The New York Times Profiles Richard Dawkins

There was a very positive profile of Richard Dawkins in today’s New York Times by Michael Powell. It’s not everyday you see such glowing coverage of an outspoken atheist, so savor it while it’s there.

I especially liked that it didn’t focus on his atheism. It focused on science education, which has always been his passion. Atheism is just a sidetrack for him — it’s like religion was getting in the way of his teaching people how evolution worked, so he wrote The God Delusion.

One part made me want to scream and it deals with religion…:

Critics grow impatient with Professor Dawkins’s atheism. They accuse him of avoiding the great theological debates that enrich religion and philosophy, and so simplifying the complex. He concocts “vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince,” wrote Terry Eagleton, regarded as one of Britain’s foremost literary critics. “What, one wonders, are Dawkins’s views on the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus?”

Dawkins doesn’t care. And neither do 99% of Christians. They believe in God and the Bible and that’s that. Dawkins goes after those believers in his atheism writings. If you want to slice and dice a theologian’s beliefs, go ahead, but most Christians don’t believe in the Divinity of Jesus because of anything Aquinas said. They believe it because it’s all they’ve ever known, or because a pastor reinforces that idea every week, or because it makes them feel good, or because they’ve never really been challenged or pressed on those beliefs, or because they rationalized away any legitimate arguments against their beliefs.

Of course, Dawkins had the appropriate response:

Put that charge to Professor Dawkins and he more or less pleads guilty. To suggest he study theology seems akin to suggesting he study fairies…

Bingo.

Despite the positives, there’s always room for criticism, so here are the problems I have with the piece:

  • The headline uses the word “Bashes” — we could’ve done without the implied imagery. Dawkins is anything but violent
  • There’s really no new information about Dawkins. He loves science, he thinks religion is hogwash, he doesn’t talk much about his private life, he had academic battles with Stephen Jay Gould. Nothing his fans haven’t already heard before.
  • There’s virtually no mention that Dawkins has ever been criticized by anyone within atheist circles. No mention of Elevatorgate (maybe for the best…), no mention of AC Grayling‘s for-profit school which Dawkins will lecture at. You can still write about those things without making a big deal of it.

Those are small issues, though. By and large, this is a welcome article and I’d love to see more like it.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Matt1tracker

    “They believe it because it’s all they’ve ever known, or because a pastor
    reinforces that idea every week, or because it makes them feel good, or
    because they’ve never really been challenged or pressed on those
    beliefs, or because they rationalized away any legitimate arguments
    against their beliefs.”

    It is amazing how it’s human nature to assume that because we believe or don’t believe something, that makes it true. Some may not believe in the law of gravity, and may feel they have “evidence” to back up their belief. However, gravity exists whether they believe in it or not. The truth is, God is knowable. Jesus testified, “And this is life eternal, that they might know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). We not only have the testimony of the Scriptures to tell us this, but we have the testimony of multitudes of Christians who know the Lord personally. It is more truthful to say, “I don’t want to know God.” Sinful man runs from Him as did Adam in the garden of Eden.  A man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with merely an argument.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Adam-Patrick/100000027906887 Adam Patrick

      You post this as if we haven’t heard this garbage a thousand times. 

    • Anonymous

      Sorry, Matt.  A 2,000 year-old book written by Bronze-Age goatherders isn’t evidence.  Neither is testimony from people who supposedly “know the lord”.  Lots of children have invisible friends, but their testimony is not evidence for the existence of those invisible friends.  You’ll have to do better than that.

      If your god interacts with the world in some real way, we ought to be able do detect that in some real way, without relying on old books and “feelings”.  The plural of “anecdote” is not “data”!

      Now go back to your church where that kind of sloppy thinking is convincing.

    • http://www.facebook.com/DocMonkey Mick Wright

      You can waffle all you want. Hell, you hardly need our permission to do it, it wouldn’t stop you if we just outright told you to get bent. But you haven’t got a legitimate reason for rational people who require solid evidence to believe in this thing you think is watching you. If you did, it would have been paraded worldwide and there wouldn’t be atheists. But until you have real, solid proof? In the name of love, *stop quoting scripture at people*. It doesn’t help your case; quite the opposite – repetitively going back to the same biased, flawed, self-contradictory piece of fiction is just going to make you appear more blinded by dogma. It gets on people’s nerves, nothing more.

    • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

      Matt1tracker,

      I have a personal relationship with the garden faries in my backyard. Yesterday, I wrote down on paper that they exist. This piece of paper is now called scripture. By your logic, if you doubt me, it is more honest to say that you don’t want to know my garden faries. Oh, yeah, and you are going to hell if you don’t believe in them either, so there.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Adam-Patrick/100000027906887 Adam Patrick

        Can I gain a personal relationship with those fairies too?

        • Anonymous

          Of course.  But first you have to WANT to believe in them, and open yourself to the reality of the fairies.  Then they will come into your heart and you will know that they are real.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Adam-Patrick/100000027906887 Adam Patrick

            Sounds great.

    • Anonymous

      You can’t use a book as evidence for the ideas in the book

      • Trina

        Exactly!

