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Political views of Richard Dawkins

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Political views of Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins in 2006.

Richard Dawkins is a British ethologist, evolutionary biologist, and writer. Dawkins himself has stated that his political views are left-leaning.[1] However, many of Dawkins's political statements have created controversy even among left-wing and atheist communities.

Contents

  • Political affiliation 1
    • Labour Party 1.1
    • Liberal Democrats 1.2
  • Social views 2
    • Free expression 2.1
    • Feminism and women's rights 2.2
      • Rebecca Watson incident 2.2.1
    • LGBT issues 2.3
    • Abortion 2.4
    • Animal rights 2.5
    • Child sexual abuse 2.6
  • Religious views 3
    • Christianity 3.1
    • Islam 3.2
    • Buddhism 3.3
  • Political views 4
    • War on Terror and Terrorism 4.1
    • Stem cell research 4.2
    • Government 4.3
      • British government 4.3.1
      • United States government 4.3.2
    • Israeli-Palestinian conflict 4.4
    • Global warming 4.5
  • References 5

Political affiliation

Labour Party

Before the mid-2000s, Dawkins usually voted for Labour Party candidates.[2] The party has often been described as social democratic.[3][4]

In 2009 Dawkins participated in a New Statesman project called "20 ways to save Labour", in which 20 public figures, including Dawkins as well as Germaine Greer and John Pilger, among others gave suggestions about how to make the Labour Party better. Dawkins's contribution was as follows:

Stop toadying to House of Lords.[5]

Liberal Democrats

Starting in the mid-2000s, Dawkins has also voted and expressed support for the Liberal Democrats.[2] Dawkins spoke at the party's conference in 2009 and publicly expressed his support then.[6] At the conference, Dawkins strongly criticized the English libel laws, and the party revised its policy on the issue at the same conference.[7] Dawkins also called for an alliance of all Liberal Democrats based on an agreement on electoral reform.[8]

Social views

Free expression

Dawkins has argued for reform to the English defamation law, arguing that Simon Singh should have the right to criticise scientific claims made by the British Chiropractic Association.[9] In 2009, he said "I and many of my colleagues fear that if Simon loses it will have major implications on the freedom of scientists, researchers and other commentators to engage in robust criticism of scientific and pseudo-scientific work."[10] The Defamation Act 2013 substantially reformed the law.

In 2008, Dawkins pointed out major factual errors in The Atlas of Creation, such as images of fishing lures mislabeled as insects,[11][12] and subsequently his website has been banned in Turkey[13][14][15] and Pakistan.[16][17] Dawkins gave a speech at the 2012 Jaipur Literature Festival where a video link with Salman Rushdie was cancelled due to ongoing controversy over the Rushdie affair.[18][19][20] He has given a high appraisal of Nick Cohen's book You Can't Read this Book, arguing that libel laws create a culture of "tacit censorship" in liberal democracies.[21]

Dawkins has argued against campaigns by far-left groups on university campuses to have speeches by internationally renown figures cancelled.[22] In a 2015 interview, Dawkins said "If you only ever get exposed to ideas you agree with, what kind of university would that be?"[23] He has argued against campaigns to block speakers like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Bill Maher, Maryam Namazie[24][25] and Germaine Greer.[26]

Feminism and women's rights

Dawkins has said that feminism is "enormously important" and "a political movement that deserves to be supported".[27] Dawkins also released a joint statement with Ophelia Benson that condemned "death threats, rape threats, attacks on people's appearance, age, race, sex, size, haircut…[and] vulgar epithets."[28] In a passage in The God Delusion, Dawkins wrote about how he wished to mirror the successes of feminism in the atheist movement.[29]

However, Dawkins has come under fire from Twitter were controversial, such as one where he seemed to victim blame the victims of rape when they are drunk. "If you want to be in a position to testify & jail a man, don't get drunk," he tweeted.[30] Amanda Marcotte, in Salon, criticized Dawkins by saying that "For someone who is a supposed rationalist, Dawkins refused to even acknowledge the basic difference between making the choice to break the law and being the victim of a crime."[30] In addition, Dawkins has been criticized for his support of Christina Hoff Sommers, who is often described as an anti-feminist by her critics.[31] Dawkins was denounced by PZ Myers and Ophelia Benson by aiding Sam Harris when he was involved in his own controversy surrounding allegedly sexist comments.[31][32]

