2015 Fundraiser

Help us beat last year's record of $7100!

Awesome! We are half way to our goal!
Goal: $7,200 Donations so far: $7097.32
Free speech isn't free. Fighting pseudoscience isn't free.
We are 100% user-supported! Help and donate today!

Silver-level articleRichard Dawkins

From RationalWiki
(Redirected from A Devil's Chaplain)
Jump to: navigation, search
Professor Richard Dawkins.
A gradually improving article series on


Icon evolution.svg

Richard Dawkins (b. 1941 as Clinton Richard Dawkins) is a British evolutionary biologist, ethologist and author. As a consequence of his passionate defense of the theory of evolution, and his attacks on religion and superstition in general, he is known as Darwin's Rottweiler and also as one of the "Four Horsemen" in the New Atheist movement (along with Hitchens, Dennett, and Harris). He held the Charles Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford from 1995 to 2008 (he was replaced by Oxford mathematician Marcus du Sautoy).

He initially became known to the general public following the publication of his first book The Selfish Gene (1976). This popularized a gene-centric view of evolution which subsequently went on to become an influential approach to evolutionary theory. This book also introduced the world to the idea of memes - a concept which went on to become a meme itself. Among his other best-selling books are The Extended Phenotype (1982), which talked about the way that phenotypic effects can extend beyond an organism's body and affect the surrounding environment, and The Blind Watchmaker (1986) which explains how natural selection works by small, incremental and cumulative steps, keeping what "works" (in terms of the usefulness for survival and reproduction of the genes comprising an organism) and discarding what does not. The title, The Blind Watchmaker is an obvious play on unguided evolution and William Paley's "watch" argument from design (Paley also receives extended attention in Dawkin's later book The God Delusion). Dawkins is well respected in some circles and a genus of fish was named after him.[1][2][3]

Since 1992 he has been married to the former actress and Time Lady Lalla Ward, with whom he has collaborated on several books. She has contributed artwork, and has also read audiobook versions of Dawkins' work. He has one daughter from a previous marriage.

Dawkins is also an enthusiastic Bright, and he expounded his reasons for this in an article in the The Guardian.[4]


[edit] Career and qualifications - highlights

Dawkins was an Assistant Professor of Zoology at the University of California, Berkeley from 1967 to 1969. In 1970 he was appointed a Lecturer, and 10 years later he was appointed a Reader in Zoology at Oxford University. (For readers outside the UK, a "Reader" in a British university is approximately equivalent to an "Associate Professor" or "Full Professor" in the US.)

In 1995, he was appointed Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford. This position was endowed by Charles Simonyi with an express intention that Dawkins be its first holder. He has been a fellow of New College, Oxford since 1970. (A fellow is part of the governing body of the university.)

[edit] Education, positions and degrees

For completeness, his full academic career is shown below.

  • 1954-1959 Oundle School
  • 1959-1962 Balliol College, Oxford University
  • 1962-1966 Research Student, Oxford University (D.Phil., 1966)
  • 1965-1967 Research Assistant to Professor N.Tinbergen FRS
  • 1967-1969 Assistant Professor of Zoology, University of California, Berkeley
  • 1969-1970 Senior Research Officer, Department of Zoology, Oxford
  • 1970-1990 University Lecturer in Zoology, and Fellow of New College, Oxford
  • 1989 D.Sc. (Oxford)
  • 1990-1995 Reader in Zoology, Oxford University
  • 1995-2008 Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science, University of Oxford, and Professorial Fellow of New College[5]

[edit] Dawkins and religion

Dawkins whining lecturing

Dawkins' treatment of evolution is his forte, for he is, by credentials, an evolutionary biologist. He has frequently been the target of less than literate Christian fundamentalists. In his book The God Delusion, (2006) he outraged the Christian right by counterattacking in their own back yard.

Dawkins takes exception to Stephen Jay Gould's ideas of Non-Overlapping Magisteria. He points out that God either exists or he does not, and that statements about his existence or non-existence can be tested by the scientific method in the same way as any other statement. Agnostics, tremble at the mighty Dawkins!

