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Dawkins: giving atheism a bad name?

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Dave B
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Dawkins: giving atheism a bad name?

#1 Post by Dave B » August 23rd, 2013, 8:35 pm

Seems RD has git up the the nose of the Guardian's Nesrine Malik by tweeting what she call "bait" on Eid:
Richard Dawkins, like a guest arriving too drunk to a polite and civil party, crashed into Eid. His tweet, apropos nothing at all, jarring with all the rest stated:

All the world's Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.

Now, some are accustomed to Dawkins being a bit of a troll. But this, in its deliberately obtuse (say what you like, but Dawkins is not a stupid man) baiting, was a new low.
Even I agree that RD can be a bit crass, but I noticed that Ms Malik did not include Jews in her list of Nobel Laureate groups. It seems that this amounts to about 20% of the 800 awards made so far, that's about 160. One does have to add that these are predominately European Jews.

Later in the article she says:
Secondly, if one is to try to address what Dawkins is really trying to say, which is that Muslims as a unit throughout history have done nothing since the Middle Ages, and that is clearly attributable to their stupid religion, then one must point out that a Nobel prize is not by any means a suitable or universal enough criterion. It has only been going for a little more than a hundred years, the prizes it awards are for excellence in academic research which is far superior in western scientific and academic institutions due to the socioeconomic development of the north, rather than due to any inherent cultural-religious deficiency in the south – which, should be pointed out, is made up not only of Muslims.
I would have to think hard about this. How much of scientific advance is actually due to religion, to culture, or simply to the fact that most of Europe is more agriculturally productive than the areas occupied by most of the Muslim nations?

Historically it has been economic factors that have allowed societies sufficient time and people to develop technically. The development of agriculture and animal husbandry, settled society, gave the metal industries a chance to get better. Even the slave industry of the Middle Ages gave more, rich, people time to dabble in science themselves or act as patrons for others to do so. Medieval Arabic science is built mainly on the Greek and Indian forerunners anyway IIRC.

So I would think that the socio-economic history probably had an influence on the religious beliefs which are still having an effect today. I think RD was basically correct but stirring either maliciously or unthinkingly but Ms Malik has her knickers in a twist as well.

[BTW the thread title came from the article in "The Week" magazine that quoted Ms Malik's article.]
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Re: Dawkins: giving atheism a bad name?

#2 Post by Nick » August 24th, 2013, 2:26 pm

It's just more crap from the Grauniad.

Ms Malik has completely missed the point of Dawkins' tweet, and her logic is ludicrous.
Today is the first day of Eid, the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. I took the day off, as Eid on your own at work without family can be a rather bleak affair, and was surprised to find that when I logged on to Twitter (not a nice place over the past few days) there were lots of genuine Eid messages from non-Muslims and Muslim fasters, luxuriating in their first morning teas in a month. Even David Cameron's "Eid Mubarak" registered quite low on my cynicism scale. I posted my own Eid greeting, and proceeded to bask in the unfamiliar good will of the morning.
OK, so it's party time for Muslims. And maybe Dawkins could have chosen a different day. Ho-hum.
Then Richard Dawkins, like a guest arriving too drunk to a polite and civil party, crashed into Eid. His tweet, apropos nothing at all, jarring with all the rest stated:

All the world's Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.
Clearly, Ms Malik has no grasp of what Dawkins has been saying for years: that Islam actively works against rational science, and evolution , which is after all, Dawkins' pet subject, in particular.
Now, some are accustomed to Dawkins being a bit of a troll.
Some are equally accustomed to gargbage in the Grauniad.
But this, in its deliberately obtuse (say what you like, but Dawkins is not a stupid man) baiting, was a new low.
So, Ms Malik, how do you feel about the death threats he has received from Muslims, eh?
Most on Twitter engaged with his logic on its own terms, pointing out that he himself had earned fewer Nobel prizes then every single Muslim who has
You are not comparing like with like, are you Ms Malik? FAIL.
, that more Muslim Premier League players had scored more goals than all Nobel prizewinners put together,
Hardly relevant to the progress of science. FAIL
that Hilary Mantel had sold more books than someone who had sold none.
Even more surreal. FAIL
All statements as valid and as nonsensical and as inconclusive as his original tweet.
Thus demonstrating that you have failed to understand his tweet.
To wearily engage with his logic briefly: yes, it is technically true that fewer Muslims (10) than Trinity College Cambridge members (32) have won Nobel prizes.
Yes, but why?
But insert pretty much any other group of people instead of "Muslims", and the statement would be true. You are comparing a specialised academic institution to an arbitrarily chosen group of people. Go on. Try it. All the world's Chinese, all the world's Indians, all the world's lefthanded people, all the world's cyclists.
Ignoring your inbecilic reference to cyclists, you do have a point here; a question to be answered. So let's.

