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Dr. Richard Dawkins On Why Disagreeing With Religion Isn't Insulting 1152

Posted by Roblimo
from the there's-no-offense-where-none-is-taken dept.
In part 2 of this video interview (with transcript), Dr. Richard Dawkins explains the function of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, headlined by his website. They're holding it up as a blueprint for similar groups: "We're trying to encourage, with some success, other organizations to make use of our facility, so that they will use our website, or have their own websites which are based upon ours, and have the same look and feel and use the same infrastructure." One of the Foundation's other purposes is to oppose organizations like the Good News Club. "What it is, is a group of Fundamentalist Christian organizations, who go into public schools after the school bell has rung for the day. So that it's no longer violating the Constitutional separation of church and state. ... And it's actually the Good News Club people masquerading as teachers, and they're being extremely effective." Dr. Dawkins also talks about his own comments, and explains why they're perceived as offensive: "Ignorance is no crime. There are all sorts of things I'm ignorant of, such as baseball, but I don't regard it as insulting if somebody says I'm ignorant of baseball, it's a simple fact. I am ignorant of baseball. People who claim to be Creationists are almost always ignorant of evolution. That's just a statement of fact, not an insult. It's just a statement. But it sounds like an insult. And I think that accounts for part of what you've picked up about my apparent image of being aggressive and offensive. I'm just telling it clearly." Hit the link below to see the rest of the interview.

Dr. Richard Dawkins: The central focus of our operation is our website, www.richarddawkins.net, which gets a lot of hits. It gets about a million hits a month, and lots of things go on it. We are trying to serve as a sort of service to other free-thinking, atheist, skeptical websites who perhaps haven't made quite such a professional job of it, because they tend to be run by volunteers, whereas we have salaried employees to make a really professional website with a very large number of hits. And we're trying to encourage, with some success, other organizations to make use of our facility, so that they will use our website, or have their own websites which are based upon ours, have the same look and feel and use the same infrastructure. So that's a big project, which is expensive, and it's a big thing that we're working on.

Another specific thing we're working on is the Good News Club, which, I don't know whether you know about this, is an extremely pernicious organization in the United States. In fact there's a book about it by Katherine Stewart called The Good News Club. She's an investigative journalist who has uncovered it all. What it is, is a group of Fundamentalist Christian organizations, who go into public schools after the school bell has rung for the day. So that it's no longer violating the Constitutional separation of church and state. The school day's over, and they swoop in and, as it were, carry on with their "club." But as far as the children are concerned, they look just like teachers.

So when a member of the Good News Club tells children "You're going to Hell because you're a Jew," or something like that, which they do, or tell children to tell other children they're going to Hell because they're Jewish or Catholic or something, as far as the child is concerned, it sounds like a teacher. And Katherine Stewart documents children who will then go to their parents and say, "The teacher told us that we or somebody else are going to Hell," and the parents are bewildered because they know that the teachers shouldn't be doing that. And it's actually the Good News Club people masquerading as teachers, and they're being extremely effective. They're very, very well-funded, as many Christian organizations are, and very well-supported by local organizations.

They're operating all over the country, and indeed, all over the world. They've actually got branches in almost every country of the world now. And we are going to try to help organize some opposition to this. The Good News Club happens to be concentrating next year on Denver, Colorado, which is close to where we have one of our branch offices. So we're going to try to move in to Denver to try to do something about their assault on the children in the public schools of Denver.

Slashdot: In a TED Talk you gave a few years ago, you finished by speaking about how 9/11 changed you, and said "Let's all stop being so damned respectful."

Dawkins: Yes.

Slashdot: How do you feel your approach differs from people who are more apologetic, or more respectful?

Dawkins: Well, as I said, the appearance of my being not respectful is greatly exaggerated by the presumption that religion is owed respect. I didn't mean we should be specifically disrespectful to religion. I just meant that we should not treat religion as any more immune to disrespect or ridicule or satire than anything else.

There's another thing I'd like to say, which arose after the previous question you asked. To many people, clarity is threatening. There are many people, we'll call them apologists or accomodationists, who, as it were, go 'round and 'round being so diplomatic you can hardly understand what they're saying. And I do believe in "Let your yea be yea and your nay be nay." I do believe in just speaking out truthfully.

