Was the New York Times’ Profile on Richard Dawkins Too Kind?

Earlier this week, in anticipation of the release of The Magic of Reality, the New York Times’ Michael Powell profiled Richard Dawkins.

I pointed out my surprise that Powell pretty much ignored any real criticism of Dawkins within atheist circles (especially regarding Elevatorgate).

Sarah Pulliam Bailey, a religion reporter herself, didn’t take that omission lightly at all. She wonders whether other controversial figures would have been treated in the same way:

A profile is supposed to break new ground. If there are criticisms within atheist circles, shouldn’t they come up in the piece, at least briefly? From an advocate’s perspective, is it better to have a glowing profile that tells us nothing new than something more objective? Maybe it is, I don’t know. Really, not to sound defensive, but can we imagine the same piece being published on Tim Keller, Charles Chaput, even Francis Collins?

So, to rephrase her question, did the New York Times refrain from any substantive criticism of Dawkins because it’s non-existent, because they’re biased, because the reporter was also a heathen, or for some other reason?

I agree that’s a discussion worth having.

For what it’s worth, the profile focused on Dawkins’ science advocacy more than his atheism, and it’s not like his science beliefs are all that controversial.

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.

  • Bob Becker

    You wrote:  “For what it’s worth, the profile focused on Dawkins’ science advocacy more than his atheism, and it’s not like his science beliefs are all that controversial.”
    Got it in one.   However much heartburning may have gone on here and there on free thought blogs regarding his comments about a social gaffe not directly involving him  that happened at a convention some time ago  [not involving his or anyone else's science and not an issue related in any way to atheism per se], I don’t see the profiler not  taking time to discuss it  as anything but a sensible judgment that it wasn’t significant enough to include.   

  • starskeptic

    “A profile is supposed to break new ground.”
    …Why?

    • Ben Crockett

      Good question.

    • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

      Why? Because some folks with an agenda have an axe to grind.

    • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

      Why? Because some folks with an agenda have an axe to grind.

    • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com miller

      Exactly what I was thinking.

  • Anthrosciguy

    There’ve been a number of softball profiles in the NYT, some of some really disgusting characters.  It’s par for the course.

  • http://twitter.com/TPRyan007 TPRyan

    No, it wasn’t too kind because Dawkins has contributed so much to Science and Atheism in a way that few ever have, or ever will.
    The Elevatorgate incident may be a black mark within ‘some’ atheist circles, but mostly those who don’t understand the context and are far too sensitive. Of all the debate on both sides of that pathetic incident, I’ve only seen one reasoned response: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EyMTI7MoWck – the only objective public talk I’ve seen.

    Anyway, as far as the original question goes, no, they weren’t too kind, as the criticism of Dawkins is barely a fraction of his accolades and would not be worth the ink it would be printed on, and give credence to his detractors who are mostly opinionated without being fairly informed. 

  • Mike

    ” in anticipation of the release of The God Delusion, ”

    Eh?

    • Kevin Bates

      Probably meant the Magic of Reality…

  • Kevin Bates

    “A profile is supposed to break new ground.”  Isn’t the mainstream media putting out a positive piece on an atheist ‘breaking new ground?’

  • Anthrosciguy

    A little more.  One example of a softball NYT profile of a truly odious human being was their profile of conspiracy theorist Pamela Geller, as mentioned in Salon:
     
    http://www.salon.com/news/politics/war_room/2010/10/11/times_pamela_geller/index.html
     
    As for Bailey’s question “can we imagine the same piece being published on Tim Keller, Charles Chaput, even Francis Collins?”
     
    This shows Bailey to be pretty ignorant — willfully ignorant — since the question sis easily answered by just reading the NYT profile of Collins.  Their hard-hitting profile is full of shockers like these hit jobs:

    “He drives a Harley-Davidson, wears a black leather jacket on his back and his religion on his sleeve, and plays a custom guitar with big-name rock stars.”

    Or read their profile of Tim Keller (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/26/nyregion/26evangelist.html)

    The torture they put him through; OMG it’s the Comfy Chair! 