While many have praised the book, some theological academics have criticized the book because he has not mastered their terms of art and have poked at his work as being "deeply ignorant". Dawkins, admittedly, has no formal theological or philosophical education. However, he has responded by saying: "Most of us happily disavow fairies, astrology, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster without first immersing ourselves in books of Pastafarian theology etc."[6] This mockery and denial of theology is not wholly unlike the fundamentalist tendency to ridicule and forbid the teaching of evolution.

While never explicitly declaring God not to exist, it's rather difficult to say he is non-partisan. Given his views on theology, religion, the existence of God, and the utter superiority of science, it's not really all that difficult to see he considers the evidence to be against the existence of God. No, he won't explicitly deny God exists. But, he contends, if we don't have evidence for God, it's probably not worth believing in a God.

[edit] The God Delusion

See the main article on this topic: The God Delusion

There has been quite a bit of controversy surrounding The God Delusion. Most criticism has come from Christians - both fundamentalists and more moderate varieties. More cogent points has involved two particular issues: The form of the message, and the content of the message.

In form, Dawkins' message on atheism is quite abrasive to many - despite insistence by both him and his supporters that he's actually quite mild-mannered ("shrill" gets mentioned a lot, but no video evidence of Dawkins making odd noises has yet been uncovered). This aggression is not necessarily a bad thing. It does echo the passion of fundamentalists, but his direct and uncompromising approach has alienated many others who fight unreason, especially those who are not atheists, and those who approve of the concept of NOMA. In content, many have argued that he is not the finest philosopher of atheism, and that his work contains many inconsistencies and poor examples, as well as fundamental ignorance of the things he attacks. Specifically, he's often accused of over-simplifying The Troubles in Northern Ireland, which he reduces to a simple religious feud between Roman Catholics and Protestants. However, to his credit, the book in general is accessible to the public at large, which cannot be said of many of the great philosophical atheist works (or most philosophy in general).

Dawkins' religious critics were brilliantly parodied in an article which pretended to criticize the non-existent book The Fascism Delusion.[7]

[edit] Root of All Evil?

See the main article on this topic: Root of All Evil?

Root of All Evil? is a television documentary by Dawkins, and is essentially the film version of his book The God Delusion. The title was forced upon the show by its producers at Channel 4 and the question mark at the end was a concession to Dawkins.

The first part, titled "The God Delusion", explored the beliefs of religion and their conflicts with science, while in the second part, "The Virus Of Faith", he brought in the theory of the meme to explain religions, making them akin to viruses, and explored the moral implications of religious belief. The programme also included an interview with Ted Haggard where Haggard's wingnuttery is shown off quite nicely, threatening Dawkins for "calling his children animals," i.e., mentioning evolution.

The program received predictably mixed reviews. Religious proponents accused Dawkins of everything from journalistic dishonesty to concentrating on the bad aspects of religion, whilst ignoring the potential good. On the other hand, Dawkins' fans and anyone happy to see potshots taken at the church on mainstream TV loved it.

[edit] Religion as child abuse

Dawkins also went out of his way to suggest that religious teaching could be considered as a form of child abuse.

I do disapprove very strongly of labelling children, especially young children, as something like 'Catholic children' or 'Protestant children' or 'Islamic children'. That does seem to me to be very wicked because what you're in effect doing is making the assumption that the beliefs, the cosmology, the beliefs about the world, about life, are automatically going to be inherited in a way that you don't assume for anything else. (...) But society simply assumes, without even asking, that there is such a thing as a Catholic 4 year old, or a Muslim 4 year old. And that I do think is wicked.[8]

Dawkins has also written a great deal about how children are frightened that they themselves will go to Hell and that children are upset that people they care about will end up there, which he thinks is a form of child abuse. He cites the example of a woman brought up as a Roman Catholic: when this woman was 7, a childhood friend died tragically in a car accident. The 7-year-old girl lay awake at night thinking about her little friend being tortured in Hell because she had died a Protestant. Dawkins argues that in many cases frightening children over Hell causes more lasting damage than physical abuse or sexual abuse by religious authorities.