I'd hazard a guess that the number of left handed Nobel prize winners is pretty much what normal distribution would expect. You seem to claim otherwise, but I suspect this is more sloppy journalism thatn a serious pov.

As for the Indians and (especially) the Chinese, there is a lag in the awarding of Nobel prizes. But this is easily explained by the time-lag between the work which merits the prize and the awarding of the prize. But we see huge amounts of evidence that that situation is likely to change in future. Just look at R & D spending, education spending, the translation of textbooks into and from Muslim languages, and patent registrations. The contrast between Muslim nations and other, emerging nations is dramatic. Dawkins is right.
Secondly, if one is to try to address what Dawkins is really trying to say, which is that Muslims as a unit throughout history have done nothing since the Middle Ages, and that is clearly attributable to their stupid religion, then one must point out that a Nobel prize is not by any means a suitable or universal enough criterion. It has only been going for a little more than a hundred years, the prizes it awards are for excellence in academic research which is far superior in western scientific and academic institutions due to the socioeconomic development of the north, rather than due to any inherent cultural-religious deficiency in the south – which, should be pointed out, is made up not only of Muslims.
I've explained the timing issue. But Ms Malik has failed to account for (or even acknowledge) the lack of science in Muslim nations in any other way. FAIL.
The whole process of trying to parse the painfully obvious fallacy reminded me of the task of arguing against extremist Muslim clerics when they try to denigrate non-Muslims, the same momentary sense of helplessness and not knowing where to start.
Painfully obvious fallacy?! :headbang: My irony meter has just broken.
The same opinion with an agenda dressed up as fact. But one usually takes academics and scientists more seriously and tries to engage. With this latest salvo, I am afraid that we must consign Dawkins to this very same pile of the irrational and the dishonest.
Sorry, Ms Malik, but it is a fact. Dunno if you are yourself Muslim (your ahem! journalistic record suggests you might be) but your inability to understand the argument, but instead to accuse Dawkins of being irrational and dishonest is exactly what Dawkins is, justifiably, railing against.

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Re: Dawkins: giving atheism a bad name?

#3 Post by animist » August 24th, 2013, 3:14 pm

Dave B wrote:I noticed that Ms Malik did not include Jews in her list of Nobel Laureate groups. It seems that this amounts to about 20% of the 800 awards made so far, that's about 160. One does have to add that these are predominately European Jews.
does this undermine Dawkins's point a bit? Presumably he would not want to argue that the Jewish faith was spectacularly successful in producing Nobel laureates?

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Re: Dawkins: giving atheism a bad name?

#4 Post by Dave B » August 24th, 2013, 4:17 pm

animist wrote:
Dave B wrote:I noticed that Ms Malik did not include Jews in her list of Nobel Laureate groups. It seems that this amounts to about 20% of the 800 awards made so far, that's about 160. One does have to add that these are predominately European Jews.
does this undermine Dawkins's point a bit? Presumably he would not want to argue that the Jewish faith was spectacularly successful in producing Nobel laureates?
Good point, but it would get somewhat up the Malik woman's nose I would guess! I think RD would suggest that it is genes that really count . . . There does seem to be something in the Jewish world that encourages them to see success or high position in a large number of fields, maybe disproportionate to their numbers?
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Re: Dawkins: giving atheism a bad name?

#5 Post by Maria Mac » August 24th, 2013, 6:19 pm

Another blog criticising Dawkins' tweet by Martin Robbins in the New Statesman
http://www.newstatesman.com/religion/20 ... ins-behind. The latest issue of New Humanist also has a piece by the incoming editor.

In fact, there is a whole host of stuff out their criticising or defending Dawkins' tweets against Muslims.

My answer to the topic question is, 'possibly to those daft enough to imagine he tweets on behalf of all atheists but I don't care what people like that think'.