So without being particularly deliberately offensive or insulting, just tell it like it is. Just be clear. And clarity, as I say, can sound insulting. A good example of this was a few years ago when I wrote a book review, I think it was in the New York Times, about a book that I think was about Creationism. I said "Anybody who claims to be a Creationist is either stupid, ignorant, or insane. Probably ignorant." Ignorance is no crime. There are all sorts of things I'm ignorant of, such as baseball, but I don't regard it as insulting if somebody says I'm ignorant of baseball, it's a simple fact. I am ignorant of baseball. People who claim to be Creationists are almost always ignorant of evolution.

That's just a statement of fact, not an insult. It's just a statement. But it sounds like an insult. And I think that accounts for part of what you've picked up about my apparent image of being aggressive and offensive. I'm just telling it clearly.

Slashdot: Is there anything that can be done to tone the debate down, so that statements like that aren't considered offensive to other people here?

Dawkins: I'm not sure toning it down is the right approach. I think that the right approach is to raise consciousness to the idea that there's nothing special about religion that deserves respect; so whatever you would say about something you disagree with. If you're having an argument about which is the best baseball team, you can have that argument and it's not taken as an insult to disagree with something. People need to stop cosseting religion, as though a disagreement in religion is something like a personal insult.

If I say "I think you're wrong about your God," it's not the same as saying, "I think you've got an ugly face," or "You smell," or something. But there are people who think it is, and I think we need to raise consciousness that it isn't a personal insult. It's just simply an argument about the way the cosmos is and the way morality is and so on.

Slashdot: Thank you for your time.

Dawkins: Thank you very much.

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Dr. Richard Dawkins On Why Disagreeing With Religion Isn't Insulting

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  • From an interview [freethoughtnation.com]:

    RD: "I'm pessimistic about the Islamic world. I regard Islam as one of the great evils in the world, and I fear that we have a very difficult struggle there."

    Narrator: "Why is it more problematic than Christianity, for instance?"

    RD: "There is a belief that every word of the Koran is literally true, and there's a kind of closemindedness which is, I think, less present in the former Christendom, perhaps because we've had long - I don't know quite why - but there's more of a historical tradition of questioning. There are people in the Islamic world who simply say, 'Islam is right, and we are going to impose our will.' There's an asymmetry. I think in a way we are being too nice. I think that it's possible to be naively overoptimistic, and if you reach out to people who have absolutely no intention of reaching back to you, then you may be disillusioned."

  • Dawkins is no Sagan (Score:5, Informative)

    by gblackwo (1087063) on Monday October 29, 2012 @10:16AM (#41804647) Homepage
    I am currently reading Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark [amazon.com]

    Sagan does an incredible job at promoting skepticism, fighting ignorance and all while being extremely respectful of religion. While I love Sagan, I just can't stand Dawkins.
  • Re:doesn't matter (Score:5, Informative)

    by Joce640k (829181) on Monday October 29, 2012 @10:20AM (#41804701) Homepage

    I dunno...the best tool for arguing with a Christian is a copy of The Bible.

    Knowing The Bible better than they do is usually very very easy (I don't think many Christians have actually read it) and you only need five or six verses memorized to make the entire belief system look ridiculous.

    Point to their TV/SUV and read the bit about how Jesus tells them to give all their stuff away; rich men, camels, eyes of needles, etc.

    Next ask them what the ten commandments are then read Exodus 34 together, that's always a hoot.

    Read some old testament "stone naughty children" verses then when they pull out the line about how Jesus makes the old testament obsolete show them Matthew 5:17-20

    etc.

  • by benjfowler (239527) on Monday October 29, 2012 @10:24AM (#41804755)

    The Christian fundies do exist here (and I've run into quite a few militant anti-abortionists and young earth creationists). It's just that they're overshadowed by a bunch of very, very ugly Muslim extremists, who for various reasons, can get away with showing a persistent level of hatred and intolerance that would get the Christians shouted down at best, and thrown in the slammer en masse at worst.

    Just last week, there was a bunch of bearded brown Muslim extremists in skirts screaming their heads off in the street at Oxford Circus, with big banners ("JESUS = SATAN") written on them. The only reason why they didn't get a hiding off anybody, because they where there in such force of numbers, that nobody dared challenge them. In the middle of Oxford Street. This is in 2012, after September 11 and the 7th of July attacks.