[edit] Theology

Richard Dawkins believes that theology is not a suitable subject for a university because he believes theology is not scientific. (To which the gap-toothed fundamentalist would reply, no doubt, "Evolution isn't scientific! Keep it out of our schools!")

But as for theology itself, defined as "the organised body of knowledge dealing with the nature, attributes, and governance of God", a positive case now needs to be made that it has any real content at all, and that it has any place in today's universities.[9]

Dawkins further draws attention to serious shortcomings in the theology department of Oxford University where he teaches.

[edit] The Pope

Dawkins spoke at the Protest the Pope Rally in London during the visit of Benedict XVI in 2010:

He is an enemy of truth, promoting barefaced lies about condoms not protecting against AIDS, especially in Africa. He is an enemy of the poorest people on the planet, condemning them to inflated families that they cannot feed, and so keeping them in the bondage of perpetual poverty. A poverty that sits ill with the obscene riches of the Vatican.

[edit] The God helmet

In 2003 Richard Dawkins had the alleged religiosity inducing device known as the God helmet tested on him; appearing in the BBC science documentary series Horizon. He did not have a 'sensed presence' experience, but instead felt at times 'slightly dizzy', 'quite strange' and had sensations in his limbs and changes in his breathing. Persinger explained Dawkins's limited results in terms of his low score on a psychological scale measuring temporal lobe sensitivity. [10]

[edit] Dawkins and pseudoscience

Dawkins is no less critical of pseudoscience than he is of religion. He recently made his views known about faith healers, psychic mediums, angel therapists, "aura photographers,"astrologers, tarot card readers and water diviners, and claimed that Britain is gripped by "an epidemic of superstitious thinking."[11]

[edit] Dawkins and eugenics

Dawkins has come under fire for statements made in 2006 and 2014 on eugenics. In 2006 he supported the scientific validity of eugenics asking, “If you can breed cattle for milk yield, horses for running speed, and dogs for herding skill, why on Earth should it be impossible to breed humans for mathematical, musical or athletic ability?” He also asked, “I wonder whether, some 60 years after Hitler’s death, we might at least venture to ask what the moral difference is between breeding for musical ability and forcing a child to take music lessons.”

In 2014 he said “Intelligently designed morality would have no problem with negative eugenics,” further arguing that the problem with positive eugenics comes about when it is state directed and government sponsored. [12]

[edit] Dumb criticisms of Dawkins

Dawkins' outspoken views on religion have earned him many knee-jerk criticisms from religious apologists. With the high regard in which religious belief is held,[13] openly and directly attacking religion has seen Dawkins break one of the greatest taboos still in existence in the Western world. Most critics concentrate on his divisive approach to the subject: he is generally seen to reject all theistic views, even when they support his own on evolution or secularism, and his dismissal of all the claimed good aspects of religion, which Dawkins either believes are non-existent or completely irrelevant. In The God Delusion, Dawkins spends most of the introduction of the book addressing potential critics, predicting their arguments quite accurately and putting forward his own counter-arguments.

The criticism of Dawkins and general anti-Dawkins attitudes manifest in many ways, from homemade YouTube videos to criticism by well-known theists. In September 2008, a Turkish court banned internet users from viewing the official Richard Dawkins website after Harun Yahya, a Muslim creationist, claimed its contents were defamatory and blasphemous.[14]

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach accused Dawkins of comparing him to Hitler.[15][16]

[edit] The "11 second pause"

One of the more famous incidents that Dawkins has been involved in was during an interview in 1997 where he paused for 11 seconds after being asked to answer the question "can you give one example of a mutation that increases information in the genome?" Creationists happily seized on the video as a "smoking gun" proving evolution was a hoax; one of its key proponents stumped on a simple question![17] Dawkins has since gone on record explaining that this pause was because he suddenly realised he had been tricked into an interview with creationists — something he doesn't do as policy as such interviews can be used to give cranks credibility.

