Is he the hero the world deserves, but not the one it needs right now? Or is he just a stereotypical senile old man with a platform to rant on? With tensions over religion increasing, once-curious minds could be forgiven for staying away from theistic discussion. Or should they? Bring in Richard Dawkins, an ethologist (studying animal behaviour), evolutionary biologist and writer who, to regular people, is ‘that hardcore atheist’.
While freedom to criticise religion should be embraced, social pressure to condone it seems to have caused some to question whether the public are becoming too politically correct., This leads to disregarding those seeking to remove the human rights of others as ‘they are just a minority’. Some even label those who don’t hold this naive view as bigoted, discriminatory and racist. Dawkins mentions in his book, The God Delusion, how wider society generally frowns upon criticising religion and how easily religion can be used as an excuse to commit atrocities.
He breaks this taboo of criticising, and hence advocates critical expression. Whilst there is a spectrum of good to bad individuals, this naivety assumes the bad ones are always the minority. People seem unaware of other factors that come into play, such as a country’s politics, social views, and history.
His character, undeterred by this pseudo-obligation to never question, does have downsides however. In his previous book, The Selfish Gene, Dawkins makes evolution into an infallible truth rather than a fallible theory, when supposed visiting aliens would ask whether humans had discovered evolution yet. Charles Darwin was referenced as the first who finally had the truth dawn upon him, going as far as implying a certain likeness to Dawkins himself. However, Darwin would have seen this from an entirely different perspective, understanding science as an empirical investigation, a method of enquiry, where theories are provisional, and the truth is never self-evident. This presents a stark contrast to Dawkins, who views the matter as unquestionable.
While penetrating the fog surrounding religion the negative traits of his character begin to surface. In his memoir, An Appetite for Wonder, Dawkins tells the story of his life, and his transition to atheism. He shares his teenage passion for listening to Elvis, and his past confusion over the singer’s religious stance.
“He came from an uneducated working-class family in the American South. How could he not have been religious?”
His memoir paints a picture of someone with a privileged upbringing, disconnected from those of diverse and differing financial backgrounds. This facet may shine light on why he looks down on those opposed to him.
Despite the potential good his character brings to the public, it seems that today’s Dawkins is passing his prime. With Twitter giving anyone access to a platform, Dawkins’ controversial rape, and Down’s syndrome tweets are an unfortunate poor PR exacerbated by the viral phenomenon. Any public impact this man once had slowly dwindles away as Dawkins gradually becomes considered that ‘senile old man’.