Is Richard Dawkins (and are all the New Atheists) Arrogant?
#1
I've heard the claim that Dawkins is arrogant so many times that I've put together my thoughts on the assertion. Here is the video that people usually quote to make their case:



Firstly, most people simply hear the words "Fuck Off" and their minds go blank. But Dawkins is quoting someone else here! To anyone actually paying attention, its clear that Dawkins quotes the editor of New Scientist, to actually make the opposite point. Yet those intent on criticizing him for his logical and yet undoubtedly sharp criticism of religion latch onto such video clips to justify their intuitive dislike of Dawkins himself.

But this is an issue that is greater than just Dawkins. This concerns the entire freethought movement. What kinds of strategies should we take up when we want to promote science, critical thinking, naturalism and atheism?

I submit that we must adopt a pluralistic strategy.

Any single advocate for atheism cannot influence every type of individual who believes in the supernatural. This is obvious if take into account how vastly different people are in their thinking.

That having said, there is absolutely no doubt that few (none, in my opinion) have been as influential as Dawkins has been in promoting reason and atheism in modern times. Time after time I have come across individuals for whom reading one or the other of his books was the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back.

It is easy today to look at Dawkins from a critical standpoint, forgetting all the gains that atheists have made over the past 2 decades. But if we step back and take a look at how the modern atheist rights movement was born and has evolved, the role that he played becomes more apparent. Back in the 1970s and 80s, RD was a lone voice among the scientific community. His books, even back then, were tinged with arguments for a naturalistic epistemology, deriding the supernatural. I read The Selfish Gene in high school in the 90s. Hundreds of thousands
of others were already "converts" by then.

There is a very important role that anger, ridicule and passion play in any social movement. While intellectual understanding is key to a movement that is well-grounded, it is the primary emotions that provide the impetus for social organization. Without this, atheism would simply remain an idea to be discussed in academia and in private settings. Let me give you an example. Secular Humanism has been around for more than a century. Humanists often deride the 'new atheists' for their bitterness. In fact, the argument from many humanists has been that their tactics are more effective! But how many people knew about secular humanism before the 'new atheists'? Their whole movement was an academic one, restricted to an elite group of people who had the time and inclination for such intellectualisms. While the humanists were debating about human rights and ethics for over a century, atheists continued to remain in the shadows, in a cultural environment where they were unable to realize many of their fundamental rights. The only community that was available to most atheists was society at large. As you may well know, one of the most important functions of religion is to provide a common cultural ground to enable a common morality and social code to bring together people and form a functioning and content community. We atheists did not have this- not until a few years ago. It is easy to ignore the freedoms (from the point of view of social acceptance) we have gained towards expressing our beliefs in public and for gathering in the name of reason. It is easy to forget that millions of atheists crave the kind of social contact that religions have traditionally provided. It is even more easy to forget the role that anger, ridicule and passion have played in creating this global community of freethinkers. Without the 'new atheists', secular humanism would have remained irrelevant in the public sphere. Today we can meaningfully talk about replacing religion with a secular morality derived from humanistic principles only because of the social impetus that the 'new atheists' like Dawkins have provided humanity with.

It is a false assumption that to convince a believer about the validity of atheism (or rather, the absurdity of religion) one needs to be gentle and defensive. That is complete bull. It may work in a few cases, but it is generally a long term strategy applicable only to a tiny segment of people, the ones who are genuinely interested in exploring the truth regardless of their personal emotional intuitions. The vast majority of religious people are absolutely reticent to question their own beliefs and instead will attack atheism blindly. Most people who have become atheists have done so because at some point they began to question their own beliefs. Contrary to the general assumption, this sort of questioning does not come naturally to everyone. It does not come simply because we present logical arguments defending atheism. It comes because at some point, someone else questioned their ridiculous religious beliefs. Because some ridiculed these beliefs. Throughout history, this is how ideas are transmitted through culture. Society does not work on the same principles of science, in that evidence and proof do not determine what the majority will believe. Ideas die in a culture when it becomes embarrassing to hold on to them. Social conformity is achieved not through intellectual discourse as much as through the need to belong. When your ridiculous beliefs are laughed at, you begin to question them. This may not apply to you or me or many in this group, assuming that we are more evidence-based on our thinking, but this certainly applies to the majority of people on earth.

Do not think that I am advocating personal attacks. I am talking about ridiculing irrational beliefs, not people.