Dawkins was also the subject of controversy when he tweeted, "Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that's an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think."[33] Amanda Marcotte heavily criticized him by saying that "He made a pretty serious logical error…He assumed that the amount of pain that a victim of injustice suffers is directly proportional to the contemporary social norms surrounding it, i.e. if a form of abuse was considered no big deal to most people in a society, the people directly victimized would also feel that way."[34]

Rebecca Watson incident

Rebecca Watson in 2009.

Most notably, Dawkins was widely denounced for his comments about a video blog post by atheist blogger and writer [35] The controversy started at an atheist convention in Dublin, where Rebecca Watson spoke about feminism and the atheist movement. That night, when Watson was in an elevator, she was propositioned by a man, who said "Don't take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting, and I would like to talk more. Would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?" Watson found this extremely inappropriate, and afterwards, she made a video blog saying "guys, don't do that."[36] The comments exploded with divisive opinions, and PZ Myers reacted on his blog Pharyngula.[37] On that post, Dawkins unexpectedly made the following comment in the form of a fictitious letter to a Muslim woman complaining of misogyny:

Dear Muslima Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and ... yawn ... don't tell me yet again, I know you aren't allowed to drive a car, and you can't leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you'll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with. Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep"chick", and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn't lay a finger on her, but even so ... And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin. Richard [Dawkins][38]

Dawkins was widely criticized by atheists and others for his remarks.[39] David Allen Green in New Statesman wrote that "One of the many problems here is that Rebecca didn't use her video to downplay the plight of Muslim women from the perspective of an American woman…Just because there is severe misogyny in one context doesn't remove the need to deal rationally and helpfully with its lesser manifestation in other contexts."[38] PZ Myers responded by writing, "This isn't slightly bad. It's very bad. Atheist men are alienating the people we want to work with us on the very same problems…that you cited in your comment."[40]

Dawkins tried to clarify his argument, but this elicited several more negative responses:

The man in the elevator didn't physically touch her, didn't attempt to bar her way out of the elevator, didn't even use foul language at her […] [Rebecca] was probably offended to about the same extent as I am offended if a man gets into an elevator with me chewing gum.[41]

Watson herself issued the following boycott of Dawkins as a response to his posts:

[Richard Dawkins] will no longer be rewarded with my money, my praise, my attention. I will no longer recommend his books to others, buy them as presents, or buy them for my own library. I will not attend his lectures or recommend that others do the same.[42]

As part of a reaction to the controversy, Skepchick writers wrote open letters to Dawkins explaining why they believed his comments were offensive and misguided.[29]

LGBT issues

Dawkins strongly argues for a genetic basis for homosexuality and postulates that the gene was preserved through various social and cultural processes.[43] Dawkins has also stated that homosexuality does not conflict with the evolutionary principle. In a talk at Kennesaw State University, he said that "[Evolution] is the explanation for why we exist. It is not something to guide our lives in our own society. […] What we need is a truly anti-Darwinian society--anti-Darwinian in the sense that we do not wish to live in a society where…the strongest suppress the weak…I want to live in a society where we take care of the sick, take care of the weak, take care of the oppressed."[44]

Abortion

Dawkins has expressed pro-choice views. On March 13, 2013, Dawkins tweeted, "With respect to those meanings of "human" that are relevant to the morality of abortion, any fetus is less human than an adult pig."[45] This statement stirred controversy, with Wesley J. Smith, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute's Center on Human Exceptionalism saying that the statement was "utter nonsense…[Dawkins would] fail high school biology."[45] Dawkins also made a heavily criticized tweet where he stated that it would be immoral not to abort a fetus who had Down syndrome.[46] The Down's Syndrome Association issued a response by saying that "At the Down's syndrome Association, we do not believe Down's syndrome in itself should be a reason for termination, however, we realize that families must make their own choice."[47]

