kind when speaking in person. He does not, however, have any interest in compromise.
posted by adamdschneider at 12:22 PM on July 11, 2011


« Older Whatever happened to introduci...  |  Cormac McCarthy may not have b... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments