An evening with Richard Dawkins

Edward Larson, former Fellow at the Discovery Institute and current professor of history at Pepperdine, attended the recent Council for Secular Humanism’s annual meeting as a correspondent for Religion Dispatches. (If you’re unfamiliar with the publication, RD Magazine covers religion from the Left.) Richard Dawkins was the main draw of the evening, and was there to receive “the first (and apparently last) Robert Creggs Prize” for advancing secular humanism.

After making a few amusing observations about how atheists attack a buffet — they “lined up like Lutherans for the food and heaped their plates with overlapping mounds of meat, starch and vegetables like Baptists” — Larson moved onto the awardee’s remarks.

Speaking to the converted, Dawkins used the occasion to comment on how he deals with theists. Noting that he is often accused of abusing creationists, for example, Dawkins stressed that he calls their ideas stupid, not them. Individual creationists may simply be ignorant, insincere, or insane, he conceded, with the generous air of a Victorian aristocrat commenting on the mob storming his place. Dawkins’ list does not exhaust the possibilities; creationists could also be indoctrinated or ideological, just to mention a few more options beginning with “I.” Indeed, I find that most creationists accept creationism because they think their religious beliefs demand it.

Creationism is part of a package that is attractive to them for reasons that have nothing to do with science. Dawkins’ approach may please secular humanists — it clearly pleased this crowd in Los Angeles — without making much headway in converting creationists. To tell anyone who identifies with an idea that her ideas are stupid is tantamount to calling her stupid no matter what gloss Dawkins wants to put on it.

One of the happy weaknesses of the New Atheist movement is the overwhelming arrogance of so many of its spokesmen. Dale Carnegie understood that if you want to “win friends and influence people,” you must first develop rapport with your conversation partner. Calling his or her ideas “stupid” is probably not the most effective way to do that. Let’s hope they never learn the lesson.

Brian Saint-Paul

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Brian Saint-Paul was the editor and publisher of Crisis Magazine. He has a BA in Philosophy and an MA in Religious Studies from the Catholic University of America, in Washington. D.C. In addition to various positions in journalism and publishing, he has served as the associate director of a health research institute, a missionary, and a private school teacher. He lives with his wife in a historic Baltimore neighborhood, where he obsesses over Late Antiquity.

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