Why I Admire Richard Dawkins by Iona Italia

Written by Iona Italia

Yesterday I learned that Richard Dawkins was de-platformed from a speaking event at liberal radio station KPFA in the town of Berkeley, where he was scheduled to talk about his new book, Science in the Soul: Selected Writings of a Passionate Atheist. The organizer canceled his talk because of his “comments on Islam” which they categorized as “abusive speech.”

Dawkins has always been a man without a filter, who says exactly what he thinks, without worrying whether it might offend. This means that, in his public statements on politics, he occasionally sounds goofy or politically incorrect or voices a sentiment without considering how it will be interpreted by others. He’s no diplomat, no politician. But his frankness is one of his most important qualities, a manifestation of the passion his new book title alludes to, a passion for truth. He has real integrity: he always says what he believes to be true, unafraid of how it will be received. He sometimes admits he’s wrong and corrects himself but he never self-censors in advance. He always speaks truth to power.

Dawkins is certainly capable of expressing what we might ironically term reverence. He’s no cynic or satirist for its own sake. His book The Ancestor’s Tale is one of the most moving, most poetic works I’ve ever read. It expresses his profound awe and wonder at the natural world or what he elsewhere calls “the magic of reality” in a way that is utterly captivating. It’s a hauntingly lovely and yet scrupulously rational and scientific account of life on this planet, where, against all odds, we have the enormous privilege of living. I’ve often described it as my favorite novel — a novel which also happens to be true.


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38 COMMENTS

  1. I also love the Ancestors Tale as much as you. I also loved Darwin’s Ghost but not so much.

    I’ve bought multiple copies of most of Dawkin’s books – to share with others – because they are just such awesome books.

    I do however understand how damaging his frankness about Islam is at this very touchy time – a time when much of the western world is tearing at the bit wanting to obliterate various Islamic nations and western politicians are creating and profiting from Islamaphobia.

    Frankness, where it is indistinguishable from naivety, is the honest boy calling out that the king has no clothes. We should not punish the boy.

    But when the boy’s words are used as one of the “scientific” and “philosophical” justifications for turning a blind eye to the horrendous crimes we have been committing against Muslims.

    One must choose between a stark truth or a bloody consequence.

  2. I do not recognise his political comments as goofy or ‘politically incorrect’. He is erudite and articulate and very careful what he writes and says. His political knowledge is certainly well above that of the average Brit or American. Certainly Richard Dawkins assessment of Brexit is spot on.

  3. Rodriguez #1

    I do however understand how damaging his frankness about Islam is at this very touchy time

    I think the reverse.

    I think his use of Twitter was ignorant and crass given 140 characters and its inappropriate nature for promoting joined up moral thinking, but things are now much improved. He offers far fewer hostages to selective quotation fortune.

    Now is not the time to quit the middle path. People push us off from both sides citing our flirting with their enemy. This is not an elevated view point. Further, the middle path is quintessentially about engaged moral discourse and no other thing, Not appeasement or niceness for its own sake, nor condemnation of people and incitement to hatred, but genuine concern for doing better for all our kids.

    In this we must be steadfast. The religious (and many idealist others)let us all down when they promote moral dogma at the expense of moral discourse.

  4. phil rimmer #4

    ah yes – the quest for truth

    and yes, i wish for the truth to be the only thing taught to our young – not myths, lies and the blatherings of stone age mystics

    but then what is truth? Does truth have units? Is there a quanta of truth? Can we point to something in isolation from all other things and with absolute certainty state “there is a truth”

    or do all truths form part of a vast tapestry of truth such that there are no quanta of truth but rather there is a single truth that encompasses everything? – you might like to think of that as the universe and everything it is – in it’s vastness beyond the ability of any man, any sentient species or even any AI singularity to be able to comprehend in its entirety

    so we, in our arrogant puniness grasp little truths here and there – beautiful they are too like perfect jewels, and we dance around with them – holding them aloft and proclaiming their truthiness

    that we might, in our exuberance, step onto the gardens of others and render them fruitless – no matter

    that our new little truths might be used by snake oil salesmen and others of ill-will to do harm to others – no matter

    in our rush to show our shiny little new-found truths to the world who matters?

