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Richard Dawkins Sounding Not-So-Strident

John on September 29, 2009 at 12:28 am

He’s got a new book coming out. Newsweek has a brief but interesting interview with him. I found this somewhat surprising:

Are those incompatible positions: to believe in God and to believe in evolution?
[Dawkins:] No, I don’t think they’re incompatible if only because there are many intelligent evolutionary scientists who also believe in God—to name only Francis Collins [the geneticist and Christian believer recently chosen to head the National Institutes of Health] as an outstanding example. So it clearly is possible to be both. This book more or less begins by accepting that there is that compatibility. The God Delusion did make a case against that compatibility in my own mind.

This is a surprising response because Dawkins compatriots on this side of the pond haven’t been nearly so respectful toward Collins. I would have expected Dawkins to hold a very similar opinion to that of Harris and Myers.

I wonder whether you might be more successful in your arguments if you didn’t convey irritation and a sense that the people who believe in God are not as smart as you are.
[Dawkins:] I think there is a certain justified irritation with young-earth creationists who believe that the world is less than 10,000 years old. Those are the people that I’m really talking about. I do sometimes accuse people of ignorance, but that is not intended to be an insult. I’m ignorant of lots of things. Ignorance is something that can be remedied by education. And that’s what I’m trying to do.

This is another distinction that rarely seems to get made. I don’t recall Dawkins himself making it in The God Delusion. Maybe he did, it has been a year since I read it. If so it wasn’t hard to overlook.

The ubiquitous use of “creationists” to describe those with whom they differ is, it seems to me, an attempt to lump everyone into one group. This overlooks the ongoing and often heated discussions between people like Collins and people like John MacArthur. There is quite a difference there. I’m glad to see Dawkins acknowlege it, even if the reporter had to twist his arm a bit.

Finally, the interview ends amusingly with a discussion of stridency:

Is there anything else I’ve missed?
I would be glad if you didn’t use the word “strident.” I’m getting a little bit tired of it.

I’ve read your books and I would not disagree with that characterization.
OK. Well, let me plant one idea in your head. When somebody offers an opinion about anything other than religion—say, politics or economics or football—they will use language that is no more or less outspoken than mine, and it isn’t called strident. As soon as it’s an atheistic opinion, immediately the adjective “strident” is attached to it, almost as though the word atheist can’t be used without the preceding adjective “strident.” You wouldn’t talk about a strident Christian.

No, you’d simply use “militant” or “Dominionist” or “Fundamentalist.” The implication is very similar if not identical. What’s delicious here is that he seems utterly unaware of the irony. Of all people, he’s one of the last in a position to complain about dismissive adjectives attached to his beliefs. A little Biblical reference to specks and logs seems in order.

That said, the statements in this interview are refreshing. I wish his fans in this country would take his example to heart.

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Category: Atheism |

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