    • Michael S

      So NYT interviewed bad guys -> NYT interviewed guy is bad?

  • Mike
  • ChrisZ

    Elevatorgate was a non-event outside of the atheist blogging community, which is only significant to the atheist blogging community.  No one else cares.  Dawkins has done many more important and interesting things in his life.  I think you’ve completely lost perspective to think that deserves to be in such a short profile.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      That’s one example, but I think my main question is whether *all* atheists only have glowing things to say about Dawkins or whether there are any prominent atheists who take issue with anything he’s said or done — for legitimate reasons. Because that would be interesting to read about, especially if I didn’t know Dawkins.

      • ChrisZ

        True, and you do mention others in your other post, but for the most part I don’t really see much large-scale disagreement with Dawkins among atheists.  Most of the complaints are single-issue complaints rather than fundamental philosophical disagreements with him.  Everyone will have that kind of dissent if they have the large profile that Dawkins has.  I don’t think there’s any really interesting dissent among atheists about Dawkins, just minor (to the public at large) disagreements here and there.  In a longer profile some might merit some attention, but to put it in something like this would probably overemphasize the amount and importance of criticism that actually exists.

      • http://twitter.com/TPRyan007 TPRyan

        What’s your opinion?

      • http://twitter.com/TPRyan007 TPRyan

        What’s your opinion?

      • Anonymous

        There is disagreement with Dawkins in the Atheist/Evolutionary Biology community about progressive evolution.  That was discussed in the article at length. 

    • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

      Elevatorgate?! It was a non-event for most atheists! Don’t believe for one second that a majority of atheists gave a damn about that bit of infantile silliness. It was only a tiny percentage of the atheists that are active on the internet that even showed a passing interest in it. It was a fart in a blizzard.
      Now in regards to this post…the whole thing reeks of creationist “discuss the controversy” hype. I get that there’s much more to Dawkins than his books, films and lectures, but if we dig deep enough on ANYONE we’ll find something to piss and moan about.

      • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com miller

        People in my local group are still talking about it, and that’s offline.  It was big among the (admittedly small) subset of atheists who pay attention to atheist activism.

  • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

    Rather than turn this into a rehashed discussion about accomodationsm or Elevatorgate or something else, the question should probably be thought of as “given that there is a substantial of the atheist  and skeptical community which has issues with Dawkins should that have been mentioned in the New York Times?” 

    • http://twitter.com/TPRyan007 TPRyan

      I think substantial is an overstatement. Just a minority, who are vocal. 

      • Nordog

        That’s atheism in a nutshell.

        • Czehner

          “That’s almost every group in a nutshell”

          Corrected that for you, hope you don’t mind.

          (I’ve been dealing with a vocal minority in a *dance* organization for the last several months.)

          • NorDog

            Except for groups like the Student Alliance of Apathetic Mutes.

  • Anonymous

    Dawkins’ profile was the second in a series, Profiles in Science.  The first, of Dr. Nora Volkow, didn’t reference any criticism of her or her work. 

  • Anonymous

    I think Dr. Dawkins “dismissiveness” was in response to Rebecca Watson’s ELEVATING a trivial situation for her own aggrandizement.  That there are few female representatives at the atheist conferences is likely not different from the very  gradually improving attendance at physics conferences.  There’s a backlog of sexism in scientific participation, but it has nothing to do with the fear of people hitting on others.  

    I sincerely hope you don’t bring this topic up in your interview of Dr. Dawkins.  There are substantive issues to cover.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=750428174 Paddy Reddin

    In all my readings of the good Professors work my only disagreement is in relation to his analogy on abortion in The God Delusion, I don’t have the book to hand so can’t remember the exact quote, but he made the point that an abortion is like a potter not making a pot that day, to which I disagree, it’s more like a potter starting to make a pot, then throwing the clay away.

    As for “elevatorgate”, all he said was we have bigger problems to deal with than a clumsy come on, and he was right, let it go.  Seriously, let it go. 