      • Matt1tracker

        Those who reject the Bible should take the
        time to look at the evidence before they come to a verdict.
        The “circular reasoning”
        argument is absurd. That’s like saying you can’t prove
        that the President lives in the White House by looking
        into the White House. It is looking into the
        White House that will provide the necessary proof. The
        fulfilled prophecies, the amazing consistency, and the
        many scientific statements of the Bible prove it to
        be the Word of God. They provide evidence that it is
        supernatural in origin.

        • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

          Fulfilled prophecies: You mean the self-fulfilling ones? Or the ones fulfilled by the writers of the New Testament? If you read that you are destined to create a nation for your religion, chances are you’ll be inspired enough to see to it that the prophecy is fulfilled. But that doesn’t speak to the amazing power of the people who created that prophecy. I could prophesize that I’ll eat dinner later tonight. Just because it’ll come true doesn’t automatically make me a prophet. It just means I predicted something that was bound to come true.

          Amazing consistency: Oh, you mean how Judas dies in two completely separate ways, with two completely different mindsets and under two completely different circumstances? Or how there are two different listings of the order of things that were created in the beginning, in Genesis? Or the hundreds of other inconsistencies in the bible, all very well documented?

          Scientific statements: Like how bats are a type of fowl, how the Earth has four corners, how everything was created instantaneously (which science wholly rejects), etc.? This is a very interesting article on the subject, refuting many claims that the Bible had scientific claims right before science itself did: http://actionskeptics.blogspot.com/2006/12/bad-bible-science.html

          Sorry, but you can’t use the contents of the Bible to prove the Bible is correct and accurate. That would be like me using a comic book to prove that Spider-Man is a real person. Hey, it takes place in a real city (New York), so it must be true! There needs to be external, independent evidence of this God character. Do you not realize that anybody can write just about anything, and using your logic, it must be correct? That makes no sense whatsoever.

        • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

          Fulfilled prophecies: You mean the self-fulfilling ones? Or the ones fulfilled by the writers of the New Testament? If you read that you are destined to create a nation for your religion, chances are you’ll be inspired enough to see to it that the prophecy is fulfilled. But that doesn’t speak to the amazing power of the people who created that prophecy. I could prophesize that I’ll eat dinner later tonight. Just because it’ll come true doesn’t automatically make me a prophet. It just means I predicted something that was bound to come true.

          Amazing consistency: Oh, you mean how Judas dies in two completely separate ways, with two completely different mindsets and under two completely different circumstances? Or how there are two different listings of the order of things that were created in the beginning, in Genesis? Or the hundreds of other inconsistencies in the bible, all very well documented?

          Scientific statements: Like how bats are a type of fowl, how the Earth has four corners, how everything was created instantaneously (which science wholly rejects), etc.? This is a very interesting article on the subject, refuting many claims that the Bible had scientific claims right before science itself did: http://actionskeptics.blogspot.com/2006/12/bad-bible-science.html

          Sorry, but you can’t use the contents of the Bible to prove the Bible is correct and accurate. That would be like me using a comic book to prove that Spider-Man is a real person. Hey, it takes place in a real city (New York), so it must be true! There needs to be external, independent evidence of this God character. Do you not realize that anybody can write just about anything, and using your logic, it must be correct? That makes no sense whatsoever.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Adam-Patrick/100000027906887 Adam Patrick

          Except that I can see the president living there. I cannot see God by reading the Bible. I can read about him, but until someone can provide evidence that he exists, I will not believe he exists. Using your logic, you must believe in Islam too.

          Hey, did the Nile ever dry up for 40 years? Was Damascus ever totally destroyed?  

    • http://www.facebook.com/ryurack Rebel Yurack

      ” The truth is, God is knowable. Jesus testified, “And this is life eternal, that they might know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). ”

      Ah, and herein lies your mistake in your proof. You assume that all people agree that Jesus actually existed, and that the bible is a historical book. I, personally, do not believe that Jesus existed (not as a single person as the bible presents him anyway) and I rank the bible on the same level as Grimm’s Fairy Tales. A whole bunch of stories about morality and good vs. evil written down to influence people’s actions in society. The difference being that Grimm wrote down the stories as children’s tales to scare and control children, and the Church wrote down the stories to scare and control adults.

    • http://www.frommormontoatheist.blogspot.com Leia

      Trying to prove God exists with The Bible is like trying to prove Superman exists with a comic book. Peddle your fairy tales of your knowable god elsewhere. Because I can totally prove the existence of Aphrodite with The Trojan War.

    • Trina

      “It is amazing how it’s human nature to assume that because we believe or don’t believe something, that makes it true.”  It seems to me that you have contradicted yourself.  You believe that you know ‘God.’

  • Matt1tracker

    “They believe it because it’s all they’ve ever known, or because a pastor
    reinforces that idea every week, or because it makes them feel good, or
    because they’ve never really been challenged or pressed on those
    beliefs, or because they rationalized away any legitimate arguments
    against their beliefs.”

