11 January 2006

Richard Dawkins.

Just have to mention this excellent article on Richard Dawkins, that appeared in yesterday's Guardian.


  1. Leaving aside the arguments for and against belief in God, in his programme last night Richard Dawkins showed himself to be both disingenuous and manipulative.

    Disingenuous because he wanted us to believe that he was making a genuine attempt to understand what religious belief was all about. If this was the case why did he open his conversation with an Evangelical pastor by comparing his service to a Nuremberg rally and telling him that Doctor Goebbels would be proud of him? Is likening your interlocutor to a Nazi the ideal way of starting up a meaningful dialogue aimed at promoting understanding?

    Manipulative because he set up an encounter with one Yousef al-Khattab, an American Jew turned Muslim fundamentalist stating that in his “naivety” he hoped this man would be able to see both sides of the Arab-Israeli argument. Yousef al-Khattab is well known and documented (727 hits on Google) to hold views hostile to Judaism. He has also been quoted as saying of Osama bin Laden, "I think that he's number one, Muslim number one"

    Are we to believe that Richard Dawkins did no research on this man before going to interview him? Or did he know all along that, depite what he told his audience, he could rely on al-Khattab to put in a performance that would not reflect well on religious believers? If so isn't this the sort of media manipulation that used to be called propaganda? And if so shouldn't Prof. Dawkins think twice before name-checking Dr Goebbels...?

  2. Next week's episode might be more to your liking, Dawkins interviews the liberal Bishop of Oxford.

    I'll admit that Dawkins was contemptuous towards these people. But that doesn't mean he was wrong. I think a Nuremberg Rally was a good description of what was going on at that Evangelist church.

    Ok, Dawkins picked people who were fundamentalist Christian and Muslim, but this is the fastest growing section of religion.

    Dawkins points about the discrimination atheists face and how religion is an increasing threat to science are valid.

  3. My concern in this case was not with the validity or otherwise of Dawkins’ opinions but with the disingenuous and manipulative way he put them across. Anyone familiar with Dawkins’ work would not have expected anything other than a bitter, one-sided polemic from him. But other viewers would have trusted him in his claim to be making a serious attempt at understanding religious belief. His deliberate torpedoing of the conversation with the Evangelical pastor showed that he had no intention of honouring that trust.

    (By the way: Nuremberg rallies = thousands of uniformed, jack-booted, ‘racially pure’ Aryans marching to the beat of martial music and cheering a leader preaching nationalism, race hatred and war. Evangelical service = thousands of badly dressed, racially diverse civilians dancing (with scant regard for rhythm, it has to be said) to acoustic guitars and tambourines and cheering a pastor preaching ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’.....Is it Dawkins’ superior intellect and taxonomical skill that causes him to discern a likeness here or simply a desire to offend and provoke?)

    Anyway, I guess that by this point in the programme many viewers with no prior knowledge of Dawkins’ style would have been able to work out for themselves that they were not witnessing a serious attempt at understanding, well, anything really. And I suppose there’s nothing morally wrong with producing a sub-standard, sixth-form rant and presenting it as a reasoned argument - we’ve all done it (although, fortunately, most of us did it when we actually were sixth-formers). But Dawkins went further than this with the aforementioned al-Khattab interview. As I pointed out, unless he failed even to type al-Khattab’s name into Google prior to interviewing him he must have known he could expect exactly the sort of outpouring of bigotry that he received.

    If this was the case would you accept that, in stating that he went to visit al-Khattab in a naïve spirit of enquiry, Dawkins was guilty of deceiving his audience? And, if so, what do you think about that?

  4. I don't think Dawkins was guilty of deceiving anyone. Yes, he picked the most religious nutters he could find, but he also interviewed the liberal Bishop of Oxford, he didn't introduce him as a liberal.

    The fundamentalists are in a way more representative of religion because they adhere to the scriptures more strictly and don't hypocritically pick and choose (as much) what to believe.

    Also a lot of the liberal more reasonable people who use religion as an identity, do so for cultural rather than religious reasons. Most liberal people who identify themselves as Muslim or Christian etc. don't go to church or Mosque or even read the bible/koran.