    some would say nothing matters but the truth

    someone i knew was run over and killed on a crossing – because he assumed that because the truth of the law was that cars would stop

    the reality was somewhat different

    indeed, he had truth on his side

    but he is dead

  5. Rodriguez Emanuel Blatt #5
    Jul 31, 2017 at 5:55 pm

    someone i knew was run over and killed on a crossing –
    because he assumed that because the truth of the law was that cars would stop

    It is of course a purely speculative prediction that drivers would diligently follow the law, and cars would stop at crossings.

    the reality was somewhat different

    The reality is indeed different, if someone challenges the evidence for laws of physics – Say by claiming they can defy gravity and stepping on to the air outside a tenth floor window!

    indeed, he had truth on his side

    We should be careful about claims to truth, and stick to probability and evidence.
    Outside of mathematics, logic, and verbatim reporting, truth is a tricky issue.
    Falsehood however is much easier to prove, using mathematics, logic, physics, and well tested empirical evidence.

    Lack of supporting evidence also undermines the credibility of truth claims – reducing them to mere speculation!

  6. Rodriguez #5

    I don’t know why you have launched into your riff on Truth when my post was quite clearly talking of morality.

    My take away was clear enough

    The religious (and many idealist others) let us all down when they promote moral dogma at the expense of moral discourse.

    If you want to take another shot at addressing this, we can continue, otherwise I recognise not one iota of what you are claiming. Dawkins, never once has muddled claims of scientific truth with his discussion of religiously rooted immoral behaviours.

    Perhaps you could illustrate your thesis with some practical example?

  7. phil rimmer #7

    go back and read my original comment

    then yours – to see how you hijacked my comment to go off in a different direction – a direction of your choosing

    then you get upset when i ignore the fact that you hijacked my comment

    then you get personal and abusive

    is this how all comments are treated here? Is this some sort of way to get me to do something that will be used against me?

    it’s very confrontational

  8. Rodriguez #8

    then you get personal and abusive

    Two things about this. First this makes no sense to me. What have I written that is personal and abusive about you? Second this kind of sensitivity, mistaking intellectual challenge for being “personal and abusive” I see as part of our problem.

    Lets go back.

    you hijacked my comment to go off in a different direction – a direction of your choosing

    You had said

    I do however understand how damaging his frankness about Islam is at this very touchy time

    To which I replied

    I think the reverse.

    and expanded with my point that what was damaging was to not have the discussion about morality.

    Now, if you would care to quote some illustrative example of Dawkin’s behaviour or comments that is “damaging at this sensitive time” we can re-engage in a debate as to what is most damaging, your contention that engaging in debate with Muslims challenging the behaviours of some as immoral (in identical fashion to challenging other religious groups) or the damage of not confronting those issues as the Rights Revolution rolls on. Or is it really about Dawkins arguing that religious claims in general are unevidenced?

    Have you not noticed the broad push from within the most oppressed Muslim communities to confront those least moral dogmas? The Arab Spring? Al Jazeera’s relentless pressure to create a broader and more tolerant Islam and Muslim Identity. The push for women’s empowerment and democracy from Mujahideen like Ahmad Shah Massoud, moderniser, President Rouhani of Iran’s second, bigger landslide win, the brilliantly moral Kurds installing twin male and female mayors in Turkey and producing the most pluralist and humane constitution for Rojava. The work of Maajid Nawaz???????

    Do you see this broader context?

    Silencing debate on the profound harms of moral dogma is not to be countenanced especially at this very exciting time of real change.

    The greater moral to teach your kids, more than not giving offence, is to not take it.

  9. No. Rodriguez.

    This is an attempt to get beyond reflexes and into an evidenced discussion. I want to understand our point. Perhaps with an illustration of the harms you see?

    Edit. Ha! All those question marks look a little manic don’t they? I’d asked a lot of questions and neglected to punctuate, so I threw a bunch in of question marks in….

  10. Mr. Blatt.

    But when the boy’s words are used as one of the “scientific” and
    “philosophical” justifications for turning a blind eye to the
    horrendous crimes we have been committing against Muslims.

    One must choose between a stark truth or a bloody consequence.

    I personally find this words threatning, violent and dangerous, I see no justification for these words.
    Despite that, the most hedious crimes against muslims (human beings) are perpetraded by muslims or even by islamists, in out time we are made aware of that fact by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and perhaps daily news (not in Fake news Channel of course), and testimony reported by opressed muslims themselves when released by opressors.