    It is amazing how it’s human nature to assume that because we believe or don’t believe something, that makes it true. Some may not believe in the law of gravity, and may feel they have “evidence” to back up their belief. However, gravity exists whether they believe in it or not. The truth is, God is knowable. Jesus testified, “And this is life eternal, that they might know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). We not only have the testimony of the Scriptures to tell us this, but we have the testimony of multitudes of Christians who know the Lord personally. It is more truthful to say, “I don’t want to know God.” Sinful man runs from Him as did Adam in the garden of Eden.  A man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with merely an argument.

  • Matt1tracker

    “They believe it because it’s all they’ve ever known, or because a pastor
    reinforces that idea every week, or because it makes them feel good, or
    because they’ve never really been challenged or pressed on those
    beliefs, or because they rationalized away any legitimate arguments
    against their beliefs.”

    It is amazing how it’s human nature to assume that because we believe or don’t believe something, that makes it true. Some may not believe in the law of gravity, and may feel they have “evidence” to back up their belief. However, gravity exists whether they believe in it or not. The truth is, God is knowable. Jesus testified, “And this is life eternal, that they might know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). We not only have the testimony of the Scriptures to tell us this, but we have the testimony of multitudes of Christians who know the Lord personally. It is more truthful to say, “I don’t want to know God.” Sinful man runs from Him as did Adam in the garden of Eden.  A man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with merely an argument.

  • Anonymous

    “The study of theology, as it stands in the Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authority; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and it admits of no conclusion.”
    – Thomas Paine

  • Anonymous

    Now enough with the troll, and back to the subject at hand.  I read the whole Times article, and I was mostly pretty pleased.  I especially liked the amount of space they gave to The Selfish Gene.  And I had the same reaction to the Aquinas/Duns Scotus comment.  It’s just the courtier’s argument.  I don’t care about the different schools of thought on the Emperor’s waistcoats if he’s actually not wearing any clothes.

  • http://twitter.com/lakingscrzy Travis C

    ITT: abstracts are not proof. we should abandon philosophy

  • Anonymous

    99% of philosophers couldn’t tell you the difference between the epistemological views of Aquinas and Duns Scotus.  Among, those who could, they would say that it’s irrelevant to contemporary epistemological studies.  

  • Ronlawhouston

    I’m a big time “apathetic atheist.”  However, since I live in Texas and the theocratic idiots are trying to dumb down our educational system, I started following “atheist issues.”  I don’t admire Dawkins for being an atheist.  I admire the guy for being someone who is an advocate for science.  Keep at it Richard!

  • Ronlawhouston

    I’m a big time “apathetic atheist.”  However, since I live in Texas and the theocratic idiots are trying to dumb down our educational system, I started following “atheist issues.”  I don’t admire Dawkins for being an atheist.  I admire the guy for being someone who is an advocate for science.  Keep at it Richard!

  • http://twitter.com/TominousTone Tom Lawson

    Bob Dylan:

    Come mothers and fathers
    Throughout the land
    And don’t criticize
    What you can’t understand
    Your sons and your daughters
    Are beyond your command
    Your old road is
    Rapidly agin’
    Please get out of the new one
    If you can’t lend your hand
    For the times they are a-changin’.

  • Michael

    “Bash” is common slang in Britain, pretty much equivalent to the American “Diss”. Both Powell and Dawkins are British.

  • Anonymous

    The only downside that I see to the new atheist movement is that so many incredible minds have to turn their attentions to the refutation of these fairy stories. At a point I just want them to be able to turn to the advocates of religion, say “Look, you’re just wrong,” and move on.

    • Matt1tracker

      Do they really have to?  Why do these new atheist with their incredible minds think they have to refute that which they don’t believe in. I make one comment and dozens of people write lengthy rants about why they don’t believe in something.  They care more about their own ideas then freeing me from my supposed delusion though.  Who are they really trying to convince?  I have heard all of these ideas from the atheist shelf before and I could spend countless hours refuting their rebuttals.  I will however relieve them of this burden though for a time by excusing myself from this sacred forum.  But if they really do enjoy this sort of thing they should head over to Atheist Central at http://raycomfortfood.blogspot.com/  There they will find an audience for their ideas and plenty of material to dutifully write their rebuttals on.  My motive for this recommendation is in no way hidden.  I pray that they will come to know the truth.

      • Anonymous

        Because this isn’t just about ideas. Religious people have real power. They try to force their beliefs on other people, the education system, the military, politics and the law. We don’t believe in religion, but unfortunately it still affects us because theocratic politicians keep making laws based on it.

        If you managed to keep your beliefs in your home and your church, we could agree to disagree. But you can’t do that, so it’s something that needs to be fought as it’s a threat to the entire human species.

  • Grisha

    The article is positive, all right, but quite shallow.  The author did not, for example, explain why some call Dawkins “new atheist” and why it is misleading.

  • Mat Witts

    A C Graylings college is run as a charitable trust, so just like other a proper charities like Eton, Oxfam, Greenpeace and Cancer UK. As you can see the distinction between proper charities and organisations that would otherwise be taxed as a commercial enterprise is becoming VERY blurred.


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