  • http://youratheistmuse.blogspot.com/ Lina Baker

    Many of you are dismissing “Elevator Gate” as a “non-event.” For me, it was not a non-event; while I respect Dawkins as a scientist, his outrageous comments about that event made me lose all respect for him as a person. It was hardly a “non-event” for me or many, many others, even if it was for you.

    As for the NYT profile being “too nice”, or whether or not it should have mentioned Dawkins’ sexism, I’m still not sure.

    • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

      “It was hardly a “non-event” for me or many, many others…”

      Sorry, but most of us in the real world have real world issues and problems to deal with and are having a difficult time wrapping our minds around this claim.
      A horny loser asking an angry, attention hungry feminist over for coffee in an elevator does not rise to the level of an “event”. Dawkins response (right or wrong) to the over-the-top extremists from the far left does not constitute an event.
      You can wish it to be so all you want, but it was not an event as most people would understand an event to be.
      This was an incident that was cleverly and cynically exploited to drive traffic to someones blog and sites. The ploy worked on many, but not all of us fell for it.
      In the big scheme of things, it was a miniscule pimple on the giant ass of life.

      • Silus

        I started to type out a real reply, but I realized everything you say in this comment is designed to spark indignation.

        You’re nothing but a troll.

        • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

          I’ll be losing a lot of sleep over your indignation.

      • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

        Assuming you’re a male… typical male privilege syndrome right here. Hey, at least be man enough to admit having this. I’m guilty of it from time to time. Just because feminist issues aren’t important to YOU, doesn’t mean they aren’t important at all.

        And if you’re a woman, I’m even more stunned.

      • Anonymous

        Female atheist here and I agree completely with everything you mentioned.  THanks for summing it up so nicely.  (NOT sarcasm)

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Macker/518709704 Brian Macker

      Did you watch this video Lina? 
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EyMTI7MoWck

      Do you interpret his comments differently.   Because it was obvious to many of us that this was what he was getting at.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Macker/518709704 Brian Macker

      Also, what evidence do you have for “Dawkin’s sexism”.   I looked up the definition again to make sure I wasn’t misremembering what the word meant and I see no evidence of it.

      Not seeing things from a feminist’s perspective isn’t sexism.

  • Rich Wilson

    Dawkins’ profile was the second in a series, Profiles in Science.  The first, of Dr. Nora Volkow, didn’t reference any criticism of her or her work.

    but Dawkins is strident and shrill.  So if you don’t mention how angry he is, are you being honest?

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com miller

    I don’t think Elevatorgate was important enough to put in a profile of Richard Dawkins.  I think this is just a case of overemphasizing recent events because they are fresh in our memory.  Elevatorgate was an internet tempest alright, but internet tempests happen all the time.

    All the same, I find it disappointing to read lots of comments so dismissive of the importance of Elevatorgate.  It is very difficult to avoid the interpretation that people think it’s unimportant because they feel feminism is unimportant.  I want to be reassured that this is not the case.

    • Rich Wilson

      *Raises hand*
      I thought it was important, but I didn’t feel I had anything to add, so I didn’t weigh in.  I suspect there were others who had opinions but didn’t feel like entering into another debate that had a very high noise:signal ratio.

    • Bob Becker

      “It is very difficult to avoid the interpretation that people think it’s unimportant because they feel feminism is unimportant. ”

      Nonsense.  Hope this reassures you. 

  • Anonymous

    Why on Earth would they have brought up a random internet argument in his bio? That’s just silly. 

  • Anonymous

    Keep in mind that this entire controversy about Dawkins is based on only two short comments he made on a blog post. No one, as far as I know, has had a longer discussion with him about it. So I think it is unfair to guess one way or the other about what Dawkins’s full beliefs on the issue are.

  • Lyra

    As much as I didn’t like what Dawkins did/said about Elevatorgate, I don’t see why it would be included in his profile. His contribution consisted of two short comments on an internet blog that were rather dismissive but not flamingly hateful. It’s such a small portion of what he’s done over the years that it just doesn’t make sense to include it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Sweet/1280927267 James Sweet

    Really, not to sound defensive, but can we imagine the same piece being published on Tim Keller, Charles Chaput, even Francis Collins?