In fact, I do not engage in debate with believers any more. At least, I try not to. This is the least effective strategy for someone with my sensitive constitution, since many religious folk seem to be unable to make the distinction between personal attacks and criticism of ideas. I think that what really works is for atheists to be visible to the community at large. If religious people actually see that atheists are a happy, moral and well-organized community, obtaining the same social benefits from cooperation and emotional fulfillment that religious people do, that is more effective in making them question their own beliefs.
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
[+] 1 user Likes Ajita Kamal's post
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#2
(06-Apr-2010, 02:00 PM)Ajita Kamal Wrote: I've heard the claim that Dawkins is arrogant so many times that I've put together my thoughts on the assertion. Here is the video that people usually quote to make their case:



Firstly, most people simply hear the words "Fuck Off" and their minds go blank. But Dawkins is quoting someone else here! To anyone actually paying attention, its clear that Dawkins quotes the editor of New Scientist, to actually make the opposite point. Yet those intent on criticizing him for his logical and yet undoubtedly sharp criticism of religion latch onto such video clips to justify their intuitive dislike of Dawkins himself.

But this is an issue that is greater than just Dawkins. This concerns the entire freethought movement. What kinds of strategies should we take up when we want to promote science, critical thinking, naturalism and atheism?

I submit that we must adopt a pluralistic strategy.

Any single advocate for atheism cannot influence every type of individual who believes in the supernatural. This is obvious if take into account how vastly different people are in their thinking.

That having said, there is absolutely no doubt that few (none, in my opinion) have been as influential as Dawkins has been in promoting reason and atheism in modern times. Time after time I have come across individuals for whom reading one or the other of his books was the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back.

It is easy today to look at Dawkins from a critical standpoint, forgetting all the gains that atheists have made over the past 2 decades. But if we step back and take a look at how the modern atheist rights movement was born and has evolved, the role that he played becomes more apparent. Back in the 1970s and 80s, RD was a lone voice among the scientific community. His books, even back then, were tinged with arguments for a naturalistic epistemology, deriding the supernatural. I read The Selfish Gene in high school in the 90s. Hundreds of thousands
of others were already "converts" by then.

There is a very important role that anger, ridicule and passion play in any social movement. While intellectual understanding is key to a movement that is well-grounded, it is the primary emotions that provide the impetus for social organization. Without this, atheism would simply remain an idea to be discussed in academia and in private settings. Let me give you an example. Secular Humanism has been around for more than a century. Humanists often deride the 'new atheists' for their bitterness. In fact, the argument from many humanists has been that their tactics are more effective! But how many people knew about secular humanism before the 'new atheists'? Their whole movement was an academic one, restricted to an elite group of people who had the time and inclination for such intellectualisms. While the humanists were debating about human rights and ethics for over a century, atheists continued to remain in the shadows, in a cultural environment where they were unable to realize many of their fundamental rights. The only community that was available to most atheists was society at large. As you may well know, one of the most important functions of religion is to provide a common cultural ground to enable a common morality and social code to bring together people and form a functioning and content community. We atheists did not have this- not until a few years ago. It is easy to ignore the freedoms (from the point of view of social acceptance) we have gained towards expressing our beliefs in public and for gathering in the name of reason. It is easy to forget that millions of atheists crave the kind of social contact that religions have traditionally provided. It is even more easy to forget the role that anger, ridicule and passion have played in creating this global community of freethinkers. Without the 'new atheists', secular humanism would have remained irrelevant in the public sphere. Today we can meaningfully talk about replacing religion with a secular morality derived from humanistic principles only because of the social impetus that the 'new atheists' like Dawkins have provided humanity with.

It is a false assumption that to convince a believer about the validity of atheism (or rather, the absurdity of religion) one needs to be gentle and defensive. That is complete bull. It may work in a few cases, but it is generally a long term strategy applicable only to a tiny segment of people, the ones who are genuinely interested in exploring the truth regardless of their personal emotional intuitions. The vast majority of religious people are absolutely reticent to question their own beliefs and instead will attack atheism blindly. Most people who have become atheists have done so because at some point they began to question their own beliefs. Contrary to the general assumption, this sort of questioning does not come naturally to everyone. It does not come simply because we present logical arguments defending atheism. It comes because at some point, someone else questioned their ridiculous religious beliefs. Because some ridiculed these beliefs. Throughout history, this is how ideas are transmitted through culture. Society does not work on the same principles of science, in that evidence and proof do not determine what the majority will believe. Ideas die in a culture when it becomes embarrassing to hold on to them. Social conformity is achieved not through intellectual discourse as much as through the need to belong. When your ridiculous beliefs are laughed at, you begin to question them. This may not apply to you or me or many in this group, assuming that we are more evidence-based on our thinking, but this certainly applies to the majority of people on earth.