    Britain DOES have a problem with religious extremism, and while there ARE Christian extremists, the Muslim extremists are multiplying at a rapid rate, are out there, in your face, and are virtually unassailable, because everyone is too scared of being stigmatized as an Islamophobe for not tolerating vile Islamic extremism.

  • by Mitchell314 (1576581) on Monday October 29, 2012 @10:30AM (#41804863)
    IIRC Atheism plus is an actual thing that distinguishes itself from . . . uh . . . regular atheism. (Little known fact: the next iteration is Atheism++, which is the predecessor to Dennis Ritchie's C). There's a bunch of drama involved in the atheist/skeptic community involving them, but what good is a community if there isn't a bunch of petty drama? :P
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 29, 2012 @10:47AM (#41805137)

    I specifically made a distinction between a threat from the immoral (god) and a threat from the mortal (other human beings). If you don't believe in the religion, then logically, any coercive threats from their god are irrelevent to you!

  • by Xest (935314) on Monday October 29, 2012 @11:00AM (#41805425)

    Richard Dawkins is a scientist.

    This is the science section of Slashdot.

    He's giving an interview on the issues surrounding science education and awareness.

    Which bits are you struggling with?

  • Re:doesn't matter (Score:4, Informative)

    by Nemyst (1383049) on Monday October 29, 2012 @11:06AM (#41805515) Homepage

    The vast majority of Christians on earth also happen to be pretty normal folk. It's the tiny minority that acts like a bunch of jerks and thinks it's always, always right that's the problem.

    Unsurprisingly, there's a fair bit of overlap between those guys and people who hold the Bible as being literally true.

  • Re:doesn't matter (Score:5, Informative)

    by Joce640k (829181) on Monday October 29, 2012 @11:14AM (#41805693) Homepage

    I never mentioned evolution, I just pointed out The Bible is a load or rubbish.

    eg. The great Roman census that made Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem. It never happened - we've got plenty of historians writing about Rome in that period, the receipts for the Roman Legion's underpants have survived. A massive, empire-wide census? The biggest work of bureaucracy in history? Strangely absent.

    King Herod killing all the male children under two? Nobody bothered to report it to Cesar? None of the historians who documented all of Herod's public works, his buildings, etc. thought it was worth a mention? How convenient.

    etc.

  • by hackula (2596247) on Monday October 29, 2012 @12:50PM (#41807579)
    Read Leviticus for about 3 seconds. You will find a cornucopia of examples of G-d explaining who to throw rocks at.
  • by hackula (2596247) on Monday October 29, 2012 @01:05PM (#41807883)
    Atheism is, in fact, not a religion. Atheism is nothing more than the lack of belief in any gods. In short, no Dawkins is not promoting his own religion. Quite the opposite. He is encouraging others to reject religion and other supernatural beliefs that are made without good reasons (ie: evidence).
  • by LordLimecat (1103839) on Monday October 29, 2012 @01:16PM (#41808101)

    Atheism is not a religion.

    That depends on how you define religion, which is a famously tricky word. Certainly "atheisms" are belief systems.

    Black is not a color.

    Not to be pedantic, and I know this wasnt your main point, but absolutely it is. In light, it is the absence of light, but with pigments it a color formed by the combination of the primaries.

  • by rhsanborn (773855) on Monday October 29, 2012 @01:16PM (#41808111)
    Not to mention, the reason that religion, Christianity in particular, is as married into our culture as it is, is because it was put there by force. The church spent 1000 years shutting down science and then torturing and BURNING living, conscious human beings who disagreed with them. They burned documents that didn't agree with them. They intentionally kept the general public uneducated to keep them from being disagreeable. We aren't talking a decade, or a generation, or a century. The church burned this into our culture for one thousand years. They are riding on the coat tails of horrible violence. Execution for heresy rode easily into the 17th century. It takes a while to shake the deep roots the church so assiduously placed.
  • by radtea (464814) on Monday October 29, 2012 @01:55PM (#41808737)

    Whether or not any particular religious person is "delusional" is not something I want to judge.

    "Delusional" is the correct term for anti-Bayesian beliefs, and religious beliefs are by definition anti-Bayesian, because they are founded on faith, which is a belief that is by definition impervious to evidence.