    Is this just a circle of violence?

  11. maria melo #13
    Aug 1, 2017 at 7:44 am

    Despite that, the most hedious crimes against muslims (human beings) are perpetraded by muslims or even by islamists, in out time we are made aware of that fact by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and perhaps daily news (not in Fake news Channel of course), and testimony reported by opressed muslims themselves when released by opressors.

    We must be careful to recognise actual abuse of Muslims, – such as terrorist acts by one Muslim sect on another, or bombing campaigns against Muslims in their native countries, and the unjustifiable whingeing of Muslims and Muslim apologists, who take any and every opportunity, to pretend that refusing to defer to their demands for Sharia etc in Western developed countries, is some form of racism or abuse!

    Attributing any opposition to doctrinal demands to “abuse or “racism”, is a problem of fundamentalist faith-thinking in general.

    I have sat on political committees where Muslim representatives have made these sorts of allegations and directed abuse at officials, simply because they can’t have all their own way, or even because they are required to follow agenda procedures and normal codes of conduct!

    I suppose the ultimate level of self-delusion, is the Saudi claim that “Non-violent atheists are terrorists, by virtue of their atheism”!

  12. the truth of the law was that cars would stop

    Not quite true, it is the obligation of the pedestrian to cross with safety, looking for the right moment to cross, and recentely a a pedestrian was fined by a poliman.

    In the news:

    “A policeman fined a pedestrian on the treadmill! Finally, an authority agent knows how to apply the road code. Just as there are abusing drivers, there are also pedestrians who break the rules.
    However, most pedestrians do not know that crossing the street on a treadmill could lead to a fine!
    By law, the pawn can not pass outside the walkway where there is one less than 50 meters away, can not cross it when it is red for pedestrians and is obliged to check whether or not there are safety conditions to cross a range of Running. Although this last situation is rare, due to the inapplicability of the law, happened in Beja:
    “A pedestrian from Beja was fined for rushing to the treadmill, forcing the driver of a car, which was within walking distance, to a sudden stop. An officer of authority, who witnessed the scene, pulled the block of fines and fined not the driver, but the pawn, “advances the Jornal de Notícias.

    (google translated)

  13. A lot of arrant nonsense in the original article. Of courses Richard has a filter and cares how people may take his comments. That’s no reason to pull ones punches though.

    Personally I think the problem with Islam is far worse than most people are prepared to say. When you look at surveys of opinions of British muslims, even second or third generation ones, it’s pretty solid anti gay, anti anything that isn’t Muslim, anti anyone criticising Islam. Even as far as many still thinking it should be legal to kill gays. It’s a religion of hate in many aspects just like Christianity and I suspect that there are a lot more closet extremists who don’t manifest as such simply because of the laws of the land they live in. Their weapon of choice is to play the Islamophobia card at every opportunity and ours should be to call them out on their views similarly at every opportunity.

  14. Another fact that is true, Law comes with enforcement, enforcement comes when we know by experience that not all people are diligent (another vicious circle I am afraid).

  15. Rodriguez,

    Don’t undermine your case so egregiously as to take offence where there is none. Stump up the example we need for you to make your point.

    How about “Islam is the most evil religion…”?

    Is this the sort of thing?

    Amongst these hand wavy assertions of hurtful speech it is curious to see that both you and radio station KPFA show reluctance at actually detailing a case.

  16. Once it happened to me a car didn´t stop and the driver was apologizing (I knew the driver by the way), his car had a mechanical problem, I only cross when the car is not moving, there´was no problem because I was careful.
    There are places in the world where no insurance is provided because people know that cars won´t stop, why to cross in this place?

  17. Alan

    I suppose the ultimate level of self-delusion, is the Saudi claim that “Non-violent atheists are terrorists, by virtue of their atheism”!

    Even moderate Muslims are viewed thus if they are non-Wahhabist. As you noted, Al Jazeera are painted evil by them…

  18. An ‘atheist terrorist’? Surely that’s an oxymoron. Why on earth would an atheist be ‘offended’ by someone who had a delusional belief?

  19. I suppose the ultimate level of self-delusion, is the Saudi claim that
    “Non-violent atheists are terrorists, by virtue of their atheism”!

    A paradox of logic, the “age of reason” for someone that will never accomplish it.
    The non-violent people are violent because I say so?

