When one visits the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science web site, the expectation is to be greeted with information promoting reason and science. However, that’s not actually what shows up. We get writings against Islam, Christianity and specifically the Catholic Church, and studies on religion and theistic faith in general.
It’s not by accident that Dawkins and his foundation are promoting this material. Activists like Dawkins don’t make careers out of advancing atheistic ideas. Instead, they spend their days attacking and opposing religion, mocking the adherents of major world religions, and setting an example for their young groupies that results in embittered, hollow, self-centered socialization. Richard Dawkins is the worst thing for atheists in the world.
This flippant culture embraced by many young atheists has blossomed on the Internet. Websites like Reddit have created communities of such people, getting together and creating giant commiseration spirals against the Other: Theists. And since we’re talking largely about Americans and western Europeans, their antipathy is greatest for Christians in particular.
Contrary to what the Internet tells us, atheism is not a single belief or structure. Atheism is no more homogenous than theism is, since the ticket for entry is merely the lack of some form of belief in God. That kind of rich intellectual diversity of a kind similar to what Russell Kirk wrote about in The Conservative Mind could be the basis of much writing. But what it doesn’t do is create Internet hero worship in those commiseration circles.
As a result, Dawkins is more interested in talking about theistic points of view, spending many words and books attacking them with bitter hatred. However, that kind of constant, Orwellian hatred is not healthy. A movement driven purely on emotion and the paranoid style will get no farther than the John Birch Society did.
Much healthier would be to explore just why humanity seems to organize itself along similar patterns across cultures and times, creating intelligent ways to answer important questions about society, rather than focusing on issues irrelevant to this day and age, such as evolution. I believe Stephen Wolfram is on the right track in his New Kind of Science, as he explores how simple rules and processes can generate a rich, complex landscape of existence. Even if you don’t believe his full explanation of a digital universe, the basic concept of complexity deriving from simplicity, rather than a top-down view of the world, is critically important for any atheist to grapple with in understanding the universe.
This kind of study would give a young atheist a much better answer to the argument of the watchmaker, a common argument made by creationists. An atheist seeking to debate a Christian must have an answer to the assumption that something complex must come from something even more complex. Studies of systems, such as in the writings of Wolfram, would help with that.
Dawkins and his (often young) fans can’t do that, though. To explore human nature as it is would require abandoning the smug distance they put between themselves and the world at large. So instead, they mock, they attack, and they literally wear clothing segregating themselves from society at large.
That t-shirt reading “I am an atheist. Debate me” is a great example of the kind of Internet troll culture that has taken over atheism in the West. The t-shirt superficially asks for a debate, of course. But the shirt itself is intended to provoke, while also providing a statement of identity. That should sound like an odd concept, to be identified as an atheist. How hollow is a culture that defines itself by nothingness?
The style of atheism of a Richard Dawkins that appeals to the mouthy college kid or Reddit reader can never be mature enough to be taken seriously. I personally think of it as mere “anti-theism,” hating God (and particularly the God of Abraham) rather than not believing in the existence of any God.
A person who spends more time reading the Bible for words to take far out of context to snicker at endlessly — to the point that people build entire websites like EvilBible.com — than developing his own views of man and nature is not a thinker. And that is the most offensive insult that could be hurled at them given the existence of the Brights Movement Richard Dawkins supports, which seeks to portray atheists as smarter humans.
There used to be atheist belief systems that were built more constructively than this. Writers like Isaac Asimov defined themselves not as atheists but as humanists. Humanism may not be unique to atheism, but many atheists in the past have studied the role of humanity in the world, and in particular the power of humanity over the world. This is productive and constructive, yet ruled out by the Internet troll culture.
A much more interesting and serious-minded atheism would actually think through important issues of humanity and spend serious time understanding world religions, instead of just pulling factoids out of context and sniggering at the 88 percent of Americans who believe. After all, few countries are majority atheist.
And it’s true, by his own admission, Dawkins has failed to think through the traits of Judaism and Islam, two of the most prominent religions in the world. Here he admits he’s been shown empirical differences in the adherents of different religions, but unlike a scientist, he hasn’t thought about what it might mean. For someone who fills so much of his website with articles about religion, this shows an startling lack of intellectual curiosity. Dawkins may call himself a scientist, but the study of belief and of man clearly is not his field.
Dawkins doesn’t even seem to understand the Christianity he left as a teenager. He apparently believes that evolutionary biology and Christianity are incompatible, a “fact” that a number of Christians I’ve met would be surprised to learn.
Richard Dawkins leaves his followers unequipped to deal with the world around them, and especially unable to relate to the people around them. This is the mark of a failed thought leader, a man more interested in trolling than in coming up with serious and interesting ideas. He’s therefore the perfect hero for Reddit and 4Chan, yet entirely incapable of doing young people there the service of lifting them out of ignorance and hate.
If the purpose of the Brights movement is, in the words of the Dawkins Foundation, “an attempt to rid atheism of its negative connotations,” then perhaps Dawkins should promote a form of thought that is not in itself negative. Instead of merely attacking religion all day, Dawkins would do his followers good by being constructive, for a change.
Neil Stevens is a freelance web engineer and RedState.com tech policy analyst. He misses California weather from his home in northern Virginia. Follow him on Twitter at @presjpolk.