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Re: Dawkins: giving atheism a bad name?

#6 Post by Dave B » August 24th, 2013, 10:47 pm

Interesting article, Athena, will try to remember to read it more closely tomorrow. But, I fear that I also feel that RD does not do atheism, and certainly not humanism, a great number of favours. Even if not meant as such any remark that can be classified as "snidey" (haven't used that word for a long time!) ref;cts badly on the speaker and the spoken for in the end. We are very quick to jump on the religionistas when they use abrasive language but does make us a bit hypocritical if we do so ourselves?

I have always viewed RD as I see him at the moment, he can be great but he can also be a bit crass and even less than intellectual.
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Re: Dawkins: giving atheism a bad name?

#7 Post by Tetenterre » August 25th, 2013, 6:51 am

What Malik chooses to ignore is that the context of Dawkins's tweet is that it was a response to the numerous claims made about (a) the global number of Muslims and (b) the "respect" that Islamic science deserves. To my way of thinking the pretence, by omission by many commentators on this issue, that the things it was responding to didn't happen is downright disingenuous, but Malik's assertion that it was "apropos nothing at all" is an outright lie.

Whereas I find Dawkins's manner condescending and irritating, when I try to look through that, I also find I agree with a hell of a lot of what he says/writes. I pretty much agree with what Nick Cohen has to say on the "Muslim Tweet" matter:
http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/900 ... -fanatics/
(And his characterisation of the nauseating Owen Jones as "the Peter Hitchens of the left" is spot on, IMHO)
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Re: Dawkins: giving atheism a bad name?

#8 Post by Stark » August 25th, 2013, 9:35 am

Part of Dawkins' problem is that he tries to summarise his views in 140 character tweets and spectacularly fails. Far better to follow the example of many other writers and confine himself to linking to articles spelling out his views in full, where the intelligence and subtlety of his arguments are more apparent. He’d annoy far less people (myself included) if he did so.

That said, I don’t agree that with what he’s saying about Islam. Does he really want to argue that societies with an historically Christian and Jewish background are good at science, and those with a Muslim background aren’t, hence Christianity are Judaism are conducive to scientific progress and Islam is uniquely not? I certainly hope not. As far as I’m concerned all religions are equality antithetic to science. The explanation of why western European nations, and those that follow their model, have been so successful, and those in other parts of the world have not does not lie in their dominant religion. Jared Diamond’s book ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’ gives a far more satisfactory, if complex, explanation, and IIRC, he doesn’t mention religion at all

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Re: Dawkins: giving atheism a bad name?

#9 Post by Dave B » August 25th, 2013, 10:02 am

What Malik chooses to ignore is that the context of Dawkins's tweet is that it was a response ...
I did not realise that and it certainly puts a different complexion on the matter, TT. Taking Tweets out of context ia never going to illustrate their true meaning or intent. Since discussion or conversation by Tweeting is a serial process it seems inevitable that some Tweets will be "unfortunately" timed when the Tweeter may be more intellectually involved with the discussion than the date.

I also agree with what Stark says about getting ideas into 140 characters - works for some things but not for a context sensitive and especially emotionally fraught subject. "Getting the wrong end of the stick" seems built into this means of communication.

However, I thin I will come down on RD's side in this case, even though I often cringe at his sayings!

A little OT but in context with what Ms Malik said about our view of some thing Islamic being out of date . . . On R4 there is a comment prog called (slightly confusingly) "A Point of View" when some pundit talks about his or her view on various matters - can be good, can be dire. Currently one Roger Scruton is discussing democracy (will have to se if the whole collection is available as a download.) In this he says that Sharia Law cannot cope with the modern world. Initially Sharia was allowed to be modified to reflect changes in society but, in about 800CE, the clerics decided that all significant changes had been made and made the then laws rigid and unchangeable. Back then it probably took a century for the world to change to a degree that, today, it may almost do from year to year - certainly within a decade. This, once again, indicates the fact that Islamic thinking is still largely stuck in the Middle Ages, that puts a very large damper on any kind of progress, including scientific.
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Re: Dawkins: giving atheism a bad name?