    Yes.But that doesn’t make it a good thing.  Fawning profiles are indeed pretty uninsightful and boring.That said, I was pleased anyway to see a fawning profile of a person well know for his atheism.  It’s a good sign, even if the profile itself adds little value.

  • Trace

    Ay, ay, ay.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Ani Sharmin

    I think your last comment about the article focusing on his science advocacy is a good point.

    I think the article was moreso about his professional work and official statements.  His comment during the whole ElevatorGate issue bothered me and others, but it seemed like something more internal to the atheist blogs, something someone would know about if they read certain blogs at a certain time.However, I do think it would have been appropriate to include more examples of ways in which people (whether atheists or scientists) disagree with him, especially on issues where people have voiced their disagreement in an article, book, etc. rather than just a comment section on a blog.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PLWEEWTOMLWQLTQBTC5PVUZRDI Paul

    I would like to explain what people refer to as “The Gospel” or “Good News”.  In this explanation, I will discuss God’s grace, which unfortunately so many people do not understand or have never been clearly explained.  

    Unfortunately, many people attend a Christian church regularly (or attended one in the past) but have never been clearly taught what the Bible stresses as the most important decision that one could ever make.   It is only in making this decision that one actually becomes one of God’s children and is “saved” from His eternal judgment.  This decision deals with what is referred to as “The Gospel”.  If you have never heard “The Gospel” before, here it is.  Around 33 AD, Jesus Christ, who is God incarnate, paid the price for every single person’s sin in history by dying the death of crucifixion at the hands of the Romans.  He willingly died for every person’s sin that has ever lived and every will live.  That includes both you and me.  He willing died a death that we deserve for our moral failures in life.  Jesus was brutally beaten, whipped, mocked, spit upon, nailed to a wooden cross, and then died.  Three days later, He rose from the dead, as He foretold His disciples (group of followers).  Jesus then ascended into heaven forty days later.  He currently lives with God, His father, in heaven today.  During Old Testament times (times prior to the birth of Jesus Christ – B.C.), people had a keen awareness of their moral guilt, as any honest person still does today.  I know that I have wronged many people and have felt a deep-seated guilt within many areas of my life.  Many people during Old Testament times sacrificed animals to God as a form of limited atonement for their immoral actions.  God often accepted these sacrifices, but only in a temporary and limited way.  Over time, God changed this extremely limited form of atonement, as He had planned from the very beginning of time.  Moreover, God sent His one and only son Jesus Christ down to the Earth.  Since Jesus was both sinless and blameless, He willingly died on the cross as an unlimited atonement.  It was in God’s will for His son to die in this way.  This unlimited atonement is available to any person who whole-heartedly repents of their sins (moral failures) and then asks God to personally apply Jesus’ undeserved death and resurrection as a payment for their sins.  It is imperative here that one believes the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was ultimately an act of God’s grace.  God did not have to offer an escape from our moral guilt and eternal punishment.  However, God is gracious.  He has a compassion and love for people that is indescribable.  God wants to “wipe the slate” clean for us, in regards to our moral failures.  Through this action, we could then enter a personal relationship with His son Jesus Christ and escape his eternal judgment.  The Bible refers to moral failures as ‘sin’, or missing the mark of God’s perfect standard of morality.  “Sin” is an ancient archery term for an arrow that missed the target.  God is loving in the purest sense of the word and would like to grant us victory over the sins that still haunt us from our past.  All we have to do is accept this gift of grace from Him.  It is free.  

    God promises us a way to become morally blameless and gain entrance into heaven after living our physical live here on Earth.  Here is what we must willingly do on our part.  First off, we must truly believe that God is gracious and extended His grace by allowing His one and only son to die as a ransom for our sins on the cross.  We must admit to God that we have failed morally during our lifetime and that Jesus Christ’s brutal death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could ever forgive our sins.  After making this decision (accepting God’s grace), we are immediately forgiven of all past, present, and future sins.  In addition, we would be guaranteed entrance into heaven after our physical death here on Earth.  We would then live with both God and His son Jesus forever.  We would be guaranteed to see all of our loved ones who had made this decision during his or her physical lives on Earth.

