And it doesn’t help that he seems to totally lack a sense of humor. Once Wright sat next to me at a meeting in Mexico, determined to get me to admit that I had unfairly maligned him in my review of his book, The Evolution of God. I was so shaken by his relentlessness that I approached Dan Dennett afterwards and asked him for a hug. (There are few things more soothing to a distraught atheist than a hug from the amiable and bearded Dennett.)
At any rate, Wright, a senior editor at The Atlantic, goes after Richard Dawkins in a piece in Monday’s issue, “Richard Dawkins, unreasonable atheist?” (The answer is “yes,” of course.) I’ll reproduce Wright’s plaint and the relevant video below. This is his take on the Reason Rally, and all he says about it:
Some of my best friends are reasonable, and I try to be that way myself most of the time, but there is one thing about this rally that bothered me: the intermittent lack of reasonableness evinced by its most famous participant, Richard Dawkins.
Dawkins shares with me, and presumably with everyone at that rally, the goal of keeping America’s science curriculum uncorrupted by fundamentalists. For example, we both oppose a bill recently passed by the Tennessee legislature that allows teachers to challenge the theory of evolution–that is, to “teach the controversy.” (Teaching the controversy would be fine if there was an actual controversy within evolutionary biology about the truth of evolution.)
But is Dawkins really pursuing our common goal in a reasonable way? At the Reason Rally he encouraged people not just to take issue with religious teachings, but to “ridicule” religious belief and show “contempt” for it. Now, suppose you’re a conservative Christian in Tennessee, and a fellow conservative Christian is trying to convince you of the merits of that anti-evolution bill. You’re on the fence–you’d never really given much thought to whether your child’s religious beliefs would be threatened by the teaching of Darwin. Then you hear Richard Dawkins, probably the most prominent Darwinian in the world, advocating displays of contempt and ridicule for your religion.
Mightn’t you sense a threat from Darwinism that you hadn’t sensed before? Mightn’t you become, become, if anything, more fundamentalist (since fundamentalism is, among other things, a reaction against perceived threat)? And is it really reasonable for Dawkins to expect otherwise–to expect that contempt and ridicule will be productive?
I don’t think so. Yesterday, during an appearance on the MSNBC show Up With Chris Hayes, I got a chance to run my argument by Dawkins (whom I’m a great admirer of, and whose writing has had a great influence on me). The encounter is at the 6:05 mark in the clip below. As you can see, he was unswayed.