#10 Post by Justme » September 2nd, 2013, 5:26 am

I'm sorry, but I can't stand Dawkins. He usually comes off as an arrogant elitist snob when he talks. There are ways to talk to others and there are ways not to. When you talk about either the Theist or Atheist causes, you won't budge the diehards. You are trying to persuade the person who hasn't made up their minds and the way you come off effects how you are taken be those interested in your message.

He might be smart, but is he wise. If we were boats;

The intellect would be the size of the fuel tank. The higher the IQ, the more a person can learn and retain.

The education level attained would be the amount of fuel within the tank. The more fuel the farther you can go towards your goal.

The wisdom would be the rudder which would guide you through lifes turmoils to arrive at your goal.

If Dawkins doesn't have the wisdom to use his intellect and education properly and have the ability not to turn people off, then what good is he for spreading the message of atheism.
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Re: Dawkins: giving atheism a bad name?

#11 Post by Altfish » September 2nd, 2013, 9:04 am

I think Dawkins is great.

When a side is losing an argument, what do they do? Attack the messenger.
Critics of atheism think they have found a target in Dawkins whom they are unable to name without the use of one of the following adjectives 'agressive', 'strident', 'militant', etc, but the facts do not bear this out.
Dawkins calls a 'spade a spade' is not respectful to nutty religious beliefs and that upsets the religious and pussy footing liberals. Therefore 'easy' target.

Nick Cohen nails it in his article in the Spectator...
http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/900 ... -fanatics/

Keep upsetting them Richard :)

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Re: Dawkins: giving atheism a bad name?

#12 Post by Lifelinking » September 2nd, 2013, 10:17 am

Personally, I think the things RD has to say should be treated just as critically and sceptically as things that anyone might have to say. In the past I have found some of his pronouncements to be very poorly thought out and ill judged.. The twit comments made by him and the subsequent tweet furore serve only to demonstrate what a good self publicist he is.
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Re: Dawkins: giving atheism a bad name?

#13 Post by Dave B » September 2nd, 2013, 10:46 am

Personally, I think the things RD has to say should be treated just as critically and sceptically as things that anyone might have to say.
Words of wisdom there, LL ('cos wisdom is usually that which agrees with your own opinion :D )

I liked RD the best when he was talking about non-controversial things. If he applied some of that calm surety, rather than near ranting, to his more radical presentations I think he might get a better response from "the other side", reflection rather than rejection. We know we are right ( :smile: ) but so do the others from their pov, persuading them otherwise usually has more effect than bashing them into a defensive mode. The stricter religionistas used ranting and fear to hold their victims in thrall, the same does not work the other way round, you can't "release" people by shouting at them. Those who eagerly follow the loudest voice, without reflection and regardless who is doing the shouting, are the sheep and usually do not come to a proper understanding of that which they adhere to.
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Re: Dawkins: giving atheism a bad name?

#14 Post by Altfish » September 2nd, 2013, 11:15 am

Lifelinking wrote:Personally, I think the things RD has to say should be treated just as critically and sceptically as things that anyone might have to say. In the past I have found some of his pronouncements to be very poorly thought out and ill judged.. The twit comments made by him and the subsequent tweet furore serve only to demonstrate what a good self publicist he is.
Of course, anything that is said by anyone should be subject to sceptical analysis and criticism. I don’t doubt that there are numerous instances of Dawkins getting things wrong, especially when he comments on things that have nothing to do with evolutionary biology. I do not worship him or obediently agree with anything he says.

But, to return to the thread’s title, I do not believe that he is giving atheism a bad name. Prior to The God Delusion atheism was hardly ever mentioned, it just happened to some people when they stopped going to church. Self-publicist or not, I’d argue he’s keeping atheism and anti-theism in the news; because of who he is, newspapers, TV and radio will contact him for comment and articles. The publicity is self-perpetuating.

The Tweeted comments were brief (I know, it has to be on Twitter) versions of issues that he has raised in greater detail in his books and at lectures. Religion harms advancement, like Christianity did in the dark ages and he hypothesises that Islam is doing it today, the facts appear to back this up.

He is not the only scientist saying this, put “Neil de Grasse Tyson Naming Rights” into YouTube he has a great video on this topic. It is here…
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDAT98eEN5Q
Jim Al-Khalili is lecturing on a similar topic at my local BHA branch meeting next month in Manchester; the title “The Forgotten Legacy of Arabic Science”

I believe Dawkins is trying, in his own direct way, to banish for ever the notion that religious beliefs must be respected and are beyond criticism. He will deliberately say things that cause a reaction because it gets people talking about the subject and when things calm down attitudes may well have changed a little.