    (We the men, others the parasites; me Tarzan, you Jane)).

  20. ah yes – the quest for truth and yes, i wish for the truth to be the
    only thing taught to our young – not myths, lies and the blatherings
    of stone age mystics

    I´m sure Prof. Dawkins does like myths, otherwise he wouldn´t have taught about it in the book for children called “The Magic of Reality”, myths can be poetic and funny, and it makes part of our ontology, we have different aproaches to answer and solve the same logic problems from childhood to adulthood. He doesn´t think however that some myths deserve more attention than others in his book (not christian myths, nor jewish etc.).

    Look at this ambitious attempt to explain everything and how it makes anyone laugh.
    Is religion or science the most ambitious?
    Creationist Cosmos

    https://youtu.be/bNZEfafbjSE

  21. Erol #22
    Aug 1, 2017 at 10:55 am

    An ‘atheist terrorist’? Surely that’s an oxymoron. Why on earth would an atheist be ‘offended’ by someone who had a delusional belief?

    Delusional faith-thinking has no problem with accepting compartmentalised oxymoronic beliefs!

    I explained and linked the Saudi law on non-violent “Atheist Terrorism” threatening their god-delusions – on this discussion:-

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2017/07/richard-dawkins-celebrated-by-activists-and-ex-muslims-at-london-conference-for-free-expression/#li-comment-224429

    Regulations from the Interior Ministry cite “terrorism” provisions to include: “Calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.”

  22. Alan@25

    The Oxford English dictionary defines terrorism as:

    A person who uses unlawful violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.

    and ‘violence’ as:

    Behaviour involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something.

    So ‘non violent terrorism’ is an absurd phrase to emanate from the Saudi Interior Ministry. This should be referred back to them to explain precisely what they mean!!!

  23. Erol

    …violence and intimidation…

    I think threatening behaviour to unsettle and make fearful a populace and damage their businesses gets the gist of it. Further I think an essential ingredient of terrorism is to affect mostly the powerless so that they apply pressure to the few up top, the only one’s within their feeble reach.

    Quasi terrorism perhaps. Indeed I think this a useful additional term for state intimidation of another’s populace.

  24. Erol #26
    Aug 2, 2017 at 6:18 am

    So ‘non violent terrorism’ is an absurd phrase to emanate from the Saudi Interior Ministry.
    This should be referred back to them to explain precisely what they mean!!!

    Wahhabi Islamic theocracies don’t do rational argument with critics!
    They do savage repression of critics by imprisonment, beatings, or executions!
    Their (Wahhabi Sharia) laws explain this quite clearly!

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2015/01/why-some-states-use-religion-to-justify-violence/

    Badawi was charged with criticizing Saudi clerics and their relationship with the royal family on his blog. He was convicted and sentenced to a fine, 10 years in prison and flogging. The first 50 lashes were delivered in front of a mosque in the western Saudi city of Jiddah on Jan. 9 after Friday prayers. He is scheduled to receive 50 lashes once a week for 20 weeks until his sentence is fulfilled, though a doctor postponed the second installment of lashes because his prior wounds had not yet healed.

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2015/12/the-new-center-between-the-rights-bigotry-and-the-lefts-apologism/

    The Saudi government, claiming the Quran and Sunnah (traditions of the Prophet Muhammad) as its constitution, also amputates the limbs of those charged with theft. Religious minorities are not allowed to practice their religion. The women in the country suffer some of the most egregious human rights abuses of any in the world. They are banned from driving. They require the permission of a male guardian simply to work or travel. Victims of rape are often charged with fornication or adultery and sentenced to flogging if unable to produce four male witnesses to “prove” the crime.

    In time, to my disappointment, I found endorsement for almost all of the Saudis’ actions in the Quran — the beheading of disbelievers in Verses 8:12-13; the amputation of hands for theft in 5:38; the practice of fighting Christians and Jews until they either convert or pay the jizyah tax — as ISIS does in Mosul, Iraq — in 9:29-30; domestic violence in 4:34; and so on.
    I was dismayed. When I asked my elders to explain this, they seemed just as taken aback as I did. As it turns out, very few of the moderate Muslims I knew had even read the holy book. That did not, however, stop them from trying their best to defend it.