Dawkins later apologized.[48]

Animal rights

Dawkins is a supporter of animal rights. He has stated that he believes many kinds of animals have consciousness. "Consciousness has to be there, hasn't it? It's an evolved, emergent quality of brains. It's very likely that most mammals have consciousness, and probably birds, too."[2] Dawkins has also been a major supporter of the Great Ape Project, a coalition of scientists and others who believe that non-human great apes should have the rights to life, the protection of individual liberty, and the prohibition of torture.[2][49] Dawkins wrote an essay in The Great Ape Project, a book published by supporters of the project in which they expressed their views, along with Jane Goodall, Jared Diamond, and others.[50] A passage from Dawkins's contribution is as follows:

The word 'apes' usually means chimpanzees, gorillas, orang-utans, gibbons and siamangs. We admit that we are like apes, but we seldom realise that we are apes. Our common ancestor with the chimpanzees and gorillas is much more recent than their common ancestor with the Asian apes — the gibbons and orang-utans. There is no natural category that includes chimpanzees, gorillas and orang-utans but excludes humans.[51]

Child sexual abuse

Dawkins has made controversial and widely criticized claims that many recent child sexual abuse scandals have been overblown and said that "mild pedophilia" does not cause "lasting harm,"[52] noting incidents that he experienced in childhood. The comments generated controversy, with Peter Watt, the director of child protection at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, responded by saying that "Mr. Dawkins seems to think that because a crime was committed a long time ago we should judge it in a different way. But we know that the victims of sexual abuse suffer the same effects whether it was 50 years ago or today."[53] Dawkins tried to defend his remarks by stating that standards were different,[54] but he later apologized for these comments.[55]

Religious views

Dawkins is a noted critic of religion, atheist, anti-theist, and a secular humanist.[56][57] Dawkins believes that there is a conflict between science and religion and that science prevails in the debate.[58][59] Dawkins also thinks that parents forcing their religion on children is a form of mental child abuse and that religion in general is a form of cultural virus.[60]

Dawkins advocates for what he calls "militant atheism" and believes that atheists should not hide their identities so that they can be better integrated into politics and society.[61] Dawkins has written several books criticizing religion, most notably The God Delusion (2006). Dawkins has written that some of his main points in The God Delusion were that atheists can be happy and moral and that they should not be apologetic about their religious identities.[62]

Christianity

Dawkins has repeatedly criticized Christianity, believing that it has been a negative force throughout history.[63] While he has praised the life of Jesus of Nazareth, he has been critical of the supernatural portions of Christianity and the effect it has on the world. Dawkins has argued that Jesus was a theist because everybody in his time was, and that his ethics should be separated from his theology. I think we owe Jesus the honour of separating his genuinely original and radical ethics from the supernatural nonsense which he inevitably espoused as a man of his time," while also creating a T-shirt that read "Atheists for Jesus".[64] Dawkins has also said that he is a "secular Christian"—in his words, "in the same sense as secular Jews have a feeling for nostalgia and ceremonies."[65]

However, Dawkins, along with his criticism of Christian fundamentalists, has also criticized moderate Christians for fueling extremists by showing exterior niceness.

What I do think about the difference, and let's leave out Muslims specifically, but the difference between moderate religious people and extremist religious people is that although of course it's only a tiny minority of any sect which is ever going to get violent or horrible, there is a sense in which the moderate nice religious people – nice Christians, nice Muslims – make the world safe for extremists. Because the moderates are so nice we all are brought up with the idea that there's something good about religion and faith. That there's something good about bringing children up to have faith.[66]