Do not think that I am advocating personal attacks. I am talking about ridiculing irrational beliefs, not people.

In fact, I do not engage in debate with believers any more. At least, I try not to. This is the least effective strategy for someone with my sensitive constitution, since many religious folk seem to be unable to make the distinction between personal attacks and criticism of ideas. I think that what really works is for atheists to be visible to the community at large. If religious people actually see that atheists are a happy, moral and well-organized community, obtaining the same social benefits from cooperation and emotional fulfillment that religious people do, that is more effective in making them question their own beliefs.

Excellent post Ajita.
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#3
Thank you Sajith. I'm starting to think that this is now a very good idea for a thread.
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#4
(08-Apr-2010, 09:39 PM)Ajita Kamal Wrote: Thank you Sajith. I'm starting to think that this is now a very good idea for a thread.

Yes I think it can be a good thread as believers accuse the non believers
of arrogance.
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#5
Great post. Sharing this.
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#6
Interesting post, Ajita, and valuable. I'll add my own little contribution here, with the obvious caveat that I live in a drastically different culture, and so your mileage will almost certainly vary:

Ajita seems to be at least somewhat familiar with my own approach, although I have to say that I don't know if that's true or, if it is, how familiar he is with it. For those who don't know me (almost certainly almost all of you - natselrox is pretty intimately familiar with my stuff) I'll give you a basic rundown.

First and foremost is that I don't actually care if someone thinks I'm arrogant. Especially if they're throwing that up as the only opposition they can muster to me demonstrating the intellectual feebleness of the ideas they're espousing. Play the ball, not the man. Attacking the person rather than their arguments is just highlighting the intellectual vacuity of your position, and worthy of nothing but scorn and derision. And derision is a large part of my arsenal.

What we're talking about here is ideas - and ideas need to be tested. Bad ideas will be shown to be bad in such a process, and a part of that process is basically making fun of said ideas. Never underestimate the power of ridicule, and if it is ridicule founded upon demonstrable fact, then it is ridicule that is well-founded. As someone once said, if you don't want to be laughed at for your beliefs, don't believe laughable things.

For me, it is the sheer hilarity of the nonsense that people come out with in order to support their often bizarre and obviously retarded beliefs that keeps me going. It's almost irresistible when someone presents palpable bullshit as some sort of "truth". And the world is absolutely chock-full of bullshit. You can't turn a corner without falling over some utter idiocy, and the only downside is that such utter idiocy almost invariably fucks some poor bastard over. By an accident of birth, someone spends their entire (short) existence begging on a street, or afflicted with HIV/AIDS, or some other such absolute tragedy.

And this is allowed (indeed it's insisted) to continue because people believe fucking retarded shit. Can't help that bloke, he's from the wrong social group. Can't provide medical assistance and education to these people, they're from the wrong class. Can't have any consideration for that bunch, they're from a different nation, and have the wrong skin colour. All of it is utter crap. And the best tool I've ever found to combat it is an informed, educated sense of unrepentant humour.

Laugh at the idiocy, loud and long, and explain why you are laughing. And show the other side: the tragedy. But first and foremost, laugh. And educate.

Education is key.
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#7
Wow Goldenmane, that's real flamboyant stuff you just wrote. Thumbs up.
Nice to meet you.
Murthy

"Credulity kills" -- Carl Sagan
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#8
Goldenmane (Geoff), I'm not familiar with your work, although something tells me I should be. I just read Rule #3.

You were talking about socially "unacceptable" language when you said:

Quote:"...the point being that it serves as a way of distinguishing between those conversational opponents who were capable of addressing an argument intellectually, rationally, and logically, and those who were governed entirely by emotion"

I'm not going to get into the thing with Dawkins, because obviously there are open wounds there. But allow me to thank you for a perspective previously unavailable to me. That thread (this one) will be my turn-to place for a long time when confronted by a certain kind of apologist.
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#9
Cheers, folks.

I've been pondering this stuff more and more over the last months, not limited to my own immediate environment but thinking about it in context of other environments and cultures as well. I think what we're dealing with here can largely be looked at as an issue of civil liberties, which rest upon freedom of speech. That, I suspect, is why I take the approach I do. The exercise of free speech is central to the continued existence of it, and one of the things that lies at the very base of this is that [ideas are not sacrosanct[/i]. There is no idea that inherently cannot or should not be held up to scrutiny (including, recursively, the idea that ideas are not sacrosanct). Rule #3 (Goldenmane's Third Rule of Public Discourse, to give it its full self-aggrandising name) serves as an example of this, since it highlights the absurdity of the notion that words can, simply by fiat or magical thinking, be considered inherently bad (it does other things as well, but that's one of the main ones). And yet, such an idea is so widely accepted without thought that it is ridiculously pervasive throughout human societies.