    Of course as Saudi Arabia is one of those “nice” countries selling oil.
    The governments and corporate USA and UK, see no problem with selling them large quantities of modern weapons to maintain their systems and promote their culture in neighbouring countries by acts of war or terrorism! !
    In the arms trade, business is business, as far as some political parties and governments are concerned!

  25. Saudi Arabia is not a theocracy considering the correct definition of politics, as far as in middle ages, despite the huge religious influence on the social sphere from the clergy, there was a temporal political leader, the king/queen, which was not a “god” even if invested by the clergy.
    (I heard once in a class that Tibete could be considered the only existing theocracy in the world, not even the Vatican is it seems, well, don´t ask me more because I don´t have any professor of politics in my pocket).

  26. Maria,

    What do I know?

    More than me, for sure. I had no idea know whether Saudi Arabia is a theocracy or not.

    So I looked it up and just read this. Is this not true? Sounds like a theocracy to me.

    “Saudi Arabia is an Islamic theocracy. Religious minorities do not have the right to practice their religion. Non-Muslim propagation is banned, and conversion from Islam to another religion is punishable by death as apostasy.”

  27. http://www.learnersdictionary.com/definition/theocracy

    THEOCRACY
    1 [noncount] : a form of government in which a country is ruled by religious leaders
    2
    [count] : a country that is ruled by religious leaders

    I think Sharia law and clerics involved in government, along with “religious police” enforcing religious laws, spells out that Saudi and Iran are theocracies!
    ONLY those supporting particular forms of religion are permitted to rule – as the case with the Vatican!

  28. “Saudi Arabia is an Islamic theocracy. Religious minorities do not
    have the right to practice their religion. Non-Muslim propagation is
    banned, and conversion from Islam to another religion is punishable by
    death as apostasy.”

    Dan,

    Saudi Arabia by your definition seems to be a theocracy because minorities don´t have the right to practise their religion, while in Tibete, despite being a theocracy, it was not totaltarian, minorities could practise a different religion.

    (It came to my mind to ask a former assistant professor using the messenger, but it would be sad to remind her our deceived professor who I remember saying “Tibete is the only theocracy”. If I was to ask to his assistant professor who attended all his classes it would be sad. Better ot to ask, what for?)

  29. Alan,

    Considering your defintion, as far as the clergy participates in the Bristish Parliament, is England a Theocracy? Is the Queen seen as a “goddess”?
    Wish I knew better how to answer.

  30. maria melo #34
    Aug 2, 2017 at 4:50 pm

    Alan,

    Considering your defintion, as far as the clergy participates in the Bristish Parliament, is England a Theocracy?

    While there is a minority group of bishops in the House of Lords the majority of political decisions are taken by secular representatives in secular administrative structures.

    Is the Queen seen as a “goddess”?

    The queen is the head of the Church of England! – As kings have been since Henry VIII split with Rome.

    Wish I knew better how to answer.

    It is a moot point as to whether the Church is heading the state, or the state is keeping control of the church – or a variable bit of each!
    In Henry’s case it was definitely the state taking control of the church! – Much to the annoyance of Rome!

  31. Maria,

    I haven’t studied the different kinds of theocracies. I think some theocracies can be better than others, and some can be benign. Generally speaking, I think it’s better to have a society organized along secular and democratic lines rather than one based on religious dogma and dictatorship.

  32. “The queen is the head of the Church of England! – As kings have been since Henry VIII split with Rome.” Alan

    Not even because he considered himself divine, but a practical way of solving power issues and avoid direct authority of the church.

  33. maria melo #37
    Aug 2, 2017 at 5:40 pm

    Not even because he considered himself divine,
    but a practical way of solving power issues and avoid direct authority of the church.

    As with the Protestant “enlightenment” in Europe, it was a break from domination by popes in Rome, and an early move towards secular government!
    A lot of fat parasitic monks were turfed out of their monasteries in the process!

    http://www.medievalists.net/2014/09/medieval-monks-obese/

    Patrick examined various diseases that are regarded as indicators of obesity and found that monks were between 5 to 6 times more likely to develop obesity-related osteoarthritis, 3 times more likely to develop diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH), and 4 to 5 times more likely to develop obesity-related joint disease.

    Patrick also looked at the diet and eating habits of monks in medieval England, and noted that protein and saturated fats were the mainstays of the monastic diet.

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