    You could make this decision today.  Please do not wait for the “perfect time”.  You could ask God for eternal forgiveness through applying the death and resurrection of Jesus to your life within the quietness of your bedroom tonight.  This is the most important decision that you will ever make.  

    So you might be asking, “Where in the Bible does it explain what has just been summarized?”  Here are some passages clearly stating that Jesus seeks a personal relationship with us:

    “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 
      – Romans 10:9-10

    “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; “
    - Acts 3:19

    “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
      – John 3:16

    As long as you repent of your past sins (moral failures) from the heart, confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and apply Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection on the cross as a payment for your sins, you are guaranteed eternal life with God in heaven.  You can make this decision at any time, anywhere.  You can make this decision alone with God or within a group setting.    

    Please know that one cannot sit the fence on making this decision of accepting God’s gift of grace.  If one chooses not to decide, he or she has still made a choice.  This would be like receiving a check (hearing “The Gospel”) but never endorsing and cashing it in at the bank (personally applying Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection towards one’s sins).

    “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” 
    - John 3:18

    The result of not choosing to accept Gods gift of grace, which offers eternal life with both Him and Jesus in heaven is clear.  You will live the remainder of your life here on Earth apart from Jesus Christ and His empowerment.  You will then follow your life plan and not His plan for you.  After you physically die, you will then be brought to a dark place where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth”.  It is a place of eternal regret.  Here, you will remember this very letter and how you were told the truth but chose not to repent and begin a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  Remember, if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.  You could be diagnosed with a terminal illness tomorrow or be the recipient of a head-on collision while returning home on that all too familiar, two-lane highway this Friday night.  If you are considering starting your personal relationship with Jesus Christ, please do not wait to make this decision.  You never know what tomorrow will bring.

    The following passage outlines the only requirements Jesus Christ has set to both gain eternal life and begin a personal relationship with Him while you are still alive here on Earth.  He makes it crystal-clear in the Bible what is required… 

    “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 
      – Romans 10:9-10

    God has a plan for your life.  You can watch this plan unfold once you accept His gift of grace.  This great plan involves your life experience while here on Earth and continues after your physical death on into heaven. 

    “For I know the plans that I have for you”, declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.  Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” 
    - Jeremiah 29:11-13

    Please consider what I have said here.  I am not sure if you have ever made this decision before, but I needed to make sure that you had the facts.  If you should decide that you want to learn more about the life of Jesus and gain a better understanding of authentic Christianity, I strongly recommend reading the book of John within the Bible (NASB or NIV translation).  

    In closing, here is a verse that someone once shared with me that finally brought me into a relationship with God during an extremely low point physically and emotionally.  The understanding of Jesus’ desire to know me personally changed my life forever.  Here it is:

    “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.”  
    - Revelation 3:20

    • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

      Are you clinically insane or just stupid? Nobody here believes the bible is an inerrant or historically accurate book. Why are you preaching to atheists using a book that none of us believe to be a legitimate guide to morality or ANYTHING, for that matter? How arrogant, presumptuous and rude of you to leave such a long and rambling comment on a blog frequented by folks who obviously want nothing to do with your delusions? Go away.

      • Rich Wilson

        If you have never heard “The Gospel” before, here it is. 

        I thought that was pretty amusing.  ’cause you know, Christianity is so obscure and all.

        • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

          Dunning – Kruger effect comes to mind in instance like this…

      • Parse

        In addition, this is something that he’s been spamming around the web for a couple of weeks now, including here previously as ‘paularenas26′.  
        (For a good listing of this, do a google search for any of the more distinct phrases in quotes; I used ‘paid the price for every single person’s sin in history by dying the death of crucifixion’).  

        So not only is this godbot drivel, it’s godbot copypasta drivel.


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