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Re: Dawkins: giving atheism a bad name?

#15 Post by Altfish » September 2nd, 2013, 11:34 am

Dave B wrote:
Personally, I think the things RD has to say should be treated just as critically and sceptically as things that anyone might have to say.
Words of wisdom there, LL ('cos wisdom is usually that which agrees with your own opinion :D )

I liked RD the best when he was talking about non-controversial things. If he applied some of that calm surety, rather than near ranting, to his more radical presentations I think he might get a better response from "the other side", reflection rather than rejection. We know we are right ( :smile: ) but so do the others from their pov, persuading them otherwise usually has more effect than bashing them into a defensive mode. The stricter religionistas used ranting and fear to hold their victims in thrall, the same does not work the other way round, you can't "release" people by shouting at them. Those who eagerly follow the loudest voice, without reflection and regardless who is doing the shouting, are the sheep and usually do not come to a proper understanding of that which they adhere to.
I do not find him to be ‘near ranting’, the worse he appears to me to do is show incredulity at the stupidity of other peoples beliefs and disbelief at their ignorance of scientific knowledge and methods. Now I agree that he does this with a change in the tone of his voice but using shouting is not in his armoury of techniques.

Rant/Ranting is defined as…

To speak or write in an angry or violent manner; rave.
v.tr.
To utter or express with violence or extravagance: a dictator who ranted his vitriol onto a captive audience.
n.
1. Violent or extravagant speech or writing.
2. A speech or piece of writing that incites anger or violence: "The vast majority [of teenagers logged onto the Internet] did not encounter recipes for pipe bombs or deranged rants about white supremacy" (Daniel Okrent).


I don’t think any of those definitions relate to Dawkins; I’ll revise my opinion if shown otherwise.

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Re: Dawkins: giving atheism a bad name?

#16 Post by Alan H » September 2nd, 2013, 11:41 am

What Altfish said - what are the worst examples?
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Re: Dawkins: giving atheism a bad name?

#17 Post by Dave B » September 2nd, 2013, 11:44 am

OK, Altfish, perhaps it is a matter of perception - I just find a some of his talks and speeches a bit more, er, forceful than lies well with my philosophy and what I expect of a man of intellect.
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Re: Dawkins: giving atheism a bad name?

#18 Post by Altfish » September 2nd, 2013, 11:50 am

Dave B wrote:OK, Altfish, perhaps it is a matter of perception - I just find a some of his talks and speeches a bit more, er, forceful than lies well with my philosophy and what I expect of a man of intellect.
Yes, I can understand that, but I feel that if he had conformed to the 'norm' of quiet reasoned debate, no one would have heard of him.

He was after all the University of Oxford's Professor for Public Understanding of Science - he's succeeded in getting the message across IMHO. Science is now 'sexy' and the new rock'n'roll

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Re: Dawkins: giving atheism a bad name?

#19 Post by Alan H » September 2nd, 2013, 12:00 pm

Dave B wrote:OK, Altfish, perhaps it is a matter of perception - I just find a some of his talks and speeches a bit more, er, forceful than lies well with my philosophy and what I expect of a man of intellect.
Yes, but I've still never seen anyone cite any instance of where he is being 'militant' or 'strident' or even 'forceful'.
Altfish wrote:
Dave B wrote:OK, Altfish, perhaps it is a matter of perception - I just find a some of his talks and speeches a bit more, er, forceful than lies well with my philosophy and what I expect of a man of intellect.
Yes, I can understand that, but I feel that if he had conformed to the 'norm' of quiet reasoned debate, no one would have heard of him.
Indeed. Just as there are many different speakers with many different styles of speaking/arguing, there are many different audiences with different views, perceptions and biases. We need to be careful not to judge as ineffective because we may not be seeing it the way it was intended for the intended audience.
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Re: Dawkins: giving atheism a bad name?

#20 Post by Solus » September 2nd, 2013, 12:50 pm

From what I hear, all atheists give atheism a bad name. The second I cite a name like Dawkins', Hitchens', et al., as a reference in a debate or discussion, the Bleever before me tries to shut me down.

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