Most creationists take the pause to be genuine proof that Dawkins doesn't know what he is talking about and evolution is false and that his reasonings for not interviewing creationists are just any old excuse to dodge their questions. CreationWiki claims that he still hasn't answered the initial question. Anyone familiar with information theory and the average creationist tactics and straw man based arguments should be able to figure out this answer; it's certainly not the simple soundbite they were looking for. Of course Dawkins has answered, and the entire response can be found on Australian Skeptics.[18]

[edit] Legitimate criticisms of Dawkins

[edit] Researcher's views on Dawkins

Despite promoting the virtues of science and scientific research, Dawkins is no longer involved in conducting original scientific research but is in effect a science journalist. Within the scientific community Dawkins is generally regarded as a very good communicator of science, but certain public hagiography of him as "the greatest scientist since Darwin" is misplaced. Most of his ideas are based on those of others (see "standing on the shoulders of giants"), in particular the likes of R.A. Fisher, W.D. Hamilton, John Maynard Smith, Robert Trivers and George C. Williams. To be fair to Dawkins, he always cites and defers to his sources, but some Dawkins fanboys don't catch onto historical and social context in which he has written, despite his stating them in his writing! Similarities between his books also leads to the criticism that he's written "the same book" again and again.

Dawkins is not, however, immune to criticism from within the scientific community. Theoretical physicist Peter Higgs (that Higgs) criticized him in December 2012 for his anti-religious "fundamentalism," asserting that Dawkins focuses too much of his attacks on religious fundamentalism despite there being many non-fundamentalists out there and that his belief that religion and science cannot co-exist at all is wrong.[19] Dawkins has countered assertions that he is an anti-religious extremist.[20]

Dawkins and fellow evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson have also debated over The God Delusion and studying religion scientifically in the pages of Skeptic magazine.[21][22] Dawkins also denies his own meme theory is pseudoscience, despite not being based on experimental data.

[edit] Islamophobia

In 2013, Dawkins came under fire for a series of statements, mostly on Twitter, that seemed Islamophobic regarding Islam and Muslims. He stated that "All the world's Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge,"[23] and when called out on it, the defense was the old "Islam is not a race, so this isn't racist" canard, as well as "it's a fact, so it can't be bigoted." He's generally called Islam "One of the great evils in the world" and "an unmitigated evil," which is in line with his opinion on religion in general. Referring to himself as a "cultural Christian" doesn't help.[24]

He also wrote of proto-fascist Geert Wilders: "if it should turn out that you are a racist or a gratuitous stirrer and provocateur I withdraw my respect, but on the strength of Fitna alone I salute you as a man of courage, who has the balls to stand up to a monstrous enemy,"[25] described the burka as being like a “full bin-liner thing,” and spoken of his “visceral revulsion” when he sees it being worn.[26] He also seems to think that being a Muslim makes a person unsuitable for hiring as a journalist, saying of The Guardian and New Statesman contributor Mehdi Hasan "Mehdi Hasan admits to believing Muhamed flew to heaven on a winged horse. And New Statesman sees fit to print him."[27] (So what about those millions of Bible-believing newswriters, then?)

When University College London made the sexist decision to try to sex-segregate the audience to a debate where a fundamentalist Muslim participated, Dawkins tweeted "Who the hell do these Muslims think they are? At UCL of all places, tried to segregate the sexes in debate between Lawrence Krauss and a Muslim"[28] and "How has UCL come to this: cowardly capitulation to Muslims? Tried to segregate sexes in debate between Krauss and some Muslim or other."[29] After being criticized again, he tweeted "I don't think Muslims should segregate sexes at University College London events. Oh NO, how very ISLAMOPHOBIC of me. How RACIST of me."[30]

[edit] "Mild pedophilia"

The timeline so far.
Mild paedophilia is bad. Violent paedophilia is worse. If you think that's an endorsement of mild paedophilia, go away and learn how to think. Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that's an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.
—Someone restrain him from anything with an Internet connection[31]

Dawkins has been criticized for comments he made in his books[32] and interviews[33] regarding "mild pedophilia" he experienced as a child; this includes downplaying the effects of the crime because he said it did not have a big effect on him but may on others,[34] which presents quite the hypocrisy considering his PR stunts regarding the Catholic Church.