    Believing something is plausible based on evidence, and being willing to update that belief in the face of new evidence according to Bayes' rule, is not faith. Faith is specifically a profound commitment to ignore all evidence that would under the ordinary application of Bayes' rule lead to a decreased plausibility for the belief in question.

    So while Dawkins is unduly aggressive in his presentation at times--although of course vastly more gentle than even moderate religious people in his defense of reason and science against anti-Bayesian zealots--his use of the term "delusional" for religious people is well within the bounds of ordinary language, however distasteful the many sincerely deluded religious people may find it.

    Surprsingly many religious people even on ./ are ignorant of Bayesianism and are unaware that their beliefs are a violation of the only possible self-consistent method of updating beliefs in the face of new evidence (the "only possible" claim is mathematically provable.) Those people may be plausibly called "ignorant" rather than "deluded".

  • by alexgieg (948359) <alexgieg@gmail.com> on Monday October 29, 2012 @02:11PM (#41808953) Homepage

    Dawkins not only is an insulting person, he sometimes explicitly instructs his followers to be insulting too. This is a quote from a speech he made at Reason Rally last March:

    So when I meet somebody who claims to be religious, my first impulse is: “I don’t believe you. I don’t believe you until you tell me do you really believe — for example, if they say they are Catholic — do you really believe that when a priest blesses a wafer it turns into the body of Christ? Are you seriously telling me you believe that? Are you seriously saying that wine turns into blood?”

    Mock them! Ridicule them! In public!

    Don’t fall for the convention that we’re all too polite to talk about religion. Religion is not off the table. Religion is not off limits.

    Religion makes specific claims about the universe which need to be substantiated and need to be challenged and, if necessary, need to be ridiculed with contempt."

    No matter how you feel about what someone believes, telling others to go out of their way to specifically "mock", "ridicule", and display "contempt" towards the person and/or the idea is nothing but doing your best to be offensive, and knowingly so.

  • by fyngyrz (762201) on Monday October 29, 2012 @03:13PM (#41809831) Homepage Journal

    There's no getting away from religion's track record; so yes, religion needs to be neutered most thoroughly anywhere it even begins to impinge on governance. Look around you: Can't buy alcohol on Sunday (Why? What the fuck is Sunday to me?), six state constitutions officially include religious tests that would effectively prevent atheists from holding public office, and in some cases being a juror/witness, then there's that whole "swear on a bible" bucket of shit, there's the would-be laughable "creationism" thing (laughable except it snares a whole bunch of the bewildered and leads them down a most unscientific aisle full of crapola), there's toxic avengers like the Westboro pond scum, there's the whole "we can re-educate gays" idiocy...

    Then historically speaking, we've got the inquisitions, the crusades, witch burnings, jihads, vilification of sexuality (we're still trying to dig out of that one: religion's biggest accomplishment ever was to convince people that sex was a bad thing except under aegis of the church, which really just means under the dictates of religious structures... you evil scumbags REALLY fucked up sexuality), murder of "heretics", suppression of science, burnings at the stake (eg. Giordano Bruno), blue laws, climic bombings...

    I mean, really. Religion fucks up just about everything in touches. We don't need to speculate about this, we know it. So the best answer is, don't let it touch anything. You can think about your imaginary friend all you want. You can talk about him. But you can't make laws from your collection of imaginary crapola or force people to listen (eg, school prayer, etc.) That is best.

  • by Xaedalus (1192463) <Xaedalys AT yahoo DOT com> on Monday October 29, 2012 @03:35PM (#41810133)
    I agree with you, and yet your viewpoint will be forever ignored or relegated to the sidelines because the philosophy you espouse embraces ambiguity, whereas most believers (theist and atheist alike) crave certainty. For these, doubt and ambiguity are intolerable to the point of purposely obfuscating logical process in order to support irrational position, just so they don't have to say "I'm not certain."
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 29, 2012 @09:42PM (#41813515)

    *dumbass*

    You cannot see black; You see an absence of colour and call that "black".
    You cannot hear silence; You hear nothing and call that state "silent".

    Anyone can proselytize for ANYTHING , your point is meaningless.

    In my experience, nobody advocates atheism per se, they disclaim religion. When you realise that religion is just a base-level software/hardware issue in the human brain, you realise that atheism is the base condition when that error is corrected (interestingly, it appears that religiosity varies inversely with intelligence....)

    -AC

If God had a beard, he'd be a UNIX programmer.

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