The problem that arises is that it links into and actively encourages such things as censorship, and censorship is something to which I am deeply opposed as a general rule, not least of all because it is a tool of authoritarianism. As A.C. Grayling so eloquently put it, whilst free speech necessarily allows for bad speech (or, in my phrasing, the airing of bad ideas), censorship is not the answer. The answer is to counter bad speech (ideas) with better speech (ideas).

Again, education is key. Without access to education, the ability to examine ideas and determine whether they are of genuine worth or are simply polished turds (or worse, unpolished) is left uncultivated and may well be stillborn (to randomly mix my metaphors). The reason I tend toward using humour (often brash, pointed, and potentially objectionable humour) in my approach is simply because humour is such a powerful tool for both the examination and dissemination of ideas - which is why dictators and the like so thoroughly dislike it. It's a weapon the unarmed have available to them that cannot be taken away without destruction. Satire and ridicule have done more to liberate people than almost any other approach, from what I can see. And in a world where there are still authoritarian fuck-knuckles attempting and succeeding in oppressing their fellows, well, I don't like that shit, and I'll encourage others to stand up and be counted.

Which is rather why I'm on this board, actually. I'm not terribly familiar with Indian culture and society (although I'd be rather surprised if one could really define India as having one distinct culture - I expect it's pretty bloody diverse, from the little I do know). However, I am aware that there is still much of inequity, corruption, and all sorts of other nefarious bullshit going on - this much I have gleaned from friends and acquaintances within Indian culture. I'm aware that you lot have a lot of work ahead of you, and I'd like to assist in whatever way I can, even if it's just in encouraging you, and providing 'a perspective previously unavailable'. If I can do even that much, then I'm pleased.
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#10
I haven't seen much of Neil Degrasse Tyson except the few times he's been on The Colbert Report(I live in India but I follow Stewart and Colbert religiously.. what do you make of that) and him calling Dawkins arrogant seems odd what with his own smug attitude and demeanor(I actually liked him, but it still seems odd)

As for Dawkins actually helping in the *understanding* of science, I request everyone to watch his old "Growing up in the universe" series of lectures for school kids. Brilliant stuff. Bonus for the hitchhiker fans.. Douglas Adams makes a special appearance in one of the lectures, reading a passage from his book(restaurant bit).
"Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?" - Douglas Adams

http://dsriharsha.blogspot.com
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#11
@Ajita I can understand it when you say you don't debate with Theists anymore. It is not worth it. They have a big insurance argument of "well its all about faith" or "It is true for me" or stuff like that when all else fails.

My father is quite reasonable on all(most?) matters bar religion. He once said, "you know, they found the ruins of Dwaraka.. and Dwaraka is described in the Mahabharata.. hence everything in the Mahabharata and by extension other Hindu scriptures is true".. I was half inclined to tell him that London and the Kings Cross station is mentioned several times in the Harry Potter books.. so if someone were to excavate the ruins of Kings Cross 500 years from now would that make everything in Harry Potter true? Fairy tales and fantasies..
"Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?" - Douglas Adams

http://dsriharsha.blogspot.com
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#12
(12-Apr-2010, 12:50 AM)dsriharsha Wrote: I haven't seen much of Neil Degrasse Tyson except the few times he's been on The Colbert Report(I live in India but I follow Stewart and Colbert religiously.. what do you make of that) and him calling Dawkins arrogant seems odd what with his own smug attitude and demeanor(I actually liked him, but it still seems odd)

As for Dawkins actually helping in the *understanding* of science, I request everyone to watch his old "Growing up in the universe" series of lectures for school kids. Brilliant stuff. Bonus for the hitchhiker fans.. Douglas Adams makes a special appearance in one of the lectures, reading a passage from his book(restaurant bit).

Harsha, If you notice, Tyson does not call Dawkins arrogant. Tyson is one of my favorites too and he is very much on the same side as Dawkins. No where does Tyson call him arrogant. I have watched growing up in the universe and no doubt RD is brilliant and its very interesting.

I think the video has been hijacked by the anti Dawkins creationists to make personal attacks. Here are couple of more videos which these people use against Dawkins to show him as arrogant, cruel etc !

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6mmskXXetcg

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKGtcVoBhBQ
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