Dawkins also expressed happiness over the drop in the number of self-identifying Christians in Britain in the 2011 census compared to the 2001 census. He wrote a piece in The Telegraph which discussed various figures about the number of Christians, including that the number of Christians decreased from 71.7% to 59.3% and that the number of nonreligious people increased from 14.8% to 25.1%.[67] Also, in the aftermath of the census, The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science conducted a poll which questioned these Christians and found that only 32% of those professing Christian faith believed in the resurrection of Jesus. Dawkins viewed these changes as a positive event, writing that "[t]he percentage of those self-identifying Christians who either believe in the central tenets of Christianity, or who think Christianity should be given special status in our national policy, is now very low indeed. Christianity is on the way out in this country. We must hope that other religions will go the same way."[67]

In Dawkins's guest-editing position for an issue of New Statesman, he conducted an interview with Christopher Hitchens in which he said that "Do you ever worry that if we win and, so to speak, destroy Christianity, that vacuum would be filled by Islam?"[63] Dawkins has also expressed support for some of the Christ myth theory, mentioning the "glaring contradictions" of the gospels, particularly the events in the nativity story, explaining that while some of the New Testament was written to fulfil prophesies of the Old Testament in order to convert Jews to Christianity, much was borrowed from ancient religions to appeal to pagan or Gentile audiences.[68] In The God Delusion, Dawkins also questioned the existence and divinity of Jesus by using the John Frum cargo cult as an example of how a myth could come to be perceived as reality:

Unlike the cult of Jesus, the origins of which are not reliably attested, we can see the whole course of events laid out before our eyes (and even here, as we shall see, some details are now lost). It is fascinating to guess that the cult of Christianity almost certainly began in very much the same way, and spread initially at the same high speed. (...) John Frum, if he existed at all, did so within living memory. Yet, even for so recent a possibility, it is not certain whether he lived at all.[69]

Islam

Richard Dawkins at the 35th American Atheists conference (2009).

Dawkins has often been critical of Islam, and some commentators, theists and atheists alike, have accused Dawkins, along with other New Atheist figures such as Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris of Islamophobia.[70][71] Dawkins furthered his criticism about moderate Christians fueling extremism by being nice to moderate Muslims while simultaneously saying that "It's very important that we should not demonize ordinary, law-abiding, very decent Muslims which of course is the vast majority in this country."[72]

Dawkins said that Islam is not the main problem behind the actions of ISIS: "Religion itself is not responsible for this… It's also this feeling of political involvement."[73] Dawkins has described Islam as "one of the great evils of the world" and said that it is more problematic than Christianity:

There is a belief that every word of the Koran is literally true, and there's a kind of close-mindedness which is, I think, less present in the former Christendom…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 that it's possible to be naively optimistic, and if you reach out to people who have absolutely no intention of reaching back to you, then you may be disillusioned."[74]

Dawkins became the subject of a controversy on Twitter when he wrote, "All the world's Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though."[75] After receiving criticism for that, he tweeted in response, "Something you can convert to is not a race. A statement of simple fact is not bigotry. And science by Muslims was great in the distant past."[76] Among the critiques of these comments were Channel 4's economic editor, Faisal Islam, who said, "I thought scientists were meant to upbraid journalists for use of spurious data points to 'prove' existing prejudgements,"[77] and The Daily Telegraph.[78] Dawkins later responded to some common criticisms in a post titled "Calm reflections after a storm in a teacup".[79] Dawkins was also heavily criticized for tweeting, "Of course you can have an opinion about Islam without having read Qur'an. You don't have to read Mein Kampf to have an opinion about Nazism."[76]

Dawkins also praised Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician who advocated for the banning of the Qur'an and immigration from Muslim countries in order to stop what he called the "Islamization of the Netherlands". While saying that he has done things that "justify epithets such as 'disgusting', or 'racist,'" he supported and lauded Fitna, an anti-Muslim short film produced by Wilders which caused an international uproar. He wrote, "as far as this film is concerned, I can see nothing in it to substantiate such extreme vilification...Geert Wilders, if it should turn out that you are a racist or a gratuitous stirrer and provocateur I withdraw my respect, but on the strength of Fitna alone I salute you as a man of courage, who has the balls to stand up to a monstrous enemy."[76]