Dawkins commented saying:[35]

Should I have lied and said it was the worst thing that ever happened to me? Should I have mendaciously sought the sympathy due to a victim who had truly been damaged for the rest of his life? Should I have named the offending teacher and called down posthumous disgrace upon his head? No, no and no. To have done so would have been to belittle and insult those many people whose lives really were blighted and cursed, perhaps by year-upon-year of abuse by a father or other person who was deeply important in their life. ... To excuse pedophiliac assaults in general, or to make light of the horrific experiences of others, was a thousand miles from my intention.

[edit] "Elevatorgate," or how the fallacy of relative privation went into overdrive

See the main article on this topic: Elevatorgate

If you found the above abhorrent, it's not particularly new. The 2011 conference incident known as "Elevatorgate" showed that even us "enlightened" atheists can be easily prone to logical fallacies.

[edit] Gene-centered view of evolution

See the main article on this topic: Gene-centered view of evolution

Dawkins has been an ardent defender of the gene-centered view of evolution. He has debated this issue with many other scientists and thinkers, perhaps most famously Stephen Jay Gould. Gould and Dawkins battled over a number of topics including the gene-centered view as well as punctuated equilibrium and approaches to cultural evolution such as evolutionary psychology. Gould penned a screed against Dawkins and a number of other thinkers accusing them of "Darwinian Fundamentalism."[36][37] Ernst Mayr has also argued in favor of the individual being the most important level of selection, calling the gene-centered view "non-Darwinian."[38] The gene-centered view has also come under fire from various proponents of multi-level selection theories, who often focus their criticisms on Dawkins. On one side are the group selectionists such as Elliott Sober and David Sloan Wilson, who propose a view of evolution that is still multi-level but puts more emphasis on groups as "superorganisms."[39] On the other side are niche constructionists and epigeneticists such as Philip Hunter, Eva Jablonka, and Kevin Laland who criticize especially Dawkins' notion of the "extended phenotype" by invoking means of inheritance that don't involve changes to the underlying genetic structure (e.g., epigenetic inheritance) or more broadly defining inheritance (e.g., ecological inheritance).[40][41][42] Moral philosopher Mary Midgley has criticized Dawkins' use of the "selfish gene" metaphor.[43]

[edit] Why the forum was closed

In October 2010 Dawkins claimed that Josh Timonen, the former moderator of RD Net, had embezzled $375,000 from the online store he operated for Dawkins' charity.[44]

[edit] Books published

Richard Dawkins has published a vast range of material. His books are:

  • The Selfish Gene (1976)
  • The Extended Phenotype (1982)
  • The Blind Watchmaker (1986)
  • River Out of Eden (1995)
  • Climbing Mount Improbable (1996)
  • Unweaving the Rainbow (1997)
  • A Devil’s Chaplain (2003)
  • The Ancestor’s Tale (2004)
  • The God Delusion (2006)
  • The Greatest Show on Earth (2009)
  • The Magic of Reality (2011)

[edit] Quotes

  • "We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further."
  • [regarding telepathy] "If you are in possession of this revolutionary secret of science, why not prove it and be hailed as the new Newton? Of course, we know the answer. You can't do it. You are a fake."
  • "The universe is a strange and wondrous place. The truth is quite odd enough to need no help from pseudoscientific charlatans."
  • "Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence."
  • "We are built as gene machines and cultured as meme machines, but we have the power to turn against our creators. We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators."
  • "Nearly all peoples have developed their own creation myths, and the Genesis story is just the one that happened to have been adopted by one particular tribe of Middle Eastern herders. It has no more special status than the belief of a particular West African tribe that the world was created from the excrement of ants."
  • "The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty, ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully."
  • "A mind like that of a Young Earth creationist, it seems to me, is a disgrace to the human species."
  • "Gravity is not a version of the truth. It is the truth. Anyone who doubts it is invited to jump out a tenth-story window."

