This post is not meant to mindlessly bash Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. In fact, I’d like to start out by saying that I chatted with Richard Dawkins at length when he came to Charleston, SC and I found him to be an incredibly kind man who seemed to genuinely care about people. I haven’t met Sam Harris, but I have friends who know him and he seems like a decent guy. So I definitely do not think either is a bad person.
As for their work, there is no doubt that Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins have helped the atheist movement immensely. Their writing on religion has allowed many atheists feel more comfortable with their lack of faith and they opened doors for many other public atheists. Dawkins has also produced some of the greatest popular science books ever written. Sam Harris has also been a strong voice in fighting against religious persecution and produced some good work on secular spirituality as well. Despite their accomplishments, I’ve grown tired of these two men and the overwhelming attention they continue to receive.
Recently, Richard Dawkins has gone on a tirade against Ahmed Mohamed, the boy who was arrested for building a clock in school. Dawkins even compared the boy to ISIS on Twitter and received all sorts of media attention. Even if this was just a miscommunication and Dawkins said something silly (again) on Twitter, it makes us look bad. Because we have so few public atheists, the flaws of Dawkins unfairly represents all atheists. It would have been nice if the media (and atheists) shared viewpoints of ex-Muslims regarding the Ahmed Mohamed story instead of giving more attention to the Twitter account of Dawkins.
But beyond his silly Tweets, I argue that there are now many atheist activists out there with more sophisticated perspectives on religion than Dawkins and they do not receive nearly enough attention. Is Dawkins completely obsolete? I don’t think so. He still says important things sometimes. However, I simply don’t believe he should be the go-to atheist to be interviewed as often anymore. We have many more atheist activists now than when the God Delusion came out and sharing their stories helps everyone.
This problem is certainly not exclusive to atheism. It’s all too common that people will share what celebrities think about some issue they have no expertise in. The more famous people are, the more they are discussed and the more they are discussed, the more famous they become. That cycle of fame being perpetuated by ignorance is an unfortunate process that I’d like to see fade away. Atheists should be more critical of our public figures and not dogmatically support them because they have said things we liked before. The dogma within religion is something atheists are quick to jump on, but we are less quick to apply that same skepticism to ourselves.
Importantly, we can still be thankful for the work done by Harris, Hitchens, and Dawkins, while simultaneously calling them out when needed. Obviously, they can still have platforms as they have earned them. However, a handful of white men shouldn’t have a monopoly on being the public voice for atheism. We should strive for greater balance as no one is infallible on every issue. There are many atheist leaders who have truly insightful views on religion and social justice, but they do not have the name recognition that often helps Dawkins and Harris. Diversity is slowly growing in the atheist movement, but we still have a long way to go.
Before I get slammed for my criticism of these two gods of atheism, I would like to point out that skeptics should be happy to support other people when they have better ideas. That is evolution in action.
Featured image modified from Wikipedia