Buddhism

Dawkins has stated that "[he knows] little about Buddhism; […] it's entirely plausible to me that [meditation] might have some sort of trance-inducing effects which could even be beneficial." However, he did not feel any benefit from meditation when he performed it himself.[56]

Political views

War on Terror and Terrorism

Dawkins was opposed to the Iraq War. "Well what I really objected to was the lying about the motives for going into Iraq…it was an act of political opportunism."[80] However, Dawkins supported the Afghan War. "I felt that America needed to try and find those responsible [for 9/11], and it did really appear as though Al-Qaeda was being actively encouraged by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan."[80]

Dawkins blamed Islam as a whole for the Charlie Hebdo shooting. His comments resulted in criticisms from several publications, including Al Jazeera, The Guardian, and Salon, deriding him as Islamophobic.[81] Soon after the attacks, Dawkins tweeted, "No, all religions are NOT equally violent. Some have never been violent, some gave it up centuries ago. One religion conspicuously didn't," referring to Islam.[82]

Stem cell research

In the [83]

Government

Dawkins at the University of Texas at Austin in 2008.

British government

Dawkins has been highly critical of the British government under Prime Minister David Cameron. In an issue of New Statesman, Dawkins heavily criticized Cameron for what he saw as Cameron promoting religion, and specifically Christianity, in the UK and particularly denounced government-supported faith schools.

A depressingly large number of intelligent and educated people […] still vaguely presume without thinking about it that religious faith is somehow 'good' for other people, good for society, good for public order, good for instilling morals, good for the common people even if we chaps don't need it. Condescending? Patronising? Yes, but isn't that largely what lies behind successive governments' enthusiasm for faith schools?[84]

Dawkins advocates for the abolition of the British monarchy.[85] Dawkins opposes Scottish independence. Dawkins signed an open letter that strongly urged the Scottish people to vote "no" on the 2014 referendum on the issue, along with public figures such as Helena Bonham Carter, Judi Dench, Stephen Hawking, and Andrew Lloyd Webber, among others.[86]

United States government

Dawkins was very critical of the United States government under [87] Dawkins has also said that he thinks American politicians should pay more attention to America's secular crowd. "I think that may be a lesson politicians need to learn, that they don't only need to suck up to the Catholic lobby and the Jewish lobby and Islam, that lobby. Maybe the nonbelievers lobby is a lot more powerful than they realize."[88] Also, Dawkins thinks that U.S. politicians should not invoke religion in their policies. "Politicians shouldn't be promoting religion as part of their government legislation."[88] Dawkins has also expressed his belief that Bush was not actually elected in the controversial 2000 U.S. presidential election through an editorial in The Guardian:

September 11 was your golden Pearl Harbor. This was how you'd get elected in 2004 (not re-elected, elected). You would announce a War on Terror. American troops would win. And you would be the victorious warlord, swaggering in a flight suit before a Mission Accomplished banner. It worked in Afghanistan. But then those puppeteers moved on to their long-term project: Iraq.[89]

Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Dawkins has stated that he is "on the fence" about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and has embraced Christopher Hitchens's statement that "It is reasonable to both deplore both the original foundation of the Jewish State of Israel & aspirations now to destroy it."[90][91] However, he has expressed views that tend to favor Palestine. Dawkins said that "can you explain why Palestinian Arabs should be the ones to pay for Hitler's crimes? You surely aren't going to stoop to some kind of biblical justification for picking on that land rather than, say, Bavaria or Madagascar?[90] Dawkins also expressed anger over Israeli actions during the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict. He tweeted, "[t]he extent of the destruction in Gaza is obscene. Poor people. Poor people who have lost their homes, their relatives, everything."[90]

Global warming

Dawkins accepts that global warming is a major problem facing the world currently. He supported an initiative in 56 newspapers from 47 countries simultaneously published a joint editorial expressing their views on climate change in order to promote awareness of the problem. He wrote, "[w]hatever you think about global warming and whether humans are responsible, I think we have to salute this remarkable feat of international cooperation."[92] Dawkins has also stated that he accepts that global warming is a threat to the human species.[93]

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Works cited
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