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Sri Lankans name new fish genus after atheist Dawkins A genus of fish was named "Dawkinsia" after Richard Dawkins.
  2. New Genus of South Asian Fish Named After Richard Dawkins
  3. Richard Dawkins Gets Fish Named After Him for 'Rational Explanations' of Universe
  4. http://books.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,12084,981412,00.html
  5. 2007 version of CV
  6. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NBaAJcv7Vxg
  7. The Valve - Review of The Fascism Delusion
  8. Richard Dawkins
  9. Letters: Theology has no place in a university
  10. From BBC Two: God on the Brain
  11. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/08/05/newage105.xml
  12. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2014/aug/29/nobody-better-at-being-human-richard-dawkins
  13. And I respect that.
  14. Creationist Turkey savages Dawkins
  15. http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Judaism/2008/05/Richard-Dawkins-Shameful-Attack.aspx
  16. Dawkins' response can be found here.
  17. This video sums up the situation quite nicely.
  18. Richard Dawkins - The Information Challenge
  19. The Guardian: Peter Higgs criticises Richard Dawkins over anti-religious 'fundamentalism'. Alok Jha, 26 December 2012
  20. here.
  21. Beyond Demonic Memes: Why Dawkins is Wrong About Religion, David Sloan Wilson, eSkeptic
  22. Richard Dawkins Replies to David Sloan Wilson, Richard Dawkins, eSkeptic
  23. https://twitter.com/RichardDawkins/statuses/365473573768400896
  24. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_politics/7136682.stm
  25. http://old.richarddawkins.net/comments/435181
  26. http://old.richarddawkins.net/articles/498234-fury-over-richard-dawkins-s-burka-jibe-as-atheist-tells-of-his-visceral-revulsion-at-muslim-dress
  27. Utter arsehole.
  28. https://twitter.com/RichardDawkins/statuses/310609436722995201
  29. https://twitter.com/RichardDawkins/statuses/310609785252888576
  30. https://twitter.com/RichardDawkins/statuses/310611998360625152
  31. Richard Dawkins tweets: 'Date rape is bad, stranger rape is worse', The Independent
  32. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2013/09/10/richard-dawkins-isnt-defending-mild-pedophilia-but-that-doesnt-make-his-comments-okay/
  33. http://www.thewire.com/global/2013/09/richard-dawkins-defends-mild-pedophilia-again-and-again/69269/
  34. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/09/richard-dawkins-pedophilia_n_3895514.html
  35. https://richarddawkins.net/2013/09/child-abuse-a-misunderstanding-w-polish-translation/
  36. Darwinian Fundamentalism, Gould's article in the New York Review of Books. See also replies to the original article in Darwinian Fundamentalism: An Exchange.
  37. See Kim Sterelny's Dawkins vs. Gould for a book-length account of their debates.
  38. Ernst Mayr: What Evolution Is, edge.org
  39. David Sloan Wilson and Elliott Sober. Reviving the Superorganism. Journal of Theoretical Biology, (1989) 136, 337-356
  40. Kevin N. Laland. Extending the Extended Phenotype. Biology and Philosophy 19: 313–325, 2004
  41. Richard Dawkins. Extended Phenotype – But Not Too Extended. A Reply to Laland, Turner and Jablonka. Biology and Philosophy 19: 377–396, 2004
  42. Philip Hunter. Extended phenotype redux. How far can the reach of genes extend in manipulating the environment of an organism? EMBO Rep. 2009 March; 10(3): 212–215.
  43. Midgley-Dawkins Debate, Wikipedia
  44. Courthouse news service
Personal tools

In other languages